First, the quick and easy stuff:
- The pre-show matches were fine. The Cruiserweight Title Match between Buddy Murphy and Cedric Alexander was good while the Guitar Match between Elias and Bobby Lashley did what it needed to do. The Cruiserweight division has been good most of the year and it’s good to hear people chanting ‘205!’ while the match was going on. If you haven’t given 205 Live a shot yet do check out a few episodes or hit up the YouTube highlights at least. Lashley has been largely a (milk) dud this year but at least they’re still trying with him, and Lio Rush has helped by doing most of the talking. Elias is of course Elias and the next few months needs to be about getting whatever his signature ring work is going to be familiar with us so we can enjoy his matches as much as his singing spots.
- The mixed match Challenge Final was fun and was a great way to cap off what’s been a good year for everyone involved in it. R-Truth, Carmella, Jinder Mahal, and Alicia Fox have all been entertaining characters and provided some needed moments of levity during a year that has at times been way too melancholy. Mella proved herself as an in ring performer and Alicia showed she can still go. Truth has had a remarkable career and found another lane to be a weekly highlight after two decades in the business and doesn’t look anywhere close to being washed up in the ring. I’m hoping that Jinder can keep going in this half serious/half goofy he and the Singh Brothers have working because his comeback story is as good as the other guys who get more credit for making it back. We here are a 100 percent supporter of all things with these four in the forseeable future. More fun in 2019, everyone!
- I went in thinking the Smackdown Tag Team Title Match should have been gimmicked up, but the Usos, Bar, and New Day showed once again that they don’t need that to have a great match. I do think it’s time to move the Usos over to RAW. They’ve been on Smackdown since the brand split while everyone else has moved and the other two teams have already been RAW Tag Team champs so there’s nothing for them to accomplish by going back. These three teams are the Edge & Christian/Hardys/Dudleys for this era and we have a lot to thank them all for.
- The Tables Match exceeded my expectations. They treated it like an important match and not a throwaway, and good on them for doing that. The spots where Nattie took out Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan were set up really well, and both women showed some real energy and emotion through the whole thing (more on that a bit later). Nattie has always been an enigma to me; sometimes she and her matches are downright pedestrian and boring and then sometimes we get something good like this where we see why she’s still around and still gets some big spots.
- Randy Orton vs Rey Mysterio was comfort food for more casual fans. Two name guys who you know and don’t have to figure out. They may have helped snag a few buys just by being on the show against each other, crazy as that may sound to you and I. Match was decent, no harm no foul.
- The TLC Match between Braun and Baron Corbin was some good sports entertainment that the crowd ate up, and was a good payoff to the Corbin as GM storyline. It was cleverly executed in crowd pleasing fashion and that’s about all you could ask for there given that Braun was still injured.
- Finn vs Drew was fine. I was fine Finn winning because he didn’t to be sacrificed in a match yet again, and the way it ended spared Drew a clean loss. Hopefully this thing between them and Ziggler ends on New Years Eve and they can all move on.
- AJ and Daniel Bryan had as good a match as you could possibly ask for with no gimmicks or crazy spots and a good old fashioned heel vs face dynamic. That they were able to do 20-plus minutes of that and get a ‘This is Awesome’ chant in 2018 is a testament to both guys abilities.
Now on to the bigger topics:
Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey (RAW Women’s Title Match) – The two ladies had a second good match to follow up the one they had at Money in the Bank. Nia gets a lot of hate in some circles on social media but Vince and Co have trusted her twice to work with their most prized signee and she’s delivered. She’s also one of two people on the main roster who can pass the eye test as far as opponents for Ronda and doesn’t require any suspension of disbelief going into the match for anyone who’s not already a wrestling fan (Charlotte is the other one). Don’t be surprised if they meet again next year sometime, despite what some loud and wrong people on Wrestling Twitter might say about Nia. Ronda continues to improve every time out there and is as quick a study at this as we’ve ever seen, and the people who continue reaching for some evidence that she isn’t any good are going to have to keep reaching because they have yet to find anything.
Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins (Intercontinental Title Match) – Oh boy did this one take a beating. If there’s a ‘Most Crapped On Match of the Year’ Award this one is going to be a contender. Some of the heat was fair, some of it wasn’t. Whoever laid out the match must have been drinking; a blood feud born in betrayal should not have led to a proper wrestling match between the two guys. Even if it wasn’t a gimmick match they should have started out fighting and maybe settled down after a few minutes of that. Going over 20 minutes after AJ and Bryan just did that and right before the main event that everyone was chomping at the bit for put them in a bad spot as well. By the time this match came on a lot of people just wanted to get to the main event so anything that didn’t give them a jolt out of the gate was going to get pooh poohed quickly.
In the days after there was a good bit of social media chatter making this an indictment against Seth Rollins, which I think is a bit much. Yes there are some valid criticisms towards him in my opinion that you can make coming out of this but if you’re coming to the conclusion that he should never be a main eventer then slow down a bit, ok? My personal observation about Seth based on his matches that fell flat this year is that he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to turn chicken sh- into chicken salad when the need arises, whether that’s speaking up during the planning process or in changing things on the fly if something’s not working. I have no inside information as to how much he speaks up during the match layout process so I can’t tell you if he’s ‘do what they tell me’ guy or not. But if he isn’t then now is the time to get started.
