Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Jeff Hardy lost a tooth, Randy Orton temporarily lost his championship, Kevin Owens lost his championship more permanently (but possibly also temporarily) and Bayley lost her championship to Alexa Bliss, I hope about as permanently as can possibly be. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 1st 2017.
Raw (Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA)
Announced: Nothing announced at the time of writing, following last night’s Payback pay-per-view. Check out John Canton’s review of the show here.
What to expect: The next pay-per-view on the Raw brand is Extreme Rules, in five weeks. Therefore expect the build to that show, starting tonight, to introduce reasons for a variety of stipulations. The fact Roman Reigns is ‘injured’ and Braun Strowman is clearly not finished with him will certainly lead to a further encounter, with an Ambulance Match stipulation highly likely. A canny victory by Seth Rollins over Samoa Joe is likely to present another case of unfinished business tonight, with Joe seeking retribution. Plus, whatever Bray Wyatt decides to follow up a House of Horrors match with; a couple of weeks ago it looked as though it could be a program with Finn Balor.
If it is Balor, that might interrupt a spat the Irishman has with The Miz, after last night’s Miz TV segment. There’s a good chance that may result in a match tonight, although the presumption is that Miz is likely to be occupied by Dean Ambrose over the coming cycle. We’ll see. Alexa Bliss is the new Women’s Champion and one imagines will need to head off a contractual rematch with Bayley at some point. That’s certain to come up on the show tonight. Finally, a healthy and definitive heel turn by Sheamus and Cesaro should be capitalized on tonight, with Jeff Hardy’s lost tooth – kicked out of his face by Sheamus last night – being mentioned too. It may still be a little early for the Hardys to be #BROKEN but it’s a good opportunity to give Sheamus and Cesaro a hard reset.
Spotlight: This weekend was a public holiday in the UK, and I spent all day on Sunday drinking cider in a field. I stress this is not the kind of thing I usually do on public holidays. Special case. But this was a terrible way to prepare for watching the House of Horrors match at Payback last night, which would’ve been difficult enough to sit through if I hadn’t been at the point where inebriation turns into hangover. So instead of dwelling on the (deep) troughs of the show, I’m going to look at one of its obvious peaks: Alexa Bliss.
Have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss? Sorry, let me rephrase that: Have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of the three-time Women’s Champion and first woman to hold both Raw and SmackDown titles despite never having wrestled on a TakeOver card before her promotion from NXT, Alexa Bliss? Swapped for Charlotte Flair as top female heel on WWE’s flagship show, Bliss has become a franchise player within the space of a year. Last night’s title win was the final proof of the company’s faith in her as a major player, not just at an unspecified point in the future but right now.
As for Bayley? Her run with the title had survived the key challenge of Charlotte and didn’t have too many other places to go (I’ll come to Sasha Banks in a moment), while losing the belt now – in her hometown – may help to avoid crowds turning on the division’s most marketable babyface if they feel things had begun to get stale. It may also help the character to get back to its roots, as a downtrodden underdog who has to prove herself against people better than her.
This is where Sasha comes in. A heel turn for Sasha Banks – and a feud with her best friend – seems to be an obvious possibility and would make a lot of sense. Their work in NXT was too good not to revisit, and would be a compelling story on the main roster. It also doesn’t need the Women’s Championship in order to work and, moreover, could lay the groundwork for a future heel champion Sasha Banks being felled by an underdog Bayley who she had previously bested. It’s an almost direct reboot of their NXT story. If there’s a barrier to this happening, it’s the issue of the number of bad girls already on the Raw roster; who would be left alongside Bayley? Dana Brooke and a veteran Mickie James?
In the meantime, Alexa Bliss has quickly become a reliable figure to carry a division from week to week. Her promo on Raw last week was another home run and, while her in-ring work isn’t at the level of Charlotte Flair, her work with the microphone and confidence of rolling with the punches of a live crowd is more assured than any woman on either show. She’s made it to the top; Women’s Champion on Monday Night Raw and likely to dominate promo time in the division over the next few months. Well done, Lexi Kaufman. Now keep on going.
SmackDown Live (Save Mart Center, Fresno CA)
Announced: Nothing formally announced at time of writing.
