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With RAW hitting a new all-time low in viewership on Monday following another dreadful episode, I sat down tonight to watch TLC expecting the worst. With many of the storylines for this show coming in flat, and rumors about there being potential serious changes in WWE following the record low, pretty much anything was on the table to take place at TLC, and I don’t expect a desperate, reeling Vince McMahon to make good creative decisions on short notice.

While my expectations were low, TLC ended up being a pretty good show. With the exception of the main event, which was horrible, most of the matches overachieved and delivered solid entertainment throughout the night. TLC, as the annual theme of the show implies, typically relies on a lot of stipulation matches, and while the constant setting up of tables, ladders and chairs can get a little repetitive, it’s rarely ever boring. There are still plenty of long term problems in WWE, but most of them were not on display during this show.

The Fiend vs Randy Orton: -**

This “match” if you can even call it that, was awful. If you were annoyed by the constant set-ups and spots of the ladders and tables earlier, you probably hated the absurd fire spots, such as the burning of the rocking chair. Inferno matches are always bad, but they work in front of the live audience due to the spectacle. This match did have the element of spectacle, but without the live crowd it doesn’t work as well. The ending, with Randy Orton burning The Fiend; I mean what are we even doing here? Why can’t guys just wrestle and have feuds over proving who is the better wrestler and winning the title? Why do we have to have to do this stupid, magic-based angles that insult everyone who is trying to enjoy pro wrestling with a modicum of sincerity?

Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens: ***¾

This match was a total spotfest, which I don’t necessarily consider a negative because that is what TLC matches really should be. They gave Kevin Owens a lot in this match, which I was glad to see because I did not think that they did a great job building up Owens as a legit challenger for this title. Despite his best efforts, Reigns and Uso pretty much constantly got the better of Owens each week on SmackDown. Owens was given much more than other wrestlers when facing Reigns, and Reigns really only won because Uso was there to help him out. Owens did not get embarrassed in this match, and following the build on SmackDown there was potential for him to be embarrassed tonight.

WWE does have a problem with their lack of top babyfaces. The company has spent the past five years trying to push Reigns as its top babyface, at the expense of pretty much everyone else on the roster. So it should not come as a surprise that when they turn that when they turned Reigns heel, they now lack babyfaces who feel like they can match Reigns’ star power, and thus feel like real challengers to take the title from Reigns. Owens has basically been an upper-mid card wrestler since dropping the Universal Championship, and tonight despite how many times Owens slowly climbed the ladder, I never bought that he was going to win the match. He hasn’t been presented as a top star, so I simply don’t believe he can beat Reigns, who has been presented as top star. That is a problem for WWE, and outside of the part-time names they can drag in, they lack any real babyface on the SmackDown side who feels like a star big enough to defeat Reigns, which limits the quality of programs he can work in.

Drew McIntyre vs AJ Styles vs The Miz: ***1/2

It probably wasn’t necessary to have two TLC matches on the show, especially during a year where WWE has relied so much on ladder matches to drive interest (10% of all WWE ladder matches in history have taken place in 2020). I would have preferred to have just seen a regular wrestling match between two great in-ring performers in Styles and McIntyre, instead of yet another ladder match. I thought the match up until The Miz came out was pretty basic, really just working to set up spot after spot which invariably involved a table, ladder or chair.

When The Miz came out, things got more interesting because it felt like there was a real chance that McIntyre could lose the title. I didn’t expect Styles to beat McIntyre, but I wouldn’t rule out The Miz stealing the title from McIntyre, as that seems more like something WWE would do. The final sequence, with all three men climbing up the ladders and knocking each other off, until Drew finally emerged victorious, was well designed and made the match feel dramatic and important.

Sasha Banks vs Carmella: ***

This match overachieved; I didn’t have high expectations but in the end it was a pretty entertaining match. Banks deserves a ton of credit; her selling was important when working with Carmella, whose offense doesn’t always look great. I didn’t buy any of the near falls because I just didn’t see Carmella as being a big enough star to beat Banks, but they worked really hard and put on an entertaining match. This was probably the best singles match of Carmella’s career.

The Hurt Business vs The New Day: ***

They had a good, physical match, and these guys should have a lot of chemistry together given how much they have worked with each other in recent weeks. What I really enjoyed about this match was the finish, with Alexander tagging himself in and getting the pinfall. This felt like part of a real, focused plan to try and push somebody new, which is something that WWE, and RAW in particular, really need.

Ever since Kofi Kingston lost the world title, it does feel kind of depressing to see him back in the tag team division, a division that WWE does not respect. On top of that, WWE took Big E out of the group so he could…appear in a multi-man match on the pershow. So the act isn’t even as good as it used to be. Those guys give it there all every week, but it just feels like Kofi achieved something big last year, and now he is just back where he used to be before he won the title.

Asuka and Charlotte Flair vs Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler: **½

Charlotte made her return to the ring and looked really good in this match. Some people might really dislike seeing Charlotte come back and immediately win the tag titles, but RAW desperately needs more star power on the women’s side, and a feud between Asuka and Charlotte would be a huge upgrade over Asuka feuding with Zelina Vega, or Lana. The match was decent, but Nia is not good. Her bumping is poor, her selling is poor, she isn’t fluid in the ring; it puts a real limit on how good her matches can be.