The WWE will hold their final pay-per-view of the year with TLC tonight in San Jose, California.
It comes at a time when the company is about to embark on their most lucrative television contracts in history when a new pact with the USA Network and SmackDown’s migration to Fox go into effect in October. On the flip side, popularity for the product is down with house show attendance hurt, while Raw and SmackDown are coming off their lowest viewership totals of the year with Raw hitting 20-year lows.
The answer appears to be a reset Monday with Vince McMahon returning to television to “shake things up”. This comes one week after a transparent segment where Seth Rollins echoed the complaints regarding the show gave a glimpse into McMahon’s real complaints. The show comes down to McMahon’s vision and whatever positive or negative you attach to the presentation, it is McMahon’s product.
Raw has been hit hard with the indefinite loss of Roman Reigns, John Cena’s move to Hollywood, and countless injuries that include Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss.
Invariably, Raw’s viewership should receive a bump in January after Monday Night Football ends, which represents their largest competition from September through January. It is also the time of the year that WrestleMania programs begin to kick off, so perhaps rock bottom has been hit. Before they get to mid-January, they will have two weeks of lame duck programming as Christmas and New Year’s are two weeks worth of shows that shouldn’t have viewership figures placed under a microscope, for obvious reasons.
Injuries happen, Monday Night Football is a factor, three hours is too long, writing long shows is tough, there are so many channels, these are all excuses, but they dance around the chief cause of popularity is down. Raw has been a bad show and there is no top star that is carrying the program. Wholesale changes should be made and the silver lining to this period should be new ideas coming to the forefront and the company taking risks as they throw different ideas against the wall. The same old formula is a foolish response when the audience is telling you the current product isn’t connecting.
The next three weeks can be a great testing period to try new things. The ratings don’t matter over these next few weeks and your diehard fans will still be tuning in. The phrase “shake things up” could be applied literally rather than a desperation tactic for a one-week bounce back. Vince McMahon appearing on television isn’t the solution, but if these metrics are viewed with an open mind and constructive criticism is welcomed, the company should take this month as a learning lesson and approach 2019 with a fresh slate while eliminating the fear of trying new things.
Here is a preview of tonight’s card, which begins at 6 pm Eastern with the TLC kickoff show and the main card airs at 7 pm on the WWE Network.
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka in a TLC match for the SmackDown women’s title
This match feels like the main event and I would absolutely put this one on last. The positioning is a statement that these women are the top program and places Becky Lynch onto that level.
This match could go many ways. On one hand, Becky losing the title without being pinned and then chasing it into WrestleMania is one option, although I hate beating her on this show when she is hot, even if it doesn’t require her to take a fall. If Charlotte wins, it’s a strong story having Becky win the Royal Rumble and both brand’s champions are viable options for her, ultimately choosing Ronda Rousey.
Asuka probably could use the win the most to help her back up, but if she isn’t figured into the major SmackDown title program for ‘Mania season, then what’s the point? If Becky and Ronda Rousey remains the plan, Asuka and Charlotte could rematch at ‘Mania and then there’s an argument to Asuka winning.
I think this match will be great, it’s a strong way to close the show and the booking of Becky Lynch is important. It’s rare they have someone catch fire like this and you don’t want to mess with that momentum especially in her first match, so I can understand her winning the match, but the value is in the chase.
Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the SmackDown title
This should be another excellent match and the first chance to see Bryan work a long match in the new heel role. I’m very curious to see what adaptations he makes inside the ring in this one because the Brock Lesnar match was a full babyface style of match for Bryan. This is the match to introduce a new submission, ring music, and any other modifications to the Daniel Bryan presentation.
I don’t think anyone believes Styles is winning the title back so that’s the objective, to get fans to bite that he can win the title.
I have no indication of this happening but having someone like Lars Sullivan appear to assist Bryan and spinoff into a feud with Styles could be a way to end this one. This should end Styles’ being part of the title picture and have someone to divert his attention.
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental title
Like Bryan, this is the first big match for Dean Ambrose since the heel turn and again, it’s a chance to update some aspects of his work. I always like when a performer turns and uses it to introduce new moves, new gear, new music and make a wholesale change that divorces them from the prior incarnation.
The heel turn has not been a home run because of mitigating factors from the motivation for the turn the night Roman Reigns made his announcement, the use of his leukemia for heat, the Bane-inspired gas mask, and being injected with needles. Wow, there’s been a lot of garbage thrown Ambrose’s way when you list it off.
It would nullify Ambrose’s turn to have him lose in this one, plus Rollins is similar to Becky Lynch where both should be the top babyfaces chasing for titles going into WrestleMania so it may be time for Rollins to drop the title.
