By Graham "GSM" Matthews
WWE Champion John Cena def. World Tag Team Champion Edge (Non-title)
The classic feud between Cena and Edge dominated the better part of 2006, so it was perfect that they closed out the year by having them go up against each other one final time. They can always be counted on for a quality contest and this was another great matchup from the two longtime rivals. It was also fitting to open Tribute to the Troops with Cena since he has become such an integral part of the event over the past decade.
CM Punk def. Shelton Benjamin
Punk was only months into his WWE run, and as part of the ECW brand, I would have never guessed that he would be invited on the Tribute to the Troops tour. That said, I was pleasantly surprised to see him a part of the event and in a match with Benjmain. The two had fun chemistry each other, but it's a shame Benjamin didn't mean more at the time and was instead toiling in the undercard on the Raw brand.
The Undertaker def. Johnny Nitro
When did you think that we would ever see Undertaker and Nitro go one-on-one? It was a weird match for sure, but for a special treat at that. I don't think it was a match we had seen before then or since then. There was no doubt Undertaker was going over, but it was a nice rub alone for Nitro to be in the ring with such a legend. Nitro was in the midst of a mini-feud with John Cena at the time, so the decision to put him with 'Taker wasn't too shocking.
ECW Champion Bobby Lashley def. Hardcore Holly (Non-title)
I fully expected this to be a quick squash match for Lashley, but Holly scored a decent amount of offense. Considering Lashley was fairly limited in the ring at the time, Holly carried him to a competent contest. It might have gone a few minutes longer than it needed to, but it wasn't as boring as I figured it would be. Lashley was getting the aggressive push at the time and was fresh off his controversial ECW Championship victory at December to Dismember.
Umaga def. Intercontinental Champion Jeff Hardy (Non-title)
Initially, I assumed this match took place because Umaga and Hardy were feuding at the time, but they wouldn't actually engage in a rivalry until the following year as Umaga was already on the fast track to the main event scene, ready to headline New Year's Revolution with John Cena. Having Umaga go up against the Intercontinental champion should have felt like a bigger deal than it did, but it was still an entertaining match while it lasted and a nice sneak peek of the chemistry they would have in 2007 and 2008.
World Tag Team Champion Randy Orton def. Carlito
Unlike most of the previous matches, there really wasn't any storyline significance behind this bout, but at least they had history from Unforgiven and they worked well together. Carlito was a natural heel, but he was a fine face and Orton was just too easy to hate. They weren't given as much time as the other matches, but at least half of Rated-RKO won on this show.
Chris Masters Hosted 'The Master Lock Challenge'
I was shocked that despite being irrelevant at the time, Masters' Master Lock remained unbroken by late 2006. He was a total heel for trashing Christmas and forcing Santa (who I had no idea was JBL until he revealed himself) to pass out. Technically, the Sargent didn't break the hold as much as Masters just let go because of JBL, but it was a feel-good moment, nonetheless.
I enjoyed this show significantly more than the 2005 installment, which is also available on the WWE Network. Granted, the whole purpose of it has been and always will be to show thanks for the troops, but from an in-ring standpoint, this show was stacked with really good matches and in some cases storyline progression. This replaced an edition of Raw, so it was logical that the matches would have been more meaningful than your typical Tribute to the Troops event.
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