Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 23rd 2017.

With apologies to fans of the regular format – I’m sure there are some of you out there – but I’m changing things up for this week (and I hope one week only) because the world of WWE is in the process of taking an unpredictable turn and the business of previews is suddenly one fraught with caveats and general awkwardness. Let me explain where we are.

What’s Been Happening In WWE?

TLC took place last night – read Kurt’s live review here – and was changed significantly at the eleventh hour, after WWE confirmed three of its talent had been diagnosed with a viral infection and pulled Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt from the show (the third person is widely believed to be Bo Dallas). While the messy main event didn’t lose much from having Kurt Angle subbing for Reigns and Finn Balor’s night almost certainly got an upgrade opposite AJ Styles, the changes torpedoed two of the storylines Raw was leaning on the heaviest (The Shield reuniting and Bray Wyatt’s ‘Sister Abigail’ gimmick). The return dates of Reigns and Wyatt and the future of those programs are up in the air for now.

Viral infections aside, WWE – Raw in particular – is already working through other personnel issues. Neville’s presumed departure from the company is now getting on for old news, while Jeff Hardy has recently joined an injured list where Big Cass has a long-term residency and from which Samoa Joe and The Revival are yet to return. John Cena is off fulfilling a number of media commitments and now, in the women’s division, Nia Jax has been reported as taking an unspecified leave of absence. Over on SmackDown Live, Kevin Owens had to leave WWE’s South American tour over the weekend for a family issue and his availability for this Tuesday is unknown (and the details aren’t any of our business). Obviously our best wishes go to all those performers who are facing challenges of various sorts at the moment.

This time last week, we could’ve had an educated guess at what would be happening on WWE’s weekly shows tonight and tomorrow. Now things are suddenly less certain.

Add to that the promotion for Survivor Series is again focusing on brand vs brand and, when the same thing happened last year, the boundaries between WWE’s two main roster shows quickly became blurred in order to build a load of interpromotional matches. Stories only really made sense and made progress when Raw stars popped up on SmackDown and vice versa. Assuming the same is about to happen, you have the potential for an unpredictable week as WWE sets out the agenda for its Thanksgiving tradition based partly on what talent may or may not be wrestling by November 19th.

What Do We Know Is Definitely Happening This Week?

Brock Lesnar is advertised for Raw tonight to answer Jinder Mahal’s challenge for a match at Survivor Series (which will probably consist of Paul Heyman accepting and Lesnar bouncing around menacingly behind him), plus the fallout from TLC will generally be addressed. SmackDown Live, meanwhile, announced AJ Styles vs Sunil Singh for this week; that should be a lay-up for Styles after doing the job for Finn Balor last night. Shane McMahon is also back to address the events of Hell in a Cell and consequences for Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.

In other weekly programming, NXT has the advantage of being pre-taped and therefore pretty much immune from late revisions. It’ll feature a battle royal to determine the final participant in the forthcoming four-way NXT Women’s Championship match. Meanwhile it should be back to Plan A for 205 Live on Tuesday after Enzo Amore reclaimed the Cruiserweight Championship from Kalisto.

What Might Happen On Raw?

Raw comes from the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin (which, in my head, I can still only hear said in the voice of Ken Kennedy) and is where the complications this week begin. The Raw roster is the one that’s borne the impact of the viral infection and, as needed to happen with TLC last night, Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer has noted on Twitter that big creative changes to Raw are expected too. If the illness in question is viral meningitis, as has been widely speculated, it’s something that usually clears up in a couple of weeks or so – but even that could put the skids under an effective build towards Survivor Series, with only four Mondays to work with. Raw will likely set the agenda for those next four weeks – explain what interpromotional matches will happen and begin the brands’ arms race – while tidying up TLC loose ends and we’ll have to see what that involves.

TLC loose ends probably include the following: Braun Strowman escaping from the trash compactor to wreak his terrible vengeance on Kane and/or his other TLC team-mates; The Miz being irate at Kurt Angle adding himself to their match and pinning Miz to win it; Elias complaining that his shoulder was up on the three-count and getting another match with Jason Jordan; a contractual rematch for Kalisto; Asuka’s successful debut. Some of these angles will be spun into the arrangements for Survivor Series, whatever they may turn out to be, while everything else is pretty much a blank slate at this point.

What Might Happen On SmackDown Live?

There’s a very good chance the narrative for SmackDown, airing live from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, will be determined by announcements made on Raw tonight regarding Survivor Series. If there are to be interpromotional matches, Raw will announce them and SmackDown will pick up the story. Otherwise the threads are a little easier to follow. AJ Styles is clearly lined up for a WWE Championship program with Jinder Mahal, but this will simmer on a low heat until after Mahal vs Lesnar at Survivor Series (as much as WWE Champion Styles vs Universal Champion Lesnar is something any of us would pay to see, any day of the week). Styles’ announced match this week therefore probably won’t be too remarkable. The other announced segment is also pretty much bulletproof, as Shane McMahon can confront Sami Zayn if Kevin Owens isn’t on the show.

