12/23 WWE Tribute to the Troops – CALDWELL’S Report


WWE presents the annual “Tribute to the Troops” special Wednesday night on USA Network, taped earlier this month in Jacksonville, Florida featuring a big 16-man tag match.

CaldwellStaff_thumbWWE Tribute to the Troops TV Report
December 23, 2015
Taped 12/8 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Aired on USA Network
Report by James Caldwell (@JCTorch), PWTorch assistant editor

– This year’s Tribute to the Troops special is hosted by comedian Howie Mandel and features a musical performance by Train.

– The special opened with the usual terrific video package tributing the U.S. military and showing WWE wrestlers interacting with the troops and their families. Plus, soundbyte “thank yous” from various celebrities and TV personalities.

– From the War Memorial Arena, Lilian Garcia passed the torch to JoJo to sing the National Anthem as military personnel held up U.S. flags on the stage.

– After a note about Coca-Cola sponsoring the special, WWE cut back to the arena for full pyro and crowd shots. Since WWE also taped Smackdown at this event, the crowd was a mix of military and civilians.

Michael Cole and JBL introduced the show from ringside. Cole hyped Jack Swagger vs. Rusev (with Lana) in a Boot Camp match tonight.

– The Shield’s music played to bring out Roman Reigns (before he was WWE World Hvt. champion) through the crowd. Reigns was joined by Dean Ambrose (before he was IC champion) and The Usos to make their way through the crowd down to ringside. At the announce table, Cole thanked JBL for the tribute idea 13 years ago.

In a voice-over, Cole noted that Reigns is WWE champion, Ambrose is IC champion, and The Usos won the Slammy for tag team of the year. In the ring, Roman Reigns spoke about putting smiles on the faces of soldiers in the arena and all over the world.

Reigns was interrupted by the League of Nations’s music. Out came Sheamus without the WWE Title (he was champ at the time of the taping), Alberto Del Rio without the U.S. Title, Rusev, and King Barrett. Sheamus cut a promo on America, saying they’re a pretty good country, like Top 20 or 25. But, not the best! Barrett spoke that take for instance Britain. Barrett said they have better food and teeth. In fact, every one in this arena is one hot dog short of a heart attack. Barrett said what he’d really like is a big piece of roast.

Del Rio then heeled on U.S. TV, like USA Network programming. And, American football. He also does not like country music. Sheamus spoke next about the greatest food, women, castles, and gingers. Reigns interrupted from the ring that Sheamus has the smallest tater tots (flashing back to the Raw promo from before TLC). Reigns told Sheamus and his “League of Idiots” to come down to the ring and put them to the test.

The League started to march down to the ring when suddenly the Wyatt theme interrupted. They also wanted a piece of the action. They stopped at ringside, then the Dudleys’s music interrupted. Out came Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley dressed in trademark camo. The Dudleys stopped on the ramp, then brought out Ryback to join them. Bray had a big chuckle at this development. But, wait, there was more. Pyro shot off and Kane came out to join the party.

Suddenly, a giant fight broke out among all 16 wrestlers. The fighting went on ringside, then back into the ring. It looked like a battle royal. And the special cut to break mid-fighting.

[Commercial Break at 8:18]

– Holiday Messages: WWE presented pre-recorded messages from Adam Levine, Carson Daly, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and Pharrell to the troops.

– Cole & JBL announced a 16-man tag match later tonight in the main event.

– Rusev was still hanging around in the ring, now with Lana. Down at ringside were various boot camp weapons for Rusev’s match. Lana and Rusev spoke down to the crowd in their language before Jack Swagger’s music interrupted.

1 — JACK SWAGGER vs. RUSEV (w/Lana) — Boot Camp match

Swagger went for the Patriotlock early on. Rusev reached the ropes, but there is no break in a Boot Camp match. So, Lana handed Rusev an ammo box to use as a weapon. Rusev repeatedly smashed Swagger with the box, but Swagger clotheslined Rusev over the top rope to the floor. On the outside, Swagger charged Rusev to clothesline him onto a military cot. Rusev sold intense pain from landing on the cot heading to break.

[Commercial Break at 8:27]

Back from break, Rusev smashed Swagger with a foot locker, then a helmet. It’s a scene from Full Metal Jacket with Rusev now in control back into the ring. Rusev then used his flag as a weapon. Suddenly, Swagger realized the power of the American flag. He waved it around, then charged the ring to take down Rusev.

