Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Sasha Banks is about to make history, Charlotte is about to make history and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this Sunday we’ll all be making history. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 24th 2016.
Raw (Target Center, Minneapolis MN)
Announced: Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins vs Chris Jericho in a non-title triple threat main event. The New Day vs Cesaro & Sheamus in a non-title tag team match. Brock Lesnar will appear, in his (billed) hometown.
What to expect: If we’re honest, the main sub-plot of the triple threat match is the slowly fracturing friendship between Owens and Jericho, rather than Seth Rollins’ forthcoming title challenge. With Jericho not booked on the Hell In A Cell card, you’d still have to think he’ll figure in that title match somewhere; how and to what ends may be determined by what role he plays tonight and whether the Canadian Mega Powers finally Explode.
Elsewhere, the go-home show for Hell In A Cell also promises more dissension between Cesaro and Sheamus, as WWE once again gives away a pay-per-view match for free earlier the same week. Sami Zayn will expertly position himself under Braun Strowman’s boot. Bayley may still be selling that shoulder injury caused indirectly by Dana Brooke not getting her feet on the ropes. And Sasha and Charlotte prepare for their historic Cell match, hopefully with less talk and more action; there’s been plenty of talk.
As far as Lesnar goes, Goldberg isn’t scheduled for this week so expect some variation on the usual Paul Heyman proclamation while Lesnar bounces on his toes beside him. Until next Monday, the focus is mostly going to be on Hell In A Cell.
Spotlight: It’s been only a month since I last felt compelled to wonder what’s up with what Cesaro and Sheamus are currently doing, which is a shame. But I have to revisit it, because their story seems to be going down another blind alley.
When I wrote about their best-of-seven series, I noted how the story behind the feud seemed to be playing in reverse; the title shot that was promised to the winner seemed to be added as a justification for doing the series, whereas the more common situation is for an opportunity to already exist and a series being necessary to settle two long-standing or bitterley-contested claims to it. Not only were Cesaro and Sheamus nowhere near a title shot when the series was launched, they had hardly been bashing heads for more than a couple of weeks or so.
Now the two are a tag team, with a title shot against The New Day this Sunday, and we still seem to be watching the story backwards. The usual trope is “tag team thrown together can’t see eye-to-eye, figure it out eventually and then go on an unstoppable march to championship glory”. But as yet, Sheamus and Cesaro haven’t figured it out and it’s looking like that championship match – the final part of the traditional odd-couple story – might actually be the first opportunity they’ll have to put their house in order. What makes this more complicated is their opponents aren’t just your average Tag Team Champions. So one of two scenarios will play out this week, both of which come with consequences I’m struggling to make my peace with.
The first scenario is that Cesaro and Sheamus lose the title match on Sunday. In this scenario, the title opportunity they fought a best-of-seven series over will have gone, and they’re left as a thrown-together tag team who still couldn’t honestly be said to have figured it out (even if they win the non-title match tonight on Raw). So what was the point of doing all that? What do they do next?
The second scenario is that Cesaro and Sheamus win. Which, while no doubt being the best result for them, doesn’t help others greatly. The New Day managed to beat Paul London and Brian Kendrick’s 331-day title reign, but didn’t then offload the titles to The Club at SummerSlam as many people predicted. That reign stretched to make the 400-day mark last month, whereupon another opportunity to move the titles to The Club was passed upon. Now The New Day are quickly homing in on the 478-day record of Demolition, so what possible benefit of having them lose the titles on a whim now? And also, how do you feel if you’re The Club? It doesn’t paint the established tag teams, who have attempted to topple The New Day and failed, in the best light either.
I don’t like either of these outcomes, but I prefer the one where the current champs retain. Raw’s creative team have burned a lot of firewood to keep the current Cesaro and Sheamus story going; the decision is now whether they start breaking up the furniture and burning that next.
