Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Sami and Kevin appear to have fallen out again, 205 Live has a new General Manager and spots are being claimed in the Elimination Chamber. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 5th 2018.

Raw (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines IA)

Announced: Roman Reigns vs Bray Wyatt for a place in the Elimination Chamber match at the next Raw pay-per-view.

What to expect: Expect Roman Reigns to win. Also expect Matt Hardy to show up to cause a distraction to Bray Wyatt, because that’s clearly a match that’ll be needed on the Elimination Chamber undercard. The other two spots in the Chamber should get decided tonight. Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan are considered hot tips for those spots, but they may still need to get questions about their Tag Team Championships match at the Royal Rumble (left unresolved last Monday) out into the open first. The Miz is also a possibility, although it’s equally possible he may find himself a short-term Intercontinental Championship program coming to light this week to keep himself busy.

The women’s Elimination Chamber match also needs participants to be named; that should happen this week, possibly in full. There isn’t really the depth in the division (especially once you exclude champion Alexa Bliss, Asuka and the women on the injured list) to do qualifying matches, so it may just be a case of the contenders being announced (and then butting heads in a group for several weeks, which WWE seemingly loves to do). Sheamus & Cesaro successfully saw off Titus Worldwide in their match for the Tag Team Championships last week; if Rollins and Jordan aren’t looking for another shot, they may need some new opponents. The Revival wouldn’t be far off that picture, having won a couple of matches last weekend. Some sort of promotion of the tournament for the Cruiserweight Championship playing out on 205 Live is also likely.

Spotlight: The Elimination Chamber awaits for Raw’s male and female superstars, and in theory provides a compelling junction in storylines before WrestleMania. Everything we think we know about the planned WrestleMania championship matches are up for adjustment; there’s only a one-in-six chance of a champion or presumed challenger making it out the other side successfully (unless your name’s Roman Reigns, but we’ll come to that in a moment). It works well for WWE as a concept, throwing in curveballs like Shawn Michaels costing The Undertaker his world title in 2010 or Bray Wyatt becoming WWE Champion a year ago. Yes, that was only a year ago.

This issue with Reigns though….. There may never have been a heavier favorite for going into an Elimination Chamber match before; every sentient observer over the past year who spends at least some time on the internet and understands the basics of how pro wrestling is put together knows that Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar this April is and has always been the plan. Lesnar will not be defending his Universal Championship at the pay-per-view and is next scheduled to appear on Raw the following night, where the Elimination Chamber winner will presumably come face to face with him. There is little wriggle room; Reigns has to win inside the Chamber for the build to start on time.

This creates a challenge for WWE to keep things interesting, and the presence of attention-magnets John Cena and Braun Strowman in the match will help. Cena beating Finn Balor on last week’s Raw played neatly off the Royal Rumble match the previous night, gave Balor another strong showing while taking him out of the path of an ascendant Reigns – in my mind he should still be a strong candidate for a shot at the Universal Championship he never lost later in 2018 – and puts Cena in a spot where he may be able to draw some heat away from Reigns. Strowman’s role, meanwhile, is surely one of destruction and spectacle. Expect pods – if not other parts of the structure – to get smashed. The result may surprise nobody, but the journey could still be made compelling.

The first-ever women’s match inside the Elimination Chamber is the opposite in several ways. The presumptive WrestleMania challenger – Asuka – has been established, but until she makes her decision about which championship to go for it’s the champion that needs to be sorted out. The match is unlikely to have the heat of the men’s contest, but it provides greater inherent intrigue as the end goals are nowhere near as clear. Rumors swirl that Asuka may go over to SmackDown to challenge Charlotte Flair, which would leave Raw’s championship match a blank slate. Would Alexa Bliss retain through to WrestleMania? Would somebody like Nia Jax win the title here to set up Bliss chasing at WrestleMania? There’s even time to build a title feud around two completely different women, neither of whom have to be called Alexa Bliss.

I’m not sure how I’d feel about Asuka leaving Raw. On the one hand, it’ll take her away from Ronda Rousey – presumably headed for the flagship show – which is essential to protect what is probably the women’s division’s best shot at a future WrestleMania main event right now. On the other hand, it feels like it would be leaving matches on the table. Yes, we chalked off a lengthy and very fulfilling Asuka vs Sasha Banks match last Monday, while Asuka handily disposed of Bliss herself in a non-title match a few weeks ago, but Asuka vs Nia Jax feels like it needs to happen. If I were booking Elimination Chamber, I’d have Jax win it and face Asuka at the big show in New Orleans. Who that leaves Charlotte Flair to face I have no idea, but one problem at a time.

SmackDown Live (Sprint Center, Kansas City MO)

Announced: Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens in a number one contender’s match to face WWE Champion AJ Styles at Fastlane. Bobby Roode (c) vs Rusev for the United States Championship.

