TLC is a smaller card than the typical WWE pay-per-view, but it packs quite a punch at the top. Even after the shocking news that came out Friday, with Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt taken off the card after being diagnosed with a viral infection, the addition of Kurt Angle to the main event makes this match just as intriguing as it otherwise would have been for the in-ring reunion of The Shield, albeit for much different reasons. The five-on-three handicap match, which will be contested under Tables, Ladders and Chairs rules, is the only stipulation-heavy match in the bunch, and it will stand out even more than it might on any other night.
While there are only two title matches on the card, as Universal champion Brock Lesnar is still MIA, and the Raw tag team titles and Intercontinental championship have been made secondary elements for the weekend, TLC looks as though it may be a diamond-in-the-rough card. Outside of the main event, which is sure to make an impact, there's a new one-off match between Finn Balor and AJ Styles -- a last minute, cobbled together match that could easily be a WrestleMania-caliber contest, as well as the highly anticipated debut of Asuka.
By scrambling to come up with a pair of blockbuster solutions to a seemingly impossible turn of events, WWE has made TLC a spectacle and an event that shouldn't be missed.
Five-on-three Tables, Ladders & Chairs match: Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Cesaro & Sheamus and Kane
Perhaps it's a good thing that The Shield already delivered on a number of long-awaited milestones before Friday's news. They finally stood together as a trio, they rained down destruction while outnumbered, and they settled scores with Braun Strowman by hitting a triple power bomb through the commentary table. On Monday, they entered the arena to their old Shield theme music, put on black fatigues and wandered down through the crowd. Now, with Reigns out of commission for an indeterminate amount of time, we get an even more unexpected return -- Kurt Angle's first televised WWE in-ring appearance since August 2006.
Many wondered if Angle, a 2017 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, would ever set foot into a WWE ring to compete again. Even with Reigns out and The Shield's proper reunion on hold, the atmosphere is sure to be electric Sunday in Minnesota, and the energy will still be sky-high. Considering the violent nature of the TLC format, and Angle's long-term neck issues, it will be fascinating to see how this match will play out. It seems likely that the action will lean heavily on Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, with the opposite side of the equation -- a team led by The Miz that features Strowman, Cesaro, Sheamus and, after Monday's main event, Kane -- bearing some of that burden as well.
Yes, after more than 10 months away from WWE, Kane made a shocking return on Raw by bursting from beneath the ring, helping Strowman utterly destroy Reigns to win the match and lock up an extra spot for Miz's team. But now Reigns is out of the equation, and who knows how this will all turn out.
No matter how long a true reunion takes -- and it could happen just in time for Survivor Series, if all goes according to plan -- Miz has proven to be a worthy foil for The Shield thus far. With Reigns out of the equation and a delay of the story now necessary, Angle, Rollins and Ambrose could easily lose here and set the stage for a conveniently team-heavy event like Survivor Series coming up, but we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, all of the volatile elements in play in this match should prove to create another in a long line of memorable moments for everyone involved.
Raw women's championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Mickie James
Though the subject matter occasionally bordered on juvenile, with topics ranging from adult diapers to cup sizes, by and large, the short-term build to Mickie James' first shot at the Raw women's championship has been a marked improvement over most of the Raw title feuds we've seen thus far in 2017. As good as they've been in the ring, Bayley and Sasha Banks have had incredibly stiff and unnatural dialogue in the bulk of their in-ring and backstage segments. Between Bliss and James, it has been anything but.
On the surface, it might not have seemed as though James would be worthy enough to become the next logical contender for the Raw women's championship, but we've been reminded of her in-ring pedigree over the past few weeks. A six-time champion, covering five runs with the women's title and one reign with the Divas championship, James was out of the WWE for more than six years before making an unlikely comeback into the spotlight.
Her supposed one-off match with Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Toronto in November 2016 opened the door to a full WWE comeback, and while she made an immediate impact on SmackDown upon her return, she had largely faded into the background until opportunity called. The moment James was thrust back into the spotlight, though, she proved every bit of a worthy verbal sparring partner for the Raw women's champion.
With as much as the Raw women's championship has bounced back and forth, it would stand to reason that Bliss will find a way to retain her title by any means necessary. But with Asuka finally making her debut, a countdown clock has seemingly been attached to that Raw women's title. Whether it's Bliss holding the belt at the end of this match, or James after a shock win, or someone else emerges in the coming weeks or months, the WWE has far too great an asset in Asuka and her winning streak to let it go to waste.
Asuka vs. Emma
We've been seeing promos for nearly a month, and the day of Asuka's debut has finally arrived (almost). With a winning streak that has surpassed Goldberg, the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history and the seventh-longest title reign in WWE history, there's a lot of momentum rolling behind Asuka right now, even though she has been out of action for a couple of months.
Asuka's first official appearance for the Raw brand at TLC should be an appetizer for Asuka, whetting her appetite for big things to come. It would be truly shocking to see anything other than a dominant victory for Asuka here, with an express train heading directly toward Bliss and the Raw women's championship the likeliest scenario.
