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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! This week we’ve got a couple of matches with pay-per-view implications on WWE’s main shows, plus a whole tranche of important matches on the minor shows too. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 12th 2018.

Raw (SAP Center, San Jose CA)

Announced: Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt vs Matt Hardy vs Apollo Crews for the final spot in the Elimination Chamber.

(Editor’s Note: WWE also had Kurt Angle announce one more match. It was after Max’s article was finished. Here’s the match.)

What to expect: Expect Finn Balor to claim the final spot in the Chamber. Apollo Crews is the long shot alternative, which I only think worth noting because Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt will clearly be continuing with their personal program. There are two weeks for the other five men to interact with each other, so expect Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, John Cena, The Miz and final-man-out-of-the-pods Elias to be tied up with that. Meanwhile, it looks like Seth Rollins is between things after his erstwhile tag partner Jason Jordan underwent neck surgery last week. Something new for Rollins, and new opponents for Sheamus & Cesaro (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson? The Revival) may emerge tonight.

The Raw women’s division heading towards Elimination Chamber is in particularly good health. Expect some explanation, probably not a believable one, as to why Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss saved Mickie James from a beatdown last week. Continued tension between Sasha Banks and Bayley, nicely stoked last week, would be welcome – possibly around the issue that Asuka shook Bayley’s hand after their match last week but didn’t extend the same acknowledgement to Banks. Meanwhile, expect Asuka to be looking ahead to her match at Elimination Chamber with Nia Jax; systematically downing marquee opponents in 10+ minute matches with clean finishes certainly does lend credence to the rumors of her jumping to SmackDown to challenge Charlotte Flair. Add also one (1) cruiserweight segment that may or may not reflect a division that’s quietly been rejuvenated on Tuesday nights.

Spotlight: After a couple of weeks of rumors about whether he’s been working hurt, Jason Jordan finally succumbed to the need for neck surgery last week. Though initial reports suggested the injury was potentially problematic but his wife described it as “minor”, the official line coming out of WWE about no timescale for a return is probably the best guide – it’s neck surgery, which is no laughing matter, and so we’ll probably just need to accept the guy will be ready when he’s ready. The interruption couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jordan, who appeared to be lined up for a one-on-one WrestleMania match with Seth Rollins – quite a prime spot – and who’d started to make headway with a tough gimmick.

Plucked out of an athletic tag team where the character demands were rarely greater than maintaining a geeky collegiate bromance and matching singlets, to be given a live microphone on Monday nights and the task of convincing people you’re the naive/arrogant long-lost son of a Hall of Famer is a tough ask. Jordan really was earning his way and, despite his clear talent in the ring, was in the process of having to convert doubters. Not to drop her in it, but my other half has been one. A casual watcher, she was a big fan of American Alpha as I was and, when Jordan was revealed as Kurt Angle’s secret offspring, dismissed it as daft….. But I loved him as Alpha’s hot tag, Max….. Are we expected to believe he’s actually his son though….. Oh God, now they’re asking him to act…..

This is the part where I really wish I could tell you that Jordan’s performances eventually won her over – but they haven’t yet. I don’t think there’s anything more Jason Jordan could’ve done that would’ve changed that. As with the neck injury, Jordan has been fighting against gravity in a role that hasn’t always played to his strengths and against a premise that requires a suspension of disbelief the likes of which may never have existed. The story of Hornswoggle being Vince McMahon’s son ten years ago wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it was clearly cartoonish; it wasn’t played as straight as this. In an era when WWE puts out its own reality shows and previous rivalries in Japan are openly referenced on commentary, it’s a small box to ask audiences to think inside of.

But oh, the irony of it being Jason Jordan’s freakin’ neck that’s put the skids under this story for now. If WWE don’t make that connection to Angle’s history of neck issues when Jordan eventually returns and his story resumes, I’ll be exasperated. If the company are all the way in on this gimmick, it would be bizarre not to play that aspect up. Either way, hopefully the recovery isn’t too arduous or the prognosis too worrying and he’ll be back doing what he excels at – getting in the ring – again very soon. All being well he may even still get his moment at WrestleMania. Everyone will be wishing him the best.

Should he not make it to New Orleans, however, Seth Rollins will be left rueing his luck having lost another potential opponent; many observers were expecting him to find himself in a program with his Shield brother probably-by-that-stage-gone-bad Dean Ambrose until injury intervened there. It’s another ironic twist, where last year Rollins himself was the ‘TBC’ in his WrestleMania match due to uncertainties around that knee injury. Hopefully in 2019 he’ll get a clear run through February and March and a shot at Plan A when WrestleMania comes. And hopefully whoever will be stepping into Jason Jordan’s shoes for 2018 can stay off the treatment table for a couple more months.

SmackDown Live (Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield CA)

Announced: Dolph Ziggler vs Baron Corbin – winner gets added to the WWE Championship match at Fastlane.

What to expect: First, a grumble. What the hell is this stipulation doing in the announced match? Either Dolph Ziggler or Baron Corbin is randomly getting fired into the main event at Fastlane, kind of out of nowhere. Neither man even made last week’s inaugural SmackDown Live Top 10 List (more on that in a moment). Expect one – or both? – to get added, questions to be asked about whether Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are permanently off the same page and AJ Styles to figure fairly peripherally. The likelihood of Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan arguing over it, possibly over Shane’s decision to make the stipulation for Ziggler vs Corbin, is also virtually assured.

