It's no coincidence that both TLC and Hell in a Cell were born in the Attitude Era, and are therefore linked with the idea of wrestling at its rawest and most thrilling. It also helps that both have innately violent, dangerous features.
Unlike Hell in a Cell, however, I'd argue that TLC has found itself less constrained by WWE's shift to PG. Whereas most iconic Cell matches are built upon a bedrock of visceral punishment, the spirit of TLC revolves more around high spots and danger (perceived or otherwise). Superstars may not be allowed to blade anymore, but they can still fall off a ladder through a table.
For that reason, I feel as though TLC is one of the stipulations least affected by having its own themed pay-per-view. Yes, it takes away a degree of organic excitement - we know that we'll see a handful of TLC matches in December - but in terms of the action itself, TLC has remained relatively consistent over the years.
In fact, we've decided to illustrate that for you. Without further ado, let's take a look at all 21 TLC matches in WWE history - ranked from worst to best.
21. The Miz Vs. Jerry Lawler - Raw, 29 November 2010
Right off the bat, I want to point out that this was an okay match - especially considering the fact that one of the competitors was 61 at the time. The fact that it's bottom of our ranking should say more about the strength of the TLC stipulation as a whole, rather than this bout's shortcomings.
That's not to say there aren't shortcomings, but they're fairly harmless. Miz vs. Lawler might not seem especially worthy of the stipulation, but at least it took place on Raw rather than a pay-per-view.
And for a TV match, both men did an admirable job. Miz, of course, took most of the bumps, and played his role of arrogant heel champion to a tee. Lawler fought back with classic babyface fire, clocking Alex Riley to a big pop, but unfortunately, the match did end on a low with Michael Cole getting involved in the finish. Call me a traditionalist, but I don't think play-by-play commentators should be deciding the outcome of WWE Championship matches.
20. CM Punk Vs. Ryback - Raw, 7 January 2013
A year or so after this match, CM Punk would partake in the most famous podcast interview in wrestling history - appearing on Colt Cabana's show to tear into various aspects of WWE life. One victim of Punk's wrath was Ryback, and although this wasn't a bout he specifically alluded to, it's a decent indicator why the Chicago native might have felt uncomfortable in the ring with The Big Guy.
In fairness, just like Lawler vs. Miz, this wasn't at bad match at all. Maybe 'rough' would be a more accurate description. Ryback dominated the majority of this one, hurling the heel champion around the ring with ease. At one point he slammed Punk right onto an awkwardly-positioned ladder, which didn't look like the most comfortable spot in the world.
The two major problems here weren't the action, however - but rather the finish and result. The finish was a cheap one, with The Shield getting involved to help Punk retain, negating everything that had happened in the match beforehand. Secondly, the result could be seen as very predictable. The Royal Rumble was right around the corner, with The Rock positioned as no. 1 contender. It seemed all too obvious that Punk would retain; and, with the help of Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns, he did.
19. Sheamus Vs. Roman Reigns - TLC 2015
The aftermath of this match is far more memorable than the bout itself, which is certainly weird, especially for such an all-action stipulation.
Yes, the most lasting memory of Sheamus vs. Reigns is The Big Dog's savage beatdown of Triple H, having been screwed out of the WWE Championship once again.
The action was totally fine, but the biggest drawback here was the crowd reaction. Smarky hatred of Roman had reached fever pitch towards the end of 2015, with Sheamus' MITB cash-in only delaying the inevitable in the eyes of many.
Had WWE's over-pushing of Roman not wrecked his credibility in the eyes of the fans, this match could have been a few places higher here. Reigns even displayed his toughness towards the end, surviving a scary plummet from a ladder, with his foot catching the bottom rope. He managed to fight back, Superman punching Sheamus from the side of the ladder - only to be screwed by the darn League of Nations. (It's okay Roman fans; he won the title the next night on Raw.)
18. Dean Ambrose Vs. Bray Wyatt - TLC 2014
This, more than just about any other entry on the list, is hampered by its finish. Ambrose and Wyatt put together a damn entertaining TLC match, one which would doubtless be many places higher were it not for the ending - one which managed to make Dean look like a complete idiot, and Bray lucky to have beaten him. It helped nobody.
It was a real shame, because the majority of the match was fun and intense. The pair hurled weapons at one another, Ambrose dropped a succession of elbows off progressively higher ladders, and they even got a convincing nearfall out of a roll-up. When you threaten to end a TLC match with a roll-up and the crowd pop for it, you know you've structured the bout well.
