Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Daniel Bryan fired AJ Styles, Dana Brooke (finally) left Charlotte Flair of her own accord and Chett Chetterfield needs to be on all pay-per-view Kickoff panels from here to eternity. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 20th 2017.
Raw (Barclays Center, Brooklyn NY)
Announced: Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman; Chris Jericho welcomes “the real Kevin Owens” to The Highlight Reel.
What to expect: With two weeks of TV left before WrestleMania, Raw airs from the Barclays Center and we’ll find out how a New York crowd feels about Roman Reigns going up against The Undertaker. Surely the announced match between Reigns and Braun Strowman won’t pass without Undertaker making his presence felt? Surely that’s what needs to be achieved here? Bill Goldberg isn’t scheduled to show up this week – next week’s go-home show is the only other time we’ll see the Universal Champion before WrestleMania – but Brock Lesnar is booked, possibly to bounce around a bit while Paul Heyman talks to us again, though even that may be better than a dark segment; it’s sad, but it’s hard to think what else WWE could do with Lesnar tonight.
Jericho’s announced Highlight Reel show has ‘comedy segment’ written all over it, but is likely to descend into a brawl; something for everyone! Mick Foley will probably get fired, unless Stephanie McMahon and Triple H can think of something more humiliating for another week or so; Foley is expected to take time off for hip surgery soon, so his time as on-screen General Manager is likely coming to a close with this pay-per-view cycle. Lingering uncertainties about the red half of the WrestleMania card should be cleared up; is Nia Jax still going to elbow her way into the Women’s Championship match and will Dana Brooke be sniping around it for Charlotte Flair? Does a couple of running kicks and being locked in a leg submission mean that Seth Rollins fit to go for Orlando, or was that him being written out? That last one particularly intrigues me – well done, Raw writing team – but we’ll see what plays out.
Spotlight: I’m going to talk about the Raw women’s division again, but I’m going to play nicely this time and be optimistic. Or, at the very least, neutral. For all that the Raw creative team has booked the division towards entropy, there’s still a lot of good things to say about it and a lot of potential for improvement. Potential is always a reason for positivity.
The three women at the top of the division (and on the WrestleMania card) remain solid performers and are still taking the crowd with them. Despite being less bothered about winning and retaining the title under questionable circumstances than I felt her character would be, Bayley is still hugely popular, while Charlotte is fully embracing her Flair genes with a masterful heel act. And whatever reservations we may have about booking decisions, being given 20 minutes to go out and do their stuff is a welcome and hugely valuable provision. Bayley, Sasha and Charlotte aren’t gonna drop the ball with that kind of opportunity – they’re seasoned performers on the big stage now.
The prospect of Nia Jax being added to the title match at WrestleMania, peculiarly, remains on the show’s radar without yet being properly resolved. When granting Jax a match with Bayley last week, Stephanie McMahon noted that she deserved to be in the conversation. It would seem an(other) odd narrative choice to have Nia lobby for an opportunity only to lose it by what seemed like a deliberate disqualification, so perhaps she’ll be arbitrarily added to the Women’s Championship match tonight? Better late than never I suppose, although it would feel a little odd to wait this long before turning the three-way into a four-way.
Although being added to the match would no doubt be great for Jax, who has looked the part since her promotion from NXT and would give the contest a fresh dimension, I can also see benefits to her missing out on that match. Raw needs to break away from this pattern where everyone in the women’s division is in some way tied to the fate of everyone else, and to hold Nia Jax in reserve as the next ‘big bad’ that Bayley has to face after getting through WrestleMania with her title would be a good way to start splintering off these storylines. A similar thing can be said of Dana Brooke finally splitting from Charlotte; while it wouldn’t be unfair to say Brooke’s in-ring ability is limited at this point in time, she’s at least capable of giving Charlotte something that isn’t title-related to focus on for a while. I’m all-in for a babyface reunion between Dana Brooke and Emma that leads to Emma-Charlotte matches over the next few months.
And other than Alicia Fox on secondment as a valet in the cruiserweight division, that’s pretty much the extent of the Raw women’s roster right now. The red brand has had some bad luck with injuries and absences, although the same could also be said to some extent about SmackDown. I wonder, if the rumors of a post-WrestleMania draft or roster trades turn out to be true, whether there may be a rebalancing? Either that, or NXT may ride to the rescue. Asuka to Raw seems to make a lot of sense.
SmackDown Live (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville CT)
Announced: There was nothing formally announced until WWE sent out this tweet on Monday around 12pmET.
— WWE (@WWE) March 20, 2017
It should be a good tag title match if they get time.
What to expect: AJ Styles has been fired by SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan, so one of two things may be happening this week and next to build to his WrestleMania match with Shane McMahon: Either Shane reinstates Styles above Bryan’s head so he can have the match, or (possibly more likely given the rumors he’s heading to Raw after WrestleMania) Styles stays fired and we may see a bit of rail-jumping. For what it’s worth, Styles worked SD Live house shows this weekend, so he’s still on the road with the crew.
