Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Last week, Roman Reigns, Batista, Matt Hardy and Kevin Owens all returned to WWE programming. It’s almost as if it’s WrestleMania season! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 4th 2019.
Raw (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA)
Announced: Charlotte Flair will be on Raw, looking to crown herself as Women’s Champion. SNL’s Michael Che and Colin Jost will be special guests.
What to expect: The final pay-per-view before WrestleMania – Fastlane – is this coming Sunday and Roman Reigns is back full-time on Raw at the perfect moment. There’s an excellent chance we’ll see The Shield reform (again) tonight, apparently bringing Dean Ambrose back into the fold and apparently doing so against the loose heel coalition of Drew McIntyre, Elias, Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley. That might result in a match being set up for Fastlane and might also have knock-on effects for other performers who have been tangentially related to those storylines – such as Braun Strowman, or Lashley’s estranged hype man Lio Rush, or Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor who was playing a role opposite both Lashley and Rush most recently. Raw has very few Fastlane matches confirmed at this point, which we’ll come on to discuss later.
Whether Ronda Rousey really has vacated the Raw Women’s Championship (I doubt it) should be clarified but the most likely outcome here isn’t Charlotte Flair being awarded the title, rather Rousey using some sort of leverage to get Becky Lynch reinstated. Expect McMahons, obviously. Certainly expect Triple H tonight, as he’ll probably cut a promo on Batista’s actions from last week’s Raw. Batista himself is unlikely to be on the show until the other side of Fastlane. In the tag divisions, The Revival’s non-title losses to #DIY and, last week, Ricochet and Aleister Black may culminate in a formal challenge for the championships. Sasha Banks vs Tamina is a possibility, following Bayley vs Nia Jax last week. There might be a minor program continuing between Heavy Machinery and The Ascension. Meanwhile, I’m afraid I don’t know who Michael Che and Colin Jost are, as I don’t follow SNL. Sorry. That one’s outside of my ballpark.
Spotlight: With Roman Reigns now able to resume his WWE career and Dean Ambrose currently scheduled to end his soon (at least for the foreseeable future), I’m going to put on the record now that my preferred resolution to the Universal Championship match at WrestleMania is Reigns, Ambrose and the new champion Seth Rollins striking their three-fist pose on the stage one last time, having just triple-powerbombed Brock Lesnar off to the UFC for a good long while. If Ambrose is to leave the company, one final iconic Shield moment – after a recent series of ill-fated reunions that have been curtailed due to illness and injury – would be welcome, especially one that makes a big, lasting difference to the landscape of the company.
Based on last week’s Raw, it’s certainly a possible future. Reigns and Rollins coming to the aid of Ambrose during a beatdown presented a pretty rapid turnaround in sentiment from December, where Ambrose was making dog-whistle comments about avoiding illness for heat when he and Rollins were at each other’s throats. The hurry would appear to be due to the convenience of setting up a big match for this Sunday’s Fastlane – a show which is severely under-stocked with those at the moment. A tag match would also be a good way to ease Roman Reigns back into action and protect the rehabilitating back of Seth Rollins, by splitting the workload while giving both men a badly-needed big win to set them up for WrestleMania. As for Ambrose, such a big character U-turn might be jarring, but it’s better than having his WWE tenure fizzle out, as it looked as though it was threatening to do before last week.
Is there any chance the return of Reigns to WWE programming could change Dean Ambrose’s mind about leaving the company, as some optimists have speculated? It might; as even the best-informed don’t seem to fully understand the reasons behind Ambrose’s decision to leave, so it follows that we can’t fully be sure what changes might bring him to stay. It’s possible that having one of his closest friends in the business back on the road with him, when the future had been uncertain for a few months, might change how he feels. Whether he should, though, is a different question. Even if WWE fits in one final Shield reunion before the end of Ambrose’s contract, Roman Reigns will remain destined to be the face of the company. A significant part of Ambrose’s future beyond April, should he choose to stay, will remain as a singles competitor. If his confidence in that future is low, it’s hard to see how this ultimately changes anything.
SmackDown Live (Mohegan Sun Arena, Wilkes-Barre PA)
Announced: The Miz vs Jey Uso. R-Truth will issue an open challenge for the United States Championship.
What to expect: Last week’s bombshell of Vince McMahon removing Kofi Kingston from the WWE Championship match at Fastlane will certainly be expanded upon, with the purpose of cultivating the grassroots support that already clearly exists and pitching Kingston and his New Day partners against Vince. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with that material. Getting Kevin Owens over as a popular challenger to Daniel Bryan, given he was handed Kingston’s spot, is a tricky task that you can expect to be addressed very specifically and very separately here. Owens wasn’t the only guy to return last Tuesday, as Matt Hardy is now back with his brother Jeff. We may get a further read here on what the immediate future holds for those men.
In the two announced segments, look out for the relationship between The Miz and Shane McMahon – widely expected not to last until this time next week – during Miz’s match with Jey Uso, while R-Truth’s open challenge for the United States Championship is a welcome returning feature; last week saw Rey Mysterio and Andrade stake a claim, with Mysterio getting pinned by Truth. Either or both may show up again here. Also expect more tension between AJ Styles and Randy Orton – that looks more like a WrestleMania feud than a Fastlane match right now – plus more effective heeling from Charlotte Flair. There’s also an outside chance Becky Lynch may have been reinstated following possible events on Raw tonight. It’s possible we may revisit the advertised Johnny Gargano vs Cesaro match that didn’t take place last week, or at least clearly move on from it.
