Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Kevin Owens has a plan to defeat Bill Goldberg, SmackDown Live has a plan to definitively settle the question of number one contender for the WWE Championship and I apologize profusely if I’ve written ‘Roadblock’ anywhere here when I’ve meant to say ‘Fastlane’. Easily done. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 27th 2017.

Raw (Resch Center, Green Bay WI)

Announced: Bill Goldberg will be back on the show and there will be a sit-down interview with Seth Rollins.

What to expect: With Fastlane coming up this weekend, expect a final confrontation between Goldberg and Kevin Owens before their Universal Championship match and possibly another tease of the current champion’s masterplan to overcome the WCW legend. This go-home show is also likely to make a point of Charlotte Flair’s pay-per-view dominance to stack the odds against Bayley on Sunday and see Roman Reigns try to finish strong in the build-up to his match with Braun Strowman, who has left him laying for the past couple of weeks. The word ‘momentum’ will likely be used.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady set up a title match with The Club at Fastlane after winning a number one contenders’ match last week, and as surely as the sun will rise in the morning will come out to talk trash about Gallows and Anderson this week. Elsewhere in the tag division, brace yourself for more nonsense about ice cream as The New Day continue to spin their wheels on Raw until they get to spin their wheels at WrestleMania. Elsewhere, Neville thinks Jack Gallagher’s an English caricature and Sami Zayn will probably be unhappy with Samoa Joe for beating him up every time he mentions his name. Finally, the interview with Seth Rollins – either explicitly or reading between the lines – should give the clearest indication yet whether he will indeed be fit to return for his expected showdown with Triple H in Orlando.

Spotlight: Last week I was very critical of Raw’s women’s division – despite greatly admiring the women who front up every week and make pretty great entertainment from the opportunities they’re given – so this week I wanted to balance things up a bit by being positive about something that I wouldn’t normally be too invested in.

Wasn’t last week’s main event good? I mean, it won’t be troubling any ‘match of the year’ shortlists in December, but it was well put together, had some cool spots and the guys involved busted their asses and kept things interesting throughout. It was far better than I think a lot of people were expecting when the match was announced, which may betray a subconscious wariness towards ‘big man’ matches among some parts of the audience. Uncle Vince, naturally, isn’t in that group but I’d have to admit that I probably am and, if you think about it (and even swap in a few different big men to either side of the matchup), you may come to the conclusion that you are too.

I shouldn’t really be on board with Braun Strowman – I’m not naturally drawn towards ‘big men’; my catnip is scrappy underdogs, good talkers and endearing gimmicks and in a venn diagram with ‘big men’ the overlap there isn’t huge – but I find that I am. The way he has been booked up until now has been exemplary, playing to his strengths and disguising or avoiding his weaknesses. When the narrative has required him to roll over – eliminated at Survivor Series due to Ellsworth interference, losses to Sami Zayn on a technicality, ousted from the Royal Rumble by SmackDown’s well-protected new big guy Baron Corbin and a load of babyface assistance – he’s never seemed compromised. Last week’s match presented a different sort of challenge; Big Show is a very different proposition than the Zayns of this world. But everything Strowman has been asked to deliver in the ring he has so far delivered with merit.

A word about Big Show too, who lest we forget was facing ‘please retire’ chants in 2015. His recent weight loss and conditioning program has clearly had dramatic results. There’s been speculation he may indeed be close to hanging up his boots and that this WrestleMania may be his last, but if this new lease of life continues who would begrudge him carrying on if he wants to? A heavily-trailed clash with Shaquille O’Neal – the chatter about which some outlets are noting has gone a little quiet recently – would sit neatly beside other ‘celebrity’ bouts in Show’s WrestleMania career (hopefully closer to Mayweather in 2008 than Akebono in 2005). But from last week’s evidence, Show looks to have enough still in the tank to be doing fruitful regular work with the permanent roster.

In contrast, Braun Strowman reportedly doesn’t have anything significant lined up for April’s big event. He would likely be a strong favourite for this year’s Andre The Giant Battle Royal, should he enter it, and a win would give him another accessory of intimidation to carry into the rest of the year. That’s largely the way Strowman has been written so far; steadily adding to the feats and victories and trail of broken bodies. So far it has worked well, and if WWE continue to do such a good job the Monster Among Men will be well placed to step into the giant boots of the World’s Largest Athlete as the company’s go-to big man attraction over the next decade.

