Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Bray Wyatt is suddenly if unsurprisingly the WWE Champion, Kevin Owens is officially ‘Next’ and just for the record, I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day. It’s a heathen festival of guilt and induced consumerism. With that optimistic message in mind, welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 13th 2017.
Raw (T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas NV)
Announced: Charlotte Flair (c) vs Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho will hold a ‘Festival of Friendship’. Emmalina will premiere.
What to expect: Expect the ‘Festival of Friendship’ with Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho to be a beautiful, precious thing. Unless Bill Goldberg is showing up tonight, a logical train of thought is for Sami Zayn – a former friend of Owens, denied last week in his challenge for Jericho’s US Title by the Universal Champion’s interference – to be the one to mix things up here. Either that or just more tension between Owens and Jericho after the latter accepted Goldberg’s Fastlane challenge on behalf of the former. In the announced Women’s Championship match, Charlotte’s record of TV title defences may be as poor as her pay-per-view record is good, but one has to assume the money is in her retaining the title until WrestleMania. Much speculation about whether Sasha Banks interferes to cost Bayley – inadvertently or deliberately – the match here.
Enzo and Big Cass are finally being moved into a position to challenge for The Club’s tag titles, although whether their big moment comes at Fastlane remains to be seen. A four-way at WrestleMania, also involving Sheamus & Cesaro and The New Day seems possible. Two matches definitely set for Fastlane are Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman – Reigns will probably seek retribution this week for Strowman’s show-ending beatdown last week – and Neville vs Jack Gallagher for the Cruiserweight Championship. Finally, we are promised the made-over Emmalina will at last debut. Expect it to be an anticlimax, because come on, how many months have those video packages been running?
Spotlight: The die is cast, then. Goldberg will challenge Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship at Fastlane next month and we all know how that must logically end. Spear. Jackhammer. WrestleMania defence against Lesnar. Owens/Jericho falling-out leading to a United States Championship match on that show’s undercard.
It’s inevitable this will leave a sour taste in the mouth for some. It’s questionable how much a title is required to sell another Goldberg-Lesnar match, while Owens will have carried the title (and by implication the weekly show) since the end of August only to be demoted in favour of a past icon who’s being brought in as a one-off attraction in the run-up to the biggest show of the year. Comparisons will inevitably be made to The Rock stopping CM Punk’s 434-day title reign during this period in 2013. The most critical comparison, however, might point out the match in which he did it was at least rated at four stars by John Canton and ran for 26 minutes.
The main event of Fastlane will neither run for 26 minutes nor reach the level of four stars. If it does, Kevin Owens will clearly be confirmed as some sort of wizard. Based on what we’ve seen of Goldberg at Survivor Series and Royal Rumble – both in how he’s been presented and the extent to which he’s been required to work – a drawn-out match seems unlikely. It feels like it would require Chris Jericho helping Owens to jump Goldberg before the bell, sticking around to run interference and the mother of all referee bumps to believably extend the match to anywhere near ten minutes. Beyond five minutes would be an achievement. Even a wounded Goldberg working against a handicap should mow down Kevin Owens in short order, and it’s hard to imagine how far you can realistically deviate from that reality.
As a show title, ‘Fastlane’ is pretty appropriate because there is now little alternative within the narrative except to go full speed ahead. If Owens loses the title, Jericho is centrally and personally culpable having accepted the match on his behalf. Meanwhile, Goldberg had already accepted Lesnar’s WrestleMania challenge before getting this title shot, so there is now zero logic to Lesnar showing up at Fastlane to interfere and cost him. Why would he? Not only is Lesnar definitely getting Goldberg at WrestleMania, he could be getting a chance at the Universal Championship too.
When we compare and contrast this build to WrestleMania with similar situations from years past, it isn’t just Rock and Punk that comes to my mind but Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker in the run-up to WrestleMania 26. Like Lesnar, Michaels wanted his rematch but, unlike Goldberg, Undertaker refused because he had nothing to prove. This drove Michaels to be wilder and less predictable and ended with him costing Undertaker the world title he was holding to force his hand. It was a bit more compelling than men agreeing to matches at the first opportunity and then somebody winning. There was also an explicit retirement stipulation involved, whereas here in 2017 with Goldberg it’s only implicit. I can’t help but wonder how this program might feel different if – for instance – Goldberg had been the one to dump Roman Reigns and win the Royal Rumble, declared Lesnar to be behind him after mugging him twice and Lesnar had entered and won a Raw battle royal to face Owens at Fastlane, because that was his only path to get his hands on Goldberg again. You’d then have (with respect) a much more enticing title match at Fastlane and could still have the Universal Championship up for grabs between Lesnar and Goldberg in April.
It’s not that I’m not looking forward to the matches, it’s just that it feels like this is the path of least resistance to get from A to B. But I guess that’s what a Fastlane is for.
SmackDown Live (Honda Center, Anaheim CA)
Announced: Despite a post-Chamber edition of Talking Smack that felt like watching a series of hostage situations, nothing has been formally set up for this week’s SmackDown Live at the time of writing.
What to expect: The ‘main event’ of WrestleMania has now been set as rumored, with Bray Wyatt winning the WWE Championship last night and now facing a match with Royal Rumble winner (and Wyatt Family brother) Randy Orton. The key question this week – as it will inevitably be every week until it happens – is this: Will Randy drop him with an RKO? For the other members of the Chamber match, this could be a pivotal week for setting their courses for WrestleMania. A conflict between Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship looks inevitable, with Ambrose likely seeking revenge for Corbin’s actions last night. Rumors swirl that the destinies of John Cena and The Miz are interlinked, while AJ Styles may have a date with Shane McMahon. Look out for any signs of either of those things coming to pass.
