Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Sami Zayn helped Kevin Owens win at Hell in a Cell, The Shield are probably reuniting tonight and it seems that everyone’s friends again. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 9th 2017.
Raw (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN)
Announced: The Miz hosts Miz TV, with Sheamus and Cesaro as his guests.
What to expect: To take a status check, TLC is at the end of next week and the only confirmed match is Alexa Bliss vs Mickie James (which will be better if they focus on how Mickie can still go in the ring rather than more age jokes – but expect the latter). The obvious main event will feature The Shield in a TLC match and all the signs point to the big reunion happening on this week’s Raw, pretty clearly during the Miz TV segment against their presumed pay-per-view opponents. The real wild card here is Braun Strowman, who has spent the last couple of weeks beating Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for fun and who doesn’t have an obvious opponent for TLC – a show already missing John Cena and Brock Lesnar. If Strowman’s not getting involved with The Shield too, expect him to be given something new to grab his attention this week.
Other questions for TLC that may impact business tonight include the opponent for the debuting Asuka. Might Emma find herself being volunteered by the other women after walking out on her tag match last week? Elsewhere, expect more mysterious allusions to the nature of Sister Abigail from Bray Wyatt and what kind of gimmick he’ll be bringing to his rematch with Finn Balor. Kalisto is apparently the only cruiserweight in the division not covered by Enzo Amore’s ‘no contact’ clause, so we should find that championship match pretty much makes itself. Otherwise finding other feuds for TLC looks pretty difficult. Gallows & Anderson seemed to have got the better of Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan last week, while the same goes for Elias over the Titus Brand. Might we see those programs strung out this week, or something new?
Spotlight: What was your reaction when Bray Wyatt ‘channeled’ Sister Abigail on Raw last week to once again lay down a challenge to Finn Balor’s ‘Demon’ persona? If it was slack-jawed, mark-out delight followed by intense excitement, well done. I wish I was you. I’m pretty sure I used to be you, back in the days before the internet offered a wider perspective, backstage gossip and a thousand cynical hot takes. We didn’t gather round on a Monday to pick holes in The Undertaker’s laughably inauthentic portrayal of a mortician; that wasn’t the point. We’re probably poorer for having lost that innocence, but it is what it is. So if, like me, your response to Bray Wyatt’s promo last week was along the lines of ‘oh no, here we go again’, welcome to 2017. I’m always happy to see WWE try new concepts – I’d rather they tried than recycled the exact same angles over and over – but at the same time I’m conscious of the fact that we’ve been here before with Wyatt and once again there are potential problems up ahead.
This bears all the hallmarks of an idea that was put into action on the sole basis of how cool it would look, without any thought of the baggage that comes with it. Bray Wyatt has suffered a lot of that this year. He projects images of bugs and insects onto the ring, but to what end? He walks into an RKO and loses the WWE Championship. He innovates a ‘House of Horrors’ match with creepy imagery, but how does it work and how do you win? It doesn’t translate into a cohesive, watchable contest. Here, one suspects Vince McMahon sees in his mind’s eye double the number of cool entrances, the initial face-off between the two men in the ring and literally nothing else. As always, the technical execution of last week’s segment – by both Wyatt and the video production team – was pretty much flawless, but what implications does this have for the characters? How do you protect the loser? And are you going to do Man Balor vs Painted Wyatt at Survivor Series to complete the full set of permutations?
I worry, for a start, that it damages the mystique around Finn Balor’s Demon if other people start painting themselves up and claiming it gives them superpowers too. To a certain extent I welcomed the detour involving Goldust – anything to add a slightly different angle to a feud most of us were satisfied had been paid off – but even that perpetuated the ‘anyone can paint themselves’ idea (not to mention a brief contradictory casting of Goldust as a sympathetic babyface). Balor’s Demon is a very different concept to Goldust. The gimmick-version Bray Wyatt actually beating Balor is a nightmare scenario, as it would shatter the Demon’s USP – but even in victory Balor’s party piece would be diminished, because he would be showing the concept of an inhuman alter-ego to be fallible. It drags Demon Finn Balor down to the level of somebody cosplaying Demon Finn Balor.
