Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! James Ellsworth has turned heel (or just plain stupid), one title apparently isn’t enough for Roman Reigns and both Women’s Championships have changed hands. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, December 5th 2016.
Raw (Frank Erwin Center, Austin TX)
Announced: Nothing formally announced at time of writing.
What to expect: I feel like I’ve been quite pessimistic in these previews over the past few weeks, especially towards Raw. I’m going to make more of an effort to be generally optimistic this week – but I can honestly say I enjoyed last week’s Raw. It felt like it had more of an edge and a freshness. Seth Rollins hit Chris Jericho with a pedigree again, but this time in the parking lot. Sasha Banks beat Charlotte Flair for the women’s title again, but this time somewhere out in the crowd. Sami Zayn got beaten up again, but this time with the promise of a tangible storyline. I even liked Sheamus and Cesaro’s bar fight – daft and cheesy it may have been, but it was a huge departure from them wrestling the same try-to-get-on-the-same-page tag match we’ve seen before. Credit to the Raw writing team for mixing things up and offering something a bit different last week.
Charlotte and Y2J will presumably seek redress this week, in the form of matches being added to the Roadblock card. That event takes place at the end of next week, where Kevin Owens will defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns (himself the United States Champion). There’s a reasonable chance the Owens/Reigns and Jericho/Rollins feuds will continue to intersect. The New Day will break Demolition’s record if they just make it to Roadblock with the tag titles – so the key thing to watch out for is what final obstacles (if any) may be put in their way on Monday nights, this week and next. Raw will also have to explain how Rich Swann became the Cruiserweight Champion, in a match most of their audience wouldn’t have seen.
Spotlight: Last week, I resorted to a this-reminds-me-of-something-from-the-first-half-of-2004 analogy and I find myself going to the well again. I’ll try to keep them in moderation after this (at least until January, when Brock Lesnar costs Bill Goldberg the Rumble match and sets up a WrestleMania showdown).
In the later part of 2003, once the juggernaut that was Evolution-version Triple H had totally nerfed Goldberg’s original WWE run, the World Heavyweight Championship became a matter between The Game and Shawn Michaels. And even in those days before most websites like TJRWrestling.net existed, there was a strong sense watching that it was a case of natural order within the company being restored. Then some talented Canadian guy – whose name has been lost to history, but I’m pretty sure he used to be my favourite wrestler – won the Royal Rumble and had the nerve to challenge that order. He was talented, sure, but he wasn’t a superstar (lowercase ‘s’). And we didn’t realise how important it would feel for the talented guy to beat the superstars until it actually happened.
Now don’t get me wrong – Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair are both talented and are totally deserving of their spots (in the same way Hunter and HBK no doubt were). However, while a lot of people have mixed views on whether the regular title changes in the women’s division are helping or hurting those women, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing for Bayley. And perhaps it may even work to her advantage.
As we’ve shown here, Sasha and Charlotte trading wins back and forward is very easy to satire (which can be a marker of something moving towards farce). But the matches are still very good and they’re finding ways to keep it fresh. Also, in times when the company’s newest pin-up character seems more interested in getting a Universal Championship shot than defending his United States Championship, having performers obsessively live and die by the belt is surely no bad thing.
Charlotte and Sasha’s feud – possibly the feud of the year – is raising the bar for the Raw division. But that will only truly matter when somebody else clears it. I think the way forwards is to play up the idea that no matter which of the two should be the true champion, neither honestly believes Bayley belongs in their company. The huggable one’s NXT character was built on being the bridesmaid and having to fight from underneath.
If all this were to lead to a WrestleMania match of Charlotte vs Sasha vs Bayley, where Bayley pinned or tapped out the champion (then won the inevitable contractual rematch) to finally end the game of hot potato, she would be made – not just in the eyes of her target audience, but the more cynical fans too. So hang in there with these Sasha/Charlotte matches, because you never know; they could yet serve a greater purpose.
SmackDown Live (Toyota Center, Houston TX)
Announced: AJ Styles (c) vs James Ellsworth for the WWE World Championship.
What to expect: TLC is in the books; it was pretty good and a number of significant things happened. James Ellsworth cost Dean Ambrose his TLC title match with AJ Styles, and gets a title match himself this week (which I trust we can safely say he won’t win). What’ll be interesting is what Ambrose does about this, and how we’re expected to feel about it – Ellsworth’s actions appear to have been based on immaturely naive tactics rather than outright hostility, while Ambrose has been a bit condescending towards him up until now and he is still no friend of Styles either. So does Ambrose side-by-proxy with Styles to beat seven bells out of the goofy loser? Will we be cheering that?
