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What’s At Stake: TLC 2015

As we head into yet another special event on the WWE Network, I’ll try to answer one simple question: What are these guys and girls fighting over? As always, we welcome your feedback. Send an email to [email protected].

Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns
What’s At Stake: WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Roman Reigns’ credibility as a world title contender. What could be Sheamus’ last shot at a main event spot. The immediate future of WWE television viewership.
For a match that not many people want to see, there are certainly plenty of compelling subplots to examine. These are dark times for WWE. Injuries and other unwelcome leaves of absence have eroded the top of the main roster. The problems created by the shortage of high-end talent are compounded by countless creative missteps and a 3-hour time slot every Monday night that WWE management is struggling to properly utilize. Don’t believe me? Fine. Maybe you’ll listen to Triple H. To his credit, he owned the current state of professional wrestling’s industry leader during a conference call to promote next Wednesday’s NXT TakeOver: London special event on the WWE Network.

“It’s on us to be more creative and come up with a better format; a better show. We hear people’s frustrations and in a lot of ways feel the same way. It’s fixing it. And, trying to fix it. It is what it is. How we fix it, we’re not 100 percent sure yet. But, we will get there. Trust me.”

Two men find themselves in the dead center of this mess, tasked with making some sort of positive impact on WWE’s immediate future. It’s unfair to blame Roman Reigns and/or Sheamus for what’s ailing WWE, but…well, here they are. Television viewership for Raw has plunged to new lows since Survivor Series, when Reigns finally won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, only to lose it 5:15 later after Sheamus cashed in Money In The Bank.

Sheamus wasn’t in the best position to be fast-tracked into the main event picture, but Seth Rollins’ untimely knee injury left a gaping hole that had to be filled. Sheamus is bringing all the cackling enthusiasm and abrasive energy he can muster to his role as WWE’s top title holder, but the results haven’t been there. Not even the hasty formation of the League Of Nations could generate any tangible momentum.

Reigns hasn’t been terrible in his role, but WWE can’t seem to prevent itself from putting him in situations he’s not equipped to handle. Meanwhile, WWE is taking heavy fire from all angles, from casual fans to the usual gang of know-it-all jerks on the internet to former WWE wrestlers and employees, about the quality of its creative direction. It’s a damn mess. Still, despite all the problems, Sheamus and Reigns may very well deliver a compelling, hard-hitting match on Sunday.

In my opinion, Reigns’ time is far past overdue. He’s come up short too many times over the past year. If it were up to me, he would’ve won the title the night after Survivor Series on Raw. The fans in Nashville sure sounded ready for it.

I was in the crowd the following week in Pittsburgh, when Reigns actually did get his title match. I’ll never forget this one guy in our section. They announced Reigns would have to beat Sheamus in 5:15 to win the title. Immediately, the fan confidently blurted out, “that’s doable!” A lot of people in Pittsburgh wanted to believe Reigns was going to win the title that night, myself included.

It didn’t happen, and the waiting game drags on. Personally, I’m tired of being strung along. I’m ready to see what Reigns can do as champion. Why wait any longer? Does WWE really have the potatoes to string this chase out for another month and risk finding new lows for Raw’s viewership?

Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose
Whats’s At Stake: WWE Intercontinental Championship
Kevin Owens is the most dominant champion in WWE, and it’s getting hard to find worthy challengers. Enter the runner-up in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, who actually beat Owens at Survivor Series.

This title match has been simmering for a while, but it was put on the back burner after Survivor Series. Ambrose was spending most of his time hanging out with Roman Reigns and The Usos. Then, Owens missed Raw in Pittsburgh after he got sick. This past Monday, we finally got Ambrose and Owens in the ring face-to-face. It got weird.

I’m not sure that’s the best way to build interest in Sunday’s Intercontinental Title match, but I feel fairly confident the contract signing on SmackDown was more effective.

