WWE’s final pay-per-view of 2018 comes at a weird time. SmackDown Live is undergoing a renaissance of sorts in quality, with the New Daniel Bryan running roughshod on the men’s division while the women’s division focuses on three of the best talents in the company irrespective of gender in Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Asuka. Meanwhile, over on the red brand, things have been so bad and near unwatchable that the show’s poor quality has been worked into a storyline, evoking the final days of WCW. Nevertheless, we soldier on toward the last pay-per-view before we kick off the Road to WrestleMania.
Fabulous Truth vs. Team Mahalicia (Mixed Match Challenge Finals)
The Mixed Match Challenge has been going on for a couple months now, and it all comes down to this: The Fabulous Truth — R-Truth and Carmella — take on Team Mahalicia — Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox — and the stakes are…well, higher than expected, actually. The winners will receive not only an “all-expenses paid vacation,” but they will also each claim the coveted #30 spot in their respective Royal Rumble matches next week.
Brian: Four mid-card Superstars are feuding for a specific prize. Great. I’m all for it. My only issue is that none of these four have any hope of winning their Rumble match. They’ll be played up leading into that night, but this isn’t a ticket to stardom, or a path to a world championship for any of them. I think we’ll get a “feel-good” ending here.
Winners: Team Fabulous Truth
Jason: So it’s clear that the whole “the winner enters the Royal Rumble at number 30” isn’t really going to mean anything for the men’s or the women’s matches, but at least the two teams in the finals are comprised of the same people that started the tournament. Seriously, with Alexa, KO, Braun, AJ and Finn all dropping out, season 2 of the MMC has a larger body count than the Brawl For All. If they’re planning to do anything with the other prize of an all-expense-paid vacation besides allude to it on commentary, your smart bet is the smiling faces who can take pictures with a lot of fans while out and about.
Winners: Truth and Cams via Dance Break distraction
Patrick: This will probably be on the pre-show, but even if it isn’t, I can’t see this being more than a feel-good type of moment for R-Truth and Carmella, who are pretty over with the crowd thanks to (or in spite of, depending on how you feel about non-sequitur dance breaks).
Winners: The Fabulous Truth
Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton (Chairs Match)
Randy Orton’s new attitude has him setting his sights on beloved legends — hmm, sounds a lot like his old attitude. His latest target is the recently returned Rey Mysterio, looking to disgrace his legacy by removing his mask and showing his face to the world. This has led us to a chairs match, which is a lot like a no DQ match, but…lots of chairs are ringside.
Brian: I don’t mind this type of match, but there’s just no reason for it. Not enough build, just a “hey, let’s let them use chairs” kind of thing. Randy is playing the new Legend Killer role will and Rey has been as perfect as ever since coming back. I’m personally looking forward to when Rey gets to just run through a list of potential “dream” matches with the rosters after this feud is over.
Winner: An oddly motivated Randy Orton
Jason: I admit that Randy has been doing a lot better as a vicious heel and Rey is looking better than he has in years, but there’s little escaping the feeling that we saw the best possible version of this match back in 2006. Not to say that these guys don’t have anything to offer, but you’ll forgive me if I’m not exactly hyped to watch to guys in their 40s have their 50th match with a silly stipulation and exactly 0 at stake. I think the better payout is on Rey heading into Rumble Season hot, so unless they plan to extend this feud beyond this cycle (which, please don’t), I think Rey takes this and heads into the US Title scene, while Orton moves on to a new dance partner.
Winner: Mysterio via West Coast Pop.
Patrick: Man, how do you bring back a legend like Rey Mysterio and immediately make him essentially disposable? I’ve never been the biggest Rey fan ever, but sometimes I forget he even came back. I’m a little torn on the outcome of this one, because Rey obviously needs a win to stay relevant, but it might not even be worth the trouble at this point. Orton’s Legend Killer 2.0 gimmick has actually breathed some life into him, so maybe it’s more valuable to continue to grow that.
Winner: Randy Orton
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Cedric Alexander (Cruiserweight Championship)
Buddy Murphy went from the best-kept secret to the patriarch of the Cruiserweight division when he finally captured the Cruiserweight Championship back at Super Show-Down. The man he took the title from, Cedric Alexander, looks to reclaim the gold (err…purple and silver) at TLC.
