Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! It’s a busy one this week NXT TakeOver on Saturday and Survivor Series on Sunday, so let’s dive straight in. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 14th 2016.
Raw (KeyBank Center, Buffalo NY)
Announced: Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg will both be appearing. SmackDown’s Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan will be visiting their opposite numbers ahead of Survivor Series.
What to expect: Lesnar and Goldberg’s face-to-face will inevitably turn ugly, as it needs to. The feud doesn’t have a lot of heat behind it – besides some entry-level tough talk, Goldberg has hit one (1) signature move on one (1) mid-card heel and Speared a manager while Lesnar has contributed even less – so some sort of drawn-out altercation is necessary here. The locker room-emptying, pull-apart brawl may be obvious but would work in the circumstances.
The visit of SmackDown’s authority figures will be an effort to add spice to Sunday’s elimination matches. Shane McMahon’s surprise presence on the men’s team at least lends the Raw roster a chance to get their hands on him a few days early, which if it happens would be the only oasis of direct conflict between teams in the desert of the past few weeks. Otherwise there isn’t much else for Raw’s teams to do except bicker or fight among themselves in the same way literally all of them did last week. Meanwhile, neither Sami Zayn nor Brian Kendrick’s opponents on Sunday are on the same show as them, so what work of consequence will they do tonight?
There’s a “State of the WWE Universe” address screening on the WWE Network immediately after Raw. “Suicidal” would be my guess, based on how this episode of Raw is shaping up.
Spotlight: You know what? Everything’s about Survivor Series this week, and both brands aren’t really doing their own thing right now. We’ll come to some general thoughts on WWE’s “Thanksgiving tradition” later, but there are some interesting movements taking place with a couple of the company’s minor titles that may affect both brands. Let’s have a look at that after we’ve got the SmackDown Live preview out of the way.
SmackDown Live (Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre PA)
Announced: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship. Nikki Bella vs Carmella. The Undertaker will be appearing and Edge will host his talk show segment, The Cutting Edge, to mark SmackDown’s 900th episode.
What to expect: Considering what’s already been announced, there won’t be a huge amount of spare time to build the three elimination matches for Survivor Series. As with Raw though, what else will there be to say? Hanging threads are how the men’s team adjust to having Shane McMahon as their new fifth member, whether Natalya is going to do any more ‘coaching’ during the announced women’s match and how Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss fit into the team dynamic after having their scheduled title match last week (a rematch for which will surely now be held over for TLC). There’s also been virtually no interaction between the five tag teams who have qualified for the SmackDown unit at Survivor Series, so watch out for that box being ticked too.
As for the two big-name guest appearances, The Cutting Edge will feature SmackDown’s five-man team, which at least sets a forum to put over inter-team dynamics in advance of Survivor Series (and Edge is always a welcome sight on WWE programming). Undertaker is interesting; will it be a simple cameo to help Kane dispose of some goons (e.g. The Ascension), or something that foreshadows plans for WrestleMania in April? Also from a storyline point of view, if he knew Taker would be showing up on SmackDown the week of Survivor Series, why didn’t Daniel Bryan consider naming him on the elimination team before going for Shane? Perhaps I’m overthinking it.
Ziggler and Miz, apparently opening the show, have great chemistry and a few weeks’ breather from their last one-on-one match will help with freshness a little. The assumption is that Ziggler retains here – but with the belt’s short-term future in the balance, making assumptions could turn out to be dangerous.
Spotlight: At Survivor Series, two title matches are set for the undercard which could have lasting effects for both brands.
The first one concerns the Cruiserweight Championship and by extension every contender for it. If SmackDown’s Kalisto beats Raw’s Brian Kendrick for the title, the entire cruiserweight division moves from Monday nights to Tuesday nights. The elephant in the room here is the recent announcement of 205 Live, which will shoot live for the WWE Network on Tuesdays following the end of the SmackDown TV tapings. From a logistics point of view, having the division’s competitors scoot between both sets of weekly tapings is far less desirable than keeping them in one place, and to that end this switch looks like a no-brainer.
Given the difficulty Raw had fitting anything more than a nine-minute match and a four-minute tag into its three-hour shows, how would this affect SmackDown Live? How would a change to SmackDown Live affect the cruiserweight division?
