Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Apologies for missing last week – the prospect of intergender tag matches, single kendo sticks and stipulations where a champion can lose a title by disqualification were just too extreme for me. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, June 5th 2017.
Raw (Mohegan Sun Arena, Wilkes-Barre PA)
Announced: Nothing formally yet, following on from the Extreme Rules pay-per-view last night.
What to expect: Get ready to tick Brock Lesnar vs Samoa Joe off your bucket list, as Joe is now the number one contender to the Universal Championship. Lesnar has not been advertised for tonight; of the TV dates that have been rumored for Lesnar in this cycle, next week’s Raw is the earliest. Tonight may also begin to see what’s next for the other men in last night’s five-way; Bray Wyatt vs Finn Balor remains a program that feels like it’s been on hold. Also tonight, the reaction to two title changes at Extreme Rules; will Matt Hardy blame Jeff for costing them the tag titles? Or will that possible issue be left to simmer until after the inevitable contractual rematch? The Miz resumes being Intercontinental Champion and will probably be rubbing it in Dean Ambrose’s face in what he is already calling his ‘Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour’.
I’d imagine most people, if put in the shoes of WWE’s decision-makers, would accelerate away from the feud between Alexa Bliss and Bayley at the first opportunity; I’d imagine the company is well aware of the reaction the ‘This Is Your Life’ segment got last week and we’ll see a new contender emerge for the Women’s Championship tonight. This might also happen in the cruiserweight division, although Austin Aries getting Neville to submit outside of the ring (and therefore inconsequentially) at Extreme Rules may be a premise for one more match between them. Meanwhile, speculation will continue about who’s been ambushing Enzo Amore backstage – expect some people to be implicated and deny it and for Cass to act not entirely unsuspiciously – and some possible hints as to what sensitive information Corey Graves has heard about General Manager Kurt Angle.
Spotlight: Oh, how we’ve needed a mystery! Despite our gripes from time to time, WWE programming over the past year or so has on the whole been very good. However it has often lacked a hook, beyond the promise of competition, for people to tune in week after week to see what happens next. Then a couple of weeks ago, Enzo Amore was found in a heap backstage and we’ve suddenly found ourselves in a world of intrigue. The mystery of a backstage attack is, in theory, pretty reliable if skilfully balanced. It’s a good opportunity to allow other people on the roster to trade off the uncertainty and gain some credence from possibly being guilty parties. It may have been The Revival, who get a rub while Dash Wilder’s broken jaw mends. It may have been Apollo Crews. It may even have been Enzo’s tag partner, Big Cass – although he’ll threaten to beat you up if you suggest as much.
We also have the separate mystery of what compromising info Corey Graves has received about Kurt Angle – except, of course, there’s no way it’s separate. Even if we rule out the sudden involvement of Graves stirring both pots as complete coincidence, WWE – bless them – is usually subtle as a brick around this kind of thing. Lest we forget the last ‘mystery’ in WWE of somebody being attacked backstage, where the only obvious beneficiary of Nikki Bella missing Survivor Series was the lady who was missing out on captaining the team, but was fine with it (honest), Natalya. Also, that was back in November. After months in the desert of fairly routine programming, Enzo gets mysteriously beaten up and then one week later somebody has dirt on the GM. Raw just happens to be introducing two mystery stories at the same time? Come off it.
I’m prepared to accept this may partly be denial on my part, because I’m totally not down with the idea of Big Cass turning on his partner. I recognize I’m on one side of a wide split in opinion on this, and probably the side that’s been shrinking as the months go by, but I’m still absolutely on board with the whole Enzo and Cass act. No, I don’t get most of the local sports team references (to be honest I culturally identify with Jack Gallagher more than anyone else on the roster) and yes, I can see they had started treading water even before the Hardys came in over their heads. But with The New Day having jumped to SmackDown Live (and Goldust turning on R-Truth), their connection with the crowd is suddenly even less disposable to Raw. Also, I don’t see how splitting them up necessarily helps either of them. Cass is capable of cutting an in-ring promo on his own but better with Enzo in his corner running his mouth; you could give Cass a singles run even without jettisoning Enzo – even, I’d argue, as a heel. The future for Enzo, meanwhile, would without doubt be limited to the cruiserweight division.
