The Royal Rumble opened the book on the year 2019 in WWE in January, and TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs was the final chapter.
And while no titles changed hands Sunday in Minneapolis, the action was rousing and rapid, if starkly inconsistent. Fittingly, it ended with a dose of high-flying, punishing fun that had its highs and lows.
TLC match for the women's tag team championships: Kabuki Warriors (c) def. Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair
Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair taking on the The Kabuki Warriors for the women's tag team championships was arguably the hardest match to call a result for heading into the night, and until the final bell it was anyone's guess.
Lynch and Flair wasted no time out of the gate, overpowering the champs inside and outside the ring, and after a handful of matches that didn't quite land with the crowd, there was a buzz as this one got underway. Within three minutes of the opening bell, Kairi Sane was being tossed between two announce tables.
Sane and Asuka eventually rebounded with the former dropkicking a chair into the sternum of Charlotte, and Sane, as she tried to escape a double-team attack from Lynch and Flair, found a fire extinguisher as she was dragged out and sprayed the challengers in the face. In a moment that felt like an old black-and-white movie without sound, Sane and Asuka tied Lynch to a ladder like it was railroad tracks. That piece of rope would play a big role in the closing moments of the match.
The heels were on fire. If there was a chair, they smashed it. If there was a ladder, they used it to their favor. If there was an available elbow, they smashed that through the challengers. Flair had to fend for herself for a while, but once Lynch freed herself, she hit a picture-perfect legdrop through Asuka and a table on the floor.
The pace of the match slowed down considerably. Sane seemed to slow down and didn't feature much in the late stages of the match, especially after taking a powerbomb through a table from Flair, and it seemed everyone else tried to ad-lib to get the match through to the finish. Flair was taken out of play in a fair bit of turnabout, as a moonsault attempt to Asuka was quickly flipped into a powerbomb from the middle turnbuckle through a table on the outside of the ring.
Eventually, Lynch looked as though she was set to win the match when she climbed the ladder, but Asuka pulled the ladder out from underneath Lynch with that very same rope. This was the opening Asuka needed to climb the ladder and snare the titles to retain the championships. It was the second straight year that Asuka closed out TLC, the final WWE pay-per-view of the year, by climbing a ladder and hoisting gold into the air.
Although the match ended in more or less straightforward fashion, the show did not. Roman Reigns, Baron Corbin and a host of performers from both squads came storming from the locker room and pummeled each other into the crowd. A potential tease for the Royal Rumble was a strange way to end a match in which the women deserved to be showcased. But it doesn't detract from the fact that Lynch, Flair, Sane and Asuka put everything on the line in a punishing bout.
What's next? First off, how about a day off after the collective beating each woman took? And considering nothing truly advanced from a storyline perspective, this feud, whether tag-team action or one-on-one, may well go on, perhaps into the Royal Rumble and beyond.
Tables match: Bobby Lashley def. Rusev
The prematch video package for the tables match between Bobby Lashley and Rusev was a straight-up TMZ spoof -- a fitting culmination to a four-month storyline that fits far better in a tabloid than in a wrestling ring.
The storyline was confusing at best, felt dated for the current WWE product, and at its worst, sent people racing for their remotes. There were puzzlingly enforced restraining orders, a fake pregnancy and the always-evolving Lana accent.
Still, Rusev and Lashley had the opportunity to put on a match at the tail end of a pay-per-view, but the end product was plodding, and never really picked the pace up enough. Rusev had a flurry of offense early, but Lashley would take over. Rusev hit a suplex on the entrance ramp, but Lashley repeatedly retook control.
The most memorable spot of the match came when Lashley attempted to throw a table at Rusev, easily snapping it over the ring post. Or maybe it was Lashley slamming Rusev through a portion of the ringside barricade, set up against the ring apron.
The table spots were emblematic of the feud -- taking lots of time to set up, and ending with a disappointing payoff. Each tried to Irish Whip the other into a table set up in the corner.
The end came when Lana jumped on Rusev's back, providing the distraction for Lashley to spear Rusev through a table set up in the corner. Except ... it didn't break. Lashley then suplexed Rusev through another table to end this match, and hopefully, the feud as well.
What's next: If any positive can be taken out of this, it's that the crowd is still chanting for Rusev Day. Naturally, WWE decided to put over Lashley in the feud, who will presumably have Lana in his corner going forward with little to no fan interest. For Rusev, his popularity still can't seem to get him much traction within WWE. Hopefully he's not just sent back into obscurity.
