Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! One big match is taking place inside the Elimination Chamber this weekend, another big match scheduled for WrestleMania is now in serious jeopardy and Samoa Joe has finally made it to the WWE main roster. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 6th 2017.
Raw (Moda Center, Portland OR)
Announced: Bill Goldberg will respond to Brock Lesnar’s challenge of one final match at WrestleMania. We are also promised an update on the condition of Seth Rollins.
What to expect: Last week Samoa Joe made his main roster debut, doing Triple H’s storyline bidding in mugging Seth Rollins – and accidentally leading to a legitimate injury for him in the process. Joe, who has been doing some of the company’s best heel work down in NXT over the past year, subsequently made capital of the situation on Twitter and it’s entirely likely he (and/or Triple H) will come out to do the same tonight. Also due to address last week’s events is Bill Goldberg, responding to Brock Lesnar’s challenge. With the rumor being that Goldberg will challenge for the Universal Championship at Fastlane, don’t be surprised if he initially declines because he has nothing left to prove to Lesnar or just gets interrupted by Kevin Owens before he can respond in order to set up that program.
Elsewhere, a potential United States Championship match between Sami Zayn and Chris Jericho will likely be talked about or hinted at, after Zayn won a non-title match last week. Also last week, Roman Reigns repaid Braun Strowman for costing him the Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble by doing exactly the same to Strowman on Raw. This week is likely Strowman’s turn for retribution, on a likely path to a match at Fastlane in a few weeks. Most interesting thing to look for in the women’s division at the moment is signs of a Sasha Banks heel turn, while the tag division still hinges on a title rematch between The Club and Sheamus & Cesaro, with Enzo & Cass and The New Day presumably still in a holding pattern before we learn the WrestleMania card. What to expect from the cruiserweight division: Neville hates everybody and Austin Aries explains why he’s right to do so.
Spotlight: Despite the best efforts of the wrestlers and writers of Monday Night Raw, with WrestleMania now looming on the horizon, there were really only two things most fans were talking about in the past week, neither of which were meant to be among the show’s central plots. And neither of which we can really avoid talking about here.
The injury to Seth Rollins – to the same knee he injured that kept him out of last year’s WrestleMania – is terrible luck at the worst time, when as I noted last week his long-expected match with Triple H had been purposefully and patiently built up as the kind of program that deserved and was designed to draw eyes to The Show Of Shows. That match is now under threat to say the least, as the projected return time for Rollins has been quoted at eight weeks, which would neatly run to the week of WrestleMania.
So what will WWE do? Careful eyes will be trained on this week’s Raw to see if bets begin to be hedged and seeds of an alternative featured program for Triple H are sown. This is possible (and I will be one of those watching for those signs), but it’s more likely that for this week at least we might see options kept open. It has been speculated that WWE wouldn’t want to risk Rollins if there’s any chance he’s not recovered, but the planned match is a big one and the recovery is a mechanical one; it’s physiological rather than – by contrast – neurological, which as we’ve seen with Daniel Bryan and others the company is a lot more cautious about. Also, in the grand scheme of knee injuries, eight weeks isn’t that much; it wouldn’t require a Lazarus-like recovery, let alone a Patriots-like recovery. If there’s a decent chance Rollins may cleared by the week of WrestleMania, it may be something WWE is willing to wait on.
Failing that, I hope they just book the rematch from Summerslam: Finn Balor, wrapped in foam padding, battling Seth Rollins, on a mobility scooter, in a pillow fight.
The other thing that’s dominated conversation about the Raw roster in the past week has been Roman Reigns at #30, obviously. Much has been written and said about this, to which I don’t want to greatly add, but a week later this is my long view: I’m not mad, and I probably wasn’t mad at the time. But when Roman’s music hit I was deflated; it felt anticlimactic. Also, this is going to sound strange but I worry when Reigns is in a high-stakes match; he’s great at what he does but he’s a polarizing figure, and the discomfort a large portion of the crowd have with the prospect of his (sometimes feeling inevitable) success does take me out of the moment. I thought we were done with that for the evening and could enjoy the Rumble spectacle rather than worry about it. So it’s the old adage of “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” – but where my mind’s now at is “okay, what’s next”.
If you’re one of the people who have been holding out for a Roman Reigns heel turn, you should likely be looking on the bright side. Not only are you in good company – such luminaries as Steve Austin and Jim Ross have since noted on their podcasts what a good platform for a career-making heel run the events of the Rumble have provided – but right now the probability of it happening is as high as it’s ever been. If the speculation is right and Reigns is facing The Undertaker at WrestleMania, he will be booed. If he beats The Undertaker, he will be booed even more. Surely WWE won’t try to sell that match as face vs face, with Reigns earning Taker’s respect and being passed the torch, with more crowd reactions being edited for video packages and the Big Dog coming out the following night as the conquering hero. Because although it’s smart to leverage the trope of Reigns to get a crowd to react favorably to a Randy Orton Rumble victory, that’s a hell of an attritional way to achieve it if you’re still planning for him to be the red brand’s top babyface.
Come April, it could be time to shit or get off the pot for a Roman Reigns heel run.
SmackDown Live (KeyArena, Seattle WA)
Announced: John Cena vs Randy Orton. A treat for anyone who’s finding this newfangled AJ Styles guy and multiple women’s programs just a bit too 2017 for their liking.
What to expect: All roads on SmackDown Live lead to the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view this weekend, the blue brand’s last stop before WrestleMania. This week’s announced match between Cena and Orton is, as things stand within the narrative, due to be the WrestleMania main event but things may very well change after Sunday’s Chamber match for the WWE Championship. Expect Bray Wyatt – and quite possibly the other four men in that match – to be in the vicinity of ringside, poised to close the go-home show with a bang. Luke Harper isn’t likely to be far away either.
