Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Sorry for the lack of preview last week. We resume with one Money in the Bank briefcase already cashed in, the other in the hands of a monster and Big Cass becoming a seven-foot footnote in WWE history. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, June 25th 2018.
Raw (Valley View Casino Center, San Diego CA)
Announced: A rematch for the Intercontinental Championship; Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Seth Rollins.
What to expect: The next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules, is on July 15th. With Universal Champion Brock Lesnar out of this cycle too, Raw is leading with a multi-man number one contender’s match, for which Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley (who have started spear-based mind games) will be two of a hereto-unannounced number of competitors. Constable Baron Corbin appeared to make the case to be another last week, while we should start to get a clearer idea who else is likely to be in and out. Braun Strowman, having the Money in the Bank briefcase as he does, may not need to be involved and we could see him continue what seems to be a mini-program with Kevin Owens.
The Intercontinental Championship match between Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler should be another good one. Keep an eye out for McIntyre running interference. Ronda Rousey is serving her storyline suspension, so a focus on Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax would seem likely tonight – although that’ll be a bit weird as Bliss and Jax have both been working heel recently and Rousey’s Austinesque vibe seems to be working. Sasha Banks and Bayley finally look like they’re building to the singles match they should’ve been doing five months ago. The tag titles program between The Deleters of Worlds and The B-Team looks as though it’ll be founded on comedy (God help us) and, finally, the likes of Bobby Roode, Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley won squash matches last week – and Elias sang a whole song uninterrupted – which suggests they could have storylines to set up soon too.
Spotlight: We have a new Intercontinental Champion on Raw, and it’s a familiar face to see in possession of the white-and-gold belt (the introduction of which has probably turned out to be the best legacy – pun not intended – of the WWE career of Cody Rhodes). Dolph Ziggler is now a six-time champion, his last reign coming in late 2016 and encompassing a storyline and run of form worthy of the prestigious title. That was the feud with The Miz, where Ziggler won the Career vs Title match that really should’ve main evented No Mercy. It’s still a travesty that it didn’t.
That program was arguably Ziggler’s last hot streak in WWE, in a career that we regularly note has been a little bit hit and miss in recent years. The odd curse of genuinely poor material aside (hi there Rusev, Lana, Summer Rae), he seems to have succeeded best when he has other figures in the spotlight with him, taking up at least some of the attention; Miz, Big E and AJ Lee, Vickie Guerrero, Zack Ryder. Despite being a solid enough promo and an even more solid in-ring performer, his work has been at its least compelling when it’s been primarily or entirely about him.
If I were to think of a suitable analogy to describe this it would be one that’s unintentionally scathing. Brutally so, in fact. If Dolph Ziggler worked in comedy (which he does, on the side when he’s not wrestling), he wouldn’t be a stand-up – which he is – but a pretty excellent sitcom actor – which he isn’t. I’ve not seen any of Ziggler’s stand-up sets, so I wouldn’t like to judge. Sorry Dolph. Let’s just assume wrestling is very different from comedy and move on, being thankful for the fact that he’s been tossed together with Drew McIntyre so that both men have somebody else to bounce off. It’s working in giving them both more of an edge.
The flipside to Dolph Ziggler often looking better when he’s not a sole traveller is the recent form of Seth Rollins. We know from his Shield exploits that Rollins is awesome as a team player, but his recent run as Intercontinental Champion has seen him tread exactly the kind of path that we sometimes see Ziggler get lost on – the ability to progress from opponent to opponent, where the only constant is him and his performance, and in the process keep the watching audience on board for what feels like a single, engaging odyssey. That’s really what sets aside the main eventers; knowing you can send them out to close the show and, no matter who they’re facing, the crowd will be into seeing it.
What happens tonight could be a turning point for Seth Rollins and the main event scene. A straightforward loss – perhaps via McIntyre shenanigans that were only lightly utilized last week – would surely see him freed up to enter the multi-man match at Extreme Rules and perhaps, just perhaps, become the man who jumps his brother-in-arms Roman Reigns in the queue to face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Alternatively, a drawn-out program with Ziggler and possibly then McIntyre separately, within which you would think and hope he regains the workhorse title, would seem possible too.
— WWE (@WWE) June 25, 2018
SmackDown Live (Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario CA)
Announced: A match for the United States Championship; Jeff Hardy (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura.
What to expect: Both top singles champions – AJ Styles and Carmella – are out on promotional assignment this week in Australia. This means the spotlight may fall on new number one contender Rusev alone to start the new WWE Championship program – a dominant win against undercard talent or interview of some sort, perhaps. As for Carmella’s likely challenger, meanwhile, Asuka may decide to spend her Tuesday kicking lumps out of the returned James Ellsworth.
