Pro Wrestling

The Evolution of TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Source:

The TLC match has had a long history of great matches in WWE. Talking about the gimmick evokes memories of the classic bouts of The Attitude Era, the surprisingly memorable matches of the mid-2000’s, and now, the Pay Per View which bears its name. Yes, TLC has a rich history in WWE. But where did the concept of TLC originate? What did it evolve from, and what has it turned into, over many years of existence? Well, we’re here to share with you the lengthy, and sometimes surprising, evolution of the TLC match, from its humble beginnings in a small Canadian wrestling territory, to a yearly Pay Per View special in WWE.

10. The First Ladder Match

When talking about TLC, you have to start with its origins as a ladder match. Believe it or not, those things didn’t used to be common! There is some debate about when the ladder match debuted in professional wrestling, but in North America, it is generally accepted that they originated in Stampede Wrestling, the promotion based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and owned by Hall of Famer Stu Hart, patriarch of the legendary Hart Family. The first ever North American ladder match took place in Stampede in 1972, with the objective being to grab a handful of cash from the rafters of the arena. Unlike the modern ladder match, the original used a single-sided extension ladder, as opposed to the double-sided stepladders that are used today, and the match mostly involved fully incapacitating your opponent on the ground before even attempting to climb and win the match. WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart would also compete in ladder matches during his time in Stampede, and when he was signed by WWE in 1984, he brought the idea with him.;jsessionid=A6364ABA5E3E302B3665BC0A4E43A763?r40_r1_r1:page=4 Source:

9. The First Ladder Match…in WWE

Many people aren’t aware that the first ladder match in WWE never aired on television. It took place in 1992, at a house show in Portland, and featured Bret Hart retaining the Intercontinental Championship against Shawn Michaels. Footage of the match was never released, until WWE finally included it as part of a “Bret vs Shawn” DVD in 2011. According to Hart, he presented the concept of the ladder match to Vince McMahon, with the idea of demonstrating it at the Portland show in preparation for a bigger Pay Per View match between himself and Shawn Michaels later on. That re-match never happened, but Vince would remember the ladder match idea when WrestleMania X rolled around and he wanted a hook for his “Champion vs Champion” Intercontinental title match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Source:

8. The Ladder Match Debuts on Pay Per View

When people talk about “The Ladder Match”, they are almost certainly referring to the WrestleMania X bout between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. In mid-1993, while still Intercontinental Champion, Shawn Michaels was suspended (in real life) and stripped of the title, but never surrendered the physical belt. In his absence, Ramon won the vacant Intercontinental title, and became a target of sneak attacks by Michaels once he returned. With two men claiming to be the “real” champion, a match seemed obvious, and it was at this point that Vince McMahon decided to officially debut the ladder match concept in WWE. With both belts suspended over the ring, the person who retrieved them both would clearly be the real Intercontinental champion. The WrestleMania X ladder match is still held up today as one of the best matches in WWE history, and introduced many of the concepts which have become a trademark of every ladder match since then. Source:

7. The Terri Invitational Tournament

As the Attitude Era got underway, WWE took two tag teams of young and hungry Superstars (who also all happened to have qualities that made teenage girls swoon) and threw them into a “Best of 5” series of matches, with the winner receiving the managerial services of Terri (formerly Marlena, manager and ex-wife of Goldust). Try not to think too hard about the acronym (but when you figure it out, remember that it was The Attitude Era). At any rate, as these things do, it all came down to the final match, which would end up taking place on Pay Per View, and being the very first tag team ladder match in WWE history. Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, it was pretty much unanimously the best match of the year across professional wrestling. It also catapulted two tag teams into the limelight, and set them onto paths which would lead to them becoming huge stars in professional wrestling over the next decade or so. You might recognize the four Superstars involved: WWE Hall of Famer Edge, his tag partner Christian, and Matt and Jeff, The Hardy Boyz. Source:

