By Rob Siebert
Fair warning, folks: I’m going to complain a lot in this one. Of course, that doesn’t make me unique. Wrestling fans essentially do two things: Watch wrestling, and complain about wrestling on Twitter.
But to be fair, it’s not like there hasn’t been anything to complain about lately. Hell, they had Seth Rollins come out on TV Monday and verbally castrate Baron Corbin, the on-screen authority figure. He said things like…
– “Under your leadership, Monday Night Raw has sucked, and it has sucked because of you.”
– “That roster, that locker room back there, that is some of the most talented men and women that Monday Night Raw has ever seen. And you’ve got no idea what to do with it.”
– “…talent support, morale from backstage, the fan support, and the TV ratings, are all at an all-time low, and it is all because of you.”
It’s like he was reading Tweets directed at Vince McMahon.
To be fair, at least there’s an aura of honesty about this segment. But every year they go through some version of this creative drought. I call it the “autumn slump.” It usually hits some time between September and December, and ends around Royal Rumble season.
If you believe the online buzz, much of this latest slump has to do with Vince himself re-writing the shows shortly before they go on the air. It’s always boggled my mind. WWE has only gotten bigger and bigger as the decades have gone by. And yet the creative for this three-hour flagship show can still be run like a little mom and pop operation.
You know what I’m really interested to see? Not so much what happens to Raw, as it’s staying on USA Network for the next five years. But rather, what happens with Smackdown. WWE just got more than $2 billion to bring Smackdown to Fox next year. As such, there are going to be more new eyes on the product than there’ve been in a long, long time. So what happens when they get to Fox, and these new viewers are subjected to all this contrived, scripted dialogue? This awful, childish bathroom humor? These rushed, and not thought out segments? It really makes you wonder…
That being said, let’s get to TLC…
MIXED MATCH CHALLENGE FINALS:
Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox vs. R-Truth and Carmella
Between wrestler injuries, having to be consistent with storylines, and the needless change to a round-robin format, the MMC has been an absolute mess this year. I still dig the concept, though. But they need to go back to single-elimination rules next year. More importantly, establish a rule that if a team member can’t compete on a given night, that team forfeits their match. This swapping and replacing of wrestlers can’t be a thing again. The team of Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss morphing into Ember Moon and Curt Hawkins is pure stupidity.
So we have these two…ehem…legendary tag teams, facing off to decide the season two victors. If these are the only two choices we have, I say we give it to R-Truth and Carmella. The people are into their dancing act. So throw ’em a bone.
PREDICTION: R-Truth and Carmella
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Cedric Alexander
Not making this a Ladder Match feels like a missed opportunity. There’s already a decent chance these two might have the best match of the night. But in a Ladder Match, they could really give us one for the ages.
That’s assuming they’re not on pre-show duty, of course.
My opinion has not changed on where the Cruiserweight Division should go heading into Wrestlemania. All roads should lead to Mustafa Ali winning the belt. It could realistically be either one of these two dropping it to him. But I’m going to go with Murphy here, as he and Ali would give us a more compelling story. If I’m Cedric, I’m looking to get away from 205 Live altogether. He’s climbed that mountain already. Find a tag team partner and go to Raw or Smackdown.
PREDICTION: Buddy Murphy
TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Bar (c) vs. The Usos vs. The New Day
All three of these teams are great. But you won’t find a better illustration of just how bad Smackdown needs new tag teams. It feels like we’re rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating. If I’m Jimmy and Jey Uso, I’m pushing to go to Raw next year, just for a change of scenery. Hell, I wanted them to go to Raw this year!
I’ll say the Bar retain here. Because…why not? They’ve got just as much right to to be champs as the other two teams do.
PREDICTION: The Bar
Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre
As much as I hate the way Finn Balor has become a whipping boy for larger opponents like Kane and Bobby Lashley, he’s got no business winning this one. Drew is on a major ascent. And with any luck, they’ve learned an important lesson from Braun Strowman: Nothing cools a hot commodity like big losses. McIntyre already ate a pin from Dolph Ziggler last week. He doesn’t need to be losing to Balor in what is essentially a throwaway match.
