Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Matt Hardy’s at breaking point, three more matches have been announced for Clash of Champions and Raw is promoting a non-title cruiserweight match in advance? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, December 4th 2017.

Raw (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA)

Announced: Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins for the Raw Tag Team Championships. Sasha Banks vs Paige. Cedric Alexander vs Mustafa Ali vs Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese (winner faces Rich Swann next week to earn a shot at the Cruiserweight Championship).

What to expect: WWE loves announcing notable stuff ahead of its televised visits to the Staples Center. Let’s work backwards through the above list. The novelty of an announced cruiserweight match is welcome, as will be another decent 13 minute match like last week, whoever the winner. Banks vs Paige is surely set up for a Paige win via distraction or to be thrown out after the rest of Absolution interfere. The tag match, finally, and the chances of a title change have to be relatively high; the prospect of once again having titles on the shoulders of every member of The Shield seems an inevitability, while we assume Roman Reigns needs to lose the Intercontinental Championship before WrestleMania (whether that’s to Samoa Joe, who he should tangle with again this week, we’ll have to see). Anyway, there’s no reason why the tag match and cruiserweight match shouldn’t both be good.

What else? With no Raw pay-per-view this side of the Royal Rumble, there isn’t the greatest sense of urgency. Braun Strowman and Kane are very much back in conflict and will probably build to a big payoff somewhere with more violence tonight. We may get some idea whether Alexa Bliss might get a Women’s Championship program outside of the Absolution storyline (though that doesn’t currently look likely). Elias will hopefully still be knocking around with The Miztourage, which has been decent entertainment and a good use of all men so far, something positive for Finn Balor would be nice, Jason Jordan will continue to try and prove himself and – in probably the most anticipated undercard story on the show – we may get to see whether Bray Wyatt really did succeed in Breaking a certain Matt Hardy.

Spotlight: Unless this is your first outing into the world of online wrestling conversations in the last 18 months or so (and if it is, welcome back; our revised collective position on John Cena and Roman Reigns is more appreciative of their talent than before while still preferring to forget they’re probably the two runaway favorites to win next month’s Royal Rumble), you’ll probably be aware that Matt Hardy developed a ‘Broken’ persona on TNA/Impact Wrestling before he and his brother Jeff departed for a WWE return, sparking a legal battle over intellectual property rights. Well, it now looks very much like that battle is resolved and we’ll be seeing the gimmick – or something approximating it – on WWE programming, after Hardy acted out a clearly-choreographed in-ring breakdown following a defeat to Bray Wyatt on last week’s Raw. The follow-up reports pretty much confirmed the direction of travel. Great news, right?

Certainly it’s great news for the Hardy family, who have been fighting their case. It’s also great news for Matt Hardy as a performer, who has had to rein in traits and tendencies of the character – ‘delete’ chants, figures of speech – that live audiences have clearly still been very ready to receive. Whether he ends up being ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy or ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy really isn’t the point, of course, it’s having the freedom to play the character and the confidence to innovate without fear of legal reprisals. To that end, there’s plenty to look forward to and be optimistic about for both Hardys – Matt and ‘Brother Nero’ Jeff – on WWE programming; the ‘Broken’ gimmick had given both men a new lease of life and, if their promos and arena-based in-ring work won you over on Impact, you can now look forward to more of the same. For some fans of the old gimmick, that might be enough. Others however, may still be nervous that the Broken/Woken Universe is unlikely to be exactly as they remember.

We have no indication, for example, that WWE is willing to go all-in on the Broken Hardys supporting cast. The likelihood of Matt’s wife Reby Sky and her father and erstwhile on-screen gardener Señor Benjamin being suddenly dropped into the mix seem far from guaranteed, while the chances of King Maxel – two years of age – improving on his 1-0-0 professional wrestling record in a company where Daniel Bryan isn’t cleared to wrestle are surely a firm zero. There are also more fundamental uncertainties beyond the personnel issues; can the shooting style and content of the externally-filmed segments and matches that sold the original gimmick to a wider audience possibly survive? How easy a fit are Lakes of Reincarnation, Twists of Fate into volcanoes and people hiding from firework attacks under dilapidated boats in today’s WWE output? Will Matt ever have the same freedom and can WWE’s version of the Broken Universe be more than a pale imitation?