6. The Dudley Boyz

With a tag team renaissance going on in WWE, it took an ECW import to put the final touch on what would become a golden age. Enter Bubba Ray and D’von, The Dudley Boyz, who brought an extreme hardcore element to a tag division on the rise. While initially floundering following their debut, the Dudleyz refined their characters down to one important characteristic: tables, and a love of putting people through them. The infamous spot where Bubba Ray powerbombed the geriatric Mae Young off the stage and through a table was one of the biggest moments in the Attitude Era, and things quickly escalated from there. At the 2000 Royal Rumble, the concept of the Tables Match was introduced to WWE, as they faced the Hardy Boyz in a brutal match which, while not spectacular by any means, still added a new element to tag team matches going forwards. After winning the WWE Tag Team titles at the next Pay Per View, it was fairly obvious who should be the next opponents for The Dudleyz, and WWE did not disappoint. Source:

5. The Triangle Ladder Match

Yes, contrary to popular belief, the first match between The Dudleyz, The Hardy Boyz, and Edge & Christian was not a TLC match, but merely a triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000. However, tables quickly came into play anyway, including a spot that has been replayed forever on WWE television, as Jeff Hardy debuted the “16 foot” ladder (arguments persist about the actual size) and delivered a Swanton Bomb onto Bubba Ray Dudley through a table. Ultimately, Edge and Christian would ascend a rickety structure made out of a combination of tables and ladders to win the titles, a victory which would eventually result in modifying their act from the fairly bland babyfaces they had been going in to the annoying and awesome act they would become. This match would create the early template that would lead to the TLC match, but we weren’t there quite yet. Source:

4. TLC Is Born

Obviously, after WrestleMania 2000, the stakes needed to be raised yet again for the next time these three teams met. The next battlefield would be the SummerSlam 2000 Pay Per View, and thanks to Edge and Christian attempting to counter the Hardyz ladders and the Dudleyz tables by introducing the “Con-Chair-to” to their arsenal (basically, hitting your opponent with two chairs, one on each side), and Commissioner Mick Foley being the inventive type, the world was introduced to TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (Oh My). In what was becoming a regular occurrence, the match stole the show and established yet another high bar for future confrontations to attempt to clear. Oh, and Edge and Christian won again. In fact, after TLC II, which took place at WrestleMania X-7 and is considered one of the best matches in history, Edge and Christian would end up winning all three of the most memorable matches in this three-way feud. Source:

3. TLC Goes Mainstream

The TLC gimmick would remain associated with those six Superstars for a long time, even though all three tag teams would break up over the following years. The third TLC match would feature those three teams again, as well as adding a fourth team, the short-lived duo of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, and aired on an episode of Smackdown. The fourth TLC was the main event of the inaugural “Raw Roulette” show, and included three teams that each had one of the original participants, with new partners. From that point on, however, TLC became a more regular fixture in WWE. No longer strictly a realm of tag teams, several singles matches, usually for the WWE Title, would take place over the ensuing years. Most notably, of the original participants, it was Edge who most often found himself returning to the TLC gimmick, including memorable bouts with Ric Flair and John Cena. Source:

2. The TLC Pay Per View

In the late 2000’s, WWE began re-branding their monthly Pay Per Views, and assigned gimmick match “themes” to several of them. Hell in a Cell, the Elimination Chamber, and TLC were among the first attempts, with the first TLC Pay Per View taking place in December of 2009. In addition to featuring matches involving each of the singular gimmicks (Table, Ladder, and Chair Matches), traditionally, one match on the card was usually a TLC Match. Unfortunately, the combination of regularly scheduling a TLC Match every year combined with WWE moving to a less “hardcore” style of wrestling led to TLC matches falling from grace slightly. Since TLC became a Pay Per View, while there have been good TLC matches, none of them have resonated with the audience enough to leave a lasting impression, like the original matches did. Source:

1. Further Evolution

Seemingly unable to recapture the magic of TLC by itself, WWE has expanded on the concept over the years. Chief among these experiments has been the Money in the Bank ladder match, which inserts multiple wrestlers into the match, all competing for the same prize hanging over the ring: a guaranteed WWE Title shot. Initially, the concept brought back the chaotic unpredictability of the original TLC matches, but once again, ever since having its own Pay Per View dedicated to concept, and expanding the concept to two yearly briefcases, one for each WWE World Title (before they were unified in 2013), have watered down the concept to the point that there are rumblings that fans have grown tired of the idea. Can TLC and its offshoots ever regain the glory of the early years? We can only wait and see. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.