WWE Week In Preview: May 22nd, 2017 by Max Grieve

Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Chicago got a good weekend of wrestling, Raw reshuffled their deck for the main event of Extreme Rules and….. Jinder Mahal is the WWE Champion? Okay, sure. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 22nd 2017.

Raw (Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids MI)

Announced: Nothing formally announced at time of writing.

What to expect: There are two episodes of Raw left before the Extreme Rules pay-per-view, and business is largely divided between selling angles that have already been set up and setting up others. In the first of those categories, another round of singles matches or a tag match involving Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe are highly likely, while the program between The Miz and Dean Ambrose will likely focus on Miz trying to light Ambrose’s short fuse (as General Manager Kurt Angle has ruled that the Intercontinental Championship can change hands on a disqualification in the upcoming match) and Bayley might get a chance to light Alexa Bliss up with a kendo stick.

In the category of business that still needs to be done, a match for the Raw Tag Team Championships has been set, but is yet to receive an ‘extreme’ stipulation. The thought of Matt and Jeff Hardy wrestling a regular tag match on an Extreme Rules pay-per-view is crazy, so expect some sort of twist to be introduced tonight. The same goes for another title match between Neville and Austin Aries in the cruiserweight division. Elsewhere, last week saw a couple of heel turns, as Goldust turned on his partner R-Truth and Apollo Crews attacked Enzo Amore after a (very short) match between Titus O’Neil and Big Cass. Expect reprisals in both cases this week.

Spotlight: Extreme rules! Do you wanna get extreme? Let’s get extreme! I don’t know that you’ve got what it takes to get extreme! Can you handle getting extreme? And so on. This is proving to be an annual occurrence as the key narrative device in building to Raw’s next brand-exclusive pay-per-view (the title of which, for the moment, escapes me). You’ve already heard variations on it several times last week and should expect to hear further variations on it several times this week. If you’re planning a drinking game around it tonight, be sure to have your local Emergency Room on speed dial before you begin. Or, maybe, just don’t do it at all.

But are those repeated promises to ‘get extreme’ writing checks that the show itself may not be able to cash? So far, the card is looking like a mixed bag of extreme. Extremeness. Extremities. One of those. Basically, some of it is relatively extreme, but some of it is also a bit underwhelming.

To firstly give praise where it’s due, the announced main event gets an unqualified thumbs-up. Cramming Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe into a five-way Extreme Rules match – with tangible stakes (the winner gets a shot at Universal Champion Brock Lesnar) – should provide licence for chaos. If Braun Strowman hadn’t recently gotten injured, you suspect this would’ve been three singles matches each with special rules but no number one contender stipulation. As it is now, this match could run for at least a solid half hour, see five top guys emptying the toybox and throwing everything they’ve got at each other and could even carry the entire show.

And it may well have to carry the show, because below it on the card there are problems with the ‘extreme’ branding. The Women’s Championship match between Alexa Bliss and Bayley is one. When both women started talking last week about ‘getting extreme’ and Bliss dug out the kendo stick, I was interested. A wide-ranging weapons-based brawl would’ve been another step into new territory for the women’s division, could’ve showed us a new side of Bayley and played more to the character strengths of Bliss. The ‘Kendo Stick on a Pole’ stipulation promises one single kendo stick, the recovery and use of which will likely be the climax – not the main body – of the match. I love Bliss, as you all know, but even I’m not too enthused to see her and Bayley filling more time in a standard wrestling environment until the weapons are allowed to come out. One can’t help but think Sasha and Charlotte would’ve been given a full Extreme Rules stipulation to play with.

Elsewhere, the Intercontinental Championship match stipulation – champion Dean Ambrose can lose the title to The Miz by disqualification – barely qualifies as extreme. A no disqualification stipulation makes sense as ‘extreme’, and could’ve offered plenty of scope for interference by Maryse, but this is the mildest of cheddar. The only way WWE could make less effort to be extreme here is if Ambrose loses by countout and retains the title. Much rests, then, on the rest of the card and the further stipulations that might be added this week – and central to this are Matt and Jeff Hardy. The tag champions have already faced their challengers Sheamus & Cesaro once under standard tag rules and, with their feud having deepened since then, are surely likely to take things to another level. Until WWE resolves the legal issues around the ‘Broken’ gimmick with TNA, Matt and Jeff are still very much trading on their reputation as Team Extreme. Here’s hoping there’ll be some tables, ladders and chairs to help WWE sell their Extreme Rules ticket.

SmackDown Live (Huntington Center, Toledo OH)

Announced: Nothing formally announced yet, coming out of the Backlash pay-per-view last night. You can read John Canton’s detailed review here.