The women’s division wrestled three solid matches at Elimination Chamber and all six women involved are becoming increasingly difficult to leave off the show. Nikki Bella and Natalya fought to a non-finish and for now at least we should expect that conflict to continue. Becky Lynch outsmarted Mickie James with a flash pin, which also might not put a full stop to their program. Finally, in a result that surprised but delighted many, Naomi became Women’s Champion at the expense of Alexa Bliss, which is [shuffles feet] fine I guess and a title rematch will therefore be a central point of discussion. In other news, American Alpha need new challengers (or, more accurately, one of Sunday’s challengers to be established as their chief contenders), while a storyline injury update on Apollo Crews – finally working with something he can use to leverage audience investment – should also be expected.
Spotlight: I have a confession to make. When Dave Meltzer first reported that John Cena’s planned WrestleMania match was “not necessarily good news”, before later revealing the current talk was of a mixed tag match with Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryse, I was a bad little automaton and didn’t immediately hate it. Actually I thought it sounded okay. Does that make me some kind of mark? Did anyone else not immediately hate it either?
Based on last night’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, there are only subtle hints that we might be on that path; Cena eliminating Miz from the Chamber match could be the spark that launches a Miz vendetta, while Maryse was for a brief moment backstage collateral in Nikki’s unfinished war against Natalya. However, we’re still a long way from April’s big event with plenty of time to flesh things out and there are a number of reasons for optimism. No, it may not be the big match with Undertaker that I and many other people were totally on board with at the outset, but if Roman Reigns is the one getting that rub and Samoa Joe is needed on the Raw roster, then this isn’t the worst thing. There are a few things to like about it.
For a start, it makes a lot of storyline sense. Given we’ve now just about come to terms with the idea that Daniel Bryan won’t wrestle in a WWE ring again, this is probably the most logical way to resolve his long-running spat with The Miz – his virtual brother-in-law, arguably the show’s most fierce competitor, gets involved and settles the matter. The “Bryan signs Nakamura and we get to see him knee Miz’s million-dollar face into the third row at WrestleMania” ideas may provide a thrill, but let’s face facts: If you were a show’s GM and could choose anyone to wrestle as your proxy, and Cena was not only already on your roster but also a member of your extended family, why would you pick anyone else? He’s John Sodding Cena for pity’s sake.
Also, rather than seeing this as a poor use of John Cena at a WrestleMania, why aren’t we seeing this as a spot The Miz has earned after his outstanding work since the brand split? This offers him a bigger spotlight than he’d get by being tossed into a multi-man Intercontinental Championship match. Miz probably runs second to AJ Styles (about whom much has already been written on the subject of deserving a marquee WrestleMania match) as the blue brand’s MVP in the past year, although Dean Ambrose is also in that conversation. A spot opposite John Cena in Orlando isn’t undeserved.
And reflecting on Miz’s recent work, there’s a lot to look forward to in a program like this. Yes, this’ll be a shock if you’ve been in a coma since 2011 and have just woken up now, but a Miz/Cena feud could make for great television. The serious hype man version of Cena on MizTV? Sign me up. Miz also still has that WrestleMania 27 victory over Cena to brag about, which is a great starting point for any promo even before personal relationships are brought into things and both men are highly capable with a microphone. Both men are also doing better in-ring work than they were in those days. It shouldn’t be rocket science to make this program work, even for more critical audiences.
Pitfalls to avoid: Too many Nikki Bella promos, John Cena relentlessly questioning Miz’s manhood, too much (or indeed any) talk about Total Bellas, passing up the chance to design Maryse the hottest wrestling gear in all history and encouraging any talk of an in-ring WrestleMania marriage proposal. Seriously, do you want a situation where nothing happens, Nikki looks all sullen and it’s super-awkward or even where it does happen, John’s the one looking ashen-faced and we have to pretend this feels like a modern-day Savage and Elizabeth? Either way, my buttocks would clench so tightly I could make them into a fist.
Also This Week
Jack Gallagher may be the new contender to Neville’s Cruiserweight Championship, but an interesting subplot of 205 Live (Tuesday) is the creeping involvement of color commentator Austin Aries, now reportedly cleared for in-ring competition and a mooted WrestleMania opponent for Neville. As talented as TJ Perkins, Brian Kendrick and Rich Swann undoubtedly are, those aforementioned three men – Neville, Gallagher and Aries – may make a difference in finally getting audiences connected with the cruiserweight division. 205 Live continues to improve.
The new WWE United Kingdom Championship will be defended on what seems to be an adopted home of NXT (Wednesday) when inaugural champ Tyler Bate faces Trent Seven. Bate and Seven have enjoyed a lot of success outside of WWE tagging together, so expect a good amount of in-ring chemistry. Also, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce are looking forward to a tag match against Liv Morgan and a partner of her choosing, despite obviously being toast if she does what anyone with half a brain would do and choose Asuka or Ember Moon.
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 are your hopes for a Bray Wyatt championship run and would you like to see it survive beyond WrestleMania?
- Assuming Seth Rollins will not be cleared to compete by Fastlane, what would you like to see Samoa Joe do at that pay-per-view?
- Would you like to see John Cena propose to Nikki Bella at WrestleMania? I won’t judge…..
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.