However you feel about him as an overall performer I do think he and Dean were done a disservice, but you do have to get past that because you’re not always going to get positioned right. Sometimes your match gets booked or slotted in a place that isn’t best for you. Sometimes you get an opponent who has been guilty of laying an egg in a big match (and this year Seth got two of them – Dean and Dolph Ziggler), and you have to come out of it without being an object of scorn. Seth has all the talent in the world and is fully capable of being the all around all time great in ring performer you can put in main events all the time, but he’s going to have to break through this particular barrier to get there. There’s no reason why he can’t; John Cena was a far better performer at 35 than he was at 30 and Seth is a better athlete so he’s starting from a better place to begin with. Plenty of other guys have reached that next level of performance as they’ve approached 35 as well. We’ll see what happens; he’s close but not quite there yet so 2019 will be a big year for him to take that next step.
TLC Match: Becky Lynch vs Asuka vs Charlotte Flair (Smackdown Women’s Title match)
Match of the Night by a wide margin and a Match of the Year candidate. TLC matches can often devolve into it’s participants just doing stuff – hey, time for a table spot, make sure we swing a few chairs, did we do enough false finishers with the ladder yet? – so what makes the difference is the timing, how you fit the spots in, and the energy behind each one. The premise to the match beyond climbing the ladder to win is that the opponents are so angry with each other that they want to get violent beyond normal limits and use the tables, ladders, and chairs to hurt each other on the way to victory. But the weaponry needs to be inserted into the match at points that make sense and not just because you haven’t done the spot yet. This was the most coherent TLC I have watched in some time for that very reason. Everything that transpired made sense within the context of the match.
The energy and emotions conveyed from everyone involved was more than I’ve seen from anyone this year, running the gamut from anger to frustration to pure aggression and sheer claiming of territory. Between this and the two other women’s matches there was a greater emotional connection to the audience through their work than anything the men did that night. You could feel the anger and disdain that Charlotte and Becky have towards one another, the energy that Asuka brought to the fight not to just prove she belonged in there but to actually win the match, and the swaggering confidence that Ronda brings to the ring with her every time. And it’s starting to work it’s way throughout the entire women’s division to the point where for the time being I think they should be the main focus. The best on the men’s side at pure conveyance of energy and emotion in their matches in my opinion are Roman Reigns, John Cena, Kevin Owens, and Brock when he feels like it and those guys are either not available at all or only on a part time basis so for me there’s no debate to be had. Run the women in the big spots because they’ve earned it and they’ve shown they can do it.
Speaking of which, Charlotte’s performance in this match from the insane bumps she took to the pure viciousness and physicality of her attacks capped a year in which I’d say she was the best big match performer in the entire company. Four all time great performances in big matches this year – on this show, against Rousey at Survivor Series, against Becky at Evolution and against Asuka at WrestleMania. And she puts her body through hell more than all the women and most of the men in these matches, not in a wild and crazy Mick Foley kind of way but in purely physical and violent way that she absolutely would not be doing for any reason other than to prove how great she is in there. If you ask me she absolutely should face Rousey at WrestleMania; if Becky gets the match it should only be in a triple threat. To leave Charlotte out of that and stick her in the battle royal would be absolutely stupid because there is no way you will convince me that Ronda vs Becky one on one would be anywhere as good a match as a singles match between Ronda and Charlotte or a triple threat. As hot an act as Becky has been the last four months of the year what happens after the opening bell rings does matter and she was not the best there this year by one bit. You can take that as a dis but I think it’s the truth.
And finally, hail to the victor. I said on Twitter shortly after the match that Asuka winning here was better for her than winning at WrestleMania would have been. I stand by that a week later. Moments matter as much and usually more than the matches themselves and winning this match, after a year of ups and downs where the audience has had a chance to see her lose and bounce back, is a bigger moment than if she’d beaten Charlotte at WrestleMania this year. For one winning a match against Charlotte means more right now than it did then, and more importantly for Auska we had a bigger reason to root for her know than earlier this year. Going into WrestleMania the only reasons for her to win was because she went undefeated in NXT, hadn’t lost on the main roster, and is a great wrestler. There was no emotional buy in yet from the people who hadn’t seen her in NXT and it would have been a merit badge victory only justified by credentials with no real story. Whereas here she got a great cheer from a crowd that has been on fire for Becky Lynch every time she’s shown up since Summerslam. That came not because a great wrestler won a great match but because they were happy for the wrestler that won the match. Credentials alone don’t get you that.
Very good and often great show start to finish at a time when they desperately needed to have one. December is often a nothing happening part of the year regardless and the injuries and illnesses that have plagued the roster, especially on the RAW side, have exacerbated that. So like they did in 2015 they dug down deep and everyone gave a great effort. But none more than the ladies, who in my opinion did as much here to stake their claim as they did at Evolution back in October. All in all, a great way to end the Pay Per View Year.