TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2016
December 4, 2016
American Airlines Arena – Dallas, TX

Watch: WWE Network

Meet our previewer:

Barry Hess: Voices of Wrestling columnist and unwavering WWE fan since 1989. He survived the New Generation Era; it takes a lot more than 50/50 booking and a squash of Brock Lesnar to get him rattled.  Follow him on Twitter @BFHess171.

WWE SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship
Heath Slater & Rhyno (c) vs. The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton) 

The creative surrounding the SmackDown tag team titles has been somewhat stale the last few weeks. At the same time the direction of the division is fairly transparent; American Alpha is simmering on the back burner as we slowly inch toward The Royal Rumble and WrestleMania season, where they will rightly become the focus of the division. In the meantime two place-holder teams are front and center; not all that unusual for this portion of the WWE calendar. Heath Slater and Rhyno have certainly cooled since winning the titles, but the act is still over with the audience more than I would have anticipated. I’m glad a predictable Rhyno heel turn hasn’t played out (not yet anyway).

I’m going to be perfectly honest about The Wyatt Family; when Bray Wyatt’s face comes on my television screen I immediately hit the fast-forward button. I checked out in the spring and refuse to be lured back for any reason. Wyatt has officially entered Doink ‘The Clown’ territory in my eyes; an idea that was born with a lot of potential before quickly transforming into something far less compelling. Sure he’s capable of having above average matches at times, but at the end of the day what does it really mean? The answer for far too long has been nothing. Absolutely nothing. Objectively speaking, Randy Orton’s involvement in the clan was a decent idea, however, too many in the audience have checked out as I have for anything of value to come from the angle (the current tension between Orton and Luke Harper included). At the very least Wyatt’s victory at Survivor Series served as a practical catalyst for the team to be in position to challenge for the tag titles. Prediction: The Wyatt Family

Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto (Chairs Match) 

This rivalry has been going on since August…who says WWE doesn’t invest in long term booking anymore! Granted, Kalisto was injured during the late summer match against the Lone Wolf and did not return until November but who’s really keeping track? Upon re-emerging on the scene Kalisto returned the favor and a knee injury prevented Corbin from participating in the big Survivor Series match (but didn’t prevent him from interfering in Kalisto’s Cruiserweight title opportunity, thus preventing the blue brand from acquiring the purple brand).

Introducing chairs into this match should work out really well for the long term health of both these performers. Corbin has replaced 2015- Sheamus as the big guy that despises small guys though he hasn’t portrayed the role with the same vigor. Nothing in this story has been great, but it hasn’t been terrible either. Hopefully we get our payoff with Kalisto obtaining some measure of vengeance, but I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of this feud no matter who leaves Dallas victorious. Prediction: Kalisto

Nikki Bella vs. Carmella (No Disqualification Match)

It would be easy for me to write a few snarky sentences about Carmella and move on to the next match, but I’m not going to do that. We all agree that Carmella’s Staten Island princess gimmick is a no-go sans Enzo and Big Cass; the puppeteers in the back obviously recognize that now (though the move was somewhat of a no-brainer from the start). Her heel turn was a pleasant surprise only surpassed by the recent disappearance of her staged accent. With each passing week Carmella appears more comfortable in her new role, she even landed an ad-lib moment with the audience during a recent in-ring promo (take that Bayley!). Her in-ring work is sub-par as compared to the rest of the women’s roster, a fact that isn’t likely to change anytime soon so her creative will continue to be heavy doses of story supplemented by compact encounters in the ring.

