Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! This week begins with a double-header in the Mile-High City and ends with a trip to Hell (in a Cell). Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 2nd 2017.

Raw (Pepsi Center, Denver CO)

Announced: The Miz (c) vs Roman Reigns for the Intercontinental Championship. Seth Rollins vs Braun Strowman. A reminder here that John Cena and Brock Lesnar aren’t scheduled for WWE TV this side of TLC. Also, in a rare footnote, Michael Cole misses Raw due to a family commitment and Tom Phillips will deputize for a two-night run in Denver as lead announcer.

What to expect: The two announced matches are essentially continuations (or alt-universe re-runs, your pick) of last week’s offerings and – we appear encouraged to believe – marking time until a Shield reunion at TLC (which is not too far away). You’ll therefore get fairly short odds on the Miztourage wrecking the Intercontinental Championship match (though Reigns as the only Shield member without a title seems ominous) and/or Ambrose and Rollins making the save this time. You would also expect Braun Strowman to beat Rollins as he beat Ambrose last week. As an interesting wrinkle, however, we don’t know what the plans are for Strowman at TLC yet. We also don’t know what the plans are for the Cruiserweight Championship at TLC either, given Neville surrendered his rematch clause by attacking Enzo Amore last week. Finding a number one contender may need to be discussed this week.

Another elephant in the room for TLC is the opponent for the debuting Asuka. Perhaps we’ll get an idea who out of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Emma or Nia Jax – none of whom have much going on – will get the call. Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss seems to be occupied with Mickie James; last week’s confrontation was simple and effective, and should absolutely spill over into this week. Elsewhere, I’m desperate for Goldust (or indeed anyone) to come between Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt, but expect to be disappointed, Titus O’Neil may face off against Elias after the Drifter beat Apollo Crews last week, surgeries for Jeff Hardy and Cesaro have left the tag division in a bit of disrepair (though Matt Hardy teaming with Jason Jordan seems like a short-term filler option) and if Curt Hawkins appears expect him to be selling last week’s attack by Strowman and/or losing a very brief match.

Spotlight: Last week I talked about how Raw’s recent habit of booking many of its big performers as neither inherently good nor bad, just strident athletes vying for supremacy and – from a crowd support point of view – you pay your money and take your choice. There’s a lot to be said for this approach, especially when crowds look more likely to unite behind a John Cena who’s being phased out than a Roman Reigns who’s reaching the top of the mountain. However this doesn’t work in every situation, and the current portrayal of Enzo Amore as Cruiserweight Champion seems to carry far more contradictory elements than harmonious ones.

The concept set up by the Cruiserweight Championship match at No Mercy and Raw the next night appeared to be a double-turn. Neville is technically outstanding and is therefore easy to get behind; Enzo is irritating and cocky and, with subtle changes he’s well capable of carrying off as a performer, could be easy to boo. The pretext, however, stacked the odds against audience sentiment turning on Enzo. When Braun Strowman came out to wreck him on the go-home Raw before No Mercy, Dave Meltzer reported it was done to generate heel heat for Strowman. When The Miz eviscerated him on the microphone the previous week, he may have deserved it, but Miz is probably the guy with the most prominent heel alignment on the entire roster. Then you have the faintly hilarious situation of Big Cass turning heel on Enzo because he thought Enzo would never be championship material and, within a couple of months or so, Enzo wins a championship and….. Turns heel? Bad luck Cass; probably doesn’t seem worth it now, right?

Then we get to the celebration segment on last week’s Raw, and the question I was asking myself throughout: How does this look to the vast majority of the casual Raw audience who do not watch 205 Live? Enzo’s claim that he brought relevance to the cruiserweight division will carry a lot of truth. Yes, he was being obnoxious, insulting and talking at length, but that’s Stock Amore. How and when is a Raw audience meant to twig he’s crossed battle lines? And although the end goal of last week’s segment was to reboot interest in the division and 205 Live (which by all accounts is not performing too greatly on the WWE Network) – and clearly that’s worked, because we’re talking about it – how can you generate defined interest in the other talent when their role here, including Neville to a great extent, is as a homogeneous unit? Who would a casual fan of WWE care about in a conflict between Certified G Enzo Amore and Some Cruiserweights? And then….. And then Braun Strowman comes out and wrecks him again after the show goes off-air and WWE puts the video online. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing twice and expecting a different reaction?