Swagger then caught Rusev with the Patriotlock, but Rusev flung him aside. Rusev then airballed a corner charge and smashed into a metal case in the corner. Swagger followed with the Patriotlock and Rusev was forced to tap out, stunning Lana. Down at ringside, WWE showed Florida governor Scott watching the proceedings.

WINNER: Swagger via submission at 9:45. Fine. It’s a show where Rusev can take a loss and not be affected on main TV going forward.

– Cole fed to a video package on Titus O’Neil and Dave Bautista speaking to Navy SEALS at a recent event in Florida.

– Still to come: Ryback vs. Kevin Owens.

– Special Message: Joel McHale delivered a comedic WWE-themed message, then thanked the military for their service.

[Commercial Break at 8:38]

– Holiday Message: Harrison Ford representing Star Wars thanked the military for protecting their freedoms.

– Back in the arena, Mark Henry was introduced for the next match. After some more recognition of Governor Scott, Bo Dallas was introduced as Henry’s opponent. Dallas came out dressed like Uncle Sam with a red, white, and blue top-hat and vest.

2 — MARK HENRY vs. BO DALLAS

Henry knocked around Dallas, but was unable to knock off his hat. Dallas continued to wrestle with the hat on, landing a few forearms to Henry. Is that hat glued on? Dallas then paraded around the ring before walking right into the World’s Strongest Slam for the pin and the win. Henry took Dallas’s hat and wore it for a victory celebration around ringside.

WINNER: Henry at 0:54.

– Up Next: Train performs.

[Commercial Break at 8:45]

– Holiday Message: Eva Longoria, sponsored by USAA.

– On the stage, Train performed for the crowd.

– Up Next: Ryback vs. Kevin Owens.

[Commercial Break at 8:55]

– Back from break, Kevin Owens walked down to the ring without the IC Title belt (he was IC champion at the time of the taping). Owens talked about Canada as the greatest country in the world. Owens said what makes Canada so great is the French province of Quebec, where he is from. He said the people are nicer, the scenery is nicer, and they even have better air quality. Which is why they live longer and rarely get sick. But, when they get sick, they go to the doctor for free. Free! Owens said most French-Canadians speak more than one language. So, he spoke French to demonstrate his point, drawing boos.

Ryback’s music interrupted to piped-in loud noise. In a voice-over to bring to the present, Cole noted that Ambrose won the IC Title from Owens at TLC.

3 — RYBACK vs. KEVIN OWENS

Ryback delivered a delayed vertical suplex early on, but walked into a neck-snap from Owens. Owens followed with a kick strike before kicking away at Ryback’s mid-section. Owens talked trash as he worked the reverse chinlock, then Ryback broke free.

Ryback and Owens then collided on the ring apron and both men sold the effects. Owens continued to sell on the floor while Ryback recovered in the ring. The ref reached a five count on Owens, then Owens stumbled across the ringside area before re-approaching the ring apron. Owens thought about getting into the ring, but walked away from ringside laughing to himself and checking his face. Ryback was declared the winner.

WINNER: Ryback via count-out at 3:08.

– Back to Cole & JBL to introduce a video on a special military couple getting an all-access WWE experience.

[Commercial Break at 9:07]

– Holiday Message: Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell sent a message to the troops while also promoting their new movie, “Daddy’s Home.”

– On-stage: Howie Mandel came out on-stage for a stand-up routine. Mandel played it safe saying he loves all of the military services, but he does not like the bathroom attendant service. “I do not need your help!” Mandel said. Mandel then talked about being an amateur wrestler in high school. He even had a photo of him with wild hair, compared to his shaved head now.

Mandel switched to politics. He polled the crowd on Donald Trump, which produced a mixed reaction. He then brought up his 1990s “Bobby’s World” show, which got a nostalgia pop. Mandel did his voice from the show.

Mandel then approached a man in the crowd whose family was yelling at him. “I’m busy, sir, what is it?” His wife/girlfriend said it’s his birthday and he wanted a shout-out. But, he was not in the military. Mandel comically yelled at him for interrupting the show, then wrapped up his monologue.

– Holiday Message: Joe Manganiello joined the WWE audience thanking the military for their courage, bravery, and sacrifice.

[Commercial Break at 9:17]

– WWE highlighted the various military bases in Jacksonville.

– Holiday Message: J.J. Abrams, representing Star Wars, talked about the heroism of U.S. military.

