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WWE TLC review: AJ Styles retains WWE Title, thanks to some help

The final WWE Smackdown Live pay-per-view took place on Sunday night, with AJ Styles retaining his WWE World Title over Dean Ambrose in a spectacular main event match. In addition to that, two titles changed hands and a whole lot of weapons were used during one of WWE’s most violent events of the year.

The theme of the TLC event is to have one Tables Match, one Ladder Match and one Chairs Match, and the main event was the awesome Tables, Ladders & Chairs match for the WWE Title. There were a lot of chair shots, tables being broken and ladders used as weapons as well.

AJ Styles had the match of the night again, which he’s done at nearly every PPV he’s been on this year. I think he’s been the best performer in WWE all year, so when you give him over 30 minutes on a PPV, he’s going to deliver a classic match. Ambrose is an excellent performer as well, but Styles is on another level from anybody else in WWE right now. I’ll save the praise for that performance later.

Before I get to the match-by-match breakdown, it needs to be pointed out that the crowd was disappointing for this show. Normally Dallas, Texas is a good wrestling crowd, but they were quiet for most of the night. They were loud for the main event and a few other moments. Other than that, I felt bad for the wrestlers busting their asses in front of a mostly silent crowd.

The event featured seven matches including the Kickoff Match, with no significant promos taking place. Here’s a look at the show in the order that the matches took place.

Apollo Crews, Chad Gable, Jason Jordan, Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley defeated Curt Hawkins, Aiden English, Simon Gotch, Konnor & Viktor (Kickoff Match)

This was a random 10-man tag match announced earlier in the day with no storyline build at all. It was a clean win for the faces with Gable & Jordan hitting their Grand Amplitude finishing move on Gotch for the victory. It’s nice to see that WWE remembered who Apollo Crews is, since he has been absent from television for months now. He’s the perfect example of calling up a guy to the main roster without any plan or direction because he’s barely been used since July.

It will be interesting to see if the American Alpha duo of Gable & Jordan will be the main contenders for the Tag Team Titles now or if that push will come closer to WrestleMania.

Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton defeated Heath Slater & Rhyno to win the Smackdown Tag Team Championships

I thought this was the most predictable match of the show because there was no way WWE was going to put Wyatt & Orton into a title match to have them lose to Slater & Rhyno. It was a dominant win for the heel duo that gets cheered quite a bit because of their cool factor. I liked the finish a lot, as Rhyno hit a Gore on Luke Harper on the floor after Harper shoved Orton out of the way. Rhyno went back into the ring, Wyatt did his crab walk thing to distract him and Orton slid back into the ring with a RKO out of nowhere to win the titles. It only went about eight minutes, but that’s all it needed to be.

After the win, Wyatt and Orton each placed their titles on the shoulders of Luke Harper. It makes me think that they will use the “Freebird Rule” in which New Day would use any two members of the group to defend the titles at any time. I have no problem with that since Harper is really good in the ring.

I’m not sure how long Orton will team with Wyatt. It feels like it will last a few months, they’ll split by late February or early March with Orton going face, they’ll drop the titles around that time and it will set up Orton vs. Wyatt at WrestleMania. That’s just a guess on my part.

Nikki Bella defeated Carmella in a No Disqualification Match

The story has been ongoing for about four months with Carmella jealous of Nikki’s success and popularity. They used a kendo stick as a weapon for most of the match. Nikki grabbed a fire extinguisher, sprayed Carmella with it excessively and won with her Rack Attack 2.0 finisher. The match went seven minutes.

After the match was over, Carmella went on the microphone to say that it was Natalya who attacked Nikki at Survivor Series. Later in the show, Natalya denied it. Just remember that heels like Natalya lie.

The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler in a Ladder Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship

This was a long match that went about 25 minutes with a slow pace and good psychology throughout. When you’re in a grueling match like that, you should spend time working over a body part, so that’s what they did. Miz worked on the left leg of Ziggler for much of it as he did some unique spots such as a Figure Four Leglock on the bottom rung of the ladder. Towards the end of the match, Miz took a fall and grabbed his right leg to sell pain for him.

