Despite the popularity of the match, and the fact that a pay-per-view bearing the TLC name and gimmicks has been in commission since 2009, there have only been 20 matches in WWE history bearing the official Tables, Ladders, and Chairs gimmick. It almost feels like there should be many more that have taken place, but it's probably for the best that the list is a little more sparse. Makes the matches mean a little bit more when there's less of them.
But what was the greatest of all the TLC matches? That's something we intend to figure out with the help of this list, because there have certainly been some exceptional exhibitions over these past two decades. But only the best can crack this top 10, and these are, unquestionably, the greatest TLC matches of all time.
10. Edge Vs. Ric Flair (Raw, 16 January 2006)
The very idea of The Nature Boy taking part in any sort of car-crash ladder match, especially on the cusp of his 57th birthday, sounded absurd. Going one greater, putting the match (which was for Edge's WWE Championship) on free TV without a whole lot of build was doubly absurd. When the dust cleared, the sceptics weren't talking so loudly - unless their sentiment had swung a 180.
Flair did the customary blade job, and even endured a flying splash off of a ladder through an outside table, which would've been bonkers even if he'd done it 15 years earlier. The two built genuinely-engrossing drama throughout the match, with Flair coming close to victory, only for Edge to pull the rug out from underneath. Bonus fact: 19-year-old Ashley Flair watched on from inside the arena, perhaps not knowing that 13 years later, she'd be in a TLC match of her own.
9. Kane Vs. Edge Vs. Rey Mysterio Vs. Alberto Del Rio (TLC 2010)
If you can ignore the fact that Edge was without the belt for a few minutes on a February 2011 episode of SmackDown (Dolph Ziggler's superficial and brief run), then his win here kicked off the final title reign of his career, which ended less than four months later. Appropriately, said reign began with the match he helped make famous.
Reportedly, Del Rio was supposed to win the belt here, but WWE decided to hold off until he was a little bit more established (i.e. by having him win the 2011 Rumble match). As for the action, it was one spot after another, fluidly building to a finish in which Edge speared Kane off of a ladder through a table, before claiming the gold.
8. The Undertaker Vs. Edge (One Night Stand 2008)
At this point, the list may as well be, "10 times Edge and ladders made sweet, sweet music together." The gimmick match was as much his as Hell in a Cell belongs to The Undertaker, who seemed (like Flair) a bit out of place in this domain. When you think of TLC, you think of the original six men that careening from those great heights - not so much WWE's Lord of Darkness.
Undertaker had to try and weave his way through Edge's La Familia backup, with his career at stake, to try and win the vacant World Heavyweight title (man, that's a lot to take in), and the match is par for the Edge/Undertaker rivalry. Which is to say, it's pretty excellent.
7. AJ Styles Vs. Dean Ambrose (TLC 2016)
The 2016 brand split had rejuvenated SmackDown as a television property, giving the show it's first real identity in six or seven years. Transferring the WWE Championship from Ambrose to Styles at the end of the summer established a new face of main events, and Styles was begin given quite the forum to thrive. The Ultimate X and Full Metal Mayhem veteran seemed a natural fit for TLC.
And he was. Styles and Ambrose combined to build one of the best TLC matches of this decade, blending each man's adeptness in risk-filled stunt shows with scintillating drama. Ambrose's reign as WWE Champion may not have been all that strong, but a match like this showed that he absolutely belonged in the main event, especially with an ideal foil to play off of.
6. Edge Vs. John Cena (Unforgiven 2006)
With the victory here, Cena would kick off the first year-long WWE Championship reign in more than 17 years, cementing him as the undisputed star of this era. It was another gimmicky brawl for Cena to thrive in, following I Quit matches with JBL and blood-laden triple threat matches with Triple H and Edge over the prior year-and-a-half. It's fair to say that this was one of Cena's best matches to this point.
