After a high bar set earlier in the night, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns put on a masterclass of a performance in their Universal championship match at the TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view.
Owens could not ultimately overcome the two-on-one attacks from Reigns and Jey Uso, as Reigns retained his title in the end, but Owens showed he has every right to be in a world title conversation in perpetuity from Sunday night on.
Whereas Drew McIntyre and AJ Styles were focused on doing big moves that occasionally incorporated weapons, violence perpetuated by weapons was the only focus for both Reigns and Owens from start to finish. Owens opted to skip his entrance and blindsided Reigns from out of nowhere, knowing that Uso was going to get involved and looking to get the upper hand.
Right on cue, Uso came in to help his cousin and attacked Owens, only for Owens to have an answer to that question as he hit Uso's foot with a chair at the peak of a superkick attempt and then trapped Uso's foot in a chair and stomped on it.
As would become the theme throughout the match, though, the moment Owens took out one threat, the other came right back into play. Reigns ran in from out of frame and hit a Drive-by to Owens' face on the ring apron while Uso was escorted from ringside. Uso wouldn't stay away for long.
Reigns hit Owens with steel stairs six consecutive times, before tossing them aside effortlessly. Then Reigns violently wielded a ladder, swinging it multiple times before pressing the full weight of it down on Owens' chest. When Reigns brought a steel chair into play, Owens, still grounded, wielded one of his own and feebly tried to swing it, only to have Reigns hit it into his face.
Owens desperately fought back by trying to powerbomb Reigns onto two chairs but got back body dropped onto those same chairs for his trouble. For the first time in the match, Reigns thought Owens had had enough and tried to climb a ladder, and Owens responded by swinging a steel chair and connecting with Reigns' back. Owens then hit a particularly vicious Fisherman's Buster onto an unfolded, upright chair.
Owens was at the top of the ladder, touching the title for the first time, when Uso stumbled back out and pulled Owens down. Reigns took advantage and hit a Superman punch on Owens to even things up. Owens fought back, landing a superkick on Uso and a stunner on Reigns, which briefly left him alone in the ring.
Rather than try to climb for the title again, Owens hit Uso with a pop-up powerbomb through the commentary table, and buried Uso under all of the debris -- an effective maneuver that neutralized Uso until the very end. Owens got his fingers on the title a second time, but Reigns climbed and they started fighting at the top of the ladder.
Owens missed a superkick, Reigns caught him and, in what might have been the most painful sequence of the match, powerbombed Owens onto a mini ladder propped up in the corner. Reigns followed that up with a side suplex onto the mini ladder while it was unfolded sideways.
Reigns chokeslammed Owens through a table on the outside, with a chair falling onto Owens' face for good measure, and then threw a commentators chair at Owens. Reigns broke yet another table with a Samoan drop to Owens. But as Reigns once again thought he had the match won, Owens crawled back into the ring and desperately pawed at Reigns' feet.
Reigns mocked Owens momentarily, but Owens cocked back with all he had and clocked Reigns, and Reigns speared Owens through yet another table, which was propped up in the corner.
Owens still wouldn't yield. Reigns ran for a spear through the barrier, but Owens dodged, and Reigns went through the barrier solo. Owens slowly started to climb the ladder once more and got his hands on the title a third time, only for Reigns to grab him and drag him down again.
Really enjoyed the physicality and Shakespeare of Roman vs KO. #WWETLC— Bully Ray (@bullyray5150) December 21, 2020
Reigns threw Owens face-first into the standing ladder, which triggered a mad dash to the end. Owens hit Reigns with a superkick, went for a pop-up powerbomb, Reigns countered with a Superman punch and bounced off the ropes as he attempted a spear, and Owens countered with a successful into a pop-up powerbomb through a table.
Owens got both hands onto the title on his fourth climb, only for Uso to climb with him. Owens headbutted Uso, superkicked him, climbed the ladder alone, got his hands on the belt for the fifth and final time, but Reigns had had enough. Reigns launched a low blow on Owens through a rung of the ladder and locked in a guillotine. Owens went limp and fell off the ladder. Reigns grabbed the title, retaining the Universal championship.
What's next: It would be nice to see what Owens could do in a match that kept Uso out of the mix. He certainly has an argument for another shot at the title. But the move that could suit Owens the best would be a full breakdown after falling short yet again, showing off the violent side he showed off in this match moving forward. Either way, Reigns will carry on his title run for a considerable time to come.
TLC match for the WWE championship: Drew McIntyre (c) def. AJ Styles and The Miz
Drew McIntyre has been one of the rocks upon which WWE has been able to sustain itself in 2020, and it's only appropriate that as the calendar turns over from 2020 to 2021, McIntyre will continue to hold the most iconic title in pro wrestling.
The twists and turns along the way Sunday night in the opening match of the TLC pay-per-view certainly seemed to put that possibility into question, but McIntyre persevered by defeating both his scheduled opponent, AJ Styles, and The Miz, who cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase late in the match to add further drama to the proceedings.
