Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Dean Ambrose is the new Intercontinental Champion, Roman Reigns may not be United States Champion for much longer and the first-ever United Kingdom Champion will be crowned. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, January 9th 2017.

Raw (Smoothie King Center, New Orleans LA)

Announced: Roman Reigns (c) vs Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho for the United States Championship in a Handicap Match. Shawn Michaels is making a guest appearance to promote a film. An appearance by The Undertaker is described as “rumored” on WWE.com but is effectively guaranteed.

What to expect: Remember a couple of months ago, when The Undertaker said WrestleMania would no longer define him and SmackDown had always been his home? Well, place your bets on whether he enters himself in the Royal Rumble – a match which exists within the WWE narrative to, er, put the first guaranteed name on the WrestleMania card – tonight, on Raw. Certainly a few people will be declaring themselves for the Rumble, on both Raw and SmackDown Live; that’s one of the most certain things to expect this week. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of speculation that the big announced match will be the way WWE takes the United States Championship off Reigns ahead of a Universal Championship win later this month. If so, the mechanics of crowning a new champion under handicap rules could be….. interesting.

Seth Rollins remains mixed up in the business of the three men in that title match, but continues to talk about Triple H. That may continue here. The obvious path would be for Rollins to re-focus on the Universal Championship by trying to win the Royal Rumble, only for Triple H to show up during the match and toss him out, setting up their WrestleMania match. Watch out for any foreshadowing of that this week. Bayley has her title match against Charlotte Flair at the Royal Rumble, while Sasha Banks may also face Nia Jax there – development on the former is likely, the latter possible. Expect a Cruiserweight Championship match between Neville and Rich Swann to be discussed if the latter is back on TV this week. I’ll touch on the tag team division in a moment. Neither Brock Lesnar nor Goldberg are expected for tonight’s show.

Spotlight: It’s beginning to feel like WrestleMania season, now that a few people have thrown their hats into the ring for the Royal Rumble. On the Raw side last week, Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg were joined by Chris Jericho and Braun Strowman, plus three key players from 2016 who find themselves at a loose end: The New Day.

Having swiftly lost their contractual rematch for the Raw Tag Team Championships – and after The Club appeared to move into the frame as Sheamus and Cesaro’s new challengers last week – the record-breaking trio appear to be in need of a new focus, away from the tag title picture. Their announcement that all three would be entering the annual 30-man battle royal at the end of this month may not have been much of a surprise in itself, but could turn out to be a significant moment in the next stage of their careers.

The future of The New Day was a popular topic in the 2017 TJRWrestling Staff Predictions last week, with a few of our team taking a punt on whether they’d disband or move forward to new successes together. My take (as my predictions were all Evie this, Revival that, three-hours-of-SmackDown something else) is that as a rule, I’m not a fan of splitting up tag teams unless it’s absolutely necessary. Here, it is not necessary. I was therefore a bit wary of last week’s segment where Titus O’Neil tried to claim Xavier Woods was the ‘weak link’ of the team. ‘Weak link’ stories are an obvious way to sow cracks and divisions within a team and, despite Woods swiftly putting O’Neil away to prove him wrong, I have visions of members of The New Day turning on each other in the Royal Rumble due to misguided insecurity about which one of them is the team’s weakest link.

I’ve written in the past, and many have commented, how The New Day’s record-breaking title run came with the negative flipside of stunting the ambition of other teams within the Raw tag division. It could also be argued that it stunted the growth of The New Day too; for most of those 483 days (especially towards the end) their focus was on defending the tag championships, with little deviation to accomplish personal goals or wider campaigns. Free from the tag title programs, it would be good to see The New Day have a run functioning more like a stable. They still have great on-screen chemistry (and shift a lot of merchandise), so a fresh set of stories and motivations could be all that’s needed. Give them some fresh goals and have them achieve those together.

So I hope we don’t see a New Day implosion at the Royal Rumble. I’d much rather see something like Big E getting to the final four, with the full backing (and the-damned-numbers-game interference) of an already-eliminated Kingston and Woods, to put the group over as a threat in any context when they work together. And if, a couple of years from now, they’re still together on Raw with Big E carrying the Universal Championship, Kofi Kingston carrying the United States Championship and Xavier Woods carrying the Cruiserweight Championship – even if it’s only for a passing moment – it’ll be a much bigger deal than their tag title reign and the team’s place in the Hall Of Fame will be absolutely assured. Why not?

SmackDown Live (Raising Cane’s River Center, Baton Rouge LA)

Announced: American Alpha (c) vs The Wyatt Family for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships; Baron Corbin vs John Cena; Nikki Bella vs Natalya.

What to expect: After two outstanding episodes of SmackDown in a row, we have three matches very confidently announced in advance here – although they may all be in pursuit of very specific, transitional goals. For Nikki and Natalya, brevity is a friend; save something for a blowoff at the Royal Rumble. The tag titles rematch is likely to hinge on internal Wyatt Family tensions, with the clock ticking down to Randy Orton’s inevitable defection. Cena vs Corbin, a surefire future feud between two men being painted as serious contenders in San Antonio, has ‘non-finish’ written all over it. Even if all that turns out to be true, it doesn’t mean the matches won’t necessarily be good. There’s potential value in all three.

