Happy New Year, TJRWrestling faithful! Last week SmackDown Live had its Wild Card Finals, Raw had Braun Strowman attacking Bo Dallas with a Christmas tree and I’ve started adding the year to the blog title so the archives don’t get confused. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, January 2nd 2017.

Raw (Amalie Arena, Tampa FL)

Announced: Sami Zayn vs Braun Strowman in a Last Man Standing match. Also, Goldberg returns to Raw.

What to expect: I’ll look at Bill Goldberg in a moment, but although Brock Lesnar isn’t booked to appear it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if his advocate, Paul Heyman, is around. At the top of each singles division, there’s not been much movement over the holiday season. Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns is set for the Royal Rumble, with Chris Jericho (suspended in a shark cage for that match) and Seth Rollins (who will likely continue to call out Triple H) still very much involved in that story. Meanwhile, Charlotte Flair continues to duck would-be challenger Bayley, who will be looking for a route back to official contendership. Expect more of the same here.

The feud between Zayn and Strowman may well be one of the stories featured in the Royal Rumble match later this month, so this week’s match could advance the story by providing either an ’embarrassing’ loss for Strowman (possibly via old tropes such as duct tape or upturned announce tables) or a sound beating for Zayn that he has to bounce back from. Neville may angle for a Cruiserweight Championship match after beating Rich Swann on 205 Live last week, Enzo and Cass have a match with Rusev and Jinder Mahal in their near future and we may see what’s next for the now-established new tag champions Sheamus and Cesaro (and the deposed former champions The New Day).

Spotlight: If you’re looking for an omen for what we’re led to believe will be one of the marquee matchups in Orlando on April 2nd, it’s been 13 years since Goldberg and Brock Lesnar were last on the road to WrestleMania together. Unlucky for some?

It would take a greater cynic than I (apparently they exist) to suggest that the main motivation behind doing this match is WWE’s grim determination to exorcise the ghost of WrestleMania XX and prove they can execute it properly. It’s tempting to say so, though, isn’t it? Perhaps this time around their luck will be better, but the task at hand is certainly not any easier than it was in 2004.

Yes, the match in 2004 took place in a unique situation, where the ‘smart’ New York crowd had got wind of both men finishing up with the company after that event. That antagonism won’t be present this time, but on the flipside neither character has the momentum they had in 2004 either. Save one 86-second match, Goldberg has effectively been in retirement since then and will likely return to it after Orlando. Lesnar, meanwhile, is a man of massively enhanced reputation but a character of increasingly stale and infrequent actions. While one should not expect the audience to be hostile (this time), one also cannot expect them to be automatically invested either. Selling the match to them, over the next three months, is slightly hampered by having been given the big sell once already in the last couple of months. Will this story have the legs?

Bill Goldberg is back on Raw tonight and we should get an idea how this story is likely to start out. In 2004, he was presented as a big favourite to win the Royal Rumble match, before he was cost by Lesnar’s interference (and eliminated by Kurt Angle – now there’s an element I’d like to see for a possible 2017 retread) to set up the WrestleMania grudge match. The premise of Goldberg entering this year’s Rumble was Stephanie McMahon tempting him with one more title run, but the premise of Lesnar entering the Rumble was Goldberg. So the pieces are set in a similar way and their fates seem to be tied together.

Assuming, therefore, that there’ll be plenty of time in February and March to build their WrestleMania showdown, I’d quite like to see Goldberg unshackled from Lesnar this month and given a chance to act like a Universal Championship contender. I’d like to see what Kevin Owens says in response to being told he’s ‘Next’. I’d like to see Roman Reigns’ modern-day mastery of the Spear questioned. And then I’d like to see Mojo Rawley enter the Rumble match at #1 and try to stay hyped when Goldberg’s music hits at #2.

If we are going to have to face up to another Lesnar-Goldberg WrestleMania match, and it’s likely to come about in a similar way, I hope there’ll at least be some detours on the way that give the WCW version of Bill Goldberg the send-off he deserves.

SmackDown Live (Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville FL)

Announced: The Miz (c) vs Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship; Dolph Ziggler vs Baron Corbin; AJ Styles and John Cena sign the contract for their WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble.