What to expect: Jinder Mahal shocked everyone by becoming WWE Champion last night and will likely come out to brag about it, but we should certainly expect Randy Orton to be demanding his rematch in short order. That isn’t the only area where we should expect to see unfinished business from last night; Kevin Owens lucked out against AJ Styles in his United States Championship defense and then attacked his challenger after the bell. That program is a no-brainer to run for another cycle or two. Also remaining to be seen is whether Baron Corbin takes his defeat to Sami Zayn with good grace; actually, who are we kidding, we know he won’t.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the next pay-per-view for SmackDown Live will be Money in the Bank, so a lot of significant names and ongoing programs are likely to be folded into the eponymous ladder match. Outside of the feuds already mentioned, Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler may now need to transition to something new, while Breezango’s comedy shot at the tag championships looks like it was a one-time deal. There’s a reasonable chance The New Day could be back on TV this week (and if not this week, imminently). In the women’s division, the two plates that need to be kept spinning are a new challenger for the Women’s Championship and continuing the momentum of the ‘Welcoming Committee’ of Natalya, Carmella and Tamina. Hopefully we may also see Rusev this week, after he didn’t deliver on his guarantee to show up last week.

Spotlight: Writing this as I am within a few hours of Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship, you’ll forgive me if I still haven’t got my thoughts together. I’m sure like most people, I figured the match was a means to an end; it was an express way of showcasing and building a new stable that could battle in SmackDown Live’s midcard with a certain amount of instant legitimacy, a nice vote of confidence in Mahal as a reward for his (reportedly excellent) work ethic since returning to the company and an routine first defense for Randy Orton before facing Rusev at Money in the Bank. Not so.

I want to share something that helps illustrate the magnitude of what’s happened here. It’s a list of all WWE Champions in the ten years since 2007. Bear in mind that, for much of this period, there’s been a second ‘world’ championship – the Universal Championship now, the World Heavyweight Championship (aka the Big Gold Belt) previously – and despite the presumed parity between the two, it’s that other title that was held by (without wishing to disrespect their achievements) The Great Khali, Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler and Christian during that time. As for who’s been allowed to hold the belt with the company’s own name on it? The list is as follows: John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H, Edge, Jeff Hardy, Batista, Sheamus, The Miz, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, The Rock, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt.

The Miz was the last and arguably the only anomaly (consider the arguments you’d need to make even for the much-improved version to be a world champion again today). Guys like Sheamus and Del Rio might’ve reached the top quite quickly in their WWE careers, but both are also Royal Rumble winners and were clearly no fluke. Consider the critical mass of fan support Hardy, Punk and Bryan all needed to reach the top. For five years following the ‘Summer of Punk’, the only first-time champions were Daniel Bryan and The Shield. Even after the new brand split, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt winning the title felt more like legitimate big deals and shows of faith than a question of needing to put a title on somebody in order to tell a story.

We can now add to this exulted list the name of Jinder Mahal, WWE Champion. He’s come from absolutely nowhere, he’s been a lower-card loser for most of his career with the company and (by a strange coincidence) he’s become champion just as WWE is looking to make strides into the market in India. But a WWE Champion he now is.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. How long will Mahal be champion? Will he survive the inevitable championship rematch with Orton? Will he hold the title through Money in the Bank? Will the liaison-turned-beef between him and Rusev from the bottom half of the Raw card earlier this year pay off in a match for the WWE Championship? What happens when the likes of Styles, Nakamura and so on come calling? By all accounts, Mahal has done everything asked of him since his return to the company and will no doubt do everything in his power to take this opportunity, but rightly or wrongly SmackDown Live will now be under close scrutiny from fans ready to pass judgement on the success of the new champion. In the longer term, the benefits are a world where anyone could become WWE Champion and nobody can be 100% sure of the outcomes of title matches, but in the shorter term expect a lot of hot takes about the new face of Tuesday nights.

Also This Week

After a busy week of programming last week, we’re back to the familiar staples of 205 Live (Tuesday) and NXT (Wednesday). The latter is likely to be made up mostly of the dark matches from TakeOver, as is now traditional, so the hot Chicago crowd will probably make it worth your while, even if the prospect of Patrick Clark (‘The Velveteen Dream’) and Drew McIntyre vs Wesley Blake doesn’t move your needle too much.

Side note: If there’s one thing I want to come out of the #DIY split, it’s for Johnny Gargano to start using the awesome Chrome Hearts remix that CFO$ made for him to use in the Cruiserweight Classic. The story between Gargano and Ciampa will surely play out well no matter which way it’s handled, but just give me that Chrome Hearts remix. Please.

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!

  1. What in your opinion can WWE do to make a success of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion?
  2. Who would you pick, of the five men in the number one contender match at Extreme Rules, to face Brock Lesnar next?
  3. Whose heel turn do you think will turn out best of Goldust and Apollo Crews?

Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.