Working with veteran talent like Nikki Bella can make the best of her shortcomings and put her in the best position to improve over time. Nikki’s Survivor Series attacker has yet to be revealed (Natalya) and that story is likely to carry over into this match. Pairing Carmella with Natalya and further distancing the new character from her former NXT persona is another small step in the right direction. Bella, for her part, has looked great since returning to action. Her role as the veteran anchor of the Smackdown women’s adds a layer of depth missing in Raw’s division. Prediction: Carmella

WWE Intercontinental Championship
The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler (Ladder Match) 

I, like most others, have thoroughly enjoyed the rivalry between Miz and Dolph Ziggler since the two began this heated story centered on the vaunted Intercontinental title; everything about this story encapsulates the popular lineage of WWE’s longstanding secondary title. Having said that I should note that my personal investment in this story is in stark contrast with popular opinion; I have been a fan of The Miz since his grossly underrated performance as the paper champion stuck between John Cena and The Rock in 2011. Miz has displayed the ability to make his gimmick work no matter the creative direction of his character. He projects a comfort in his own skin that many above him on the roster too often fail to achieve.

Conversely, I have never been capable of establishing any sort of connection with Dolph Ziggler and his various personas over the years. To me Ziggler has always represented a caricature of a pro wrestler. His selling is over the top and at times downright absurd, his promos are too often forced and devoid of real emotion and his in-ring psychology largely does not reflect the narrative of his character’s story. Until now. The chemistry between these two is off the chart; surpassed only by the brilliant contributions of Maryse, who has served as the glue to bring all the pieces of this compelling story together. This story is a fascinating combination of classic WWF creative from the 1980s and modern in-ring psychology and storytelling. It’s not  a reach to predict this match has the chance to earn Match of the Night honors, but if given the right amount of time and assuming both participants maintain the level of enthusiasm of previous encounters then this could potentially become something even bigger before it’s said and done. Prediction: The Miz 

WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Alexa Bliss (Tables Match) 

After this program suffered a false start, caused by an injury that briefly put Becky Lynch out of action, the story has picked up steam nicely. Alexa Bliss’ ongoing maturation into a conniving heel has been fun to watch; if folks were willing to give performers a bit more time to develop they’d stop being so surprised. If I’m being totally forthright I have to admit that my connection to Lynch’s character has been lukewarm since her days in NXT (with the exception of her angle with Charlotte at the beginning of this year). I don’t dislike anything about her; her athletic ability is fantastic and her fiery babyface persona fits her strengths as a performer perfectly. I just find myself gravitating towards her counterpart in most of her stories with no real logic to explain why.

The forced gimmick of a tables match inspired by the TLC theme takes away more from this match more than a straight contest for the title would have provided. Others may choose to die on that mountain, I will not. With no pinfall required to win the match the psychology behind a loss protects from interrupting Bliss’ obvious momentum. Hopefully the events of this match serve as a catalyst for future matches. It’d be a shame to see Bliss sent to the back of the line just as she’s hitting her stride. Prediction: Becky Lynch

WWE World Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs. Dean Ambrose (Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match) 

Let me start off by predicting that James Ellsworth will not be involved in this match whatsoever. It’s a bold prediction and admittedly one that goes against the story being told on television, but the events of this past week’s TV planted the seed in my mind and it’s been stuck there since (Styles attacked Ellsworth and delivered a Styles Clash outside the ring from the ring stairs to the floor). Unlike the other gimmick matches on the card, the allowances provided by a TLC match fit the tone of this cantankerous story between the last two men to hold the WWE World title quite well. Dean Ambrose has shined in similar environments in the past (Hell in a Cell 2014, Money in the Bank 2015 and WrestleMania 31); the chaos of the gimmick brings out the best in Ambrose’s lunatic persona. Of course Styles thrives in any environment. Providing Ambrose with an enthusiastic and willing dance partner (unlike his WrestleMania 32 match against Brock Lesnar) will certainly create some crazy and enjoyable moments should both parties walk away relatively unscathed.

The gimmick-heavy atmosphere of this event makes it easy to believe the outcome of this match will suffer from the ever-looming risk of overbooking. I tend to lean in the opposite direction. I believe this will serve as the final chapter of the rivalry, at least for the immediate future, in terms of a WWE title-themed narrative. Prediction: AJ Styles