QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was the match of the night last night: Ziggler vs. Cena or Shield vs. Ryback and Hell No?
Doctor's Orders: The TLC Report (Review: Ziggler, Ryback, and The Shield Step Up to the Plate)
By The Doc
Dec 17, 2012 - 1:25:02 PM
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Preview Ziggler and Sheamus Reach Crossroads of Their Careers
Review The TLC Report
Match 1: Team Rhodes Scholars defeated Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio in 9-minutes (**1/2) (The table match has become a lot of fun in recent years, even though the spots performed are nothing like we saw a decade plus ago. What has made them interesting in modern times is the psychological manner in which the participants go about finding ways to break what is essentially one, single table per bout. You used to see tables breaking wide open all over the arena that night, but the WWE is not a company full of fools and they took that off the market. In its place has been smarter tables matches – not better, but smarter. Last night’s was the latest example and all four of them shone bright. I like what I see lately from Sin Cara. He’s cut way down on the botches. He’s still not crisp with every spot like Mysterio has been known to be, but he’s come a long way since being paired with a mentor. Isn’t it nice how the tag team division actually matters right now so that a match like this can be for the #1 contendership and give people a reason to get invested? I’m liking it because this is much more sustainable than the recent year reboots. Tag teams are actually getting mic time to get over – and none are better than Rhodes and Damien Sandow)
Match 2: Antonio Cesaro defeated R-Truth in 6-minutes (*1/2) (There’s not a wrestler in the WWE right now whose matches I enjoy more than Cesaro’s. He has a unique style, which JBL calls “catch as catch can.” I was brought up on what HBK did being Jim Ross’ definition of that style. Cesaro and HBK don’t wrestle the same style. Someone with better direct knowledge of the sport clear that up for me. “European” is what I’d call Cesaro’s in-ring game – and that’s a good thing. That guy can “go.” The match last night with Truth was little more than an extended squash. I look forward to the days of Cesaro getting PPV matches against guys that he can work feature length with, as he’s been doing on television as of late)
Match 3: Kofi Kingston retained against Wade Barrett in 8-minutes (**1/2) (Thoroughly enjoyable IC title match that saw both men open up their counter arsenals. Anyone that argues for the end of house shows should take note of this match. Practice makes perfect and you cannot replace the experience that these guys get from working at house shows together. Repetition in the ring is what allows for the counters we saw in the Kofi-Wade match. You cannot learn the triangle offense by playing regular season games alone and you cannot learn an opponent backward and forward without wrestling him night after night. I hope that this is not the last we’ve see of this feud. I’d like to see Kofi get some mic work in leading up to the next match. Barrett should become the IC Champion; he’s not really at the main-event level, yet, and it would be a good thing for him and the IC title to spend some time working with talented mid-carders like Kofi before moving up)
Match 4: The Shield defeated Ryback and Team Hell No in a TLC match went 23-minutes (****) (I thought this match was tremendous. Everyone involved did a great job, including Ryback, who I was quite critical of in the preview. I stand by what I said about him needing to step up, consistently, in the performance department, but I was very happy with what I saw from him. Two things stood out to me about the TLC bout: the first was that the Shield were booked to look like the equals of everyone involved, including Ryback; the second was that the non-stop action throughout the match did not stand in the way of the story being told, for these guys did a very nice job selling, expressing the emotions needed at the right times, and piecing together a tale that was satisfying in about every way that I can conjure up. Dean Ambrose has got some serious skill as a character. I haven’t seen enough of his wrestling to comment too much on that end, but his facials are spot on. I hope Seth Rollins is OK after that nasty bump that he took off the ladder and through the tables. That has concussion and long-term problems written all over it. Roman Reigns has some star power. I can see why the WWE officials are so high on his potential. Reigns and Ambrose, in particular, look like stars. My jury is still out on Rollins, but I’m anxious to see more of all three. Another thing to take away from this match was just how over Ryback and Daniel Bryan are with one of the most important markets in the WWE. New York has always been a barometer and both of them got huge reactions. Notice how Sheamus, who the WWE has been pushing hard all year, did not get anything close to that)
Match 5: Divas match (n/a) (I didn’t watch it)
