Here’s a fun game: Every time the announcers remind you that something is “all legal” or “completely legal” during a gimmick match, take a shot. Just kidding. Don’t do that. You’ll die of alcohol poisoning by the end of the first match.
TLC MATCH FOR THE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Drew McIntyre(c) vs. AJ Styles (w/Omos) vs. The Miz (w/John Morrison) - 8/10
This started off as just AJ vs. Morrison. Those two did a great job telling the story of AJ working over Drew’s previously injured knee. Plus, of course, the usual bumps. Miz ran in to stop Drew from winning and then cashed in MITB… which was an incredibly stupid thing to do with Omos standing right there. Omos, of course, stopped Miz from winning and put him through a table. John Morrison hit Omos with a chair but Omos no-sold it and it shattered. Omos then “chased” Morrison to the back… if you can really count it as “chasing” someone if you’re walking as slow as possible. From that point on, we got a bunch of teases of people reaching for the belt before Drew eventually tipped the other two off of a ladder and pulled the belt down.
Omos not interfering on AJ’s behalf when Drew was trying to climb but interfering when Miz did was certainly weird, but they can definitely do something with that (for example, AJ thought that he could beat Drew on his own and told Omos not to). Hopefully they’ll follow up on this on Raw… but I’m not expecting it.
KAYLA BRAXTON INTERVIEWS PAUL HEYMAN - This was a very good promo from Heyman, but why is he trying to sell us a PPV we’ve already bought?
WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Sasha Banks(c) vs. Carmella (w/Reginald) - 6.5/10
This was… a lot better than I remember Carmella matches being. Reginald pulling Carmella out fo the ring should have resulted in a DQ. Is it really that hard to do that without the referee actually seeing him touching her?
BILLIE KAY GIVES ASUKA HER RESUME IN AN ATTEMPT TO BE HER TAG TEAM PARTNER- Theoretically this isn’t a waste of time because it played into an on-going storyline in a way where the purpose wasn’t just to sell us on a match, … but that doesn’t make it not dumb.
CHARLIE CARUSO INTERVIEWS THE NEW DAY - A fine promo… but once again, a waste of time
WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
New Day(c) vs. Hurt Business (Shelton Benjamin & Cedric Alexander) (w/MVP) - 7/10
This was mostly the standard stuff you’d expect from these guys. Lots of athleticism, a good heat segment, and a very good pace. Kofi and Shelton managed to come up with one or two spots that I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen before (the one that stuck in my mind was Shelton quickly getting up to turn an attempted Boom Drop into a powerbomb). The finish saw Shelton probably have the match won, but Cedric tagged himself in and hit his own finisher to get the pin. That’s an… interesting choice, as Shelton going babyface would be a terrible idea, and having these two bicker but both still be heels is also going to be very annoying. Hopefully they have a good direction in mind with this, but it’s WWE so I’m not holding my breath.
DUMB FOLLOW-UP TO THE DUMB SAMI ZANY/BIG E. SEGMENT FROM SMACKDOWN - Extremely dumb. Kayla apparently received “leaked” audio of Sami yelling at someone over the mix-up with his “Sami Awards” on Smackdown where Big E. was named “Superstar of the Year” and Sami was dumb enough to read the name out of the envelope even though it didn’t say what he wanted in the fake awards he made up.
In this segment, Sami yelled at Kayla about breaching his privacy and demanded that she reveal who sent her the audio. Kayla refused because a “journalist” (that’s what she apparently is now) doesn’t reveal sources. 1) Correct me if I’m wrong, but every time a backstage interviewer has branded themselves a “journalist” in the past, it has been an annoying heel thing, right? 2) I don’t understand what Sami is so upset about. It’s not like there was anything incriminating on that tape. It was just him yelling at someone because something went wrong. He didn’t admit to any sort of wrongdoing. He was just a dick, and he’s a dick in public, too, so why is he so upset by this?
WWE WOMEN’S TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax(c) vs. Asuka & Charlotte Flair - 5.75/10
This was… fine. It was the usual stuff, but not even close to as good as what I just saw from New Day and Business. It didn’t help that the announcers were overhyping it every step of the way. It’s hard to enjoy a match when your eyes are rolling so much. Maybe I missed it, but while the announcers kept talking this up as Charlotte’s big return from injury, I don’t think they ever mentioned that it was Nia who was given kayfabe credit for the injury, so this is Charlotte returning for revenge.
The finish saw Charlotte pin Shayna Baszler clean in the middle of the ring with her finisher, taking away from what was probably the biggest singles match in the women’s division they could have had for Mania.
WWE’S HAPPY NEW YEAR VIDEO - Terrible and embarrassing. They wasted time and money making a video of a bunch of wrestlers beating a CGI 2020 mucus monster. They even got someone to cut a promo for it, and had Drew cut a promo on it, and had Cole do commentary. This was stupid, ridiculous, and did nothing for anyone. If WWE wants me to believe they actually want me to have a happy 2021, instead of wasting my time and their effort with this dumb video, they should have put that time and effort into doing something that will make 2021 more enjoyable for me... like, say, PUTTING ON A PRODUCT THAT DOESN’T SUCK!
BIG E., R-TRUTH, AND SAMI ZAYN BACKSTAGE - Terrible. Sami accuses Big E. of leaking the audio. Big E. denies it, and also makes a pee joke. R-Truth said something dumb, then left. Sami yelled at Big E. that Big E. had been “treading water” ever since he went solo. Big E. got all stoic and told Sami to “keep playing.” I assume this was supposed to be threatening, but it didn’t come off as such.
Once again, this was dumb, and was also something that should have been done on Smackdown. It only got worse when Cole told us that Big E. had pinned Sami in an eight-man tag on the kick-off show. You’d think Big E. would have brought this up in response to Sami’s claim that he wasn’t going anywhere, but apparently not.
