There’s something troubling to be said about the state of WWE when NXT – billed as a training ground promotion for would-be future stars – completely blew “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” out of the water, off the top of a cage, and through nine tables with “Takeover: R Evolution” on Thursday. Sami Zayn’s ousting of Adrian Neville as the NXT champ wasn’t just a better technical match than nearly everything WWE threw at Cleveland last night, it had stakes and characters with well-developed motivations. The same can only be said for maybe 40% of “TLC 2014.” I don’t think anybody expected it to top “Survivor Series.” Sting can only make his first appearance once, after all. But with the exception of the Intercontinental Title match and a few other epic morsels, a lot of this PPV felt tossed together to use up time.
Originally, I planned to hype some local indie wrestling shows before running down “TLC,” but the only promising event I found occurring in January features a wrestler whose gimmick is too racist for me to promote in good conscious. So here’re some podcast recommendations and an obituary instead!
Wrestling-related podcast picks:
CM PUNK on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling: Required listening for fans of the “The Straight Edge Superstar,” or Punk detractors curious about behind the scenes WWE shenanigans. While eschewing the bitterness and finger-pointing typical of disgruntled shoot interviews, Punk spells out how WWE’s questionable booking decisions, financial blunders, and crummy healthcare led to his indefinite departure from the squared circle.
MEREDITH GRAVES on Damian Abraham’s Turned Out a Punk: Discrediting the myth that all wrestling fans are witless knuckle-draggers, noise-punk provocateur Meredith Graves readily admits enjoying a good slobber-knocker every now and again – albeit from an ironic distance (as if there’s any other way to watch WWE). Before Perfect Pussy’s helmswoman fondly recalls meeting Rob Van Dam and Booker T in an Applebee’s parking lot, most of this podcast has her expounding upon her laundry list of musical influences, sexism in the hardcore scene, and her plan to annihilate the patriarchy. It’s a pretty good plan, too! There’s an island involved.
RIP “GIGOLO” JIMMY DEL RAY (1962 – 2014)
Best recognized as half of the Heavenly Bodies mid-card tag team alongside Dr. Tom Prichard, Del Ray possessed enough underrated technical chops to credibly go toe-to-toe with Shawn Michaels. Meanwhile, his VHS-era pornstar goofball persona made him equally capable in comedy relief matches against the likes of the pre-D-Von incarnation of the Dudley Boys. Here’s hoping The Gigolo, real name David Ferrier, is currently gyrating and rubbing his belly to the amusement of all in the afterlife.
TABLES, LADDERS AND CHAIRS 2014
PRESHOW MATCH: THE NEW DAY vs. GOLDUST AND STARDUST
The Backstory: Just in case any denizens of the WWE Universe started following the news and got the crazy idea that racism and white privilege exist, WWE put all its black babyfaces into a pseudo-uplifting new group called The New Day. Comprised of Big E. Langston, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods, The New Day is dedicated to dancing and clapping in unison, hanging out at church, and ignoring any “negativity” that could make white people feel less than absolutely spiffy about themselves! Just like Bill Cosby did in the ‘80s! For their part, Goldust and Stardust don’t see race. Their cosmically-empowered eyeballs don’t register human skin. We’re all just walking sacks of muscle tissue and fluids as far as they know.
The Action: I’m pretty sure I heard Goldy bark, “Get the frack out of my face,” because that’s how family friendly he is now. The commentators made several “Great Gazoo” jokes at the expense of Stardust’s new black and green attire, because they have no respect. New Day got lucky and pulled this one out via a Kingston-assisted Big Ending by Big E.
WINNERS: THE NEW DAY.
Thoughts: Goldust has been active since, the late ‘80s, and is going to have to retire at some point. That means the team of Goldust and Stardust must someday go their separate ways, and that makes me sad.
INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE LADDER MATCH: LUKE HARPER vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER
The Backstory: Harper signed up with the Authority faction before Survivor Series. As a reward, Triple H’s lackeys allowed the foul-smelling former Wyatt Family minion to claim Ziggler’s IC championship by illegally beating “The Show Off” to a pulp during a title defense. Now the Authority is disbanded and Ziggler wants his strap back.
