By Graham "GSM" Matthews
American Alpha, The Hype Bros and Apollo Crews def. The Vaudevillians, The Ascension and Curt Hawkins (Kickoff Match)
American Alpha are the new kings of the Kickoff show. Good lord, put them on the damn pay-per-view already! Sorry to sound like a broken record, but they had a great thing going with The Usos a few months back that was seemingly cut short. By the way, where were The Usos in this match? I'm sure most people who watched this forgot Crews and Hawkins were still employed as they haven't been featured on SmackDown Live in weeks. Nevertheless, this was a fun opening match and servicable for the Kickoff show.
The Wyatt Family def. Heath Slater and Rhyno to Win the SmackDown Tag Team Championship
This was the perfect match to start the show with considering it had the least amount of build of any bout on the card. Not only that, but it was short, sweet and exactly what it needed to be. The more I see of the Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton partnership, the more it grows on me. I was convinced from the get-go Orton was playing mind games with Wyatt and Luke Harper, but now I'm not so sure. Above all else, Wyatt finally has gold around his waist. Long overdue and well-deserved, to say the least.
Nikki Bella def. Carmella in a No Disqualification Match
I know it was a No Disqualification match, but I guess count-outs were still in play, which was ridiculous. At any rate, this obviously paled in comparison to the Falls Count Anywhere match between Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks from Raw, but it was very good in its own right and both women tried hard. They took plenty of risks and took full advantage of the extreme stipulation. Carmella winning would have done her wonders, but she's gotten the better of Bella enough times in this feud where she won't be damaged by the defeat. As for Carmella revealing Natalya was the one who attacked Nikki at Survivor Series, it was so predictable that the commentators acting shocked was silly. She's a heel. What did they expect?
Intercontinental Champion The Miz def. Dolph Ziggler in a Ladder Match
Miz and Ziggler, as many times as they have faced off over the years, always produce phenomenal matches. Every one of their encounters in recent months has been a blast and this was no exception. In addition to the in-ring action being exciting, the storytelling was stellar with Ziggler desperately trying to climb the ladder to success (both figuratively and literally) while Miz continued to taunt Daniel Bryan. He was the right choice to win, and as for what's next for Ziggler, I honestly can't bring myself to care.
Baron Corbin def. Kalisto in a Chairs Match
Chairs match have traditionally been terrible, so I was pleasantly surprised this ended up being one of the best bouts of the night. I don't know if it was because their chemistry was so strong or because they made the most of a silly stipulation, but either way, this was an awesome match. There were a handful of sweet spots and that finish was fantastic. Here's hoping this win catapults Corbin higher up the card.
Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch in a Tables Match to Win the SmackDown Women's Championship
Although the match started out slightly rough, they picked up the pace nicely and worked well together. Granted, they fell victim to many of the tired troupes of Tables match, but I enjoyed it on the whole. The crowd was quiet throughout the bout, but they weren't all that lively for most of the night, so I wouldn't blame the women or their feud because it's been very compelling thus far. Lynch was my pick to win but I'm actually happier Bliss captured her premiere title in WWE. She has come a long way on her own this year and this was the ideal time to put the belt on her.
WWE World Champion AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose in a TLC Match
While the feud has felt tame at times, I had hope they would deliver a blowaway bout, and they did just that here. Holy shit, this was exceptional! Both Styles and Ambrose put their bodies through absolute hell, and that 450 Splash from Styles to Ambrose through the table at ringside was something special. James Ellsworth coming out made me roll my eyes simply because he took a brutal beating at the hands of Styles on SmackDown this week, but the heel turn was worth it. I suppose we'll find out Tuesday why he decided to help a guy who was his mortal enemy for so long, but the most important thing is that Styles retained hte title. Styles vs. The Undertaker at the Royal Rumble, anyone?
Both Backlash and No Mercy were entertaining events, but TLC was by far SmackDown's best show to date. Every match ranged from good to great, and even the pay-per-view's weakest match (Nikki vs. Carmella) held my interest and wasn't awful by any means. We were treated to two title changes and a big heel turn, so it was a newsworthy night. Needless to say, SmackDown is undoubtedly the better brand right now and I'm looking forward to what's in store for the blue brad as WrestleMania season quickly approaches.