Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! WWE comes live-on-tape from my home city of London in the UK this week, although I sadly won’t be in attendance as a) I was a little slow out of the blocks when tickets went on sale, b) the UK’s secondary ticketing market is appalling and in dire need of regulation and c) I’d rather not sell a kidney for a ticket, at least not while I’m still in my thirties.
On a more positive note though, welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 8th 2017.
Raw (The O2 Arena, London UK)
Announced: Tag Team Turmoil match to determine the number one contenders to the Raw Tag Team Championships; the five teams competing are The Golden Truth, Enzo & Cass, Heath Slater & Rhyno, The Club and Sheamus & Cesaro.
What to expect: Last week’s main event was a perfect bit of pro wrestling business, not only being a dazzling contest but establishing three solid programs for the next cycle; an incitement by Bray Wyatt to Finn Balor, a continued grudge between Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins and an Intercontinental Championship match between Dean Ambrose and The Miz. Expect all three to be cemented this week, possibly with spooky videos between Wyatt and Balor (both have a penchant for the supernatural) and I’ll offer short odds on there being a MizTV segment. We may also get some clarity on whether Bayley will remain top challenger to Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, or if the likes of Sasha Banks will be moving to the front of the queue.
It’s hard to pick any other winner for the Tag Team Turmoil match than Sheamus & Cesaro, freshly turned full heel and due some sort of reckoning from the champions Matt and Jeff Hardy, but it’ll be interesting to see if The Golden Truth and Heath Slater & Rhyno get any chance to shine. Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns, after selling their injuries from Payback, will resume hostilities any week now as they build to some sort of blowoff gimmick match at Extreme Rules. Universal Champion Brock Lesnar continues to be away and sure as shit won’t turn up in England this week. Finally, a note to look out for Apollo Crews again this week, who appears to finally be getting his teeth into something with Titus O’Neil that may work out usefully for both men.
Spotlight: I’m indebted to Joe Sondag in last week’s comments for not only raising a couple of interesting points to turn the Spotlight onto this week, but also sounding a few notes of caution over the state of the Raw women’s division following the immediate rise of Alexa Bliss. It’s fair comment that, as an unapologetic Bliss fanboy, I’m always likely to see the positives of pushing the best talker in the women’s division into a position where she can narrate the show’s major women’s stories, but there are risks and limitations to this – and there are also weaknesses in the division that are shown up by the ability (if not the arguable necessity) for somebody who was in NXT this time last year to waltz straight into a championship at the first attempt.
The first point is that Bliss has to be shown to be vulnerable as champion, more consistently and logically than Charlotte Flair was – which I’d argue is partly what got us into this situation in the first place. Sasha Banks and Bayley have both stalled as characters, after Banks – three times! – surrendered the title to Charlotte on pay-per-view immediately after having won it on television, while Bayley not only won it on television but then ended Charlotte’s pay-per-view win streak with no fanfare right before WrestleMania. We’re left with a Boss who’s clearly a subordinate and an underdog who didn’t have to struggle much. Both need a reset and if Bliss can draw some heat in promos and put some sympathy back on them, before stepping aside as soon as the time is right, it could benefit them hugely. No, Bliss may not be the complete package in the ring, but in-ring work isn’t the biggest problem Raw’s female babyfaces need to address right now.
Speaking of which, let’s consider Mickie James; since her return to WWE, we’ve seen her in-ring work is still rock-solid but otherwise she’s been given very little character direction apart from the whole ‘respect the veterans who laid the groundwork for the Women’s Revolution’ line, which one suspects she may have come up with herself. Mickie returns to The O2 Arena tonight, the scene of her 2008 Women’s Championship win over new Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix – a match which, according to TJRWrestling’s authority on these matters John Canton, she counts among her favorites and one I was very privileged to have been in the crowd for. Back then she was a central pillar of the women’s division but, nine years later, she finds herself a little on the periphery having returned to the company.
It’s very hard not to look at Mickie’s place on the Raw roster and equate it to Natalya’s place on SmackDown Live. Very hard. I choose to believe it’s no coincidence that the two were split up by the recent roster trades, so now both shows have somebody in the role of veteran to work with the younger talent. As much as I’d love to turn the clock back and see her winning titles again, I suspect that will be Mickie’s role now, but it doesn’t mean she couldn’t be used more ingeniously. In the role of veteran crowd favorite, she could frame herself as a new test for Nia Jax (as she did with Asuka in NXT), or possibly as a mentor to Bayley – which may really help Bayley find her innocence again as the starstruck dreamer who aspires to one day emulate her childhood heroes.
Before then, I’d imagine that Bayley remains first in line for a tilt at Alexa Bliss – we should probably have that established tonight – but last week’s promo segment with Bliss ripping on a few of Raw’s women felt like it was a sounding board to judge crowd reactions to possible future programs. Sasha Banks and Nia Jax both looked like frontrunners, but I hope there’s space for Mickie James to get in there first. The relationship breakdown between Mickie and Alexa on SmackDown never really got to play out fully, while a short, promo-heavy title program may help to define Mickie’s motivations better and give Alexa Bliss a notable win before being unseated by a resurgent Banks or somebody else. Mickie James still has a lot to offer, even if her role is limited to giving meaning and definition to others on the roster rather than claiming glory in her own right. Raw is lucky to have her.
SmackDown Live (The O2 Arena, London UK)
Announced: Nothing formally announced at the time of writing.
