Okay, TJRWrestling campers, rise and shine! And don’t forget your booties, ‘coz it’s cold out there today – it’s cold out there every day! The New Day are champions and there’s a pay-per-view this weekend, but Groundhog Day may soon be over. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, December 12th 2016.
Programming note: WWE’s annual ‘Tribute to the Troops’ show airs this Wednesday on the USA Network. I won’t be previewing it here, as it’s likely incidental to storylines; it’s usually just a patriotic house show, where the faces win to make everybody happy. Kudos to WWE for doing the show every year, but it’s not going to figure in this column.
Raw (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA)
Announced: The New Day (c) vs Cesaro & Sheamus vs The Club in a Triple Threat for the Raw Tag Team Championships. The ‘premiere’ of Emmalina.
What to expect: It’s the go-home show for Roadblock: End of the Line, but the biggest news of the night is that match for the tag titles. The New Day will break Demolition’s all-time record for the longest WWE tag team title reign if they leave Philly unbeaten. I’ll look at that in a bit more detail in a moment, but if you’re going to tune into Raw for anything, tune in for that. The other rock-solid announcement is the ‘premiere’ of Emmalina, which (if you’ve not been watching Raw for several months, or at least what feels like it) is gloved badass Emma, who didn’t need repackaging, apparently repackaged as a bikini babe. I’m nervous but will reserve judgement until I see it.
Two of Roadblock’s three announced matches (Rollins/Jericho and Banks/Flair) are well-established rivalries and will need little embellishing. The third, between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns, is a little newer. Both men’s matches are still narratively linked, with Owens and Jercho seemingly falling out for good last week – although expect storytelling options to be left on the table as to whether they’ll help or hinder each other come Sunday. The Roadblock card needs other matches adding, so Rusev’s hotel-based trashing of Enzo Amore last week will probably see him run up against Big Cass, Sami Zayn will push on-screen GM Mick Foley to give him a match with Braun Strowman and a few other undercard matches are likely to be confirmed.
Spotlight: It’s a big week in the history of tag team wrestling in WWE. If you’ve not yet read the brilliant, brilliant article by Matty J. Douglas this past week on The New Day, you absolutely should. It’s probably the definitive piece on the background to and significance of the achievement that the trio should, in all likelihood, unlock tonight and – with no disrespect to anyone else in our team – might be one of the best articles I’ve read on TJRWrestling all year.
As much as it’s true that having a heel team cut The New Day short (presumably The Club, although in a parallel universe The New Day wins tonight’s triple threat and then are immediately challenged by The Revival who Shatter Machine them inside two minutes) would generate massive heat, there’s no question The New Day need to come through. To get this far and not win would be an appalling waste of time, and moreover those three insincere unicorn men with their rectum-themed cereal absolutely deserve it for turning the cards they were dealt into the hugely popular act they’ve become. The New Day have carried Raw at times over the last 478-odd days and fully warrant the plaudits.
However, I would also like to see them win cleanly and dominantly – no trombone interference, no distraction rollups, no handfuls of tights. And then, I would like to see them win again at Roadblock on Sunday. Have them cross the finish line strong, and really make a statement about being the longest reigning tag champions of all time. History should remember them for being great, even if some of the booking on the journey hasn’t always flattered them.
And this is the thing: Assuming The New Day make it over this final hurdle tonight, losing at Roadblock would still be pretty bad – nothing could say “we were only doing this to give them the record” more than that. A fresh start for Raw’s tag division is needed, but it should be brought in gradually once the dust has settled.
Last week, I discussed how SmackDown’s tag division has an embarrassment of riches. Raw was affected by the surprise retirement of the Dudleys after the draft had taken place, but still comes in underweight. Of the challengers tonight, The Club have zero momentum and Cesaro & Sheamus little more (unless Mick starts booking title defences in taverns). Elsewhere, the other marketable babyfaces Enzo and Cass have largely been protected from the creative black hole of the title scene, while Golden Truth and The Shining Stars are sparsely-used comedy teams.
On the subject of The Revival, there’s a very good chance they will be unoccupied in NXT by the Royal Rumble; surely the play here is for The New Day to march through the 500-day marker into January and then have Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson pull the plug. The Revival, a team with a real old-school feel and a body of work in NXT to rival anybody already promoted to the main roster, are badly needed to inject some new blood into Raw. I remember Edge and Christian putting them over on the Stone Cold podcast, more than a year ago (while Austin himself has mentioned them separately more than once), so I wouldn’t be surprised if Dash and Dawson now have a few other influential figures backstage ready to go into bat for them when the time comes.
