There was a lot going against this year’s Tables, Ladder, and Chairs (or Tables, Ladders, and Stairs or Tables, Ladders, and Chairs & Stairs depending on which ad’s sloppy branding you saw). It’s only been three weeks since the stellar Survivor Series. At its best, WWE could make the best of that time and build to some compelling matches. This was not WWE at its best. There wasn’t a single second of this pay-per-view that didn’t feel like it was thrown together at the last second.
Last month I talked about the great work Paul Heyman was doing in the Kickoff. That’s true this month too, but I won’t waste your time going over it again. Instead, let’s talk about Alex Riley. This might be hyperbole, but I’m starting to think that he should be in contention for worst commentator of all time. Everything about the way he looks, the way he sounds, and the things he says beg the view to pay attention to anything else. His commentary bores the audience, undermines the narrative WWE is trying to create, and at times, is borderline racist. A balloon with a smiley face taped to a chair would be more interesting to watch.
For the preshow match, The New Day defeated Gold and Stardust. The match was most noticeable for the fact that Goldust very clearly says, “Get the fuck out of my face” at one point. I was surprised there wasn’t a bigger reaction to this in the PG era, especially since it was the most exciting the thing that happened all night. All WWE did was quietly dub “frack” over “fuck” in the version currently on the Network.
The show starts with one of its strongest matches. Dolph Ziggler vs Luke Harper for the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match. Ziggler’s probably my favorite guy in the company and he excels in a ladder match, but this opener really suffers from the problem that would plague the show as a whole. There were so many times when I found myself asking the question, “Why do I care?” and unable to find an answer. The stakes here are clear, Ziggler wants the IC title back which was taken by Harper a month ago in a dirty finish. But Ziggler already beat him at Survivor Series in a much more spectacular fashion with more at risk. This might have been an exciting match before Survivor Series, but three weeks later it just falls flat.
Good thing The Usos and Miz & Mizdow were there to pick things up with a tag title match in which nothing happened and ended in a DQ. Miz and Mizdow are killing it with their promos, but how long can they have these non-matches before everyone loses interest? It’s so frustrating to see all that talent wasted. At least creative actually gave the Usos a reason to be mad at Miz.
It’s crazy that the next match wasn’t the worst of the night. Big Show takes on Erik Rowan in a Steel Stairs Match for no one. Erik Rowan’s feud with Luke Harper was bafflingly pointless enough, but now it’s one layer removed. WWE should pay 9.99 to anyone who can make it through this without falling asleep.
Now, about an hour into the night, Seth Rollins takes to the ring for a match that I was shocked wasn’t the main event. He’s taking on John Cena and if he wins, Cena will lose his number one contendership. So even here there are weird problems with the stakes. Rollins is Mr. Money in the Bank no matter what happens, so he really has nothing to gain. And if Cena’s not the champion, he’s always pretty much the de facto number one contender, so really, nothing’s on the line. Still, Rollins is a great performer and Cena keeps the momentum going, so it’s not bad overall. Plus, as gimmicky as feats of strength can be sometimes, there was something satisfying about seeing Cena lift the metal barricade over his head after slamming it into Rollins. It wraps up nicely with the return of Roman Reigns.
After that, we cool down with Nikki Bella vs AJ Lee for the Divas championship. AJ’s been working hard to sell this feud, but Brie Bella’s heel turn has been sloppy at best. It’s the most direct attempt at a story and it still feels like someone made the card by using WWE 2k15 to generate random pairings.
Finally, we come to the worst match of the night. Ryback vs Kane. Somehow, Ryback got a “Feed Me More” chant. I do not understand how anyone could enjoy anything that happens when he’s in the ring. I imagine Ryback’s mother watches him wrestle and says, “Ooh, that was a bit stiff.” All he does is botch and the resulting matches aren’t even remotely entertaining. It’s all risk no reward. I’d say it’s only a matter of time before he seriously hurts somebody, but it’s too late for that.
TLC follows this with Rusev vs Jack Swagger. Maybe this was a decent match, but by this point I couldn’t tell. It’s just so exhausting watching this much stale wrestling in one sitting.
I mentioned earlier that it had only been three weeks since the last PPV. That’s about how long it felt like I had been watching TLC by the time it finally got to its main event. Dean Ambrose vs Bray Wyatt. I wanted to love this match. No one was more excited than me when Bray Wyatt sicked a ghost on Ambrose during Hell in a Cell. The most exciting thing that happened since then was that Ambrose destroyed a rocking chair. Both participants are great wrestlers, but this was just them going through the motions.
And so, Tables, Ladders, and Who Even Cares both began and ended with matches emblematic of its fatal flaw. This is what happens when you take the soap opera out of male soap operas.