#WWF259 – TLC – Tables Ladders Chairs

James Dixon: We start inauspiciously, with the voiceover man declaring: “This video tape is not really about tables, ladders and chairs”. Well, pardon me for expecting it might be given the title and all. He drops another belter moments later, talking about how the three teams that this tape is actually about (as if you hadn’t figured it out already; the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and the Dudleys) have a “love of sports entertainment that goes back to their childhood”. Erm, wrestling? It’s when used in context like this that the WWF/E’s silly company speak is brought into sharp focus and made to sound ridiculous. Who grows up and says they love sports entertainment? No one. Plenty grow up loving wrestling of course, but we can’t say that. Or can we now? I can never remember. I guess it depends on which athletic commission we are trying to hoodwink or which broadcaster we are trying to squeeze for every penny…

 

We get the same footage of the pre-teen Hardy Boyz pretending to be wrestlers that has featured on a couple of other tapes, as we briefly touch upon each of the guys’ backgrounds. Bubba says he went to wrestling school (shouldn’t that be “sports entertainment school”?) and got trained the proper way, then learned the business by working with and being around guys like Terry Funk. Christian talks about never losing sight of his goal, while Edge says he never had any doubts in his mind about making it. We see the Hardys’ WWF debuts from RAW back in 1994, with Matt working Nikolai Volkoff in only his seventh match (with the addendum of: in a hard ring, because Matt and Jeff had been putting on backyard shows using trampolines for years) and Jeff getting a kicking from Razor Ramon. Jeff claims he got such a kicking that he wanted to leave the business and do something else, but a match with the 1-2-3 Kid the next night was much easier on him and “cleansed his soul”. I am not quite convinced that this is entirely true, because I have seen that match against Scott Hall and he doesn’t stiff him at all. In fact, according to Kevin Nash, Jeff was one of Scott’s favourite guys to work with and he would often put him over behind the curtain to those who mattered. That could well be just Nash giving the Kliq credit for “discovering” the young Hardy early, but someone’s story doesn’t add up somewhere.

 

Whoever scripted the voiceover man’s lines continues to shine, as he delivers this humdinger: “In sports entertainment, respect for the past is held in high regard”. Oh, there is MUCH to say about that! In the PG Era, WWE ritualistically cheapened its own rich history because it was ashamed of it one way or another. The Golden Era of the 50s (which was prior to the WWWF being around, but the point remains valid) was considered too small time and came with the WWE enforced stigma of being contested in “smoke filled halls”, the 80s stuff was too cartoony and overblown to take seriously (look how WWE mocked the involvement of Cyndi Lauper, Roddy Piper and Wendi Richter in making the company mainstream during a segment on RAW in 2012), the Attitude Era they couldn’t show because they did some pretty disgraceful things unsuitable for a PG environment, guys who helped build the company were buried if they were not in the good books at any given time, title histories were doctored and changed to suit rather than being factually accurate, the list goes on. Nevertheless, despite being deep into the Monday Night Wars when this was released (though admittedly, they are almost over and WCW are no longer even a factor), the Dudleys still put over the likes of Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair as influences. Matt takes a different route, sucking up to creative team writer and onetime manager and tag partner Michael Hayes, before rightly crediting Mick Foley as having played an important role in the team’s WWF development by putting them in his Three Faces of Foley tape and earning them a bit of extra cash through royalties. I have said it elsewhere I am sure, but Mick Foley was and is a credit to the wrestling business.

 

Voiceover man returns to tell us that: “innovation came from reinterpreting the past” (isn’t that something of an oxymoron?) as we see the brilliant Shawn Michaels-Razor Ramon match from SummerSlam ’95, which all of the guys on the tape put over. What about the WrestleMania one?! I personally prefer SummerSlam but the general consensus, certainly within the WWF, is that the first one was the game changer. Well actually it was, but the second one still squeaks it, but usually the WWF forgets it existed. Anyway, Jeff says that when he watched the match, he decided: “That is the future of professional wrestling” That rather explains a lot. It is still kind of strange that they don’t show any of the WrestleMania ladder match at all, or any footage from any other ladder bouts except for this one, what with them building up “the past” for the purpose of setting up the next segments.

