In need of additional matches for WWE TLC 2013 lineup, the company went in a strange, ill-advised direction, booking two handicap matches for the pay-per-view.
Handicap matches have been the The Authority's forte, using the bout to punish insurgents. It's been an intriguing element of Raw and SmackDown, but now it seems that those unbalanced battles will make their way to WWE's next big event.
On Monday's Raw, Kane announced that CM Punk would take on all three members of The Shield at TLC 2013. He later told Daniel Bryan that he needed to be challenged and so put him in a handicap match against the entire Wyatt Family.
Those two matches feel like something fans would see to cap off an episode of SmackDown. They do little to entice fans to order the pay-per-view.
TLC is normally built around ladder and tables matches, but WWE has decided to buck tradition and give us a pair of uninteresting matches instead.
An Underwhelming History
The handicap match stipulation hasn't produced many classics.
WWE.com's list of the 24 greatest matches in WrestleMania history does not list Undertaker vs. Big Show and A-Train from WrestleMania XIX, Evolution vs. The Rock 'N' Sock Connection from WrestleMania XX or Demolition vs. The Powers of Pain and Mr. Fuji.
Naming five great handicap matches from any WWE event is a tough task. That's because the history of handicap matches is mostly forgettable.
Ladder matches fill up many top-10 lists, and even tables matches have a better resume. Most fans would take the Vengeance 2002 tables match featuring The Dudley Boyz vs. Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit over any handicap match.
The stipulation isn't designed for greatness; it's a tool for showing dominance.
A Superstar charging up the ranks can be put into a battle with two foes to make him look more powerful. That's what WWE did with Ryback early on, having him take on two jobbers at once and later a pair of midcarders at the same time.
There was a purpose to this match—building Ryback up—but the end result wasn't entertaining. The same has been true when WWE has booked handicap matches to make a group look dominant.
In 2000, "Mr. Ass" Billy Gunn was forced to fight both members of The Acolytes.
No one expected a masterpiece, just a beatdown to make Farooq and Bradshaw look like monsters toying with a single man.
Neither of those matches would have made for a compelling reason to buy a pay-per-view. They fit on Raw and SmackDown as precursors to bigger stories, as reasons for rivals to hate each other more.
As consistently as The Shield, Punk and Bryan have provided pay-per-views with great matches, it's baffling that WWE would stick these foes in a gimmick match that has produced such unimpressive fare over the years.
In addition to robbing itself of potential show-stealing bouts, WWE's choice forces bookers into a corner.
Fans know that Punk and Bryan can't win their respective matches. Punk admitted as much when Renee Young asked him for his reaction to being pitted against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
Going into a match where the victor is all but already decided just isn't all that fun. Ask fans of the Temple football team when the Owls face Penn State again, a team they haven't beaten since 1941.
Bryan and Punk's TLC matches have all the suspense of a Harlem Globetrotters game.
The Shield and The Wyatt Family have to win. Having their outnumbered foes somehow pull off the upset would damage those groups' perception. Goldberg couldn't beat Evolution just as Punk and Bryan shouldn't be able to beat The Shield or The Wyatt Family.
Letting a single man defeat one of these teams puts a hole in their momentum.
It would make Punk or Bryan look like immortals tangling with mortals, which isn't a wise move. In the ideal pro wrestling match, both sides should look strong. That is far tougher to do when the numbers are this skewed.
Most fans know that going into the pay-per-view.
They will expect some sort of incomplete finish, an ending via disqualification, for example. That adds to the feeling that these bouts are more fitting on Monday or Friday, not the last pay-per-view of the year.
Bray Wyatt taking on Bryan where a Wyatt win meant that Bryan would have to join The Wyatt Family would have been more enticing. Booking Punk against Reigns or Rollins would have freed Ambrose to defend the U.S. title in a ladder match against someone else.
Or even better for The Shield, why not have the group involved in a multiple-team clash for the tag titles?
Fans have to hope that WWE's decision to add two handicap matches to the pay-per-view turns out better than it looks on paper. For now, it seems as if the company is making a mistake, filling the undercard with uneven, lukewarm battles.