The WWE Smackdown Live brand heads to Dallas, Texas this Sunday for their last pay-per-view event of the year called TLC. The letters stand for Tables, Ladders & Chairs, which is something WWE fans know as an annual December PPV where several matches take place in which weapons are allowed. The main event is a TLC match featuring AJ Styles defending the WWE World Championship against Dean Ambrose.
I think Smackdown Live has been superior to Raw since the July brand split mainly because of the show’s creative direction. In addition to better stories, the promos on Smackdown feel more authentic a lot of the time. Sometimes, the matches are shorter because it’s two hours instead of three hours for Raw, but being two hours is an advantage because there’s less of a chance for a show to drag. While I wouldn’t say Smackdown is way better than Raw, it’s definitely the show I like more of the two.
There are six matches announced as of this writing, with five of them having stipulations on them. It’s nice to have stipulation matches once in a while because it differentiates them from the regular matches we see so often. The negative side to it is that sometimes when you have too many similar matches, it leads to repetitiveness.
Here’s a breakdown of the WWE Title match using five different categories in order to tackle it from different angles. I did it with Goldberg vs. Lesnar two weeks ago and liked the format, so let’s do it again.
The Styles-Ambrose feud started with their WWE Title match at September’s Backlash PPV. Styles won the WWE Title that night, thanks to a low blow that the ref didn’t see followed by his Styles Clash finisher. They were part of the WWE Title match at No Mercy one month later along with John Cena, and Styles remained the champion. From there, things went on a unique turn.
James Ellsworth, the awkward looking jobber that was beat up by Raw’s Braun Strowman a few months ago, started making regular appearances on Smackdown. It led to Ellsworth beating Styles in matches where Ambrose blatantly helped Ellsworth. Two weeks ago, Ellsworth beat Styles in a Ladder Match to win a Smackdown contract, as well as a future shot at the WWE Title. Ellsworth is actually 3-0 against Styles, although none of the wins were clean.
The inclusion of Ellsworth has taken the feud in a different direction because it feels like a comedy feud in a lot of ways. They tried to rectify that by having Styles nail Ellsworth with a vicious Styles Clash on the floor during the last Smackdown, but fans are still going to remember that Ellsworth beat Styles three times. If it was me booking, that would have never happened because I’d keep Styles strong as champion. This is WWE, though. They love booking champions to lose non-title matches.
Styles gets a lot of cheers, even though he’s supposed to be the heel. It wouldn’t shock me if WWE turns him face early next year at some point because of how much the crowd loves him. I think it’s just one of those things where people cheer because they see that he’s the best performer in the company and they’re happy he finally made it in WWE, so they want to cheer the guy. In today’s WWE, it’s hard to be a true heel even when you’re an exceptional performer like Styles.
I keep thinking an Ambrose heel turn is coming at some point in the next few months. He has been one of the most popular guys in the company for nearly three years now and he’s been so durable as well. People respect him a lot. I just get the sense that this Ellsworth angle is being done as a way to set up a turn from Ambrose.
I love their matches. In addition to the two PPV matches they were a part of, they’ve also wrestled several times on Smackdown, including on Nov. 1 when Ambrose beat Styles to earn the title shot. In addition to all of the television matches they’ve had, they also have been wrestling in main events on live events. The chemistry is very good between them.
When it comes to TLC matches, people want to see big spots. They want to see somebody go through a table. Knowing how both of these guys are, they’re both likely to go through a table. I’m not sure if there will be any crazy jumps off a ladder, but it’s possible. Chair shots are usually done to the back with no more head shots, so I’m sure they’ll incorporate those as well.
The best case scenario is that we’ll be talking about a match of the year contender on Monday morning. Worst case is it’s an overbooked mess with Ellsworth involved too much. I think it’s going to be a very good match on the level of their Backlash match, but it will be more of a fight thanks to the TLC stipulation.
The lack of depth makes it hard to know where each man is going after TLC. This is why Smackdown needs an upper mid-card babyface like Sami Zayn or Cesaro on the show because they would be perfect as opponents for Styles.
Aside from Ambrose, the next obvious challenger for Styles would be John Cena, who should be back on television in early January. He’s filming the American Grit 2 television show for Fox at the moment. I’m not sure if they will go to that feud again or save it for a later date.
It’s possible that Styles has a feud with The Undertaker. It could start right after TLC. Prior to Survivor Series, The Undertaker showed up to say he doesn’t want WrestleMania to define him, which sounds like another way of saying that he wanted to work more than just one show. There’s no official word on when The Undertaker may return, but he’s a Texan who would get a huge ovation if he showed up in Dallas at TLC on Sunday night.
Dean Ambrose has been in the WWE Title for the entire second half of the year. He needs to move onto something else just to freshen up the character. Whether face or heel, he needs to tweak some things soon. If he stays the course as a face, then Baron Corbin could be a possible opponent or perhaps The Miz, assuming he loses the IC Title. Since the Royal Rumble is the next PPV in late January, there’s no need to rush a feud for Ambrose.
I’m going with AJ Styles winning the match due to Ellsworth doing something stupid to cost his buddy Ambrose the win. Perhaps there’s something where Ellsworth tries to stop Styles from winning and then it comes back to haunt him because Ellsworth bumps into a ladder while Ambrose is climbing, so Ambrose falls through two tables. Something like that wouldn’t shock me.
If WWE wants to book Styles to win in a relatively clean manner, that’s fine too. I just think if you do something with Ellsworth costing Ambrose, it would set up the Ambrose heel turn because Ellsworth’s strength as a character is as a sympathetic figure. People laugh at the guy, so if somebody were to beat up the guy that people laugh at (like Styles did on Smackdown), then it makes that person look like the biggest jerk in the world. I’m not sure if Ambrose is turning heel, but it’s something I would do because he could really thrive in that role.
