It’s time for WWE to stop doing pay-per-views themed around specific matches. (Actually, it was time to stop ten years ago, but I digress…)
Shows like WWE TLC and WWE Hell in a Cell have become staples of the calendar year for wrestling fans. Even if you admit that these events were fun at first, they overstayed their welcome long ago. With each passing year, supposedly special contests like Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Matches turn into mundane contests because fans see them all the time. Now, fans are merely two weeks away from yet another WWE TLC show. As you may have guessed, both main event title bouts are TLC Matches. That’s the problem that we’re trying to illustrate here.
TLC matches aren’t remarkable anymore. By using this match type for the most prominent matches on the card, WWE is further diluting the unique feel of this stipulation. The issue is even more pressing when you consider the fact that this gimmick is made up of other match types that will also be featured on the card. Lana and Asuka will face Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax in a Tables Match. This connection actually makes sense because Jax famously slammed Lana through a table every week for nine consecutive weeks. But seeing a table spot in this match weakens the specialty of a similar spot in a TLC bout.
There’s a fairly good chance that the card will feature a Ladder Match because it’s TLC, after all. Maybe Sasha Banks’ match with Carmella will have this stipulation attached to it. Plus, we’ll probably get a Chairs Match, even though literally every “extreme” match permits the performers to use chairs on each other. The same argument about Tables Matches holds true here. Chair-shots practically have the same effect as punches in a TLC match. WWE continues to hamstring itself by booking TLC matches on a show that’s separately filled with Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Matches.
TLC Matches used to be spectacular. Stars like The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and The Dudley Boyz turned it into one of the most anticipated match types in WWE’s arsenal. But since WWE watered it down by constantly featuring the match on an annual show, fans nowadays rarely feel more than apathy when a new TLC Match is announced. But this problem extends beyond TLC as a show and a match type.
Practically every issue with TLC applies to WWE Hell in a Cell. Once upon a time, “The Devil’s Playground” was truly barbaric, as it was rare in its genuine brutality. The sheer violence in these matches was unparalleled. Wrestlers bled profusely, and they convincingly tried to destroy each other. This carnage helped the matches sell the competitors’ storyline hatred for each other. But as with TLC, Hell in a Cell matches rapidly lost their luster when WWE based a pay-per-view on the match.
The first WWE Hell in a Cell event was in 2009. So for 11 years, WWE has been giving fans shows with the namesake (match) on it. Several of these events feature multiple Hell in a Cell matches. Again, with each show, the bouts are less special. They feel like regular stipulations now. Hell in a Cell matches should be reserved for the most bitter, heated feuds. Instead, WWE throws any given program that has enough build into the steel structure. So the intended personal tone of these matches has fallen by the wayside. WWE might be better off occasionally featuring a Hell in a Cell match when the situation calls for it to restore the “big fight feel” the stipulation once provided.
To be fair, one gimmick pay-per-view was the exception this year, so other events could try to borrow its formula for success.
This year, WWE flipped the script with its Money in the Bank show. Typically, the same argument about TLC and Hell in a Cell would apply to this match type. But in 2020, WWE turned Money in the Bank into a distinct cinematic adventure. The eponymous matches were filmed at WWE Headquarters, and the location and general approach gave new life to the somewhat tired concept. Fans saw a food fight, a Vince McMahon cameo, and plenty of other shenanigans. Heck, King Corbin literally threw someone off the roof.
Some fans didn’t like this change to the typically chaotic (but standard) ladder match. That being said, other viewers thought it was a fun, unpredictable ride, and it showed that WWE at least tried to do something different. As a result, they might have found a successful recipe for the Money in the Bank show, as at least this writer would enjoy seeing what would happen if the Money in the Bank Matches were filmed at WWE Headquarters again in 2021. It would be hard to do the same thing for TLC Matches, let alone Hell in a Cell, but changing the way the matches are filmed could just save these stale stipulations.