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Prior to Friday night, there was little buzz surrounding the show because of a stunning lack of star power and poor build. However, the complexion of the card changed when WWE announced that Kurt Angle and AJ Styles were set to replace Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt in their respective matches because of medical issues.
Although The Shield’s reunion has been put on the back burner, the fact Angle is wrestling in a WWE ring for the first time in more than a decade is incredibly exciting. As if that weren’t awesome enough, Styles and Finn Balor will meet in a dream match at TLC, which is a vast improvement over Balor’s previously scheduled contest with Wyatt.
Outside of Asuka’s in-ring debut against Emma, the rest of the card doesn’t have much to offer, but fans will be counting on those top two matches to carry the event. It could prove to be the sleeper show of 2017 when all is said and done if the right booking decisions are made.
Prior to the Raw-exclusive event, let’s look at which Superstars will reign supreme and build momentum ahead of Survivor Series. These are the predictions that matter most.
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Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox have recent history. They clashed in mixed tag team action at Extreme Rules, where Banks and Rich Swann defeated Fox and Noam Dar. They have since rekindled their rivalry after Banks beat Fox on Raw, and the former Divas champion retaliated by ambushing The Boss backstage.
While it is cool that we will be treated to three women’s matches at TLC, there is no doubt this belongs on the Kickoff show. Banks is one of the biggest stars in WWE, but she has been spinning her wheels for some time as she awaits her anticipated heel turn.
As for Fox, she has never meant less in her career, and it’s difficult to view her as a threat to anyone. She also hasn’t had a memorable match in many years, so this bout with Banks likely won’t be anything special.
The real money match in Raw’s women’s division is Banks against Asuka, so Banks maintaining momentum ahead of that encounter would be ideal. There is no reason for her to eat defeat at the hands of Fox here, so bank on The Boss to clinch the victory at TLC.
WWE was telling an interesting story with Banks and Bayley shortly after the No Mercy pay-per-view by teasing tension between the two, so perhaps we will see more interaction from them following this contest.
Prediction: Sasha Banks wins.
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Similar to the women, the cruiserweights will have a strong presence at WWE TLC between Drew Gulak’s PowerPoint presentation on the Kickoff show, the WWE Cruiserweight Championship match and this tag team outing. The division was long overdue for a proper showcase, and this match should allow everyone involved to shine.
For those who haven’t been following 205 Live, Gentleman Jack Gallagher recently turned heel by aligning with former foe The Brian Kendrick and attacking Cedric Alexander. Rich Swann later sided with Alexander to even the odds, as it is well-documented the two are friends outside the ring.
Recently on Raw, Alexander bested Gallagher in one-on-one action, while the babyfaces got the better of the heels on the next night’s episode of 205 Live. Although momentum is on the side of Swann and Alexander heading into TLC, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be victorious at the event.
Since Kendrick and Gallagher are still a relatively new tandem, they should pick up the win against Alexander and Swann. Truth be told, it doesn’t matter who comes out on top given nothing will be at stake, but having the heels get back on track makes the most sense.
From there, it might be only inevitable before these four men shift their focus toward the cruiserweight title.
Prediction: The Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher win.
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For weeks, Asuka’s arrival at WWE TLC has been heavily hyped up via video packages, highlighting her dominant reign in NXT as the brand’s longest-reigning champion. She also went undefeated in her two years down in developmental, a streak that should remain intact for many more months, if not years, to come.
There is zero question she should steamroll through Emma on Sunday and kick off her run on Raw with a bang. Having Emma upset the Empress of Tomorrow would render everything the former NXT women’s champion has accomplished up to this point irrelevant, but WWE must know it has something special on its hands with her and should protect her as much as possible.
The real question when it comes to this contest is not who will walk away the winner but rather how long it will last. Raw stars Bayley, Mickie James and Nia Jax all failed to defeat Asuka in NXT, but each of them had an impressive outing and was allowed to look strong against her.
Longtime fans of NXT saw what Asuka and Emma were capable of together at TakeOver: London back in 2015, but Emma hasn’t had a competitive match on the main roster in a great while. Instead, she will serve as a sacrificial lamb to Asuka at TLC, which will at least be effective in establishing Asuka’s offensive maneuvers with the audience.
Asuka’a road to the Raw Women’s Championship should be brief, and it will begin with her knocking off Emma on Sunday.
Prediction: Asuka wins.