SmackDown Live (Xcel Energy Center, Saint Paul MN)

Announced: AJ Styles vs Luke Harper, winner faces Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. John Cena will be a guest on Miz TV.

What to expect: AJ Styles and Luke Harper should settle the matter of who’s going to the big dance; presumably Randy Orton will need to reclaim his spot in the match and ultimately turn on Wyatt before we get there, so this chapter should probably get locked down this week. Bonus points if anyone acknowledges how last week’s ‘draw’ in the battle royal looked a bit suspect. At the top of the women’s division, we may start to get a glimpse of Plan B for WrestleMania with Alexa Bliss back as champion – although if there’s still the slimmest chance Naomi could recover in time, that option may be kept open and there’ll be a holding pattern for a couple more weeks.

Golly gee gosh, what might John Cena and The Miz have to talk about on Miz TV? Possibly an adult discussion about their clash in last week’s battle royal and reminiscences over a glass of scotch about that time they wrestled a bowling-shoe-ugly main event at WrestleMania. I do hope manhoods aren’t questioned, Total Divas/Bellas doesn’t come up in conversation and Nikki Bella doesn’t appear uninvited to start a fight with Maryse which ultimately sets up a mixed tag match in Orlando. But I’m sure that won’t happen. Elsewhere there’s a steady build to a tag titles match between American Alpha and The Usos, which is likely to get physical before long, while Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler are still rubbing Dean Ambrose and Apollo Crews (respectively) the wrong way.

Spotlight: As the other part of my self-imposed penance for savaging the Raw women’s division last week, I should in the interests of balance point out that SmackDown Live also gave away the best girlhood-dream-has-come-true story it had in the locker a few weeks before taking the grandest stage of them all. It seems odd both brands would write a story that gives their heel women’s champion their comeuppance early; it seems more logical to split strategies, offer up some variety and tell one ‘traditional’ story alongside the inverted approach of having somebody win a surprise title before defending it at a bigger show.

WWE has a fetish for this sort of thing at the moment, with defending titles seemingly seen as a bigger deal than winning them. A fair illustration of this is the recent pattern of title changes on TV preceding rematches on pay-per-view. Here’s a cracking bit of trivia: At present, on WWE’s main roster, only the WWE Champion, Raw Tag Team Champions and Cruiserweight Champion won their titles on pay-per-view. Meanwhile the Universal Champion (Kevin Owens, August 29), United States Champion (Chris Jericho, January 9), Raw Women’s Champion (Bayley, February 13), Intercontinental Champion (Dean Ambrose, January 3), SmackDown Tag Team Champions (American Alpha, December 27) and the SmackDown Women’s Champion (Alexa Bliss, February 21) – yeah, circumstances with that last one, I know – were all crowned on a Monday or Tuesday night.

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Naomi, having to relinquish the title due to injury at the biggest time of the year, but there’s a significant silver lining in how it sets her up in the longer term. Missing WrestleMania – which now sounds distinctly possible – would be a big shame. Doing her glow-in-the-dark entrance at a WrestleMania in her hometown would no doubt have been a very cool moment. Doing it as Women’s Champion would’ve been marginally more cool. But after that? Fortune has not always smiled kindly upon hometown wrestlers in big matches (another of WWE’s recent fetishes) and, even beyond, there’s no telling what indicators of success the company’s higher powers would measure a Naomi title reign against. Now, however, her journey back to the top is a story it’s virtually impossible not to tell and the audience’s sympathies are squarely behind her.

In the short term, one woman’s injury has been a valuable gift for Alexa Bliss – arguably for the second time. When Becky Lynch’s mystery medical issue postponed her title defence against Bliss back in October, the latter took the opportunity to carry the feud unopposed on the microphone for a couple of weeks and knocked it out of the park. That probably marked the beginning of Bliss proving she belonged on the main roster, and now she will almost certainly enter as Women’s Champion at WrestleMania, even if she’s doing so as the default fall-back option.