Brian: Both of these men are phenomenal and have moved the Cruiserweight division forward leaps and bounds since the time of the Zo Train. The legacy they’ll leave is the seriousness with which fans now take the division. Mustafa Ali showed that Tuesday night in his match against WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. Both fight with chips on their shoulders and I expect some amazing (and potentially dangerous) moves. Murphy retains.
Winner: Buddy Murphy and his abs
Jason: First off, this should be a fantastic match. Every time either of these guys gets on the main card of a big show they perform like they’re trying to win viewers back to the purple brand with every moonsault and Spanish Fly. I don’t know that it’s working, but it definitely proves that both guys deserve the spotlight. All that said, I think Murphy keeps the strap till at least the Royal Rumble. Aussie Aussie Aussie!
Winner: Buddy Murphy via Murphy’s Law
Patrick: Buddy Murphy has got to be one of the most unlikely success stories of the year, and I’m glad he was able to cap off 2018 with climbing to the top of the Cruiserweight division. I don’t see him dropping that title any time soon, especially not in a rematch to the person who he beat to win it.
Winner: Buddy Murphy
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott (Tables Match)
Natalya’s father, legend Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, sadly passed away back in August. Most of Natalya’s contemporaries saw a tragic situation and offered their condolences. The Riott Squad, however, saw an opportunity. An opportunity to get in the head of the stalwart veteran of the women’s division’s head and make a name for themselves. This Sunday, Ruby Riott’s got a table with Natalya’s name — and Jim Neidhart’s visage — on it.
Brian: I love Ruby Riott. I hate tables matches. Only one other gimmick match on this card irritates me more. Riott is a future Women’s Champion, no doubt and a high profile win over Nattie gives her cred leading into the Rumble and beyond. I don’t think this feud stops here, but hopefully we’ll get a better finish than Cena/Sheamus 2009.
Winner: Ruby Riott
Jason: I too love Ruby Riott, but let’s be real: she has some kind of gypsy curse preventing her from ever winning a match. Though tables matches are notorious for fluky finishes, I think Nattie is taking this one and the Riott Squad continues to be little more than warm bodies for babyfaces to send over the top rope in all of the makeshift battle royals leading up to the Royal Rumble….and then in the Royal Rumble too.
Winner: Natty via table smash
Patrick: This feud has just been too one sided and tugged (or attempted to tug) at the heartstrings too much for Nattie to get beaten here. Ruby’s been delivering heel 101 promos this entire feud. Don’t get me wrong — they’ve worked and have been fairly entertaining, but the conclusion of this book-by-numbers storyline is that the face gets her comeuppance.
The Bar (c) vs. The Usos vs. The New Day (SmackDown Tag Team Championships)
The Bar, The Usos and The New Day are three of the very best tag teams WWE has to offer, and they are all vying for the blue brand’s top tag prizes. This conflict has taken place in the form of everything from matches to rap battles, but this Sunday, all other bets are off. Only three seconds or a tapout will determine the next SmackDown Tag Team Champions.
Brian: As good as this match will be, it should really show the lack of depth in the tag team division benches. These three teams have been feuding for years now and there are no other worthwhile contenders. Look, I’m going to love this match and all the innovative moves that can happen when the six (seven) of these guys are involved. I see The Bar retaining heading into the Rumble and the new year.
Winner: The Bar
Jason: Talk about being spoiled for choice! All three teams are amazing and I could not care less about who wins. Personally my favorites are the Usos, but since AiPT! pays me for my keen intellect smart money says this one goes to the Bar. TLC, for all its pomp, is a nothing B-show. A pit stop on the road to the road to WrestleMania. A title win for either the Usos or the New Day wouldn’t really elevate either team and the WWE sure likes to have heels holding the belts heading into their bigger shows. Since the only other heel team on SD that aren’t jobbers (because they aren’t on TV) is SANitY and I doubt they’re dethroning the Ice Ice Sheamy any time soon, The Bar rolls on.
Winner: The Bar via the assisted White Noise.