I think these are valid questions. WWE and Vince McMahon are notorious for bending and shaping televised content to their will. In fairness, it’s hard to blame them; they’ve been very successful in doing so for a very long time. We shouldn’t expect to see Raw, live on the USA Network, leaning on 30-minute pre-recorded fantasy segments shot in somebody’s back yard. We should probably expect a lot less. When the Cruiserweight Classic transitioned to the cruiserweight division, the explosive action, innovative technical feats and hard-hitting contests largely made way for five-minute Raw matches with more headlocks than high-flying moves and, even after a year’s development, the guy sitting atop the division is the mass-appeal entertainer who isn’t the athletic peer of those who struggle to get screen time alongside him on Monday nights. The cruiserweight division you see on Mondays is a WWE cruiserweight division. What of the WWE Broken Universe?

If Matt Hardy wanted a portent of doom last week, he only needed to look across the ring at Bray Wyatt – the only on-screen talent involved in both of WWE’s attempts to capture the same lightning in a bottle; the match between The Wyatt Family and The New Day at the ‘Wyatt Family compound’, suspiciously shortly after The Final Deletion had aired, and the infamous House of Horrors match this year. Both were similar ideas, but executed lifelessly and with no charm. However, there remains reason for optimism. In a world where WWE had space in its output for the Cruiserweight Classic in the first place, and produces two runs (plus merch) of Southpaw Regional Wrestling, there may still be room on YouTube or the WWE Network where Matt Hardy will have the freedom to go crazy with his content ideas. Stay tuned.

SmackDown Live (Valley View Casino Center, San Diego CA)

Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing.

What to expect: WWE has announced three additional matches for Clash of Champions in a couple of weeks, all of which we can assume will be addressed within the narrative this Tuesday. Baron Corbin already has beef with Bobby Roode over an ‘accidental’ clash a couple of weeks ago, but Dolph Ziggler needs to be brought into the picture tonight. The planned three-way for the Tag Team Championships features two teams – Usos and New Day – who have seen an awful lot of each other this year, so there may be more focus on establishing Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable as a threat. The Women’s Championship match between Charlotte Flair and Natalya we have, of course, seen before and the big question is whether it can stay free of influence from The Riott Squad (I’m not a fan of the name, by the way). Given Becky Lynch and Naomi have both been written out, it’s difficult to see what else The Riott Squad could possibly be doing though.

Elsewhere, the show’s big ongoing story is Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens bending and breaking rules, Shane McMahon wanting to fire them for it and Daniel Bryan disagreeing and making them wrestle tough matches instead. Expect another cycle of that here, with Randy Orton wanting revenge on Zayn (or both men) for last week’s main event. The Hype Bros have finally split, so expect Mojo Rawley to explain or further extend his actions from last week. There’s a good chance The Bludgeon Brothers will wrestle another squash match. Shinsuke Nakamura hasn’t really done anything since Survivor Series, which will hopefully change this week, and finally in the program for the WWE Championship it seems Jinder Mahal may have jettisoned the Singh Brothers for good. If we could just fast-forward now to AJ Styles retaining the championship in a decent match at Clash of Champions, that would be grand.

Spotlight: A long-running saga in WWE’s 2017 programming (on the occasions the men involved made it onto WWE programming for long enough to move the saga forward) finally came to a head last week when Mojo Rawley turned his back on his Hype Bros bro Zack Ryder. The cracks in the relationship first started to show as early as June and for much of the time since, it’s looked like Ryder would be the most likely one to snap and turn on his tag partner. However, it turns out that being friends with Rob Gronkowski doesn’t have to pigeonhole you as a babyface, even if he did help you eliminate future WWE Champion Jinder Mahal to win this year’s André the Giant Battle Royal (yeah, it’s been a strange sort of year). So we now get to see what Mojo Rawley will make of a role as an out-and-out bad guy, which represents a whole new chapter for him in a wrestling ring.

