Happy New Year, TJRWrestling faithful! My apologies for missing a couple of these previews due to being away over the holidays. Don’t think too much happened while we were away though, did it? Sorry, who are the Raw Tag Team Champions? The women are doing what at the Rumble? What’s this United States Championship tournament we’re talking about? Dean Ambrose is out for how long? Oh.

Welcome back to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment – starting here with the week commencing January 8th 2018.

Raw (FedExForum, Memphis TN)

Announced: Enzo Amore (c) vs Cedric Alexander for the Cruiserweight Championship. Also, The Miz returns from his absence shooting The Marine 6.

What to expect: It’s the season of people declaring themselves as entrants in the Royal Rumble, which should happen sporadically through the next couple of weeks’ programming. The Miz will probably take tonight’s opportunity, although he may also be seeking an Intercontinental Championship rematch with Roman Reigns now that the latter appears to have got past Samoa Joe. The Miztourage will presumably return to his side (while Elias, if he’s not with them, might rip on the music traditions of Memphis instead). As with the men’s Rumble, so with the women’s Rumble; people announcing themselves as entrants won’t surprise but what might happen between Asuka and Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, given last week’s non-title match, could be of more interest.

Brock Lesnar is in attendance again; the story so far is that Braun Strowman and Kane can’t or won’t co-exist to take down The Beast. Either that may change, or it’s likely Strowman’s turn to face down Lesnar this week. Enzo Amore is fit to return for his title match with Cedric Alexander; it would be great to see Alexander win, but even if he does a Rumble rematch looks likely. Another rematch on the cards is Sheamus & Cesaro vs tag champs Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan, although the focus will likely still be on Jordan’s increasing arrogance. We’ll see if Finn Balor, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are teaming together again, and Bray Wyatt may seek some revenge against Matt Hardy after Hardy seemingly one-upping him for a few weeks. Expect laughing.

Spotlight: WWE gets a lot of stick from us fans and pundits when we see popular guys stuck in creative purgatory for an extensive period of time, or floating from feud to feud for months without really having much purpose. Credit where it’s due, therefore, to the person behind the scenes on Raw who struck on the idea of putting Finn Balor back together with his brothers from Japan, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and pushing it through in what was, by WWE standards, relatively short time.

Not that Balor hasn’t been drifting for a bit; he absolutely has. But putting the three men back together for last week’s six-man tag neatly retconned several weeks of Balor facing members of the Miztourage for no clearly discernable reason and, going further back, his low-key feud with Elias too. None of those programs delivered matches or rivalries that’ll live long in the memory, but quite often the most you can ask from undercard stuff like this that doesn’t get much time or creative attention is that it serves a purpose and makes sense coming out the other side.

If, linking it up from the other side, you consider that Balor’s feud with Bray Wyatt was supposed to end at TLC back in October – and however you may have felt about its execution, it was a program that needed to happen and it was understandable for WWE to try and wring the maximum from it – the turnaround, for Finn at least, has been quite quick. He could’ve been earmarked for a WrestleMania singles match from some way out (or worse, an inevitable multi-man match) and been left to drift for a couple more months. Debuting a ready-made trios team instead, which the audience already recognizes, gives him something new and interesting to do. It’s a proactive, optimistic move which is very welcome.

It also completes a hat-trick of blessings (the first being that we never had to watch the ‘Sister Abigail’ match at TLC in the first place). When internet reports suggested Vince McMahon had cooled on Finn Balor, and his presumed Universal Championship shot against Brock Lesnar was now off the table, my initial reaction of disappointment was quickly replaced by one of relief. With Lesnar vs Roman Reigns the understood long-term plan for April, Balor likely wouldn’t come close to winning that title match and the mystique of the Demon would be unnecessarily dented. This step sideways has avoided that. He can always come back into the championship picture later as more than an afterthought, and this alliance with Gallows and Anderson is a good launching pad for that.

The other blessing is that, with The Shield’s Dean Ambrose likely to be on the injured list for a few months, this is a good time to mint another three-man stable and these particular three men have the pedigree together to be serious players. This has all the makings of a beneficial move for everyone. Gallows and Anderson, lest we forget, won tag team gold at last year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view and carried it into WrestleMania – where Matt and Jeff Hardy returned and, thereafter, the ‘good brothers’ largely became forgotten men on Monday nights. Might 2018 start the same way, but continue better?

SmackDown Live (Legacy Arena, Birmingham AL)

Announced: Zack Ryder vs Mojo Rawley in the final first-round match of the United States Championship tournament. The Bludgeon Brothers vs The Ascension.