Patrick: While I agree with Jason’s logic something in my gut tells me The Bar are not walking away with the titles on Sunday. The SmackDown Tag Team Championships don’t necessarily mean a whole hell of a lot at the moment, so an easy pop for either the New Day or the Usos isn’t out of the question. Much more importantly though, why is this not a TLC match?!
Winners: The Usos
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley (Ladder Match; a guitar will be suspended above the ring)
Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush have stuck their noses in Elias’s business for weeks now, and the two have traded guitar shots in recent weeks. This Sunday, Elias will compete against Bobby Lashley in a ladder match, but not your usual ladder match: above the ring will be a guitar, and the first competitor to climb the ladder and retrieve it will be able to use the guitar as a weapon.
Brian: Did Russo book this crap? I don’t see the interest in Lashley (without Lio Rush he’s as vanilla as they come), but I love Elias. This feels like the dying days of WCW and Judy Bagwell on a Pole. Let Seth Rollins set fire to Raw like in the WWE 2k18 commercial.
Winner: Fender’s stock price
Jason: Hey man, at least it’s not a stairs match, right? Elias walks on.
Winner: Eliath Thampthon via a guitar shot
Patrick: Weird Vince Russo booking aside, this match was literally made for Elias, and he’s been killing it as a babyface — a rarity in WWE these days. Both men have been exceeding my expectations in the entertainment department, so this one could actually be pretty solid.
Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre has been on a tear as of late, dropping what he considered to be dead weight in Dolph Ziggler and forging his own path as a new force of destruction. Finn Balor, on the other hand, has been busy battling General Manager Elect Baron Corbin, openly defying the nefarious authority figure, culminating last week when he interfered in Drew’s match against Dolph, handing the Scottish Psychopath his first pinfall loss since returning to WWE’s main roster earlier this year.
Brian: This should be in the running for match of the night. Drew McIntyre has been LIT since coming back and I’m not sure Finn can put on a bad match. If they take the initiative and really let loose this will be a future Universal Title match. If they lay back and take the easy way out, just going through the motions, I’m not sure that either of them will convince the crowd that they deserve to be in the conversation.
Winner: Drew McIntyre
Jason: Here’s where I have to play a bit of inside baseball and point out that Balor is recovering from some sort of serious illness and is in question to even make it to the show on Sunday. Not that it matters, mind you, as big Mac was always going to trounce the extraordinary man, but I wonder if there’s a plan B if Balor isn’t cleared to wrestle. I guess just have Drew demoralize Apollo Crews? He seems to be filling in for Finn a lot lately. Anyway, there’s only one way this one goes down.
Winner: Drew McIntyre via the Claymore
Patrick: This is a match that on paper should have me salivating, but thanks to the booking of Monday Night Malaise, nothing really means anything anymore. If this match was happening in NXT, it’d main event a TakeOver and tear the house down. On the main roster, it’s a popcorn match with a horrible build. It never ceases to amaze me. No chance Drew loses this one — dude has a rocket strapped to his back and Finn has been sadly directionless for months.
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin (TLC Match; If Corbin wins, he becomes full-time GM of Raw; if Strowman wins, he gets a Universal Championship match at Royal Rumble and Corbin will be stripped of all power)
Speaking of Baron Corbin, he has found himself in a very advantageous situation: A TLC match against Braun Strowman. Okay, on first glance that doesn’t seem like a situation anybody would want to be in, but thanks to Corbin, Lashley and McIntyre, Strowman had surgery on his elbow just a couple weeks ago, leading most to believe the Monster Among Men will be forced to forfeit this match, giving Corbin the de facto victory. Will Strowman show up?
Brian: Does anyone actually think that BRAUN isn’t going to show up and win this match handily? If Corbin tore Strowman’s arm out of its socket, Beowulf-style, BRAUN would take it back and beat Corbin to death with it. If BRAUN isn’t getting the nod to carry the Universal Title come the Rumble, however, it would be better to have Corbin use all of his dastardly power to destroy Strowman before he ever makes it to the ring.
Winner: Strowman (but only if he’s going over Lesnar at the Rumble)
Jason: Does it bother anyone else that Corbin is calling himself “General Manager elect” when it’s an appointed position? In any case, this will be one quick powerslam and a jaunty shout from the monster among men.