And I dunno, but it feels too obvious. It feels like Corey Graves hinted at it too strongly. If he hates Enzo and is grateful to whoever beat him up, why would he out Cass as the culprit? Isn’t he more likely to speculate or accuse in order to cover up for somebody else? A word on Graves here, by the way: He’s arguably turned out to be the best color guy in a generation, and his involvement in this story is both recognition of that and the logical next step in his development. He doesn’t just make excuses for the heel, criticisms of the babyface and biased calls through rose-tinted glasses, but grounds his dislike of certain performers in consistent reasons that he can explain each week and which develop as time goes by. He clearly acts the jerk, but he’s a reliable narrator. So why not have him deepen those grudges with certain performers and loyalties to others by having him engage with them away from the desk? It makes for much more engaging content when he’s back on the desk, talking about those people. We’re likely to listen with more interest.
So maybe this is just a new feather in the cap of Corey Graves. Perhaps it really is a coincidence that he’s suddenly gotten involved in arguments with Big Cass at the same time as he’s suddenly become a confidante of his fellow Pittsburgh native Kurt Angle. Personally I don’t choose to believe that, but I guess we’ll see. Clearly somebody out in WWE’s fictional universe (small ‘U’) believes Angle has a skeleton in his closet. Whether or not that turns out to be complicity in the attacks on Enzo Amore, it certainly suggests a shift in role for Angle may also be on the horizon. If we’re really optimistic, perhaps those of us (by which I’m guessing all of us) who want to see the Olympic hero compete in a WWE ring again might feel like that day is coming one step closer.
SmackDown Live (Blue Cross Arena, Rochester NY)
Announced: Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kevin Owens. Do you really need anything more than that?
What to expect: Expect Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kevin Owens to either be a good-to-great treat of a TV match or a somewhat aborted affair that gets cut short by the interference of the other four men in the Money in the Bank match in two weeks. AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler – plus the two men in this week’s announced match – will inevitably be butting heads in various combinations over the final two episodes of SmackDown Live before June 18th. Same goes for the women’s division, whose inaugural Money in the Bank match slightly masks the fact that the ‘Welcoming Committee’ angle is still struggling to establish itself. Where Women’s Champion Naomi fits into that picture, given she’s not in the match, will be interesting to see this week.
Elsewhere, expect the hard sell of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion to continue; I’m not ragging on the guy, but it’s clear WWE are all-in on the concept right now and Randy Orton will be taking him a lot more seriously than if this program had been happening a few months ago. The New Day have officially arrived on SmackDown and have two weeks to build a fresh program with The Usos, so expect them to get some ring time. Breezango’s comedy act may well continue and there’s a good chance some new angles will be set up elsewhere on the roster, as there’s a big undercard that’ll need to be filled at Money in the Bank. Finally, where’s Rusev? A few weeks ago, he was demanding a title shot which he probably won’t now get – there’s more chance of Lana being added to the women’s Money in the Bank match if we’re honest – but it would be nice to acknowledge where he is.
Spotlight: So it’s now official: This year’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view – exclusive to SmackDown Live (this being its first running since the new brand split) – will again be a tale of two ladder matches. In recent years, when there were two world titles and the only real suggestion of a dividing line was whether the briefcase you were reaching for was red or blue, this became fairly commonplace. One briefcase for each world title. But with only one brand involved this year, WWE again finds itself breaking new ground with its female talent.
First a note on the men’s match. It’s really the only note that matters at the moment: Wow. Styles, Nakamura, Owens, Zayn, Corbin and Ziggler. That comfortably rivals the stellar lineup for last night’s five-way at Extreme Rules and should easily be every bit as watchable. That’s two brand-exclusive pay-per-views WWE has produced this month with embarrassingly rich selling points. Yes, like the build for Extreme Rules, we should expect the remaining episodes of SmackDown between now and then to continue exhausting permutations of these men against each other, but it won’t hurt the big payoff when we get to June 18th. Hopefully it should also still leave us with plenty of appetite for singles programs between the six of them. Predicting a winner is refreshingly difficult; personally I think a Corbin victory is in everyone’s best interests at this point.
