WWE TLC 2013 was a weird show, plain and simple. Look no further than the card’s two 3-on-1 handicap matches. On paper, that’s an odd booking decision because it seems redundant. But in reality, both matches delivered, as they offered entirely unique stories that were told to perfection. This show may be known for the memorable main event, in which John Cena and Randy Orton clashed in a world title unification match. But these handicap matches deserve plenty of the spotlight, too.
A Masterclass in Storytelling
There’s plenty to dive into at WWE TLC 2013, so let’s begin with the handicap matches that practically bookend WWE TLC 2013. In the opening match, CM Punk took on The Shield. It’s worth noting that “The Hounds of Justice” made their debut by helping Punk retain the WWE Championship at WWE Survivor Series 2012. Here, the tables turned, as The Authority used The Shield against Punk.
The talent on display in this match, both at the time and in retrospect, is remarkable. Punk was one of the top WWE superstars in this era while Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose went on to be world champions. Unfortunately, Punk was less than two months away from his controversial departure from WWE. Naturally, watching this match was bittersweet. You have to imagine that, by this point, Punk may have been quite frustrated with the company.
But he still wrestled his heart out on this December night. He did everything he possibly could to make Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns look like stars. And he succeeded. He sold Reigns’ impressive power by letting the future “Tribal Chief” toss him around like a ragdoll. He also made Ambrose and Rollins look like tactical geniuses and smarmy heels in their own right.
It’d be easy to see the result, “CM Punk beats The Shield in a 3-on-1 Handicap Match” and think, “The Shield just got buried!” But that’s not what happened here. This bout was a masterpiece in storytelling. Punk used his veteran prowess to outsmart the trio in a match that was put together beautifully. A missed Spear from Reigns caused “The Big Dog” to seemingly injure his eye. This spot perfectly played into the end of the match.
After Punk attacked the wounded eye, Reigns accidentally speared Ambrose. Punk promptly pinned Ambrose for the win, which helped the Spear look like a strong finisher. It’s a shame that Punk left soon after this match, as he could have put on spectacular matches with all three members of The Shield throughout their careers. Still, this bout was incredible, and it offers in-ring storytelling at its finest.
The “Yes!” Movement Gains Steam
Later in the show, Daniel Bryan faced The Wyatt Family in another handicap match. Here, the story revolved around Bray Wyatt’s goal to convince Bryan to join the family. The “Yes!” Movement was quickly picking up steam by December 2013, and in hindsight, it’s clear how much the fans loved Bryan at this point. He put on a great performance here, as he played his part perfectly. He fought valiantly against the comparatively three giant members of the Wyatt Family. Wyatt was also thriving, as even in 2013, it was clear that he was destined for big things.
From his creepy spider walk to his brilliant facial expressions, he was already on another level. This handicap match was outshined by Punk vs. The Shield, but it was quite enjoyable. Wyatt picked up the win, despite Bryan’s best efforts. The post-match visual of Wyatt cradling the fallen Bryan was chilling. The benefit of hindsight lets us know that just two weeks later, Bryan would temporarily join The Wyatt Family, and the rest is history. This match was a crucial step in that journey.
The Biggest Match In WWE History (Until The Next One)
Some fans may remember this saga of the Orton/Cena rivalry as “The Match Nobody Wanted But Surprisingly Delivered.” Indeed, by this point, fans had seen plenty of pay-per-view matches between Orton and Cena. This one was literally hyped as the biggest match in WWE history because it would unify Orton’s WWE Championship and Cena’s World Heavyweight Championship. Various video packages throughout the show contributed to the big-fight feel attached to this bout.
For younger fans, Cena and Orton were the Rock and Stone Cold of this generation. So this match was actually special. Though it wasn’t the final chapter in their lengthy rivalry — they had a rematch at next month’s event — it still felt like the end of an era, at least in retrospect. After the sequel at WWE Royal Rumble 2014, singles matches between Orton and Cena became increasingly rare, especially on pay-per-view. So at least when you rewatch it years later, this match does have a special energy attached to it.
Storyline wise, this match suffers because, just a few short years later, WWE introduced the Universal Championship to basically nullify this unification. But of course, Orton and Cena didn’t know that at the time. They went out there and did their best to put on a precursor to “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” that fans got at WWE Backlash 2020. They threw everything they had at each other, and these bitter enemies even called back to a previous chapter in their rivalry. (Orton used handcuffs on Cena in a reference to their classic match at WWE Breaking Point 2009.)
With so much at stake, it’d be fair to expect plenty of shenanigans in the outcome. In this era, it felt like Cena never took clean losses on pay-per-view. That’s basically what happened here. Orton tried to cheat by using handcuffs, but “Super Cena” escaped. Still, Orton won by sending Cena tumbling off the ladder and causing him to hit his head on a table. “The Viper” won without any interference whatsoever. He defeated Cena in a fairly clean manner, which solidified his status as WWE’s new undisputed champion.
Seven years later, WWE TLC 2013 might not be the most memorable event, even among other TLC shows. But it’s definitely worth revisiting. Both handicap matches are remarkable, and the main event delivers a solid TLC match. Elsewhere on the card, the tag team division shines, and Big E Langston is in the midst of his pre-New Day singles run. As always, it’s fun looking back at shows like this to see how much things have changed and, if nothing else, to take a trip down memory lane.