For now, congratulations – I hope that won’t be premature – to The New Day for their achievement. And please don’t sue WWE 30 years from now, otherwise we’ll have to go through all of this again.
SmackDown Live (Verizon Center, Washington DC)
Announced: AJ Styles (c) vs James Ellsworth for the WWE Championship. Comedian Gabriel Iglesias will make a guest appearance.
What to expect: The Royal Rumble is the next big date on the horizon for the Tuesday night team, so there’s a bit more time than usual to set up the playing pieces. Ellsworth’s title opportunity has been held over from last week, when AJ Styles was banged up from his TLC match with Dean Ambrose. It’s clear from last week that Ellsworth has a target on his back, but still, there are questionmarks about how Ambrose goes about this – Ellsworth is inept rather than vindictive and Ambrose, though he’s still very much being cheered, will be walking the line in setting about him. Who’s the hero here? Expect to see extra lunatic presence in that title match. I’d like to rule out any possibility of a title change, but….. No, they wouldn’t, would they?
On the women’s side of the roster, the first bit of business for new champ Alexa Bliss looks like being a rematch with Becky Lynch; it’s possible Bliss may try to duck this until the Rumble, or the match may get set sooner. Meanwhile we still don’t know who attacked Nikki Bella (although it was probably Natalya and can we get on with it now please?). In the tag division, Rhyno and Heath Slater appear to have split and new challengers need to emerge for The Wyatt Family’s championships – as does somebody for the Intercontinental Championship held by The Miz. Those issues will likely be addressed.
Spotlight: Y’know, I don’t have a lot for you here this week. SmackDown Live is just…. good. I’m chilled about it. I’m enjoying it. There’s very little to pick holes in and there’s very little I’m concerned about for the future. The show seems to know itself, know its talent and know where it’s going.
When I started writing for TJRWrestling.net, I made myself a little list of rules. Remember to use a ‘z’ in ‘realise’ and ‘organise’, stuff like that. To be honest, I’ve no idea how well I’m sticking to those. However, I also included a more detailed rule (where I deliberately used an ‘s’ in ‘patronise’, so deal with it) which said this:
Qualify criticisms carefully and don’t patronise; you have no authority to declare wrestlers competent and cannot make any assumptions about how they may personally think or act or feel.
Now, that I really hope I am sticking to – you can never be sure on the internet how far your words may reach. But this rule comes to mind when I try to think of why SmackDown Live is, by common consensus, outperforming Raw at the moment. Because, although we can all probably point to differences between the booking of Raw and SmackDown that are largely dictating this, I feel like I’m seeing little differences in how talent seems to be responding.
As I say, this may just be me. I don’t know what people are thinking and don’t assume to. But one of the things I was struck by, after watching TLC the other weekend, was how hungry so many of the roster appeared to be; how many of them, no matter what the spot, were trying to have the match of the night. The chairs match between Baron Corbin and Kalisto was bonkers and great, and only the third or fourth best match on the show. The no-DQ match between Nikki Bella and Carmella wasn’t the smoothest to watch, but they were given a stipulation with opportunities to Get Crazy and went for it with everything they had.
Daniel Bryan’s line about SmackDown being ‘the land of opportunity’ likely started out as just that – a line. But in the booking choices the blue brand has adopted, one wonders if that attitude has genuinely rubbed off on the performers. SmackDown Live has a relatively deep roster for a shorter show, so getting time on TV and pay-per-views isn’t guaranteed (ask Apollo Crews), but a track record has been established of opportunities presenting themselves and effort being rewarded. Heath Slater was one of the brand’s inaugural tag champions, the women’s division has been much more open and widely accommodating than Raw’s (and is now headed up by a recent NXT graduate who earned her spot despite never wrestling on a TakeOver; she didn’t even have custom sideplates for the championship belt by last week’s episode), while the story of James Ellsworth – despite now starting to wear thin with parts of the audience – is an ultimate sign of rewards being available for maximizing your minutes.
Talking Smack needs to be acknowledged here too, as a platform for launching these opportunities and a window on how they’re motivating the talent. The outstanding feud between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler is a case in point. Talking Smack was where Miz kicked off his current hot streak and Ziggler, after winning his career-threatening match at No Mercy, said he believed they should’ve been the main event. This was quite likely 100% shoot – but was the same thing all of us watching had been saying, so we mostly just nodded along without asking “why aren’t we seeing other people coming out and saying this kind of thing on Raw each week”?
SmackDown seems to be in the zone right now, with the talent all pushing to get themselves over, make the most of their pay-per-view matches and keep the spotlight on them. It’s a virtuous circle. Good booking plus open opportunities equals motivated talent and great product.
