Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Both brands have crossed the pond to Scotland, somebody in Titan Towers has been photoshopping kilts onto superstars and, as night follows day, my assumption last week that major singles titles would still be defended at Survivor Series was woefully wide of the mark. Think I’ll stop making any assumptions for the foreseeable future. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 7th 2016.
Raw (The SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Scotland)
Announced: WWE’s YouTube channel announced Owens vs Rollins and Reigns vs Rusev – both title matches – a couple of weeks ago, in what was essentially an internationally-broadcast local promo. These could end up either being dark matches or filed under ‘subject to change’. Nothing else is official.
What to expect: In a week when the United States chooses its 45th President, WWE continues its own power story between a strange-looking guy with an incredible ability for inflicting damage upon himself and a controversial woman from a powerful family whose husband once allegedly made inappropriate sexual advances. This week, Mick and Steph will likely make further arrangements for their Survivor Series elimination tag teams.
Officially, four of Raw’s five men are Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. Some ‘leaked’ graphics last week, purportedly from WWE.com, suggested Sami Zayn may be the fifth man, though last week’s show pointed towards Seth Rollins logically being more of a sure thing. Confirmation might come tonight. Charlotte, Bayley and Nia Jax will make up three-fifths of the women’s team; you would think Sasha Banks will return to take one of the remaining two spots, with Dana Brooke (or a repackaged Emma) as the fifth. All we know for Raw’s tag team unit is that The New Day will captain it, but presumably Enzo & Cass, The Club, Golden Truth and The Shining Stars are likely to be confirmed by default over the next couple of weeks as the only full-time established tag teams that Raw has. Unless Sheamus and Cesaro are still a thing two weeks from now.
Internal team tensions (Owens/Jericho and Reigns/Rollins, Charlotte and Bayley) look to be supplanting traditional title feuds for this month’s cycle, but the Cruiserweight Championship is an exception. With Brian Kendrick taking a countout loss to TJ Perkins in last week’s title rematch – and Perkins snapping on Kendrick afterwards – there’s clearly more to come. It’s also likely Rich Swann, on a winning streak, will come into the mix before long. Somebody may also emerge to answer the open challenge from SmackDown’s Dolph Ziggler, who has issued an open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship at Survivor Series. No Lesnar or Goldberg on the overseas tour, so a profane Lesnar interview or big video package will be the most likely substitutes there.
Spotlight: After Hell In A Cell last weekend and the London house show on Friday just gone, I’ve written and thought plenty about WWE’s red brand of late. So instead I want to touch on some lessons WWE has learned from previous trips to the United Kingdom and offer a bit of advice about this week’s tapings, which kick off with Raw tonight.
World Wrestling Entertainment are a savvy international organisation, but have had a couple of minor false starts with local UK culture. The most glaring was in 2004 when their foremost sweetheart Stacy Keibler was sent out in front of a Manchester crowd wearing a Manchester United shirt. It’s difficult to think of a true equivalent I can draw for a North American audience, but imagine if you wore a Yankees jersey anywhere outside New York – and also if 85% of wrestling fans inside New York passionately hated the Yankees too. That’s basically it.
To their credit, WWE quickly got wise to the tribal nature of Association Football clubs, even playing on it with Santino during the London tapings in 2012. But Scotland is a slightly different matter. Any idiot knows that Scotland doesn’t mean England, but in the last couple of years a lot of passion has been stirred up about whether Scotland should mean the UK either. And as WWE are taping TV in Glasgow for the first time this week, I really hope they’re up to speed.
Basically (which is a risky word to use, but I don’t want to bore you with any more political detail than I have to), Scotland had a referendum in 2014 on whether to split from the UK and be independent. That failed by 55%-45% voting against, although Glasgow voted 53%-47% in favour of leaving. Then this year Brexit happened, with the UK voting 52%-48% to split from the EU. However, among those figures, Scotland (who had chosen to remain part of the UK, remember) were 62%-38% overall in favour of staying, with Glasgow polling an even more solid 67%-33%. With me so far? Anyway, the Scottish government have said “our people clearly didn’t want to leave the EU, this could be a reasonable trigger for a new Scottish independence referendum”. Which many observers think would succeed this time, should it go ahead.
Practical upshots: The huge Union Flag banners WWE usually hangs to the side of the stage and Titantron when they record in the UK? Probably don’t run with those. Go with the Saltire instead. Same goes for Enzo Amore’s pull-down dungarees and anybody else considering wearing a flag anywhere; going full tartan-and-kilts may be a little patronizing if you’re not a) Scottish or b) Roddy Piper, but they’re still a better bet. Meanwhile in promos, despite what you may have heard about Brexit, you might be on safer ground heeling on the United Kingdom than on Europe.
While we’re talking about the stage, let’s talk about the usual props for WWE’s UK tapings. Glasgow has the same design of black taxicabs as London, so it would still be an accurate local cultural appropriation; however the wider world tends to associate that design with London. On the flipside, arguably the more iconic phone boxes you’ll see around Glasgow aren’t the narrow red ones, but chunkier blue ones for which the British Broadcasting Corporation owns the trademark.
So good luck, WWE! The one thing on your side, however, is that The North passionately loves its wrestling and the Scots really know how to lift the roof off an arena. It’ll be a great crowd this week.
Oh, but maybe don’t do the thing with the shirts of the local football teams. Especially not for a bickering angle between Sheamus – of all people – and Cesaro. Just don’t.
