We are just a few days away from yet another installment of WWE’s December tradition, the TLC Pay Per View event. The Pay Per View event that’s been going on since 2009. Did you realize it’s already been six years of this show? Can you name me one main event from the previous six years? Can you even remember last year’s main event? I couldn’t. I had to look it up when I was searching for the image to go with this column. Then I wish I hadn’t because I was reminded of the mystery exploding TV that cost Dean Ambrose his match against Bray Wyatt. (Hey, Bray actually won a match though!) John Cena and Wade Barrett headlined one of these shows with a Chairs Match. CM Punk was on commentary I found out, so it’s a wash.
My point is though, when was the last truly MEMORABLE TLC Match? When was the last truly memorable Hell in a Cell match? WWE Pay Per Views come across more like an Oprah Winfrey show than a wrestling event. “You get a gimmick match! And you get a gimmick match! Everyone gets a gimmick match!”
WWE’s dependency of what month it is instead of what rivalry warrants it, has completely watered down two of the greatest gimmick matches ever created. One could argue that WWE hasn’t come up with any rivalries period that warrant matches of this stigma, and I would agree with you on that, but that’s a different column for a different day. That makes it even worse that WWE constantly pigeonholes matches into a gimmick that doesn’t belong there.
Jack Swagger hasn’t been on a PPV match in ironically one full year since he lost to Rusev at last year’s TLC event. Then he shows up for two or three weeks to face off against Alberto Del Rio. A fair enough match with the addition of Zeb in the mix, so the storyline sells itself. A rarity in WWE nowadays. Even if it’s an eyeroll that Swagger gets thrown into the US Title picture, we can look past it because it makes sense. So what does WWE do? They give Del Rio a chair to use on Raw and all of the sudden we have a Chairs match. What I thought was the most mundane gimmick match ever until WWE really jumped the shark last year with that negative star confrontation between Erick Rowan and Big Show.
WWE only has four weapons in the PG Era: Chairs, Tables, Kendo Sticks, & Stairs. Ladders on occasion if it’s not an actual ladder match. Any time we see any sort of “hardcore” action, one of those weapons are sure to be used. Why do we need specific matches for these gimmicks? Why do I want to see a “Chairs Match” when I see chairs used basically every week? That’s nothing special. That’s just tying an anchor to the wrestlers and forcing them to adjust to the specific item instead of it just happening organically. I’m not saying Del Rio vs. Swagger at WrestleMania 29 was a barn burner, but I can definitely bet they’d put on a much better straight up match than they will having to incorporate chairs. You want to do something unique with them? Do a traditional flag match with America vs. Mexico. At least that fits the storyline and WWE can feel proud of themselves for coming up with a gimmick match to try and sell to the sheep.
Think back to King of the Ring 1998 or WrestleMania 17. Could you imagine if there was another Hell in a Cell match before or after Mankind and Taker? Could you imagine another TLC or Ladder Match going on before or after The Hardys, Edge & Christian, and The Dudleys? What if WWE decided not to put Taker and Mankind in a Hell in a Cell match because it was only June and they really needed to save that until December? WWE worked in a way back then where they only gave those matches to those that deserved it and made sure they were given their space in order to make it mean something. Now, it’s just a day on the calendar and something to sell on the Network.
The first TLC Match took place at SummerSlam 2000. In just over 9 years until the first ever TLC PPV, there were eight TLC matches with there even being a gap of three years and three months between seeing that match at one point. I could list all eight of them and they would all be considered memorable or a classic. Since 2009 at that first TLC event and including the match Sheamus and Roman will have this Sunday, there have been nine in just six years! And out of those nine, I truly only remember one of them: The Shield vs. Team Hell No & Ryback in 2012. Feel free to look at the list, I would almost guarantee you feel the same way.
Taking a look at the Hell in a Cell match and it’s the same story. From the debut in October 1997 until the debut of the Hell in a Cell PPV, also in 2009, there were 16 matches. In just 6 years since that event debuted, we’ve had 15 of them! That’s 16 if you count a Raw dark match that took place inside the Cell. Those numbers are just staggering and tell you how less meaningful these gimmicks have become. They’re just matches on a calendar now instead of a spectacle.
WWE’s idiocracy with gimmick matches doesn’t just end with the major ones either. We haven’t had a fan voted match in a while now, but remember when WWE would ask you to vote between a Street Fight, No Holds Barred, and Falls Count Anywhere? The exact same gimmick matches, but they thought the fans would be fooled because of the fancy names. And sadly WWE was right! Street Fight sounds the coolest, but if you really wanted the best match possibility, you SHOULD want a Falls Count Anywhere match. The name of the match tells you it doesn’t have to end in the ring, whereas the other two do. But I digress.
The big elephant in the room this year especially is the injury bug that WWE is under right now. When you look at the participants in gimmick matches this Sunday, there are some names that WWE absolutely cannot afford to lose right now. If The New Day loses a member in their ladder match or if Roman or Sheamus get hurt in their match trying to upstage everything that preceeds them that night, WWE is up shit’s creek without a paddle. The top guys know every year in October they have to go full tilt in the cell and then full tilt in a gimmick match two months later. That adds up over time. Ask Seth Rollins.
It’s a lot to ask of WWE to come up with something creative nowadays, but it’s time for them to come up with the next great gimmick match or to just retire the ones they currently use now…or both. With how Hell in a Cell is presented now, a simple Steel Cage match can accomplish the same goal. Make those matches mean as much as they did in the good ol’ days. Instead of a TLC match with 50 tables and 40 ladders all around ringside, just have a ladder match with one or two ladders used. Finn Balor and Kevin Owens showed in Brooklyn that premise still works quite well. Money in The Bank is one we haven’t even discussed, but Sheamus has clearly proven they’ve rode that dead horse one time too many. It needs to go as well.
For now though, all we can do is sigh at matches we have no genuine interest in, but at the same time hold our breath and pray they come out unscathed, because if we know one thing for sure, it’s that these current crop of wrestlers know the reputation the brand has right now and will be damned if they don’t pull out all the stops to make us remember them. Unfortunately by this time next year though, we won’t.