TLC. The name contains just three simple letters, but the match itself is one of the most brutal you can see. Just ask anyone who's ever been in one, and they'll tell you that you put your body (and potentially your career) on the line when you agree to take part in Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match.
When John Cena steps into his first-ever TLC Match on Sunday, there will be more than that on the line; for if Cena loses to WWE Champion Edge, he will leave RAW and head to SmackDown. And for a man who has survived Street Fights, I Quit Matches and even the Elimination Chamber, this could be the toughest battle he's had to face.
Why? Well, for starters, Edge is one of the pioneers of the TLC phenomenon. Along with partner Christian, the Rated-R Superstar faced The Dudleys and The Hardy Boyz in the first-ever TLC Match at SummerSlam 2000.
Being veterans of several TLC Matches (mostly all against Edge), Matt & Jeff Hardy told WWE.com that the biggest danger of TLC comes from the added weaponry.
"It's a tough match, because there's so many inanimate objects involved that aren't normally there," Matt explained. "They add a dimension you don't see in a regular match, and you have to have a detailed game plan. When it's legal to use chairs, it becomes dangerous because using a chair can end a match. When you add in tables…you never know where a table is going to be and it's a whole different factor. Then you throw in a ladder, which you have to climb to win…you can get dropped from 12 feet, perhaps through one of the tables or chairs. Like I said, you have to have a very cohesive game plan going in."
Jeff added that "there's a super amount of risk involved. It's just so easy to break a bone in those matches; really, it's so easy to break a bone when you're home painting your house, because ladders are so easy to tip. And when you're trying to do things off the top of them and use them as a weapon, it's vicious. Then you've got the chairs and the tables, and it is sheer violence."
While the Hardys may note TLC for its increased brutality, Rob Van Dam looks at it on the other side of the spectrum.
"There's so much more room to be creative than there is in a regular wrestling match," Van Dam opines. "In a regular everyday wrestling match, you figure there are four sides to the ring and two wrestlers in there; it's hard to do something that hasn't been seen before. How are you going to keep the people interested when they've seen thousands of other matches? Now when you have Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, you have three other windows of opportunity that you can use, and now you can be creative. Also you better be pretty tough to be in one of those matches, because it's a lot of physical abuse on the body. And that's the way it is; that's the way it should be."
Of the three weapons of choice in this type of contest, the ladder is the most "unknown." Superstars get bashed with chairs quite often, and getting put through a table (whether it is the announcers' table or something set up by an opponent) is something many Superstars have encountered. But the ladder is not as widely used. While he's never been in a TLC Match, Shawn Michaels is considered a pioneer of the Ladder Match thanks to his classic at WrestleMania X. To HBK, who has been in matches ranging from Ladder to Hell in a Cell to Elimination Chamber, the price you pay in a Ladder Match is second to none.
"It's just another one of those matches that shortens your career drastically; the more physical a match is, the harder it is on the body and the tougher it is to come back from it," Michaels revealed. "But it's also the type of match that people can remember for a long time; you can leave your mark on this industry in just one match."
He would know, as his instant classic Ladder Match with Razor Ramon in 1994 put that type of match on the map. So which weapon is the worst? There's no one true answer to that, as Jeff Hardy revealed.
"It depends on how far you fall or how hard you get hit," he admitted. "Chairs could hurt just as much as falling from a 12-foot ladder if you get hit hard enough. But they all hurt. They all endure pain, and they're all weapons."
For brother Matt, the ladder itself is the worst of the bunch.
"The ladders," he said definitively. "The majority of stitches I've gotten in my career have come as a result of being hit with ladders. At WrestleMania X-Seven [where he fought Edge in a TLC Match] I had to get 11 staples thanks to getting smashed with ladders. They're heavy, about 50 or 60 pounds each, and man do they hurt."
As Matt also alluded to earlier, having a strategy is very important in a TLC Match., and having experience in TLC is a big help. This seems to be a big advantage that Edge holds over John Cena going into Unforgiven. The Rated-R Superstar has been very successful in TLC Matches, and according to Van Dam, it's not strictly physical.
"[Edge] is very creative. He has a lot of passion and he uses his noodle; he really does," Van Dam revealed. "I think that's the number one contributing factor to his success. When he goes into a match like that, he thinks about all the different ways that he can outsmart his opponent and outmaneuver him; he actually strategizes way ahead of time and comes up with ideas he knows are going to excite the fans. At the same time, he utilizes the skills of the guy he's in the ring with. It brings something out of them that it might not be able to do with anybody else. He's good at that."
So what does first-timer Cena have to do to be successful? According to Jeff Hardy, it's the opposite of how Edge has had success.
"[Cena should] definitely just use his strength, and try to frighten and beat the hell out of Edge before he can even get to a table or a ladder," Jeff answered. "And also, go in there with an open mind and confidence that he can do it."
Brother Matt agreed, saying "Cena's a fighter. I've seen him overcome the odds time and time again. He's going into Toronto, which is the champ's hometown, but I know he's going to go full steam ahead and never say die. He'll do whatever it takes to win."
No matter what, this will be a match that everyone will be talking about for weeks to come. Whether Cena walks out of Toronto as the WWE Champion or a SmackDown Superstar, it's a chance for him to shine in an environment he is unsure of. As Shawn Michaels sees it, it's really the only way to put the final stamp on this year-long rivalry.
"Edge and John Cena have a chance to go out there and have a real memorable match; all eyes are going to be on them," HBK said. "I think that this thing between John and Edge has to come to an end, and I think that it's most fitting that it comes to an end in a match where everything goes."
The time for talking and strategizing is rapidly coming to an end; on Sunday night, it will be put up or shut up time for John Cena and Edge. The odds are stacked heavily in the champion's favor, but the will to win is strong inside Cena. Who will walk away from the carnage with the gold around their waist?