The last hour of this past Monday’s edition of Raw was action packed and chock full of intrigue. TLC is this coming Sunday, and it was WWE’s last chance to entice fans to either subscribe to the Network for the first time or tune in to catch the matches.
They had a Big Red Machine up their sleeves as the final wild card, and when they played it, it caught everyone off guard.
Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman were put on a collision course in a steel cage for the main event in Portland, Oregon. And things only got more interesting from there as Raw rolled on.
Miz — who might as well be going by Miz the Maestro at this point — goaded general manager Kurt Angle into tacking on a stipulation to the main event early in the show. This, of course, after he already managed to turn the main event of the TLC Network Special into a four-on-three handicap match against the Shield in his favor.
If Reigns won, then the TLC match would revert back to the originally scheduled three-on-three pitting the Sheild against Miz and the Bar. But if Strowman emerged victoriously, the match would then turn into a five-on-three in favor of Miz’s team — which already included Strowman after last week’s show.
It was an appealing twist, and the outcome became even more must-see once Miz slyly revealed that Curtis Axel — who had presumably been pummeled by the Shield and dangled upside-down from a forklift moments before the cage match began — was never going to be his fifth man.
The cage match was grueling, as both Strowman and Reigns beat each other senseless. Say what you want about the “Big Dog,” but that man doesn’t shy away from monster bumps. The superplex he took from the top of the cage was no joke.
As the match wore on, there were several near finishes that were derailed by outside interference. Which was odd since Angel banned “everyone” from ringside during Raw’s open. Just when it seemed like the pair were out of false finishes, the lights in the arena went dark and an eerie organ boomed over the Moda Center’s speakers.
Then Kane, of all people, emerged through the ring.
OH. MY. GOODNESS!
— WWE (@WWE) October 17, 2017
With the rest of the Shield trapped backstage fighting the Bar thanks to some sneaky garage door work from Miz, Kane and Strowman dropped Reigns with a rapid-fire sequence of brutal finishers. Two chokeslams, a tombstone and two running powerslams later, and suddenly the Sheild is facing insurmountable odds at TLC. (Sidenote: would anyone have been surprised if Reigns had kicked out?)
In the immediate aftermath of the finish, many wondered how Kane fit into the big picture of the main event. A five-on-three handicap TLC match seems like an odd close for a Network Special, and adding Kane into the mix creates more questions than answers.
And you know what? That’s a positive thing for a creative team that has come under fire for various predictable story arcs over the last few years. Wrestling is at its best when it isn’t predictable, and having Kane emerge from beneath the ring to help Strowman is the last thing most fans saw coming. What a terrifying, truly imposing tandem those two make. Brothers of Destruction Vol 2.
Catching folks off guard at the end of a Raw is one thing. Keeping them entertained during a lengthy TLC match is another thing entirely. Reigns and Dean Ambrose have been built up as two of the toughest workers in the company — and Seth Rollins is a physical freak of nature. Yet pitting them against Miz, the Bar, Strowman and Kane seems overwhelming.
Perhaps that is the point. Fans are still wondering how long the Shield will remain intact, and having them gain sympathy through an outright beatdown could be positive for their long-term prospects. With so many wrestlers involved, it also sets creative up with tons of possible storylines to work with as we move forward. Maybe we see one of the Miz’s teammates go rogue for some reason. Maybe the Sheild is allowed a fourth member because the Bar tried to interfere in the match first. Maybe it’ll be Sister Abigail. Or Paige. Who knows.
In the short-term, the presence of a previous fan favorite like Kane gives the main event of TLC a bit more star power. According to PWInsider (h/t to inquisitr.com), there was some concern that a final match with no belts on the line lacked enough intrigue to get people to tune in. As far as surprise returns go, this is about as good as the WWE could have done and it sounds like there are plans to keep Kane involved beyond his appearance in Portland on Monday.
If the goal was to force fans to watch this Sunday — and it sounds like that is the case — then this looks like a home run for the TLC Network Special.