We head into WWE TLC tonight with a solid card of six matches that almost all have months of build-up. Long term booking is something I’ve written about before as being one of the big positives to come out of the 2016 version of the brand extension, and tonight should be one of the first real examples of how that is really advantageous to the show quality.
However, PPV-day means it’s time for my PPV Spotlight, and this time round I’ve picked the one match that hasn’t had months of direct build: the SmackDown Tag Team Championship match between The New Wyatt Family and Rhyno & Heath Slater.
I say direct build because this match was obviously only set up in the last week, but Slater and Rhyno have been champions for nearly three months, after another couple of months where Slater was trying – until that point in vain – to win a contract on either Raw or SmackDown. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton’s issues go back to the week after Summerslam in August, where Bray challenged Orton as he was addressing his loss in dominant fashion to Brock Lesnar. Oh how times have changed.
Had you asked me two months ago if either of these teams would exist today, I probably would have bet against it. Slater and Rhyno had so much momentum throughout the tournament to crown the inaugural SmackDown Tag Champions, but they have really fizzled out. I thought they would win the titles in order to get Slater officially on the blue brand, but I thought they would be short-lived champions who would soon split apart.
As it is, they stuck together and aligned with Dolph Ziggler as his backup against The Miz and the Spirit Squad. As champions they were then the captains of Team Smackdown in the 5-on-5 team elimination match, which they lost to Raw. I think partly because Rhyno was never exactly a massive star, and had been off our screens for so long and Slater was booked as a comedy wrestler for most of his WWE tenure, they have been pretty poor champions.
The titles just don’t feel important, they haven’t even been the focal point of storylines Slater and Rhyno were involved in, and they were far from the highest hopes for the blue brand at Survivor Series. That’s the other reason I think they’ve been pretty poor champions – I don’t think anyone believes they are the best team on SmackDown. They certainly haven’t been booked like it, and GM Daniel Bryan has repeatedly called American Alpha the best team in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I was really impressed by just how much the crowd got behind Slater when he was vying for a contract, and Rhyno has a role to play as a veteran there to help the younger superstars, but as Tag Team Champions it just isn’t working out. That’s where the Wyatts come in.
At the draft, it seemed like the Wyatts may have been going their separate ways. Harper was out with a long term injury, Strowman was separated from his former comrades, and the leader Bray was left with the guy who had been booked like the weak link in the group, Erick Rowan. It may have been better for Bray to break out on his own than be dragging Rowan along.
Bray picked his target as Randy Orton, and lo and behold Rowan was by his side. Then Erick got injured, and the returning Luke Harper took his place – immediately making the Wyatts more threatening with the former Intercontinental Champion by Bray’s side. Eventually, Orton sided with Bray and Harper, and the New Wyatt Family would be SmackDown’s sole survivors in the Men’s 5-on-5 Elimination Match at Survivor Series.
That in itself was a surprise. The obvious storyline route was for Orton to turn on Bray leading to SmackDown’s defeat, but WWE picked the far more interesting path instead. Suddenly, instead of having the blow-off match tonight at TLC, this story could extend to Wrestlemania and beyond. Orton and Wyatt are working together, with Randy even sacrificing himself in recent matches so that Bray is spared and can come out victorious.
And when they win the tag titles tonight (I am that confident it will happen) it will be a real threat for the rest of the division to have to overcome. It was hurting the likes of the Usos to have to lose to Slater and Rhyno too often, but a loss to two guys who are near if not at the top of the card won’t adversely affect anyone.
Plus, now that WWE have already passed up on the most obvious opportunity to split the alliance, the question will always be there as to when it will happen. I think the longer they wait, the more impact it will have, but it could really happen at any time, even tonight, and that unpredictability is a good thing for the storyline.
It also gives them an out when it comes to Orton and Wyatt eventually losing the titles, in that someone can be boosted by beating them for the belts, but Orton and Bray can be protected by turning on each other. The New Wyatts holding the SmackDown Tag Team Championships could be the best thing for the entire division, and for several storylines on the show.
And that, at the end of the day, is what a well-written storyline should accomplish. It should make every party involved look better coming out of it than they did going in. While this match may result in the break-up of both teams involved tonight, it might also just be the start of Bray Wyatt’s ascent to being a true main eventer, if Slater can regain the rapturous level of reactions he was getting six weeks ago it might be the start of a singles push for him, and it should still leave a competitive tag division. American Alpha and the Usos can carry it through to Wrestlemania, when Rowan returns he and Harper can have a big say, and you never know who from NXT will join the fray.
Tonight may be the real kickstart of the SmackDown tag division, and if it’s going to live up to it’s predecessor, it needs something big. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton can be exactly that.