Even if Asuka doesn't head directly to the top, there are a lot of enticing matchups on the table, both fresh and familiar. Starting against Emma makes a lot of sense, considering their history in NXT, and that goes double for a future faceoff with Bayley. Asuka also has history with Nia Jax, Dana Brooke and Mickie James, each of which produced drastically different matches.
But the two fresh matches, with Bliss and Sasha Banks, have a lot of potential, to say the least. While future matchups against a long list of SmackDown superstars will have to wait, it's safe to say that Asuka versus Banks is one of the matches fans should be looking forward to most in all of the WWE.
While winning seems to be off the table, there's hope that Emma will at least get a chance to be competitive in this match, especially considering the small number of matches for a pay-per-view card. In that, there's hope of her showing just how good she can be against an opponent of Asuka's caliber; her role in helping to drive the women's revolution in its earliest stages cannot be overstated.
Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles
I have, admittedly, dedicated a lot of space on this vertical over the past few months to bashing the rivalry between Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt for all of the things that have gone wrong, so it'll be nice to put that rivalry on ice indefinitely, even if those circumstances are truly unfortunate. Instead, we're going to get a WrestleMania-worthy match as a one-off replacement, as AJ Styles returns to the Raw roster for one night to face Balor.
While there's been little outside of a single backstage interaction at SummerSlam 2016 featuring Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson throwing up the "too sweet" hand sign and Balor turning them down, there's a shared history that stretches before Balor and Styles joined the WWE. At various points in its existence, Balor and Styles each served as the leader of the ever-popular Bullet Club faction, though their only match on record happened well before the group came into existence.
The first-ever one-on-one match between these two doesn't have a lot of storyline working in its favor, but these two guys are among the best in-ring performers in the world. They'll figure it out, and it should be a spectacle, one way or the other.
Cruiserweight championship: Kalisto (c) vs. Enzo Amore
This rivalry has already become all sorts of confusing in the few short weeks since it kicked off in earnest. After Neville laid a merciless beating upon Enzo Amore (and then disappeared from WWE TV entirely, leading to speculation about his status with the company), Amore leaned hard against a "no-contact" clause signed by Angle that was ultimately bypassed by Kalisto, whose move to the division made him an instant top dog.
What was initially advertised as Amore defending his cruiserweight title for the first time against Kalisto at TLC became a Raw main-event lumberjack match in which Kalisto took Amore's title just two weeks after Amore had won it off Neville. After Amore brought a spark to the division by verbally running down every superstar on 205 Live, and they all took turns beating him up, his sudden acquisition of four non-like-minded individuals as backup is another strange twist. Even if he's throwing around money like the Million Dollar Man, it's an abrupt change of face for Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Drew Gulak and Tony Nese.
Given the uncertainty surrounding any number of elements on 205 Live, I'm going to favor Amore and his new goon squad to take back the cruiserweight title and rule over the cruiserweight division with an iron fist. Sure, Kalisto's title reign will be less than two weeks long at that point, but Amore's only lasted a couple of weeks, and we saw the flip-flopping of the title in the matter of a week between Neville and Akira Tozawa.
The one element that could work in Kalisto's favor is the possibility of some combination of Tozawa, Lince Dorado, Mustafa Ali and Gran Metalik coming out to balance the scales, which could set up for a Survivor Series match to come somewhere down the line.
There's no telling where this tag-team match will end up on this TLC card, but it's a high visibility spot regardless for a secondary match in the cruiserweight division. Over the past few weeks on Raw and 205 Live, Cedric Alexander has been gaining an edge to his persona, going so far as to lay down a vicious beating with Jack Gallagher's umbrella without care for the consequences.
Gallagher has gone full-blown evil alongside Brian Kendrick, and Rich Swann has only recently come to Alexander's aid to balance the scales. The long-term ramifications from this match seem as though they'll be minimal, but there will be no shortage of aerial fireworks or physicality. I'd lean toward Alexander and Swann, but it could really swing either way depending on what the future of 205 Live holds for everyone involved.
Kickoff show: Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox
It's fantastic to see Alicia Fox getting back to competing on Raw and getting airtime without having to be on someone's arm or shouting incoherently like she's crazy. OK, maybe there's still a bit of the latter going on, but she's back to actively competing and even got her first T-shirt despite being the longest-tenured female superstar in the company.
She has gotten herself tangled up in something of a rivalry with Sasha Banks, but the most notable thing about this match is what it means to the overall card. It's one of three all-women's matches on a seven-match card, each with its own story behind it. Certain milestones are hard to quantify or put into context, but this is yet another positive step forward in the ongoing evolution of women's wrestling.
Is it possible that Bayley could get involved? She's not otherwise occupied on this show, and there has been an ongoing slow burn toward some friction between Bayley and Banks. Expect Banks to walk out victorious here, unless something major shifts over the course of this match.