However, from the point the rumor surfaced a couple of weeks ago (covered with interest here at TJRWrestling, as with most places) the buzz is being caused by the announcement that there will be a women’s Money in the Bank match for the first time. It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, to learn that I’m 100% behind the idea. It’s about time this was done and I hope it’ll now become an annual fixture at the pay-per-view. There’s no excuse not to give the women the same spotlight as the men with this gimmick. However I have two nagging issues about it that I’m conscious are limiting my enthusiasm (at least for the time being). Don’t get me wrong, I want to be looking forward to it with unqualified joy, but I can’t help but think about how much better things would be if fate had played out a little differently.
The first issue is with timing. In my opinion, this benevolent impulse of female empowerment has come almost exactly four months too late. Back in February, SmackDown Live put on the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view and it featured three singles matches in the women’s division – Becky Lynch vs Mickie James, Nikki Bella vs Natalya and Alexa Bliss vs Naomi. This was rightly recognized as an important achievement, but – with the blue brand’s original women’s division at its high-water mark – had they been men they would without question have been competing in the second Chamber match of the night. The three singles feuds would’ve been built for WrestleMania, seven weeks later. Whether the SmackDown Live creative team would’ve done this if they had a free hand (one can’t help but suspect the idea of three women’s singles matches for one brand at WrestleMania would’ve encountered resistance) we may never know.
The second issue is down to the wrestling gods, but painfully shows up the problem of not taking opportunities like Elimination Chamber when they present themselves. This SmackDown Live women’s roster is currently a shadow of February’s; Charlotte is routinely excellent, of course, and a strong addition to a division that already has Becky Lynch, but I’m yet to be convinced of the ‘Welcoming Committee’ concept. It currently feels like a really tough sell; of the three, Natalya comfortably comes across as the biggest player (whereas by contrast she was arguably the least relevant of the six women who wrestled at Elimination Chamber). I’m struggling to find any enthusiasm for the idea of Carmella or Tamina holding the briefcase, while Naomi – probably the coolest woman on the show over the past few months – won’t be involved at all. Basically, I’m just not feeling engaged about the outcome.
If Money in the Bank had been a Raw-exclusive show, the options would be more interesting. Sasha Banks, due a heel turn, with the briefcase? Alexa Bliss playing nice with Money in the Bank winner Nia Jax, knowing she could turn on her at any moment? Mercenary Emma as a wild card with a guaranteed title shot? The grass is always greener on the other side.
Also This Week
It’ll be interesting to see whether Sasha Banks is done with her diversion into the world of 205 Live (Tuesday) after last night’s intergender tag match. That dalliance is obviously more valuable for 205 Live than it is for Sasha Banks. NXT (Wednesday) sees Hideo Itami vs Oney Lorcan and more from our glorious NXT Champion Bobby Roode.
I have a quick good, bad and ugly for NXT while we’re here. Good: It does look like Johnny Gargano will be getting that remixed Chrome Hearts theme I mentioned a couple of weeks back (the track is now popping up across the internet under the name From The Heart). Bad: the show’s new rubbish generic rock title theme has been ditched after less than two months in favor of an even more rubbish generic rock title theme. Ugly: How the hell did Tommaso Ciampa wrestle a ladder match with a ruptured ACL? I was a soccer coach for eleven years and I know how little of a joke those are. That’s an inhuman effort.
Three Burning Questions
Some of this week’s most pressing but least publicized talking points – really basic ones this time around. Throw down your answers in the comments section as usual!
- Who are you currently picking to win the men’s Money in the Bank match?
- Who are you currently picking to win the women’s Money in the Bank match?
- Who do you think keeps beating up Enzo Amore?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.