Match 6: Big Show defeated Sheamus in 14-minutes (***1/2) (The rating is reflective of both how well they worked a fairly bland gimmick match and of how invested I was in seeing Sheamus attempt to regain the title. Sheamus and Show have very good chemistry. I haven’t seen their Survivor Series match, but I saw the HIAC match and this was just a notch below due to the anticlimactic finish with the giant chair. They kept the pace up as much as they could with Show’s involvement until rounding the bout into form at the end with some nice spots and convincing near falls. I wonder what the loss means for the Celtic Warrior. He still has plenty of time to get back into the championship fold, but it’s going to be a journey that might last all the way to Elimination Chamber if it ever happens. I think they’ve invested enough in Sheamus to where they should design a story to try to get him further over. Perhaps the age old tale of the babyface chasing the title will get him there. I’m beyond tired of Show as a character, but if he can keep putting together matches like he did these last few months with Sheamus, I won’t complain too much. On PPV, I expect to see World title matches like this one. He’s been giving them to me)
Match 7: Miz, Del Rio, and Brooklyn Brawler defeated 3MB (1/2 *) (I’ve never been a fan of unannounced matches on PPV and I’m not about to start being one with last night’s thrown-together “extra” match. I might’ve been kinder had the entertaining heel group won, but I guess a babyface had to win at some point last night)
Match 8: Dolph Ziggler beat John Cena….Dolph Ziggler beat John Cena…Dolph Ziggler beat John Cena in 23-minutes (****1/4) (For me, this was the match of the night. The TLC match gave them a tough act to follow, but I thought they did enough to earn the honor. Part of that stems from my emotional investment in their match, as I was desperately hoping to see Dolph emerge victorious. I felt like Ziggler arrived last night. It was his first PPV main-event and he delivered big time. I walked away from last night’s PPV feeling as if we had just seen the first in a long line of excellent Ziggler main-events. During the discussion that followed my TLC preview, I got to talking with someone about the next big star in the WWE and I told him that I wanted to say Ziggler was that guy, but that something was holding me back. There’s nothing holding me back anymore. The reaction that Ziggler received was phenomenal and the work that he did last night was phenomenal. If he can avoid the injury bug and can get some momentum behind him with the people that matter backstage, then I think Ziggler can absolutely be the next face of the company. The only question remaining in my mind is whether or not he can successfully play the babyface role. We’ve never seen him do that. If he can, I think he can overcome the size factor. The odds will still be stacked against him because of his stature and there being no historical precedent set for a guy his size being the unquestionable face of the industry, but he’s got the chance. At worst, I think he’ll end up like Edge – a major player all the time that the company depends upon in key situations. At best, he could be a combination of Bret Hart’s dependability, HBK’s skill, and Ric Flair’s personality. The sky is the limit. I have often echoed the age old idea that “it’s all about the follow-up,” but last night was a very good step in the right direction for Dolph Ziggler and I can only hope that the follow-up builds upon the foundation laid at TLC. I don’t really care about AJ Lee, who helped him get the win over Cena. I said that in the preview – I don’t care how he wins, as long as he wins. The manner will be forgotten in three months, but the record will show that he beat the “Golden Boy” on PPV in the main-event)
All in all…I thought TLC was one of the better PPVs of the year and I was very happy that I tuned in. Only Wrestlemania left me better satisfied and much of that has to do with Ziggler’s rise to prominence. Now, we shift gears toward the best part of the wrestling calendar, on which Ziggler appears to be on pace to be a major player. Tonight’s Slammy’s will likely give us at least one Wrestlemania clue, as it has in the last three years of its existence. We move on from TLC, but there was plenty of good to take away from it. My hat is off…
Sunday’s TLC PPV looks good on paper. This is a gimmick PPV that I actually like and think should replace Survivor Series as the November/fall showcase event. TLC, ladder, and table matches are specialties that don’t need much storyline; they’ve been some of the most randomly employed since the Attitude era increased their prominent usage. So, it’s not like Hell in a Cell or Elimination Chamber to me. It’s more like Money in the Bank, which I think is subsequently the best placed theme PPV.
The bouts that compromise the letters T, L, and C have shown an ability to make something compelling that otherwise wouldn’t be. Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara vs. Team Rhodes Scholars by itself, for instance, is a Raw match that interests me as much as studying the intricacies of stock car racing, but you add a bunch of tables to it and there’s some historical precedence that suggests it could be quite fun. For such reasons, I have yet to miss a TLC PPV and I’m expecting that TLC 2012 will again prove worth the price paid to see it.
Now, there are a group of guys that will be featured in the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match – specifically the heralded members of The Shield formerly known as Jon Moxley and Tyler Black - that are sure to garner much of the attention in the next few days, but they’re not the ones that I’ve got my eyes on. For yours truly, there are two underlying stories at play that are most intriguing: Sheamus and his attempt to regain the World Championship is the second; Dolph Ziggler’s rise to the top of the business is the first.