From start to finish, it was a brutal, violent match. From the moment McIntyre sent a blistering open-handed chop to Styles that sent him tumbling from the top turnbuckle to the outside, the tone was set. Tables, ladders and chairs were all used to accentuate the violence, and even when certain weapon-based moves failed, including when Styles tried to hit a Styles Clash on a ladder, McIntyre upped the ante with a Future Shock DDT.
Styles certainly got his over the course of the match, though, targeting McIntyre's leg and further damaging it with a pair of calf crusher submissions -- one utilizing a ladder, and another using a chair. McIntyre got back into the match by straight up throwing a chair at Styles' face while he was jumping toward him from the top turnbuckle.
McIntyre seemingly had the match won when he snatched Styles from halfway up the ladder, and press-slammed him from the ring all the way through a table set up on the outside. But that's when The Miz and John Morrison made their move. Miz powerbombed McIntyre, cashed in his briefcase, and made it a triple threat match.
But even with Styles and McIntyre out of play, Styles' equalizer, the giant Omos, came into play.
As Miz climbed the ladder with a smirk on his face, Omos reached up, snatched Miz from the ladder and carried him like a small child to the top rope before tossing Miz out of the ring and through a table of his own. When Morrison went for revenge, he broke a steel chair over Omos' back, and Omos didn't flinch. Omos chased Morrison up the ramp, taking them both out of play.
With Miz now out of it, Styles and McIntyre battled atop one ladder for a matter of minutes. The final scramble saw Miz set up a second ladder and a three-way war in the sky commenced. Styles fell, Miz got pushed off a ladder, Styles springboarded back onto the ladder, Styles' forearm shots then sent McIntyre tumbling to the ground.
The Miz stopped Styles from grabbing the title just long enough for McIntyre to use one ladder to push the other ladder (and both men) over, with Styles falling over the top rope to the outside. One Claymore to The Miz, and McIntyre climbed up the ladder on one leg to retain his title.
What's next: It's easy to be frustrated with the Money in the Bank briefcase going to waste this year, but having a few more losses on the balance sheet makes cash-ins less certain going forward, which is likely a positive shift.
McIntyre and Roman Reigns both seem unlikely to lose their respective titles anytime soon, so that factors in as well. McIntyre and Styles may yet have another chapter, with The Miz interfering in this particular battle. As for The Miz and Morrison, it's sadly back to square one.
SmackDown women's championship: Sasha Banks (c) def. Carmella
Following a high-energy TLC match is a tall order under any circumstances, but the SmackDown women's championship bout between Sasha Banks and Carmella kept the energy up as both women put on a tremendous performance.
Banks ultimately walked out of TLC with her title intact, but Carmella more than held her own and set herself up for big things moving forward on SmackDown.
Banks came out of the gate hot, but a timely assist from Carmella's sommelier Reginald on the outside and some offense on the apron turned things around in a hurry.
The momentum didn't stay in one direction for very long for the entirety of the match, though, and Banks quickly clawed back into it. Double knees in the corner swung things back Banks' way, which she followed by Three Amigos with her own twist and a frog splash. Her tribute to Eddie Guerrero netted her only a two-count, though.
Carmella utilized the ropes for a submission, and set Banks up for a dangerous pinfall, only for Banks to reach the ropes. A Tope Rope Frankensteiner attempt by Carmella rolled through into a pinfall for Banks. Dueling pinfalls showed off considerable nimbleness and strength for both women, and the sequence finally spilled into Carmella locking in her Code of Silence submission, only for Banks to slip out. Carmella double chicken winged Banks and wrapped her knee over, which Banks countered by rolling over into a pinfall attempt to force a break.
A Banks Statement in the middle of the ring seemed to spell the end for Carmella, but Reginald got involved once more, pulling Carmella out of the ring. That earned Reginald a Meteora, but a pair of superkicks by Carmella set her up for a win, only for Banks to kick out at the last moment.
Carmella went for an X-Factor, Banks spun out of it and locked in a Banks Statement, and in a flash, an entertaining match came to a sudden end.
What's next: Carmella losing in her return is tough, but she made quite a showing in this match. I wouldn't be against finding a way to run it back, whether it be at Royal Rumble or at some point along the way.
Women's tag team championships: Asuka and Charlotte Flair def. Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler (c)
Charlotte Flair returned as Asuka's surprise tag team partner, and the pair won the women's tag team championships at TLC, dethroning Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler.
It was Flair's first match since losing a challenge for the Raw women's championship against Asuka in June, and the end of a lackluster tag-title reign for Jax and Baszler, who won those titles in August and successfully defended them only three times before Sunday night's loss.
