Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Dolph Ziggler still has a day job, AJ Styles is still the Champ that runs the Camp and the idea of locking women in a cage is enthusing many wrestling fans, regardless of their preferred presidential candidate. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 10th 2016.

Raw (Oracle Arena, Oakland CA)

Announced: Nothing tangible. The only explicit reference to this week’s Monday night activities has been made by Braun Strowman, challenging Mick Foley to provide him with some ‘real competition’. Whatever that might entail.

What to expect: Sasha Banks is Raw Women’s Champion again and Brian Kendrick is the ‘new’ number one contender for the Cruiserweight Championship after defeating holder TJ Perkins last week – which was a racing certainty once the match was downgraded to non-title status. I was kicking myself for not putting it on last week’s Bingo card the moment I hit ‘publish’.

The feuds over those two titles should continue, while we start to build a card for the Hell In A Cell pay-per-view on September 30th. Seth Rollins will get another shot at Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship, though we may find out this week if Chris Jericho could be added to that match in some capacity as speculation has suggested.

Roman Reigns and Rusev will likely deepen their beef having fulfilled the minimum requirements for a match inside the Cell itself – namely a prominent rivalry extending several pay-per-view cycles, preferably over a title, occasionally muddied by managerial or other outside interference. Meanwhile, Charlotte (with her meddling sidekick Dana Brooke) will require yet another title rematch with Banks at some point and hang on a second…..

Spotlight: At some point we need to have a serious discussion about where the cruiserweight division is going, but this week we absolutely have to talk about Raw’s women.

It’s no great surprise that Sasha and Charlotte stole the show last week. If we take a long view, it isn’t really surprising they main evented Raw either. 18 months ago they were main eventing NXT live shows in wrestling hotbeds like Philadelphia, with Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Enzo & Cass on the supporting card. Following in the footsteps of Lita and Trish Status is no small thing, lest I sound like I’m belittling it, but given their trajectory these two were going to do it sooner or later. To borrow from what Triple H has said in the past about the Four Horsewomen, they’re the main event because they’re the main event.

Sasha Banks Charlotte Hell In A Cell preview image

Will a women’s match inside Hell In A Cell turn out to be too much for us to ask? Is it really going to happen? When WWE hasn’t ever booked its women in ‘lesser’ gimmick matches than the Cell, such as a ladder match, or a tables match, or a straightforward cage match, or even any instance of a no-holds-barred stipulation that springs to my memory; when the new era’s mass-appeal hero Roman Reigns can wield a chair at a moment’s notice but the women hardly ever get their hands on foreign objects that aren’t soft and fluffy or cans of hairspray; could these women really be on the brink of making history later this month?

Let’s get real here: If Charlotte and Sasha Banks were male, their feud would unquestionably qualify for a Hell In A Cell match and we wouldn’t even be talking about this. In fact it would be a damn sight more qualified than many Hell In A Cell matches over the last few years have been. If not here and now for the women, when? And if not these women, who? The good news is that WWE do seem to realize what they have in these two women and I believe they won’t back away from it now. All eyes on Raw tonight for an announcement that should be a fantastic moment in wrestling history.

Raw is generally showing signs of improvement in its women’s division; Bayley is gradually being returned to the role of put-upon underdog, which was central to her NXT story and will absolutely be central to her eventual triumph on the main roster (especially when Sasha – inevitably – turns on her down the line), while Dana Brooke will eventually snap on Charlotte and it shouldn’t be long now before Nia Jax is joining the regular storylines.

One note of concern though: What’s this repackaging of Emma into “Emmalina” about? Are we ditching the aviators and gloves for glam, beach-body-ready gorgeousness then? Quite aside from the empathy I feel for the developers at 2K Games, Emma’s problem wasn’t her gimmick – it was a ruptured disc in her f*cking back. Repackaging ‘badass’ into ‘bikini babe’, if appearances are to be believed, has the potential to be a very troublesome and regressive premise if it isn’t handled sensibly. The evidence to support my concerns? It’s the same reason why a women’s Hell In A Cell match would be lauded by many as another step out of the darkness by WWE.

Starting tonight, the next few weeks of Raw programming could turn out to be the ultimate test of the Women’s Revolution.

Dolph Ziggler with fans Intercontinental Championship title No Mercy

SmackDown Live (SAP Center, San Jose CA)

Announced: Nothing formally yet, except what the trendy kids nowadays are calling “the fallout from No Mercy”.

What to expect: No Mercy took place last night, and David Otunga sounded slightly interested by it. AJ Styles retained the WWE World Championship, but tapped out to a submission combo by John Cena and Dean Ambrose in a false finish. I’ll be stunned – stunned, I tell you – if both those men don’t come out this week claiming they’re owed another shot.

A title rematch will definitely be on the cards at some point between Dolph Ziggler and The Miz, after Ziggler saved his career by claiming the Intercontinental Championship at the end of one of the best written and performed stories in the company’s recent history. Rhyno and Heath Slater need new tag team challengers and Luke Harper has returned, possibly lengthening the feud between Randy Orton and the Wyatt Family Redux.

