WWE 'TLC…and Stairs': Ladder of Fact, Ziggler and Ambrose Steal the Show

The high-wire efforts of WWE's rising stars elevate a so-so show in Cleveland

Dolph Ziggler celebrates winning the Intercontinental Championship at WWE's 'Tables, Ladders and Chairs...and Stairs' PPV. Credit: WWE

It was a relatively triumphant evening for WWE's villains, which was only natural after Team Cena's company-altering achievement to conclude last month's Survivor Series. Though despite signature victories from the likes of Bray Wyatt and Nikki Bella, fans at least saw one of their heroes, Roman Reigns, return from hiatus, replete with newly modified ring attire. Not to mention John Cena's messy one-upping of Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler's thrilling ascent up the ladder toward reclaiming his Intercontinental Championship.

But enough about what you already know. Let's get to the meaty stuff sandwiched in between those wins and losses. As always, I've broken the PPV action down into five essential takeaways and, as a bonus, a bunch of stuff that may have taught us nothing, but gave everyone something to tweet about.

Here's what I learned from the 2014 edition of TLC…and Stairs.

5. Scratching the Glitch
There are two schools of thought about what drives customer loyalty: One suggests affordability trumps all, which might explain why so many people still fly Southwest. Another posits that you get what you pay for, i.e. a higher-priced product often serves its purpose longer and more reliably.

Advocates for the latter might opine that anyone paying WWE Network's audaciously low subscriber fee of $9.99 a month should anticipate that, ten months after its launch, PPV events remain a minefield of streaming glitches, loading snags, pixelated images and other infuriating impediments to an experiential three hours. To them I say, "Touché." But since I rather enjoy the Network's day-to-day programming and have neither means nor inclination to fork over 50 bucks every five weeks for Royal Rumble, WrestleMania et al, they've kind of got me over a barrel. The onus, then, is squarely on WWE to demonstrate that it values our non-committal sawbuck enough to make us feel like we're not bootleggers. Or at least ensure technical issues only arise when Ryback is wrestling Kane.

4. Un-Holy Shit
I'll allow that it must've looked pretty sweet live when Dean Ambrose leapt off that ladder and crashed through Bray Wyatt and a wooden table. And maybe I'm just an Attitude Era-ageist for being stingy with my hyperbole. It's also quite possible that audiences looking to see performers hover on the edge of good sense have been lulled into lower standards amid the PG era, and the sight of any competitor climbing or cascading down from steel objects is enough to rouse their inner bloodlust.

Still, those were some hearty "holy shit" chants resonating throughout the arena during Ambrose and Wyatt's admittedly physical – but by no means lunatic – main-event bout. Never mind the requisite, "This is awesome" mantra that's been rendered meaningless through overuse. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what every wrestler puts on the line to entertain, and the entire roster had me frequently rapt last night (and consistently appreciative), but until this happens, and to paraphrase George Costanza, I'll be stuffing my "holy shit!" pronouncements in a sack.

3. The Unnatural Order
One of the exciting and unpredictable things about any marquee WWE event is the order of the card. TLC initially proved no exception, wisely kicking off (or so it seemed at the time) with Dolph Ziggler and Luke Harper's epic clash for the IC belt. Not that it was all downhill from there, but how could Miz, Mizdow and the Usos possibly expect to follow such a memorable bow, particularly when asked to execute an anti-climactic finish to their tag-title collision?

And while I appreciate the hubris of positioning Cena and Seth Rollins as a kind of first-half main event, letting young guns Ambrose and Wyatt leave it all out on the mat to end the night, there just wasn't as much at stake between Dean and Bray. It's easy to play armchair booker, and the idea was no doubt to leave people buzzing about Ambrose's ill-fated encounter with a short-fused TV monitor (even if the whole thing came off rather Halloween Havoc-esque). Plus, it's not as if Brock Lesnar were available to stare down Cena after he conquered Rollins, which would have been an ideal way to sign off the air. In other words, far be it for me to second-guess anyone's first instincts, but when Rusev and Jack Swagger give us all déjà vu in the night's lackluster penultimate battle, there's either room for improvement in the sequence of things, or simply not enough story to go around.

2. Roman…If You Want To
Everyone but Big Show seemed to know that Roman Reigns' interference in Cena and Rollins' match – cementing the onset of Reigns and Rollins' feud – was inevitable. What Big Show was even doing there, unless he's pledged continued allegiance to Rollins in the wake of the Authority's demise or has designs on insinuating himself in Cena and Lesnar's rivalry (neither of which would make much sense or be worth anticipating), is still unclear. Equally confounding was why Show didn't follow through and choke slam Cena during the half an hour it took Reigns to make his way through the crowd.

Anyway, where were we? Ah, right. So Reigns delivered a pretty sweet spear on Show through a table and Superman Punched Rollins into Cena's AA-awaiting arms, and all was right with the world. Until an unintelligible backstage promo with Reigns sufficiently killed any buzz generated by his in-ring bellows and bullying. Roman is a handsome, gifted, athletic, appealing talent, and it will be intriguing to observe how he's tweaked his skillset between now and the Rumble, but far as seeing more of a comfort level addressing the crowd, I'm not sure I believe that.

1. Dolph Wins! Dolph Wins!
Only strengthening the case that 2014 is the year where all of Dolph Ziggler's zeal and potential came together with the right positioning by WWE brass, the show-stealer roused the crowd and had millions willing him on at home as he did battle with the dangerous Luke Harper. Harper's not nearly as polished as his adversary, but together the pair put their bodies through hell, told a story of rising and redemption and provided Dolph with his biggest career moment since scamming the Word Championship off Alberto Del Rio in 2013. All that was missing to make TLC's opener the stuff of legend was more of a history between the two men, but for Ziggler, it was career-defining and arguably ensures his place among the great IC ambassadors of all time.

Below the Belt

  • It woulda been pretty sweet if Ambrose/Wyatt ended on the first sneak-attack Sister Abigail.
  • Why, exactly, are kendo sticks always underneath the ring? Is it Steve Blackman's storage space?
  • Was Rollins wrestling and chewing gum?
  • That was an odd little moment of comforting between Ambrose and Wyatt outside on the floor.
  • Good thing Swagger turned right over on his belly for that second Accolade.
  • Still don't get what's going on with the Bellas.
  • Poor Kane.
  • To Ambrose, regarding the TV-monitor snafu, with love.
  • Move of the Night: Can I award this to Mizdow's headstand?
  • Line of the Night: Hail to the King: "Luke Harper's got those Krispy Kreme eyes. They're glazed over."