There’s another problem here, in that WWE hasn’t properly established how to book the Demon yet. What’s his purpose? When can and can’t Balor use him? Chucking him into a monster vs monster match doesn’t make that any clearer – in fact, it creates a similar problem for Bray Wyatt; if Wyatt’s going to be harder to beat channeling Abigail, why wouldn’t he do it all the time? In fact, again, if it were that easy to power-up why wouldn’t everybody on the roster try it? It would be nice if we understood Balor pays a personal price for letting out the Demon; his shoulder injury at SummerSlam last year was a golden opportunity missed – if only Balor was scripted to come out afterwards and say “I pushed my body too far; I can’t trust myself when I’m being the Demon, I won’t be using him again if I can avoid it”, then the rules of engagement would’ve been clear. As such, I hope Bray Wyatt gets burned somehow by trying this, to at least reinforce the idea that only Balor can pull the gimmick off.
But time is running out to get the Demon under control. Balor has started dropping hints in promos that his shot at the Universal Championship he never lost may soon be on the horizon, but that appears only to be part of a long game to feed contenders to Brock Lesnar until the champion runs into Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. So what’s the result? Balor brings the Demon – because he surely has to – and like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman before him, gets pinned inside ten minutes off a single F-5? I’d rather see the Demon cost Balor his shot; have him wreck Wyatt at TLC, plus the referee, half the announce team and a couple of audience plants to wind up getting suspended, or have him bring it out for a number one contender’s match and draw a disqualification. That’s a more interesting ‘out’ for Finn Balor. But the more he’s placed in situations where his cool shtick is betrayed not as paradigm-shifting but only aesthetic and of no consequence, the more he risks becoming….. Well, the more he risks becoming Bray Wyatt, actually.
SmackDown Live (Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids MI)
Announced: The fallout after last night’s Hell in a Cell – read Kurt’s live recap of the show here – plus the promise of a Breezango ‘Pulp Fashion’ skit.
What to expect: All eyes on Sami Zayn to explain his actions in providing the assist for Kevin Owens last night. WWE.com issued a storyline update that Shane McMahon suffered “neck trauma, fractured ribs and a dislocated shoulder”, so may be kept off television here; either way, the focus is on Zayn. There should also be talk about scheduling a couple of championship rematches; Baron Corbin is the new United States Champion, which means former champ AJ Styles is likely owed a contractual return shot, while Natalya deliberately drawing a disqualification to retain her title should lead to her being forced to put the title on the line against Charlotte Flair again (possibly with some sort of gimmick).
Elsewhere, it’ll be a story of champions needing new challengers. Let’s skip right over Jinder Mahal’s clean victory last night – except to note that he’s likely to be one of them – and note that the match between The Usos and The New Day was billed as being the final instalment; Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable or Breezango (apparently doing a Pulp Fiction gimmick this week) seem the likely next challengers to The Usos. Of course, The New Day and Shinsuke Nakamura need something new to do; short odds on them getting strong-but-empty victories this week having conclusively lost on Sunday. As expected, Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler will likely clash again this week after Ziggler’s post-match attack on Sunday, while I can see no earthly reason for Randy Orton and Rusev to do the same and really hope they both move on to something new.
Spotlight: A few brief notes on a couple of popular underdogs – who, as of yesterday morning, weren’t on the Hell in a Cell card but ended up playing significant roles in the show – starting with Sami Zayn. I’m of the opinion that Zayn has never needed freshening up with a change of attitude, just a little bit of creative attention and care. Having a character who’s not only a babyface but a ‘nice guy’ too (something which is surprisingly rare in WWE) isn’t a creative dead end, as it’s sometimes easy to assume, but actually a mine of possibilities. How does that person react when they’re faced with conflicting loyalties? What if all their possible choices in a certain situation are bad? It appears Zayn may be about to get more of that creative attention and care, but hopefully his attitude will survive the process somewhat intact. It really, really sounds like wishful thinking when I say that.