Meanwhile the women’s division is in a holding pattern while Becky Lynch is mysteriously sidelined. Will we learn more about her condition? Will Eva Marie return? Will Naomi’s victory over Alexa Bliss at No Mercy begin to complicate the number one contender picture? I’m hoping the answer to this last one is no, despite this being hinted at on Talking Smack, because have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss?

Spotlight: With The Usos failing to take advantage of their shot at the tag titles last night, now seems as good a time as any to talk about their next likely opponents American Alpha.

The worst trait a video game can possess, in my opinion, is when it appears to handle the task of raising game difficulty by making the player weaker, rather than making an opponent stronger. And I don’t mean stuff like “the Templar took your weapons, you must fight your way back to the Bureau using only stealth”. I’m talking about sneaky, underhand stuff like soccer sims when, if you only need a draw in your final match against a bottom-of-the-league team you’d usually beat 7-0, all your forwards suddenly seem to have feet of clay and your 95-rated goalkeeper dives over the softest of shots in the last minute like he’s wearing oven mitts and a blindfold. What’s the point in me mastering the game, then? What’s the point in me making that investment?

For those who weren’t following American Alpha’s NXT run, a recap may be in order. Broadly, American Alpha’s thing was that they were better wrestlers than everyone else. This was more than just a gimmick; this was also how they worked and it was impossible not to see the brilliance pouring out every time they were in the ring. Chad Gable makes everything look elegant and effortless, from wristlock reversals to selling a beating, while Jason Jordan throws suplexes as good as anyone alive and has the best hot tag in the company. They were massive crowd favourites in NXT, simply because they were demonstrably, unarguably the best.

American Alpha No Mercy Kickoff Show match

Their story in NXT was roughly as follows: Form, look fairly slick before properly getting on the same page, beat every team on the roster comfortably, become champs, lose titles, get promoted. And there was very little fat on that. This presents a challenge to the SmackDown writing team, charged with creating a new journey for American Alpha. To bend a metaphor, once you have caught lightning in a bottle, what do you actually do with it? Do you open the bottle to somehow use it, letting it out again in the process? Or do you just leave the bottle on the shelf?

After initially presenting them as the top talents they were in NXT, SmackDown’s solution has been to weaken Alpha. Through Chad Gable’s storyline knee injury, the duo have conveniently been also-rans through the brand’s first two exclusive pay-per-views, missing the first and being part of a multi-team, pre-show afterthought last night in the second. But this is not a satisfying way to keep them off the tag team summit; nobody benefits from not seeing American Alpha wrestle a proper match on pay-per-view, while I’ll be pulling my hair out if Gable’s knee is still a topic of conversation at Christmas. At some point soon, American Alpha are going to have to be let loose on programming, fully fit and without any artificial handicap, and we will need some other compelling reason to believe they might not run through the entire tag division like a hot knife through butter.

Worthy opposition is the ideal solution. I’m enjoying the new aggressive, devil-may-care version of The Usos; the change in attitude has been really good for them. They can be solid foils for Jordan and Gable. As NXT proved when The Revival eventually got the upper hand on them, even if Alpha may be the best, they aren’t unbeatable. If your teamwork is seamless and your strategy sound, you can overcome them. The Usos, as brothers and veterans, are believably capable of both. This feud, which we’ll presumably see soon, should be good.

The presence of American Alpha on the roster may prove to be a catalyst for other teams to perceptibly raise their games. That’s the mutually beneficial way forward. Compromising one of your developmental system’s biggest success stories is okay for a short-term plot point, but will frustrate this writer, viewer and gamer for one if it remains the go-to tactic.

NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL)

I generally manage to avoid spoilers from NXT tapings (as my mentions of Dan Matha last week will have illustrated), but I didn’t manage to avoid the reveal of Sanity. They debut this week in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic against the perfectly glorious Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode. I’ll be very interested to see what everyone thinks when Kurt posts the NXT Spotlight on Wednesday and they’re officially ‘out there’.

If you haven’t seen the brackets for the Dusty Classic, they’re interesting as they’ll result in some big players not making the semi-finals (which based on last year’s format we might expect to happen at Takeover Toronto). It makes the tournament harder to call, but that’s no bad thing. If I had to pick a winner at this point, I’d go for The Authors Of Pain, but that’s mostly based on a lack of imagination on my part about how you’d book anybody to beat them. Perhaps they’ll lose by a sketchy count-out or a DQ where somebody comes out and attacks their opponents to further a separate spat? Your guess is as good as mine. An interesting tournament lies ahead.

WWE Bingo

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 seven out of 25 for last week. Again. I’m reassured this means WWE programming is less predictable than it could be, although I won’t lie – thinking up new things each week isn’t always straightforward. So if there are any tropes you’d like to see included, I’m grateful to take suggestions. Alternatively, send me your artwork and perhaps I’ll display that instead.

WWE Bingo Oct 10 2016

Three Burning Questions

Answers in the comments, folks!

  1. Hell In A Cell aside, what gimmick match do you want to see WWE’s women chalk up next?
  2. What would you like to see Luke Harper doing now that he’s back?
  3. Assuming you had a cloning machine and an infinite supply of spandex, how many James Ellsworths would you require in order to give Braun Strowman some ‘real competition’?

Until next time, have a good week and enjoy the ride!

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