Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 13th 2017.

It’s the week of Survivor Series (and NXT TakeOver: WarGames), so there’s plenty to talk about. However it’s worth noting at the outset that, unusually, neither main roster brand has a house show tonight or tomorrow – so there’s a good chance both Raw and SmackDown Live will become a mighty interpromotional clusterfuck, to sell the ‘brand supremacy’ conflict one last time before Sunday. With championship matches in the mix too, all manner of things could happen.

Unfortunately I probably can’t leave the preview at that, so let’s see if we can pick out some likely details. In the Spotlights this week we’ll focus on each brand’s strong points heading into Sunday. Shall we begin?

Raw (Philips Arena, Atlanta GA)

Announced: Bayley vs Mickie James vs Dana Brooke in a triple threat match to determine the final member of Raw’s women’s elimination team. Roman Reigns will be back from his illness-enforced absence to reunite The Shield. Brock Lesnar is also back.

What to expect: Those three things should cover the big remaining issues that Raw needs to put to bed before Sunday. As we reported the other day, PWInsider believes it knows who the final member of Raw’s women’s team will be. How this plays out with the triple threat match remains to be seen. Roman Reigns returning to continue the reunion angle of The Shield will be set against the backdrop of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins losing their Tag Team Championships last week thanks to a distraction from The New Day. Expect that to be announced as another Raw vs SmackDown match for Survivor Series. Finally, Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman will need to address new WWE Champion AJ Styles; assuming Lesnar isn’t working SmackDown this week, there’s a good chance Styles will show up here to cram as much heat as possible into a one-week build.

Raw’s other singles champions also look relatively well-set; Alexa Bliss and The Miz both look pretty secure on the Survivor Series card, but there could be some final hurdles for both to overcome. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins may look for a rematch for the Raw Tag Team Championships, but it’s more likely The New Day will be their short-term focus. Other than inter-team dynamics and the promise of a few SmackDown superstars popping up on spec, there’s little else we can say with any great confidence. Kane remains something of a wild card on the roster and, without a match for Sunday, could be a malign influence on the show. Enzo Amore and Kalisto have a fairly routine Cruiserweight Championship match on Sunday, so some sort of go-home segment is likely here.

Spotlight: One of the intriguing plot points for Raw heading into Survivor Series is Stephanie McMahon threatening to fire Kurt Angle as General Manager if he doesn’t deliver victory. Did I say intriguing? Do I mean that? Could you substitute ‘highly likely to be retconned at a later date’ and feel more comfortable with that sentence? Probably. We’ve heard threats like that in previous Novembers which haven’t been followed through. The definition of ‘victory’ is also open to interpretation; just the men’s elimination match, for which Angle is team captain? The women’s elimination match too? An aggregate score over the night? If anything, the men’s five-on-five – when Samoa Joe and Finn Balor were at each other’s throats last week, Jason Jordan looks a liability of some sort and Braun Strowman’s invulnerability may be compromised thanks to Kane not otherwise being occupied on the night – looks less reliable for Raw than the women’s match does.

I’m finding an awful lot to like about how Raw’s women’s team has been put together. Giving Alicia Fox’s ‘crazy’ character a task and purpose is a welcome bit of development in a division that has needed more depth and story for a while now; too often in WWE’s undercard and women’s division, where there isn’t always time to tell a story, we only get to see who people are (e.g. ‘crazy’) or what they do, but not both. Equally, the story of Bayley not making the team – being seen as inadequate by a team captain who until now has been jostling Dana Brooke for space on the bottom rung of the Raw ladder – is a smart move in helping to return the Bayley character to somewhere near her NXT roots that were so successful. Not finding a bullshit way to avoid including Asuka and Nia Jax on the team is good news and also telling; surely Asuka (if not Jax too) shouldn’t be getting pinned or submitted here. Irrespective of who the fifth woman turns out to be, it looks hard to pick against Raw here.