Balor is another guy I wanted to switch shows this year. Hopefully he’ll find himself on Smackdown in 2018.
PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott
People shouldn’t be upset about this Jim Neidhart storyline because it’s tasteless. They should be upset about it because it’s been so damn silly. I’m a big Ruby Riott fan, and I’m thrilled she’s getting a pay per view spotlight like this. But what has she really done to disrespect the Anvil’s memory? Break a pair of plastic sunglasses and put his picture on a table? Gimme a break…
There’s definitely such a thing as going too far. WWE has crossed that line more than a few times over the years. But in this ultra-sensitive era we live in, people forget that pro wrestling is meant to stir up emotion. To get you to hate the villain and cheer the hero. That’s all they’re doing here.
Still, the sad truth is Jim Neidhart is gone. This whole story is designed to give Nattie a feel-good win to pay tribute to her dad. So let’s give her a nice win and move on.
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley
I’ve enjoyed what Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush have been doing lately. And of course, Elias has a great act. One that might even deserve to be featured more prominently. But I have to ask: Why does this match deserve the ladder stipulation?
Not AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Not Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Not the Cruiserweights. Not even the three-way tag match, where you could spread the big bumps out between six or seven guys. But this match. I don’t get it.
As I assume Rush will be ringside here, it would be easy to justify giving Lashley the win due to interference. But an Elias win is the right move here. The crowds are eating out of his hand, and he’s got a cool factor to him that so few have nowadays. Plus, he doesn’t have to pin Lashley to get the win here. It’s practically gift-wrapped for him.
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio
Thank God! A Chairs Match! I was worried we wouldn’t get one this year! Who could ever forget all those classic Chairs Matches from years past! Ones like…er…um…John Cena and Wade Barrett had one, didn’t they?
As the Smackdown title picture is essentially anybody’s ball game right now, there’s a decent chance one of these guys will be going for the WWE Championship come Wrestlemania. AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton? What aboutDaniel Bryan vs. Rey Mysterio? Don’t rule it out, folks. It’s more likely than you think.
I went back and forth in picking a winner for this one. But in the end, Randy Orton has a good thing going with his current heel run. While I have no desire to see him wrestling for the title at Wrestlemania again, it makes sense to keep him a credible threat to the babyfaces.
PREDICTION: Randy Orton
STIPULATION TLC MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin
If Corbin wins, he becomes the permanent General Manager of Raw.
If Strowman wins, he gets a Universal Title Match.
Don’t let ’em fool ya, kids. This is not the main event. I don’t understand why this match is still being advertised. I assume Strowman will be at TLC in some capacity, or they wouldn’t still be promoting him. So either they’re going to do a quick squash and get this overwith quickly, or they’re going to put him in an extremely dangerous match mere weeks after elbow surgery.
What’s more, it’s not like this match was going to wow us either way. Frankly, on paper Strowman vs. Corbin kinda sucks. Even with the TLC stipulation. So why not just do another multi-man TLC brawl like they’ve done in years past? Book Strowman, Balor, and Elias against Corbin, McIntyre, and Lashley. And if they want to keep Strowman out of the ring, plug Dolph Ziggler in there as his replacement. Or better yet, what about Kurt Angle? He’s got built-in heat with both Corbin and McIntyre.
As for who wins, I was originally inclined to say Corbin. But I just can’t justify having Strowman lose another pay per view match. Realistically, this guy should have been challenging for the Universal Title at Wrestlemania this year. Now, it looks like he may finally be in a position to be in that title picture. So for crying out loud, lets not have him lose this one. Lets oust Corbin from power, and shake Raw up a little bit. While this year’s autumn slump can’t be attributed to Corbin alone, hopefully removing him will be a nice palette cleanser for everybody so we can all move on
PREDICTION: Braun Strowman
WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nia Jax
I can’t say I had a particular desire to see this match again. But at least now that Nia has all that heat for punching out Becky, this match has some heat to it. People will cheer like hell when Ronda taps her out to the arm bar. And yes, that’s exactly what needs to happen here. May as well do it quick, too. I hate to pile on, but God forbid Nia throws another stiff punch and hurts Ronda.
