Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Payback is this Sunday and I’m still having to talk about SmackDown talent in the Raw summaries – but everything goes back to normal after this week and Alexa Bliss has a title shot, so I’m chilled. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, April 24th 2017.
Raw (Sprint Center Arena, Kansas City MO)
Announced: Braun Strowman vs Kalisto in a Dumpster Match. No, really.
What to expect: Expect Braun Strowman to throw Kalisto into a dumpster. That said, Roman Reigns has a match signed against Strowman for Payback on Sunday and owes him for the backstage brawl and flipped ambulance of a couple of weeks ago – so you never know. The big question for the two Payback matches that are technically inter-brand contests will be how to conclude those builds if they can’t get both men on the same show? Bray Wyatt might elaborate more on what a ‘House of Horrors’ match may actually entail (but Randy Orton may not show up), while Chris Jericho may put some more people on his infamous List (but Kevin Owens may not show up). I hope I’m wrong, because a bit of interaction might be quite welcome to get us excited for Sunday.
Meanwhile, I’d say that interaction is a dead cert between Bayley and Alexa Bliss, who have a Women’s Championship match at Payback but with little motivation behind it other than that Bayley has the title and Bliss wants it. Expect a Bliss promo. Also interesting to see whether there are developments elsewhere in the division, given Nia Jax, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Emma and Dana Brooke currently have nothing planned for Sunday night. Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe are definitely likely to feature tonight, heavily pushing their personal grudge that will be a key match on the Payback card – that one might end up being the best built match (and best match, period) on the show. We should also expect to see something between Dean Ambrose and The Miz that leads to a match being announced for the former’s Intercontinental Championship.
Spotlight: There’ll be a bit more to say about Raw when we get to the Payback preview below, but let’s quickly stop in on the cruiserweight division – still ‘exclusive’ to Raw, despite WWE promoting the hashtag #205Live during cruiserweight matches on Monday, Austin Aries cutting promos during SmackDown Live and more talent from the division working matches on Tuesday nights anyway – because there are a couple of interesting moments coming up this week that will set the direction for the division in the near future.
The match for the Cruiserweight Championship at Payback this Sunday is the obvious first one. Neville and Aries have the look of a pairing that could quite easily continue their feud beyond this weekend and keep people interested, but it does feel like there needs to be a slight change of course. So far Neville has been peerless as champion, but Aries pushed him closer than anybody at WrestleMania and only lost due to underhanded eye-gouges and a Red Arrow. What’s the next stage here? Is there a chance Aries unseats the self-proclaimed king and changes the narrative? Neville has done a great job setting the bar high for the other cruiserweights, but that only matters when somebody eventually clears it. Perhaps this is the point where it needs to happen.
Kalisto’s match with Braun Strowman – a Dumpster Match – is the other one. With WWE having resolved the existential crisis of running a cruiserweight division which didn’t have Neville in it, most observers would think the final missing piece of the jigsaw is now Kalisto. It’s always been hard not to see Kalisto as the heir to Rey Mysterio in WWE and, although he’s been following the Mysterio mould of ‘biggest little man’ trying to hang with the six-footers up until now, would be an obvious choice to add to the division. Now having been traded to Raw, surely seeing Kalisto run the purple ropes is as much a foregone conclusion at some point in 2017 as The Shield reuniting.
To that end, I’m not sure the best way to start Kalisto out on Raw is to have him buried in a dumpster by Braun Strowman. Kalisto is no Curt Hawkins. So I wonder whether tonight’s match may be a good moment for Roman Reigns to show up backstage, spear Strowman into a dumpster to get revenge for the ambulance incident and set up their match at Payback, leaving Kalisto to survive? That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.
WWE is now doing with its cruiserweight division what it probably should’ve done from the beginning – parachuting in known quantities to drive interest in the rest of the roster. In contrast to the struggles of those first few months, with TJ Perkins and Brian Kendrick having to bear the division on their backs, Neville arrived to elevate it with a main roster pedigree and new attitude, Austin Aries got weeks and weeks of de facto promo time on commentary to ingratiate himself with the casual audience before his in-ring debut and now Kalisto is one step away from joining them. Come SummerSlam, if we’re not watching Neville vs Kalisto tear it up for 15+ minutes over the Cruiserweight Championship, somebody’s gotten something wrong.
SmackDown Live (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines IA)
Announced: Naomi (c) vs Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
What to expect: It’s likely to be another mixed week, as SmackDown’s new acquisitions continue to bed in, have their motivations spelled out and wait for Payback to be out of the way so the WWE and United States Championship programs for Backlash (and indeed all the other programs) can be properly built up. Jinder Mahal (!) and AJ Styles will therefore need to kill some time while their pay-per-view opponents deal with more pressing matters, although if we get another ‘Face of America Open Challenge’ from Kevin Owens it’ll be time well spent. Randy Orton vs Erick Rowan may not be time as well spent.
The SmackDown Women’s Championship match between Naomi and Charlotte Flair has the feel of storyline advancement rather than big payoff. Naomi has only just won the title back and it would feel like a bit of a rush if Charlotte shot straight to the top of the tree now. The story that was teased last week was a tension within the locker room at Charlotte’s arrival, so that may come into play here and set the scene for whatever matches will be set up for Backlash.
As much as I enjoy SmackDown, previewing it this week is a pain as the show seems to be treading water until Payback is out of the way.