This should feel like a dream match, but there are a couple problems. First, we just saw it at Survivor Series.

Second, we already know Ambrose can beat Owens in a fair fight. The Lunatic Fringe has been a step ahead of K.O. at almost every turn. So, why does it feel like there’s no chance Ambrose wins the Intercontinental Championship on Sunday?

The New Day vs. The Usos vs. Lucha Dragons
What’s At Stake: WWE Tag Team Championship
WWE’s current masters of moving merchandise are a runaway herd of wild unicorns. Everything The New Day touches seems to turn to gold, and lately, they’ve been touching just about everything. It seems no more than 15 minutes can pass on Raw and SmackDown before they ride out to hijack another segment. Clearly, someone with decision-making power in WWE finds them very amusing. Is it too much of a good thing? Some fans are certainly starting to feel that way. Perhaps that’s by design. Ready to see The New Day get knocked down a peg? It may happen in this ladder match at TLC.

Charlotte vs. Paige
What’s At Stake: WWE Divas Championship. Charlotte’s “blue chip” status.
Charlotte (and in many ways, the entire Divas division) has wandered off the tracks in recent weeks. The warning signs have been there for a while, but things really went awry during a main event contract signing segment just before Survivor Series. Paige’s final verbal burn turned into a public relations nightmare for WWE, which now pretends it never even happened. Unfortunately, fans have a longer memory. Charlotte and Paige are both paying the price for that verbal misdeed several weeks ago. Their last title tilt was met with a lukewarm response, and that appears to have altered the future plans for the current face of the Divas division. Charlotte and Paige crossed paths for another verbal showdown during a Miz TV segment on last Monday’s Raw.

Man. WWE was so close to pulling this off – getting fans to turn on Charlotte and shift their cheers to Paige. Sadly, it fell apart after Paige slapped Ric Flair and then ran away from Charlotte. Fans are now stuck with another Divas Championship match where there’s no clear hero to cheer. Charlotte’s cheating heart is beating strong, but the sudden course change for her character has left the Divas division looking rudderless.

Dudley Boyz & Rhyno & Tommy Dreamer vs. The Wyatt Family
What’s At Stake: The latest reunion of ECW originals. The Wyatt Family’s tenuous grasp on its own forward momentum.
Out of the ashes of the Wyatt Family’s decimation at the hands of the Undertaker and Kane rose this little gem of a match. After a week on the wrong side of some Wyatt beatings, the Dudley Boyz went looking for reinforcements. Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno returned to Raw, and now we have another reunion of ECW originals and sufficient manpower for an eight-man tables match at TLC. I seem to say it every time I write one of these preview columns, but it bears repeating – The Wyatt Family could really use a win here.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger
What’s At Stake: WWE United States Championship. Jack Swagger’s return to relevance. Perhaps, Zeb Colter’s heart.
Less than two months ago, Alberto Del Rio roared back into WWE with a shockingly decisive win over John Cena, and became the new United States Champion. It should’ve been the start of something big, but it never felt right. Del Rio and Zeb Colter were an odd pairing from the start, and the concept of Mex-America never made much sense. The good news is that all of that is now in the past.

Del Rio and Colter (and his scooter) went their separate ways, and Mex-America is no more following last Monday’s Raw. Is the United States Championship next to fall? Jack Swagger was off television for a while, and I must be honest. I’ve enjoyed seeing him since his return. All Swagger needs is a little something to convince fans to believe in him. A title win in a chairs match at TLC could be just the thing.

Ryback vs. Rusev.
What’s At Stake: The decisive victory Rusev needs to resume his march back to the top of the card.
Ryback stuck his nose where it didn’t belong, interrupting Lana’s return to Raw a couple weeks ago. That immediately led to a match between Ryback and Rusev, and a less than satisfying count-out victory for the Big Guy. A rematch this past Monday ended in an even less satisfying double count-out. If Rusev is going to get back to where many fans want him to be, he needs to win here.