Also, because WWE made me sit through this, I’m going to reem them out for using f*cking R-TRUTH to be Big E’s random friend here. Not only did he add nothing positive to this segment and drag it down by saying something dumb, but he’s probably the babyface on the roster who makes the single least amount of sense here. Truth is the insanely paranoid 24/7 Champion. They spent a year and half putting that fact over. Every week he’s hiding in a trunk or dumpster or whatever so no one will find him and try to pin him. But now he’s just standing around, having a f*cking conversation with Big E. and showing no fear of Sami, either!
TLC MATCH FOR THE WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Roman Reigns(c)(w/Paul Heyman) vs. Kevin Owens - 8.75/10
Why did Roman get to come out with his belt and have it raised while Drew had to give his over before the show started? The answer seems to be so that Roman could get distracted while looking at it being raised up so that Owens could jump him. Every time the heel jumps the bell on someone, the referee separates them and checks on the babyface before starting the match. Here, with a face doing it, the ref just rang the bell. If I’m Roman, I’m filing a complaint.
Jey Uso tried to interfere early on but Owens took him out by smashing his foot with a chair a bunch of times. Jey would keep coming back throughout the match to cost Owens. This is was one of two stories in the match. The second was that Owens would keep coming back no matter what was done to him. I can’t deny that they told these stories extremely well, but I also couldn’t shake the thought that Owens getting screwed by Uso was all Owens own fault because he was the one who insisted on this being a TLC match, and between that the fact that apparently NONE of the babyfaces on the roster cared that Owens was constantly getting screwed, it made it hard for me to have quite as much sympathy for him as WWE wanted.
FIREFLY INFERNO MATCH:
Randy Orton vs. The Fiend - 3/10
The rules of this match are that you have to set your opponent on fire to win. So it’s a normal Inferno match, but they don’t provide the fire for you… which is completely ridiculous when you remember that for the two TLC matches tonight, they have surrounded the ring with DOZENS of tables, ladders, and chairs.
We start off with lots of staring at each other. Orton finally goes to attack, but The Fiend is no-selling most of it. Maybe I would care Orton overcoming this scary monster if they had ever given me a reason to root for Orton, but they haven’t. He’s exactly the same dude who they told me was a horrible, terrible, person for attacking the retired wrestlers a few months ago.
Wait… they actually do provide the fire. It’s on the other side of the barricade… and only turned on after The Fiend gave a signal, which hardly seems fair to Randy. Either that, or we’re supposed to think that The Fiend just magically summoned a bunch of pyrotechnic devices and put them on the other side of the apron. If he can magically summon them and turn them on, why didn’t he just summon one right under Randy?
They did sh*t with fire. The Fiend set a leather strap on fire and tried to hit Randy with it. He also tried to murder Randy with a pickaxe. Bray got a wooden rocking chair that is never there for other matches and doused it in gasoline. He sat Randy in it and tried to set him on fire but Randy escaped just in the nick of time.
They teased forcing each other into the fire over and over again. If you don’t have any rooting interest (and WWE has given us no reason to want to see either man win), then you’re just sitting there waiting for the finish to come. They tried to be dramatic about it, but the whole set-up here and the way they had the flames shoot up in a ridiculous manner made the whole thing feel put on. Those big poles of flames were a great example of what I mean. There is NO REASON for them to be there. Neither of these dudes is going to be twenty feet in the air. But these big poles are here because the purpose of this was to clearly to look cool and look dangerous, rather than being practical and feeling like it actually was dangerous.
Compare that to the old Inferno match set-up with the rig surrounding the ring. Yes, that had flames that shot up whenever someone took a bump, but that was because the whole rig was attached to the ring. The reason the rig was attached to the ring is because that’s where the wrestlers were going to be. Turning the flame rigs on at a dramatic moment quite a bit after the match started and putting them behind the barricades and having these big poles and shooting flames at clearly choreographed times made this all feel like a performance rather than an actual fight. Ditto with the dumb camera trick they did with Randy and the rocking chair. If your special effects can’t make the spot not look clearly edited, don’t do the spot!
Randy eventually forced The Fiend into the fire and won (or at least I assume he did, but I’m not totally sure, because the bell didn’t ring) but so what? I’m sure he’ll be back soon enough doing whatever. We’ve been given no reason to think that fire will actually stop The Fiend.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Terrible. Randy gets The Fiend into the fire… and The Fiend barely sells it. He charges at Randy (who is in the ring by now) and Randy hits him with an RKO… and this f*cking Fiend, who almost never sells anything and who just no-sold GETTING SET ON FIRE- stays down for one f*cking RKO.
Randy grabbed some gasoline and began to douse The Fiend in it. Even though the match was supposedly over, no one came out to stop him. The announcers couldn’t even figure out what Randy was going to do until he grabbed a lighter, at which point they started screaming. Still no one came out to stop Randy from burning this defenseless individual alive.
Randy did, in fact, burn The Fiend alive… but so what? We saw a few moments ago that he’s impervious to fire. So far as I can see, it’s the RKO that puts him down. And magical f*ckers get burnt up all the time in WWE and they just come back good as new, so why should I think this will matter, even in the medium term.
In the ring, this was a very good show from WWE, other than the main event. The booking was more questionable, but other than Charlotte pinning Baszler, none of it was offensively bad. I know that’s a low bar, but the two TLC matches and the Raw Tag Team Title match were good enough that they balanced out some of the other stuff, and unlike most of WWE’ PPVs nowadays, the vast majority of the matches (all of them but the last two) felt like they were important points in a story rather than just something done just for the sake of having a match on a PPV.