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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: TLC II (Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian) – WWE WrestleMania X-Seven, by Alex Podgorski

TJR Wrestling

WrestleMania X-Seven is the best pro wrestling show ever, period. That’s a widely-held opinion that hasn’t changed much in almost twenty years. It’s an almost 100% perfect wrestling show that has pretty much something for everyone. The main event pitted two of the biggest wrestling megastars in history (Steve Austin and The Rock) against each other in an epic fight. Two future legends, Triple H and The Undertaker, fought a hardnosed brawl that set things up for their future encounters. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit had a pure wrestling match that satiated those longing for something more ‘traditional’ in terms of wrestling. And Vince McMahon hammed things up in an over-the-top but still enjoyable street fight with his son Shane.

But the match that stole the show wasn’t any of those four contests. It was the now-iconic contest now referred to as simply ‘TLC II’. It’s the best wrestling match on the best wrestling show ever. By that logic, this is therefore the best wrestling match ever.

Or is it?

Today we’ll revisit the iconic TLC match between Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudleyz. It was originally rated 4.75-stars by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, a rating shared by several great wrestling matches that happened in 2001. Our TJRWrestling owner John Canton rated this match five stars when he broke it down as a match and in the WrestleMania 17 review.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

The WWF/E’s tag team division had exploded in 1999 and into the early 2000s. There were many top teams in that division, but three stood out more than others. The first was the real-life brother duo of Matt and Jeff Hardy. These two daredevils put on high-octane matches with crazy stunts that sent crowds into a frenzy more often than not. Then there was the team of Edge & Christian, two (storyline) brothers that were best friends that broke off from The Brood and The Ministry to strike off on their own. They became icons in using weapons in their matches, and managed to be both funny and deadly serious.

Lastly, there was the Dudleyz, who are quite possibly THE best tag team ever. They’re wrestling icons with unmatched longevity and legitimacy as a wrestling duo. They brought a sense of danger to the tag team scene, along with wild entertainment thanks to their chemistry with each other and other teams, as well as some comedic skills as well.

This match was to be the culmination of a rivalry that had begun eight months prior at SummerSlam 2000. These teams constantly fought each other in various combinations over the tag titles in a never-ending game of one-upmanship. Throughout 2000 and into 2001, these teams constantly attacked each other and got involved in each other’s matches. Soon, each started bringing in allies to help them. The Hardyz started including Matt then-girlfriend Lita, The Dudleyz introduced their ‘younger brother’ Spike, and Edge & Christian brought in a monstrous hired gun in Rhyno.

After months of back-and-forth action, it was decided that these three teams would settle their differences at WrestleMania X-Seven. And to make sure it was decisive, it would be in the hardcore battleground known as Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (TLC).

The match

This match took place at the Houston Astrodome on April 1, 2001.

This is for the WWF Tag Team Titles. A chaotic brawl starts things off. The Hardyz land Poetry in Motion to gain control early. E&C introduce the first ladder and use it as a weapon to drop the other two teams. They double-team Matt and stomp on his crotch as the fans demand tables. Jeff charges at them but lands face-first in a chair E&C setup seconds earlier. Matt and Edge take turns climbing the ladder but knock each other off as well. Edge climbs again but this time it’s Jeff that kicks him off the ladder. The Hardyz dropkick the Dudleyz as they sought to bring another ladder into the ring. Matt sets one ladder near a corner and slams Christian down between that one and a second ladder Jeff setup near the ring’s centre. The Hardyz pose on top of their respective ladders. Then they fly! Diving splash/leg drop combo on Christian. That was awesome.

But here come the Dudleyz. They drop Edge and land the WASSUP head-butt. The entire audience rose to their feet. People loved that move. Then Bubba pushes D-Von in the chest again the fans go nuts. Bubba screams “GET THE TABLES!” and the crowd goes nuts. They bring in two tables as Edge and Jeff Hardy start fighting back. Edge gets knocked onto one table as Bubba out-fights Jeff. Then Bubba turns around and powerbombs Jeff onto Edge, through the table. Crazy spot.

