Seventy-two hours ago, WWE fans around the world thought they were going to see The Shield in their first match since reuniting, taking on the odds against monsters, tag teams and The Miz. When Roman Reigns was stunningly pulled from the card on Friday afternoon, only to be replaced by Kurt Angle in his first WWE match in more than a decade, no one really knew what to expect.
Would Angle be able to take some big bumps, especially considering the Tables, Ladders and Chairs format? How could the trio of Angle, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose realistically hope to compete with a quintet of challengers?
The resulting match is not going to be pointed to in the wrestling history books as one for the ages. There were several slow, plodding intervals and a double-cross most of the way through the match (which ended in a simulated murder of Braun Strowman by garbage truck), but considering all the circumstances, fans got almost everything they could've hoped to see in Sunday's TLC pay-per-view main event.
At the beginning and end of the match, Angle did his best impression of Reigns, coming out in a Shield vest and pants, through the crowd, to The Shield's music. It could've been another kind of moment entirely had we gotten the horns and the red-white-and-blue singlet, but after coming out of this match seemingly unscathed, it may well be a case of saving that for Angle's individual moment -- a WrestleMania-worthy pop if ever there was one.
Angle, Rollins and Ambrose employed chairs all around, doing their best to neutralize all of the big guys, followed by everyone else. A double suicide dive, a three-headed ladder across the chests of Miz, Sheamus and Cesaro, and the underdogs had their first advantage of the match.
The Miz's team couldn't get anything together for a long stretch, causing the first major drag of the match, but everything was moving toward another big moment. Ambrose and Rollins (and occasionally Angle) got the job done with tables, chair shots, stair shots, ladder shots and ring barrier shots. They prepped two different commentary tables, where they'd eventually drape Kane and Strowman, and hit a tandem frog splash and flying elbow to try to even the score.
That's where the pace of the match started to drag. Angle got stuck in the middle of the ring, allowing Cesaro, Sheamus and The Miz to take advantage. The question of bumps for Angle was answered twice. The first came when Sheamus and Cesaro double super-kicked a ladder into Angle's ribs as he was trapped in the corner.
They set Angle up for the triple power-bomb, but Rollins and Ambrose came in for the save just in the nick of time. Angle, left alone with Miz for the first time, hit a triple German suplex to a tremendous reaction, and then doled out additional Germans to Sheamus and Cesaro. That wave of momentum stopped dead when he got into the ring with Kane, if only for a moment.
The German suplex attempt was blocked and Kane went for a choke-slam. Angle rolled it through for an ankle lock, which he held for a long stretch. Strowman took Angle down, sent him to the outside, sent him into the barrier and then set up a table. This was Angle's second big moment, and it would take him -- and the bulk of the rest of the match -- off the rails.
Strowman hit a running power-slam on Angle through that table on the outside, and Angle was slowly walked up to the top of the ramp by WWE officials and medical personnel. Rollins and Ambrose then spent what felt like 10 minutes getting punched, kicked, hit, stomped and thrown into the corner by all five of their opponents. While the goal was revenge, the match could've ended eight times over in the time they took to alternatively attack Rollins and Ambrose and stand around fairly idly.
This agonizing sequence continued until Strowman went for a corner splash and missed on Rollins, which eventually led to Kane accidentally hitting Strowman in the back with a chair. There was a big shove, but everything seemed to be settled with attention returning to the enemies at hand.
A botched double crucifix power-bomb through a table (the leg collapsed wrong) made the crowd more audibly boo the circumstances at hand, but Strowman sent Ambrose shoulder-first through that table to truly break it in the corner. That's when everyone walked up the ramp, and things really started to swerve into the world of the bizarre.
Miz summoned a garbage truck, Rollins and Ambrose were thrown in the truck, climbed their way to the top of the truck, and then jumped off and took out everyone except for The Miz. Miz got chased back toward the ring, got hit be a few more chair shots, and then Ambrose and Rollins inexplicably took the action back up the ramp, closer to their still-downed opponents.
Two tables were set up on the edge of the stage and Kane interrupted the proceedings. Ambrose and Rollins nearly hit a double suplex on Kane, but Strowman saved the day. That's when Kane lost his mind, and the rest of his teammates didn't care. Kane choke-slammed Strowman off the side of the stage and then, as Strowman reached up to the edge, Kane pulled down one of the hanging strings of steel chairs that were set up as decoration all around the stage and sent them cascading down on the giant.
Kane walked back over to the task at hand, double-chokeslammed Ambrose and Rollins through tables, and the rest of the team regrouped over by the garbage truck. Strowman somehow got up after everything that happened to him, and in order to keep their hopes of team unity alive, Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro and Kane tossed Strowman into the back of the truck -- and then had the attendant standing there idly pull the lever, complete with cheesy sound effects, until the machine compacted everything in there -- ostensibly murdering their former teammate in the process.
The group headed back to the ring where Miz hit Rollins with a DDT. Sheamus and Cesaro then hit a double-team version of White Noise on Rollins, but Ambrose rolled in for the save.
As the crowd grew as restless as they were going to be, there was finally a respite. The horns blared, Angle walked out slowly and then cleaned house almost singlehandedly.
He back body-dropped Cesaro on the ramp, Angle Slammed Sheamus on the floor, Angle Slammed Cesaro through a table on the floor and got into the ring with Kane. After a tombstone attempt, Ambrose and Rollins grabbed steel chairs to chase Kane out -- leaving Angle prone by himself. As Kane got double speared through the barricade, Miz slithered up from behind, hit a Skull-crushing Finale, and seemingly stole the victory from the jaws of defeat.
Except that Angle kicked out a hair before three.
Angle rolled through a second attempt into an ankle lock, but Miz used it to kick Angle through the ropes and outside of the ring.
Ambrose, Rollins and eventually Angle surrounded The Miz in the ring and it was finisher time. Rollins hit the king's landing ripcord knee, Ambrose hit dirty deeds, and Angle finished it all off with an Angle Slam. Angle turned the thumbs down, mimicked Reigns' signature roar, and the trio hit a Shield power-bomb. Angle pinned Miz 1-2-3, and that was all she wrote.
You can argue for days about whether or not this was the right way to go about things, or whether this match accomplished much in the long-term. But in a business that's judged and remembered for the moments and memories, there are at least a few from Sunday night that will be remembered fondly.
Kurt Angle returned to the ring, hit a bunch of Angle Slams and German suplexes, went through a table, and triggered a comeback for his team. In the end, that's all that really mattered.