Tracing the Origins and Evolution of the Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterNovember 26, 2013

Pro wrestling's Tables, Ladders and Chairs match was born in Detroit, in Memphis, in Calgary, fathered by Randy Savage, Dan Kroffat, The New Brood, Edge and Christian and others.

The TLC match is now the centerpiece of WWE's annual pay-per-view TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs. Randy Orton and John Cena will compete in this type of bout at TLC 2013 with both the World Heavyweight Championship and WWE title on the line.

Championships, contracts or perhaps a bag stuffed with money hang above the ring forcing the wrestlers to climb a ladder to retrieve the prize. The ladders, along with tables and steel chairs, are available and encouraged to be used as weapons during the battle.

The crash-filled, violent spectacle first wowed fans at SummerSlam 2000.

Edge and Christian defeated The Hardy Boyz and The Dudleyz for the tag team championships in that first official TLC match. The match's origins began much earlier than that, though, going as far back as the 1930s.



The chair element of TLC came first.

"Wild Bull" Curry wore one of the most convincing crazed looks in wrestling history. Tufts of black hair carpeted his chest, and his moss-like eyebrows sprouted over his wild, piercing eyes.

In Detroit, Mich., Curry brawled his way to fame, and the steel chair was one of his most famous weapons. In an era filled with bear hugs and grapevines, Curry enthralled the audience by clocking his foes with folding chairs.

Then came Dory Funk Sr. in the 1950s, who made chair shots a regular part of his repertoire when he competed in Texas Death matches.

Chairs were not as commonplace as they are in today's wrestling. They were reserved for the loosest of cannons, the brawlers in a world of mat technicians.

The Sheik became more famous for stabbing his enemies with sharp implements, but he was one of the forefathers of the chair shot. Abdullah the Butcher and Bruiser Brody followed him, often making the chair as integral to their most violent matches as a clothesline.

In this match from 1973 against Spiros Arion, Abdullah launched himself from a chair. The piece of furniture then became a weapon in Arion's hands.

By the time the first TLC match aired, the steel chair had become synonymous with pro wrestling. Curry, Funk and Sheik had begun a movement.



In September of 1972 in Calgary, Alberta, Kroffat battled Tor Kamata with a bag of money hanging over the ring in the first-ever ladder match.

Kroffat devised the new match form to attract fans to his feud with Kamata. Kamata played an unscrupulous Japanese villain while Kroffat played the Canadian hero. The inclusion of the ladder turned their battles into something thrilling, something novel.

Calgary's Stampede Wrestling ran with the idea. Jake Roberts battled Big Daddy Ritter (later Junkyard Dog) in 1979, and Bret Hart battled Bad News Allen in 1983 for the Canadian promotion.

"The Hitman" experienced the dramatic power of the ladder match firsthand and, as Slam! Sports writes, later "took the idea with him to the WWF."

He and Shawn Michaels fought over the Intercontinental Championship in 1992, WWE's first foray into the world of ladders. It wasn't until Michaels and Razor Ramon feuded for that same title two years later that the ladder match became a WWE fixture.

WrestleMania X played host to what is still one of the greatest ladder matches ever.

Ramon and Michaels made the most of the spotlight being pointed at them. They leaped from the ladder and used it as a battering ram. In many fans' eyes, they outdid themselves at SummerSlam 1995.

The late '90s began a run of ladder matches with the WWE Championship, the IC title and control of the company on the line. It became an increasingly used option to end feuds or amp up the excitement of a title fight.

The ladder later brought the promise of championship glory for Superstars competing in Money in the Bank ladder matches as well as the central figure in TLC bouts.



Randy Savage silenced an arena full of fans in Memphis, Tenn. when he piledrived Ricky Morton through a table in 1984.

A moment that has become almost commonplace was stunning at that time. With Morton's lifeless body lying next to him, Savage sat in a mess of broken wood, a villain and an originator. 