The Dudleyz stack two tables on top of two more outside the ring. Someone’s gonna get hurt real bad. Matt and Christian fight back against the Dudleyz. But Bubba and D-Von maintain control of the match as they setup three ladders next to one another in the middle of the ring. All six men climb the ladders. It’s Jeff vs. D-von, Bubba vs. Edge, and Matt vs. Christian. One ladder goes down, sending Jeff into the ropes and Christian all the way to the floor. Damn, what a brutal landing. Jeff and D-Von are the next to fall. That leaves Edge and Bubba. Then they both fall down. It’s a standoff between all three teams.

Christian sets up a lone table ringside as Edge sets up a lone ladder in the ring’s centre again. But here comes Spike Dudley. He drops Edge with the Dudley Dog. Then he does another to Christian! Dudley Dog from the ring, over the rope, and through the table below! Wow, another great move!

Jeff starts climbing the ladder in the ring…but here comes Rhyno! He knocks Jeff down and smashes the ladder into D-Von. Gore on Bubba. Then Matt gets Gored right through a table! Edge stats climbing again…but here comes Lita! She enters the ring and starts, as JR puts it, “jerking Edge off”. Most. Appropriate. Commentary. Ever. Edge goes down. Rhyno tries to press slam Lita, but Spike low blows him. Lita lands a diving hurricanrana on Rhyno. All the while, Edge climbs the ladder. He has reached the top. He’s fingertips away. But Spike chairs Rhyno in the face, causing him to push Edge’s ladder away from under him. Edge lands crotch-first on the top rope and leaves the ring. The Dudleyz land the Doomsday Device on Rhyno. Lita comes in and cracks Spike in the skull with a steel chair. Brutal. But she walks into a trap. 3D ON LITA!

E&C are both back in now, and they chair both Dudleyz. Edge sets up a normal ladder inside the ring as Christian grave the giant ladder ringside. But Jeff cuts him off and sets it up himself. A camera switch shows both Spike and Rhyno setup on tables by that giant ladder. Oh, shit. Jeff’s going to do something crazy. Matt knocks Edge down in the ring as Jeff reaches the top of the giant ladder ringside. SWANTON BOMB! ON BOTH SPIKE AND RHYNO THROUGH TWO TABLES! Holy shit!

E&C set that giant ladder up in the ring under the title belts. Christian and D-Von climb it from opposite sides. They both reach up and grab the hook holding the belts. Then Matt steals the ladder away. They’re both dangling above the ring. D-Von falls first then Christian follows. That looked like a long fall.

Jeff gets in the ring and climbs one ladder. He tries to step over from the top of one ladder to another but loses his balance and falls down. He climbs another one and reaches up. Now he’s fingertips away. He’s so close the titles sway as he grabs for them. He steps off the ladder and dangles helplessly like Christian and D-Von did earlier. He tries to move the ladder with his feet but Bubba takes it away from him.

Meanwhile, Edge ascends the giant ladder that’s set up close by. Then he hits it. The most iconic move of his career. SPEAR ON JEFF HARDY FROM THE LADDER. FROM THE TOP OF A 20-FOOT LADDER! Sweet Mother of God, what a crazy move.

Now Matt and Bubba fight over the titles atop the giant ladder. But here comes Rhyno. He pushes the ladder. Matt and Bubba go flying through four tables! Good God.

Back in the ring, D-Von climbs one side of the giant ladder and Christian climbs the other. But Christian’s got help. Rhyno’s using his strength to help Christian climb. On the other side, Edge grabs ahold of D-Von, holding him in place. Christian zooms past D-Von with Rhyno’s help and grabs both belts. There’s the match.