Let me explain by talking about what I saw, or thought I saw (or at least hope I thought I saw) last night. As much as Sami Zayn resents Kevin Owens on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, deep down he knows he can’t live without him. The bonds of what they’ve been through together are too strong. That ‘weakness’, if you want to call it that, is something that fits well as an affliction unique to ‘nice guys’; how many on-screen works of fiction (many of them clichéd, admittedly) have you seen where the good guy threatens to kill an innocent for leverage and the bad guy successfully calls his bluff because he knows the good guy ‘hasn’t got it in him’? So here, Zayn can’t bring himself to let Owens suffer the ultimate kayfabe career-ending kill-move of an elbow drop off Hell in a Cell. He can’t have Owens ripped out of his professional life; he can’t live with him but he can’t live without him. Sure, it’s a heel move, but it’s done for sympathetic reasons.
The important thing is that you can tell that story without needing to change Sami Zayn too much as a character. Have him take naive actions due to a misplaced sense of honor. It was Shane McMahon who made the decision to jump from the Cell, Sami was only reacting to that. Yes, there then is an awkward question about what he was doing dragging Owens into the cover and forcing the referee to count the fall, but again this doesn’t have to be inconsistent. On SmackDown Live a couple of weeks ago, Zayn made a point of saying how he was worried what would happen with Owens in the Cell, as he knows the extremes his former best friend can go to. Ending the match could be interpreted as an act of mercy by Zayn on behalf of both men. He couldn’t see Kevin Owens get destroyed, but knew Owens would limp after the EMTs and drag Shane off the stretcher if he thought there was still a match to be won. This was just the best solution he could think of at the time.
All the talk today may be about Sami Zayn, but let’s also take a quick detour here into the world of Tye Dillinger who got to wrestle for the United States Championship last night. Dillinger was added into the match at the last minute, after pinning original sole challenger (and now champion) Baron Corbin on SmackDown Live during the week. Admittedly this somewhat telegraphed the likely title change by introducing someone Corbin could pin who wasn’t AJ Styles, but there’s no great harm in that. It was less tortuous than some of the creative finishes between Styles and Kevin Owens that were employed to progress their program earlier in the year. Also, a relatively frictionless transition to Baron Corbin as US Champion is welcome, as surely Styles soon has to take on the challenge of sinking Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship reign.
It’s also good form, apart from anything else, for Tye Dillinger to be given the opportunity to play a supporting role. Often it’s a regular weekly role of undercard talent (babyfaces especially) to build heat for bigger names, before being airbrushed out of the story at pay-per-views. It would’ve been very easy for WWE to have just run Styles vs Corbin with a dodgy finish. Even putting Dillinger in to take the pin does more for the Perfect 10 than that. Equally, being the guy who Kevin Owens beats up on his way towards a more important match isn’t a good enough use of Sami Zayn, and it looks like we might be about to move away from that too. I just hope it’s something more complicated than ‘Sami helped Kevin because he’s frustrated or wants approval, so Sami’s going to be bad now’ and makes his character more interesting without abandoning the truths of him. Zayn and Owens are confident enough in who they are professionally to ensure that happens, so I have faith that’s what we’ll get.
Also This Week
Lots on NXT (Wednesday), with another round of Johnny Gargano vs Cien Almas, Nikki Cross vs Peyton Royce vs Liv Morgan to qualify for the upcoming four-way Women’s Championship match and Lars Sullvan vs Danny Burch which will probably end exactly the way you’re imagining it.
As NXT continues the latest chapter of its bizarre-but-welcome record of wrestling fan wish fulfillment by announcing this past week that it’s bringing back WarGames – no, really, it’s bringing back WarGames – spare a thought for 205 Live (Tuesday) that it’s once again overshadowing. Even with Enzo Amore as Cruiserweight Champion.
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!
- Obviously the Bray Wyatt question: What did you think?
- What would be your explanation for why Sami Zayn helped Kevin Owens last night?
- What was your favorite match from Hell in a Cell last night?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.