One of the minute workings of the Performance Center – one that will probably remain unknowable to us as outsiders – that’s always piqued my curiosity is that of the development of performers’ abilities to play different roles. We know there’s a ‘promo class’. We know there are coaches and staff with a wealth of experience in the business who have helped graduates find and develop their characters, often (though not always) through the amplification of personal truths. But we rarely hear how WWE developmental teaches its talents to adapt; how they’re prepared for a main roster life where they can be given new gimmicks and be expected to run with them, where their tag team can be split up and they suddenly have to fly solo, where they’ve been a babyface character for their entire NXT run and are then turned heel. How does the Performance Center teach the skills to deal with that? How does it practice them?

All this may not be as big a deal for WWE recruits who have already learned much of their craft on indie circuits, but for developmental talents from other backgrounds it may be a daunting challenge. Rawley is one who would fall into this category. An aborted football career saw him signed with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals without making much of a dent in the pro game, from which he transitioned straight to the Performance Center – where he got hyped, stayed hyped and hasn’t really been anything other than hyped since. There are others on SmackDown for whom similar is or was true; Carmella, a former cheerleader, was the babyface manager of babyface pairing Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady before being promoted on her own and instantly turned heel (which overall, discounting James Ellsworth content for a moment, one has to say she’s handled admirably). Fitness enthusiast Liv Morgan is the latest, finding her feet in NXT as a spunky underdog and now facing the challenge of representing an anarchist insurgency.

Time will tell. Rawley, actually, is probably in one hell of a sweet spot for making his particular change work. The jock who’s always pumped up, obnoxiously loud and dismissive of anyone who doesn’t want to stay hyped with him is the template of a great heel character. It’s like if John Cena didn’t give two craps about either the troops or Make-A-Wish, and was ambivalent on the subject of America generally. Rawley’s character needs only minimal tweaks, which I really hope will be the mindset behind this change. If anything – and this is where I have the grounds for optimism – I felt his solo NXT run had seen him gradually start to grate more with the audience, and the formation of the Hype Bros probably rescued him as a babyface character (as well as allowing him to continue his development alongside the veteran Ryder). Perhaps this has always been Rawley’s natural path.

A note too here on Zack Ryder, for whom I still laughably cling to what seems a doomed hope of a renaissance. Yeah, I still believe in Ryder. While the Hype Bros saga dragged on over the past few months, I understood why many people felt a fresh character change for for Ryder might be in his interests, but in my heart I was reluctant to make peace with it. That underdog story, several years ago now, where he went from Internet Champion to United States Champion by popular demand has never really left me and was rekindled when he won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania last year (yes, as recent as 2016; I had to look it up too). I don’t think I can bring myself to hate the guy, so for me this is the best of both worlds. I’m all for a future of SmackDown Live where Mojo Rawley is a legit heat magnet in the midcard and, I dunno, Zack Ryder and Tye Dillinger go on a fairytale run to the Tag Team Championships.

Also This Week

We’re into a new set of Full Sail University tapings this week on NXT (Wednesday). There’s a relatively quick turnaround, in NXT terms, before the next TakeOver event on Royal Rumble weekend, so expect plenty of eventful story development over the next few weeks. Ruby Riott vs Sonya Deville, no holds barred and this week’s only announced match, can’t really fall into that category as both are now on the main roster, but there’s an Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas championship celebration too.

By the time we reach 205 Live (Tuesday), we’ll know the two men who’ll face each other on Raw next week for a shot at Enzo Amore. So asides from the usual cruiserweight action, there’ll probably be a bit of time dedicated to building that match too.

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. What aspects of the original ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy gimmick do you think will make it onto WWE programming as they were and what aspects, if any, will be left out?
  2. Which of the announced matches at Clash of Champions are you most interested in seeing at this point?
  3. Which of the two new women’s factions on Raw and SmackDown have you been most impressed by so far?

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