As documented on this blog, WWE staged its third TLC PPV this Sunday, and a largely satisfying show it was. Thanks to its staging every year, and frequent varieties of Ladder match booked over the last decade, TLC probably has an element of ‘seen it all before’ for the current audience. But back in 2000, TLC was a revolution; the first, contested by the Dudleys, the Hardys and Edge & Christian, took high-risk manoeuvres and maximum impact high-spots to their logical extreme, and subsequent battles made admirable/insane attempts to match it. The original remains the most imaginative, action-packed and dramatic though, and the perfect chemistry between those three teams is an unquestionable high-light of the Attitude Era. Amazingly TLC was the pinnacle of a whole series of innovations by the duos, which came to define the modern era of Tag Team wrestling.
The Road to TLC
The dawn of this new era was at No Mercy 1999, in the final of the Terri Invitational Tournament, in which Tag Teams were fighting for the ‘managerial skills’ of Terri Runnels. Although this aspect would prove largely irrelevant over time, in-ring the bout between Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boys, WWE’s first ever Tag Team Ladder match, had a significant impact. In a particularly unmemorable year for wrestling action, the athletic and high-risk moves performed by both teams got them over hugely and their popularity soared. Their spectacular display also seemed to motivate the rest of the locker room, and arguably kick-started greater focus back on ring performance leading into 2000, one of WWE’s best years from an in-ring standpoint.
After a slightly rocky start when they initially jumped from ECW, the Dudley Boys grabbed the audience attention majorly when their subsequent rivalry with the Hardys led to another gimmick match innovation: the Tag Team Table match. As heel, the Dudleys riled up the fans by putting various faces, especially women, through tables. Seeking to gain some revenge, the Hardys agreed to match at Royal Rumble 2000 where the winners would be the first to put both opposition members through tables. Jeff and Matt came out on top when Jeff originated a spot that would regularly recur, always increasingly dangerous: the Swanton Bomb off something high. During the next few months, E&C would resume feuding with the Hardys and the Dudley would win the Tag Team Championships; the three teams then had their first epic clash at Wrestlemania 2000 in the progenitor to TLC, the Triangle Ladder match. Impressively stealing the show, the sheer ingenuity behind the moves and the incredible risks they took cemented them as WWE’s top three duos.
Edge & Christian took the win and their first Tag Team Championship; soon undergoing a massive personality transplant, they became conceited, egotistical heels and 100% more entertaining for it. Indeed, their skits with Kurt Angle and Commissioner Foley were comedy gold and remain hilarious today. They also developed a team manoeuvre called the con-chair-to, a simultaneous double chair-shot to both sides of an opponents head. With the Dudleys frequent use of tables, and the Hardys association with ladders, all three teams now had their own weapon of choice.
Tables, and Ladders, and Chairs…oh my!
During the summer of 2000 WWE was absolutely on fire, and virtually every single wrestler and personality was super-over. Every storyline and feud seemed to have real purpose, and almost every element of the product clicked with fans. To capitalise on their chemistry and finely honed team skills, on-screen Commissioner Mick Foley devised a bout that was to settle things with gimmick that would compliment them all: Tables, Ladders and Chairs. The goal would be the same as Ladder match, with the first to gain the belts hung above the ring becoming champs, but Tables and Chairs would be placed at ringside with the use of them actively encouraged.
Taking place at Summerslam 2000, TLC was a breathtaking display of stunts and bumps, held together by smooth transitions and the storied rivalry, which the live crowd was fervent for. Once again the trio of tandems were the high-light of the card, and E&C again came out as champions. To write a run-down of the moves wouldn’t really do them justice, so just watch it here:
TLC I The Hardys vs Edge & Christian vs The… by Kingston56
TLC II at Wrestlemania X-Seven was a damned impressive attempt to re-capture the magic, and whilst some bumps were even more incredible, the actual feud had lost some steam by then and the emotional reaction wasn’t as strong. TLC III, which was booked without build up on Smackdown in May 2001 and competed between four teams instead of three, was the last to feature these three teams; exciting as it was, this was down to Jericho & Benoit’s brief super-over face run, and Dudleys/Hardys/E&C were just background dressing. With these duos now all split and gone solo (to varying degrees of success), the TLC remained a dormant gimmick for about four years between 2002 and 2006, and was eventually revived for use mostly in singles championship bouts. WWE has recently experiment with it in Triple Threat and Fatal Four Way formats, sensibly expanding its uses and presentation. Now with its own PPV dedicated to the format, this seems to be the best way forward for TLC; the magic created by the Dudleys, Hardys and E&C was unique to that wonderful period in wrestling and is unlikely to be recaptured by any teams in the current era.