In other news, high chances of an angle involving some or all of Randy Orton, Bobby Roode, Rusev and Aiden English after Orton ambushed the other three with RKOs last week. A proper, meaty mid-card program involving those men would be a real bonus for SmackDown, especially as other matches for Fastlane in a few weeks look thin on the ground. The focus – if not the entirety – of women’s division action will be on Charlotte Flair dealing with the Riott Squad, with a match against Sarah Logan a lock at some point in the next couple of weeks before presumably facing Ruby Riott at Fastlane. Look out for the possibility of The Usos and The Bludgeon Brothers finally squaring up, while Shinsuke Nakamura will probably show up at some point to remind us all that he won the Royal Rumble.

Spotlight: Last Tuesday saw the introduction of the SmackDown Live Top 10 List, which functionally looks to have the dual purposes of further distinguishing the brand’s ‘identity’ from Raw and creating talking points to use in various storylines. Adding unique features to each of WWE’s shows is a good move and this particular one isn’t a bad idea in principle, though much will depend on how it is handled. Is it legitimate? Is it genuinely voted for behind the scenes by members of the SmackDown roster? If you were clinging to that belief after Tye Dillinger was announced at #10, it should have evaporated when the next nine all turned out to be babyfaces. I find it impossible to believe the SmackDown locker room doesn’t think Rusev, for example, is killing it right now. So how does this first Top 10 stand up to scrutiny?

Dillinger at #10 doesn’t warrant a lot more comment; being a ten is what he does. It’s also about all he’s done for the last few weeks, not even making it through the curtain in the Royal Rumble. At least Heath Slater managed to make it to the ramp before being attacked. Dillinger, Randy Orton at #9 and Becky Lynch at #8 all somehow make the list despite sharing a complete lack of storyline at the moment. For Orton, last week’s post-match attack on Bobby Roode (working face but with a natural heel bursting to get out) and Rusev (if anything, the opposite) could therefore be a positive development, possibly for several people. Now if only the same can be arranged for Lynch, reality can start to mirror the universe according to SmackDown lists.

On the face of it, The Usos at #7 and The New Day at #6 appear to be the wrong way round. Again though, these Top 10s throwing up results that people can and might dispute should really be part of the purpose of doing this sort of thing. Finding a way for Jimmy & Jey to ‘compete’ against the trio of pancake peddlers without it having to be in the ring is good, as that rivalry was heavily mined in the second half of 2017 and doesn’t have a lot of other freshness to offer right now. However that’s also a limitation; what the SmackDown tag division probably needs more of is measuring up-and-coming teams against those guys, rather than continuing to measure them against each other.

United States Champion Roode being named as high as #5, shortly before pinning Rusev (not ranked) and being RKOd by Orton (#9), is probably a prerequisite for a secondary champion even if they haven’t had a great deal to do. It’s potentially a good way of adding ‘free’ prestige to a secondary championship, by not-so-subtly reminding everyone that the guy holding it is currently a big deal. Given the show only runs for two hours (and there’s no longer any Talking Smack), there isn’t always time to build prestige the hard way every week. It’s hard to say what Naomi is doing at #4, though that probably says something about the poor time the SmackDown women’s division has gotten lately.

The top three are no surprise. Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura at #3 should be a fixture, an ominous presence in the Top 10 until WrestleMania while he waits for the WWE Champion. If WWE play the build to that championship match to perfection, an easy win would be to have Nakamura finally slide into the #1 slot ahead of AJ Styles on the go-home episode of SmackDown Live. It’s a simple way to tease a title change. Charlotte Flair at #2 and Styles himself at #1 round out the list. Installing the de facto top man and woman on the show in the first two positions makes this feel more like a ‘power rankings’ list, but we’ll see how that develops week on week. This Top 10 gimmick has a few weaknesses and contradictions, but presents a few opportunities to deepen the universe too. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

Also This Week

If you’d previously given up on 205 Live (Tuesday), you may wish to give it a second chance. The show is now being helmed by Triple H, who is moving it away from the main roster’s character-based template more towards the Cruiserweight Classic model of in-ring action, Roderick Strong is winning barn-burners against Hideo Itami, and this week we get Akira Tozawa vs Mark Andrews and Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese.

Speaking of Roderick Strong, he challenges Pete Dunne for the United Kingdom Championship this week on NXT (Wednesday), Hunter’s other baby. There’s also Ember Moon vs Shayna Baszler in a rematch for the NXT Women’s Championship and Aleister Black will be in action.

Finally, if you’re still watching Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch, Thursday WWE Network), this week’s contest is Elias & Bayley vs Rusev & Lana.

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. Which man out of Dolph Ziggler or Baron Corbin would be best to add to the WWE Championship match at Fastlane?
  2. What should be next for Seth Rollins?
  3. Is the ‘Top 10’ gimmick a good one for SmackDown and what do you think Raw should do, if anything, in response?

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

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