Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Charlotte and Sasha Banks are preparing to burn LA to the ground, Dolph Ziggler is in his final days as a WWE performer (or not) and we’re being shown No Mercy in the relentless onslaught of pay-per-view weekends. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 3rd 2016.
Raw (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA)
Announced: Charlotte defends the Raw Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks and TJ Perkins faces Brian Kendrick again (which was originally announced as a Cruiserweight Championship match, although it appears now to be non-title). Also, Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson are due to show up to promote a thing I don’t watch. We have two matches and two professional actors announced in advance. Such is the world of sports entertainment!
What to expect: Is it me, or does WWE always make a bit of a special effort when they visit the Staples Center? After last week’s record low ratings due to the presidential debate, Raw will be looking to win back those viewers. The two matches that have been announced both have good potential. This should be a better week for the red brand after last week’s sub-par showing.
It looks like business is unfinished between Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, and Rusev and Roman Reigns. The New Day, however, may appear to have new challengers, as the best-of-seven masterplan for Sheamus and Cesaro turns out to have been the creation of a slightly-at-odds tag team. Somewhere backstage, Golden Truth are reflecting how lucky they were to get away with months of vignettes.
Oh, and Kutcher and Masterson are expected to interact with Chris Jericho. No disrespect to the two actors, but with the form Jericho’s been in that’s a tough spot; I’m offering short odds on Y2J coming out of it looking like the biggest star.
Spotlight: Who exactly is Seth Rollins angry with? At the moment it seems to be everybody and nobody at the same time.
It’s not hard to understand why he’s angry. He was within a shout of being WWE Universal Champion, before his old mentor Triple H showed up and ultimately turned on him. But Triple H isn’t appearing on TV at the moment, so Rollins has to occupy himself with being angry at anyone who appears to him as a Triple H proxy; by his categorisation of this he might as well be howling at the moon.
Consider: Since the details of the brand split were announced, we’ve all been wondering when Stephanie McMahon would turn on Mick Foley. It hasn’t happened yet, but there are cracks showing. Foley questions why Steph only sent out a new referee at Clash Of Champions when it favoured Owens; Steph denies this and later angrily tells Rollins that Owens is “the man” now. Steph indefinitely suspends Rollins; Foley reinstates him and gives him a title match. Foley is clearly a more amenable ear. A canny politicker might try to leverage the situation.
Yet Rollins seems to just be blindly angry at them both. To further complicate matters, heel Universal Champion Kevin Owens also seems to be angry at them both (in his wonderful passive-aggressive way) because in his eyes they picked Rollins as their top man and it took Triple H to see what his rightful spot was. At this point Raw may just as well be run by two inflatable punchbags for all they’re helping to add definition to the major players in the show’s top title feud.
Whether or not you’re on board with the long-expected Foley/Steph and Hunter/Rollins storylines (Matt Corton did a great job last week of explaining which side of the fence he’s fallen), it’s without doubt in everyone’s interests to move things along. To do this and resolve those lingering points – Rollins’ unresolved anger issues, questions about whether Steph was in on the Owens coronation, the general alignment and definition of Raw’s authority figures – we are going to need Triple H back on programming to put everything into context. Only that way can these storylines of festering resentment start to properly take shape, with clear motivations for all.
But will that happen this week, or indeed any time soon? The story between Rollins and Triple H seems to be on a long burn at the moment, perhaps being saved for Survivor Series or even a WrestleMania payoff. Raw’s main players could be angry with each other and not really know why for a bit longer yet.
SmackDown Live (Valley View Casino Center, San Diego CA)
Announced: An announcement by Curt Hawkins. That’s it. Such is the confidence in the rest of SmackDown’s product right now….
What to expect: It’s the go-home show for No Mercy and will either be The Miz’s last SmackDown with the Intercontinental Championship or Dolph Ziggler’s last SmackDown, period. Both should get time to shine once again, to finish selling Sunday’s Title vs Career match as a big deal.
After two very good main events in a row, the three men in the WWE World Championship match probably have little business left to conduct but set out their motivations for Sunday and get the psychological upper hand. Some more substantial content in the feuds for the tag titles and (particularly) the women’s title is probably due, while extra matches for the No Mercy undercard should also be added. Candidates for those could include Nikki Bella vs Carmella and Baron Corbin vs Jack Swagger.
Could American Alpha be left off another pay-per-view card? Surely not….
Spotlight: It’s interesting how No Mercy is shaping up to be a crossroads in the on-screen lives of several men. I’ll mention Ziggler later, but for now let’s focus on the three competitors in the WWE World Championship match. This Sunday is a pivotal point in all of their careers.
