Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Time’s a bit tight for me this week I’m afraid, so some briefer notes than usual. For some reason we’re getting two WrestleMania main events this Sunday, both of which were decided upon even before Vince McMahon got his brains scrambled on SmackDown. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 18th 2017.

Raw (SAP Center, San Jose CA)

Announced: Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax (non-title match).

What to expect: It’s the go-home show for No Mercy, and in a peculiar twist neither Brock Lesnar nor John Cena are advertised to appear live, despite having two of the most anticipated pay-per-view matches of the year. The most we may see of Lesnar could be one of his sit-down interview segments, previously recorded. Cena meanwhile has been on the SmackDown tour in China over the weekend and, even with his dedication, is unlikely to make it to San Jose in time. Expect Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns to each get a polish before Sunday. In the announced match, a safe bet is for Nia Jax to beat Alexa Bliss (before Bliss manages to squeak out of No Mercy still champion), but Emma and Sasha Banks are likely to be in the vicinity and could muddle things up a little. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see if The Club continue to get involved in the tag titles feud – and whether that angle is another focal point of the show as with last week.

Bray Wyatt will continue to get inside Finn Balor’s head – hang in there everyone, Balor will probably win this weekend and it’ll all be over – about the Irishman hiding behind his paint. Expect Neville and Enzo Amore to face off, after Enzo got diverted into a creative dead end last week, while we should also get one or two more No Mercy matches set up. Key contenders for that are The Miz (who hasn’t got an Intercontinental Championship opponent, despite having a lot else going on in his world), Matt and Jeff Hardy (although a Kickoff match against The Club wouldn’t be hard to arrange after last week’s eight-man tag), Jason Jordan (who’s been booked so much better these past two weeks) and Elias (who will probably perform another skit regardless of who he may or may not wrestle). All in all, this is shaping up to be a surprisingly low-key episode, given what’s coming on the weekend.

Spotlight: If you tuned into Raw last week for the first time, even if you’d watched any wrestling before – perhaps in the dim and distant past outside of modern WWE programming – and the first thing you encountered was the segment between The Miz and Enzo Amore, what would you have thought? No doubt you get what I’m driving at here; I’m suggesting that you’d have thought Miz was the ‘good guy’ and Enzo was the ‘bad guy’. I realize this is a pretty obvious point to make but, by goodness, it’s worth us making it once again. It was a great segment to watch, but it highlighted current problems for both men; Miz is clearly punching well below his weight, while Enzo is just getting punched. Add to that the strange alignments and one wonders how great this worked out for both men.

It’s a trope of WWE programming that ‘good guys’ aren’t necessarily always nice guys; they don’t always have perfect manners, they usually have an honorable defense for their actions but they sometimes wear it very thin and the ends sometimes only barely justify the means. Often we’re asked to take the actions of babyface characters on trust, based on our past affinity with them. But there was precious little to endear Enzo Amore to us last week. The Miz and Maryse sprung the genuinely fresh news of their pregnancy, not running down, patronizing or rubbing it in the noses of the crowd in doing so, and asides from a cheap jab at General Manager Kurt Angle did little to invoke any ill will. Then Enzo was sent out with the mission statement of crapping all over it. If you were writing a thesis on how to get live crowds to stop wanting to do the ‘SAWFT’ chant, chapter one should be entitled: “Wheel it out immediately after somebody dedicates their match to their unborn child.”

Both of these guys make me a little sad at the moment. Enzo because, despite being a fantastic entertainer, he’s clearly persona non grata within the company right now and is having his strengths brutally undermined in a very public arena. On Sunday, I’d imagine Neville is likely to highlight his weaknesses. The Miz, meanwhile, is doing incredible work but isn’t paddling anywhere in a hurry. Assuming he gets an opponent for No Mercy this Sunday, it’ll not be any challenger with much hype behind them. In the Raw Deal last week, John Canton proposed Miz was now the best talker on WWE’s wrestling roster and that looks increasingly hard to argue against. But right now nobody in the midcard appears to be on his level, while above him there’s the likes of Reigns, Cena, Lesnar and Strowman filling main events. Both guys are killing it as best they can, but it’s not clear to see whether their future paths can lead them towards better things.

SmackDown Live (Oracle Arena, Oakland CA)

Announced: AJ Styles (c) vs Baron Corbin for the United States Championship.

What to expect: After Kevin Owens delivered a Glasgow kiss to Vince McMahon last week, expect a reinstated Shane McMahon to come after him this week to restore family pride and start the build to Hell in a Cell in earnest. AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin also feels like a match that’ll happen on pay-per-view, so something will likely happen this week to prolong that feud. Is a Corbin win possible? One wouldn’t have thought so, but WWE are loving their title changes recently. Speaking of which, The New Day are the tag champions again and The Usos need another rematch; surely this will get confirmed for the Cell structure (with a no-rematch clause) to end the epic feud.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal got away with talking a lot of trash about Shinsuke Nakamura last week without reply, so it’s a safe bet Nakamura will be more likely to make his presence known here. You get the impression Dolph Ziggler ripping off other people’s entrances is the creative team’s new favorite thing, and we’ll see more here before he runs into Bobby Roode. Rusev has promised to ‘break a legend’ which we may learn more about (Randy Orton? Somebody else?). The Hype Bros split from a couple of months ago appears to be back in the spotlight again. And finally, after the Mae Young Classic Finals last Tuesday, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart I have no idea what the women of SmackDown Live will do this week nor do I it being of great consequence. #givedivasachance

Spotlight: We need to talk about Kevin. Last week I suggested Kevin Owens was on the brink of a big career moment when he was set to face Vince McMahon across the ring on SmackDown Live – and that’s what we got. Or, at least, I really hope that’s what we got. Delivering a headbutt that busted Vince open, before adding a superkick and a huge frog splash was pretty extreme as far as WWE television these days goes, and is one of the most significant spots a WWE performer has been given to carry off this year (non-Braun Strowman category). It’s a turbocharged start to the Hell in a Cell feud between Owens and Vince’s son Shane McMahon, but it’s also a real feather in the cap of Owens.