Let’s start with Ziggler, who I first took serious notice of during a match with Daniel Bryan two years ago. Since that time, his status has grown tremendously. His rise to the top has been handled the right way, slowly working his way up with little tests to be passed along the path. It reminds me a lot of the way that Shawn Michaels came up through the ranks. At Survivor Series ’92, he was given a World title shot and he had a good match with Bret Hart. In ’93, he grew as a character and had a few matches that made you think “wow – how good could this guy be?” Then, in ’94, he had his big breakout match at Mania X and the rest was history. Well, shortly after the champion vs. champion match that pit Ziggler and his IC title against Bryan and the US title at 2010’s Bragging Rights, the Show Off was headlining the Royal Rumble and getting a small taste of World Championship success. I always thought it was telling that they gave him a title reign just long enough to be reflected in the history books. It said to me that the WWE – not I - felt he was going to be a major player some day. Throughout 2011, he had a few matches that made you start wondering if he could be the next HBK (like when he and Kofi Kingston stole the show at last year’s Capitol Punishment PPV). In 2012, Ziggler has had the best year of his career. His finale against John Cena on Sunday will be the biggest match of his life and I get a sense that it may be his “HBK at Mania X” caliber breakout match.
I’ve been tooting his horn loudly and as often as I could for the last 18 months, championing his effort to hold a World title and become one of the major players in the WWE for a long time. You see, I don’t want to see Ziggler be a flash in the pan, temporary main-event guy who hangs out at the top for a year and then goes back down to the mid-card, ala Daniel Bryan (thus far) and The Miz. Part of why I like the way that he’s made it to headlining status is that it has never been rushed. It took Shawn Michaels three years after his initial singles push to become a consistent champion or contender; it took Edge six years; it took John Cena three years; it took Batista three years; it took CM Punk five years. Ziggler first started coming on strong in the mid-card in the summer of ’09, so it’s the right time for him to take the next and highest step. Now, he’s ready for it.
I expect that the ladder match for the Money in the Bank briefcase may go on last, giving Ziggler his first PPV main-event singles match and putting him precisely into the spotlight that his character craves. I also think that he will win and that, even if it’s as nefarious a victory as there has been in 2012, it will give him that final boost that he needs to get up to the main-event level and find a home there. Ziggler has “build a brand around me” talent and I’ve written stories, columns, and reviews practically pleading for the WWE to pull the trigger on making him a member of the elite, best of the best club that currently features so few. Cena and CM Punk, at this moment, are the only two guys on the roster that I feel are 100% secure in their long-term spots in the WWE. Every other spot at the roundtable is up for grabs and, yes, there may be a few that have one cheek in the seat, but none of them seem safely planted. Ziggler just so happens to have excellent in-ring chemistry (that we can see) and a friendly reputation (that we have read about) with both the alpha and omega of the company right now.
I have to admit – as much as I like CM Punk and respect John Cena, one of things missing for me right now is an Edge or Shawn Michaels involved in top matches. Those two legends and Hall of Famers were two of my all-time favorite performers and I miss seeing guys like that, whom I formed a connection with long before they made it as headliners, at the top of the card. Randy Orton is still around, but those of you that rooted for Bryan and Punk for so long and saw them finally rise to the main-event can vouch for how it boosts your interest in the WWE to see one of “your” guys make it to the mountain’s peak. I remember when HBK and Edge got that push; I felt like I won the title with them. I’m ready to see one of my new guys reach the peak.
I want to see Ziggler have the match of his career on Sunday, defeating Cena to retain his briefcase. From there, the story would get much more interesting. With a victory over the Golden Boy notched on his belt, attention will turn to Wrestlemania. I think Ziggler is sitting in a great position right now heading toward next April. He could cash in and be the champion at Wrestlemania or he could cash in at Wrestlemania. I’m beginning to favor the latter scenario for reasons specifically about to be discussed. I think it would put him in position to be a star on the rise for the unique viewers who tune in for Mania only each year, similar to how important it was for Aaron Rodgers to be in the Super Bowl two years ago as he was entering the height of his powers. World title matches involving new main-eventers often get lost in the shuffle at Mania due to all the star power. If he cashes in the contract, though, it gives him a unique Mania moment that nobody else has had and virtually ensures that he will be one of the talking points after the show – there’s no guarantee of that, as recent years reflect, in a World title match.
None of the above matters, though, if he loses to Cena at TLC. That’s the only reason that I’ll be watching. I will order to root Ziggler on as he attempts to have the match of his life, beat the Golden Boy by hook or by crook, and set his career trajectory on the proper course. If it doesn’t end up being one of the top 5-6 matches of the year, I’d be really surprised and very disappointed. It’s going to be one of those moments where Dolph has to step up. Time for talk will be over and he’ll have to deliver in spades, for he’ll have no greater opportunity than he’ll get on Sunday.