Since Steve Austin tried to light a fire under his ass on the WWE Network in August, those of us with less of an eye for the business than Austin (read: the vast majority) have been watching Dean Ambrose for signs of change or a new edge. As a self-defined member of that audience, I thought Ambrose made a convincing champion – but now the title has been moved to AJ Styles, how will Ambrose begin to define himself moving forward? For Styles, it’s hard to undersell how big a moment it was for him to win the WWE World Championship. If he comes through this week with the title, he will have seen off Ambrose’s mandatory rematch clause and John Cena’s not-uncommon ‘free’ shot. This could be the week when you can really carve “AJ Styles, WWE Champion” in stone.
Cena, meanwhile, is on the brink of equaling Ric Flair’s 16 world titles. Ron Pasceri covered all the bases last week on how this feat is not only inevitable but also well-deserved. I agree with this – and I also agree it won’t (or at least shouldn’t) happen here. This is the start of this story, not the end. The ‘part-timer’ barbs, suggestions he’s lost a step, confused looks when he gets pinned clean on TV; these are laying the groundwork. Getting a 16th title should absolutely be portrayed as difficult and shouldn’t be ticked off the bucket list as soon as people start seriously talking about it.
If the 16th title should be portrayed as difficult, the 17th title – which we’d do well to believe is also inevitable – should be portrayed as superhuman, impossible. I think it should be one of the final acts of John Cena’s regular in-ring career and, therefore, there’s likely to be a few years before the need for it becomes pressing.
For now, Cena’s journey towards Flair’s record is getting interesting – as are the journeys of Styles and Ambrose. WWE have done a commendable job getting these men to where they are in their respective stories. I’m hoping to see those themes front and center on SmackDown this week, in the hard sell for No Mercy’s main event.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL)
The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic is back for 2016, which is perfect timing for NXT’s depleted duos division. Of last year’s 16 teams, six of the full-time pairings (Enzo & Cass, American Alpha, Hype Bros, Vaudevillains, Lucha Dragons, The Ascension) are now all firmly on the main roster. Beyond the Revival/DIY feud, TM61 have already been monstered by The Authors Of Pain a couple of times and, er, that’s about it for NXT’s tag scene.
Here’s hoping the Dusty Classic mints and makes some new pairings, although some of those announced last week have a whiff of short-termism about them (Alexander and Almas seem unlikely to get past The Revival in this week’s announced match). Meanwhile, if anyone other than the Authors are to win the whole thing, it will require some creative booking or a climbdown in the invulnerable portrayal of Paul Ellering’s new beasts.
Also, Dan Matha is due to debut. All we’ve been told so far is that he’s big and has muscles. Feel excitement or trepidation as you see fit.
No Mercy (Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA; SmackDown pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, card is subject to change and additions during the week are highly likely. At time of writing though:
- WWE World Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Dean Ambrose vs John Cena
- Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt
- Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) w/ Maryse vs Dolph Ziggler (if Ziggler loses he must retire)
- SmackDown Tag Team Championship: Heath Slater & Rhyno (c) vs The Usos
- SmackDown Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs Alexa Bliss
What to expect: I think the chances of Styles and Lynch dropping their respective championships are almost nil. Rhyno and Slater look a lot more vulnerable in that respect. I’m sorry to say I have only limited interest in what happens between Orton and Wyatt, despite liking both men. However, the highlight of the night could well be Ziggler and Miz.
Title vs Career matches run the risk of reducing uncertainty (and therefore drama), at least on paper. You’ll struggle now to find anybody predicting a Miz win on Sunday. But as the Dudleys proved a few weeks ago, it’s still possible in the internet age to make an unexpected retirement. Ziggler has talked in the past about his stand-up comedy and other projects outside wrestling, while facing one of his best friends in the company would be a logical choice for his last match. So can we be 100% sure who’s winning here?
As it happens, I absolutely expect Ziggler to win, but I think they’ll use the stipulation to really raise the bar from their match at Backlash last month. Backlash – the first SmackDown-only event since the brand split – ran half an hour shorter than Raw’s Clash Of Champions, and with relatively few matches announced for No Mercy, these two are likely to get time to milk the drama for all it’s worth.
As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang.
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. 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, including a generous one for two cruiserweight matches that went more than 10 minutes when combined. Being more strict with my wording on that this week. Narrowly missed a row thanks to Dana Brooke not turning on Charlotte. Thanks a lot, Dana!
Three Burning Questions
Answers in the comments, folks!
- Who would you like to see challenge TJ Perkins for the Cruiserweight Championship next?
- Can you see The Miz becoming WWE World Champion again?
- If Dolph Ziggler loses at No Mercy, what line of work would you like to see him go into?
Until next time, have a good week and enjoy the ride!