If you’re looking for other potential Raw MVPs, the name of The Miz is one that stands out. In Brock Lesnar’s regular absence since reclaiming the Universal Championship, Miz has for many weeks filled the role of the brand’s marquee singles champion. He’s looked the part and talked the part even better, a dependable source of good promos every Monday as well as very respectable TV matches – many of which he’s winning, often against very credible opponents and often relatively clean. The Miz is the best Intercontinental Champion in a long, long time and comes into Survivor Series with a far better recent pedigree than Baron Corbin, who as United States Champion is struggling to beat Sin Cara. I still have high hopes for a Miz Universal Championship World Tour in 2018, but even if that’s too ambitious it would be a travesty for him to lose to either Corbin or Sin Cara.

The final piece of the Raw jigsaw will be The Shield. I’d have happily watched Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose face The Usos, but given The Bar have also been killing it in tag matches this change provides a big upgrade to the card. The Shield vs The New Day should be great and, under normal circumstances, it’s tough to see The Shield losing. So chin up, Kurt Angle – that’s three bankers out of seven and a good shout in some of the other matches too. Bear in mind though, if Raw loses (and assuming Steph’s threat doesn’t get airbrushed out of the narrative), Angle’s in-ring eligibility for the company has now been well and truly established. How much does Kurt Angle really need to be the General Manager any more? And more to the point, how likely is it that his run as Raw’s authority figure is ultimately leading to Angle vs Triple H in New Orleans in April?

SmackDown Live (Spectrum Center, Charlotte NC)

Announced: Natalya (c) vs Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Baron Corbin (c) vs Sin Cara for the United States Championship. The New Day vs Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn was announced last week; no indication of whether that’s still on after Owens and Zayn were sent home from the European tour. Also, Daniel Bryan will be back.

What to expect: An invasion. Raw finally returning the favor and putting Tuesday night #UnderSiege after Shane McMahon’s provocations. Surely that’s how the go-home show has to end, isn’t it? The locker room emptied and the two rosters throwing hands in every corner of the arena. The two championship matches are extremely vulnerable moments for the current champions, after WWE executed two pre-taped television title changes last week and both Survivor Series matches they impact are currently heel vs heel. The chances of a title changing hands is higher than usual.

If Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are on television this week – and there’s not any clear steer out there at time of writing – expect them to lose that match with The New Day emphatically (unless The Shield turn up to interfere). Other points that may come up: Jinder Mahal will probably be very angry about losing the WWE Championship and Rusev will probably be angry about John Cena waltzing onto the SmackDown team. One would imagine Cena himself will be on the show, although at this point he’s not being advertised for it. Otherwise there’ll be some skits to further establish team dynamics for the elimination matches, and….. Yeah, I’m really banking on that Raw invasion.

Spotlight: Let’s start with the two major upgrades to Team SmackDown. I may have called the WWE Championship match wrong in last week’s preview – but still stand by most of the finer points. Brock Lesnar vs AJ Styles is one of the biggest matches WWE should look to fit in before Lesnar’s contract is up. There’s still every possibility of Jinder Mahal reclaiming the title before (or on) the India tour next month. And it does raise questions; will Styles ultimately go the way of Braun Strowman and lose to a single F-5 inside of ten minutes? I hope not; the match should surely deliver more than that, but WWE need to be willing to take a detour from Lesnar’s recent booking (which has been fairly uncompromising). I’m willing to be optimistic about it. Meanwhile, does Mahal get on the show at all? If not, and he fades back into the Tuesday night undercard after the India tour, we may be able to pinpoint this last week as the moment WWE decided to cut their losses with the Mahal project.