SmackDown Live (The SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Scotland)
Announced: Becky Lynch (c) vs Alexa Bliss for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
What to expect: With Dean Ambrose’s title match with AJ Styles locked in for the TLC pay-per-view next month – after what last week effectively seemed like a bizarre reshoot of the previous week’s main event angle – and “you have to coexist on the Survivor Series team” their only short-term motivation (asides from any more James Ellsworth shenanigans), is it possible Lynch and Bliss may wrestle the main event here? After Hell In A Cell the other week, we’d probably not blink if it happened – which itself I guess is progress – but fate has led this title match to have a longer build than many other programs enjoy. This match could be the highlight of the show.
SmackDown’s teams for Survivor Series are much further along than Raw’s. Both the men’s and the women’s teams are fully set, with Randy Orton’s alignment with Bray Wyatt looking like it’ll at least last until then and Natalya ‘coaching’ the women’s team (which I still think is an odd role when the pay-per-view is in Toronto, but I assume we’ll see the working behind it). One space remains for the tag teams; Breezango and The Vaudevillains are the obvious contenders for the final qualifying match, which should go down this week.
In the only other match (non-2K17 Wet Dream Division) announced for Survivor Series, Dolph Ziggler has issued the aforementioned open challenge to the Raw roster for his Intercontinental Championship. Perhaps Miz and Maryse’s red outfits last week were foreshadowing and they’ll piss Daniel Bryan off by signing for Raw to take the title back? Probably not.
Spotlight: Have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss? Just kidding, I know I have. More than once. But her long-awaited title opportunity is this week, so sure as hell I’m going to mention it one more time, albeit briefly.
This feud with Becky Lynch has been exactly what Bliss needed to establish herself on the main roster. Becky’s unplanned medical absence, an unusual stroke of fate, has also turned out like a divine gift – it’s kept the program running longer than otherwise it might’ve and, for a few weeks of it, Bliss had the spotlight all to herself. Alexa Bliss thrives in a spotlight. Despite her diminutive stature, she has an expressive, magnetic presence. Despite the occasional cheesy writing – fairytale references ahoy – her delivery with a live mic is full of conviction. This extended program has given her a showcase for all that.
With Sasha and Charlotte, Raw is taking a very different path to build its women’s division. Those two are on a pedestal; all the big title matches and historical moments are theirs, while the brand’s Women’s Championship is a private matter between them. They are at the top of the mountain, inseparable. Everyone else is in the foothills, with their chances of sharing that rarefied air remote. That can pay off in the long term, when Bayley – who Charlotte laughs off now – finally manages to make the climb. Remember, Bayley’s NXT story took two years to properly set up and was based on Sasha and Charlotte outgrowing her for most of that period. So strap in for the long haul.
The SmackDown approach is more egalitarian and focused on the shorter-term. All the women are contenders and we’re deliberately kept in a state of believing that any woman could beat any other woman on a given week. It makes it a little more difficult for individuals to break out, but it does promise more compelling viewing on a week-by-week basis. Some – like Naomi – aren’t always getting much to do, but more often than not they’re getting something to do.
If Bliss loses here – which I think most of us are expecting – and drops out of the title picture, I hope she continues to get exposure on SmackDown Live and believe she will. She’s established herself as an asset to the show’s entertainment value and, even if it’s for a brief promo spot, there’ll always be room for five feet of fury.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL – also The Palladium, Hollywood CA)
I was disappointed to see NXT burn through the entire second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic last week. The two matches advertised in advance were fine, but one of the others – #DIY vs The Revival – didn’t happen at all and the other between TM61 and Team Aries was taped as a singles match with Shane Thorne going over Roderick Strong to write the injured Austin Aries out of the tournament. As such, a second round that promised much is over in the blink of an eye and – unlike last year’s tournament where the final two rounds happened at Takeover – we’re straight into the semifinals this week, which were taped at a house show in Hollywood last weekend.
With only two episodes of NXT left before Takeover in Toronto, the card is nearly set. Nakamura/Joe, Asuka/James and Dillinger/Roode and the finals of the Dusty Classic make up the announced lineup at present. Is it likely the losers of this week’s semifinal between The Authors of Pain and #DIY will challenge The Revival for the tag titles? That would fill the glaring gap on the card; it’s hard now to conceive of a Takeover card without Dash and Dawson on it, which shows what key players they’ve become. The second round of the Dusty Classic may have been a disappointment, but there’s every sign Takeover will come good as usual.
Remember kids, anything can happen on WWE programming! Some things more than others! Here’s a grid of 25 such things; red for Raw, blue for SmackDown, yellow for NXT and grey for any of the above or anything else. Cross one off if it happens, and we’ll have a celebration here next week if we get a vertical or horizontal line. The drinks are on me if all 25 come good.
I’m claiming seven out of 25 for last week, with no lines. Three along the bottom line, but otherwise WWE did a solid job of not resorting to predictability last week – obvious Halloween stuff aside. I’m turning up the difficulty this week, with a UK Tapings Special. Loads of stuff WWE can’t resist when they come to the UK.
Three Burning Questions
As a change, they’re all NXT-related and on a common theme. Back to normal next week. Answers in the comments as usual, folks!
- If you had to pick five male NXT superstars for a Survivor Series elimination match, who would you choose?
- If you had to pick five female NXT superstars for a Survivor Series elimination match, who would you choose?
- If you had to pick five NXT tag teams for a Survivor Series elimination match, at what point would you give up in the face of the horror that is booking a 20-man tag?
Until next time, have a good week and enjoy the ride!