Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Busy week this week, with NXT and main roster pay-per-views at the end of it, so let’s crack on. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 15th 2017.

Raw (Prudential Center, Newark NJ)

Announced: Dean Ambrose (c) vs The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.

What to expect: With Universal Champion Brock Lesnar not expected back on Raw until June 12th, the focus remains on the full-timers building to Extreme Rules and waiting to hear (or trying to spot in advance) what stipulations will be added to the expected matches. The one stipulation that looked like a lock – an Ambulance Match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman – may now be off, following an injury to Strowman. Otherwise expect the gripe between Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins, and the Raw Tag Team Championship program between the Hardys and Sheamus & Cesaro to start dropping hints of what kinds of matches we’ll see at the next Raw-exclusive pay-per-view. It’ll also be interesting to see whether Finn Balor remembers he’s got a score to settle with Bray Wyatt (although that said, I’d be happy not to see another House of Horrors match any time soon).

Elsewhere, the Intercontinental Championship match is interesting; it seems more often than not, when WWE bring these first title matches in feuds forward from pay-per-view and do them on television, they tend to end in titles changing hands. That’s certainly possible here. In the women’s division, Alexa Bliss has struck up an uneasy alliance with Nia Jax; Jax may well be confronted by Mickie James after last week, while Alicia Fox may well be noting her shoulders weren’t down when she was pinned by Sasha Banks. The top of the cruiserweight division is revolving around Neville, Austin Aries, TJP and Jack Gallagher at the moment, and we also might get an idea what – if anything – is next for the rest of the tag team division, after Sheamus & Cesaro ran through all of them in last week’s gauntlet match.

Spotlight: Some briefer observations than usual this week, as there’s a lot going on outside of the weekly shows. It was reported last week that Braun Strowman has been sidelined with an elbow injury which will likely lead to him missing the Extreme Rules pay-per-view on June 4th. It’s pretty awful timing for the big man, as not only had his increasingly violent feud with Roman Reigns been expertly paced to climax at a pay-per-view conceived for lawless environments, but he was widely expected to be next in line to challenge Brock Lesnar at [*snort*] Great Balls Of Fire [*snort*] which may also now be under threat.

It’s unlikely this turn of events will lead to Strowman losing his place in the queue to face Lesnar eventually; it remains a viable match, made worth seeing by the expert work that has gone into building Strowman as an unstoppable monster, and there’s plenty of time left before WrestleMania 34 next year which many are presuming will be the theoretical end date of Lesnar’s Universal Championship reign. We really should put emphasis on that expert work, too; often we’re critical of the Raw creative team, but the skill with which they’ve plotted Strowman’s path of destruction (save for the odd minor misstep, where he’s backed down from a couple of challenges he shouldn’t have done) has been impressive. Braun has looked impressive doing everything that’s been asked of him, but by gradually ramping up his feats of dominance WWE may have secured the traditional ‘giant monster’ role for the next generation. New plans to set him on the road to Suplex City will no doubt be drawn up once he returns.

New plans are, of course, therefore required for Reigns too. A recent rumor has Reigns possibly working with The Miz next, which could also account for this week’s Intercontinental Championship match being rushed through now rather than being built for Extreme Rules. With Miz doing some of the best pure heel work in the company over the last few months, it’s clear if this is true that any change in alignment for Reigns we thought might follow his WrestleMania match with The Undertaker is firmly back on the shelf. If Miz is given carte blanche to light Reigns up on promos in the same entertaining way he did to John Cena (which he should; it’s playing to the strengths that have gotten Miz into this position), it’ll be interesting to see how much the crowd responses might swing in favor of the A-lister.

SmackDown Live (SNHU Arena, Manchester NH)

Announced: Rusev will return to television programming, seeking answers to his demand for a championship match at the Money In The Bank pay-per-view next month.

What to expect: Backlash is this weekend. Expect Jinder Mahal to boast about how he pinned WWE Champion Randy Orton in last week’s tag match, with all the usual observations of how we’ll have a new champion if the same thing happens on Sunday. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens will likely focus on getting in each other’s faces to sell their match at Backlash, having had to share the spotlight with other guys over the last few weeks of television. How much will go down between Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura is less certain; the approach here has been to tease us only with glimpses of what makes Nakamura special, to sell the pay-per-view. With Ziggler unlikely to top last week’s promo in London, will there be much left to do here?

SmackDown Live’s women’s division remains in a state of rebuilding, but don’t expect that to happen here – the six-woman tag match at Backlash probably requires some sort of mass participation activity that promises much but enlightens little. The weekend’s match for the brand’s Tag Team Championships probably needs Breezango to be shown as a direct threat to The Usos (but we might have to settle for another ‘fashion police’ comedy segment). Luke Harper may seek a dose of justice against Erick Rowan, after Rowan used a thumb to the eye to beat him last week. Finally, Rusev will probably cut a promo with Shane McMahon, advancing the plot of whether or not he’ll get a championship match at Money In The Bank, SmackDown’s next pay-per-view stop after Backlash. Let’s have a look at that…..

Spotlight: Rejoice, puny Americans (and puny everyone else too), because the Super Athlete, Rusev, is back on TV this week after being absent since before WrestleMania due to shoulder surgery. It’s therefore also his first appearance on SmackDown Live since the roster shakeup, save for a couple of messages to Shane McMahon delivered via video, and we should get an idea what the short-term future holds for the Bulgarian hero of Russia – or whatever it was he has ended up being.

