The Unified Championship will hang over the ring at WWE TLC 2013, broken ladders carpeting the mat.
John Cena and Randy Orton headline the last pay-per-view of the year. Both men are in search of a victory that would award them the right to be called "The Champion of Champions."
AJ Lee and Big E Langston face their own challengers. The Wyatt Family and The Shield each get a single victim to prey on.
Houston, Texas hosts an event that looks to outdo a string of WWE pay-per-views that have disappointed to varying degrees. Can the company put on a display of violence and drama that rivals what SummerSlam produced, or are fans looking at another Battleground?
The following is a preview of TLC, which includes a look at backstage reports and how they might affect the night's outcomes, the match card and predictions for every bout.
News, Potential Spoilers
A detail coming out of the Tribute to the Troops taping this week has led to speculation that Cena may not be the one to leave the Toyota Center as champion.
WrestlingInc.com reports that "John Cena did not have the WWE Title belt or World Heavyweight Title belt with him when he came out." This show doesn't air until Dec. 28, so is this a sign that Cena will be without gold after facing Orton?
The explanation for this could be as simple as Cena was running in to save a fellow fan favorite and so left his title behind, or else WWE doesn't want to spoil the results for TLC.
Even with that bit of news, the betting odds are still in Cena's favor.
Per Wrestling Observer, via WrestlingInc.com, "betting odds for WWE TLC are in favor of Natalya winning the Divas Title, Cena defeating Randy Orton, The Wyatt Family defeating Daniel Bryan, The Shield defeating CM Punk and huge odds in favor of Big E Langston defeating Damien Sandow."
The trios facing a single foe each are not surprisingly favored. Natalya is the only victor here one could remotely consider calling an upset. At this point, AJ has held the Divas title longer than everyone but Beth Phoenix and Maryse in the championship's history.
For those unsure whether TLC will end in some sort of non-finish, WrestleZone.com issued the following intriguing report:
According to two different sources who participate in WWE production meetings, the original plan went out the window in the past 10 days, with the opinion being expressed to WWE Chairman Vince McMahon that WWE is better off both in terms of positioning programming in 2014 and even on live events with only one recognized top champion.
WZ has also learned both Triple H and Stephanie McMahon had expressed their opinions "to the troops" that WWE was better off with one champion.
From the announcers on Raw and SmackDown to Triple H's interviews with Michael Cole, WWE has made a point to promise a decisive ending, with one true champion. Could a third man, Triple H perhaps, be that one champion, despite not being in the match?
WWE has done crazier things.
- Fandango vs. Dolph Ziggler (Pre-show)
- Big E Langston vs. Damien Sandow (Intercontinental Championship)
- AJ Lee vs. Natalya (Divas Championship)
- Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. Ryback and Curtis Axel vs. Big Show and Rey Mysterio vs. The Real Americans (Tag Team Championship)
- Daniel Bryan vs. The Wyatt Family (Handicap match)
- CM Punk vs. The Shield (Handicap match)
- John Cena vs. Randy Orton (TLC match for WWE Unified Championship)
Without much at stake and no storyline to work with, count on the babyface getting the win here. Ziggler lost out on an opportunity to face Langston for the Intercontinental Championship thanks to Sandow, but he'll be in line for the next title shot.
The story is just too good to pass up.
After leaving Ziggler's side as a bodyguard, Langston found success on his own. He's now higher on the WWE totem pole than "The Show Off," a fact that will create some animosity in the future.
For now, Ziggler gets a smidgen of momentum, kicking the show off with a good guy prevailing.
It's too early for Langston to lose the title. The powerhouse hasn't yet extracted the career-boosting power that the IC belt has to offer.
He needs to successfully defend the championship at least a handful of times in order to make the most of his reign.
That's bad news for Sandow fans. "The Intellectual Savior" will be be overpowered and overwhelmed, serving as a stepping stone for a star on the rise.
With AJ so close to surpassing Maryse as the all-time longest-reigning Divas champ ever, the company is going that seize that opportunity to make the present more relevant than the past. Like it did with Punk's WWE Championship reign in 2012, WWE will highlight AJ's climb into record-setting status.
After defeating Natalya with Tamina's help, look for the black-clad bodyguard to grow jealous and challenge AJ herself.
That's when we'll see AJ be dethroned, not at TLC.
The Rhodes Brothers Remain Champs
The odds aren't great for Rhodes and Goldust to retain in terms of the numbers. In terms of storyline, though, there's little reason to think they will lose the belts.
The last three times those championships have changed hands, they followed a strong buildup for the challengers. None of the teams opposing the champs have received that.
Ryback and Axel have a non-title win over the Rhodes boys to brag about, but it feels too early to crown them. The Real Americans have a better chance. Although, with the increasingly positive reactions Antonio Cesaro has been receiving, a face turn and split from Jack Swagger is more likely.
The Wyatt Family Beat Bryan
Bryan is not only outnumbered and undersized in this matchup, there's a chance that Bray Wyatt somehow gets him to join his clan.
The Wyatt Family's momentum is too strong to go losing to just one man. Look for Bryan to survive for an impossibly long amount of time but eventually fall.
"In my world, there's no such thing as a happy ending ... I need you to know, we're going to hurt you!" - @WWEBrayWyatt to...— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) December 10, 2013
That defeat may come by way of Luke Harper's discus clothesline, Wyatt's Sister Abigail's Kiss or Bryan deciding to succumb to Wyatt's overtures.
Count on one upset pushing Punk into the WWE Championship picture and leaving The Shield in search of answers.
The tension between Dean Ambrose and his teammates is the window Punk can leap through to reach victory. Perhaps Roman Reigns spears the increasingly arrogant Ambrose, allowing Punk to steal a win. Perhaps Reigns and Seth Rollins leave Ambrose to fend for himself after tiring of his antics.
Hopefully whatever infighting occurs between "The Hounds of Justice" is only temporary, though, so that they can battle The Wyatt Family down the road.
The Year of Cena
You don't tug on Superman's cape and you don't bet against Cena.
In 2013 alone, Cena has won the Royal Rumble, the World Heavyweight Championship, the WWE Championship, the main event of WrestleMania, a handicap match against The Real Americans and a Money in the Bank cash-in match with only one working arm.
Orton should prove to be no problem.
WWE will be gearing up for WrestleMania season soon, and having Cena as the unified champ is a likely scenario. That sets up a possible Bryan vs. Cena rematch that would conclude the bearded one's championship odyssey in spectacular fashion.