Other stuff going on: Dolph Ziggler appears to have turned heel and both Kalisto and Apollo Crews have reason to seek him out tonight. The Miz lost the Intercontinental Championship to Dean Ambrose last week; there’s a good-to-excellent chance of the rematch being announced for the Royal Rumble and Renee Young still figuring in the story. We also await the reveal of La Luchadora – who we can now be confident is clearly in league with Alexa Bliss rather than just being no friend of Becky Lynch. My money’s on Eva Marie. Also, James Ellsworth and Carmella are a thing. Just a reminder: SmackDown Live is achieving all this with two hours a week.

Spotlight: Is there still time to retroactively award 2016’s Feud Of The Year to Dolph Ziggler and The Miz? I’m guessing not. In a way that’s a shame, because one of the defining characteristics of a great feud is how much it raises the stock of the performers involved – and quite often those effects can only be seen in a longer view. Last week saw both of those men experience drama, disappointment – and finally detonation. And in both cases it felt like a big deal.

Miz first. I’ll confess as an aside that Renee Young’s continuing involvement in this story – I guess we have Total Divas to thank for that – does give me some cause for concern; as someone who makes a point of tuning in for Kickoff shows and Talking Smack, I’d hope her rock-solid work elsewhere doesn’t get lumbered with a perception of being an unreliable narrator. One of the reasons I disliked Michael Cole as a character was because he was effectively cutting promos when I wanted to hear someone calling moves. Outside of the announce desk nowadays, Renee is the one keeping a lot of WWE’s shit together in front of the cameras, and I would find it a little distracting if being the fourth wheel in an IC title feud started to redefine that work. I think the balance at the moment is fine, but there’s no need to drag her in any deeper – especially now that her involvement has brought the payoff of another meltdown by The Miz on Talking Smack.

What I liked most about this was how it was less coherent than his original, much-cited Talking Smack rant. We may have seen him blow his lid when he first felt General Manager Daniel Bryan was taking liberties with him, but on that occasion he managed to keep it together enough to still make his argument straight down the camera. Here, in his mind, not only is Bryan still against him, but now so is the other host of the show and the two of them are in collusion. This step-change in his frustration level finally shatters what fractured poise he still had in trying to argue his corner and he’s reduced to kind of screaming at both of them. I love that; it feels very believable.

It’s also now possible to ease back on Renee Young’s involvement in the angle – she confesses to having lost her cool once but has moved on from it, while SmackDown’s on-screen management have addressed it with her and now consider the matter closed – while allowing Miz to irrationally continue to believe she, along with Bryan, continues to be biased against him. That would help to give definition to an emerging paranoid, everybody-here-is-out-to-get-me mentality. The Miz just needs to fall out with one of the eight or nine men on the SmackDown Live announce desk and he’s got all the bases covered.

As for Dolph Ziggler, the heel turn surprised me. I’ll admit that my instinctive reaction was one of disappointment; Ziggler has really benefited from the increased opportunities in the spotlight since the brand split, and was beginning to get back towards those peak levels of fan support he was enjoying when we first thought he might break through to the very top level of superstardom. On reflection though, it feels more like a positive step. The fact it felt surprising shows that Ziggler still feels relevant to audiences and that WWE has dynamic plans for the character rather than just letting him slog on into 2017 with the same brief. He always was a great heel too.

Money on The Miz and Dolph Ziggler winning the tag championships by the end of the year? Might be worth a sneaky flutter.

Also This Week

The big event in WWE’s calendar this week is the UK Championship Tournament (Saturday & Sunday), a 16-man single elimination tournament taking place over consecutive nights. It’s airing live from Blackpool, England, so check local broadcast time on the WWE Network if you’re in North America and want to catch it when it goes out. Steve Cobble has put together a primer on some of the competitors (with more to follow this week), which is well worth your time before the weekend.

It’s tough to neatly preview this event, as nobody really has any idea what to expect. However we can certainly say it’s likely to have a very different, unique feel from the usual WWE fare, even from the CWC that aired on the Network last year. How much any of the competitors – almost all entirely new to a WWE card – have worked with WWE agents in preparation (the CWC competitors all put in some time at the Performance Center before those tapings began) is unclear, while the crowd at the Empress Ballroom will likely be heavy with fans of the UK indie scene; this will probably be the least WWE-style crowd at a televised WWE event since the ECW One Night Stand pay-per-views a decade ago. It’ll be fresh, it’ll be interesting and it’ll probably generate plenty of talk in the days that follow.

Back on the other side of the pond, NXT (Wednesday) returns to tapings at Full Sail University with a tag titles rematch between #DIY and The Revival – winners face The Authors Of Pain at TakeOver: San Antonio. If it’s even half as good their first title clash at TakeOver: Toronto, it’ll be worth catching. Something Asuka-related is also being advertised. 205 Live (Tuesday) now has a couple of firm supporting stories in the feud between Jack Gallagher and Ariya Daivari and the love triangle between Noam Dar, Cedric Alexander and Alicia Fox – but the Swann/Neville feud is still likely to be the main focus.

A note on WWE Bingo: I’m officially dropping the Bingo card for the foreseeable future – circumstances in the past few weeks have made producing it a bit of an extra burden. So rather than promise it’ll be back next week, every week, I felt it would be easier to drop it. Sorry if you enjoyed it. Fingers crossed I may be able to bring it back at some point in the future.

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. Are you happy to see Dolph Ziggler turn heel and would you prefer to see him start a program with Apollo Crews, Kalisto or somebody else entirely?
  2. Titles aside and looking only at the matches themselves, are you more interested in seeing Charlotte Flair vs Bayley or Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax?
  3. Do you watch 205 Live and, if so, with six episodes now in the can how do you feel it’s going?

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