Memphis Wrestling developed a reputation for pushing the proverbial envelope. Creative angles and bumps became one of the promotion's callings. When Tojo Yamamoto wanted to punish Tracy Smothers, he ordered his goons to DDT him through a table, for example.

Terry Funk's famous piledriver soon followed.

After Ric Flair defeated Ricky Steamboat for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle War '89, Funk offered his congratulations. When Flair dismissed Funk as a potential challenger, the Texan dragged Flair out of the ring and sent him head first through a table.

Savage's injurious use of a table came before it, but Funk's piledriver helped make the table an essential part of the most intense rivalries.

In the '90s, a promotion out of Philadelphia, Pa. helped make the table a key component of WWE.



Stampede Wrestling, Memphis Wrestling and Detroit's Big Time Wrestling all played key roles in the eventual development of the TLC match, but Extreme Championship Wrestling increased the audience's appetite for violence.

WWE may never have thought it necessary to create the TLC match had ECW not been around. The upstart promotion prided itself on integrating tables, ladders and chairs into its matches.

When Cactus Jack asked for a chair from the crowd, the fans tossed him a mass of them.

Before he worked for WWE, Rhyno was goring Sandman through a table in ECW. Sandman battled Sabu and Balls Mahoney in separate Stairway to Hell matches. 

These were ladder matches where a dangerous weapon hung above the ring rather than a championship. Whoever was first to retrieve it was free to use it on their opponent.

Fans clung to this new, edgier product and the big boys, WCW and WWE, took notice. ECW set a precedent in creative violence that WWE would follow.



Three Teams

Terri Runnels' managerial services and $100,000 dollars awaited the winners of the tag team ladder match between the team of Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boyz who formed The New Brood with Gangrel.

Fans in the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio witnessed a huge step in the evolution of the TLC match. No Mercy 1999 was the first time teams were involved in a ladder match.

Edge, Christian, Matt and Jeff Hardy, along with The Dudley Boyz kept the change coming. These six men looked to stand out from the rest of the roster, creating a strong bond between audience and performer thanks to the risks the wrestlers took in these bouts.

At WrestleMania 2000, all three teams collided in the first-ever Triangle Ladder match. That same year, they all battled for the tag team championships in the first TLC match.

These duos were taking Kroffat's idea and adding bodies and excitement. 

They channeled their inner Evel Knieval and provided fans with a surplus of insane moments. They crashed through tables from great heights and hit their finishers from atop a ladder. Most famously, Edge speared Jeff Hardy from where the championships hung at WrestleMania X-Seven.

Over the next few years, WWE put on a number of thrilling TLC contests featuring men like Kane, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, in addition to the daredevils involved in the first few incarnations.

Still, the TLC match was relatively rare. 

It was a match scattered across the WWE calendar. Edge battled Flair on Raw in 2006, Cena at Unforgiven 2006 and Undertaker at One Night Stand in 2008 in TLC bouts.

In 2009, they became an annual tradition for the company.



San Antonio, Tex. welcomed the inaugural TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view in 2009. A TLC match featuring D-Generation X vs. Big Show and Jericho for the tag titles headlined.

From that point on, there has been one TLC match at each of these events.

The birth of the gimmick match centered pay-per-view came right after WWE went to a PG-TV rating. That and concerns over concussions had the chair portion of the bouts toned down.

Direct chair shots to the head are a thing of the past, the Curry's favorite piece of furniture now targeted an opponent's midsection. 

In terms of ladder spots, we won't be seeing anything like Edge spearing Jeff Hardy anymore.

Edge was forced to retire early, partially because of moments like that one. WWE has made sure to scale back some of the danger. The TLC match hasn't been defanged, though.

Chairs bent against spines and flesh battered against steel are still essential elements of the match.

When Cena and Orton face off at TLC 2013, they will look to excite fans with dangerous falls and cringe-worthy blows. They will be carrying on a merging of traditions. 

Kroffat's innovation, Curry's choice of weapon and Morton's unenviable landing spot all built the TLC match, a match today's Superstars will attempt to better, guiding its continued evolution.



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