Finally last week we had 205 Live where, although he assaulted Neville well beyond reasonable measure with a crutch and kinda-sorta aligned with Ariya Daivari for the night, was still doing his full entrance spiel, still interacting fully with the many, many kids in the front row wearing his merch and still rolling out the SAWFT chant on cue. I appreciate this may be a gradual process – and we’ll probably see more of his change of attitude this week, even if it’s just more disrespecting Kurt Angle backstage – but something’s got to give. At the moment Enzo Amore is still stubbornly positioned as a crowd-and-kid-friendly fan favorite and merchandising cash cow, while apparently descending into heeldom. Surely one of those isn’t going to be sustainable. And furthermore, any subtle character work that’s done on 205 Live will be largely missed by the Raw audience, even if you’re bringing the ‘last week on 205 Live’ recaps. WWE have got a lot of work ahead of them to make this stick.

SmackDown Live (Pepsi Center, Denver CO)

Announced: The ‘Fashion Files’ segment with Breezango will return.

What to expect: It’s the go-home show for Hell in a Cell, and it strikes me the big, regular plot point of the Cell being dangerous and career-shortening hasn’t really been touched yet. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get here. Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens have been kept away from each other in recent weeks, but there may still be time for an altercation to give the audience a taster for Sunday. The New Day and The Usos, meanwhile, already have many weeks of build behind them. In the other big championship matches, what next? Shinsuke Nakamura got a measure of payback on Jinder Mahal last week, but do we go back to the insults here? If anything, Natalya vs Charlotte needs the time invested more, as we’ve only had the number one contender’s match and a couple of fairly flat promos so far. Some form of proper conflict before Hell in a Cell would be welcomed.

Baron Corbin is getting cocky in his program with AJ Styles which is scheduled to result in a singles match for the United States Championship on Sunday, but it’ll be interesting to see if Tye Dillinger continues to be involved in the build. Expect Rusev to retaliate against Randy Orton after Orton ruined his ‘celebration’ last week. Dolph Ziggler more firmly establishing his grudge against Bobby Roode is likely, given how recently the two have clashed (even though we all saw it coming for weeks previously). In the tag division, the Fashion Files segment will likely be reliably entertaining, while The Hype Bros managing their dysfunction is the next most likely story for screen time. Will Sami Zayn be left off television to sell the apron powerbomb from Kevin Owens last week? Quite likely. It’s a shame, but you can kinda see how it makes sense.

Spotlight: A couple of months ago, in the midst of WWE’s most recent purge of established tag teams (Enzo and Cass, American Alpha, Golden Truth, the Hype Bros disagreement that’s somehow still in progress), I noted that The New Day and The Usos were arguably the only tag teams of this generation who’ll be able to stay together long enough – and achieve enough – to one day give them a shot at getting into the Hall of Fame. Other teams come and go, the Hardys may have brilliantly reinvented themselves over time but are originally a product of the Attitude Era, while you’d have thought WWE would be optimistic about The Shield achieving enough as individuals to go in one by one, at some point in the distant future. In an era of transience for tag teams, these five guys are emerging as the constants.

And so we have this match; Hell in a Cell on Sunday for the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships. We should be savoring this. Not least because The New Day and The Usos have probably been the blue brand’s MVPs since the start of the summer, their matches together having been top-drawer, but also because this is an era-defining matchup. Much like Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair twelve months ago, this is a match that absolutely needs to happen inside Hell in a Cell at this juncture. WWE loves having its ‘big moments’, as we all know, but while some are generated at the drop of a hat (any television matches marketed as ‘first time ever’, also virtually all John Cena’s matches since WrestleMania) others like this have been given time to organically grow until a big gimmick-based blowoff – some would say the biggest the company has – becomes essential.

In a way, both of these teams have reached their current peaks thanks to breaking out from the constraints of their original creative packaging. The New Day fizzed and sparked, to quickly break out of their two-dimensional gospel template a long time back now, morphing into a neon entertainment juggernaut that delivers geek culture, ice creams, hypersexualized championship celebrations and everything in between. The New Day are everything to all men, women, children and unicorns and the credit for that goes entirely to the talent and drive of those three guys. Ironically, The Usos may also owe them a debt of gratitude. I wouldn’t have said Jimmy and Jey were ‘trapped’ in their old gimmick with the facepaints, Samoan haka entrance and so on – they still did fantastic work – but with another team taking on the responsibility of ebullient crowd favorites, one feels the shackles were released and they suddenly had the freedom to reinvent themselves.

