Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! No fancy intro this week, but I’ve included a one-off bonus at the end of the column so it ain’t like you’re missing out. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 2nd 2018.
Raw (Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls SD)
Announced: Nothing officially announced, but ‘counselling’ segments for Bayley and Sasha Banks have been as heavily signposted as could be.
What to expect: It seems that the original plan for Extreme Rules of a six-way match to determine the new contender to the Universal Championship is now off. If so, what might fill its place? Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley do appear to be heading for a clash, although based on last week’s ending Reigns is equally likely to spend this week supporting his Shield brother Seth Rollins against the team of Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. As noted above, expect to see Bayley and Sasha Banks in ‘counselling’ segments, which may be a bit naff but ultimately could move their characters on a bit. Ronda Rousey is still serving a storyline suspension, but Alexa Bliss now has Natalya to worry about along with Nia Jax. Might Natalya seek a title match with Bliss after pinning her last week?
Elsewhere, expect The B-Team of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel to continue their cosplay of tag champions Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt (because WWE does like to flog a passable joke to death). Kevin Owens is finding the path to friendship difficult with Braun Strowman, while Finn Balor and Baron Corbin look likely to splinter off into their own program. Meanwhile The Authors of Pain are back on television again and Titus Worldwide are likely to regret stepping up to them last week, while Mojo Rawley hating on No Way Jose’s conga line, The Riott Squad causing nuisance backstage and Jinder Mahal continuing to explore this new ‘inner peace’ character wrinkle are also likely to feature somewhere.
Spotlight: Without wanting to jump too far ahead in the column, this week’s SmackDown Spotlight will be looking at the reformation of Team Hell No. By a strange coincidence, two of the more familiar threads from that particular story are already being mirrored by WWE’s Monday night show, so I guess you can treat this week’s Raw Spotlight as the warm-up act. What are the two threads, you ask? Well, firstly Sasha Banks and Bayley can’t get on and are having to go to therapy together. And secondly, nobody could be bothered to book a proper feud for the Tag Team Championships.
I can hear the howls of complaint already, so let’s examine the second of those first. The art of good parody is to caricature the truths of your object. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel have done a very good job of targeting the right points in their imitations of Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy respectively, but when the subjects of the joke are caricatures in their own right, what sort of an edge can the joke have? How does Hardy respond to being handed a sloppy loss after two weeks of having the piss taken out of him? With a ‘wonderful’ ovation! So far it’s just been four guys exchanging oddness; there are no straight men here.
It’s therefore a bit of a struggle to see what the point is in this feud. Since his dip in the Lake of Reincarnation, hardly any effort seems to have been made to anchor Bray Wyatt in Matt Hardy’s world beyond the men cutting hybrid promos and getting a joint entrance. Their purpose and codependency has not been explored. We’ve had a little more insight into Dallas and Axel through backstage skits, but we’ve seen ‘does impressions of others’ material sink Axel once before when he did a Mega Powers rip-off with Damien Sandow. Meanwhile, The Authors of Pain and The Revival wait somewhere further back in the line.
As for Sasha Banks and Bayley, I’ve mentioned them a few times here in recent months although usually – like this – in connection to something else rather than on their own. I feel that’s probably just an accurate reflection of how much WWE have half-assed the program so far. Two of the strongest trigger points you could ever have gifted this feud, each woman eliminating the other in over-the-top-rope matches at the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, have long passed and until now the ‘problems’ between the two women have dragged on without really developing. At least this does now look like a watershed moment for Banks and Bayley.
Bonus points if Dr Shelby’s involved again but what comes out the other side of it is far more important. The desired outcome here is to turn the two women against each other rather than to form an odd-couple tag team, but I hope this happens pretty swiftly and does so by introducing some clear dividing lines on morality or attitude between the two. One of the weaknesses of this story so far has been the lack of empathy we’re invited to feel for either woman, with both being in the wrong in turns on several occasions. Hopefully the segments won’t overstay their welcome and will serve their purpose in setting character motivations for a proper feud this summer.
SmackDown Live (CenturyLink Center, Omaha NE)
Announced: James Ellsworth vs Asuka. Brace, brace.
What to expect: Daniel Bryan and Kane have reformed Team Hell No and will face The Bludgeon Brothers at Extreme Rules. Expect this week’s episode of SmackDown Live to offer at least one comedy skit between Bryan and Kane to re-establish their rapport (whether you like that or not). AJ Styles should be back on programming, while his challenger for the WWE Championship, Rusev, was made to look pretty good last week; some meeting between the two needs to happen next. Carmella should also be back and will probably be hanging around to attempt to interfere in the announced match between Asuka and James Ellsworth. For obvious reasons, that match won’t be heavy on content – but hopefully it’ll provide Ellsworth being kicked in the head comically.