The most memorable visual was certainly Edge getting bucked off of an AA (then the FU) through a stack of tables, an ideal punctuation to the anarchic sentence. Even with the crowd hailing Edge with rock star idolatry (Unforgiven was in Toronto, after all), the crowd did go nuts for the finish, even if they were booing Cena like crazy after the finish. Of their many matches against each other, this may be the best of the Cena/Edge collection.
5. Jeff Hardy Vs. CM Punk (SummerSlam 2009)
This match sometimes fails to get its due when it comes to SummerSlam's pantheon-level classics. Maybe it's because the SmackDown brand got overshadowed by its Raw counterpart. Perhaps it's due to Hardy leaving the company later that week (not returning for nearly eight years). Whatever the case, it's certainly a lost classic that's sitting in plain sight.
Hardy went out with a bang, giving us the classic ladder/Swanton spot, in addition to his usual high-level of self-sacrifice (including nearly blowing his groin out on a rope-crotch spot). Both men even landed on a ladder off of a Superplex spot, to which I think I'd prefer to go through a gimmicked table. The surprise ending, in which Undertaker "bodysnatched" his way into Hardy's place during Punk's celebration, made for a great visual.
4. The Shield Vs. Daniel Bryan, Kane & Ryback (TLC 2012)
Traditional TLC rules were not in play for this match, and it was merely a make-good for an injured CM Punk being unable to defend the WWE Championship against Ryback. What we were given in its place was certainly loftier, as it proved to be the perfect launching point of three stars who have occupied WWE's upper echelon in the years since.
The match, amid all of the chaos and thrills, showed that Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns were a tight-knit unit that could beat any three individual stars, simply on the merit of their advanced teamwork and tactical guile. No wrestlers would have a main roster debut this excellent until Ronda Rousey tossed around the McMahon-Helmsleys at the Superdome five years later.
3. Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit Vs. Edge & Christian Vs. The Hardy Boyz Vs. The Dudley Boyz (SmackDown, 24 May 2001)
Man, we went two whole entries without involving Edge - not sure how we survived such deprivation! Don't worry, the rest of the way is all Edge-related, and you've probably guessed that five other men will be cohabitating with him in the home stretch. For this entry, the Canadian Chrises join them for what I believe is the greatest match in SmackDown history.
Benoit would end up legitimately aggravating his neck during an out of the ring diving headbutt through a table, a tiny blight on an otherwise-excellent match, and on par with the two TLC matches that preceded it. That we got this match on free TV (a taped show, no less) was quite a treat from those early post-Attitude days.
2. The Dudley Boyz Vs. Edge & Christian Vs. The Hardy Boyz (WrestleMania X-Seven)
The greatest WrestleMania of all time. The greatest WWE event of all time. The end of the Attitude Era. All three of those phrases would require the TLC sequel to take place, with all six of the original participants vying once more for the World Tag Team titles. For WrestleMania, or any WWE event, to set an untoppable standard, and for Attitude to go out with a bang, X-Seven needed this match.
Really, I'd call this 1b to the list-topper's 1a, because they're both absolutely perfect. Same ambitious craziness, same breathtaking risks, same high drama. You couldn't do any wrong putting all six of these men on display with the designated weapons, and they always over-delivered. Edge spearing Jeff Hardy out of the sky will always be a quintessential WrestleMania moment, too.
1. Edge & Christian Vs. The Hardy Boyz Vs. The Dudley Boyz (SummerSlam 2000)
Conventional wisdom and common horse sense had The Hardyz capturing the gold in their home state of North Carolina, which Edge would later say he was under the assumption would happen. Instead, WWE threw a swerve into the works, and had the Awesome Bros eke out the victory in what was the first official TLC match (WrestleMania 2000 was merely a "triple ladder" match).
Highlighting this match were some of the scariest bumps ever taken in any such bout, even with the "can you top this" nature that permeates the sport. The one that stands out most to me was Matt Hardy's backwards fall off the ladder through the ringside table, a hellish Nestea Plunge. The first TLC remains the best one, and although there have been some classics since, they've all fallen a hair or two short of the original. And there's no shame in being beaten by the best.