Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Tuesday night’s fallout show may have been cancelled, but three hours of Raw this week isn’t quite enough to fit in an interview with Kurt Angle. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 17th 2017.
Raw (Bridgestone Arena, Nashville TN)
Announced: Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe in a number one contender’s match to challenge Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Kurt Angle will ‘go public’ about the mysterious controversy that’s been playing out via text message (and will take part in an ‘exclusive interview’ on the WWE Network when Raw goes off the air). Also, Dean Ambrose will apparently open the show in some form or other.
What to expect: To look at things in chronological order, Dean Ambrose opening the show will likely take in his long-running feud with The Miz, but also the question of whether he sees eye-to-eye with Seth Rollins. Miz transitioning to an Intercontinental Championship feud with Rollins makes sense, though if Roman Reigns happens to lose his number one contender’s match later in the night (which seems unlikely), maybe those Shield reunion teases will become stronger. Wishful thinking maybe, but heaven knows the tag division could use another face team, with no idea yet who champions Sheamus & Cesaro will be moving on to. Might we find out tonight? It likely won’t be Matt and Jeff Hardy, who will probably be focused on revenge against The Revival for last week’s attack. Meanwhile, Bayley pinned Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss last week and the narrative is likely to revolve around whether she deserves the title shot at SummerSlam (an issue which Sasha Banks and Nia Jax are likely to dispute).
Also during the night, we should expect to see further establishment of the Big Cass/Big Show program. We might also see whether Finn Balor and Goldust are moving on to other things after seeming to finish with Elias Samson and R-Truth respectively last week; might we be moving to a SummerSlam program between Balor and Bray Wyatt, who is also at a loose end? Oh, and because we’re in Nashville, all the more reason to expect Samson to sing. The main event will either be the advertised number one contender’s match – which, given the stakes, may well go long and deliver one of the better television matches of the year – or cover the revelation of the mystery surrounding Kurt Angle and the as-yet-unnamed person connected to him. Best guesses are Stephanie McMahon or Dixie Carter – the latter of which would be quite a moment – but if all roads lead to a Kurt Angle match at SummerSlam, anything’s fine with me. Brock Lesnar’s back off television for the next couple of weeks, so if nothing else we can probably rule him out.
Spotlight: In a week when Roger Federer casually won the Wimbledon tennis championships without dropping a set, several years after his dominance was meant to have ended and his talent and desire waned, the freshest act on Monday Night Raw – and possibly with the most exciting short-term future – are Matt and Jeff Hardy. You know, the same Matt and Jeff Hardy who started wrestling a continuing parade of career-shortening ladder matches around 17 years ago and have fallen in and out of the McMahon enterprise’s favor on several occasions since then. Those guys have a great upside, certainly over the rest of this year and quite possibly beyond. Jeff Hardy joins his brother in his 40s next month.
The legal wrangle the Hardy family has with Global Force Wrestling, formerly Impact Wrestling which was Total Nonstop Action Wrestling but is now owned by Anthem Sports & Entertainment – if you’ve been in a coma for the past year, we’ll catch you up on all this once you’re finished on the US Presidential Election – drags on with more bits and pieces of information emerging in the last week about what issues are still in play that are stopping the House of Hardy bringing the hugely successful ‘Broken’ gimmick across to WWE programming. To not dive into too much detail here, the myriad changes in the Impact/GFW management and ownership complicated the deal and Anthem are now reportedly digging their heels in over the intellectual property rights. Matt Hardy has noted on Twitter that he believes victory is close but, to be honest, things look to be at a bit of an impasse currently.
For the moment, though, it doesn’t seem to matter as the WWE Universe’s live reactions to The Hardy Boyz in something close enough to their original specifications has been hearty and positive, ever since their WrestleMania return. Yes, the cult appeal of the ‘Broken’ gimmick has clearly crossed over to the mainstream – note the reactions to the use of the words “broken” and “obsolete” in last week’s promo – but what that success appears to have done is renew the audience’s interest in two men who have always been consummate performers and entertainers. The Hardy Boyz don’t need to be Broken right now; if the legal issues are eventually sorted down the line, that’s one hell of a gear change to have available, but it arguably wouldn’t be needed for the rest of this year at least.