 

Edge and Christian talk about the Brood, which Edge says made him feel more comfortable as a performer because of the cool entrance and the blood bath gimmick, as well as having guys alongside him and a purpose. We see Gangrel turning on Edge, Christian siding with the latter and the ill-fitting New Brood with the Hardys, which led to their excellent and career changing feud. Matt says the turning point for all of their careers was the ladder match at No Mercy 1999, which of course is absolutely right. Talking head JR then refers to ladders as both inanimate and unpredictable, but I would argue from a physics point of view that something inanimate is entirely predictable, actually. Terri calls the match a nail-biter, acting as if she really had a genuine interest in the outcome. Pure kayfabe. Highlights follow, with the footage interspersed with comments from the guys involved. Edge puts over the quite excellent camera above the ladder that was used for the first time in that bout, because it showed the silly heights and gave a new dimension to the action. It added a lot to the spectacle. All the main spots from the match are here, but seeing them out of context doesn’t really do the bout full justice. It was more than just spots, as good as they were. It was about the innovation, the change in crowd response from uncaring to enthralled and the joy of watching four guys go from wrestlers to stars in sixteen glorious minutes. A lot of these comments and stories also feature on Eve of Destruction, such as how Mick Foley put them all over backstage after the match and how they received a respectful standing ovation on RAW the next night. The latter is pretty impressive actually, and shows that WWF fans do appreciate serious levels of effort.

 

Those two teams alone probably could have gone a long way towards revitalising an ailing tag division, but the arrival of the Dudleys added a third, larger and more brutal element that was absolutely key in helping tag team wrestling scale new heights in the company. Few actually thought that the Dudleys would get over in the WWF, with many expecting them to go the way of Public Enemy and other former ECW alumni before them, where a gimmick that worked in a bingo hall didn’t translate to international television. But instead they were given a gimmick that suited them (tables) and given the chance to be themselves (in character terms), rather than stripping them of what got them over elsewhere in the first place like has happened to many others. Bubba recognises that, with D-Von openly admitting that he thought they would have obstacles to overcome in order to repeat their success from ECW. We get footage of the Duds and the Hardys taking turns putting each other through tables in inventive ways, before we see the start of Bubba’s obsession with doing the same to women, starting when he assaults EMT B.B. It starts off with Bubba seemingly injured and getting stretchered out, with D-Von asking him: “Does it hurt?”. “No! It doesn’t hurt!” says Bubba, who then gets up off the stretcher and attacks poor B.B, hitting her with a vicious top rope Bubba Bomb through a table. Bubba’s delightfully maniacal facials helped make this stuff work. Edge and Christian try and run the Dudleys off afterwards, but Bubba sits up like a psychopathic horror movie villain and D-Von kills them with chairs.

 

We briefly stop off to tackle the age old question: is it fake? All of the guys talk about being asked by fans what the weaponry is really made of, and they go on the defensive, with the Dudleys inviting people into the ring with them to see how physical wrestling really is. The thing is, anyone who thinks the props are gimmicked is not going to believe otherwise no matter what you say to them, and real wrestling fans don’t particularly care either way, they just want to be entertained. I think anyone with half a brain can see that the chairs, tables and ladders are all very real, so this whole piece is somewhat redundant. Matt rounds things off my saying how: “If it’s a chair I got coming, I want it coming hard!”. Yeah, and that is why you went completely nuts.

 

Next stop is the richly entertaining tag team tables match between the Hardys and the Dudleys from Royal Rumble 2000. If the No Mercy ladder match made the guys in that, then this match went a long way towards solidifying the Dudleys’s spot and sending the Hardys into supernova. That it took place in the hallowed ground of MSG helped a lot as well, because if something is over in the Garden it is over everywhere. This match has effort levels you rarely see from an undercard match. It’s not just guys sleepwalking through tired spots and going through the motions while reeling off a few catchphrases to please the crowd, but rather four young and hungry guys who want to make names for themselves and establish their spots. The best tables match ever? Almost certainly. The editing here is very good too, with cuts between the Hardys’ pre-match promo backstage and Bubba’s in the ring building the tension, and then the match itself sped up and slowed down where appropriate, with different angles used and high tempo (and for once, fitting) music in the background. Again, showing lots of spots one after another doesn’t quite do it justice, but you still get the idea.