Asuka took the brunt of the damage for the majority of the match, with Flair continuously coming to her aid. Baszler locked on a particularly brutal looking kimura at one point, but Asuka continued to fight back. She eventually got enough distance by hitting a spinning backfist on Baszler, and while Baszler tried to run around to the other side of the ring to stop the tag to Flair, Flair fought Baszler off, tagged in, and beat the crap out of Jax.
Flair didn't take it easy on her first night back either, taking out both Jax and Baszler with a top rope moonsault to the outside. Flair finally took some damage when Jax sent her face-first into the corner, but as Flair was hit by a Samoan Drop, Asuka blind tagged in and sent Jax to the corner. Asuka and Baszler battled, Flair blind tagged back in and hit a backbreaker and facebreaker combo on Baszler.
Flair set up Baszler in the middle of the ring and locked in figure eight, only for Jax to pull Flair's arms out from under her. Asuka took out Jax with a flying hip attack, but Baszler grabbed the advantage in a scramble. A Kirofuda Clutch was briefly locked on, but Flair rolled over into a pinfall attempt. Flair then hit the Natural Selection on Baszler and pinned her, and Flair and Asuka celebrated as the new women's tag team champions.
What's next: The lengthy rivalry between Asuka and Flair over the Raw women's championship is likely to rear its head in the not-too-distant future, but the story of how the team came to be could be interesting. I would be surprised if it's not Asuka vs. Flair at the Royal Rumble. There's an outside chance Flair could win back-to-back Rumbles with the tag team titles as a device in the lead-up to WrestleMania, but that is a long ways away.
Firefly Inferno match: Randy Orton def. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt
The Firefly Inferno match was always likely to trend toward the comically absurd, but few could have expected how far the action would go.
Randy Orton defeated "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, in the sense that he lit Wyatt on fire before hitting an RKO. But he left no doubt to who would won the exchange when he doused Wyatt in gasoline in the middle of the ring, lit a match, watched it burn down, and then threw it onto Wyatt's motionless body, immediately engulfing it in flames from head to toe.
Yes, there were wrestling moves along the way. Chains, pickaxes, axe handles were involved along the way, too. But none of that will be remembered, in the shadow of a simulated murder to end a pro wrestling pay-per-view.
What's next: Well, this goes one of two ways for Wyatt. Either he's back in a few weeks, showing off his utter invincibility, or he goes away for a while to tweak the character in a way that enhances his long-term prospects. Wyatt has done great work, but it's a tough needle to thread when you bring an invincible or near-invincible character into an environment where wins and losses matter. As for Orton, no one is going to be doubting his evil bona fides any time soon.
Raw tag team championships: The Hurt Business (Cedric Alexander & Shelton Benjamin) def. The New Day (Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston) (c)
The Hurt Business has quietly been building up all four members of the team over the course of 2020, and it hit a new high Sunday as Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin defeated The New Day to win the Raw tag team championships.
New Day came out of the gates fast, but Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston never really seemed to kick it into their top gear. Woods slipped up and got beaten up by both Alexander and Benjamin for a while, but Woods was able to slip out of trouble when he interrupted a reverse handspring maneuver, kicked Alexander in the chest and got the tag to Kingston, as Alexander tagged Benjamin. Benjamin showed off enormous strength in not letting Kingston fall from his shoulders in an awkward exchange, but The Hurt Business wasn't able to take advantage.
Kingston flew around the ring and hit some of his signature offense, including an S.O.S., but the momentum was short-lived. Alexander hit a brainbuster on Kingston, and Woods broke up the pinfall but paid a dear price. A Neuralizer from Alexander was followed by Paydirt from Benjamin, which neutralized Woods.
Kingston continued to put up a tough fight, but a superplex by Benjamin put New Day in trouble. Benjamin was lining up to hit Paydirt again and end the match, but Alexander slapped Benjamin's back and tagged himself in. While in previous weeks that has spelled doom for The Hurt Business, Alexander hit a Lumbar Check on Kingston and pinned him in the middle of the ring.
What's next: The Hurt Business has both the Raw tag team titles and Bobby Lashley's United States championship. Expect them to continue to leverage that into even bigger things heading into 2020. The New Day likely won't go quietly into the night, though.
Big E, Daniel Bryan, Chad Gable and Otis def. King Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro and Sami Zayn
Any match that brings together six of the best bell-to-bell wrestlers in the world is a good thing, and even though it happened in a preshow eight-man tag team match, it was still fun to watch. It was hard not to imagine a match with real stakes between some combination of Daniel Bryan, Big E, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and Chad Gable, but that's a discussion for a different day.
The highlight of the match might well have been Gable's slow, deadlift, roll-through German suplex on Cesaro, but the main driving force of the match was the conflict between Big E and Zayn over the Intercontinental championship. Big E ultimately picked up the pinfall win over Zayn, lining him up for a proper shot at the title in the near future.
What's next: Outside of the Intercontinental championship match to be, the team of Otis and Gable is picking up some steam. After a rocky, up-and-down year for Otis, something fresh is good news.