One of the best side-effects of James Ellsworth playing such a big part in the build-up to the main event of Sunday's WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs card was that there had been little one-on-one contact between Dean Ambrose and WWE world champion AJ Styles.
Ever since Ambrose aided in a triple power bomb of Styles at Survivor Series, the two-minute beatdown at the end of SmackDown Live on Tuesday served as just the right dose to preview the carnage without giving it all away.
In the end, it was Ellsworth who played the most integral role on Sunday, making a late run-in to help Styles by turning on Ambrose. Styles made it to the top of the ladder to retain his title at 31 minutes, 3 seconds in their TLC match.
The action quickly spilled out of the ring at the start, and that went a long way in separating this match from the ones that preceded it on this show. With so much time to work with, Ambrose and Styles made the most of their environment, and Styles, to his credit, made the most out of everything from a spell on top of a table to time spent inside of a garbage can.
As soon as the action spilled back toward the ring, a barricade dive from Ambrose was met by a dropkick and a leaping clothesline. There was a nice callback to one of the earliest Styles-Ambrose conflicts as Styles was made to straddle the ring barrier once Ambrose regained control. Ambrose's unpredictable approach suited this kind of match well for spots that followed like a running clothesline with a chair and Styles' willingness to do just about anything for the good of a match surely did the same.
Styles has made his name on his ability to put his body through hell for the good of a match, and far be it for anyone to question a process that has led him to become a WWE world champion. But the sequence where he was bounced off a ladder and onto the outside -- reminiscent of his recent ladder match with Ellsworth on SmackDown -- surely caused many hearts to skip a beat. It was good to see he was fine, especially after Ambrose threw a ladder at him and connected shortly thereafter, but one can only hope he continues to go through those kinds of spots relatively unscathed in the future.
There were more of those kinds of scary moments to follow, including Ambrose taking Styles from a suplex position and flipping him inside out onto four chairs beneath, a chair drop from Ambrose onto Styles and a suplex on Ambrose through a table in the corner. The pièce de résistance saw Ambrose set up a ladder on one of the announce tables to drop a flying elbow through Styles, who was laying on top of the primary announce desk.
As Ambrose took one of the first true climbs up the ladder, Styles took out the No. 1 contender with a flying springboard forearm. Styles also popped the fans with a moonsault from the apron into a reverse DDT, and triggered the first true "This is awesome" chants of the night with an incredible springboard 450 splash through Ambrose, who was laid out on a table on the outside.
When all looked lost for Ambrose, Ellsworth made his entrance and provided enough of a distraction to seemingly seal a world title win for Ambrose after getting slammed down onto the ring steps. But even as Styles was sent tumbling to the outside, something seemed awry with such a clear victory in sight for the challenger. That proved to be the case as Ellsworth pushed the ladder over and sent Ambrose tumbling to the outside through a set of tables at ringside.
After the match on "Talking Smack," Ellsworth told SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan that he helped Styles win because he has a 3-0 record over him and is owed a title shot (which he will get on Tuesday's episode of SmackDown Live). Ellsworth's storyline role as Ambrose's good buddy was on the verge of getting stale, and this is a definitive change, but if history is any indication, turning these kinds of characters heel rarely leads to success for them in the long term.
For full match recaps and ratings from WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs, click here.