It’s nearly TLC time, but last night the WWE Universe was rocked by news of two major changes to matches at the PPV tomorrow night. Usually in my PPV Spotlights I focus on one match, but I think under the circumstances I’m going to change things up for one show only and just write about the changes – they’re major enough that I think that’s all anyone is talking about anyway.
So first off, why the changes? In short, illness. WWE have confirmed that three of their performers are currently suffering from a “viral infection”. The rumour going around wrestling news sites is that they’re suffering from viral meningitis. The three performers in question are Bo Dallas (who has been missing from the last couple of Raw’s), Bray Wyatt (who hasn’t appeared in person during the same time frame), and most significantly Roman Reigns.
Bo and Bray are obviously brothers, and apparently Bray and Roman often travel together, so it’s easy to see where the infection may have spread. WWE says they are putting their performers under tests to ensure everyone is fit to compete. The health of everyone involved has to come first, and the hope is that everyone can make a full and speedy recovery.
The knock-on effect is that at the minute we really don’t have any idea as to the time frame that these guys – and hopefully nobody else – will be out for. Bo and Bray have been out of action for two weeks already, so we would have to assume that Reigns, who was only struck down by it after this week’s Raw, will be out for at least two weeks as well.
The obvious result of Wyatt and Reigns being unable to compete is that two matches at TLC have to be changed. What’s less clear is what happens after Sunday. Raw for Monday night is apparently being massively rewritten, and if there’s still doubt as to when they’ll be back plans for Survivor Series – just four weeks away – may also have to be changed. And it’s absolutely less important, but in under two weeks WWE heads over to Europe for a tour – the Raw shows have been advertising The Shield in the main event for the Raw branded shows, and that might have to change if Roman Reigns isn’t going to be able to compete.
All that is still up in the air for now. What we do know, is what matches we have instead now that Bray and Roman are off TLC. I’m going to look at Bray’s would-be opponent first: Finn Balor. We were supposed to see the debut of Sister Abigail going up against The Demon. Instead, we get a first time ever match between Finn Balor and SmackDown’s AJ Styles. That’s an extremely exciting prospect, with it sure to get more time and be a better match than Balor vs Bray. That’s nothing against Bray, but AJ Styles will make 99% of WWE matches better.
There is the issue of this being a money match being given away with no build at two days’ notice. There is the issue of WWE just ignoring the brand split and having a SmackDown guy appear on a Raw show with no explanation. However, both of those can be fixed in the future. If WWE tap into something with their history in Japan and somehow involved Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson in this somewhere – even a backstage skit with follow ups in the coming weeks – then significant fallout could negate the lack of build. And in a couple of weeks time they could easily say in exchange for AJ Styles appearing at TLC, SmackDown gets something from Raw in return. AJ Styles & Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn at Survivor Series anyone?
And I think the match should be so good it’ll erase every other issue that could be had with it. It’s a weak card on paper, which should help the match stand out, and also means Balor and Styles will get a good amount of time. I actually think that these two being paired together at such short notice may help them, because the match doesn’t have the same sort of chance to become overhyped beyond what they can achieve. It could be seen as a great match in spite of the circumstances rather than because of them. Having said that, this is probably the match with the best chance of reaching the AJ Styles vs John Cena or Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne level in months.
And then there’s the main event. What was supposed to be The Shield, whose return has been what the last four weeks have been building to, taking on The Miz, The Bar, Kane and Braun Strowman now sees the formidable quintet taking on the Raw Tag Team Champion Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose, who will be joined by Raw General Manager Kurt Angle.
It is Kurt Angle’s first match in a WWE ring since he took on Sabu in August 2006. And to be honest, the logical inconsistencies for me are harder to get over here than in the Balor/Styles match. There was a rumour going round that WWE hadn’t cleared Kurt Angle as recently as a couple of weeks ago, so if that’s true I have to question the wisdom of putting him in this match. It’s not like this is a standard tag team match where if anything Kurt would be protected, this is a TLC match. It’s a career shortener for sure, potentially a career ender.
And even from a storyline point of view, what sense does it make for an authority figure to randomly put himself up against five of his superstars? I think so far Kurt as GM has done a good job of staying fair to the good guys, but also making them earn their opportunities – always going back to the “settle this in the ring” mantra. He hasn’t shown any particular bias towards The Shield that would lead to him helping them, with the only logical way out being that Seth and Dean would be so outnumbered – but that’s partially because of Kurt in the first place.
I really hope they somehow manage to protect Kurt (and Kane for that matter) tomorrow night. Miz, Cesaro, Sheamus and Dean and Seth can take the brunt of the big spots. Strowman should be protected too, but to keep him as strong as possible rather than for his health. It’s going to be great to see them back, but a 49-year-old and a 50-year-old shouldn’t be going off ladders or through tables if they can help it.
Despite all that though, it’s going to be great to see Angle wrestle again. And really, what other option did WWE have? They could have just put Balor in the TLC match, but that would’ve made a weak undercard practically non-existent. They could have put Jason Jordan and/or Matt Hardy in the main event, but that’s hardly special when the build has been about seeing The Shield again, and that would’ve hurt the match. They could have put AJ Styles in the main event, and brought back Samoa Joe to face Balor, or called someone up from NXT like Hideo Itami. I don’t think there’s anybody they could’ve called up from NXT to put into the main event that had enough gravitas to hold their spot. Really, aside from Brock Lesnar or John Cena, Angle was one of the few realistic options they had.
I think Kurt Angle’s involvement in the match might actually put the result into more question. In most cases, a 49-year-old part-timer shouldn’t be getting the win over regular performers, and they can always use the excuse of being outnumbered or the short notice to not damage anyone’s credibility. On the flip side, against a trio other than the complete Shield, how will it not hurt the heels to lose with the numbers advantage? And really, how much do they have to gain from it? It all depends on the writing, which with plans being rewritten could be anything at this stage.
All in all, it’s tough to deny that interest level and excitement for TLC has soared in the last 24 hours. I was actually fairly interested to see what Sister Abigail would turn out like, and Asuka’s debut was sure to be fun if brief. But there aren’t many matches that will entice me in like Balor vs Styles, and Kurt Angle is always going to be a draw.
Usually in these spotlights I try to make sense of what future plans might be. The thing is, if the rumours of viral meningitis are true, who knows who else may be affected, and what else may have to change. If you had told me a couple of days ago AJ Styles and Kurt Angle would be wrestling at TLC, I’d have laughed at you. So I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I’m intrigued as hell to find out.