Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, April 10th 2017.
Important point of order before we begin. This week sees the ‘Superstar Shake-up’ on the WWE main roster. At this point we only know for certain that ‘trades, deals and other moves’ will be taking place on both Raw and SmackDown Live, but it’s fair to say intel on the on-screen talent involved has been scrappy. One day the word is Styles is going to Raw and Charlotte looked a prime target for SmackDown, then the next day we’re hearing The Club are joining Styles on SmackDown and Sasha’s the more likely Raw woman to move. Chances are WWE will still be working it out up until the eleventh hour.
Obviously this ‘Shake-up’ (which effectively amounts to a mini-draft) will be the big defining theme of this week’s main roster programming. And while it’ll provide plenty of content (twists, surprises, backstage segments, matches that result from or lead to trades taking place), trying to predict how the movement of unknown wrestlers will affect storylines is a fool’s errand. Let’s be honest, we’re guessing right now. So the rest of this week’s preview will proceed on the assumption that it’s otherwise business as usual in the two rosters and their ongoing feuds, with the proviso that everything’s subject to change. We should be back on safer ground next week.
Raw (Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY)
Announced: At the time of writing, the start of the ‘Superstar Shake-up’ is all that’s been formally announced.
What to expect: Let’s face it, all eyes will be on Roman Reigns. Depending what websites you read, his appearance in last week’s Raw open was the best heel promo in years and/or WWE lancing the boil in front of the #RAWAfterMania crowd and deploying the announce team to neuter it with the usual, shameful, patronising spiel of ‘these fans tonight aren’t normal like you, they’re cheering and booing the wrong people and whatever reasons they have for enjoying what they enjoy are by implication invalid’. I can inevitably see myself Spotlighting this next week when we’ve found out what’s on Roman’s mind, so I don’t want to go overboard now – but we do need to see how last weekend has affected the on-screen character that is Roman Reigns (if at all).
In happier, non-divisive news, Kurt Angle, Finn Balor and the Hardys are back on Raw! The latter have new challengers for their Tag Team Championships – Sheamus & Cesaro – which will be a solid program to start off with, be they Broken or no. Bayley needs a new challenger for her Women’s Championship – Nia Jax or Sasha Banks seem most likely, although Emma is now back too, thank God! A hard reset of women’s division storylines (more than one, please) is needed.
Chris Jericho hasn’t yet left for Fozzy duty and will get his United States title rematch at Payback – the next Raw pay-per-view on April 30th – so we should expect him to seek revenge on Kevin Owens for last week’s backstage attack. Brock Lesnar isn’t expected at Payback and the main event may be Reigns vs Braun Strowman (the latter of whom appears next in line for a Universal Championship program), so we may not Lesnar this month. With only a few weeks to build programs, expect quite a few grudges to develop in between (or even due to) all the cross-brand trades and deals tonight.
Spotlight: Since we last spoke here on the Week In Preview, the Raw tag team division has gained two new teams. Heaven knows it needed them. The cycle of matches between four teams – The New Day, The Club, Cesaro & Sheamus and Enzo & Cass – has pretty much made up the division over the last several months. Results of the ‘Superstar Shake-up’ notwithstanding, it’s the right time for some fresh blood.
If WWE’s main roster programming is the only wrestling you watch – and I’m sure that’s the case for many people – the new arrivals may need briefing notes. Matt and Jeff Hardy are, of course, familiar to WWE but in the past half-a-dozen-plus years they’ve been away (specifically the last year or so) have developed a viral cult following thanks to work for Impact Wrestling around Matt Hardy’s ‘Broken’ gimmick, which for reasons I won’t go into here, entail a series of backyard wrestling matches, terrible acting and industry in-jokes. It’s far better than I make it sound. There’s an ongoing legal tussle over whether Impact retains the rights to the Broken gimmick so, for now at least, those character traits will be
DELETED left out by the Hardys or at the very least dialed way down. The crowd chants are unlikely to stop though.
The Revival – oddly, given the simplicity of their premise – take more explaining. They do not wear neon colours or sell ice cream, or play the piano or own a dilapidated boat, or cut community-friendly promos based on the misspellings of simple words. Their thing is to be the smartest wrestling team out there and be extremely hard to beat – a conceit that will require the Raw booking team to give them some decently long matches and a prodigious win-loss record to take off for main roster audiences. I’m not ashamed to say it took me a long time watching NXT to ‘get’ The Revival before coming to realise they were the common factor in all of Enzo & Cass, American Alpha and #DIY’s best matches. It’ll be interesting to see how long that takes to translate to new crowds.
As for the rest of the division, The Club are slightly better for their championship reign and The New Day, no matter how fresh you think their act isn’t, are still over as hell (see the “Who?” chants over WrestleMania weekend). Sheamus & Cesaro were cult favourites in front of last Monday’s crowd, but are genuinely putting it together. WWE’s patience with what seemed to be a leftfield experiment is starting to pay off.
I’m a little concerned as to what happens next for Enzo Amore and Big Cass, though. Yes, judge me, I’m someone who still thinks their whole shtick is hilarious; I don’t get all the local sports references, but I subscribe to the theory I once heard somebody apply to Tommy Cooper that comedy performers should always be funnier that their material (because if it’s the other way round, you should be a writer). Enzo & Cass were largely kept away from the title scene in later 2016, as The Club and Sheamus & Cesaro tried to topple The New Day; the idea was clearly to keep them back for a fresh title feud – and crowd-pleasing victory – at WrestleMania. With the Hardys stealing their thunder, what’s next for the realest guys in the room?