What to expect: Raw’s Payback is done, SmackDown’s Backlash is coming and now Tuesday night’s show can focus on its own issues. It has suddenly (perhaps unexpectedly) acquired Chris Jericho as United States Champion, but there’s a decent chance Kevin Owens shows up for a rematch here and AJ Styles has to wait for his shot. Owens vs Styles is still the likely match for Backlash. Also, Randy Orton can turn his attention to retrieving his WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal. We definitely now know that Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut match on the main roster will take place at Backlash, so expect him to continue to get under Dolph Ziggler’s skin.
Elsewhere, Baron Corbin is suspended after attacking Sami Zayn (and a referee) on last week’s Talking Smack, so is unlikely to appear to further that program, while Breezango are now a fresh and potentially entertaining pair of number one contenders to The Usos. In the women’s division, it could be a big week for establishing new alignments, as we find out firstly how Charlotte Flair reacts to the heel half of the division turning on her and secondly what this means for contendership for Naomi’s SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Spotlight: We should hopefully get some clarity this Tuesday as to whether Kevin Owens is still the new face of America. My guess is he will be. You don’t just stop being the face of America. After losing the United States Championship to Chris Jericho at Payback, we now know that Jericho will be added to the SmackDown Live roster. However, we also know that Jericho is due to go on the road with Fozzy any day now and last night’s result doesn’t necessarily mean Owens can’t show up on SmackDown this week and win the belt back. The logical route forward is still for him to face AJ Styles at Backlash later this month in his new incarnation as the antagonist Canadian lording it over the USA.
By the reckoning of many who watch WWE output on a regular basis (and, I’d say, certainly by the majority of those who write about it), SmackDown Live edged Raw overall for show quality over the first nine months or so of the brand split, before the recent roster adjustments. It’s instructive – if a little ominous for Raw over these next few months – just how quickly the Tuesday night show has incorporated its acquisitions as fresh, interesting new characters, with novel motivations.
We touched last week on Jinder Mahal as a number one contender and the Singh Brothers, formerly Bollywood Boyz, as his apparent backup. Yes, this was jarring; Jinder not only unhindered, but assisted and confident and dangerous and winning big matches. However, having had the new rules established so clearly and so quickly, it gives the performers time to grow into them. We saw this process in action last week, with Mahal and the Singhs starting to look more the part. Kevin Owens has been fortunate enough never to have suffered the same questions around legitimacy during his WWE run, but the rules in play are very similar. He wears a suit now and he’s the face of America. Deal with it.
This is where SmackDown Live has a different slant from Raw. From the first appearance of Kevin Owens on Tuesday nights, he was presented as a character at a certain place in his career with very specific motivations. On Raw, Seth Rollins is presented as ‘Seth Rollins’. Roman Reigns is presented as ‘Roman Reigns’. They may go through trials and tribulations, but more often than not we’re encouraged to identify with those based only on an acceptance of who the people are, historically. This is why, for example, there’s a disconnect between the booking of Roman Reigns (witness last night’s sympathy-seeking beatdown segment by Braun Strowman) and the crowd reactions, because they see the character as being on a different journey than simply ‘Roman Reigns is the babyface’. I’m not optimistic about the additions of The Miz, Dean Ambrose and Apollo Crews – all prone to being presented in two dimensions – to that roster.
The proactive approach to character building taken by SmackDown, which even managed to bring some definition to the motivations and career trajectory of the most over-exposed character in WWE in the last ten years – John Cena – should now help to establish the new ‘Face of America’ gimmick for Kevin Owens over the next few months. And if Chris Jericho – a master of reinventing himself – now gets to come back to the blue brand when his latest shift as a rock god ends, the WWE’s balance of power could stay tipped towards Tuesday nights.
Also This Week
There’s a battle royal on NXT (Wednesday) to determine Asuka’s next challenger for the Women’s Championship. The women’s division in NXT, having been left unscathed by post-WrestleMania call-ups, is actually pretty solid right now. Asuka, Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Nikki Cross, Ruby Riot, Aliyah, Liv Morgan….. Bit of a stretch towards the end, I admit, but with the long-expected women’s tournament coming to the WWE Network this summer, the situation is likely to continue to improve.
A disqualification finish between Neville and Austin Aries at Payback suggests that program is unfinished and will continue as the headline feud on 205 Live (Tuesday) along with more of the rest of the division spinning their wheels.
Three Burning Questions
Since most of the questions I have after the House of Horrors match last night are variations on “Why?”, I’ve decided to try something new this week and take requests, to mix things up for next week. So:
- What would you like to see covered in the Raw Spotlight next week?
- What would you like to see covered in the SmackDown Live Spotlight next week?
- What is the most positive thing you can say about the House of Horrors match?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.