Unfortunately, with Ambrose on the cusp of victory, everything went downhill. For whatever reason (he's wacky!) The Lunatic Fringe decided he needed to use a very specific TV monitor as a weapon. Never mind the fact that in any TLC match, as the name implies, there's a smorgasbord of tables, ladders, and chairs stacked everywhere. The plan blew up in Ambrose's face (both figuratively and literally), dampening everybody's enthusiasm in the process.
17. Randy Orton Vs. John Cena - TLC 2013
On paper, this really should have been a bigger deal than it actually was. In kayfabe terms, this is absolutely the most high-stakes TLC match of all time - a battle between two of the biggest WWE stars in history to unify its two most important championships.
Unfortunately, nobody was particularly keen on seeing World Heavyweight Champion Cena and WWE Champion Orton go at it yet again.
The match itself was perfectly acceptable if a little slow-paced. The most memorable thing about it was the closing stretch, with Cena handcuffed to one of the corner pads. Undeterred, he unscrewed the turnbuckle itself and climbed up to stop Orton from winning, dragging the ring rope along with him. Orton still reigned supreme, yanking the World Heavyweight Champion down with the rope's assistance. The spot was slightly blown, as Cena largely missed the table he was supposed to crash through - but it was still a decent finish to a decent match, all things considered.
16. Seth Rollins Vs. Baron Corbin - Raw, 10 December 2018
The only TLC match fought over the Intercontinental Championship, it also came at the end of a very strange episode of Raw, one in which Rollins tore into the quality of the brand and pinned the blame on acting GM Baron Corbin.
Fortunately the match was far better than the promo behind it, and featured a typically industrious performance from Seth. Corbin held up his end of the deal to, and despite threatening to feature a Wyatt vs. Ambrose-esque screwy finish, actually resolved itself in satisfying fashion.
After a back-and-forth contest, Rollins appeared to have the match won, only for referee Heath Slater to shove him off the ladder in order to protect his own job. Corbin then climbed to an apparent victory, only for Seth to recover and buckle bomb the GM into a table. A superkick dealt with Slater, allowing Raw's most consistent babyface to claim another hard-earned victory.
Not the most spectacular TLC match of all time, but a perfectly acceptable one.
15. Hornswoggle Vs. El Torito - Extreme Rules 2014 (Pre-Show)
Aside from the actual wrestlers, I don't think anybody involved in this match expected it to be as good as it was - from WWE themselves, who stuck it on the Extreme Rules pre-show under the degrading 'WeeLC' moniker, to the commentary team. Even the fans seemed audibly surprised at just how fun it turned out to be.
Full credit must be given, not only to El Torito and Hornswoggle, but their accompanying stablemates as well. Pretty much everybody took at least one big bump in an attempt to make this match far better than anybody could have anticipated - especially Drew McIntyre, who launched himself through a tiny table on the outside, with possibly the most unnecessary dive in WWE history.
Sure, it was a little ragged around the edges, but it's hard to complain about such a fun match. Along with New Day vs. The Usos at SummerSlam 2017, this is the best pre-show match I can think of off the top of my head - and certainly one of the most uniquely entertaining in the TLC canon.
14. The Shield & Kurt Angle Vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, & Cesaro - TLC 2017
WeeLC was supposed to be the most ridiculous TLC match in history but actually turned out to be far better than WWE planned. This is my pick for the actual silliest TLC match ever - one which was still undeniably entertaining, but also featured a lot of baffling moments.
First and foremost, Kurt Angle wrestled as a member of The Shield - filling in for Roman Reigns at a show where several members of the Raw roster were struck by illness. He didn't take any half measures either, donning the signature black combat gear and making his entrance through the crowd alongside Rollins and Ambrose.
The handicap nature of this bout (3-on-5!?) made it a strange one even before the opening bell, but things got even weirder when the heel team imploded in spectacular fashion. A Miz-led coalition rounded on Braun Strowman, stuffing him into the back of a garbage truck. It was even implied that the Monster Among Men had been crushed to death - although he turned up a week later, in a different city, emerging from the back of a different garbage truck. Suspend that disbelief, for the love of God!
Still, most multi-man matches featuring The Shield boys turn out fine in the end - and this is no exception.