Other themes for SmackDown Live: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable will get a shot at The Usos for the Tag Team Championships (we don’t know when), Charlotte Flair will get another shot at Natalya for the Women’s Championship (at Starrcade, being fished from the WCW vaults as a name for one of WWE’s non-televised house shows), Sin Cara might get a shot at Baron Corbin for the United States Championship (he won a non-title match by countout last week), while Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode have a handful-of-tights victory apiece over each other and The New Day might wrestle Rusev and Aiden English. None of those programs feel like they’re being written with any sense of urgency, so again, we may need to see how Survivor Series is being set up before SmackDown finds its sense of purpose again.

Spotlight: The Road To Survivor Series

As with last year, the gimmick of Survivor Series appears to be that of Raw vs SmackDown once more. These next four weeks of WWE television will therefore probably see a lot of cross-brand shenanigans, which slightly dilutes the point of a brand split, makes one show’s strengths and problems the other show’s strengths and problems, and makes previews and spotlights a pain in the arse to write separately. But enough with my personal problems; how are things likely to break down at Survivor Series and what might that mean for the next few weeks on both shows?

The first thing to note is that the card will struggle to top the pulling power of the last two Raw-exclusive pay-per-views. The last two Raw-exclusive pay-per-views have ended up being absolutely bonkers. Cena vs Reigns, Lesnar vs Strowman, Balor (in his paint) vs Styles and Kurt Angle wrestling as a member of The Shield in an eight-man clusterfuck? WWE may build up some interpromotional five-on-five elimination matches as a big deal, but it’s hard to see anything that’ll genuinely top those as draws.

Case in point: We know we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Jinder Mahal in the champion-vs-champion match that nobody particularly wanted. And there’s a truth in that unwantedness that actually makes this a smart pairing. For all of the negative reviews of Mahal’s title matches to date (and of his reign in general), how many people are clamoring for another rinse-and-repeat Universal Championship singles match from Lesnar? Let’s be honest, the nine-minute suplex exhibitions are bringing limited returns and, if somebody needs to get sunk by a single F-5, I’d rather see Balor vs Styles II or whatever in place of having a separate Jinder Mahal match and the Demon getting comfortably sunk by the Beast. Yes, this’ll probably be pretty terrible and there’s no outcome that doesn’t damage somebody’s stock or waste their time, but at least it’ll be one mediocre match rather than two – and it should be fairly short. Small mercies.

The easiest of the other Raw vs SmackDown contests to see coming over the horizon is a potential women’s elimination match, basically because neither show’s division has much else on their minds at the moment. Alexa Bliss has beaten everyone else in the Raw division, with Nia Jax out of contention for now and Asuka probably on a slower build towards the championship picture. SmackDown’s plans for its Women’s Championship, meanwhile, seem to be more focused on its Starrcade house show the following week, where Charlotte Flair will challenge Natalya inside a steel cage. A five-on-five elimination tag is the best thing on the table for all WWE’s women right now (especially as the buzz around a Horsewomen match appears to have cooled for now).

Cross-brand elimination matches for the men are a little more awkward to set, as each show seemed to have put itself in a position to take care of their own business. Before TLC, the team of The Miz, Sheamus & Cesaro, Kane and Braun Strowman looked like a five ready to face The Shield and Other People and, although Strowman vs Kane looks like being spun off into some sort of singles match (Buried Alive, please), it’s easier to see the remaining six men facing each other than being on the same team. In Raw’s cruiserweight division Enzo Amore has conveniently found four kindred spirits, which seems to have happened at a convenient moment and may result in Kalisto recruiting a team. Meanwhile over on SmackDown, recent rumor had been of a Team Shane vs Team Owens match.

I imagine, however, that we’ll end up seeing interbrand matches across the board anyway, no matter how difficult a fit that is or if it requires separate programs to awkwardly coexist or be temporarily forgotten. We may just be expected to believe that brand supremacy is suddenly the most important thing in the WWE Universe for a few weeks. Also, for all the people on Raw who are lost to bitter divisions, injuries and illnesses, SmackDown Live have men like Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton, Rusev and The New Day who have absolutely nothing else going on.

One way or another we should have the scene set tonight and we can get back to looking ahead to weekly programming as normal – despite the very high likelihood that large parts of Raw and SmackDown Live will overlap for the next few weeks.

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 did you think of TLC’s main event last night?
  2. Do you want to see more interpromotional 5-on-5 matches at Survivor Series, similar to last year?
  3. Do you have any hype whatsoever for Lesnar vs Mahal?

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