A Comprehensive History of the WWE TLC Match 19 Years After Debut
The letters TLC can stand for "tender loving care," but WWE has been using them for Tables, Ladders & Chairs for almost 20 years.
The TLC stipulation is a favorite among WWE fans because it gives creative Superstars an opportunity to do wild stunts they wouldn't get to do on Raw or SmackDown every week.
Each weapon has a long and storied history in pro wrestling. Countless wrestlers have been put through tables, whacked over the back with chairs and climbed ladders to reach a title or briefcase. Combining all three objects into one match led to one of the most popular match-types of all time.
Since the first TLC match aired at SummerSlam 2000, WWE has only used the stipulation 23 times. Just to give you some context, the company has held 42 Hell in a Cell matches since 1997. That is 19 more HIAC bouts in only three more years.
We have seen bad performances in just about every kind of contest, but tables, ladders and chairs somehow brings out the best in everyone who competes in one.
Let's take a walk down memory boulevard and look back at the history of one of WWE's greatest match-types.
Where It All Began
Before the TLC match existed, WWE booked The Hardy Boyz against Edge and Christian in a ladder match at No Mercy 1999.
The two duos were competing for the right to have Terri Runnels as a manager. Instead of a title hanging above the ring, a bag containing $100,000 dollars hung from the rafters.
The four risk-takers didn't just use ladders to inflict pain on each other. They also used several steel chairs and tables to make it the most exciting and unique ladder match in WWE history.
This was the definition of a car crash in the ring. All four men likely took months off their careers with this one performance, but it cemented them in WWE history as some of the toughest and most innovative talents of the Attitude Era.
The Tag Team Division Starts the Trend
When it came time to book the first TLC match, WWE added Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley to the mix since they were known for using tables since their days in ECW.
They stepped into the ring at SummerSlam 2000 and proceeded to steal the show with one of the most ridiculous displays of wanton violence we have seen.
The same six men competed in the second Tables, Ladder and Chairs match less than a year later at WrestleMania 17 and somehow managed to outperform their previous encounter.
Less than two months later, WWE brought the stipulation to SmackDown. The same six men were in the third installment alongside those who would end up defeating them, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
WWE put the TLC match on hold for more than a year before bringing it back for the Raw Roulette episode on October 7, 2002.
Jeff Hardy, Bubba Ray and Christian were each paired with a different partner than the previous three encounters. RVD joined Hardy, Spike Dudley teamed with Bubba and Chris Jericho was Christian's partner at the time.
In the end, Kane ended up winning the match to retain the Tag Team Championships despite his partner, Hurricane Helms, being taken out earlier in the evening by Triple H and Ric Flair.
For the first couple of years, the tag team division ruled over the TLC match. For some reason, WWE shelved the concept for over three years following this contest.
Bringing It Back After 3-Plus Years
In January 2006, management brought the TLC match back for a world title bout between Ric Flair and Edge on an episode of Raw.
The next few years saw the stipulation used solely for one-on-one encounters, with Edge competing in three out of four of them.
The Rated-R Superstar defeated The Nature Boy and The Undertaker but fell to John Cena at Unforgiven 2006 after being given an AA from the top of a ladder through two tables.
Edge had competed in six out of the seven total TLC matches up to this point. It clearly took a toll on his body, so he was probably happy when he found out he was not part of the CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy bout at SummerSlam 2009.
Believe it or not, The Charismatic Enigma has never won a Tables, Ladder and Chairs match in his entire WWE career. This wound up being the last time he took part in one of these contests, at least for now.
The TLC PPV Era Begins
Following CM Punk and Jeff Hardy's match at SummerSlam, WWE decided the TLC concept deserved its own pay-per-view in December and it has been an annual tradition for the past decade.
The main event that first year saw Shawn Michaels and Triple H dethrone Chris Jericho and Big Show to win their first set of tag titles as partners.
The next couple of years featured wins at TLC for Punk and The Miz, but the PPV really made a name for itself in 2012 when The Shield defeated Kane, Daniel Bryan and Ryback.
In recent years, the TLC PPV has included matches such as AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton vs. John Cena. While Survivor Series is still considered one of the big four events due to its longevity, TLC has eclipsed it as the fourth quarter PPV WWE puts all of its efforts into.