The Wyatt Family are the new tag champions, and either Luke Harper is their designated porter or there’s a hint of the Freebird rule we’ve seen The New Day use coming into effect again; we may have that cleared up here. Tensions between Harper and Randy Orton may continue to be played upon. Alexa Bliss is the new Women’s Champion and will probably rub it in everybody’s faces. The Miz has now officially (we are led to believe) moved on from Dolph Ziggler with his Intercontinental Championship intact, and while a new challenger may therefore be about to emerge, the focus is if anything more on his ongoing beef with GM Daniel Bryan than ever before. Finally, Natalya may (or may not) have been Nikki Bella’s attacker at Survivor Series, in a twist that a) we all called at the time, b) was revealed by Carmella in the least dramatic way possible, and c) was later denied by Nattie in the least convincing way possible. I know I said I’m trying to be positive this week, but if this ‘mystery’ drags on until WrestleMania (or Christmas, or even beyond this week) heaven help us all.
Spotlight: The two title changes at TLC both have the potential to make progressive and positive impacts on their respective divisions.
Neither pair that wrestled for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships last night have a sense of long-term partnership about them – Heath Slater and Rhyno have done a popular job as inaugural champs, but have always felt transitional, while most of us are counting down the days until Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, possibly in time for April’s big event in Orlando. But moving the titles onto The Wyatt Family for the time being, with no disrespect to the dethroned duo of Slater and Rhyno, will help add more prestige to the belts. With Orton as a veteran world champion and this being Wyatt’s long-awaited first WWE gold, it will shine a brighter spotlight on the teams who now step up to challenge them – in much the way American Alpha’s match with them on last week’s SmackDown was a great main event showcase for the amateur darlings.
Looking at the blue brand’s longer-term tag team options, it has an embarrassment of riches compared to Raw. Four teams had to make do with slots on the TLC Kickoff show, while Breezango (not so surprising) and The Usos (more surprising, given their showing at Survivor Series) didn’t make the card at all. Some of these guys will need to make use of the spotlight Orton and Wyatt can offer them, as the division is likely to be in their hands by the time WrestleMania comes round. Assuming the Wyatts navigate the inevitable contractual rematch, it’ll be interesting to see who’s first up to the plate.
Interesting times in SmackDown’s tag team division, then. I also have to briefly mention Alexa Bliss. Of course I do.
This was the right call at the right time. Becky Lynch had no other viable heel contenders, and disposing of Bliss until Lynch had held the title for “long enough” could’ve neutered the most believable challenger and made the champion stale (see Raw’s tag division for an extreme example of this). Bliss has been consistently good on promos for weeks now, and is absolutely ready to carry title feuds on the mic against Lynch, Naomi or Nikki Bella – in fact I think we’d now feel her absence if she wasn’t a central player. Meanwhile, Becky’s fire and desire, having to fight for everything she gets, could be tailor-made for chasing titles; let her chase Alexa with a fresh vengeance until WrestleMania, then we’ll see where we’re at.
This is the way SmackDown’s hitherto-solid women’s division can match the heights Sasha and Charlotte are scaling on Raw. Becky is great, but needed a foil with some legitimacy and, in Bliss, WWE has quickly pulled the trigger on somebody with honest-to-God star potential. I agree with everything Mike Sanchez said this past week on Alexa and, further to it, would point out that Trish Stratus was also 25 years old when she won her first title. Yeah, that’s right, I made the comparison. The era of Bliss has begun.
205 Live (Toyota Center, Houston TX)
Dunno about you lot, but I felt last week’s first episode of 205 Live came off pretty well. The bought-tickets-for-SmackDown crowd were deeply invested in the main event – a match which was a vindication of what these performers proved throughout the CWC and how Raw has badly missed the same target since then. The video packages were spot-on and Jack Gallagher was Jack Gallagher.
Some uncertainty remains, for me, about the on-the-spot interviews (which were at worst awkward and at best endearing – and I don’t know if “endearing” is always the most progressive impression you want to give of junior heavyweights). We also wait to see how storylines will transfer between Monday and Tuesday nights – such as how Rich Swann’s title win will be addressed on Raw – and whether this will be a regular gig for (the currently injured) Austin Aries going forward.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL – and at least in part from Osaka, Japan)
Likely to be a mix of action this week, with a new set of tapings recently having taken place at Full Sail University and a seminal live event having taken place in Japan over the weekend. The return of new NXT Tag Team Champions #DIY, announced on last week’s show, took place at Full Sail; the NXT Championship rematch between Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura took place in Osaka.
The result of that championship match is already very much out there, but in case any of you are avoiding spoilers I won’t mention it here. When Finn Balor lost the NXT title to Joe at a house show it was reported right at the beginning of that week’s show though, so, you know, good luck. We’re also now officially on a build towards the next TakeOver, in San Antonio on Royal Rumble weekend.
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 2015 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 8 out of 25 for last week. Nowhere near a full line once again. That’s the result of a fairly fresh week of programming! And yes, I’m as thrilled as you are that Sami Zayn seems to have an interesting storyline now, but the “Sami Zayn doesn’t appear” square stays very much in place – because there’s still no excuse for not having him on the show every week.
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. If the Owens/Reigns match at Roadblock was for both men’s titles (as happened between Cena/Rollins last year), do you feel it would make the program better or worse?
2. Who should be The Wyatt Family’s first challengers?
3. What other bonding activities would you like to see Sheamus and Cesaro engage in?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.