205 Live (Verizon Center, Washington DC)
The second episode of 205 Live shared a lot in common with the first episode – Rich Swann vs Brian Kendrick, Jack Gallagher vs Ariya Daivari and Austin Aries on the announce team – but all of those things were good things, Cedric Alexander and Noam Dar are also class acts (despite “Dar is a jerk about Alexander’s girlfriend” being a pretty unoriginal angle) and we’ve still got the likes of Akira Tozawa, Mustafa Ali and Gran Metalik to come.
205 Live isn’t narratively compelling, but it’s largely satisfying and conclusive (as opposed to half-baked). It feels like a community rehabilitation scheme for victims of neglectful Raw booking. Anyway, it now looks as though we’re genuinely into a three-way program over the cruiserweight title, with Swann, Kendrick and TJ Perkins, so there’ll probably be more of that. If you’re into great workers and relatively low stakes, 205 Live is your happy place.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL – and Melbourne, Australia)
After Shinsuke Nakamura won back the NXT Championship from Samoa Joe in Japan, shown on last week’s episode, we’ll get to see the steel cage rematch that subsequently took place in Melbourne, Australia. There’s also the start (likely not the entirety) of a four-match qualifying series to set up a new number one contender’s match, featuring Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young, Elias Samson vs Roderick Strong, Oney Lorcan vs Bobby Roode and finally Andrade Almas vs No Way Jose.
We’ll therefore start to know a lot more about how the Royal Rumble weekend will be shaping up from this week – those who are ahead on taping spoilers are already starting to speculate beyond TakeOver on the Saturday. This is a relatively quick lay-over between special events for NXT, especially in comparison to the same period last year; TakeOver London was in mid-December before a long stretch to WrestleMania weekend in Dallas.
Roadblock: End of the Line (PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA; Raw pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, card is subject to change and additions during the week are certain, given how little has been announced at time of writing:
- WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs Roman Reigns
- Raw Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs Charlotte Flair (30 Minute Iron Man Match)
- Seth Rollins vs Chris Jericho
What to expect: I’m trying my best to get hyped for Roadblock, but man, this is WWE’s third pay-per-view in five weekends and is shaping up to be the weakest on paper (with a couple of honourable exceptions).
The women’s Iron Man match should be the highlight of the show – while much has been said about Sasha and Charlotte trading the championship back and forth, all those championship matches have been very good. Here, they’ll get a guaranteed 30 minutes and it’s unthinkable they won’t deliver. I’ve given up making predictions about their matches, so that’s pretty much all you’ll get from me; this could end up being the best women’s match WWE has put on all year.
Other than that, only two more matches have been announced: Owens and Reigns for the Universal Championship could be pretty good too – if you look past his mixed receptions, dragged-out feuds and uninspired booking, Roman’s in-ring body of work this year has been great value – and while Rollins and Jericho no doubt have a good match in them, I could kind of take it or leave it after the number of Pedigrees I’ve already seen Jericho take in the last few months.
What else is there? Big Cass vs Rusev looks like a good bet, although the build for that has mostly centred around two other people (Enzo and Lana). Otherwise the United States Champion is occupied in the main event, you already know what I think about The New Day’s situation, there are no other substantial women’s storylines, the cruiserweight division is treading water on Raw and although I like how the Sami Zayn angle has been set up so far, the match he wants with Braun Strowman currently has the feel of a transitional event for the character rather than a climax.
If I don’t see at least one review of Roadblock: End of the Line next week that uses words to the effect of “it just felt like a pretty good episode of Monday Night Raw”, I will be pleasantly surprised. Roll on the holiday break, then let’s focus on Royal Rumble: Throw People Out, or whatever it’ll be called.
As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang. I’m sure they’ll be a bit more enthusiastic than I am, looking at it from this end of the week.
Remember kids, anything can happen on WWE programming! Some things more than others! Here’s a grid of 25 such things; red for Raw, blue for SmackDown, purple for 205 Live, yellow for NXT and grey for any of the above or anything else. Cross one off if it happens, and we’ll have a celebration here next week if we get a vertical or horizontal line. The drinks are on me if all 25 come good.
I’m claiming a paltry six out of 25 for last week. No lines, no champions losing a non-title match, no distraction rollups…. You’ll see I’m hedging my bets with The New Day on this week’s card; that’s WWE’s fault for getting us into this position!
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!
- Congratulations! You’ve just been appointed to the writing team of Monday Night Raw. How would you book the Universal Championship from this Sunday through to WrestleMania?
- Who out of The Miz and Baron Corbin do you think is more ready for the main event scene on SmackDown and why?
- I don’t think I’ve seen any Gabriel Iglesias before. Is he any good?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.