SmackDown Live (TD Garden, Boston MA)
Announced: The Usos (c) vs American Alpha in a rematch for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships; the conclusion of the ‘Superstar Shake-up’.
What to expect: New WWE Champion Randy Orton has accepted Bray Wyatt’s challenge for a title rematch with a ‘House of Horrors’ stipulation. Expect lots of speculation and probably some backstage vignettes that play on what the stipulation could be, while Luke Harper and a returned Erick Rowan also float around in play. For the Intercontinental Championship, expect talk of Baron Corbin getting another shot at Dean Ambrose after last week’s street fight victory. And for the Women’s Championship, expect a new challenger to emerge for Naomi. SmackDown has also gained Shinsuke Nakamura and Tye Dillinger from NXT, while John Cena and Nikki Bella are likely to be off TV for the forseeable future due to other commitments and injury rehab respectively.
With the smaller roster, SmackDown Live is prone to suffering greater disruption by the ‘Superstar Shake-up’; the WWE.com preview for the tag titles match even speculates the match may not happen (it surely will; we know how much WWE likes a contractual rematch). So beyond the above notes that we can be pretty confident about, we may have to go along for the ride this week. SmackDown’s next brand-exclusive pay-per-view, Backlash, is quite a distance away on May 21st, so there’s lots of time for the blue brand to figure things out and start building towards that show from next week.
Spotlight: One of the bigger disappointments from WrestleMania was the WWE Championship match between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, which underwhelmed for a number of reasons. The visual tricks weren’t universally popular, but there were bigger problems. For a supposed ‘headline’ match, it was the fourth-shortest match on the entire show including the Kickoff (only the Universal Championship, SmackDown Women’s Championship and mixed tag matches were shorter), and ended with Orton ending Wyatt’s very short first championship reign with an RKO after hardly any drama. On last week’s episode of SmackDown Live, Wyatt responded to this by challenging Orton to a ‘House of Horrors’ match, which the new champion accepted blind. We all hold our breath to see where we go next.
If you didn’t like the creepy projections of maggots and worms onto the ring canvas at WrestleMania, I have some early advice for you: Steel yourself for this ‘House of Horrors’ match. Oh, steel yourself.
You won’t find me hating on those creepy ring canvas projections, incidentally, certainly not right now. I’m all for WWE trying different ways of telling stories, and this was something genuinely novel. Why discourage that? I won’t argue its use is in need of refinement; at WrestleMania it felt like the gimmick was being spammed at us with not a lot of reason or consequence other than ‘because we can’. There’s a very obvious chance this ‘House of Horrors’ match will tread the same path, with a sackful of visual tricks thrown at the screen to see what sticks. If so, some people will no doubt hate it. But I’ll be one of those interested in seeing what sticks. Nothing ventured etc.
It has to be better than a straight-up singles rematch. The WrestleMania match, as a wrestling affair, didn’t offer up an awful lot to improve upon their match at No Mercy in 2016. That was way, way back in October, at the beginning of this program, and a sign that maybe there’s limited life remaining in this particular feud. This gimmick match therefore represents a roll of the dice, but I’m not sure what else it’s looking to achieve. The less troubling way forward, in my mind, is to give Bray Wyatt a signature gimmick match that he can win to resume his run on top and give Orton an ‘out’ – but if that’s the case, why the need to put the belt on Randy Orton in the first place? I’d like to see Wyatt established as a genuine threat as champion, so whatever’s the quickest and most effective way out of this feud to achieve that would be most welcome.
On a side note, I hope there’s an end goal for the involvement of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in this program. I wasn’t really on board with the concept of Harper coming to Orton’s aid last week; the enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend and those two were at each other’s throats only a few weeks ago. Rowan, meanwhile, returned to take the pin in last week’s tag match. Both men would benefit from being given some definition beyond being inconclusive supporting actors in a WWE Championship feud with inconsistent motives. If there’s no prospect of getting the original Wyatt Family back together any time soon, perhaps a private scrap between the two of them may have some mileage.
Also This Week
As with last year, WrestleMania weekend brought some turnover at the top of the NXT (Wednesday) roster, with Shinsuke Nakamura, Tye Dillinger and The Revival now having debuted on the company’s TV programming and Elias Samson also gone. On the upside, the women’s division is still in tact with another round of Asuka vs Ember Moon surely ahead of us, while Drew McIntye – advertised for this week’s show – is back in the WWE fold and Hideo Itami is fit to return at any time. It’s a relatively quick turnaround (in NXT terms) before the next TakeOver on May 20th in Chicago.
Everything you need to know about 205 Live (Tuesday): Austin Aries is getting another shot at Neville, Mustafa Ali is doing awesome work, Akira Tozawa is starting to turn the tide against Brian Kendrick in an improving feud, Rich Swann is the latest confirmed participant in the Alicia Fox Love Dodecahedron and at least one match will be set up or announced during Raw.
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!
- What trades would you like to see happen between Raw and SmackDown this week?
- Which of the three main roster debuts from NXT (Nakamura, Dillinger, The Revival) did you think made the biggest impact and – if you don’t watch NXT – which left you most interested in seeing more?
- How do you think Roman Reigns will react this week, and how do you think he should react?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.