Firstly it would be a squeeze for a SmackDown roster that’s already squeezed trying to fit into two hours. Matt Corton wrote only the other day about a number of performers, disproportionately members of the SmackDown roster, who are struggling to get featured. Most agree that the Tuesday night show is currently doing the better job of the two weekly shows, but there’s an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Perhaps the result will be that SmackDown, most weeks, will only run a single short cruiserweight match or promo segment to entice people to tune in to 205 Live afterwards? Anything more would be a bit awkward.
As always, there’s a chance we’re being worked here – but the move certainly looks like a safe bet (and Kalisto should’ve been part of the cruiserweight division from the outset anyway). Raw won’t miss the division. Hopefully SmackDown can accommodate it.
Will the blue brand lose the Intercontinental Championship to balance the books? This one’s less certain and possibly more problematic. Ziggler’s open challenge has been accepted by Sami Zayn and a win for Zayn would presumably see that belt change brands. We’d then be into the territory of SmackDown only having one open-weight division men’s singles championship and inevitable speculation about a unification match with the United States Championship down the line. Not directly related, but in the same conversation, is Daniel Bryan’s ongoing feud with The Miz – one which can’t be resolved in the ring and last week was teased to end in Bryan trading Miz to Raw if he doesn’t win back the Intercontinental Championship in this week’s match.
Some, all or none of these things may come to pass this week. But the suspicion is WWE is still fine tuning the balance in its weekly programming since July’s brand split.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL)
Last week we rushed through all the final preparations for TakeOver: Toronto. A week after showing the entire second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, both semifinals played out and were both very good. #DIY’s loss to The Authors Of Pain – probably the best match of the tournament – was partly caused by The Revival and swiftly led to on-screen GM William Regal booking another title match between them. Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura have signed their contract, Bobby Roode and Tye Dillinger conducted quick interviews and Mickie James won’t be on NXT programming until the night of her match with Asuka.
So with everything pretty much set and little else to be done, expect a fairly uneven show this week. Cedric Alexander vs Andrade Almas has been announced, which certainly should be worth catching. Also promised this week, according to vignettes from the past couple of episodes, is “The Return”. Based on what’s been taped, there’s a good chance this isn’t the return of a huge beloved babyface. Otherwise, video packages and TakeOver previews are likely to be plentiful. Let’s fast-forward to Saturday, and the business end of the week.
NXT TakeOver: Toronto (Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON; NXT pay-per-view)
Announced: All cards are subject to change, but the lineups for NXT’s big events are usually solidly locked down ahead of time – certainly relative to WWE’s main roster pay-per-views – and this one is no exception. At time of writing:
- NXT Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Samoa Joe
- NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) vs Mickie James
- NXT Tag Team Championships: The Revival (c) vs #DIY (2 Out Of 3 Falls)
- Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals: TM61 vs The Authors Of Pain (Paul Ellering will be suspended above the ring in a shark cage)
- Bobby Roode vs Tye Dillinger
What to expect: Expect another outstanding NXT show. Nakamura vs Joe is a dependable main event – top of my wishlist for the entire week is the NXT Championship belt being somehow turned into or set into a crown for Nakamura’s entrance. The women’s title is a marquee matchup that all us Mickie fans will savour, the crowd will totally be into Roode and Dillinger and the (slightly gimmicky) stipulation for the Dusty Classic finals adds intrigue. Just want to note that I picked the Authors for the Dusty Classic at the outset…. So bet the house on TM61 winning here.
Having taken time to set up and announce those four matches, the match for the tag titles has kinda sneaked in under the radar – but not only is it logical booking based on both teams’ interactions since Brooklyn, but the two-out-of-three stipulation is a gratuitous, decadent luxury. This may well be the match of the night, and would cap a remarkable body of work by The Revival over the past 12 months. Their two title matches with Enzo and Cass (TakeOver: London and Roadblock), three with American Alpha (Dallas and The End, plus a regular NXT episode) and first encounter with #DIY in Brooklyn already stand comparison with any WWE tag team’s streak in recent history.
The chances that the baby brother brand of the WWE family outperforms its older red and blue siblings this weekend are, once again, realistic.
