Although John Cena is the face of the WWE, it was clear going into TLC that Dolph Ziggler needed a win more than him. Common sense ultimately prevailed over monetary gain as Ziggler retained his contract in a ladder match to close the event.
Since winning the contract at the pay-per-view, Ziggler has largely been booked poorly. He lost pay-per-view matches to both Chris Jericho and Randy Orton and has constantly lost on both Raw and SmackDown. His fortunes began to turn when he was the sole survivor at Survivor Series, however.
Ziggler has fared much better over the past month, but he did suffer a couple losses to Cena ahead of TLC. That was likely meant to cushion the blow of a potential Cena loss at TLC, and it appears as though that was the case. Cena came up short in is bid to gain the Money in the Bank contract and Ziggler stood tall atop the ladder to close the night.
The match itself was great as there was back-and-forth action with both men looking equal.
The crowd was hot for the bout too and their chants for Ziggler put him over as a legitimate threat. Things got a bit muddled at the end as Vickie Guerrero came to the ring. A.J. Lee took her out, and then A.J. pushed the ladder over when Cena was about to secure contract.
Cena fell into a super kick from Ziggler and The Show Off then scaled the ladder and nabbed the contract. Measuring Ziggler's success at TLC is tricky as there are both pessimistic and optimistic stances that can be taken.
On one hand, the story of TLC is likely that Cena lost due to A.J. turning on him rather than the fact that Ziggler won. Cena is the WWE's poster boy and it is very difficult to take the spotlight off of him. His relationship with A.J. has been one of the focal points of Raw for the past couple months and it figures to remain as such moving forward.
At the same time, Ziggler needed the win by any means necessary and he got it.
Until Survivor Series, his run with the briefcase was a failure. He was usually on the losing end of things and hadn't really made any progress from a character perspective as he wasn't given much mic time and was weighed down by the presence of Vickie.
The win at Survivor Series catapulted him to new heights as he was finally being pushed like a potential main-event star, but he still needed a signature win to hang his hat on. The list of guys who have beaten Cena clean is an incredibly short one, so a win of any kind against the leader of the Cenation is huge.
I'm more of an optimist, so I tend to view it from the latter perspective.
Ziggler's biggest win prior to TLC was his Money in the Bank triumph, and while that was great, it wasn't a one-on-one headliner. Not only did Ziggler beat Cena at TLC, but he did it with the Brooklyn faithful behind him. In this situation, the ends outweighed the means.
For Ziggler, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
His stock is higher than ever and it's important to keep his momentum going. He may keep his feud with Cena, as the Royal Rumble is approaching and there isn't much need to transition him toward something else.
I doubt that we'll see Ziggler in a regular match at Royal Rumble, so he figures to enter the Rumble match itself. Also, his status as Mr. Money in the Bank almost certainly disqualifies him from winning unless the writers go way off the board. Even so, entering early and lasting until the latter stages of the match would be beneficial to Ziggler.
As for Cena, he'll likely focus more on A.J. than in-ring competition for the foreseeable future. Cena will absolutely be in the Royal Rumble match and will also be one of the heavy favorites. In fact, a Cena Rumble win is a big possibility. It could lead to a WWE Championship match against The Rock at WrestleMania or perhaps even a triple threat with CM Punk involved.
Whatever the case, Cena wasn't hurt at all by losing to Ziggler. The result protected him and he is so well established that he could absorb a loss of any kind without losing steam. Cena's loss to The Rock was billed as devastating, but he went on to beat Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules and everyone forgot about it.
I realize that there was probably some temptation to give Cena the win as the face of the company with the Money in the Bank briefcase is a compelling angle. Cena can get involved in the world title scene with the snap of a finger, though, and wouldn't have benefited from the win as much as Ziggler unquestionably will.
The Money in the Bank contract has become a part of Ziggler's character and the moment he cashes it in will be a special one. The WWE needs to build new stars and the crowd reaction toward Ziggler at TLC proves that he has what it takes to be a top guy within the company.
Had he lost to Cena, it would have halted his progress in an obvious way, but the WWE made the correct decision and both men will be better for it in the long run.