Universal champion Bray Wyatt (c) def. The Miz
Bray Wyatt's villainous pursuit of The Miz and the Mizanin family has been an incredibly compelling story, but in the end it seems it may have just been an interlude to Wyatt's conflict against Daniel Bryan.
Using the Firefly Funhouse version of his character, as opposed to The Fiend, Wyatt entered the ring to "Yowie Wowie" chants in his complete sweater get-up, smiling and waving to the crowd as an unimpressed Miz looked on. It was a drastic departure from the overwhelmingly dark entrance and persona Wyatt has leaned on in his matches since the introduction of "The Fiend."
As soon as the match began, the Miz went on the attack. In between attacks, Wyatt asked Miz if he "got it out of his system" and told him to "take it easy."
After a series of offensive attacks by Miz, Wyatt finally attempted his Sister Abigail, but Miz reversed it into a Skull Crushing Finale and continued to smash Wyatt's face into the mat. Wyatt laughed throughout the entire ordeal. After more offense by Miz, Wyatt finally capitalized on a mistake on the outside of the ring and hit a unique version of Sister Abigail while the Miz was draped over the barricade. The Miz made it back into the ring just in the nick of time, but Wyatt caught him with another Sister Abigail for the win.
After the match, an image of The Fiend was brought up on the screen. Wyatt looked at the image and said "OK, I'll do it." Wyatt then pulled out a giant mallet from under the ring, but before he could do anything with it, Wyatt was blindsided by a running knee from Bryan, who had entered the ring on the other side. After embracing long hair and a long beard for much of the past few years of his in-ring career, Bryan donned a buzz cut after his hair was "torn out" by The Fiend a couple of weeks ago on SmackDown.
Bryan continued the assault to thunderous "Yes" chants, but as Bryan looked to use Wyatt's mallet, the lights went out. When they came back on, Wyatt was gone.
While the match itself was more of a story than an athletic affair, this was yet another brilliant, character-driven performance by Wyatt, and Bryan's postmatch ambush was thrilling.
What's next: Bryan vs. Wyatt/The Fiend is on, in full force. This has the makings of a classic rivalry.
TLC match: Baron Corbin vs. Roman Reigns
The match was advertised as Roman Reigns versus Baron Corbin, but the reality was it was four against one in a handicap match.
Midway through the contest, just as Reigns had regained momentum, Dolph Ziggler snuck out from his hiding spot under the ring and superkicked the stuffing out of Reigns. Then from there, it was one attack after another. Here's a brief look at the impossible odds Reigns faced:
Ziggler smashed a chair into Reigns' face then struck him with a Zigzag.
The Revival made a beeline to the ring and beat Reigns with a Kendo Stick.
The Revival struck Reigns with a Shatter Machine.
Corbin ended the match with an End of Days, on the aforementioned steel chair, and secured the win.
Even through the attacks, Reigns put up a valiant fight. At one point, he beat everyone in sight, including Corbin's security team, with Kendo Sticks, and a few moments later dove over the top rope, taking out about a dozen people including his four adversaries.
But the odds were too great. Corbin again showed why he is the best heel WWE has to offer, in terms of his reactions, even if his methods are somewhat methodical and lacking creativity. The ending of this match left everyone feeling rather unsatisfied.
What's next: If Reigns had won, this likely would have ended what has become a feud that has long outlived its window of excitement. The beef has no choice but to go on and on. The question is what will Reigns do to change the outcome? No one rushed to his side. Can he pick up a couple of enforcers? We'll find out soon.
Raw tag team championships: Viking Raiders (c) vs. The OC ends in a double countout
The Viking Raiders issued an open challenge at TLC, and The OC answered the call. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows eliminated the Viking Raiders from the "Best tag team in the world" gauntlet match at Crown Jewel back in October, but history would not repeat itself.
Instead, we were left with a double countout and some jarring product placement. The match ended after Gallows broke up a pinfall attempt on Anderson and Ivar dove through the ropes to the outside of the ring as both teams were sprawled out on the floor. At that point the referee had reached his 10 count. After the match, the Viking Raiders put the first table of the night to good use.
Four fans had been positioned ringside for the match in a promotional effort for KFC, and Anderson was powerbombed through the table and various foodstuffs to give them the advantage despite the inconclusive finish.
