Every year, WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs ends the year with a few exciting clashes even while the company wraps up filler storylines. This year especially, the company has basically been waiting for the year to end to start telling strong stories.
However, this did not stop the final pay-per-view of the year from being as impactful as ever for the company. After most of the secondary matches finished up early, the show really got going with some of the best on the roster going all-out.
From the surprise booking of Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin to the excellent clashes of Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka and Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles, it was a night of excitement and drama that hopefully will lead to a stronger product in 2019.
The reactions to Sunday night were largely positive, with many praising the intensity and focus of the incredibly stacked roster, who more than made up for a disappointing build to the event.
Asuka Finally Captures Gold Thanks to Ronda Rousey
For the first time in WWE history, the SmackDown Women's Championship match main-evented TLC, and all three wrestlers made the most of the moment. It was brutal, intense and personal to the end.
Fans could not stop talking about the insane spots The Man, The Queen and The Empress of Tomorrow put themselves through and for good reason:
The pain & physicality each woman inflicted onto each other: UNBELIEVABLE. Charlotte spearing Asuka through the barricade, Becky sending Charlotte through an announce table, Asuka destroying Becky & Charlotte with a Kendo stick, Charlotte sending Becky through a table... #WWETLC https://t.co/BgI5BBOBeb
While this often felt like it was still just Lynch and Charlotte going at it, Asuka certainly played a key role throughout. It was an unexpected appearance from Rousey that changed the match, though.
Rather than letting anyone look bad here, The Baddest Woman on the Planet arrived to knock down her biggest recent rivals from a ladder. It was a shocking move that made complete sense in hindsight, setting up so many exciting clashes:
TLC lived up to its name thanks to this match alone as the competitors went all out with tables, ladders and chairs, creating the most exciting women's title scene in WWE's history.
Corbin is Unceremoniously Ousted as Interim Raw General Manager
With Strowman injured going into the night, it was hard to say exactly how WWE would pull off his match against the general manager-elect. It became even less clear once The Monster Among Men walked out with his injured elbow in a sling.
However, in an impressively simple move, WWE managed to make everything work, utilizing the seemingly useless TLC stipulation. As Strowman looked on, Finn Balor, Bobby Roode, Chad Gable, Apollo Crews and even new referee Heath Slater got in a beatdown of their former boss.
Kurt Angle returned to add the finishing touches, with Strowman just having to walk over and put his foot down to end the reign of Corbin. Celebrations from fans began quickly after the result:
It's actually kind of shocking that WWE went ahead and booked a happy segment that actually gave the fans something that they wanted to see. They didn't ruin it, they didn't do something stupid to try to get heat, they just let the babyfaces destroy Corbin. #WWE #WWETLC
The Lone Wolf is not an actively bad wrestler, but he was a weight on the brand for months in a role he was never suited for. He made Raw worse while showing off his major weaknesses as a performer, but he was only one reason why the show was struggling.
A few fans did note just how much this came off as WWE putting all its bad storytelling on Corbin, letting him be the guinea pig, which should only continue on Monday when Vince McMahon fires the former interim general manager officially:
Now hopefully both men in this "match" can move on. The Monster hopefully will heal up in time to face Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble 2019 on January 27, and Corbin can go back to a more contained role on the roster.
Bryan and Styles Make Late Rally for Match of the Year
At this time of year, fans are trying to piece together the full year to decide what the best match of the year was in WWE. And 2018 has not been limited in its selections of top-notch in-ring work.
It is rare that December brings a viable contender to the stage, but this current roster is far too talented not to constantly add to that list. This is particularly true when two of the best wrestlers in the world are going at it like Bryan and Styles.
Their first match on SmackDown was a great title clash, but their TLC bout was phenomenal. The two competed in a surprisingly multi-layered technical bout that had everyone on their feet, and the Twitter reaction was praise-heavy:
The Phenomenal One and the WWE champion are likely far from done and may have even better in them in the near future. For now, everyone has this to look back on as one of the best matches of the year and proof that both are still among the elite in wrestling.
Dean Ambrose Wins in Surprisingly Disappointing Match
When Dean Ambrose finally turned on Seth Rollins and began their feud anew, one thing was supposedly certain: Every match would be great.
The two have chemistry in spades that has led to multiple top-notch tag team matches just in the past few years, not to mention their great singles bouts in 2015.
That promise was ruined in their first singles match as they didn't seem able to get on the same page. Stuck in the cool-down spot before the main event, this was as bad a match as The Architect and The Lunatic Fringe could possibly have together.
It may not have been quite as bad as the live crowd sold it to be with vicious "boring" chants, but it was disjointed and overlong.
The reaction from fans on Twitter was more divisive, with some clearly frustrated at the live crowd reaction:
Perhaps the biggest reason this match was so divisive was its placement on the card. As solid as this show was, it was shockingly long, hitting the four-hour mark without including the Kickoff. This contest really made fans feel that length before the main event:
In the end, Ambrose and Rollins told a solid story together in the midst of so-so wrestling, and The Lunatic won the title. His victory will have major consequences on Raw that should be felt far more clearly than the quality of the contest.
Rousey Continues to Impress
The first singles match of The Baddest Woman on the Planet's career was against Nia Jax, and it was an impressive showcase of what she could bring to WWE. However, there were still rough edges that needed to be smoothed out.
Six months later, the UFC legend has clearly improved leaps and bounds, taking a weaker build to an even greater match. This was easily the best match Jax has had all year, and Rousey nearly topped her own personal bests with her performance.
The eight-month rookie has taken to WWE in a way few ever have, and it will be exciting to see how she soon works with some of the best in the business such as Lynch and Charlotte. For now, everyone can praise her as already being among the women's division's best:
Jax has been rightly subject to much criticism over the past few months, and most were quick to call this match Rousey's work not her opponent's:
While no match is simply one performer's work, Jax still has much to atone for. This may have been a crowning moment in her career, but she should now move down the roster, at least after Lynch gets in a few shots on her as well.
Natalya Gets Retribution for Her Father
One bout that did not come with much hype on Sunday was Natalya vs. Ruby Riott. This Tables match had months of story behind it, but it had not led to many interesting moments along the way.
However, TLC ended up being the perfect moment to end this rivalry. On a night with few happy endings, this was the ultimate fairy-tale ending The Queen of Harts deserved, getting revenge as she sent Riott through a table with her own face on it.
The match not only told a great story but it was also a strong showing from both women. Many fans made sure to praise the surprisingly impressive performances from both that far exceeded most of their previous matches:
Nick Hausman @WIncRebel
This match way over delivered for me. I’ll admit when I’m wrong, keeping Nattie a babyface right now is probably the best call. I hope she can keep this going and find another heel on #Raw that’s not scared to push her. Great work by both women. #WWETLC https://t.co/7mGX6uHWRf
In the end, it was all about the ending. Natalya got to celebrate her father and her own legacy in WWE. It was a rare moment in which a longtime veteran got her due. The praise continued for the daughter of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart on Twitter:
While TLC had many highs and lows along the way, this was a surprise highlight that helped define the impact of the entire show.