Winner: Braun Strowman via all that stuff I just said.
Patrick: A quick win for Strowman and an embarrassing loss for Corbin is the only thing that makes any sense, for both kayfabe and real-life reasons. Hey, at least by Seth Rollins logic, once Corbin isn’t in charge of Raw, it won’t be poorly written anymore.
Winner: Braun Strowman
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose (Intercontinental Championship)
The Shield’s story is ultimately one of betrayal. The Hounds of Justice were a brotherhood, forged by seemingly unbreakable bonds until Seth Rollins did the unthinkable and turned on his brethren. A lot’s changed in the years since, and in 2018 the Shield found themselves reformed and stronger than ever. But then, the trio was handed a heavy dose of reality: Roman Reigns had to vacate the Universal Championship and take a leave of absence in WWE as a result of leukemia. Dean Ambrose, who had been on shaky ground mentally and emotionally to begin with, couldn’t handle the news and what he selfishly saw as abandonment, and lashed out against the only other remaining Shield member, Rollins. Since then, Ambrose has been a changed man, stalking Rollins and letting his true colors show. This Sunday, he has a chance to take what means more to Rollins than almost anything: the Intercontinental Championship.
Brian: Dean had it right a few weeks ago: Raw is a garbage fire. A lot of amazing talent is being run into the ground by a septuagenarian who thinks getting giant needles in the ass is good television. Rollins is the closest thing Raw has to a true face and his fight with Ambrose is the highest profile Raw brand match on the card, especially since the Universal Championship is locked in Brock Lesnar’s trophy case. This is a must-win for Ambrose in his new persona, leading to a future clash between the two and perhaps a Wrestlemania rematch.
Winner: Mr. Renee Young
Jason: I know popular consensus is to give this to Dean so he keeps his heat going and Seth can move on to the Universal Title scene or whatever, but I just don’t see Deano winning that IC belt here. I assume it’ll be via disqualification when Dean hits a low blow, but Seth is leaving with the strap. Bane Ambrose will probably cost Seth the belt to someone who needs it (like Corbin or Jinder) on Raw or something, but it’s a prop that does neither of the former fist pals any good at this point.
Winner: Seth Rollins via DQ and post-match beat down
Patrick: Ambrose’s heel turn has been surprisingly cold. I think that actually accomplishing something outside of getting vaccinated and dressing like Roadhog in Overwatch is a must for The Lunatic at this point to sell him as any kind of actual threat.
Winner: Dean Ambrose
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles (WWE Championship)
The smiling, can-do attitude, Yes! Movement old Daniel Bryan is long gone. In his place is the “New” Daniel Bryan, a ruthless maniac who will stop at nothing to hold onto the WWE Championship and force the WWE Universe to atone for their sins of overconsumption and destroying the planet. He ended the year-long title reign of AJ Styles via a vicious kick to the groin — this Sunday, the Face Who Runs the Place has a chance to take the title back. Will he be able to get the job done?
Brian: I adore the “New” Daniel Bryan. He has totally reinvented himself in ways that Dean Ambrose has yet to truly show. His Mr. Rogers looking sweaters, chants of “fickle” and “sheep” at the crowd, and holier-than-thou attitude have made him the perfect foil for AJ Styles. After a year of holding the WWE title, AJ deserves some time off and a heel Bryan can put up some great matches against people on the Blue brand for months to come. This one will be vicious and cruel, with Bryan standing tall-ish at the end.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
Jason: Unless Bryan’s injured, arrested or dying, there’s no way he loses that belt on Sunday. It won’t be clean, and it may be a bit of a let down (as a lot of these “dream matches” with Styles have been over the past year plus) but it should be a serviceably good to great match that sees the New Daniel Bryan retain through some underhanded scumbaggery. I expect AJ’s nuts to be wrecked at least once in the proceedings.
Winner: Daniel Bryan via knee plus
Patrick: Daniel Bryan’s character is the best of WWE’s main roster men by far, and WWE would be absolutely batsh*t crazy not to keep running with this. If you think otherwise, you’re not only FICKLE!, but you’re as IGNORANT as Mustafa Ali for driving an SUV.