13. AJ Styles Vs. Dean Ambrose - TLC 2016
Poor Dean Ambrose. No matter how hard he tries, and how good his TLC matches may be, they're always held back by one factor or another. His excellent effort against Bray Wyatt was ruined by a dumb finish, and the previous entry on this list was equal parts entertaining and stupid.
This title match against AJ Styles is another that deserves a much better ranking. This was a wild and exciting brawl, punctuated by classic TLC high spots (and a few innovative ones, such as Styles' outrageous springboard 450 through a table on the outside).
Unfortunately, the intensity was completely shot by James Ellsworth, who was again inserted into a feud well above his station. Ambrose's jobber companion turned heel, shoving Ambrose off the ladder to screw him out of a second WWE title reign - and another chance at having a top-tier TLC match.
12. DX Vs. Jeri-Show - TLC 2009
Save for one spot (which we'll get to in a second), this was probably one of the 'safest' TLC matches of all time - but that doesn't mean it was bad.
The four veterans met in a deliberately slower-paced, intelligently-worked encounter. They couldn't live up to the acrobatics of previous TLC matches, so simply didn't try to. It proved to be a wise decision.
Instead, DX and Jeri-Show used their veteran guile to craft an entertaining bout, one which kept the crowd guessing with various shifts in momentum.
That aforementioned scary spot came near the end, as Jericho balanced on Big Show's shoulders in an attempt to reach the tag titles without the use of a ladder. Michaels Superkicked Show, sending Y2J tumbling clean over the top rope. His descent didn't go as planned, as he plummeted into a terrifying feet-first descent, appearing to faceplant a nearby table as he landed.
The match ended in less terrifying fashion, as DX cleverly worked together to secure victory - Triple H acting as a makeshift base, allowing HBK to scale half of a bisected ladder for the win.
11. Edge Vs. Undertaker - One Night Stand 2008
Edge and Undertaker's feud in the late 2000s felt long, and was full of ups and downs. It spawned some entertaining matches (like this one) but silly writing often bogged down the storylines (like this one). This was actually for a vacant World Heavyweight Championship because Vickie Guerrero had stripped 'Taker of the belt, arbitrarily deciding that his Hell's Gate finisher was banned.
Of course, having lost to the Deadman on a few occasions (including the main event of WrestleMania) the Rated-R Superstar wasn't going to battle 'Taker without a few tricks up his sleeve - and they came in the form of various 'La Familia' stablemates, including Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder as the infamous 'Edgeheads'.
I know I've been quite harsh to other matches featuring interference on this list, but the crucial difference here is that it didn't play directly into the finish. Yes, 'Taker was theoretically worn down by having to fight off Edge's helpers, but the finish of the bout wasn't overly-cheapened as a result. Edge still looked partially strong in victory, while the Deadman was still somewhat protected in defeat.
10. Kane Vs. Edge Vs. Rey Mysterio Vs. Alberto Del Rio - TLC 2010
This fatal 4-way TLC fused two separate feuds together. On one hand, we had a classic heel vs. babyface encounter: Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto Del Rio. On the other, we had a slightly less traditional storyline.
Edge had kidnapped The Big Red Machine’s father, Paul Bearer, strapped him to a wheelchair, and would subject Kane to a series of sadistic mind games on a weekly basis. Kane was an emotional wreck by this stage, angry, worried, and desperate for his father back. It's worth noting at this stage that Kane was the heel and Edge was the babyface. Strange indeed.
Weird backstory aside, this was a very solid TLC match - one which built nicely towards the finish. Everyone took risky bumps here, with Del Rio potentially suffering the worst of it down the stretch. Kane then took out Rey with a tombstone, before being taken out himself with a thrilling Spear by Edge - off the side of a ladder and through a table.
9. Kane Vs. Bubba Ray Dudley & Spike Dudley Vs. Chris Jericho & Christian Vs. Jeff Hardy & Rob Van Dam - Raw, 7 October 2002
This match was decided via Eric Bischoff’s Raw Roulette system and was supposed to feature Kane’s fellow tag champion, The Hurricane. However, before the match, Triple H and Ric Flair jumped the superhero, forcing Kane to defend the titles on his own.
This is one of the most terrifying TLC matches of all time, featuring a number of scary spots. There was Jeff Hardy’s Legdrop through a table on the outside, RVD’s Van Terminator to Kane, and Jericho’s terrifying plummet from a ladder over the top rope. Huge credit must be given to Jericho for guiding Bubba through the latter half of this match, with the bigger man legitimately knocked loopy and unaware of his surroundings.