Having been away from the company for so long, there are a number of fresh matchups available with the new, post-NXT generation of WWE wrestlers. The series of matches that Matt and Jeff recently had with Sheamus & Cesaro were excellent, and there are more programs where that came from. I’d be intrigued to see them against The Usos. But up first is evidently a program with The Revival – no flips, just fists – which I’m unbelievably excited to see. The Revival were secretly so great at wrestling tag matches in NXT that it quickly ceased to be a secret, and there are few teams in the world who have tagged as long as the Hardys have. This should be the coming-out party for The Revival on the main roster and another stage in the remarkable rehabilitation of Matt and Jeff as two of WWE’s marquee players.
SmackDown Live (Legacy Arena, Birmingham AL)
Announced: The Punjabi Prison structure will be in the arena.
What to expect: It’s the go-home show for Battleground, hence Jinder Mahal showing off the Punjabi Prison as a hard sell. Randy Orton is back this week and is certain to mix things up to fill out the obvious video packages for Sunday. Also on the point of selling the weekend’s pay-per-view, AJ Styles should return his focus to Kevin Owens, after last week’s John Cena-related distraction. Mostly this is because Cena himself badly, badly needs to have some more direct interaction with Rusev – based around flags or similar patriotism – because their match this weekend is distinctly lacking in build right now. In the women’s division, expect the five-way participants to mix things up while Naomi and Carmella may continue to be kept in a holding pattern.
In contrast, there’s plenty of variety going on the SmackDown tag team division. The championship program between The Usos and The New Day is all but sold, so there’s a chance that may get lip service this week. The Hype Bros may be falling out and, having been left off the show last week, may come back into relevance. Meanwhile there’s definitely a high probability of another comedy video from Breezango, who are killing it right now. Also expect more violence between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin, and more love between Mike and Maria Kanellis which will likely be interrupted by Sami Zayn, bearing ill will after last week and a challenge for Sunday’s pay-per-view.
Spotlight: For SmackDown Live’s next trick, two Hall-of-Fame-bound veteran babyfaces and two younger ‘evil foreigner’ heels will try to salvage two relatively obtuse gimmick matches from comparable states of disrepair. Hands up all those people in the WWE Week In Preview audience who were bursting to see another Flag Match and the return of the Punjabi Prison? Don’t be shy. No, me neither.
That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to them or willing to give them a chance; more that they wouldn’t have been top of many wish lists for bringing back, as their most recent history isn’t too glorious. Personally, I’d have slapped a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ label on the Flag Match after its last outing between Rusev and Jack Swagger at SummerSlam 2014 (to be honest, when I checked that I was slightly surprised Rusev’s been on the main roster that long; it’s felt like he’s just been getting started for three years). In case you’ve forgotten that occasion, for which I can’t blame you, it amounted to a regular singles match where the winner got to unfurl their national flag after the finish. It remains to be seen whether any format tweaks will be made this time out in an attempt to make the gimmick a little bit more vital; the format of the old-school Flag Match was more of a ‘capture the flag’ sort of affair, which would be an improvement if still a little corny. We can hope. It’s also a perfectly appropriate challenge for somebody to make on a July 4th episode of SmackDown Live, but some of the relevance may feel worn away by the time we reach a pay-per-view on July 23rd.
The Punjabi Prison gimmick, meanwhile, has been on the shelf for much longer and has far less prestige behind it. There have been two matches in history, the last being in 2007, and both of them involved The Great Khali (including in one of them, Big Show as a Khali proxy) – a sure mark of quality. The concept, escape two bamboo structures surrounding the ring, is that of a drawn-out cage-into-cell match with no pinfalls or submissions; on previous occasions it has played out as a diluted sense of drama, with the selling point being the spectacle of the Prison structure and precious little else below the surface. Unlike the scare stories and highlight reels that pepper the build to a Hell In A Cell or an Elimination Chamber, there are reasons why little has been said about or shown of previous Punjabi Prison matches (and why bringing the Prison structure to this week’s episode of SmackDown Live is a smart and necessary step), which bluntly are that there’s not much to talk about and the previous matches had few if any highlights.