4 — Divas champion CHARLOTTE & BECKY LYNCH & TEAM BELLAS (BRIE BELLA & ALICIA FOX) vs. PAIGE & TEAM B.A.D. (SASHA BANKS & NAOMI & TAMINA) — eight-Divas tag match

Back from break, WWE aired full ring introductions for both teams. The team alignments seemed weird both from the time of the taping and in present, especially Brie with Charlotte and Becky. In any event, a brawl broke out, which allowed the heels to get the upper-hand and score a rare win for the heels on the Tribute special.

WINNERS: Team B.A.D. at 5:01.

– WWE ran a summary video package on WWE stars meeting the military during their handshake tours in Florida and Afghanistan. Tim McGraw provided the music.

– Holiday Message: Toby Keith thanked the military for protecting his country.

[Commercial Break at 9:31]

– Holiday Message: Neil Patrick Harris delivered a message to the military.

– Back in the arena, Train performed a second time, this time “Drops of Jupiter.”

– Down at ringside, WWE highlighted reps from USAA at ringside.

[Commercial Break at 9:41]

– Holiday Message: Cris Collinsworth from Sunday Night Football on NBC thanked the military for their service, joining with WWE.

5 — THE WYATTS (BRAY WYATT & LUKE HARPER & BRAUN STROWMAN & ERICK ROWAN) & LEAGUE OF NATIONS (SHEAMUS & ALBERTO DEL RIO & RUSEV & KING BARRETT) vs. TEAM SHIELD (ROMAN REIGNS & DEAN AMBROSE & THE USOS) & TEAM ECW (BUBBA RAY & DEVON DUDLEY) & RYBACK & KANE — 16-man tag match

The match was in progress back from break with Ryback and Rusev pulling double-duty tonight. Notably, Ryback was now dressed in camo pants over his singlet. Bubba worked over Luke Harper while talking a million miles per hour, then Harper tagged in Braun. Bubba stopped talking and started staring a Braun. Bubba sold being concerned about the size of this man, but he hold Braun to hold on a second. Bubba looked at his team and tagged in Kane for a size match-up.

Kane willingly entered the ring to fight Braun, showing the rookie a thing or two. But, Braun blocked a bodyslam and delivered a bodyslam of his own. Kane found himself in the heel corner being worked over by seemingly all eight of the heels. Kane suddenly fired back and knocked Bray out of the ring. The heels regrouped on the floor heading to break.

[Commercial Break at 9:49]

Back from break, the heels were working on one of the Usos. A hot tag was attempted, but the heels cut off Uso and ran off the faces trying to help out. The heels then went back to work on Uso. Cole said Braun is looking to prey/pray. Dean finally got a hot tag and knocked down Harper before knocking down some of the heels standing on the ring apron.

Dean flew over Harper, then slammed him mid-ring. Ambrose went up top and connected with a flying elbow for a close two count. Chaos broke out everywhere until the Dudleys lined up Rowan for their Wazzup? diving headbutt to Rowan’s crotchal region. Bubba told Devon to get the tables, but The League cut off the Dudleys. No matter, as Dean flew through the ropes with a dive to League members. Also on the floor, Reigns worked over the heels before The Usos came flying over the top rope to splash League members.

Dean then scrambled back into the ring, where he absorbed a big boot, then nailed a rebound lariat. Dean tried to follow with Dirty Deeds, but Dean blocked. Rapid-fire finishers delivered before Braun tried to put everyone to sleep with his bearhug clutch. Reigns broke it up, then all of the babyfaces took turns trying to knock down Braun, finally clotheslining him to the floor. Dean followed with Dirty Deeds to Harper for the pin and the win.

WINNERS: Team Dean at 13:24. This would usually be the spot for John Cena, who was taping his own military-themed series for Fox at the time of the taping. Reigns was basically in Cena’s role, but did not stand out from the crowd as a top-level star. Cena has a certain presence and magnetism that draws attention, but Reigns just blended in with the crowd of six or seven guys standing on the ring apron. It’s symbolic of WWE moving into a new era where there isn’t that one Superstar-level top star, just an ensemble of stars.

Post-match, an American flag dropped from the ceiling. The babyfaces stood tall in the ring for a curtain call saluting the troops. Cole thanked the audience for watching and WWE signed off with a final shot of the American flag and the winning team standing tall in the ring.

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