To say what everyone else has already been saying, Vince himself is crazy for taking those bumps at the age of 72. However – and this is not to mitigate the craziness – people have been saying that about him for years. Vince was crazy for taking a 15ft elbow drop through a table (with a trash can on his head) from Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania when he was 60. So while many will be alarmed by his craziness, few should be surprised; Vince will do whatever he believes looks most awesome and reckons he could get away with. What seems more off-color to me is doing this in an environment where WWE is more health-conscious of their talent than ever. Penny for the thoughts of Daniel Bryan, sent out earlier in last week’s show to hype the segment, who is not cleared to wrestle by the company’s medical staff. You’ll clear a 72-year-old to take a full-contact headbutt and a frog splash from a 250-pound-plus guy, but there’s no chance of Bryan wrestling a low-impact submissions match against Kurt Angle for brand supremacy? What sort of a reality are we living in?

Getting past any questionable aspects of the angle, there is one unavoidable consequence of Vince’s selflessness here (and let’s hope it’s the only consequence and any physiological damage to the boss is negligible): Kevin Owens surely cannot now go back in his box. When you think of figures who Mr McMahon has personally given such a prominent rub to in segments – including the likes of Michaels, Steve Austin (obviously), Randy Orton and CM Punk – it seems inconceivable that Owens could go back to being any old WWE heel. It seems like building to Hell in a Cell isn’t enough to justify something this extreme. Once Owens beats Shane in the Cell (and, of course, he should), he should rise to the level of corporate pariah and one of the most dangerous and despised men in the company. He should be WWE Champion before the end of 2018. Vince may be crazy, but he doesn’t bleed and lie down for any old hand.

Also This Week

God bless Jack Gallagher for helping to keep things interesting on 205 Live (Tuesday) with a surprise heel turn last week. Timely proof that the cruiserweight division isn’t suddenly just Enzo Amore running through opponents like a HAWT knife through SAWFT butter (which is probably the impression one gets from only watching recent episodes of Raw). Gallagher could be a lot of fun in that role.

NXT (Wednesday) has Johnny Gargano vs Tino Sabbatelli, the promise of Tyler Bate & Trent Seven vs Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly, No Way Jose surely getting smeared across various parts of the ring by Lars Sullivan and Aleister Black speaking for the first time. Gee, I wonder if he’ll get interrupted by someone?

No Mercy (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA; Raw pay-per-view)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are likely. Official matches at time of writing:

  • Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Braun Strowman
  • John Cena vs Roman Reigns
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax vs Emma
  • Raw Tag Team Championships: Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose (c) vs Cesaro & Sheamus
  • Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt
  • WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs Enzo Amore

What to expect: With all due respect to the likes of busy champions Neville and Alexa Bliss, their notable respective challengers and what should be yet another cracking tag titles match, WWE rolls into the City of Angels with what has to be considered a two-match card.

With apologies to The Miz (who hasn’t got a match on this card – yet) for slight gimmick infringement, No Mercy has arguably become WWE’s most must-see secondary pay-per-view this year. Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman and John Cena vs Roman Reigns are two of the very biggest marquee matches WWE had left to run in the current roster configuration, and we’re getting both of them before WrestleMania; even before Royal Rumble, before Survivor Series. Do I think either will be a match of the year contender? No. Do they demand your attention? Yes.

The Universal Championship first. Strowman vs Lesnar is the biggest clash of monsters possible on the Raw roster – or, indeed, pretty much any roster you could imagine. It probably won’t go long – few of Lesnar’s matches nowadays do – but it’ll be intense. It could also be a turning point for WWE’s storylines with WrestleMania a little over six months away. Strowman winning the title here is a real possibility, though Lesnar could still retain and pick off the likes of Finn Balor and others in the next few months until Roman Reigns comes into his sights in April.

Roman himself? It’s the small matter of wrestling John Cena. We all know how this ends; Cena puts Reigns over as the new face of the company. But does it happen here, at the first time of asking? Or does Big Match John pull out one more big win here and make Reigns earn his rub in a rematch down the road? That latter option would seem to fit this match happening so far in advance of WrestleMania, and you’d have to think Reigns vs Cena isn’t a match WWE would squeeze once and then dispose of. This match could be very interesting and generate a lot of talk by next week.

All in all, this is one of the most notable WWE pay-per-views in a while. 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. Who do you think should win on Sunday: John Cena or Roman Reigns? And will they?
  2. If you could pick anyone on the current Raw roster to face The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship at No Mercy, who would it be?
  3. What would you like to see be the next step in the Kevin Owens story?

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