By the looks of it, Mahal certainly won’t be getting into the five-man elimination team, as the final place – which Styles was a lock for less than two weeks ago – has been taken by a young prospect called John Cena. I’m happy to see him but, holy shit, this doesn’t make any sense. It feels like SmackDown has entered a cheat code. Faced with rounding out their team, three-quarters of which (basically everyone except the captain, and twice in the case of Randy Orton) had been selected through qualifying matches on their roster, they’ve picked an overpowered legend who hasn’t been on their show in this cycle. Not only was John Cena turning out on Monday nights the last time we saw him, but at the conclusion of his one-shot program with Roman Reigns he gave us the long, slow goodbye designed to make us ask ‘have we seen the last of John Cena?’. That was less than two months ago. Logic to one side though, that axis of Cena, Orton and Nakamura on the same team is looking pretty formidable.

SmackDown Live currently has the better-functioning tag division of the two shows. There’s probably not a lot of argument there. Raw has had some bad luck with the Hardys and The Revival both on a injury-forced hiatus, and once you get past the most recent tag titles program and Gallows & Anderson you’re quickly into the territory of Titus Worldwide, or Heath Slater & Rhyno. The blue brand has featured The Usos, The New Day, Benjamin & Gable, Breezango, Harper & Rowan and The Hype Bros in various ways over the past couple of months. No, I can’t see The New Day beating The Shield (and it shouldn’t hurt them in doing so), but this may well be balanced out by The Usos winning the clash of champions. Which reminds me; Clash of Champions is going to feel a really weird name for a pay-per-view next month when WWE has just done all these champion vs champion matches here.

A final matchup may start to break in SmackDown’s favor if Charlotte Flair deposes Natalya as the brand’s women’s champion this Tuesday, as many are tipping may happen. Flair vs Alexa Bliss seems a more natural fit than heel vs heel would’ve been with Natalya, while billing a steel cage championship match for the Starrcade-branded house show the following weekend only really makes sense if the Flair will be leaving it with the title. If – if – Charlotte Flair wins the championship this Tuesday, I’d make her short odds to beat Bliss on Sunday. Meanwhile, Natalya would presumably swap into SmackDown’s five-woman elimination team. Who, already probably the underdogs, would at that point definitely be toast.

Also This Week

Will it be business as usual on 205 Live (Tuesday) after last week’s cruiserweight division guest appearances by United Kingdom talent (Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Mark Andrews etc), or will it turn out to be more than just a one-off for the UK crowd? NXT (Wednesday) has Ember Moon vs Mercedes Martinez, The Street Profits vs Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss and a face-off between Drew McIntyre and Cien Almas before Saturday’s title match.

Saturday is NXT TakeOver: WarGames, known initially as NXT TakeOver: Houston as the developmental brand continues the trend of leading off ‘big four’ weekends in whatever city the main roster has rocked up in. The officially confirmed card is as follows:

  • NXT Championship: Drew McIntyre (c) vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
  • SAnitY vs The Undisputed ERA vs The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong (WarGames Match)
  • NXT Women’s Championship: Kairi Sane vs Ember Moon vs Peyton Royce vs Nikki Cross
  • Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream
  • Kassius Ohno vs Lars Sullivan

If you’re a long-term wrestling fan and remember the WarGames concept from back in the day, how you’re feeling about this show may be dictated by how you’re feeling about the new rules that WWE revealed for what we’re objectively going to describe as ‘their version of the match’. No, it’s not going to be the same gimmick that Dusty Rhodes, father figure to WWE’s developmental brand, first envisaged and no, it likely won’t be as brutal. I understand if people feel sore about that. But it’ll be unique and fresh, and the nine men involved will bust their ass, so it should still entertain. Personally, I’m more concerned how easy it’ll be to readjust to watching a show with an unused second ring in the background of all the regular matches.

All the fuss may be about WarGames, but the rest of the card is pretty intriguing too. In over four years, the NXT Women’s Championship has only been held by Paige, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Asuka (and two of those five were never defeated for it). The crowning of a new champion in the four-way will be a fairly big moment in NXT history and a big decision. Meanwhile, even further under the radar, Aleister Black vs Velveteen Dream may turn out to be the entire weekend’s surprise package. The main roster’s show looks like having the better matches on paper (for once) but you can always count on NXT to deliver TakeOver success.