Rollins should be in line for a huge year in 2019 and I can see him cementing his place as the top babyface on Raw, which many already see him as.
Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Jax for the Raw women’s title
They had a very good match at Money in the Bank and this time you have a much better-defined heel character in Jax.
One aspect of this match is how much attention to detail they provide. In the storyline, this is the first time Becky Lynch has been in the same building as Nia Jax since the punch on Raw, and the first time Ronda Rousey has been in the same building as Charlotte Flair since the Survivor Series attack. If neither is addressed, I think that’s a big logic gap that needs some explanation or follows up with the babyfaces seeking revenge or a hint of doing so in the future.
I feel Rousey and Jax will have another good outing and the size discrepancy works well in Rousey’s matches and is more impressive when she throws Jax.
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin in a TLC match
Everyone knows Strowman is limited being fresh off elbow surgery and I see this as more of an angle than a match. This is where I can see a lot of shortcuts, run-ins, and everyone’s revenge on Corbin, such as Heath Slater and Rhyno being involved.
Strowman wins quickly and this should set up the firing for Monday.
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio in a Chairs match
Yes, another classic chairs match.
This match doesn’t need a stipulation, but the show forces a match like this to happen.
Orton seemed to be heating up for a title program with A.J. Styles, but with Styles dropping the title, Bryan is the one that needs babyface challengers. It is going to be tough to keep Bryan a heel as he’s so entertaining and that’s why I see Mysterio winning this match and being programmed with Bryan next. SmackDown is lucky that they have babyfaces like Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy, who the audience genuinely loves and won’t turn on them, so Bryan can be programmed with legitimate babyfaces that will help the heel character continue.
This match should be based around Mysterio gaining revenge and I see him winning this one. They have always had strong chemistry, so this could be a very good match on the show.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. New Day vs. The Usos for the SmackDown tag titles
This is another match that should be very good, especially if they are no rushed, which isn’t guaranteed with such a heavy match load.
The Usos have been criminally underutilized this year after a great 2017. I could certainly see them winning the titles back, although whoever are champions among these three teams means little as they will always be programmed against each other in some combination. Poor Sanity.
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley in a Ladder match
The guitar will be hung over the ring and the one who retrieves it can use it as a weapon.
This feels like a cold match on a show that has too many matches, this being one of them.
There is the opportunity to use Lio Rush for some ladder spots with Elias, which I don’t see Lashley doing many of.
If this is happening early, you may have Lashley win this one and return to assist Baron Corbin in the TLC match later along with Drew McIntyre.
Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor
Balor is being advertised for tonight, so all assumptions are that he’s wrestling.
This feels buried down the card but could be a sleeper match on the show. Obviously, McIntyre is set for big things in 2019 but they won’t have the hang-up of protecting him from losses after the recent one on Raw.
If Raw is going to “shake things up”, Balor needs to be a bigger priority given all the talent that is gone and he’s someone that still has plenty of untapped potential as a babyface that the audience hasn’t lost faith in. I could see Dolph Ziggler getting involved in the match and they continue that on television.
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott in a Tables match
As long as Natalya isn’t put through the table with Jim Neidhart’s picture on it, I won’t have any complaints.
Ruby Riott is very underrated and everyone is starting to see her in the utility role where you can put her in many situations and she delivers. This is one of her few chances to have a breakout performance on a pay-per-view in a singles setting with a strong opponent.
I thought the feud ended when Riott tapped out to the sharpshooter on Raw, but then they came up with more Jim Neidhart ideas and I guess the feud continued. Natalya should win this and move on.
Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander for the Cruiserweight title
Like every 205 Live match, it comes down to the crowd’s participation. The positioning of this match will be either helpful or harmful. If it’s late in the show and the audience has sat through eight or nine matches, this could be a tough sell for them, but if early I can see the audience being hot for it.
Murphy and Mustafa Ali had the second-best match at the Survivor Series and this one could end up in a similar position given the talent involved.
I don’t think the title should switch here and I would reserve the big title changes of this division for the show and train people to tune in, so they don’t miss big moments like a title change.
R-Truth and Carmella vs. Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox
The real main event of the show and the end of the Mixed Match Challenge.
Part of the WWE’s deal with Facebook for the second season was to include the finals on this show, so here we are with four performers who wouldn’t be on this show without the MMC.
I think Truth and Carmella winning provides the easiest pairing for the vacation vignettes they will have to do. The dance break routine is getting long in the tooth and they need to introduce some new ideas.