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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Genre Index - A Guide to Gimmicks in Modern-Day WWE (The Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match)
By The Doc and Samuel 'Plan
Dec 3, 2016 - 10:15:10 AM

Professional wrestling is storytelling, plain and simple. Themes such as competition, betrayal, jealousy, respect, underdog, and so on and so forth are found in tales woven by pro wrestlers as commonly as they are in literature or conventional television and film; society simply misunderstands that fact because of certain ridiculous stereotypes, such as the one centered on its scripted nature. Furthermore, just as there is in Hollywood or the literary game, professional wrestling has various different genres that can help us classify the types of stories told on the 20'X20' canvas. Using the vernacular of “the business,” we traditionally refer to many of these genres as “gimmicks.”

In the coming weeks and months, I will team with Samuel 'Plan to thoroughly dissect the essence of each of pro wrestling's match-types. With his book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, championing that we embrace the performance art that pro wrestling truly is, 'Plan brings a fascinating perspective in support of his stance that the time has come for the fans and the public at large to receive pro wrestling in a more mature fashion. 101 has already begun the process of classifying pro wrestling genres; with my second book, The Greatest Matches, Rivalries, And Stories Of The WrestleMania Era (estimated release in late 2017), as keen on developing the most definitive ranking ever created for wrestling history's second great question as The WrestleMania Era: The Book Of Sports Entertainment was on answering the first (who's the greatest wrestler of all-time), we felt compelled to combine my analytical eye with his interpretative approach to establish a more refined understanding of pro wrestling gimmicks.

Each genre and sub-genre will be discussed as we break down what each one is all about and offer up the quintessential match that best embodies its fundamental identity.

Cage --> Hell in a Cell
Tag Team --> Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match

Tomorrow night's TLC pay-per-view will pen the latest chapter in the sub-genre that we will further define today:

The Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match

With any variation of the Ladder Match, there has emerged over the last twenty some odd years a line of distinction to be drawn between the two primary methods historically employed by the participants. The first mirrors the efforts of the original group of wrestlers involved in the genre-incepting versions, in which there was a heavy concentration on the previously-established, high profile story between headlining competitors; this has become the exception since the multi-man Ladder Match was innovated in late 1999. The second was a by-product of the shift toward the Ladder Match as a mid-card showcase that offered a literal and figurative platform off of which new stars could launch themselves to better positions in the WWE hierarchy; it is a sub-genre perhaps best classified as an example of hardcore visual artistry, or what I like to call the “Stunt Brawl,” of which TLC was a natural extension.

As a part of my attempt to comprehensively redefine my understanding of WWE’s product and fan reaction to it through reframing pro wrestling conversation via the prism of performance art genre, I came across a recurring problem that Doc and I will need to tackle more than once as we continue to build this Genre Index: that, sometimes, there are only very minor differences between certain genres and / or sub-genres. In this instance, what separates the TLC sub-genre from its parent genre, the Ladder Match? Considering that the pluralist method of the latter, what Doc refers to as a stunt-brawl, has been in the ascendancy now for many years, on the surface there appears to be little to separate the two. This results in a temptation to question why TLC should exist in the first place. It is a question best answered, and therefore a sub-genre best defined, by revisiting the reason behind its very genesis. Doing so gives you everything you need to know: unlike the Ladder Match, the TLC Match works best when, and perhaps always should be, chained to reason; when the requisite elements of its trinity are jointly demanded and explained by the story being climaxed.

Which begs the question: beyond the first two, has there ever really been a substantial reason to have a TLC Match? As of WWE’s eighth annual Tables, Ladders, and Chairs-themed pay-per-view, nineteen was the total number of times that the TLC Match had been utilized. Nearly half of the entire library happened simply because one of the main-events of the titular show had to be a TLC Match, even when no championships or contracts were on the line to hang above the ring in versions that probably belong as sub-genres to Falls Count Anywhere instead of Ladder. There were also three throwaway versions since the TLC event debuted in 2009. Few candidates exist that fully capture the essence of the gimmick, hence we go back to the original.
The very first TLC Match at Summerslam 2000. The three teams involved – Edge and Christian, the Hardyz and the Dudleys – had wrestled a Triangle Ladders Match earlier that very same year. On a practical, real world level, it may be TLC was designed merely as a means to provide fans with a rematch while avoiding any sense of repetition. Artistically, however, it provided a sensible story and character-driven escalation of their preceding encounter. Each of the three teams had become infamous for utilising a weapon, so it made sense to bring those weapons together in a carnivorous environment that invited destruction. The result, while undoubtedly of a pluralist school of thought, is nonetheless far more than just a ‘stunt-brawl.’ Rather, one might read it as a clash of disciplines; pro wrestling amalgamating disaster movie and martial arts flick in the unique way only it could. This is a story of three different fighting styles – one utilising tables, one utilising ladders and one utilising chairs – clashing together and resulting in a whizz-bang blockbuster.

No other iteration can duplicate the express written definition that ‘Plan has outlined. The closest WWE came to replicating the sense of purpose behind the original was when Edge determined that the TLC Match was the one stipulation that gave him a decided advantage over John Cena in the culmination of their WWE Championship feud in 2006. It made sense that Edge, given his Summerslam and WrestleMania victories especially, would lure Cena into “his” environment the same way that Undertaker or Triple H would often use Hell in a Cell to try to one-up their fiercest rivals. Trace elements of that same mindset permeated the classic Edge-Undertaker feud in 2008, as well, leading to their TLC Match at Extreme Rules that year. Arguably, the only other instance that the TLC stipulation was logically deployed was when CM Punk briefly made mention of a desire to beat Jeff Hardy at his own game in 2009. Though it could be said that Punk-Hardy or Edge-Cena were the superlative examples of TLC, neither is definitively better than the original and certainly neither were better expressions of why a specific Tables, Ladders, and Chairs theme was necessary.

While some of the action may watch as decidedly clumsy when compared to the greater athletic discipline witnessed in iterations of the sub-genre many years later, perhaps most notably in the case of The Shield’s debut in 2012 that most definitely warrants an honourable mention, the athleticism in this one isn’t the key. The key here is aesthetics. A lot of the stunt work is rather quite simple, but the risks taken and the utterly outstanding cinematography throughout result in a match composited of blood-rushing visuals; the climactic moment of D-Von and Jeff swinging high above the ring is an image that should stick with you for some time.
More intelligently compiled than its less mature WrestleMania X-Seven successor, this was a TLC Match imbued with character and purpose. Every one of its titular trilogy gets a moment in the sun, just like every one of its competing teams. In an age where WWE have forgotten what it’s like to present a TLC Match with purpose beyond “sell the pay-per-view,” it watches as deceptively intelligent. It is a masterful success story of a piece of work; it is art-rendered Catastrophe on Canvas, and a perfect textbook that not only justifies the very existence of TLC as a sub-genre in the first place, but also instructs the industry on how that sub-genre is put to best use. That lesson could never be more pertinent than if learned in the midst of the WWE Renaissance. 

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which TLC Match do you feel best exemplifies the gimmick? What, simply, is your favorite TLC Match?

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