I thought the last few minutes were excellent with both guys slowly trying to climb as they favored their leg injuries. There were two ladders set up in the ring with Ziggler on one side and Miz on the other side. Ziggler staggered Miz with headbutts and nearly reached the top, but Miz kicked him in the groin two times in a row. He shoved Ziggler down as Ziggler was writhing in pain due to the dreaded kick to the junk. Miz slowly climbed to grab his IC Title.

I was actually surprised that Maryse made no attempt to help her husband The Miz during the match. While Miz did win with two low blows that would be considered cheap, it was within the rules to do that. I figured she would try to do something at some point, but she didn’t do anything. It was a win by Miz on his own.

This was one of the best feuds of the year and it’s over for now. I thought their No Mercy match in October was the best one, with Ziggler winning the IC Title while putting his career on the line. Kudos to both guys for elevating their games in the last few months while also making the IC Title feel as important as ever.

Baron Corbin defeated Kalisto in a Chairs Match

The match was better than I thought it was going to be with a good effort put forth by both guys. They had a classic big man (Corbin) vs. little man (Kalisto) match where Corbin dominated much of it, Kalisto came so close to winning multiple times and in the end, it was Corbin hitting his End of Days finisher on a pool of chairs to get the pinfall victory after 13 minutes of action.

Here’s the best example of two guys working their asses off in a physical match with some unique spots, yet the crowd didn’t seem to care. They did this spot where six chairs were in a seated position side-by-side in the middle of the ring. Kalisto jumped off the top rope and drove Corbin through the chairs with a seated senton. It barely drew a reaction. Kalisto is fine as an energetic underdog babyface, but he’s not nearly as popular as a guy like Rey Mysterio, for example.

Part of the reason for the crowd not reacting to the match in a favorable way is because of Corbin’s personality. He’s the “lone wolf” whodoesn’t care what the fans think and acts like a bully. I hope Corbin reaches his full potential by being a heel that can generate true heat. I just don’t know who the right opponent will be to get him there. Perhaps somebody like Ambrose could help, since he’s a popular face on the roster.

When you look at the current WWE roster in terms of new guys, it’s more realistic to expect the likes of Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin and Big Cass in featured roles because they have the height and the look that Vince McMahon loves. Some talented smaller wrestlers will break through, but those big guys are always going to have a presence as well. That’s just how Vince is.

Alexa Bliss defeated Becky Lynch in a Tables Match to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship

The second title change of the night could be considered a mild upset. Lynch won the new title back in September at Backlash, barely defended it and lost it in what was her first PPV title defense. She was going to defend it against Bliss at No Mercy, but had some minor medical issue, so they did a big match on Smackdown last month with Bliss losing, even though her foot was on the ropes during a Lynch submission. This was the rematch with Bliss getting the win, thanks to a Powerbomb off the apron that put Lynch through a table.

I thought the match ran a little long at 16 minutes because, like I said in the preview, you can only tease table bumps so often. They used a table in the ring to try to set up the finish, but just used it as a weapon. I liked seeing Lynch do her Disarmer submission move while using a table leg to assist with the pain. It didn’t seem to hurt Bliss since she won soon after that moment anyway.

Bliss should be an interesting champion because she’s an entertaining heel with a bright future. I get the sense that it will be a short title reign like with the women on Raw because it wouldn’t shock me if Nikki Bella is holding that title early next year at some point. Lynch was a good choice as the first holder of this championship, but I’m not shocked that she lost it. I just thought the title reign would last longer with more title defenses.

AJ Styles defeated Dean Ambrose in a TLC Match to retain the WWE World Championship

It was another phenomenal (I have to use that word) performance from WWE Champion AJ Styles, who retained his championship in controversial fashion. I don’t think many people thought Styles was going to lose the title because he’s clearly the long-term champion on Smackdown while Ambrose already had a good title reign earlier in the year. I think the way that Styles won did surprise some people.

They went nearly 30 minutes while utilizing all of the tools that were legal in a match like this. There were plenty of chair shots, ladders being used as weapons and some major table breaking spots as well.