Spotlight: Did somebody on the SmackDown Live creative team place a wager? Is that what happened here? When the roster trades went down the other week, did someone from Raw make a patronising sideways comment about the Tuesday night crew’s impressive work with acquisitions The Miz and Alexa Bliss? And was the Tuesday night crew’s response to say hey, seriously, you watch this; we can sell Jinder Mahal as a WWE Championship contender – on pay-per-view – make Primo and Epico the new hotness in the tag division and even find something for the Bollywood Boyz to do? Because even most of a week later I think we’re still struggling to properly take this in.
Pygmalion-style conspiracy theories aside (or She’s All That if you prefer a millennial cultural reference and, like me, are a Rachael Leigh Cook homer), let’s look at what we’ve got. Randy Orton vs Jinder Mahal, a match I’d normally look forward to with the kind of enthusiasm I reserve for putting the bins out, may well be the main event of a pay-per-view – Backlash, in Chicago no less – where AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura vs Dolph Ziggler and something involving Sami Zayn are all just supporting acts. What?
The inevitable first reaction is to think that’s surely arse-backwards. Randy Orton in 2017 isn’t the most revolutionary of performers, while Jinder’s most recent career highlight is being mugged by Mojo Rawley and Gronk. Clearly, however, WWE believes a viable main event angle cam be built out of this. And if it is – when the Backlash undercard will include AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura vs Dolph Ziggler and something involving Sami Zayn – that becomes one hell of a stacked show. Looking from that perspective, it shows progressive and impressive ambition.
The other men mentioned may not have had quite the impact of Jinder Mahal last week, but are still notable developments. It was the right call to ‘reboot’ Primo and Epico, who have always been decent workers but were going nowhere with their Shining Stars work. Nobody is suddenly going to buy them as world-beaters, but outsmarting American Alpha last week helped to establish them as a different kind of challenge in a division that badly needed more depth. Meanwhile, from first seeing the Bollywood Boyz on the Cruiserweight Classic I thought they could have legs as a babyface team – but as bad guys, possibly aligned with Mahal? The jury’s out in my opinion on whether that may work, but let’s see. At least as a possible stable, they would have a foothold on the show.
It would be very easy for SmackDown Live to fall back on its top talents rather than trying to build new ones. Let’s face it, many of us would’ve been satisfied with seeing Styles, Nakamura, Owens and Zayn (with some Corbin and Ziggler) on rotation against each other for the rest of the year. But this is the show that saw Sasha and Charlotte in main events on Raw and decided that one or even two viable women’s programs wasn’t ambitious enough. SmackDown is the land of opportunity and dammit, Jinder Mahal can be a main event contender and we’re all going to need to deal. Full marks for balls, SmackDown. You have my attention.
Also This Week
Quite a few announced segments for NXT (Wednesday) this week, including Drew McIntyre vs Andrade “Cien” Almas and Tyler Bate vs Jack Gallagher – with Bate’s United Kingdom Championship on the line. Also, more Aleister Black. The match between Bate and Gallagher is something I’m really looking forward to; the Full Sail crowd was really into Gallagher during the Cruiserweight Classic last summer and both men are great to watch from a technical perspective. Should be a blast.
205 Live (Tuesday) will probably finish the build towards Neville vs Austin Aries at Payback. If we’re lucky, we might get a little less Alicia Fox this week and further work for heel TJ Perkins, who seems to be getting a kick out of his new alignment (no pun intended).
Payback (SAP Center, San Jose CA; Raw pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are very possible. Official matches at time of writing (in no particular order):
- United States Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs Chris Jericho
- Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley (c) vs Alexa Bliss
- Raw Tag Team Championships: The Hardy Boyz (c) vs Sheamus & Cesaro
- Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs Austin Aries
- Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman
- Seth Rollins vs Samoa Joe
- Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt (House of Horrors Match)
What to expect: We’ll begin with a couple of specific notes on the last match in that list. The WWE.com preview is using a picture of Orton without his WWE Championship, while there’s been pretty much no mention of the title on TV in the build to this. It looks as though plans changed after the roster moves the other week and Bray’s title rematch won’t be coming. This greatly improves the chances of Wyatt winning here, as having him create a signature gimmick match only to lose it (especially as a feud with Finn Balor seems to be next for him) wouldn’t do him any favors. The second note: If you didn’t like the creepy ring projections at WrestleMania, I’m strongly expecting there to be some things in this match you won’t like either.
Elsewhere in inter-brand issues, you won’t find anybody predicting a Chris Jericho win in the United States Championship match. However, that is likely to be one of a handful of very appealing men’s singles matches on the card (non-House of Horrors division) that will provide the meat of the entertainment on the show. The matches for the women’s and tag titles should be good fun, but are ultimately likely to end up as routine wins for the champions.
In terms of possible additions to the card during the week, Dean Ambrose defending the Intercontinental Championship against The Miz looks the most likely candidate, while something dispensable may be rustled up for the Kickoff show – possibly another women’s match or cruiserweight contest, or something that gets Enzo and Cass onto the show. The match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman may well have a brawl-style stipulation added too.
As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang. You should also check out John’s Q&A on Payback if you haven’t already, which covers a lot of the main issues around the show.
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!
- Are you looking forward to the House of Horrors match?
- Now that we’ve had time to reflect on it, how do you feel about Jinder Mahal as number one contender to the WWE Championship?
- If you had to choose one match, at gunpoint, on the Payback card where Elias Samson should pop up unannounced, which match would it be?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.