The Action: Very rigorous batch of spots in this one. Harper took a scary-looking hit to his arm while suicide diving into a ladder-wielding Ziggler. A powerbomb countered into a Ziggler facebuster inspired ouchy feelings, even from afar. A DDT off the ladder would’ve looked like it killed Harper had the camera not been positioned in just such a way to show us Harper’s head never touched the mat. Ziggler climbed the ladder, and grabbed the belt to the elation of his hometown crowd.
WINNER: DOLPH ZIGGLER
Thoughts: Due to their knack for hyperbole, the commentators kept comparing this to classic Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon ladder matches. Actually, I’m not sure if the Michaels/Ramon forays were really that great, or we just remember them as great because none of us had seen a ladder match before at the time. This one established Harper as a legit singles wrestler, but I don’t understand the point of putting the second-tier title on Ziggler when he’s clearly on his way to the top of the card.
TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: THE MIZ AND MIZDOW vs. THE USOS
Backstory: Either for the sake of playing mind games with his opponents or because he’s a nice guy, The Miz has been tempting Jimmy Uso’s wife Naomi with promises of Hollywood fame and fortune. Jimmy Uso doesn’t want his wife to move to Hollywood and become more famous than he is, and he also wants to be a tag team champion again.
The Action: Miz fell down several times. Mizdow fell down the same way. Everybody laughed. Fun times! Mizdow never got tagged in, and the pointless disqualification ending strongly indicated that we’ll be seeing these four gentlemen doing something similar on the next PPV.
WINNERS BY DQ: THE USOS.
Thoughts: As tremendously entraining as Mizdow’s antics may be, having a guy whose entire routine revolves around intentionally beating himself doesn’t help his fictional integrity. I mean, shouldn’t purposefully falling on his face whenever Miz does likewise make him an easy person to defeat, as opposed to half of the hypothetical toughest team on the roster?
CHAIRS AND STAIRS MATCH: “BIG RED” ERICK ROWAN vs. THE BIG SHOW
The Backstory: Having betrayed his Survivor Series team last month, The Big Show has continued to relish in his relapsed dickheadishness. This has not made Erick Rowan happy. Since his departure from the Wyatt Family, the newly-christened “Big Red” has displayed a fondness for stuffed kittens, and is said to possess a 146 IQ. Can the both genius- and gentle-giant lay waste to the wrestler formerly-known-as The Giant?
The Action: This one inspired “boring” and “NXT” chants from the Quicken Loans Arena, to give you an idea how much they were enjoying themselves. Big Show wins after some half-cocked hardcore spots.
WINNER: THE BIG SHOW
Thoughts: Rowan’ll get ‘em next time. If future me could go back six months and tell past me, “Rowan’s going to transition to singles matches better than Harper will,” past me would say, “Huh, really? Would’ve figured Harper would be the breakout star of that team. Also, holy shit, I can time travel? Nice.”
TABLES MATCH: JOHN CENA vs. SETH ROLLINS
The Backstory: Rollins said, “Nobody wants to see John Cena win the World Title again” in the preview video package, and he’s right. Cena has been stale for years, but shall remain the alpha babyface for as long as he is physically able, because selling T-shirts is important. In the happy absence of Brock Lesnar, Triple H, or Randy Orton, Rollins stands in as the de facto alpha bad guy.
The Action: In a bit of a swerve, this presumed main event occurred about an hour in. The audience exploded into back-and-forth “Let’s Go Cena!” and “Cena You Suck!” chants, with enough intensity to make it into my notes. Rollins is fully aware that he lives in the Matrix, and can disregard what we think of as laws of physics at will. Nonetheless, Cena put Rollins through a table after a triumphantly returning Roman Reigns ran interference.
WINNER: JOHN CENA
Thoughts: Only complaint: Reigns’s big return might’ve made more of a splash if he hadn’t been appearing backstage doing interview segments for weeks. Also, Reigns isn’t Sting.