 

We see the angle from RAW where the Hardys have the tag titles won, only for the Duds to prevent the fall and take out both of them with 3D. The Dudleys are fixin’ to put the Hardys through a table, but then their useless manager Terri does a dumb thing and gets in the ring. Bad move. D-Von grabs her and goes to hit her, but Bubba rollicks him “Whatcha gonna do? Punch her in the face!? Why would you punch her in the face, when you could put her through a table!?”. And then, they do, as Terri folds like a tiny little accordion. Again on RAW, Mark Henry beats D-Von in a singles bout, but the real story comes afterwards. The Duds take out Henry with 3D and then put Mae Young through a table!!! She was 127 years old at the time! It’s not an easier bump or anything, it is still the Bubba Bomb from the top, and it’s not even close to as super safe as the Terri bump either. Make no mistake though, that is down to the tough as nails Mae rather than Bubba. Mae would have kicked his ass if he had taken it easy on her. The crowd doesn’t quite believe it is going to really happen as they are setting it up, and JR and Lawler both add incredible gravitas to the act with their announcing. When Bubba comes off the top the crowd realise that this IS happening, and they go wild. Bubba’s euphoric trance afterwards is excellent, and was totally ripped off years later by Festus. The Dudleys follow that up with something even more crazy: putting Mae through a table OFF THE STAGE. Can you imagine that getting green-lighted in the PG environment!? Mae was batshit crazy for agreeing to take all of this. The same thing happens again on SmackDown! to Lita, before our tour of Bubba Ray’s acts of wood based misogyny concludes at Backlash with the famous and very popular decking of Trish in the same manner. At least this time he had a motive, though I really loved the character trait that he was just addicted to notching up women for his “wood list”, as twisted and wrong as it might be. Trish gets DRILLED on her bump, big time. Why did they never do it to Steph? That, I would have enjoyed. We then see Bubba powerbomb Christian through Edge onto a table, which destroys Edge’s face.

 

At WrestleMania 2000 they took the No Mercy bout and added the Dudleys to the mix, and the results are much the same. It’s another tremendous bout, though not quite career defining in the same way, but still another in a long list of stunt matches featuring the teams that is definitely worth hunting out. The highlights package follows the same format as discussed earlier, and the slight criticism remains the same. The continued innovation of the ladder match continues with this effort, and the addition of two extra bodies makes for some great spots, such as Bubba’s three stooges helicopter impression with the ladder, a sequence towards the end where all six guys climb for the belts and take wild bumps, and then the brilliant “table mountain” spot at the end with a table set up over two ladders. It’s a shame we don’t get comments from the guys during this too, going over the bumps, spots and generally craziness, but that doesn’t matter, it’s just something I would have liked to have seen is all. Bubba says HBK was the first man backstage behind the curtain waiting to shake everyone’s hands and put them over, which is a rare touch of class from Michaels prior to him finding the big man upstairs. We see all six guys hugging and thanking each other backstage, as Jeff talks about the pressure they had going into the bout because of what they had to live up to. Edge calls the finish a “dream sequence” and Christian mentions that when they were kids they used to pretend to be tag champions, and that it became reality. Their story is among the better feel-good ones out there.

 

Summary: This is a fun journey through a six month period that turned perception of tag team wrestling in the WWF on its head. The three duos featured took the opportunities they were given to shine with both hands, and changed a piece of the industry. With one generation of fans, ladder matches will always be associated with the six guys featured here, and their matches will always be fondly remembered, as they should be. Of course there are negatives to all of this too: Edge was forced into early retirement due to injuries caused in these bouts, Jeff and Matt both became drug abusers, probably because of the pain of the bumps catching up to them and Christian had plenty of injury problems too and missed a lot of time later into his career. The Dudleys fared better, with Bubba a decade later going on to become one of the top heels in the world and TNA Champion, with D-Von remaining relevant well into the future. Though, the Dudleys did take less risky bumps than the other guys, and they had a little more padding to protect them too. The tape is not the end of the TLC story for these six against each other, as they had two bouts that were actually dubbed “TLC” at SummerSlam 2000 and then again at WrestleMania X-Seven, this time incorporating chairs and tables into the equation officially. They too are some of the finest stunt matches of all time, and the entire series between the three duos stands the test of time as one of the best of the Attitude Era. This tape does a really good job in capturing the essence of the beginning of it. Recommended.
Verdict: 72

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