I’m not sure whether WWE would flip their other secondary title on television programming one week after the Intercontinental Championship changed hands on Raw, but not duplicating booking hasn’t always been a strong point. Hardy – all painted up now and with the funny contact lenses – and Nakamura will surely be a program that goes further than this week, so we’ll have to see what that means for this week’s match. SAnitY debuted last week and appear to be entering a feud with The Usos, whereas Daniel Bryan seems to be at a crossroads between a program with The Bludgeon Brothers and something with guys like The Miz and Samoa Joe. There are also a lot of other people – such as The New Day, The Bar, Becky Lynch and Andrade Almas – who are jostling for screen time after last week’s marathon gauntlet match in the main event.
Spotlight: Carmella, the character, needs to be given no further reasons to believe the world of WWE revolves around her. The current role of the vainglorious Princess of Staten Island is a bit one-note – though she executes it well – consisting consistently of listing achievements (that required huge assists which she conveniently airbrushes) as the be-all and end-all of relevant information about her current feud, her position as champion or, indeed, anything in WWE generally. She beat Charlotte Flair, you know. By herself. And she’s money. But the last week or so has seen some headline-grabbing personnel issues on SmackDown Live concerning other people who’ve previously played a big role in her success.
Step back in time around three years, to May 2015 and NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable (back in the days when TakeOvers had names). The big tag titles match saw Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy retain against Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady – with Carmella – thanks to interference and a heel turn by Alexa Bliss. Here in June 2018, the two valets are reigning singles champions on the main roster while Murphy is working the cruiserweight division on the WWE Network, Blake hasn’t yet made it out of NXT (his new tag project is aptly named The Forgotten Sons) and as for Enzo and Big Cass? Gone completely.
That Carmella has not only outlasted the other two members of her NXT trio but arguably surpassed their accomplishments – set in the context of the division at the time, Amore’s Cruiserweight Championship reigns rate particularly weakly – is pretty remarkable. You’d have cashed out one hell of a bet if you’d predicted it in 2015, put it that way. For all their popularity, Enzo and Cass never won tag team gold and despite his natural gifts, Big Cass departs the company as the least successful of the three. Whatever the rumors or allegations of their individual behavior, the team of Enzo and Cass ultimately proved to be greater than the sum of their parts.
So Carmella remains, SmackDown Women’s Champion and with pay-per-view wins against Charlotte Flair and Asuka against her name. Ironically, in the week Big Cass joined Enzo Amore on the not-future endeavored future endeavored list, the other significant on-screen male figure in her career made his return to the company – James Ellsworth. The Ghost of Money in the Bank Past. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about this; not so much because it brought about a cheap, ludicrous and clunky escape for the champion in a contest that should’ve resembled nothing more than a duck shoot, but because it feels like a regressive step for Carmella as a character to return to a dependency upon her chinless friend.
However long he’s back for this time, Ellsworth’s role as stooge-slash-gimp will probably be unchanged. And although history has shown he probably doesn’t belong anywhere near a WWE Championship program, he offers a unique character that allows you to tell unique stories. That’s an asset. I don’t hope he gets a lot of time on Tuesday nights, given the roster of talent competing for those minutes, but if he is likely to stay around I hope that he’ll move on from his partnership with Carmella – or, more accurately, Carmella will move on from him. Surely, though, the first step should be an appropriate stipulation at Extreme Rules where Asuka can take him to the woodshed.
Also This Week
Ahead of the launch of the new NXT UK brand, this week sees two one-off episodes of what’s being billed as the UK Championship Tournament 2018. These go out on the Network at 3pm EST on Monday and Tuesday (so the first one will probably be starting pretty much imminently as I post this). These were recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall last week; I was at the first night of tapings and it was a pretty raucous mix of the kind of stuff from WWE’s previous UK specials and some mainstream NXT content. Worth seeing if that’s your bag, especially Tuesday’s episode if you’re an NXT fan. NXT (Wednesday) itself is back at Full Sail University, with an appearance by Aleister Black the only pre-announced segment.
Meanwhile 205 Live (Tuesday) will be offering a very promising six-man elimination tag team match, Jack Gallagher, Brian Kendrick & Drew Gulak vs Gran Metalik, Lince Dorado & Kalisto. There’s also fresh blood with the expected debut of Lio Rush who, if you’re unfamiliar, is a real livewire in the ring and will be a good addition to the show. Lots of good wrestling coming up on WWE’s minor shows this week.
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!
- Who else would you like to see in Raw’s big number one contender’s match at Extreme Rules?
- Would a Tag Team Championships feud be a good use of Daniel Bryan’s time?
- What kind of stipulations would you like to see announced for Extreme Rules?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.