What to expect: The United States Championship match – quickly set up last Tuesday and happening this Tuesday – has a whiff of angle to it. Roode is a capable champion but is doing little other than being Glorious, while Rusev is getting ridiculously over. Is there a reason for doing this title match here, now? We’ll see. The other announced match, between Zayn and Owens, is based on the premise their relationship is crumbling once more, but again it remains to be seen whether it’s as simple as that. In the women’s division, we were teased a cash-in by Carmella last week – which is going to have to come for real before long – but a program between Charlotte Flair and Ruby Riott seems most likely in the immediate future.

In the tag division, The Usos appear to be heading for a confrontation with The Bludgeon Brothers – expect that to be fleshed out further this week. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles may start to lay the groundwork for their eventual WrestleMania clash while Zayn and Owens are busy working out who’ll face Styles at Fastlane. Elsewhere, it’s notable that Baron Corbin, Randy Orton and The New Day all don’t have much going on at the moment, while we still don’t really know what the deal is with Dolph Ziggler either. Not only is SmackDown an hour shorter than Raw, but they’re in less of a rush to their next pay-per-view; it’s steady going on Tuesday nights at the moment.

Spotlight: While SmackDown Live sorts itself out (very slowly – the irony!) on the road to Fastlane, which itself lies on the road to WrestleMania, a few brief notes here on pairs or duos or partnerships and how things stand with them on the blue brand. As we all know, SmackDown is the spiritual home of the tag team main event and if you placed bets on ‘Shinsuke Nakamura follows up winning the Royal Rumble by partnering with future opponent AJ Styles the following Tuesday’ (or if I was still publishing WWE Bingo every Monday) you’d have come up an unsurprising winner. Don’t expect that to be the last time we see them paired together before April.

Their opponents last week, and the expected major focus of this Tuesday’s show, were and are Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. If we are to take events at face value – which is simultaneously impossible and essential, God bless pro wrestling – there’s trouble brewing between the former best friends, with Zayn walking out of last week’s match and both men pitched against each other this week for one spot facing Styles at Fastlane. One presumes the most likely outcomes are a Zayn win (and a fresh one-on-one matchup) or some sort of schmoz – deliberately planned by Owens and Zayn or not – and a three-way to slightly evolve the dynamic of their match at the Royal Rumble. Either would be an entertaining way to mark time before Styles vs Nakamura at WrestleMania.

But does a falling-out play into the interests of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens? I can see one mark in the ‘pro’ column, and it’s ‘perfect timing for a one-on-one WrestleMania war between Owens and Zayn at last’. Otherwise, despite having paired up in the aftermath of Hell in a Cell in October four months ago, it feels like it would be a quick split. The ‘Yep Movement’ gimmick has only recently started to stretch its legs, while neither man would really come out of it with any great momentum at the moment; neither has really built a groundswell of crowd sympathy which would launch themselves into a babyface run. I’m all for watching Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens wrestle each other, whatever the conditions, but to what end?

They also haven’t had a run at the SmackDown Tag Team Championships yet, and that really is something that should happen. The Usos have been outstanding over the past year, but could do with fresh challenges. The rich seam of matches with The New Day has been well and truly mined, while the most recent chance to shake things up – the two-out-of-three falls match against the team of Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable – ended in comprehensive victory. With Benjamin & Gable now firmly back into the pack, it looks as though The Bludgeon Brothers are next up to challenge. Luke Harper & Erick Rowan have been impressive since their change of gimmick, though we haven’t seen much depth of character that marks them out as a viable long-term replacement for Jimmy and Jey at the top of the mountain.

There would be few better matches available for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania than The Usos vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, though the presence of other Tuesday night teams jostling for position does raise the prospect of yet another multi-team match. What fate awaits Harper & Rowan or Benjamin & Gable at WrestleMania? What about the hugely popular Rusev & Aiden English, or moreover the even-more-hugely popular New Day? Whoever ends up piling into that match, the only thing that really matters in my book is that The Usos get on the WrestleMania card; not the pre-show but the card proper. In previous years their luck in being shunted to the Kickoff has been awful. Given the past year they’ve had, they badly deserve that luck to change.

Also This Week

Two pre-announced matches for 205 Live (Tuesday) with Roderick Strong vs Hideo Itami and Kalisto vs Lince Dorado. Both matches are part of the tournament announced by new General Manager Rockstar Spud Drake Maverick? Everything about the post-Enzo cruiserweight division is bold; a two-month build to crowning a new champion, a load of call-ups/guest appearances by the likes of Strong and Tyler Bate last week, plus a General Manager with a name like a polygonal action hero from a fifth-generation video game.

NXT (Wednesday) features The Undisputed Era vs SAnitY in a rematch for the NXT Tag Team Championships as well as, separately, Adam Cole vs Killian Dain. This week’s match for Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch, Thursday WWE Network) is Goldust & Mandy Rose vs Jimmy Uso & Naomi – which should be a layup for the SmackDown team, for a change.

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. If The Miz isn’t in the Elimination Chamber match, who would you like to see challenge him for the Intercontinental Championship?
  2. Is the time right for Rusev to win the United States Championship?
  3. What are your thoughts on the Cruiserweight Championship tournament and new direction for 205 Live?

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