It all came down to Kane, RVD, and Jericho. Y2J incapacitated Van Dam with a Walls of Jericho atop the ladder, only for Kane to hit a huge Chokeslam and retain the tag belts. Then Triple H came out and teased the upcoming Katy Vick storyline - which slightly ruins the moment, in hindsight.
8. Edge Vs. Ric Flair - Raw, 16 January 2006
This was the first ever one-on-one match to be fought under TLC rules, and despite featuring a 56-year-old Ric Flair, it managed to be a very entertaining contest.
Edge was reaching the peak of his heel powers, having just cashed in on John Cena to win his first-ever WWE Championship. Although it seemed very unlikely that The Nature Boy would seize the title here, the pair squeezed every drop of emotion out of a hot crowd. It stands as proof that despite TLC favouring athleticism and daredevil stunt-work, it can be matched with ring psychology and a solid grasp of storytelling.
Flair used every trick in the book to keep up with his younger, more ruthless foe. He also bled in this match (of course) and the camera even cut to a young Charlotte crying in the front row.
Edge took the majority of the bumps, but did at one stage nail The Nature Boy with a huge Superplex from a ladder to the canvas below.
Eventually, with the help of Lita, the Rated R Superstar was able to retain his WWE Championship - but not before being pushed to the limit by the wiliest of veterans.
7. Edge Vs. John Cena - Unforgiven 2006
As is so often the case, the odds were stacked against John Cena in this one. It took place in Edge’s hometown of Toronto, under a stipulation that Cena had never taken part in. Edge also bragged that it was a match type he’d never lost - although that wasn't strictly true.
The atmosphere for this bout was electric, and it can even be seen as a precursor to Cena’s famous clash with CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011. The Toronto crowd were firmly behind their hometown hero, even popping for a simple slap in the face early on.
The violence was ramped up as the match progressed, with Edge slamming Cena through chairs and tables alike - but inevitably, Big Match John came roaring back into contention.
Lita tried to help Edge win again, as she did against Flair, but this time it backfired. Her chair shot sent Cena staggering into a ladder, which in turn sent Edge flying away from the title. Cena won soon after, and while this may have been a little sloppier than some other TLC matches, it more than made up for that in terms of sheer intensity.
6. CM Punk Vs. Alberto Del Rio Vs. The Miz - TLC 2011
TLC matches are often guilty of putting the action ahead of the narrative. There was no such problem in December 2011, when a molten hot CM Punk took on Del Rio and The Miz in a pseudo-handicap match.
The heels teamed up at first, but their alliance predictably didn’t last long, as Del Rio clocked Miz with a steel chair. Ricardo Rodriguez involved himself before long, handcuffing Punk to the ladder to halt his climb. Punk improvised, kicking away the frame of the ladder to break himself free, before savagely beating on Del Rio with the cuffs.
Miz worked his way back into the match and also handcuffed the Straight Edge Superstar - this time to the ring ropes. Like John Cena two years later, Punk unscrewed the turnbuckle and climbed the ladder anyway, dragging the rope with him. Even Ricardo got in on the action, and arguably took the most terrifying bump of the night - plummeting backwards off a ladder to the outside.
5. Jeff Hardy Vs. CM Punk - SummerSlam 2009
This is unquestionably one of the most painful-looking TLC matches in history - but also one of the most intense and psychological. Punk and Hardy's slow-burn feud had begun with both as babyfaces, only for the former indy darling to turn heel and tear Jeff apart in promos, often using his real-life personal demons as ammunition.
It's perhaps therefore fitting that this match was so hate-filled and brutal. At one stage, for example, Punk caught Hardy’s Poetry In Motion and slammed him down onto an upright chair. Later, a Superplex saw them land directly on a prone ladder, before Jeff climbed up high and crushed his opponent through the Spanish announce table.
The icing on the cake saw both wrestlers fight off the medical team as they crawled back to the ring, reaffirming the notion that the best TLC matches blend action with solid storytelling.
Punk ultimately picked up the victory, only for the lights to go down and Jeff’s unconscious body to be replaced by The Undertaker’s - one of the most memorable visuals in SummerSlam history.
4. Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit Vs. Edge & Christian Vs. The Hardy Boyz Vs. The Dudley Boyz - SmackDown, 24 May 2001
This match was announced at the top of SmackDown by Vince McMahon, to an understandably huge pop - being only the third TLC match ever, and the first to take place on TV rather than pay-per-view. It also turned out to be one of the strongest in terms of storytelling, with the Canadian champs under assault from all angles, frantically scrapping to keep ahold of their tag titles.
Sadly, there’s no getting away from the uncomfortable fact that Benoit was the hero of the match. Early on, he missed a Diving Headbutt to the outside and crashed through a table, before being stretchered out of the arena. Y2J fought bravely on his own, but it looked to be all over when Edge Speared him off the side of a ladder mid-climb.
This set the scene for Benoit to re-emerge and save the day, retaining the tag titles and capping maybe the best TLC match ever - at least if we’re judging it purely on the strength of its narrative.
Still, as much as I've argued that storytelling is just as important a factor as action, sometimes the violence becomes a story in itself - which perhaps explains why we've still got a few matches to look at...
3. Edge & Christian Vs. The Dudley Boyz Vs. The Hardy Boyz - SummerSlam 2000
In the eyes of some, it's debatable whether this truly is the first TLC match. It is by name, at least - although it was certainly inspired by a few previous bouts. No Mercy 1999 saw the Hardys do battle with Edge and Christian in an innovative ladder match, before the Dudley Boyz joined the party at WrestleMania 2000. The latter bout is seen by many as the first true TLC match, but technically it was a 'triangle ladder' stipulation.
Conveniently, though, the matches that inspired this one came from the back catalogue of these three legendary tag teams - so they probably didn’t have to think too hard when putting it together.
In fact, thinking too hard would have probably been this match’s downfall. How else would the Hardys have been brave enough to pull off the daredevil antics that peppered this bout. Credit must be given to all three teams, of course, but Matt and Jeff really came into their own here.
And of course, because wrestling is cruel, they didn’t pick up the victory. Instead, it was the dastardly blonde heels who won, yanking away a ladder and leaving Jeff to dangle above the ring - before callously hurling a ladder to knock him loose.
2. The Shield Vs. Team Hell No & Ryback - TLC 2012
If you’ve never seen this match before, you might look at it and think that Ryback sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s definitely the least suited to the TLC stipulation (even Kane had a lot of Money in the Bank experience), but The Big Guy turned in a top class performance - as did the other five participants.
This was the in-ring debut of The Shield, a highly anticipated event given their fondness for jumping babyface members of the roster. It’s a hard match to talk about without simply listing all of the cool things that happen - but we'd highly recommend that you go and watch it for yourself.
The bout featured big moment after big moment, and every spot makes sense; things never devolved into mindless carnage. Just semi-mindless, which is more than acceptable.
As mentioned earlier, most Shield multi-man matches can be relied upon to deliver the goods - but this was the first, and really set the bar high for Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose going forwards. Without question, it's the best TLC match of the modern era.
1. The Dudley Boyz Vs. The Hardy Boyz Vs. Edge & Christian - WrestleMania X-Seven
Although technically the second ever TLC match, this can be seen as the moment where the stipulation found its feet. It’s also arguably the apex of the match type, an astonishing display of anarchy and excitement centered around three of WWE’s greatest tag teams ever. The early days of TLC centered around each duo specialising in one of the match’s signature weapons - and that was never more evident than at WrestleMania 17.
The high-flying Hardys dived off ladders with reckless abandon; the heelish Edge and Christian ground down their opponents with chair shot after chair shot; and surprisingly, The Dudley Boyz were often partial to a table spot or two.
However, this match wasn’t just total anarchy. It also featured dramatic cameos from an ally of each team. The first to interfere was Spike Dudley, who hit Edge and Christian with a pair of Dudley Dogs, before Rhyno ran in to even the odds - temporarily turning the match into a Gore party. It was only a matter of time until Lita made an appearance, and she threatened to steal the show - nailing a Headscissors on Rhyno, destroying Spike with a chair shot, and finally falling to the 3D.
The most famous spot in the match (and one of the most replayed moments in WWE history) came when Jeff Hardy was left dangling from the titles, only for Edge to bring him crunching back down to earth with an amazing flying Spear.
From start to finish, this match was wrestled at a frightening pace. It’s a big reason why WrestleMania 17 is regarded as one of the best pay-per-views of all time, and, for our money, it’s the best TLC match ever to boot.