There’s still doubt over Shinsuke Nakamura being healthy to return after his bizarre dog-biting injury, so a pause to his proposed program with Jeff Hardy might see Hardy continue to even the odds for The Usos against SAnitY. The latter, being new to the Tuesday roster, will probably eventually get themselves a marquee win when the time comes for them to face Jimmy and Jey on their own. Elsewhere on the roster, Becky Lynch is on a bit of a roll and might feature again, while on the flipside, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas has been doing very little with his time since defeating Sin Cara a few weeks back. See also the wait to hear what Samoa Joe and The New Day are doing next.
Spotlight: The big surprise at the end of last week’s episode of SmackDown was the return of The Devil’s Favorite Mayoral Candidate For Knox County, Kane. Coming to the aid of Daniel Bryan, who was suffering a beatdown at the hands of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, The Big Red Electoral Machine – and that’s the last time I lazily conflate the political and performative careers of Glenn Jacobs in a pithy phrase, I promise – reformed Team Hell No and set up a SmackDown Tag Team Championships match for Extreme Rules. Cards on the table, it popped me. However, I wouldn’t have thought enthusiasm for it is universal.
In what we’ll charitably say was an unscientific survey in last week’s comments section, 100% of respondents (hi Jason, glad to see you again too) indicated they’d rather see Bryan as a singles competitor, while any tag feuds – though not necessarily unwelcome – might be faced with more of a challenge to prove their worth. I’m not sure how many of us were predicting Team Hell No as the vehicle; probably fewer than should’ve, based on how obvious it seems in retrospect, but it straddles the fence in an interesting way. On the one hand, it’s an established gimmick that certainly did Bryan no harm before. On the other, he’s tagging with a 51-year-old politician in what was primarily a comedy team.
This is an issue. Although it’s a championship programme, which at least lends a greater and more coveted purpose to what Bryan’s doing, it’s a little regressive and puts a limit on how much he can really shine. Furthermore, in the long term it can surely only serve the cause of a Kane turn and Bryan having to overcome another somewhat limited big man in a singles feud. It’s muddy territory. However, on the upside, it does at least provide Bryan’s comeback with a little context and history, and more than just a nostalgia trip offers a chance for the audience to reconnect with a different part of his character.
I’m also inclined to say that any booking which keeps Daniel Bryan away from The Miz for as long as possible is a plus. Bryan may have a dozen dream matches lined up with the current WWE roster, but the only one that really matters is The Miz. For all the great matches and great stories the company can have Bryan work, Miz is his hot ticket. Some might find that demeaning to say, but I’d note that concerns whether the company sees Bryan as a top star – and even if they did, whether they’d push him to that level again given his injury history – are not irrational. Bryan’s biggest asset in WWE right now is how the company perceives and is handling his relationship to Miz.
What happens next for Bryan if you burn through that feud at SummerSlam? It’s too soon. Yes, Bryan can continue ticking off matches from his bucket list, but there’s no obvious organic path to redemption, to reclaiming his place at the top of the mountain. I’d be as happy as everyone else to see him wrestle great dream matches in a void, but going back over successful territory with Team Hell No for a couple of months is a decent idea for further reconnecting Bryan with WWE’s world while the pieces fall into place. Let’s be patient. There’s plenty of time for the likes of Nakamura or Joe later this year, while Miz eventually dethrones AJ Styles. WrestleMania, here we come.
Also This Week
The main event of 205 Live (Tuesday) is Buddy Murphy vs Mustafa Ali with no disqualification. The stipulation suggests shenanigans, though it looks like a separate Cruiserweight Championship program is now well established between Cedric Alexander and Hideo Itami.
NXT (Wednesday) leads with Johnny Gargano vs EC3, as Gargano’s bitter enemy Tommaso Ciampa appears to be moving on to a program with NXT Champion Aleister Black. One would imagine they won’t be apart forever though.
Three Burning Questions
Some of this week’s most pressing but least publicized talking points. Throw down your answers in the comments section as usual!
- What are your hopes/fears for the counselling segments featuring Sasha Banks and Bayley?
- How would you book the AJ Styles/Rusev program between now and Extreme Rules?
- Who in your opinion is the most underrated tag team on the main roster?
I don’t have a podcast or anything to plug, so hope you’ll indulge me this once. A few weeks ago I mentioned in passing that the new ‘Constable’ gimmick for Baron Corbin initially, for reasons I don’t think I’ll ever understand, made me think of the 19th century English landscape painter John Constable than – you know – a figure of law enforcement.
Off the back of that, a friend of mine made what’s probably the most refined, niche wrestling meme I’ve ever seen, and it would be remiss of me not to share here. You’re welcome.
— C Dave (@c_dave) June 26, 2018
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.