What to expect: Last week was a busy one for SmackDown. The ‘Wild Card Finals’ concept came a bit out of nowhere, but it resulted in some great matches and interesting new twists which should play out further this week. American Alpha are the surprise (but welcome) new Tag Team Champions, and The Wyatt Family are likely to be focused on either a contractual rematch or their festering internal tensions. One mystery in the women’s division (the identity of Nikki Bella’s Survivor Series attacker) has been replaced by another, after ‘La Luchadora’ cost Becky Lynch her championship match with Alexa Bliss. Expect speculation on the identity of the masked woman and whether she’s an ally of Bliss or just an enemy of Lynch.

In the category of pre-announced segments for this week’s show, the match between Miz and Ambrose has been given a personal slant due to Renee Young’s involvement. That background angle will probably continue, with at least a passing chance Renee may get involved in the match as a foil for Maryse. Ziggler and Corbin face off in the aftermath of coming up short against AJ Styles last week. Speaking of the champ, the main purpose of the contract signing between Styles and Cena may turn out as a talking shop, to establish what’s changed in their motivations and fortunes since the two men last locked horns. There is, after all, a few weeks after this one to build upon those foundations.

Spotlight: One of the minor advantages of the brand split in WWE, first time around, was the fact it added at least a little more uncertainty into the Royal Rumble match. With two brands and two world titles (by any other name), even in years where the planned WrestleMania feuds were so obvious you could see them from space, picking a Rumble winner would at worst be a task of choosing between two men.

With the 2017 Rumble pay-per-view now on the horizon, that added-if-artificial uncertainty makes a welcome return. And to keep us guessing further, the headline title matches for both brands position us right in the middle of a crossroads, with all four men wrestling in them totally believable as potential holders of the championships heading into the year’s biggest show and each with their own potential WrestleMania opponents.

The SmackDown side of that equation is especially interesting. The most obvious immediate twist is the John Cena factor. Will he finally tie Ric Flair’s record? The climax to that story (which I still believe is inevitable) always felt like it would be a WrestleMania match – against Styles, Undertaker or whoever – but here we are faced with the prospect a couple of months early. Based on the chants during last week’s episode of SmackDown Live, it looks like many of the audience are expecting a Cena-Undertaker match in April. That could conceivably be for the WWE Championship to properly headline the show (although as Mike Sanchez has pointed out, it doesn’t have to be).

However, another thing that last week’s episode of SmackDown Live showed is that Dolph Ziggler or Baron Corbin would also make solid No.1 contenders to AJ Styles if he carries the championship to WrestleMania (Ziggler if Styles stays heel, Corbin if Styles turns face). Last week’s triple threat has helped to keep both potential singles matches fresh, either would be a good fit on a card loaded with Triple H/Rollins, Goldberg/Lesnar and Cena/Undertaker, and neither Ziggler – elevated by his Intercontinental Championship feud with The Miz but now dispossessed of it – nor Corbin – who has been protectively booked so far on the main roster – have anything else lined up for the big dance outside of being tossed into a multi-man contest of some description. That might be a better fit for all.

Consider also that SmackDown will be running the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view between the Rumble and WrestleMania. Not only does the Elimination Chamber structure present a number of possible alternative booking paths if it hosts the WWE Championship match, but we’ve also seen No.1 contenders for WrestleMania named inside it – which may become relevant if a Raw superstar is the Royal Rumble winner.

It would be a brave person indeed who predicts the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania at this stage.

Also This Week

Due to the WWE Network’s upcoming two-day UK championships, rumoured women’s tournament and other possible future accessories – along with the fact most of 205 Live (Tuesday) is set up on Raw each week or is fairly inconsequential – I’m changing up the preview format and collecting anything not concerning Raw, SmackDown or a main roster pay-per-view here.

This week’s NXT (Wednesday) is a two-hour special recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Matches include the extended version of Nakamura/Joe inside a steel cage (the highlights of which we initially saw before Christmas) plus #DIY vs TM61 for the tag titles, Ember Moon vs Liv Morgan vs Billie Kay in a three-way and other matches involving the likes of Tye Dillinger, Bobby Roode and The Revival. Promises to be a pretty good wrestling show this week.

Briefly turning back to 205 Live, the return of Tajiri to regular WWE programming is being advertised for this week. Personally I’m also hoping for Jack Gallagher to host another ‘gentleman’s duel’, but I’ll make do with further solid cruiserweight matches too.

No WWE Bingo this week I’m afraid – sorry, I know I promised, but various New Years commitments have put paid to that. Will see if we can’t bring it back for next 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. Who should challenge Sheamus and Cesaro for the tag titles at the Royal Rumble?
  2. Who do you think La Luchadora is?
  3. If you were Vince McMahon, what would your New Year’s Resolution be?

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