SmackDown Live (Resch Center, Green Bay WI)
Announced: AJ Styles vs Dean Ambrose in a non-title match. Bray Wyatt vs Kane in a no disqualification match. The return of Women’s Champion Becky Lynch to television after her recent medical absence.
What to expect: Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan noted that if Ambrose wins his match with Styles this week, he’ll get a title shot – which in a practical sense is no different from any WWE non-title match. The general direction of travel suggests this is indeed what will happen, but will cult hero James Ellsworth be in the supporting cast again? A no-DQ stipulation for the other announced match, meanwhile, all but guarantees the heavy involvement of Randy Orton and Luke Harper. If you’re a fan of clusterf*cks, Christmas may be about to come early for you.
With Lynch back and Alexa Bliss having seen off Naomi, there’s now a couple of weeks for those women to jointly sell their upcoming title match. Their promos running up to No Mercy were solid work, so there’s reason for optimism here. The Spirit Squad may be sticking around for a different title feud, after Kenny pinned Heath Slater in the six-man tag last week. The Miz hasn’t yet had an Intercontinental Championship rematch with Dolph Ziggler (which we have been conditioned to expect) and Curt Hawkins hasn’t yet managed to wrestle Apollo Crews or indeed anybody else (which we are fast being conditioned to expect).
Spotlight: SmackDown Live is currently running two stories centred around “mind games” and they’re markedly different.
We’ve written plenty here at TJRWrestling about James Ellsworth in the past couple of weeks, so I won’t dwell on him much here, but his involvement in the feud between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose is polarising opinion. Some of us like Ron Pasceri have written about how it can be seen as an inspirational story that fits with the SmackDown ethos of opportunity. Some of us like Mike Holland have written about how it brings out Ambrose’s more irritating side and seems a little more NXT-level than a story for the main roster’s most prestigious title.
I can see both sides of these arguments, but personally I think in the wider context the story works. Yes, I do think Styles’ natural environment is wrestling outstanding matches rather than engaging in comedy segments, but at every stage he has acted and been presented as being well above what from his perspective is amateur-hour crap he’s being forced to humour. He has never looked like struggling against Ellsworth’s token offense and has maintained an absolute veneer of contempt, while Ellsworth himself has played his role well and spent virtually all of those matches being pulped. He’s been out of it at the end of both of them. Even if you don’t care for the story, the presentation has been absolutely correct.
The other thing it achieves is to give Styles a real personal grudge against Ambrose. Because of the solid presentation work, Styles hasn’t been legitimately lessened by his two losses to Ellsworth. However, the professional embarrassment has led to his patience with Ambrose snapping. Styles now has a thirst for personal revenge, while Ambrose, playing the clown but showing a ruthless edge underneath, has drawn him into possibly giving away the title shot he craves. That’s a much richer and more sustainable justification for a title program than “John Cena’s on holiday this month”.
It’s also – and this might be why I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt – a much richer justification than anything going on between Randy Orton and the Wyatt Family.
Orton and the Wyatts, also now Kane, seem to be locked into a feud where the mind games are both the means and the ends. I want to check if I’ve got this right: Orton and Wyatt are both masters of mind games. Then Wyatt slams Orton’s leg in a door. Then they both play mind games with each other to see who’s best at mind games. This climaxes in a match at No Mercy where Wyatt wins the mind games by having his pal (who’s also good at mind games) magically appear. The Wyatt Family then play further mind games with Orton by making his tag partner (who’s also good at mind games) magically disappear. The next week, he plays mind games to magically appear again, before The Wyatt Family play mind games by magically disappearing themselves.
Now this week a no-DQ match has been announced between Wyatt and Kane, which may as well be a giant flashing neon sign advertising interference by Orton and Luke Harper, plus a whole load of magical appearing and disappearing. Unlike the Styles-Ambrose situation, I’m struggling to make out everyone’s motivations. Why is Orton persevering with this nonsense? Is he still narked about his leg? What’s Kane getting out of this? How will any of them know when they’ve ‘won’ the feud?