DIVAS TITLE MATCH: AJ LEE vs. NIKKI BELLA
The Backstory: A few weeks ago on Smackdown, Nikki Bella cut a later-edited promo that led some to speculate that her in-character dislike of AJ Lee bubbles over into real life. So either it was a great promo that made her imaginary malice seem legitimate, or it was a shitty promo where Bella prioritized her personal vendetta over the storyline. Rumors that Lee plans to retire after losing this match have wafted through the online atmosphere, but the supposed insiders said the exact same thing last month, and well, here we all are again.
The Action: In a likely accidental tribute to Beulah McGillicutty or “The Model” Rick Martel, Bella retained after emptying a can of hair spray all over Lee’s face.
WINNER: NIKKI BELLA
Thoughts: The garbage match wherein Bella dispatched AJ Lee at Survivor Series made her difficult to think of as a credible champion. After this, I’m looking forward to seeing Bella lose the title to Charlotte Flair in six months. That’ll be a great match!
“THE BIG GUY” RYBACK vs. KANE
The Backstory: Amid WWE’s second misguided attempt to push Ryback to main event status, they’ve started calling him “The Big Guy,” which would be a dumb nickname even if they didn’t already have a Big Show and a Big E. and a “Big Red” running around. During his brief tenure as Raw general manager, beloved underdog-made-good Daniel Bryan assigned Kane to manage concession stands at live events, much to the ire of the multi-time former world champion. Ryback made fun of Kane, and Kane got angry.
The Action: On the preshow, noted wrestling advocate Paul Heyman observed that “Ryback hurts people,” which may have been a roundabout way of calling him sloppy and bad at his job. Ryback and Kane inspired a smattering of “boring” chants. This was fine for what it was.
Thoughts: I can easily picture Ryback as the sort of dude who bullied the chess team while liberally deploying homophobic epithets back when he was in high school. Of course I would never tell him he sucks to his face, because he could rip me in half like a phone book.
US TITLE MATCH: RUSEV VS. JACK SWAGGER
The Backstory: Rusev hates America so much he decided to break Zeb Colter’s leg, because Zeb Colter is American. Neither of these circumstances set well with Colter’s whelp Jack Swagger.
The Action: In a card that arguably lacked compelling storylines, these guys had actual motivations for wanting to kill each other, albeit incredibly mundane reasons. Blatant filler match, but at least Swagger and Rusev have worked together enough to consistently put on solid performances. After a noble effort, Swagger passes out in The Accolade.
Thoughts: Remember back in 2010 when Jack Swagger could fight Edge and Chris Jericho in a world title match and win? Isn’t it weird thinking about how stuff like that used to happen?
BRAY WYATT vs. DEAN AMBROSE
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) December 2, 2014
The Backstory: They’ve dropped or greatly diminished Wyatt’s fixation on the skeletons in Ambrose’s closet, and he no longer leads the cult he once wished Ambrose would join. So apart from Ambrose (I guess?) still being ticked at Wyatt for robbing him of revenge against Seth Rollins months ago, there’s not much backstory to speak, of beyond these guys hate each other for arbitrary reasons.
The Action: Every bit the avalanche of mayhem we expected. In a probably accidental tribute to The Sandman, Wyatt utilized the White Russian Legsweep to stun Ambrose. Most significant moments included Ambrose’s elbow drop off a ladder through a table that Wyatt had the misfortune of resting on, and an attempt by Ambose to cave Wyatt’s head in with a computer monitor, which randomly exploded, and gave Wyatt a tidy opportunity to deliver Sister Abigail’s Kiss for the victory.
WINNER: BRAY WYATT
Thoughts: Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have better things to do than Bray Wyatt’s evil bidding these days, which is just swell for them, but it’s left Wyatt himself with a bit of an identity crisis. If Wyatt’s not a cult leader anymore, then he’s just a pontifical, mean bearded guy in an ironically festive Hawaiian shirt. He doesn’t even have his rocking chair anyone, since Ambrose smashed it to bits. And he’s definitely never getting any closer to the world championship or alpha-bad guy-status as long as Brock Lesnar occupies both positions. Hopefully they’ll figure out a better direction for him. Dean Ambrose can’t clobber him through tables forever.