Winners and NEW WWF Tag Team Champions after 15:42: Edge & Christian

Review

This was one of the best ladder matches ever. It was the epitome of the wrestling ‘spot-fest’ with so much sheer craziness happening throughout. I think the word ‘creative’ is a proper term to describe this match. These three teams, along with their respective allies, pulled off some truly memorable and iconic things here. Edge’s Spear onto Jeff will be remembered until the end of time. Jeff Hardy’s various sacrifices and daredevil theatrics helped cement him as one of the biggest wrestling icons of the 21st century. The Dudleyz managed to be both brutal and funny throughout the match (their tag team shtick like the WASSUP spot will NEVER not be funny). And both Christian and Matt were mostly human pinballs, being thrown around with reckless abandon. This was a demolition derby of a wrestling match, and a damn good one at that.

That said, I did have one issue with this match. The ending, while logical, was also abrupt and devoid of drama. This was a match that built up and hyped big spots so carefully, yet the ending came out of nowhere and without any tension. Yes, it made perfect sense for the heel trio of Edge, Christian and Rhyno to cheat to win. But no one seemed to care about D-Von’s plight as he too was so close to grabbing both titles.

The commentators and audience were so focused on the big table spot that they forgot about what was happening in the ring. And when Christian reached for the titles, the reaction to the end was like: “Oh, he got the titles? Whoa. Well, there’s the match, then.”

Let’s compare this to another iconic ladder match: the one between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. That match had a classic ending that had fans on the edge of their seats because he was still struggling to escape getting caught up in the ropes. As Razor climbed, Shawn still had a small chance of escaping and at least catching him. But Shawn failed to do so, and his failure to overcome his newest obstacle made Razor’s win that much bigger.

Another, and perhaps better comparison, would be the RAW ladder match between Jeff Hardy and The Undertaker in 2002. ‘Taker spent 90% of that match beating the ever-loving shit out of Hardy, so no one believed Hardy would win. Then he got a lucky break and started climbing the ladder. It was a typical WWE moment where a wrestler climbs the ladder ever so slowly. But it was a dramatic masterpiece.

Hardy had the entire arena on their feet. Fans were begging for Hardy to win. Even Jim Ross was losing his mind calling this action. “GO FOR IT! GO FOR IT JEFF! NEW CHAMPION! JEFF HARDY’S A STEP OR TWO AWAY! CLIMB THE LADDER KID! MAKE YOURSELF FAMOUS!” It was one of the most emotional and exhilarating moments in RAW history. And for one brief moment, everyone watching believed Jeff was actually going to win the WWE Undisputed Title.

Just like in this WrestleMania ladder match, the villain in this 2002 RAW match won by being evil. Like this match, the villain’s actions made sense, and he did what was logical to win. But the fans were invested in the underdog hero’s plight and wanted to see him overcome the odds. In this WrestleMania ladder match, all three teams were on equal footing, yet the ending featured a team using the numbers game against one person.

Imagine if, for maybe thirty seconds, D-Von had a small fighting chance against E&C&R instead of being overpowered right away. Imagine if he kicked Edge away as hard as he could and fought Christian atop the ladder. Then as he and Christian fought, then Edge would knock him down, allowing Christian to take the belts. That would’ve done more to solidify E&C as a heel team without making D-Von look so easy to stop. This is especially true given that, compared to Edge, Christian, and even Rhyno, D-Von didn’t take as much as they did. He was healthier than all three of them yet was unable to shake Edge off or fight back against Christian.

Final Rating: ****3/4

While this match is undeniably epic and I liked it a lot, I felt like it was missing a certain something. All the elements of a perfect match were present, except for during the closing minute. I think that if WWE took the elements of the Undertaker/Jeff Raw 2002 ladder match finish and applied it here, then I’d be screaming from the rooftops that this is the best ladder match of all time. And while I won’t deny that this is indeed one of the best matches of all time, I think that it lacks a degree of emotional satisfaction given the ending’s abruptness.

But one thing’s for sure, this is still the most iconic ladder match of the past twenty years. It’ll definitely put a smile on your face, and boy could we use more of that in these trying times.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.