Personally, I don’t mind a few mind games. Too many at once though, even if they’re done well – while you’re not, say, also giving American Alpha and The Vaudevillains ten minutes to arbitrarily tear it up elsewhere on the show – may have contributed to the slight slip in SmackDown’s very high standards recently.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL)
Two more matches in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic were trailed on last week’s episode. The first is #DIY (apparently that’s got a hashtag in front of it, God help us all) facing the team of HoHo Lun and Tian Bing. I was decidedly lukewarm about Lun in the Cruiserweight Classic, but am interested to see what new NXT arrival Bing brings to the table. The second match sees WWE Cruiserweight Champion TJ Perkins, off the bench replacing Hideo Itami, team with Kota Ibushi against Lince Dorado and Mustafa Ali.
I know taping results are already out there, and in any case I avoid checking the details of them for these previews, but I think we can all be pretty confident who’s winning those two contests. This year’s Dusty Classic is following the CWC in largely (Gargano vs Ciampa aside) keeping the first round matches as showcases for whoever’s going over and leaving the hard questions and classic contests for the second round and beyond. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I for one am ready to move on now.
One exception with those taping spoilers: I believe that this is the week a certain announcement was made at Full Sail.
Hell In A Cell (TD Garden, Boston MA; Raw pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, card is subject to change and additions during the week are highly likely. At time of writing though:
- WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs Seth Rollins (Hell in a Cell Match)
- Raw Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs Charlotte (Hell in a Cell Match)
- United States Championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs Rusev (Hell in a Cell Match)
- WWE Cruiserweight Championship: TJ Perkins (c) vs Brian Kendrick
- Raw Tag Team Championship: The New Day (c) vs Cesaro & Sheamus
What to expect: All six competitors in the three Hell in a Cell matches are top performers, but will we be experiencing gimmick fatigue this Sunday? In my mind the Universal Championship match is most at risk of this, for two reasons. Firstly, I’m pretty confident it will be chosen to close the show (irrespective of Mick Foley’s take, much as I wish it were prescient) and will therefore have to follow the other two Cell matches. Secondly, those other matches both have more going for them; Reigns and Rusev are among the best in the company at giving and receiving punishment and will likely break out a few weapons, while Sasha and Charlotte have the novelty factor – any meeting between the women and the steel will probably draw a reaction. As great as both Owens and Rollins are, that doesn’t leave them with many unique places to go with the stipulation unless Rollins is jumping off the Cell at some point.
All three matches should be good though, while I wouldn’t expect any titles to change hands in them. I’m really looking forward to the women’s match (all I’m asking for are a few bumps into the cage and perhaps the odd kendo stick). Meanwhile, I think Kendrick beats Perkins for the cruiserweight belt here, as the division really needs a shakeup – and you already know what I make of the tag match. A tranche of extra bouts should be made official during the week to fill out the card. Enzo & Cass vs The Club, Sami Zayn vs Braun Strowman and Bayley vs Dana Brooke all look highly likely. That would make eight and, save any throwaway additions to the Kickoff show, would round out the card. I like a lot of these people, but this show doesn’t feel like it has the deepest of undercards. Possibly that’s just a reflection of the last few weeks of Raw, which haven’t been consistently great.
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 ten out of 25 for last week in the best week so far. Although ‘best’ is a subjective viewpoint, mostly applying if you aren’t offended by distraction rollups and the absence of American Alpha. We got three in a couple of lines, but no full lines yet. High hopes for this week. Especially with the “champion loses a non-title match” square. You might as well cross it off now, to be honest.
Three Burning Questions
Answers in the comments as usual, folks!
- Would the Universal Championship match at Hell In A Cell be better or worse off if Chris Jericho was added to make a triple threat?
- Are you bored of James Ellsworth yet?
- If you had to choose any three members of the WWE roster to make the Spirit Squad back up to five, who would you choose?
Until next time, have a good week and enjoy the ride!