Spotlight: On any other week, the return of Matt Hardy to WWE programming – when it had been speculated his in-ring career may have been winding up due to back and his pelvis starting to fuse together – would’ve been pretty significant news. Last week, it probably didn’t make a list of top three returns, as Kevin Owens stepped straight into SmackDown’s main event scene and Raw had the even bigger deals of Batista and Roman Reigns. However, the very welcome nature and significance of Hardy’s return should not be underestimated, especially the significance of his reversion to a classic ‘Hardy Boyz’ persona and realignment with his brother Jeff.
Later last week, Matt Hardy posted an interesting video on his personal YouTube account, where he thanked the fans and offered an insight into the future of his Broken/Woken gimmick. The video is below. It sounds as though, whatever WWE’s formal plans for him, he’s opening up a concept where he can switch from persona to persona as storylines and circumstances allow. Whether this plays out as being similar to Finn Balor’s Demon, where his ‘Broken’ personality will only come out for specific matches, or we’ll see a more liberal switch between gimmicks – something more like Mick Foley – from feud to feud we’ll have to wait to see. From his point of view, it sounds more like the latter. However it seems that classic ‘Hardy Boyz’ Matt is what WWE is after in the short term.
The most probable route forward looks, to my eyes at least, to lead towards a Hardy Boyz vs Usos match at WrestleMania for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Yes, that would suck for the other teams in what’s arguably been WWE’s strongest main roster division over the past year, and there’s a good case to argue that Sheamus and Cesaro (certainly) and others could easily be added to create a multi-team spot-fest. However, the brothers-against-brothers story would be a gift to write and a progressively rarer case of a dream feud that WWE hasn’t already exhausted. Both of these teams are likely future Hall of Famers (the Hardys probably sooner), and putting them against one another on the biggest stage seems like too good an opportunity to miss. Sign me up.
Also This Week
On 205 Live (Tuesday), the first round of the tournament to name Buddy Murphy’s WrestleMania challenger will conclude, with Akira Tozawa vs Cedric Alexander and Humberto Carrillo vs Oney Lorcan (who appears to have been drafted over from NXT temporarily to fill the spot of recently-released TJP).
It’s the start of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic on NXT (Wednesday). WWE has announced the bracket, but there’s no official confirmation as to which matches will feature this week. Meanwhile NXT UK (Wednesday) will include Travis Banks vs Jordan Devlin in a Falls Count Anywhere match, plus Ligero vs Joseph Conners.
Fastlane (Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland OH)
Announced: As always, the card is subject to change, with additions during this week absolutely certain given how little has been set up before now. Official matches at time of writing are:
- WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Kevin Owens
- SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (c) vs The Miz & Shane McMahon
- Women’s Tag Team Championships: Sasha Banks & Bayley vs Nia Jax & Tamina
- SmackDown Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) vs Mandy Rose
What to expect: I wrote last week how one of Raw’s recent problems is that it’s had a couple of blockbuster WrestleMania stories it seemed it would rather be telling, but which circumstances – the lack of Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins nursing a sore back, generating a believable conceit to make the Raw Women’s Championship program (which otherwise would’ve been a singles feud the company could’ve booked in its sleep) into a three-way – have made less practical. Here’s the latest obstacle; a Fastlane pay-per-view for which, six days out, only one Raw match is booked. Even the top SmackDown match has fallen to a similar issue: the company finally seems to have settled on its WWE Championship match for WrestleMania – Daniel Bryan vs Kofi Kingston – but it necessitated a swerve for this card.
Bryan vs Kevin Owens, in a vacuum though it currently is, will always be worth seeing, but the only matchup (or potential matchup) on the show that seems convenient for WWE is that for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, where all eyes are on The Miz and Shane McMahon failing to reclaim the titles and kicking off a WrestleMania feud. The two announced women’s matches are routine title defenses with limited returns: Mandy Rose getting a rub in defeat to Asuka and putting some prestige on the new tag titles by way of the first champions retaining in their first defense are all noble goals, but again, they seem to be there to kill time before WWE can get to the stories it would rather be telling.
What matches might be added to the card? The temptation to throw Roman Reigns straight back into competition to bolster the show may prove overwhelming. A Shield reunion, before Dean Ambrose’s scheduled departure from the company, looks like the best bet, against any or all of Drew McIntyre, Elias, Bobby Lashley, and Baron Corbin. Braun Strowman could join them to make it an eight-man tag. Will any of the NXT call-ups be booked into a match? The most recent gang of four have been in featured roles for the past two weeks of television and surely have a better chance of getting on the card (against The Revival for the Raw Tag Team Championships, for instance) than most others – including the earlier gang of six from NXT, who have been whittled down to Lacey Evans and Heavy Machinery doing strange, aimless vignettes. On SmackDown, AJ Styles vs Randy Orton looks like another program WWE would rather tell in April, though the feud between Andrade and Rey Mysterio appears to be alive and well and may be in play here.
All of these possibilities have appeal – and you’d think there’ll certainly be a segment involving Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair – but not a huge amount that would further distinguish Fastlane from a weekly television episode. We’ll see what WWE has up its sleeve during the week, but it feels like the company would rather be setting up at the MetLife Stadium already. Be sure to check in with John and the guys at the end of the week for the full TJRWrestling preview.
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!
- Do you think there’s any chance Charlotte Flair will actually be crowned Raw Women’s Champion tonight?
- Who would you most like to see answer R-Truth’s open challenge on SmackDown?
- What potential additions to the Fastlane card would you be most interested in seeing?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.