That’s not undeserved, but even as a huge fan of Alexa Bliss (have I mentioned that?) the thing I now want to see more than anything in the women’s division is Naomi reclaiming her title. Based on the audience reaction to last week’s segment, I’m likely not alone. This may not be the story anyone involved wanted, but it’s given the former Funkadactyl what she’s badly needed beyond the cool entrance and ‘great athlete’ plaudits – a genuine reason for casual fans to care about her success. To that end, the presence of Daniel Bryan last week and the comparisons to his struggles constituted a major score by the creative team who are making lemonade out of their lemons. Right now Naomi’s misfortune certainly sucks, but in the longer term she may never be the forgotten woman of SmackDown Live or WWE ever again. Hopefully we’ll see her back sooner rather than later.

Also This Week

Big week on NXT (Wednesday) with two title matches: The Authors Of Pain defend the tag team titles against #DIY and Asuka defends the women’s title against Peyton Royce (still not a name that sits comfortably for me). The money for both would be on the champions retaining, with the former match likely to be another solid offering from NXT’s bulletproof tag division. An appearance from Patrick Clark is very much the third-biggest segment of the announced three segments.

205 Live (Tuesday) may give a little extra boost to the Neville-Gallagher feud before Fastlane, while the secondary feud in the cruiserweight division between Brian Kendrick and Akira Tozawa has a lot of potential.

Fastlane (BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee WI; Raw pay-per-view)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are highly likely. Official matches at time of writing:

  • WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs Goldberg
  • Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman
  • Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs Jack Gallagher
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley (c) vs Charlotte Flair
  • Raw Tag Team Championships: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs Enzo Amore & Big Cass

What to expect: Some years the final pay-per-view before WrestleMania can seem a little predictable, with an assumption that WWE will need to get its playing pieces lined up for the expected (if by rumor or just common sense) matches at the year’s big show. Inevitably there are elements of that going on with Fastlane, but there’s still latitude for some surprises.

Let’s deal with the Universal Championship match first. Logic and the word on the street says Bill Goldberg wins. Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho is all but guaranteed for WrestleMania, with a need to get the United States Championship off Jericho before he takes Fozzy on the road again, while a prize will enhance the Goldberg-Lesnar rematch. But then in his promo last week, having ditched his backup following a mysterious conversation with Triple H, Owens very deliberately said “I know how to play the game better than anyone” and all of my alarm bells went off at once. Does he have an Authority-backed insurance plan? If he does, will Jericho or Seth Rollins in a knee brace show up to thwart it? Does he have some other sort of strategy to string out the match as long as possible? It’ll be interesting to see. I call some sort of shenanigans because otherwise surely the only logical path is Goldberg murdering him inside of five minutes, which would be a sad end to KO’s title reign.

There are more subplots elsewhere. Roman Reigns may be a popular pick to defeat Braun Strowman, ahead of possibly wrestling a showcase match with Undertaker at WrestleMania. The Undertaker, however, owes Reigns for his elimination at the Rumble and popping up at the finish to meddle would be a way to protect both men in the match. Likewise, Sasha Banks interfering in the Women’s Championship match and drawing a disqualification would be a way to continue Charlotte’s win streak, keep the title on Bayley and create tension between all three before April. Enzo & Cass have a shot at The Club but didn’t end their number one contenders’ match on good terms with Sheamus & Cesaro, and we all know how WWE likes their multi-team tag title matches at WrestleMania. See? Options!

Fantasy booking and my terrible predictions aside, there are a number of questions that the show should answer and some solid wrestling action is on the cards too. Bayley and Charlotte should have another hot contest, Reigns and Strowman could really tear things up, a reliable matchup between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn may well be added during the week and Neville and Jack Gallagher could blow people away if their match is wrestled seriously rather than just being an umbrella-based comedy segment. I’m less optimistic about that last one.

As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang.

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. Call it: What happens between Goldberg and Kevin Owens this weekend?
  2. If Naomi isn’t back in time for WrestleMania, who would you like to see Bliss defend against?
  3. Who makes a better representative for England: King Neville or Gentleman Jack?

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