Sheamus is another one of my guys. I’m in a unique position at this stage of my fandom because I’m getting to be a critic (through this column) as my tastes are evolving for what I prefer to see in wrestling. When Edge became a champion, I sat there front and center reviewing his major matches for LOP. I was reviewing Raw and PPVs, so I documented his best work in the summer and fall of 2006. I’m not feeling that way about the Celtic Warrior, primarily because I don’t think that his character has any depth. What made me a fan of his in the first place was both his impressive in-ring work as a new heel and his surprisingly entertaining interviews. I still remember his “fiery red Irish hand” promo from the feud he had with Orton. Yet, as has become standard for WWE babyfaces, there is very little to get invested in if you are observing with more than a passing interest.
Though he’s doing great work in the ring, the character continues to be vanilla. I know he can do better; I just wonder if he can do it as a babyface. Bottom line: I want to see him continue to get the chance to try and become the “John Cena of the Europeans,” but I get this feeling that the WWE realizes the same thing that I do about his character. Partly, it is his fault; I feel like he tries too hard to be the good guy. This week’s Raw was a good example – Big Show insulted him and he’s all smiles about it. Always, he is all smiles about being verbally insulted, it seems. That comes across as disingenuous. It’s also the WWE’s fault for giving him black/white feuds. Where Cena has been at his best – where Batista was, too, when he was the #2 face in the WWE – was when they were accentuating the shades of grey.
I think that he and Show will have the first really good “Chair” match since the WWE came up with the (dim-witted) concept (seriously, just make it a no-DQ), but I really want to see him win back the title. I want to see this story with Show conclude with Sheamus having overcome his biggest obstacle and then I want to see him be penciled in for a major World title defense against someone with a well-known name for Wrestlemania. I believe that, unlike Ziggler, Sheamus has a lot to gain from a World title defense at Mania next year because the unique viewers already know who he is from last year’s record-setting victory (at last year’s record-setting Wrestlemania). If you put him against Randy Orton, for instance, with heel Viper having turned and set his sights on the Irishman in a story written and designed to be a showcase match for Mania that even those unique viewers can get invested in, then I believe that Sheamus will solidify his status at the roundtable discussed a few graphs up and be able to have something that he can creatively sink his teeth into, dropping a few bits of chocolate into that vanilla persona.
That’s what I want to see…
What will we see?
If you look at the current landscape, Ryback has gotten over in three months. Sheamus isn’t that over and it’s been 18 months since he turned babyface. My concern is that the WWE is going to give Ryback his spot – or at least try him out in that “second from the top” babyface role. Maybe the WWE should since Ryback has defied expectations and managed to stay over. I’ll be honest in stating that I’m not a fan of hotshot pushes. It’s what made me initially dislike Sheamus. What he did to win me over was perform well. I’ve never liked the Goldberg pushes for the Goldberg-types like Ryback that don’t perform at a high level. Ryback has been given two big chances and he hasn’t delivered. Some might argue that he hasn’t been given the chance to deliver, but I’d counter that the WWE would give him the chance if they saw something in his house show matches that made them believe he could. If you can’t get it done in the ring then I look at that as fielding a running back that can’t run between the tackles. If my tailback isn’t doing it in practice, I’m not giving him the chance to do it when it matters most. One of wrestling’s great conundrums occurs when a guy with very limited talent manages to get over huge – what do you do if you’re the promoter? You have to push him, but you can’t very well put him in a position he can’t handle or succeed in; otherwise you’ve wasted your time. If it were me with the book, then anyone that couldn’t take advantage of two main-event opportunities after all those years waiting in developmental for an opportunity would get sent right back to the bench. Ryback does absolutely nothing for me. He’ll have to win me over.
I envision two possible scenarios moving out of TLC: a direction that would see Big Show as the World Champion for the next couple of months with Ryback emerging as a challenger, perhaps via the Royal Rumble; and the route that I’d favor that would see Sheamus regain the World Championship and head down The Road with a lot of momentum. In addition to Ziggler vs. Cena, that is the underlying story of the TLC PPV that has me most interested in ordering.
(Doc’s Note – as I’m writing this draft, Ziggler and Sheamus just had an excellent TV match)
As for the rest of the card, I like that this year is continuing the trend of TLC being a show that puts younger talent in key situations. Since the advent of the PPV in 2009, fresh faces from Sheamus to Kofi Kingston to Alberto Del Rio to John Morrison to Wade Barrett to Zack Ryder to Daniel Bryan to Cody Rhodes have been given significant moments in the spotlight. It has become one of the quiet favorites of the year for me. This year seems no different, as Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and the members of the Shield are set to be involved in the top two matches. Also following with the other three editions of TLC, talented mid-carders with potentially bright futures like Antonio Cesaro will be in announced matches. So, for the first time since Night of Champions, I’m actually anticipating a PPV. If you watch, enjoy it!