MINNEAPOLIS, USA – By now most of you have heard the news, and I’m lucky I hadn’t started on this column yet before then: Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are both unavailable for TLC this Monday morning, October 23 (local time), and two of the long-planned storylines for the show have to be adjusted.
Well, one of them gets to be adjusted, while the other has been scrapped for the time being. Due to what is reported to be an outbreak of either viral meningitis or mumps in the RAW locker room, Roman Reigns had to be replaced by RAW GM Kurt Angle in the main event handicap TLC match. Bray Wyatt had to have been removed from the show as well, and Finn Balor is now facing AJ Styles in a surprise interbrand match.
That the WWE had to make these moves is pretty telling of how shortsighted they could be when in panic mode. Even though the WWE Universe got buzzing when Angle’s WWE in-ring return was announced, anyone who even vaguely follows the shows can tell you that it probably doesn’t sound like that great of an idea. They’ll be watching for the novelty of seeing Angle wrestle again, but beyond that? The whole thing could’ve been better – Jason Jordan teaming up with the Shield still makes sense considering his feud with the Miz is still pretty fresh and unresolved. Or they could’ve patched two holes with one stone by putting Balor in the main event.
It’s likely that Vince McMahon saw the opportunity to drive up short-term numbers in what looks like a panic move, but as always, in doing so he gives up a lot of better long-term possibilities. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, though, because they had time to think of this and plan a whole follow-through around it – but it still proves why SmackDown is the better brand. We’ll always go back to that.
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox in a kickoff match
What was glossed over in the whole Angle and Styles scenario is that a good part of the TLC card is affected by the absences on RAW. You already know Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and an injured Samoa Joe are gone, but what you don’t notice right away is that Nia Jax and Neville are too. We’ll get to Neville in a bit, but this match (and feud) was supposed to be Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. Jax is reported to be on a personal leave, and that means more stars get an opportunity to shine. The issue now is it doesn’t seem like Creative doesn’t exactly know what to do with the stars who are around, but let’s hope this match builds depth for the RAW women’s division.
Winner: Sasha Banks
Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Jack Gallagher and Brian Kendrick
While it’s great that a depleted roster means more overlooked storylines get a shot on a PPV card, it’s hard to suddenly justify this cruiserweight division match if a lot of the more nuanced development is on a show not everyone who watches RAW gets to see. 205 Live does wonders for the cruiserweights, but all they get on RAW is a few minutes if they’re not Enzo Amore and/or Kalisto. This is a good step forward, but they’ll get put back on the burner when the big players return. If they want this to stick, they have to start investing in more time for the cruiserweights.
That said, the team of Alexander and Swann – two of the most exciting cruiserweights in the division – have to go over if they want this roadshow to be any use, even though it’s likely going to end up being the cooldown match before the main event.
Winner: Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann
Asuka vs. Emma
This match serves as Asuka’s official RAW debut, and the more I think about it the more I really like the fact that they just went ahead and booked her in a match instead of actually debuting her and building up to another match in the future. Asuka doesn’t really need that much of an introduction, so it’s fine, and it’s versus Emma, a talented hand who has history with her. I hope they get at least 10 minutes, because they don’t really need a squash no matter how dominant Asuka is.
Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles
Yeah, it’s a last-minute decision, but think about it: there are so many possibilities they could explore with this. I don’t expect Styles to be a member of RAW following this, but since it’s Survivor Series season and that’s an interpromotional event, they could still sensibly interact with each other. This is a match I’d actually book some shenanigans into, with the Good Brothers coming out to mess with both of their heads.
Winner: Finn Balor (by disqualification)
Enzo Amore vs. Kalisto (c) for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Okay, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Kalisto should have never won the title so soon to begin with. It was a nice moment, but again, it was a moment for the sake of having a moment. They’ve already done a good job of salvaging Amore and building him up to be a credible heel to be reckoned with, if only for his cunning. Losing the title puts a hiccup in all that, and he needs to get it back.
Winner: Enzo Amore (new Cruiserweight Champion)
Mickie James vs. Alexa Bliss (c) for the RAW Women’s Championship
This title feud is obviously just a placeholder for when Asuka eventually comes for Bliss’s title. They could, however, still pull a swerve by having James win the title and giving Asuka a more experienced challenger, as they had a good match at Takeover: Toronto this time last year. I’m not seeing it happening, though, as they’ve (rightfully) put a lot of stock into Bliss.
Winner: Alexa Bliss
Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Kurt Angle vs. The Miz, Cesaro, Sheamus, Braun Strowman, and Kane in a handicap TLC match
I only just noticed – this may be the first TLC event where we’re not getting any forced variations of the TLC; no ladder, tables, or chairs matches in the undercard. That’s actually great, because for the first time the actual namesake match doesn’t end up getting diluted when it’s time for the main event. I hope this continues to be the trend moving forward, and maybe even getting rid of the theme altogether.
Now… how does Kurt Angle putting himself (in kayfabe) make sense in this match? You figure that he technically allowed it to happen as it is, so how could it have been a good idea for him to think of and accept being in the match? The only sensible explanation I have is Miz’s beef with him, and they’ll have to make that a plot point during the show. You don’t get these things when you make a surprise announcement, but I’m still thinking they had enough time to write and produce an angle that would, uh, get Angle into the match.
Now that the Shield has a broken down veteran on their side, though, the odds got even higher for them. It’s still possible for them to win by having the Miz’s team implode and Jason Jordan run down for the assist, but I’d like to see the heroes deal with a major struggle by losing. Because why wouldn’t it be a good story? Roman Reigns was unable to join them and it just wasn’t the same, and it’s something they could explore moving toward Survivor Series. The babyfaces going down swinging would be a much better visual than them overcoming the impossible odds.
Winner: The Miz’s team
Tell me who you think will be coming out on top this Monday in the comments!
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