For Ronda, it seems like all roads lead to the main event of Wrestlemania. The question is, against who? Becky Lynch? (Yes.) Charlotte Flair? (No.) Becky and Charlotte in a three-way? (If you must.)
PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey
WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
You know what? I like Dean Ambrose’s Bane look. (Bane Ambrose?) It’s different. At least he doesn’t have the silly accent, right?
Along the same lines as the Ruby Riott/Natalya thing, Ambrose doesn’t deserve to be crucified for making thinly veiled comments about Roman Reigns these past several weeks. Is it in poor taste? Yes. Was it over the line? I personally don’t think so. I did, however, think it was rather stupid on Monday when Charly Caruso basically asked him: “What would Roman think if he knew this was happening?” If Roman knew? What, does he not have a TV? Or a smartphone? Or, you know…these guys’ phone numbers?
If Seth Rollins’ comments this week about Brock Lesnar are any indicator, they are indeed moving forward with Lesnar vs. Rollins at Wrestlemania. Assuming Lesnar is keeping the Universal Title until then, that means they’re probably going to have to get the IC Title off of Rollins. Ambrose is as good a person for him to lose it to as anyone.
By the way, don’t write off Renee Young’s on-screen involvement in her husband’s storyline. They’re already having Corey Graves address their real-life marriage. So it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.
PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose
WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles
Well, whaddaya know? It’s the Daniel Bryan heel turn we never knew we wanted.
A return to the title picture seemed like a natural direction for Bryan to go in as we headed toward Wrestlemania. So his heel turn came way out of left field. It’s been a very pleasant surprise, though. As much as fans like myself love to armchair quarterback this stuff, this was a good decision. It gives Bryan so much more creative freedom. I’m sure that feels great after so much time on the sidelines.
Styles vs. Bryan in a pay per view environment has been a dream match for years. Now they finally have a chance to do it. But these dream match scenarios have not been kind to AJ this year. Case in point, his Wrestlemania match against Shinsuke Nakamura. Still, these two are bona fide in-ring artists. So naturally, there’s a lot of intrigue going into this match.
Bryan’s heel turn has left me at a complete loss for what the WWE Title picture will look like as we get closer to Wrestlemania. So I’m somewhat at a loss in terms of predicting this one. I’m going to go with the whole “they wouldn’t give him the belt just to take it off him” approach, and say Bryan wins. But there’s still time for AJ to once again walk into Wrestlemania with the title.
PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan
TRIPLE-THREAT TLC MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka
Supposedly, Asuka was added to this match because WWE was pleasantly surprised by her sustained popularity. I can’t say I disagree, given all the nothing they’ve done with her since Wrestlemania. But hey, she’s back in the title picture, and working with two of the company’s hottest stars. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Not that I think she’s winning. My assumption is this match turned out the way it did so they could get the title off Becky Lynch without pinning her. Throwing a third person in there, no matter who it is, muddies those waters a little bit more.
Plus, I think they’re kinda throwing us a bone on this one. How Asuka has not won either the Raw or Smackdown Women’s Championships by now is a mystery the likes of which I can’t even begin to solve. And yet, here we are. I’d love to see her get another title shot at Wrestlemania this year. Perhaps this is a good sign in that respect.
Either way, one thing we know for sure is they want Charlotte kept strong. That’s why I see her taking the belt here. That will give her momentum heading into Wrestlemania season. And again, it’s simply a question of how they want to proceed with her, Ronda, and Becky. Maybe Charlotte winds up in a completely different match. Against maybe…a certain Empress of Tomorrow? Charlotte broke Asuka’s streak, and she hasn’t been the same since. If there was ever a reason to seek revenge…
PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair
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