The event usually featured individual contests with each one being based around one of the three signature weapons, but the TLC match itself is what brings people to these events. The less said about the Stairs match, the better.
Using the Stipulation for Other Events
Despite the TLC match having its own PPV, WWE has continued to use it sparingly at other events. We have seen it used a few times on Raw and SmackDown in addition to appearing at other pay-per-views.
Just last year, Seth Rollins defeated Baron Corbin to retain the Intercontinental Championship in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match on the December 10 episode of Raw.
Back in 2013, Punk and Ryback competed in another encounter on Raw that saw The Straight-Edge Superstar pick up the win over the powerhouse.
One of the most memorable televised TLC matches took place on the November 29, 2010, episode of Raw when The Miz defended the WWE Championship against Jerry Lawler.
Nobody went into this bout expecting Lawler to win but as the night progressed, the crowd began to believe The King might claim his first title in WWE.
It was one of the first times we saw how this stipulation could be used to tell a story without the need for someone to crash 20 feet from a ladder through a table every few minutes. The A-Lister and Lawler told a tale that night which helped endear both men to the WWE Universe.
One strange thing that happens in WWE occasionally is a ladder match without something hanging above the ring to be won. Basically, the Superstars have a Hardcore bout with an emphasis on the ladders around the ring.
This happens in TLC bouts, too. The Shield vs. Ryback and Team Hell No was the first time it happened, and while it was a fun and enjoyable performance, it felt like not having a title or briefcase above the ring made it incomplete.
The same thing can be said for Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose from TLC 2014, but the one time it worked perfectly was the WeeLC match from Extreme Rules 2014.
El Torito and Hornswoggle, along with The Colons and 3MB, surprised the WWE Universe by taking what sounded like a mess on paper and turning it into one of the best matches of the night.
Drew McIntyre, Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, Primo and Epico all deserve credit for helping to make it fun, but Hornswoggle and El Torito deserve to be praised for giving everything they had when WWE had only ever booked them as sideshow comedy acts.
Make no mistake about it, this was a comedy match, but it was done the right way. Hornswoggle and El Torito went from being comedic managers to the reason everyone in the arena was chanting "This is awesome."
The Women Make It Their Own
The last few years have been a great time for women's wrestling. The WWE women's division has had a lot of firsts like Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks in a Hell in a Cell match and the inaugural all-female Royal Rumble in 2018.
Another one of those legendary firsts took place on December 16 when Asuka defeated Charlotte and Becky Lynch in the first women's TLC match.
The Man was reigning supreme as the SmackDown women's champion after defeating The Queen at Hell in a Cell three months earlier. It looked like Lynch would be unstoppable for a long time, but WWE shocked the world by giving Asuka her first title on the main roster.
Flair and Lynch had been fighting for months. They had matches at SummerSlam, HIAC, Super ShowDown and Evolution along with several encounters every week on television.
Asuka almost felt like an addition for the sake of avoiding repetition, so many people were pleasantly surprised when she ended up pulling the title down to win at the end of the night.
Looking to the Future
It's hard to believe almost 20 years have passed since the first time WWE combined tables, ladders and chairs into one stipulation. We have seen some unforgettable moments and watched Superstars risk their careers and lives for the sake of our entertainment.
WWE's roster has more depth than ever before. It has great rosters on Raw, SmackDown, NXT, NXT UK and 205 Live with the intention of adding more international territories in the future.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to combinations the company could use to create memorable TLC opponents. WWE has yet to book any matches for this year's event, but we can assume which feuds are up for consideration.
Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin vs. Roman Reigns, Rusev vs. Bobby Lashley and AJ Styles vs. Rey Mysterio are all possibilities for the men's division. When it comes to the women, WWE will likely put The Kabuki Warriors in the ring with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.
In future years, stars like Mustafa Ali, Ricochet, Andrade, Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Candice LeRae and Io Shirai will likely wow us with their performances in TLC bouts.
With All Elite Wrestling breathing down WWE's neck, we can expect the company to give us as many dream matches as possible to keep fans happy.
What is your favorite TLC match of all time?