In some unfortunate news, Styles suffered a minor wardrobe malfunction because he took a suplex onto some chairs leading to a rip in the back of his tights. It’s not that bad when you consider that a guy like Rikishi wrestled in a giant thong for years, but it’s obviously a look that Styles wasn’t going for in this match.

The first big table spot happened when Ambrose was in control as he put a ladder on top of one of the announce tables. He placed Styles onto another table to keep him there. Ambrose climbed the ladder and jumped off with an elbow drop that drove Styles through the table. Huge ovation for that. It led to Ambrose setting up a ladder in the ring, followed by him going for a climb and Styles preventing him from winning.

Later in the match, Styles did an amazing move while Ambrose was lying on a table in the aisle. Styles went back into the ring, jumped off the top rope and connected with a perfect springboard 450 Splash onto Ambrose on the floor. It was one of the coolest-looking moves I’ve ever seen. A 450 Splash on its own is a big deal. Doing it while a guy is on a table makes it that much more awesome. Styles continues to impress me with everything he does and the crowd agreed as they chanted “this is awesome” for the spot.

It looked like Styles was going to grab the title at that point, but he was interrupted by James Ellsworth, who walked out in a neck brace. On the last Smackdown, Styles nailed a Styles Clash on Ellsworth on the floor. Most of us figured Ellsworth would be a factor in the finish of this match, but we didn’t know when. Ambrose was able to use Ellsworth’s presence to his advantage, hitting a DDT on Styles on the steps at ringside. It led to Ambrose climbing the ladder, nearly reaching the top and that’s when Ellsworth turned heel by shoving the ladder so that Ambrose went crashing onto two tables outside the ring that were conveniently set up side-by-side. With Ambrose down, Styles climbed up to retrieve his title for the cheap victory. Styles looked confused by it, while Ellsworth was happy.

Was it a heel turn by Ellsworth or just a dumb guy doing something that was stupid? Keep watching to find out. On Talking Smack on WWE Network after the show, Ellsworth said he beat Styles three times already, so he wants to beat him for the WWE Title, which takes place on Tuesday’s Smackdown. Daniel Bryan, the Smackdown GM, pointed out to Ellsworth that James only beat AJ because Ambrose helped him all three times.

There are a lot of ways things can progress from here. I think it’s possible that Ellsworth was in cahoots with Styles and lays down on Smackdown to give Styles the win. Ambrose can get his revenge by beating up Ellsworth for costing him the WWE Title win. It could lead to Ambrose becoming more of a vicious heel, although I’m not sure if WWE wants to turn him. To be honest with you, I’ve been writing “Ambrose may turn heel” for most of 2016. I just think he’d be even better in that role.

I’m glad that Styles is still the WWE Champion. I hope his next opponent is The Undertaker, who could pop up at any time leading to a match at the Royal Rumble. If that does happen, perhaps waiting until the first Smackdown of 2017 is the right time for it since they would have all of January to set it up. As for Ambrose, he’ll probably look to get revenge on his “buddy” Ellsworth starting this Tuesday on Smackdown.

In Closing

I enjoyed the show because of the TLC Match main event and the Ladder Match above all the others. There wasn’t anything on the show that was that bad or made me want to turn it off and watch something else. I’m sure a lot of the talent on the show were hurting a bit more than usual in the morning because they took some nasty bumps for our entertainment. Wrestling is already painful enough when you’re bumping in a ring. Add in some tables, ladders and chairs and it only adds to the pain.

The heels dominated the show. Nikki Bella and the guys in the Kickoff Match were the only faces that won their matches. All four Smackdown titles are held by heels, although guys like Styles, Orton and Wyatt are cheered a lot by the audience, so I don’t think every fan thinks of them as traditional bad guys.

I think TLC was one of the best PPV events of the year. Smackdown has been the better show since the brand split started in late July and they impressed me again with another above average PPV led by Styles, Ambrose, Miz and Ziggler once again.

The next WWE pay-per-view is the last one in 2016. It’s called “Roadblock: End of the Line” presented by the Raw brand on Dec. 18. The announced main event is Kevin Owens defending the Universal Championship against United States Champion Roman Reigns with more matches expected to be announced in the next two weeks.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.

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