What to expect: As noted above, expect more declarations for the Royal Rumble. That’ll probably be the next focus for most of the guys who have departed the United States Championship tournament. The winner of the match between Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley will go on to face Bobby Roode (which, given Roode is still working babyface, looks like being Rawley). The other semifinal will be Xavier Woods against Jinder Mahal, but while it’ll certainly be referenced there’s no indication it’ll take place this week. The women’s division ahead of the Royal Rumble is even less defined on SmackDown than it is on Raw, but at least Becky Lynch is back which is nice.

Some reaction from AJ Styles to having to face both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at the Rumble for the WWE Championship is likely, as well as establishing the handicap dynamic that’ll play into the match. Ongoing tensions between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan are likely to remain fairly near to those events, at least for one more week. The Usos may have retained their Tag Team Championships against Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable, but the false finish during the match suggests the challengers may end up with another shot. Failing that, Rusev and Aiden English are riding quite a wave at the moment and should be on the show in some form or other. Elsewhere in the tag division, The Bludgeon Brothers will likely beat The Ascension handily, bringing out Breezango….. Basically if you’ve watched those segments in the last couple of weeks, you’ll know what to expect.

Spotlight: On the December 26th episode of SmackDown Live, in a backstage segment between Shane McMahon and his General Manager, Daniel Bryan remarked that Kevin Owens and AJ Styles had one of the most intense rivalries of 2017. For the record, Shane neither remarked that he knew because he was right in the middle of some of it, nor that what immediately followed for Owens was an arguably more intense (and certainly longer) feud with Shane himself. Which is a shame, as both of those things are relevant.

The growing conflict Shane faces with his line report is an interesting story, but he’s currently in danger of monopolizing the time between Owens and Styles for the second time in six months. Yes, this was how his grudge with Owens began, so it’s easy to join the dots, but it would be nice if Kevin Owens and AJ Styles could get on with having a program with each other without Shane McMahon for a change. Presumably Shane’s disagreements with Daniel Bryan are eventually leading somewhere else; couldn’t they take this opportunity to move into different territory on Tuesday nights?

For example: Dolph Ziggler’s vacated United States Championship; there was one segment where Shane questioned Bryan about why he’d booked a tournament – which was good – but nothing since. Do they have differing views on what to do with Ziggler himself? Every week, The Bludgeon Brothers beat up Breezango and The Ascension, who appear to be putting each other in the line of fire by requesting each other’s matches. Wouldn’t authority figures with a strained relationship be a factor in those requests? If outside interference in matches is such a hot issue, why don’t they spend a week dealing with The Riott Squad?

I don’t mind the ‘authority figures at war’ trope. I know it’s not to everyone’s liking and some people feel WWE revert to it a bit too often, but if the performers are good and it tells a good story I’m all for it. Certainly here, the ingredients are good. Both men are coming from sympathetic viewpoints; Shane is a big boss trying to do the right thing but with failings he’s trying to be honest about, Daniel Bryan is a crowd darling with unimpeachable integrity but a chip on his shoulder about being talked down to. It’s not clear who will crack first. It also plays well on both men’s past, with Shane having the McMahon gene and Bryan’s cracking ‘best for business’ line a couple of weeks ago.

However, I’m absolutely ready for the program to transition away from a focus on Kevin Owens and AJ Styles now. It’s overdue. I really hope both men, along with Sami Zayn, are able to build to their WWE Championship clash at the Royal Rumble now that the match has been set, away from the noise of Shane McMahon’s deteriorating relationship with his colleague. I’m not optimistic for this week as a start, but we’ll see. Owens, Styles and Zayn have an excess of talent between them and are overqualified to hold an audience’s attention. I’d prefer to see these as two engaging stories rather than each inhibiting the other’s growth.

Also This Week

Horsewoman alert, ahead of the women’s Royal Rumble at the end of the month, with Shayna Baszler set to make her in ring NXT (Wednesday) debut this week. NXT have a TakeOver event on the weekend of the Rumble, so it’s a safe bet there’ll be at least one horsewoman in Philly.

Last week on 205 Live (Tuesday), Goldust slightly (totally) bent the weight limit rules by rocking up to partner Cedric Alexander in a tag match. On the downside, as much as I enjoy watching Goldust as an entertainer, the comedic parts that leant on the concepts of cruiserweight athleticism and agility didn’t, to me, feel like they belonged here. On the upside, my prediction of 205 Live not lasting out the year is looking rosier. Fewer parodical guest slots this week, please.

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. Woken Matt Hardy – is it working for you so far?
  2. From the remaining men, who do you think would be the best choice to win the United States Championship tournament?
  3. Will Cedric Alexander win the Cruiserweight Championship tonight?

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