Last week, Naomi pinned Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss twice in the space of three days, and has been rewarded with a title shot on Sunday. As that’s pretty much the full extent of the build so far, expect a Blissful promo exchange this week to sell the match. There may also be further interaction between Becky Lynch and Mickie James to set up another match for the weekend, while Nikki Bella and Natalya – comfortably the best-established feud in the women’s division – may take a back seat. Elsewhere Dolph Ziggler has been trying to run from Apollo Crews but may find his luck is about to run out, and the tag division should get a more regimented, cohesive segment to sell Sunday’s gauntlet match after last week’s confusing mush. Oh God, it’s going to be a 12-man tag match, isn’t it? It’s going to be a 12-man tag match.
Spotlight: For all the good things SmackDown has been doing in the last few months, the tag team division is one area which has been largely relegated to the background. None of them made it onto on the Royal Rumble card, even as bodies in the Rumble match (don’t tell me Mojo Rawley would’ve made it in if his partner Zack Ryder wasn’t on the shelf), while the Tag Turmoil Match this Sunday is the kind of thing that usually gets thrown together for the WrestleMania pre-show when WWE hasn’t dwelled on what to do with the tag division. And if this is being booked for SmackDown’s last brand-exclusive big show before then, where will they have left to turn in Orlando? Yikes.
It’s understandable. Yes, a few of us at TJRWrestling do go on about how SmackDown Live has been a better show than Raw since the brand split, but it’s important to stress that’s not the case across the board and for SmackDown to achieve the engaging storylines and good payoffs it has done with one hour fewer each week, there has to be some compromises. The tag division has so far been the biggest area of compromise and, believe it or not from what we’ve sometimes seen on Monday nights, Raw has arguably booked their teams better.
SmackDown’s issue is likely just one of available time. It certainly isn’t one of talent, with a roster of teams that bears favorable comparison with the other brand. After a decent start with the odd-couple partnership of Heath Slater and Rhyno, The Wyatt Family turned out to be transitional champions on the way to other things and since then it seems to have been difficult to sustain motivations and stories on Tuesday nights. To put it into perspective, the episode of Talking Smack where Rhyno walked out on Heath Slater was on December 6th. Two months ago today. Their TV exposure since then has been so limited, it’s only been possible to recap ‘these guys might currently be falling out’ without being able to pursue it any further. And so they find themselves tagging in a championship match this weekend.
We may see signs this week of whether that’s likely to change. The best outcome from Sunday’s match might be a win for somebody like The Usos – whose new attitude may have proven a good fit for them but isn’t really ‘new’ any more – and a focus on American Alpha chasing them to get their titles back. It would be good to get the audience invested in those four men over an extended run, which has been set up a couple of times only to seemingly be put back in the box, while gradually starting to build up a third team from the pack.
This is the season of ‘get everybody on the card’, be it at the Rumble or WrestleMania’s pre-pre-show, but with SmackDown’s tag division at a virtual standstill, perhaps it might work out better to start small and rebuild gradually rather than throw everyone together in a gauntlet match and hope the crowd are interested. With any luck Elimination Chamber might prove to be the first step in a rebuilding process.
Also This Week
After last week’s Corey Graves encore, I promise that Nigel McGuinness is definitely in the color commentary chair this week as NXT (Wednesday) returns to Full Sail University for the last couple of taping stretches before WrestleMania weekend and TakeOver: Orlando. Bobby Roode will be having a glorious title celebration, which surely is enough content for any episode.
205 Live (Tuesday) finally added Akira Tozawa to its ranks last week, which is another step in the right direction for the division after Neville’s title win at the Royal Rumble. The cruiserweights are moving in the right direction.
Elimination Chamber (Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ; SmackDown pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, card is subject to change and additions during the week are virtually certain, given the gaps on the card after the quick post-Rumble turnaround. At time of writing:
- WWE Championship: John Cena (c) vs AJ Styles vs Bray Wyatt vs Dean Ambrose vs The Miz vs Baron Corbin (Elimination Chamber Match)
- SmackDown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Naomi
- SmackDown Tag Team Championships: American Alpha (c) vs The Usos vs Heath Slater & Rhyno vs The Ascension vs Breezango vs The Vaudevillains (Tag Team Turmoil Match)
- Nikki Bella vs Natalya
What to expect: On the upside, the Chamber match is as stacked as it could be. With the possible exception of Randy Orton – whose WrestleMania title challenge precludes the need to participate here – these are probably the strongest-booked men on the show (well, five of them plus the widely-tipped winner Bray Wyatt). Most Chamber matches are very watchable and this one should deliver too given the star power on display.
Asides from the tag match, which will hopefully be a springboard to better things, I was a little sad WWE has gone with singles matches for the women as opposed to what would’ve been a totally justified second Chamber. If Becky Lynch vs Mickie James is added to the card this week (which we’d have to assume is likely unless it’s being saved for Orlando; no whispers to this effect have been heard), that’ll be three women’s matches – and of all of them, oddly, the title match is probably the one with the least heat (for once I find myself more interested in seeing a Nikki Bella match than Alexa Bliss). In a way that’s quite impressive.
Other late additions to the card should include Dolph Ziggler vs Apollo Crews and something to keep Orton busy – possibly another skirmish with Luke Harper? This should be another above-average show from the blue brand, at worst worth catching for the Chamber match alone but with a few selling points on the undercard too.
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!
- Do you think Seth Rollins vs Triple H will still happen at WrestleMania?
- Who should win SmackDown’s tag titles on Sunday and who would you like to see them facing next?
- Which match would you rather see at WrestleMania for a major title: John Cena vs Randy Orton or Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.