In the WWE Championship picture, Bray Wyatt responded to Randy Orton burning down his shed by covering himself in Sister Abigail’s ashes, which means he’s got back his powers and….. something or other. Look, is it asking too much for Wyatt and Orton to take just one week out from the mystical bullshit via TitanTron and punch each other in the face? Throw us a bone here. I like a bit of existential menace, but a face-to-face of some description either this week or next would be welcome.
In the women’s division, the ‘Alexa Bliss has to defend against everyone’ program for WrestleMania (which already had Becky, Natalya and Mickie attached) now clearly has Carmella added. Might anybody else come into the frame between now and April 2nd? We may see two title matches made official in payoffs from last week; Dean Ambrose should answer Baron Corbin’s challenge for the Intercontinental Championship, while a possible match for the Tag Team Championships is being set up in a more traditional WWE way – the champions losing a non-title match. Then there’s the likelihood of more worked-reality shenanigans between The Miz and Maryse, and John Cena and Nikki Bella. Let’s have a look at that…..
Spotlight: Oh, goodness, is Miz doing a good job selling this mixed tag match to me. In the interests of full disclosure I don’t watch Total Divas, I don’t watch Total Bellas, I couldn’t honestly say I’ve looked forward to many Maryse or Nikki Bella matches ever (and few of Miz himself either) and I have an aversion to romance-related storylines in professional wrestling generally. I should be seriously indifferent to how this program plays out – and although I know the vomitous logical end point is a babyface win and possible marriage proposal, I’m making my peace with the WrestleMania match itself.
That’s really the point of a good build: Even if you’re working towards an obvious outcome between competitors that, on paper, some of the audience have limited interest in seeing wrestle, with the right words in the right places you can at least create interest in seeing how they get there. I’m loathe to say that The Miz has carried this feud – John Cena is John Cena, with all the cachet and profile that brings, while Nikki Bella has recently found an intense streak that sits well on her – but he’s forcibly elevated it and so much of the narrative is down to his work.
I was initially a little worried when this program properly kicked off three weeks ago, with an episode of Miz TV where its host cut a promo on Big Match John being a close friend of WWE decision-makers, a limiter of other wrestlers’ opportunities and a wantaway Hollywood star of the future. Firstly, Miz shooting down somebody for taking time off to do movies? Yowzers. Secondly, as capably as it was delivered, it was cut from the same cloth as what we saw AJ Styles saying to Cena recently (and, the irony, shared some DNA with Daniel Bryan said to Cena before their SummerSlam match in 2013). Thirdly, Cena talked about how he’d rather be wrestling Undertaker anyway and it was all pretty horrible. Then in the last two weeks it’s been like night and day, with Miz firing off fresh, nasty lines that feel like they’d be awkwardly received. I do now kinda want to see what happens when John and Nikki get their hands on Miz and Maryse at Face Punching Extravaganza 33.
It’s likely that John Cena will be off WWE television for a while over the summer, thanks to his ever-more successful establishment as a mainstream entertainer (sadly I don’t think all that time will be spent shooting scenes as Lance Catamaran for Southpaw Regional Wrestling), but when the schedules allow I am fully on board with the idea of a 2017-spec feud between Cena and Miz. And I know, I know I’ve said this before on these previews but these two are different men from six or so years ago. Both bring more to their mat game now than they did then, while Miz has so, so much more to say. Based on the last couple of weeks, an extended program between the two of them would hit a lot of the right notes.
If the rumors going round that AJ Styles may be headed to the Raw brand after WrestleMania, with Roman Reigns possibly coming the other way (as a face) are true – and whether or not there’ll be a full draft later in the summer, it’s not a bad shout as a way to freshen up the weekly programming – then the top heel spot on SmackDown Live comes a little closer. Although Bray Wyatt has the WWE Championship and Baron Corbin may soon have the Intercontinental Championship, neither are yet tested as champions and have either complex ambiguous motives (Wyatt) or less match and promo experience (Corbin). If I was The Miz, I’d be feeling very confident about my prospects for the rest of 2017.
Also This Week
This week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday) promises us Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Oney Lorcan and a match between SAnitY and Tye Dillinger, Roderick Strong and No Way Jose. We also have a ‘loser leaves NXT’ match to look forward to at some point between Kassius Ohno and Elias Samson, which was set up in a backstage exclusive video after last week’s show. No indication of whether that’ll go down this week or next.
The Cruiserweight Championship match at WrestleMania has been confirmed as Neville vs Austin Aries, so 205 Live (Tuesday) will not only build towards that but hopefully start to give some shape to what the rest of the division will be doing in Orlando. I certainly hope so, as two weeks of treading water would be a shame after a pretty good run of booking the cruiserweights recently.
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!
- If AJ Styles ends up on Raw following WrestleMania, who do you think should go the other way to balance things up fairly (irrespective of who’s been rumored to go the other way)?
- What would you like to see Samoa Joe doing at WrestleMania?
- How would you book these final two weeks of the WWE Championship feud between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton?
Strap in, enjoy the ride as always and keep it here with TJRWrestling for all the show recaps and major news. Next week I’ll be back with a special WrestleMania Week In Preview. Yeah, it’s here already. Peace out.