I’ll mark your card, though, for the possibility of seeing a redesigned Punjabi Prison structure this Tuesday night, similar to the redesign that happened to the Elimination Chamber earlier this year; this could (and probably should) be a reboot, a reimagination of the gimmick. Certainly expect Mahal or Orton or the announce desk to refer to the structure as the ‘battleground’ a few times. With the elevation of Jinder Mahal to a main event talent very much an ongoing project – and one, to his credit, that is going pretty well – the Punjabi Prison is likely to be established as his signature gimmick match (assuming the reaction to this Sunday’s match is a little warmer than the previous two). Hopefully for his sake it’ll do better for him than it did for Khali, or than the House of Horrors did for Bray Wyatt. Or, indeed, the Flag Match may do for Rusev, who one would think has to be on short odds to lose to Big Match John this weekend.
Also This Week
A big number one contender’s match on NXT (Wednesday) as well this week, as Drew McIntyre wrestles Killian Dain to decide who challenges for Bobby Roode’s NXT Championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn. The other announced match this Wednesday is Ember Moon vs Ruby Riot.
205 Live now remains as the only thing worth catching after SmackDown Live on Tuesday, thanks to the untimely demise of Talking Smack. That’s a terrible shame, by the way; it generated a lot of good content for WWE and in relative cost per viewer I bet it did better business than 205 Live currently does. Thankfully an edition of Talking Smack will air after Battleground on Sunday, so let’s all tune in to make a point (and see whether Renee, Daniel and guests mention the elephant in the room). Speaking of Sunday…..
Battleground (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA; SmackDown Live pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and one or two additions during the week are likely. Official matches at time of writing are:
- WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal (c) vs Randy Orton (Punjabi Prison Match)
- John Cena vs Rusev (Flag Match)
- SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (c) vs The New Day
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs Baron Corbin
- United States Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens
- Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch vs Natalya vs Tamina vs Lana (Five-Way Elimination Number One Contender’s Match)
What to expect: We’ve already looked at the two gimmick matches at the top of the card, but elsewhere the quality is potentially high. With the swift transition of the United States Championship from Kevin Owens to AJ Styles, it’s possible that another blockbuster Styles-Cena match (already teased on SmackDown Live last week) is the option being lined up for the SummerSlam card. If so, that should make this the blowoff match for Styles and Owens, and if they leave everything in the ring it could be outstanding. Also highly promising (but potentially, in contrast, holding something back for SummerSlam) is the match for the Tag Team Championships, while if Corbin and Nakamura carry through their physical hype and lay in a few stiff shots that match could be a lot of fun too.
The women’s match, being an elimination affair, could work out pretty well if it comes down to Flair and Lynch, although expect at least some focus to be on the partnership of Tamina and Lana. This should set up a contender for SummerSlam – and hopefully some distinct subsidiary programs, which SmackDown could really do with right now – but on the downside it’s another pay-per-view where champion Naomi isn’t the focus of the division; in fact this time she isn’t even on the card. Whether the fact that Money in the Bank briefcase holder Carmella is also missing from the card turns out to be relevant remains to be seen.
The obvious match to be added to the show during the coming week is Sami Zayn vs Mike Kanellis, which looks like a routine launching pad for the latter and his partner Maria. It feels like there’s too much story remaining to run between The Hype Bros to rush the obvious match between Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley forward to this weekend, so another possible route may be for them to lose a routine tag to Breezango to further their rift (and get the popular comedy team on the card at the same time).
Looks like it could be a pretty good show. As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang.
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 out of Stephanie McMahon or Dixie Carter would you prefer to see as Kurt Angle’s mystery ‘other’, or would you prefer somebody else entirely?
- Are you more excited about the Flag Match or the Punjabi Prison Match this Sunday?
- Can anybody remember what happened in the cruiserweight division last week? I’ve gone back over the shows several times and it’s like those segments just delete themselves from my memory once they’re over. Is it just me?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.