I never thought The Usos looked uncomfortable in that original role – stale, towards the end, certainly, but never uncomfortable – until their recent character changes. They look so comfortable now, and the way they express themselves in the ring looks so much more natural. This program with The New Day has really allowed them to show the full extent of what they can do. The match on Sunday should be – will be – great and, although you can count me among many who’d look forward to more matches between these teams, will hopefully end in a decisive victory for one team (my money’s on The New Day) that allows both units to move on to other work with their heads held high. All the men involved will come out of this feud with their reputations enhanced.

Also This Week

There’s a pretty big TV match to look forward to on this week’s NXT (Wednesday) as Drew McIntyre defends his NXT Championship against Roderick Strong. When NXT does these occasional title matches on weekly programming they tend to get a healthy amount of time and, in the most recent example, Strong had a hugely entertaining bout with Bobby Roode. High hopes for another good one with McIntyre here.

We’ve been promised Jack Gallagher vs Cedric Alexander on this week’s 205 Live (Tuesday) probably along with more tightrope-walking from fan-favorite bad-guy Enzo Amore. Not a lot else to add here to what I’ve already said about the cruiserweights – except that if you come for the latter, please stay for the former.

Hell in a Cell (Little Caesars Arena, Detroit MI; SmackDown pay-per-view)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and one or two (possibly at most) additions during the week are likely. Official matches at time of writing:

  • Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens (Hell in a Cell Match)
  • WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Natalya (c) vs Charlotte Flair
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The New Day (c) vs The Usos (Hell in a Cell Match)
  • United States Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Baron Corbin
  • Bobby Roode vs Dolph Ziggler
  • Randy Orton vs Rusev

What to expect: This year’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view carries two matches bearing the titular gimmick, both of which adequately tick the boxes we’ve come to expect to pre-qualify for use of the structure. One of them – being promoted as the show’s main event – is a deeply personal grudge match involving one man who only wrestles on special occasions. The other is a contest to definitively settle a prominent feud that’s been going back and forward for months. Compare and contrast to the forthcoming TLC show, before which you’ll see the Raw roster hilariously start to use foreign objects for no adequately explained reason over the next couple of weeks.

Anyway, the two Cell matches. I worry a little for Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens; not because I think it won’t deliver – both men are perfectly-suited to this environment – but because a) any result other than an Owens victory would seem a waste of Vince McMahon’s blood, and b) both men are up for absolutely anything and one suspects we could be about to see one of the highest-risk spots in WWE this year. Meanwhile, the match for the tag titles, as already discussed, should be savoured while we have it. The previous matches between these teams have all been excellent, and this should be the climax; one final thrash with everything left in the ring and a definitive winner. I’m probably looking forward to this match the most on the card.

Outside of the Cell, the top singles championships for both men and women are up for grabs. One has to hope Shinsuke Nakamura has a great chance of beating Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship, because the idea of his culture and ethnicity getting trashed for several weeks only for him to come up short and Mahal rolling on doesn’t bear thinking about. Natalya vs Charlotte is always a solid match (and may even be the better of these two), though the spotlight starting to move slightly away from Carmella over the past couple of weeks may begin to put a ‘surprise’ cash-in on people’s radars.

Elsewhere, AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin could turn out to be pretty good mesh of styles (no pun intended) – would be my outside tip for match of the night if the Cell tag match wasn’t looking so strong. Roode vs Ziggler and Orton vs Rusev will also be serviceable contests; the former has a first-match-of-several feel, while the latter is a rubber match after a ten-second victory apiece. Prime candidate to be added to the card is Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable vs The Hype Bros, but otherwise the show is just about complete a week out. Looks like a pretty decent card.

As always, 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. Do you think The Miz and his Miztourage are suitable opponents for a Shield reunion and, if not, who do you think would be?
  2. What could be done to improve the Natalya vs Charlotte feud before Sunday?
  3. Which of the two Hell in a Cell matches are you most looking forward to and why?

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