WWE's last three pay-per-views have ended with surprises that have irritated fans more than they have thrilled them.
The perfect pro wrestling swerves build on previously planted seeds and deliver unexpected but logical moments. Those fans witnessed at the end of Battleground, Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series were far from perfect.
If WWE decides to end TLC 2013 with a shocker, the company would be wise to learn from its most recent mistakes.
Mistiming, choosing the wrong center of focus and failing to excite were the faults that tempered the enjoyment of WWE's last three shows. When the curtain falls on the drama that is Randy Orton vs. John Cena at TLC, it has a great shot of ending the year in resounding fashion.
That would help make up for the whimpering WWE's pay-per-views have done as of late.
Leading up to Orton and Daniel Bryan's battle for the vacant WWE Championship, Big Show was getting a healthy portion of the spotlight.
It was "The World's Largest Athlete" who Triple H sought to punish on the Oct. 4 SmackDown via a handicap match, who hunted after Triple H, nearly leading to his arrest.
There were hints aplenty that the big man would play a big role in that title bout.
The swerve ended up being Big Show disobeying his orders. The Authority wanted him to punch out Bryan. He added Orton and a handful of referees to that list.
Big Show left the ring with a mess of fallen men behind him. The WWE title remained vacant.
Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell wasn't the only one who felt they didn't get their money's worth.
Anyone else want their money back? #Battleground— Dennis Haskins (@mrbelding) October 7, 2013
Battleground's ending felt unfinished. Watching it, one had to wonder if one more surprise was waiting to pop out. The ratio of questions answered and questions born leaned too much to the latter.
The fans were invested in how Bryan would overcome the odds, how Orton would look to stop him, not Big Show dominating the narrative.
Big Show's struggle with The Authority overshadowed a feud and match the audience had been invested in since the end of SummerSlam. It felt like WWE was simply yanking out the rug fans were standing on rather than providing an emotional roller coaster.
Hell in a Cell
The emotion and logic of the ending of Hell in a Cell was spot on. It's where it was placed in the Bryan vs. Orton story that hurt it.
WWE had built up Bryan as the lovable underdog, the hard-working wrestler out to best his many enemies. He'd suffered setback upon setback since SummerSlam and the audience waited patiently for a happy ending that never came.
Shawn Michaels served as guest referee for Orton vs. Bryan's Hell in a Cell match.
Michaels was Triple H's friend, Bryan's former mentor and Orton's enemy. That made for a complex, uncertain feeling that added a dramatic edge to the bout.
Triple H had asked Michaels to make sure that Orton left as champion. He did so by superkicking Bryan and counting to three as Orton picked up the cheap win.
That would have been a great way to tell chapter two of this story, but not the final one.
WWE planted the right amount of hints beforehand. When Orton and Bryan signed the contract for this match, Triple H assured Orton that Michaels would "do what's right."
The company played up Bryan and Michaels' relationship, showing video clips of Bryan's days as Michaels' student.
This was typical WWE sleight-of-hand, telling us to focus on one element of a story so that another can leap up and surprise us. Hell in a Cell did that effectively.
It was just that it left a sinking feeling in many guts rather than the excited one a cliffhanger does.
WWE essentially dropped the Bryan vs. Orton angle after this, moving on to a feud between Orton and Big Show. For some fans, it must have felt like someone had torn several pages out of the end of a book and were forced to simply start a new one.
Orton now faced a new challenger.
The Authority, who had been involved in one way or another in several of the last big title bouts, promised not to get physically involved. The clean, uninterrupted match that Bryan needed so badly was seemingly Big Show's to have.
Big Show and Orton's fight at Survivor Series eventually led them to the outside of the ring where the big man knocked Orton down with his massive fist.
Soon The Authority sauntered down the entrance ramp. Big Show was distracted just long enough for Orton to bring him to his knees and deliver a punt kick.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn't get "physically" involved. Technically, they delivered what they promised.
Technicalities aren't normally the best source of narrative excitement. The ending felt cheap and unimaginative.
That's the kind of match ending that belongs on Raw or SmackDown, one that leads into the next week, not one that fans have paid good money to see.
Iron Sheik, among others, didn't find the match or its ending entertaining.
Big Show Randy Orton son put me to sleep bubba #SurvivorSeries— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) November 25, 2013
Of all the options available to the WWE writers, victory by distraction had to be one of the least appealing. It was certainly unexpected. Surprising doesn't equal effective, though.
WWE needs to accompany any shock that comes with TLC's ending with some satisfaction as well. The story must feel like it's completed a chapter, not simply skipped to the next one.
Battleground's no-contest brought on by Big Show and Survivor Series' underwhelming finish can't be repeated.
WWE fans have been waiting for a great ending since the summer. It's time to deliver it.