Patrick: The New Daniel Bryan
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nia Jax (Raw Women’s Championship)
The Baddest Woman on the Planet also has the biggest target on her back in the entire Raw women’s division — she is the champ, after all. Nia Jax, alongside her new cohort, Tamina, look to kill the mystique behind the UFC Hall of Famer and take what she believes is rightfully hers. Will Ronda be able to take down the Irresistible Force, or will the #Facebreaker’s newfound confidence carry her to victory?
Brian: I’m going to ignore the fact that Nia Jax has been dangerous in the ring and the only thing that made her a “bad guy” was teaming up with the abundantly average Tamina. They are boring. I’m bored. As far as I’m concerned, this is a holdover until we get Ronda-Becky or Ronda-Charlotte, or Ronda-Charlotte-Becky. The rest of the Women’s Division needs to step it up to be considered real contenders to Rousey who will judo flip Jax like she was a featherweight.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Jason: Dream booking? This match never happens because Becky shows up with a chair and just wrecks Nia and her familiar (Tamina). Just mercilessly destroys both women then strolls past Ronda and exchanges a stink eye to help stoke the fires of the only feud that has any money in it for WrestleMania. Alas, what we’re going to get is probably going to be a lot more mundane and droll, exposing the limitations of both women en route to an armbar tapout. Sigh, what could have been.
Winner: Rowdy Ronda via armbar.
Patrick: I dunno man, I don’t care. And that’s coming from a big Ronda Rousey fan and even someone who thought their first match at Money in the Bank was solid. I just can’t think of any combination more snooze-worthy than Nia and Tamina.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka (TLC Match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship)
The Man has been the hottest thing going in WWE, but a chance meeting with Nia Jax’s fist prevented her from participating in the dream match of Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series. Becky has since been cleared for competition, and in her own words, must “road test her face and head” in one of the most dangerous matches in WWE’s catalog: a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. And not just any TLC match, but a triple threat TLC match, against not only one of the true legends of WWE’s women’s division in Charlotte Flair, but also a newly reinvigorated Empress of Tomorrow, Asuka.
Brian: Becky Lynch, bloodied and taunting Ronda Rousey will be in her Hall of Fame video package. It was truly her “Steve Austin at Mania 13″ moment. Defending her title against Charlotte would have been a fantastic match, but adding Asuka in might just make it spectacular. This single match has more deserved hype than anything else on the roster and seeing these three tear each other apart will get a tired crowd on its feet and screaming for more. With the lowered expectations for in-ring violence in WWE, the women here can do almost anything and get a huge reaction. After knocking out Charlotte and ripping Asuka’s arm out of its socket, The Man retains.
Winner: Becky freaking Lynch
Jason: This is a tough one to call. All three women are aces. One is the most over person in the company, but is in a rivalry with the biggest star on the other show. One is in the midst of an oddly timed heel turn that has given her matches more oomph but left her character in a weird limbo. The third is hoping to regain the considerable steam she lost due to a year of terrible booking decisions. I can make cases for each woman walking away with the belt here, but it mostly depends on how we get to Ronda’s match at Mania. The smart play would be to get the belt on Asuka so Becks and Charlie are free to wage war on each other and the baddest woman on the planet without the distraction of champion vs. champion stipulations. It’s a simple solution to keep the belt from getting between your two (or three) biggest attractions without either the Queen or The Man having to eat a pin…but Asuka stood tall at the end of SmackDown this week so my earnest hope is that they just let Becky retain the damn thing. She deserves the chance at a decent run with the belt, and if Fox does want Ronda on the blue brand, it would be a lot easier to bring her to SmackDown than have Becky or Charlotte (or both) head to Monday nights.
Winner: Becky Lynch via…well it’s a ladder match, so you do the math.
Patrick: Much like how I feel about Daniel Bryan, WWE would be insane to stop the Becky Lynch train now. She’s been a revelation and actually manages to get cooler by the week. Whatever happens though, this match should help give us a picture of where The Man is headed for Mania.
Winner: Becky Lynch