Alright, I’m slightly betraying my feelings there. Rusev has kept his head above water in WWE by being a great athlete, an entertaining performer and wrestling good matches, but has been gradually losing definition. It feels like a long time since he was a dominant United States Champion, rolling up to WrestleMania in a tank to fight John Cena. Since then, the awful angle with Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae, the quiet reversion to Bulgarian Brute from the heat-seeking Russian patriotism, the never-ending feud with Roman Reigns last year in which he was comprehensively beaten and whatever the thing with Jinder Mahal was meant to be have all diminished him. The guy could really do with a reboot.

How lucky, then, that he now finds himself in the land of opportunity on Tuesday nights and – assuming the story continues logically – is starting out being put over as a championship contender. Whether this is for the WWE Championship or the United States Championship (one suspects the former, as Jinder Mahal doesn’t look like a long-term dance partner to Randy Orton in the way that you feel AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are matching up), it’s a good starting point. Missing WrestleMania may have been unfortunate, but as Rusev would likely only have been another body in the pre-show battle royal it may now work out easier to make him out as a fresh threat. It remains to be confirmed whether he’s cleared for in-ring action yet and, accordingly, whether there’s any chance of him being added to the card for Backlash, but the fact it’ll be sooner rather than later is great news.

Also This Week

NXT TakeOver: Chicago is on Saturday night, from the Allstate Arena on the eve of Backlash. The latest card in NXT’s much-lauded series of special events currently shapes up as follows:

  • NXT Championship: ​Bobby Roode (c) vs Hideo Itami
  • NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) vs Ruby Riot vs Nikki Cross
  • NXT Tag Team Championships: The Authors of Pain (c) vs #DIY (Ladder Match)
  • WWE United Kingdom Championship: Tyler Bate (c) vs Pete Dunne

It’s great to see Hideo Itami back again. Hopefully this marks the start of a long, unbroken run in a featured role that allows him to get his WWE career back on track after injury. In other injury-related issues, Ember Moon having to miss the Women’s Championship match may make an Asuka win more likely here – those two are surely set for a final showdown in Brooklyn in August. The presence of ladders in the tag titles match should make for some fun, in what will hopefully be another good-to-great offering, and may help us buy into the possibility of a #DIY win. A one-fall-to-a-finish contest against The Authors of Pain is no contest at all right now.

At least one match more is likely to be added this Wednesday, on the final weekly episode before TakeOver, with Drew McIntyre, Kassius Ohno, Andrade Almas, Aleister Black, Roderick Strong and SAnitY all among those currently missing from the card. Plenty of options there!

The fact WWE have publicly announced Bate vs Dunne for TakeOver will slightly ruin the suspense when the United Kingdom Championship Special – recently taped in Norwich, England – airs on the WWE Network this Friday, but if you enjoyed the UK tournament in January this is also likely to be to your tastes. That show premieres in the evening for the UK audience, with a rerun five hours later during North American primetime. TJRWrestling covered the announcement earlier today. Elsewhere, 205 Live is on Tuesday as usual and outside of the ring, a new episode of WWE 24 airs after Raw tonight, focusing on Finn Balor.

Backlash (Allstate Arena, Chicago IL; SmackDown Live 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 Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs Jinder Mahal
  • United States Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs AJ Styles
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (c) vs Breezango
  • Shinsuke Nakamura vs Dolph Ziggler
  • Naomi, Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch vs Natalya, Carmella & Tamina

What to expect: With his face plastered all over the poster and promotional images, this pay-per-view is without doubt the story of Shinsuke Nakamura’s big arrival on the main roster of WWE. Expect the Chicago crowd to show him plenty of love – and expect to see a pretty standard (with NXT as the reference point) Nakamura match, with all the signature strikes, all the usual taunts and a Kinshasa knee to finish. Ziggler is an ideal first opponent, who will make Nakamura’s offense look appropriately devastating and has enough legitimacy to draw the match out long enough to get all the popular moments in. If Ziggler brings the same intensity he brought to his matches with The Miz towards the end of last year this could be pretty awesome, but the purpose here is to introduce Nakamura to a wider audience – so it could be a by-the-numbers affair.

As hard as Jinder Mahal has worked, and fair play to him, the WWE Championship match is not particularly appealing. In the longer run for SmackDown Live it’ll no doubt be beneficial for a more legitimate Mahal, backed by the Singh Brothers, to be in circulation in the midcard, but sacrificing a WWE Championship match on pay-per-view to get there seems like a pricey way of achieving it. Perhaps it can be afforded with Nakamura’s debut and the United States Championship match between AJ Styles and Kevin Owens – which has every chance of being the match of the night – on the undercard.

You can put Baron Corbin vs Sami Zayn down as an absolute dead certain addition to the show during this week, with at least one (probably two) other matches to cover the rest of the undercard and the Kickoff show; Erick Rowan only beat Luke Harper on SmackDown Live last week by using underhanded tactics, so a rematch there is a possibility, while Tye Dillinger is among the other personnel in contention. As noted in the SmackDown Spotlight above, it remains to be seen if Rusev will be involved.

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. Who would you like to see win the United States Championship match at Backlash and why?
  2. What stipulation matches would you most like to see happen at Extreme Rules next month?
  3. Which match are you most looking forward to at NXT TakeOver: Chicago?

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

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