Survivor Series (Toyota Center, Houston TX; joint brand pay-per-view)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and more than one addition during the week seems likely. The show’s four hours (not including the pre-show) so there’s a lot of time to fill. Official matches on WWE.com at time of writing are:

  • Brock Lesnar (Universal Champion) vs AJ Styles (WWE Champion)
  • Kurt Angle, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor & Jason Jordan vs Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura & Bobby Roode (5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Match)
  • Alicia Fox, Asuka, Nia Jax, Sasha Banks & TBC vs Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Naomi, Carmella & Tamina (5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Match)
  • Sheamus & Cesaro (Raw Tag Team Champions) vs The Usos (SmackDown Tag Team Champions)
  • Alexa Bliss (Raw Women’s Champion) vs Natalya (SmackDown Women’s Champion)
  • The Miz (Intercontinental Champion) vs Baron Corbin (United States Champion)
  • Cruiserweight Championship: Enzo Amore (c) vs Kalisto

What to expect: A couple of months or so ago, WWE appeared to suffer a personality crisis and began to feel compelled to overdeliver. It started with John Cena wrestling his remaining potential big feuds on television; Shinsuke Nakamura on SmackDown, Braun Strowman on Raw; then he challenged his heir apparent Roman Reigns – not for WrestleMania or even Survivor Series, but No Mercy (where Strowman was also fed to Brock Lesnar). The trigger was quickly pulled on a Shield reunion. Then, albeit brought about by a viral infection in the roster, we were given AJ Styles wrestling Demon Without A Cause, Finn Balor and fantasy booking Kurt Angle (and later, on touring shows, Triple H) as a third Shield member. Now we’ve arrived at Survivor Series and WWE have abandoned Lesnar vs Jinder Mahal in favor of a Lesnar/Styles dream match, John Cena’s been inserted into one of the elimination matches at the drop of a hat and we’re also doing The Shield vs The New Day because Fuck It Why Not.

I’m fine with that, by the way. Yes, it’s leaving the cupboard a little more bare for WrestleMania season (heaven knows we need something juicy kept back to offset the inevitable Reigns/Lesnar main event), but WWE remembering its in the business of putting bums on seats and more aggressively leveraging its best roster in many, many years to try to deliver stacked cards on a regular basis is good news. And if there’s anywhere to be doing that, it’s at the show where both brands are facing off against each other.

As noted, Lesnar vs Styles is a dream match. I hope the long-term storyline need for Lesnar to look unstoppable until he meets Reigns is forgotten for the night, so this match can be booked in the way it should be. The clash of tag team champions should meet the high standards both shows’ tag divisions have been setting recently. And the men’s elimination match, loaded with star power, should once again be an epic affair. That’s three potentially very good matches to start with and could provide the basis for one of the best WWE shows of the year.

Even if the men’s elimination match runs close to an hour (more including the entrances) as it did last year, seven matches won’t be able to cover the show. Cue the addition of The Shield vs The New Day and the part of the column where I search in vain for the words to describe my high expectations. Of all the matches on this card with the potential to be great-going-on-outstanding, this one might be the safest bet to deliver on that potential. Who else isn’t on the card? Jinder Mahal, Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens, Kane, Bray Wyatt, Bayley if she doesn’t make the cut for Team Raw tonight….. Interference, filler skits and Kickoff show matches look like they may be the creative limit for other additions on the night.

Survivor Series starts at 7pm Eastern, with the two-hour Kickoff show starting at 5pm. 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. What do you think will be the best match at Survivor Series?
  2. With the inclusion of The Shield vs The New Day making seven Raw vs SmackDown matches in total, which brand do you think will emerge victorious overall?
  3. Will you be watching WarGames and if so, are you looking forward to it?

I’ll be away next week; won’t be able to write on Monday and – let’s face it – normal business for both brands is up in the air until Survivor Series is in the books on Sunday night. There’ll still be plenty to read on TJRWrestling though, with the fallout from the weekend’s shows, so enjoy the ride and I’ll see you here the following week.