Survivor Series (Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON; joint brand pay-per-view)
Announced: Card is subject to change, though additions here are more likely than with NXT the previous night. At the time of this writing:
- Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg
- Team Raw: Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman vs Team SmackDown: AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Shane McMahon, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton (Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match)
- Team Raw: Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax and Alicia Fox vs Team SmackDown: Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Naomi (Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match)
- Team Raw: The New Day, The Club, Sheamus & Cesaro, Enzo & Cass and The Shining Stars vs Team SmackDown: Heath Slater & Rhyno, The Hype Bros, American Alpha, The Usos and Breezango (Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match)
- Intercontinental Championship: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Sami Zayn
- WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Brian Kendrick (c) vs Kalisto
What to expect: The top of this card is a big departure from what we’ve come to expect from WWE pay-per-views, with the elimination matches taking primacy over programs for almost every significant title in the company. In that sense it’s probably heartening for Survivor Series traditionalists, but does not come without problems; at time of writing nothing tangible is at stake for the winners, a four-hour card (not including pre-show) looks rather top-heavy and due to the nature of split brands the build has mostly focused on conflicts within rather than between.
How might this play out into what we’ll see? Given virtually all of the top-line, full-time talent is loaded onto these three matches, surely – surely – we should expect them to go long. 20-25 minutes as a starting point for the women and tag teams, easily north of 30 minutes for the men. This is partly because there are so many key performers in these matches it’s neither easy nor expedient to rush through them. Also (and this is unfortunately the more compelling argument), it’s a four-hour show and the rest of the card has limitations. More on that in a moment.
As prestigious as these elimination matches have been made to look, booking them could become a Catch-22 for WWE. With dissent within virtually every team, there’s a high chance we’re going to have to bear some or all of the following shenanigans:
- Somebody gets themselves disqualified.
- Somebody takes a count-out, either through separate shenanigans or deliberately as a heel “screw this match” move.
- Somebody doesn’t run in to break up a pin because they don’t care about their team-mate – which is a terrible tactic if you’re trying to win the match.
- Somebody full-on turns on one of their team-mates – ditto.
The quandry is that if the above nonsense doesn’t happen, given these aren’t normal tag matches where Shane-O-Mac, Alicia Fox and The Shining Stars could take the only decisive pin, WWE’s booking team will have to choose the lesser evils between the following:
- Either Reigns, Rollins and Owens all get pinned or submitted or Styles and Ambrose both get pinned or submitted.
- Either Flair and Banks – those recent history-makers – plus Nia Jax all get pinned or submitted or Lynch, Bella and the whole of SmackDown’s egalitarian division (minus Natalya) gets pinned or submitted.
- Similar with the tag teams, although these aren’t nearly as protected on either brand as the singles competitors are.
The draw for these matches appears to exclusively be “can they co-exist?” and the novelty of seeing Raw and SmackDown superstars in the same ring – only four months after the brand split. Don’t get me wrong, the wrestling and the spectacle will likely be great, but it doesn’t stand up to great scrutiny. On the undercard, Ziggler and Zayn should be given a chance to stand out and the cruiserweight match should be fine but not as long. Otherwise I’m struggling to think of any other match that could be added to the card that I’d care about.
That leaves only the presumptive main event. In my opinion, none of Brock Lesnar’s matches in his second WWE run have needed a no-DQ stipulation more than this. The prospect of a contest confined to the ring and both men’s modern movesets – more than a decade after that WrestleMania match, where both had more in their repertoire and still didn’t inspire – is not moving my needle. I also can’t see it going more than about 15 minutes. At the end of a long show, this match needs to be quick and very physical.
As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang.
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, 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 record 11 out of 25 for last week, which may be a reflection of the quality of the TV shows that were taped in Glasgow. We got four on the top line – only thing that denied us was that both show’s main events could conceivably have been decided upon by the on-screen authority figures before the shows, with the show-opening promos being merely incidental. Yeah, generous I know, but we’re getting closer. Survivor Series special this week. Some deliberate duplicates, where “SS” refers to each brand’s teams at the pay-per-view itself.
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!
- Which of the traditional Survivor Series elimination matches are you most looking forward to and why?
- Assuming Brock Lesnar beats Goldberg at Survivor Series, how would you like to see him positioned through the Royal Rumble and on to WrestleMania?
- Who on the SmackDown roster would you most like to see Undertaker chokeslam in his appearance this week?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis. Back to business as usual for each brand (and these previews) next week? Let’s hope so!