I like that Undertaker idea a lot too. I think if TLC had a shot of Styles celebrating in the ring only to hear that Undertaker *GONG* music hit, then I think the crowd would go crazy for it. If they built up with the idea that Undertaker wants one more WWE Title run, then people might buy into the idea of him actually beating Styles for the title. It may not be a dream match that fans thought of when Styles got to WWE, but it would certainly be an intriguing matchup.
Styles retaining the WWE Title feels like the best choice to me. I don’t think he should lose the WWE Title until WrestleMania at the earliest. I hope WWE’s Creative team agrees with me on that.
The Rest of the TLC Lineup
Ladder Match For The Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
This is the final match for this rivalry that has lasted about four months. I was surprised that Ziggler dropped the IC Title back to The Miz a few weeks ago. As I sit here trying to think of a winner, it’s hard to say because of all the title changes they’ve done, but there is a good angle they could do based off the result.
The Miz has had problems with Smackdown’s GM Daniel Bryan. They bicker a lot. Bryan was the one that announced that this is the last Miz vs. Ziggler match with no rematch. With that in mind, if Ziggler gets the win they can have Miz complain about it because nearly every champion gets a rematch… except him. It’s a way to give the heel Miz something to whine about, while Ziggler can defend the gold against new challengers such as Baron Corbin or perhaps Luke Harper.
There have been dozens of ladder matches in WWE history, so they aren’t going to do too many things we haven’t seen before. I also doubt they are going to top their No Mercy match, which was one of the best matches of the year. However, they have good chemistry and I expect it to be a great match.
My Prediction: Dolph Ziggler wins the Intercontinental Championship
Smackdown Tag Team Championships: Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton
This feels like a title change because Slater and Rhyno don’t have the aura of a long-term team. They were teamed up as a way to have Slater “earn” a Smackdown contract. I figured it would be The Usos that won the titles from them, but instead it’ll likely be this new formation of the Wyatt Family.
It would be Wyatt’s first title win in WWE. He really hasn’t gone after titles, but this one just sort of happened. I think the long-term story will be something where they hold the titles for a few months, it falls apart around February or March, Orton ends up turning face as he reveals he was only aligning with Wyatt to get in his head, and then Orton battles Wyatt at WrestleMania. That’s long term, though. Short-term is a Tag Team Title win on Sunday at TLC.
My Prediction: Wyatt & Orton win the Tag Team Championships
Tables Match For Smackdown Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss
This is their second title match because their last title match on Smackdown had a disputed finish. Lynch had her Disarmer submission applied, Bliss had her foot on the rope, the referee never saw it and Bliss was forced to tap out. She was given the rematch, which became a Tables Match after Bliss shoved Lynch through a table during their contract signing segment on Smackdown. Good storytelling to set up this match.
A title change is possible because Bliss can win in a fluke way by putting Lynch through the table. I feel like Lynch should retain because she’s only held the title for a few months. Let her establish it as something meaningful. Just because Raw’s Women’s Title changes hands nearly every week doesn’t mean they must book the Smackdown title that way. I’m going with a Lynch win in a competitive match-up, as Bliss continues to impress us as a star on the rise.
My Prediction: Becky Lynch retains Women’s Championship
No Disqualification: Nikki Bella vs. Carmella
The feud for this match has been good. It goes back about three months with Carmella being jealous of Nikki’s popularity. I wasn’t sure how well Carmella could pull off the heel thing, but she’s done well with it. Based on the history of the feud, it makes sense for the face Nikki to get the win as a way to get her revenge and put an end to their issues.
However, I think the Survivor Series story about Nikki getting attacked is going to come back into play with this match as they reveal it was Natalya that did it. They can have Natalya show up here to help Carmella win and go with a Natalya vs. Nikki feud from there.
My Prediction: Carmella wins in a cheap way
Chairs Match: Kalisto vs. Baron Corbin
It’s the classic little man (Kalisto) vs. bigger man (Corbin) match-up with an added twist since they will legally be allowed to use chairs in the match. It could be argued that the chairs make it more fair for Kalisto, since he’ll be able to utilize weapons to try to weaken Corbin, but it also makes things difficult since it gives the stronger Corbin a legal weapon to use in the match.
Their story has been basic with Corbin being a bully towards Kalisto and we’ve seen Kalisto show some fight in getting in his face. It would be a surprise if Corbin doesn’t get the win because WWE likely sees him as a future main eventer while Kalisto is just a mid-carder or tag team wrestler. It should be a dominant win for Corbin.
My Prediction: Baron Corbin wins
I like the lineup because it’s a mix of matches we’ve seen a few times such as Styles vs. Ambrose and Ziggler vs. Miz along with a totally different kind of match for the tag titles featuring two odd pairings going for gold. Both women’s matches intrigue me because the heel women Bliss and Carmella both seem to have a chip on their shoulders to prove they belong on the main roster, so let’s see what they can do.
There are still some things Smackdown can do better in terms of booking some other talent that aren’t in matches on this show (can somebody find Apollo Crews?), but for the most part they have done the best they can considering they have a smaller roster and John Cena’s off filming a reality competition show for Fox. Once Cena’s back and The Undertaker is part of storylines heading into 2017, that should only make Smackdown that much stronger.
You can watch Smackdown’s TLC show on WWE Network this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET with an expected run time of three hours. There’s a Kickoff Show starting at 6 p.m. ET as well.