What's next: The Raw tag team division needs some adjustments as no true contenders for the Viking Raiders' titles have stepped up. AOP are the only believable contenders at this point. Time will tell if they'll compete within the division or simply serve as Seth Rollins' muscle. As for The OC, there's no real direction for the group. It's anyone's guess where they go from here, but hopefully it's toward something interesting.
Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy entered TLC, like much of the card, without a lot of buildup to their feud, but they had more background than most. Black had long been begging for somebody to step up and fight him; Murphy knocked on his door and accepted the invitation. With one tense in-ring clash and some verbal back-and-forth, a match was born.
Whether it was days or weeks, both Black and Murphy proved that they were up to the task and the opportunity. Put in the unenviable position of following the New Day-Revival opener, the pair staged a hard-hitting contest that likely saw Black walk away with both a broken nose and a memorable victory.
Before the match, Murphy sat cross-legged in the middle of the ring during Black's entrance -- Black's signature pose -- and Black sat in the middle of the ring and went nose-to-nose with him.
An early turning point saw Murphy block a kick from Black on the apron, pull him into the ring post and then drop him onto the steel stairs. That's where Black walked away with a bloody nose, providing both a striking image and also a moment that will stand out as Black continues to work his way through the pecking order. Black fought back, hitting a moonsault from the second rope to the outside, but Murphy took over yet again, blocking a superplex attempt and hitting a quartet of superkicks to Black's exposed jaw as he was prone on the middle rope.
Powerbombs and brainbusters followed, and after Murphy missed an attempt at a big kick, Black hit his Black Mass finishing roundhouse kick out of nowhere for the victory.
What's next: Black is clearly on his way up on the Raw roster, and hopefully this was another step in the right direction. A meaningful storyline would be most beneficial for his career. Murphy takes the loss, but after putting on thrilling matches in the past few months with Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns, hopefully WWE finds the right position for a wrestler who has proved he can shine in big spots.
Ladder match for the SmackDown tag team championships: The New Day (c) def. The Revival
The only question coming out of New Day-Revival was whether or not the rest of the show would be a downhill journey, as it set a high bar with a thrilling opening match on the final pay-per-view card of the year.
When you have The New Day, worthy opponents and the right circumstances, it's hard not to get a classic match. Throw in some ladders and tables and you've got one of the best bouts of the year.
Kofi Kingston once again played the hero role, but the action from start to finish was fast and furious and allowed all four participants an opportunity to shine. And just as importantly, it was innovative throughout. Given the no-disqualification stipulation, much of the action early was out of the ring. The Revival took control, notably when they caught Kingston trying to slide into a ladder, lifted said ladder up and then slammed it down on him.
Everyone took their lumps as the action went back and forth, and Big E and Kingston were able to regain some momentum, especially after Kingston leaped from a falling ladder, landed on the top rope and struck Dawson with a Tornado DDT. Kingston fell off the top of a ladder and ate a Shatter Machine, ladders were broken multiple times over to the detriment of both teams, and then it somehow continued to spin forward with a chaotic finish.
Big E landed an insane Big Ending on Wilder from halfway up the ladder, and while Dawson nearly got his hands on the belts, Kingston swung the titles into Dawson's head, sending him to the floor. That allowed Kingston to grab the belts.
What's next: After that match, how can we not want more Revival and New Day? The chemistry is second to none. The truth is, The New Day don't have a lot of worthy tag team opponents waiting for them on SmackDown. So expect this rivalry to carry on through the new year.
Humberto Carrillo def. Andrade
Coming off a surprise victory over Andrade on the most recent edition of Monday Night Raw, Humberto Carrillo looked to make it two straight on the TLC kickoff show -- and did just that.
Much like their match on Raw, this was a good match. Andrade unleashed the majority of the offense early on, including a nice-looking triangle choke while both men were wrapped in the ropes, but the Carrillo comeback wasn't too far behind. A springboard cross body block, followed by an enzuiguri, was all Carrillo needed to get back into the match. Then Carrillo delivered a corkscrew splash to Andrade on the outside of the ring.
As the match neared its conclusion, Andrade avoided some miscommunication with his associate Zelina Vega who was on the ring apron, which cost him on Monday, but it was enough for Carrillo to capitalize. He delivered a beautiful inverted hurricanrana to Andrade off the top rope, followed by a moonsault to pick up his second straight win over Andrade.
Whats next: After the match, Andrade walked out on Vega, which would seem to indicate tension and potentially a split between the two. It's a curious move, as the pairing has a ton of chemistry as a duo. As far as Carrillo, these were the two biggest wins of his WWE career, and his stock continues to rise.