I will never forget WWE TLC 2011.
I typically avoid writing in the first-person but this pay-per-view deserves to be an exception.
For some context, Zack Ryder used to be my favorite wrestler in WWE, bar none. From his cool theme song to his incredible charisma, he was a star in my eyes. As someone who watched every episode of his popular YouTube series, “Z! True Long Island Story,” you can imagine how I felt when Ryder faced Dolph Ziggler for the WWE United States Championship and won the match at this event. Ryder’s victory might be the “cake” for the reasons why I enjoyed this show, but every part of the card delighted me, both at the time it aired and upon a second viewing today.
The Ryder Revolution Is Running Wild
First, Ryder’s win to open the show was an electric way to kick things off. “Long Island Iced Z” isn’t for everyone. There were plenty of members of the Ryder Revolution that swept the WWE Universe in 2011, but there were, and still are, many fans that don’t care for Ryder whatsoever.
That’s fair—but listen to the way the crowd cheered him in 2011 and tell me that he wasn’t over. The fans in attendance at WWE TLC 2011 loudly showed their support with pro-Ryder chants, and they erupted when he pinned Ziggler to win the title. For a fan like me, the cherry on top of this match was seeing the pride on the face of Ryder’s dad, who was sitting at ringside, and his subsequent embrace with his son. The whole scene gave me chills, even when I watched it all these years later. So sure, I’m biased, but seeing Ryder win the title is a memory I’ll never forget, especially given the disappointing remainder of Ryder’s WWE career.
A Major Moment For The “Yes!” Movement
Like Ryder, Daniel Bryan has always been one of my favorites. In many ways, he’s everything that Ryder isn’t. Bryan is a world-class technical wrestler who is always a safe bet to deliver a five-star match. He’s the reason I got into independent wresting in the first place, something I didn’t thoroughly explore until 2011. So I admittedly marked out when Bryan won the Money in the Bank match in the summer. After the bell rang for the Chairs Match between Big Show and Mark Henry at WWE TLC 2011, the writing was on the wall. It was Bryan’s moment.
Henry brutally attacked Big Show after the match and “The World’s Largest Athlete” injured his hand during the bout, too. A DDT onto a steel chair left the giant unconscious, so it was the perfect time for Bryan to race to the ring. The roof nearly blew off the building, as it felt like every fan in attendance wanted to see Bryan walk out of the building with the World Heavyweight Championship. That’s exactly what happened. A man who defied everything WWE typically looked for in a world champion had just won SmackDown’s top prize. This first title reign was ultimately disappointing, but The “Yes! Movement” took a huge step forward on this December night in Baltimore.
The Era Of Punk Continues
Then, there’s CM Punk, a hero for every “smarky” 11-year-old fan like me who rejected John Cena because it was “cool” at the time. Punk made me fall in love with wrestling all over again at Money in the Bank 2011, when he defeated Cena and seemingly walked out on WWE as its champion. This incredible storyline remains an all-time favorite, so while Punk’s match at WWE TLC 2011 wasn’t much to write home about, it still bears mentioning.
Punk defended the WWE Championship in a TLC match against The Miz and Alberto Del Rio in the show’s main event. As TLC matches go, it was what you’d expect to get, with ladder, chair and table galore. This bout deserves some props for a compelling spot where Punk was handcuffed to the turnbuckle. The champion, like a true hero in peril, desperately tried to break free while his dastardly opponents climbed the ladder so they could take his title away. Punk added a new twist to the typical handcuff usage by unscrewing the turnbuckle, detaching one of the ring ropes in the process. The champion decisively won the match, and he went on to hold the title for a little while time. 434 days total, to be exact.
A show like WWE TLC 2011 remains perhaps the pinnacle of my fandom. By the end of the night, the three wrestlers I liked more than anyone were holding singles titles in WWE. Nights like this don’t happen very often for WWE fans. Time and again, we “fall for” wrestlers, and we so desperately want to see them succeed. But so very often, we wind up feeling let down because the cards don’t fall the way we want them to. At least for this fan, WWE TLC 2011 was one of the rare exceptions, and it is a reminder that sometimes, WWE can deliver a show where the results line up just the way we’d want them to.