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After being overlooked for so long, the cruiserweight division received a bit of a boost when Enzo Amore dethroned Neville as the champion at No Mercy in September. Amore quickly came into his own as an obnoxious heel, hence Kalisto beating him for the belt on the Oct. 9 edition of Raw was a surprise.
As talented as Kalisto is in the ring, it will take more than a few wins for fans to take him seriously again (lest we forget he was losing to Elias on a near-weekly basis not too long ago). He is right at home on 205 Live, but Enzo is far more relevant and has done much more to elevate the division in such a short span.
With Kalisto having won every match he’s been involved in since becoming a cruiserweight, it’s logical to assume his reign as champ is coming to an end at TLC. Granted, Enzo can’t compare to him in the ring, but Enzo’s promos and character work have made 205 Live more must-see than it has ever been.
The feud can continue beyond the pay-per-view, but the long-term goal should be to build someone up to take the title off Enzo and therefore “save” the cruiserweight division. Cedric Alexander would be an excellent candidate, but for now, Enzo must regain the gold.
As a match, this should be decent, but it is ridiculous that we received a Lumberjack match on Raw and that the rematch will be a standard one-on-one affair with no stipulation attached.
Prediction: Enzo Amore wins the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
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Mickie James returned to WWE as part of a prominent program with Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch earlier this year on SmackDown Live, but a lack of character development and a forgettable face turn caused her to become just another woman on the roster in a matter of months.
Her move to Raw didn’t help things because she was slotted behind the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley and Nia Jax, but she has regained relevance by emerging as credible contender to Bliss’ Raw Women’s Championship. The story focusing on her age (despite looking phenomenal at 38) hasn’t been the best, but it is refreshing to see her challenging for a championship again.
As noted, Bliss and James have been at odds since the start of the year, so it would make sense for James to get one over on the woman who brought her back to the company by beating her for the belt. However, Bliss kicked off her second stint with the strap in September and should have a stranglehold on it for months to come.
Furthermore, Asuka gunning for the gold is only inevitable, and it would mean more if she dethroned the seemingly unstoppable Alexa Bliss. Those two have never crossed paths before on television, whereas James lost to Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Toronto in November.
James becoming Raw women’s champion for the first time at TLC would be a cool moment, but expect Bliss to escape with the title intact.
Prediction: Alexa Bliss retains the Raw Women’s Championship.
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Outside of the main event, Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt was intended to be the second-biggest bout on the TLC 2017 card. The issue with that, however, was it was a match few fans were looking forward to because of how asinine it appeared to be on paper.
Wyatt being forced to pull out from the pay-per-view because of illness is a bummer, but it has given us a much better match, with Balor taking on AJ Styles. This marks the first time these two have ever clashed one-on-one.
Needless to say, this is a marquee match that would normally require a lengthy build, but WWE didn’t have much choice given Wyatt’s condition. It has yet to be explained why a Superstar from SmackDown Live will be in action on a Raw-exclusive event, but all that aside, this has the potential to be an instant classic.
With this contest coming together at the last minute, officials may not have plans to book long term for these two, but they should take advantage of this opportunity to do so. After all, Styles’ former cohorts Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows are Raw wrestlers, so having them play a factor in the finish would be a pleasant surprise.
Regardless of whether their presence is felt in this matchup, Balor should score the victory en route to re-entering the Universal Championship picture.
Prediction: Finn Balor wins.
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This entire TLC pay-per-view has been built around The Shield reuniting for the first time in more than three years—on the same show at which the group had its debut match in 2012—but Roman Reigns’ illness unfortunately put those plans into disarray.
To make it up to the fans, WWE replaced Reigns with Raw general manager Kurt Angle, who hasn’t wrestled in a WWE ring since 2006. Obviously, something so huge should have been advertised weeks, if not months, in advance. But the company had little choice in this case, and fans should just appreciate the awesomeness for what it is.
Despite having the odds stacked against them, The Shield was expected to emerge victorious in the main event, according to BetWrestling.com (h/t Raj Giri of WrestlingInc), and Angle entering the fray should further solidify their chances of coming out on top. Angle should not be losing in his comeback match, and the heels have nothing to gain from winning.
As the head honcho on Monday nights, Angle could well enlist the likes of Jason Jordan and Matt Hardy to join his team, but that would defeat the purpose of Survivor Series in November. Besides, Kane can afford to take the pinfall loss for his team, and none of his teammates would be affected.
TLC matches have never disappointed, and given who will be involved, this installment should be no exception.
Prediction: Kurt Angle, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins win.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.