What to expect: There are only two episodes of SmackDown Live remaining before Backlash, so expect it to be all business this week. Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles for the United States Championship is now locked in, so a face-to-face promo or some form of direct conflict rather than by proxy is needed. Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal could also do with getting face-to-face, especially with the WWE Champion missing last week’s episode. Meanwhile, expect more teases of Shinsuke Nakamura without much physicality. If you want to see him knee Dolph Ziggler’s face into the fifth row, buy the pay-per-view!
In the women’s division, Charlotte Flair’s face turn is complete and she joins Becky Lynch and Naomi in broadly being against Natalya, Carmella and Tamina. With Backlash close, continued collective disagreement and a six-woman tag looks the most likely story, before the blue brand starts setting up title programs and other feuds. Baron Corbin’s ‘suspension’ is ended, so expect him to be gunning for Sami Zayn again, while once again we seem to be back to the question of whether the tag team division will get much time this week. Breezango will face The Usos in a championship match at Backlash, so they could do with it. Also, Aiden English might sing again, which is a fun gimmick for him that I’m glad they rescued from his NXT days.
Spotlight: When Sami Zayn faced Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Dallas just over a year ago, they were in contrasting positions. Zayn, the former NXT Champion who was an integral part of first making the brand ‘cool’, was on his way out; his main roster call had already come and he had an Intercontinental Championship match to look forward to the same weekend. Nakamura was on his way in, joining a hot promotion with more buzz than anyone before him and looking to make a first impression. Fast forward 12 months to this April and both men arrive on SmackDown Live with something to prove. But is the future bright for them?
The short-term outlook is better for Nakamura than it is for Zayn. Nakamura is getting the don’t-get-to-see-him-wrestle-until-the-big-show introduction reserved for the biggest deal debuts; not only is he on the poster for Backlash – in his first main roster pay-per-view – but he’s the big selling point of the show in commercials, when Randy Orton is the WWE Champion and AJ Styles is fighting Kevin Owens. The company clearly see him as a unique selling point and a major attraction for SmackDown Live, with the prospect of can’t-miss quality programs against Orton, Styles, Owens, John Cena and more in the locker. Whatever happens, WWE will get their money’s worth out of the King of Strong Style.
Zayn, meanwhile, is a known quantity on the main roster – and if that phrase fills you with euphemistic dread, there’s probably a reason for that; he’s slotted very handily into the role of ‘solid crowd favorite whose role is to come up short’. His immediate past on the main roster is based around being bodied by Braun Strowman, patronized by Mick Foley, being blood rival of the two-time United States and former Intercontinental and Universal Champion (none of which Zayn has come within a sniff of winning) Kevin Owens and being pinned last week by Jinder Mahal. His immediate future looks to be a feud with Baron Corbin, apparently heavily favored by WWE higher-ups as a future main-eventer. No doubt who’s second-favorite going into that program.
By contrast, the long-term outlook may be more assured for Zayn than it is for Nakamura. Both have been performing for about the same amount of time, but Zayn is four years younger and has arguably spent less time working a stiffer style. All things being equal, of the two you would probably pick Zayn to have the longest time left in the ring. Meanwhile, Nakamura still has some critical obstacles to overcome in the WWE. How far do senior figures in the company really think he can go? Will the language issue be perceived as a problem? Will ‘strong style’ be bought by weekly main roster crowds? What happens when the novelty wears off? Nakamura may have some great opponents lined up now he’s made the jump, but they’re also a test of where he belongs on the roster. Orton, Styles, Owens and Cena are formidable performers to outshine.
As for Zayn? Yes, you will need to make your peace with him losing more than he wins, certainly for the immediate future and possibly for the indefinite future; this is what Sami Zayn does and has always done, and how he got over in NXT after shedding El Generico’s mask and earning Cesaro’s respect in a couple of epic losses. However, coming to SmackDown Live could be the best thing to happen to Sami Zayn, with some of the writing team that plotted his journey to the NXT Championship now working on Tuesday nights. If I was on that creative team, I’d be saying to Vince McMahon “give me two years with this kid, let me put the WWE Championship on Kevin Owens in due course and I’ll deliver you another Daniel Bryan moment at WrestleMania in 2019”. Both Zayn and Nakamura have all the talent in the world to succeed, but only Zayn’s story writes itself.
Also This Week
There’s a number one contender’s match on NXT (Wednesday) between Hideo Itami and Roderick Strong to determine Bobby Roode’s opponent at TakeOver: Chicago. Without having seen taping spoilers, my gut feel is that Itami seems like the more believable NXT Championship challenger, although the video packages for Roddy over the last couple of weeks have done a good job in starting to define him for casual fans beyond “that guy who was a friend of Austin Aries”. More from Aleister Black this week too.
Last week may have been the best for cruiserweight matches, both on Raw and 205 Live (Tuesday), since the division’s inception. The division is showing plenty of depth now and, beyond Neville’s work as champion, there’s some time and effort being put into getting TJP (the ‘Perkins’ is no more) and Drew Gulak over as believable heels. Could the title of ‘Best One-Hour In-Ring WWE Network-Exclusive Show’ be starting to tip in the favor of Tuesday nights?
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 – am also happy to take any further suggestions for the Spotlight next week, if you have any particularly burning points you want looking at.
- Would you rather see Seth Rollins or Finn Balor in a hypothetical Universal Championship match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam?
- How should Breezango be booked to look like competent challengers to The Usos?
- Yeah, let’s ask it: Which is the better show right now out of 205 Live and NXT?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.