Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Last week brought us part-time referee Kevin Owens, part-time championship holder Sasha Banks and part-time spitter of hot fire John Cena. What’s in store next? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 4th 2017.

Raw (CenturyLink Center, Omaha NE)

Announced: The Miz (c) vs Jeff Hardy for the Intercontinental Championship. Braun Strowman vs Big Show in a steel cage.

What to expect: All of a sudden we have three episodes of Raw remaining before No Mercy. All the talk is about John Cena and Roman Reigns and, after last week’s stellar promo segment (and less memorable tag match), expect plenty more focus as Raw tries to tell a WrestleMania-calibre story in less than a month. Brock Lesnar isn’t on Raw this week, so there’s no reason for Braun Strowman not to win his cage match – although another big moment to rival the ‘ring collapse’ spot from that previous Strowman-Show match is possible. The other announced match feels much more dangerous to call with any certainty, given WWE’s recent fetish for title changes (but I guess that’s the point). It’ll feel fresh, could be pretty good and you couldn’t rule out a Jeff Hardy win here with a No Mercy rematch.

The Intercontinental Championship match may not be the only fallout from last week’s battle royal, with an indication that Bray Wyatt is coming back for more from Finn Balor. That could be confirmed as another No Mercy match this week, along with the inevitable Raw Tag Team Championships rematch between two-thirds of The Shield and Sheamus & Cesaro. The subject of a rematch for the Raw Women’s Championship for Sasha Banks may also come up, though the hot issue is likely to be if and how Nia Jax will be inserted into the equation. Elsewhere in the women’s division, I’d be delighted to see Emma and Mickie James on-screen again, even if they’re arguing over use of social media. Elsewhere on the roster, expect Enzo Amore to continue to establish himself in the cruiserweight division and eye up a match with Neville, while Jason Jordan’s journey continues and Elias possibly continues to drift along without a program to speak of.

Spotlight: We’re getting John Cena vs Roman Reigns at No Mercy, then. Not WrestleMania, not Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble, but No Mercy. And while I’m absolutely interested in seeing the match – and while last week’s face-to-face segment was excellent, water-cooler television and good business (with strong overtones of the Cena/Rock grudge from a few years back) – not a lot has otherwise changed from my views on it last week. So no, instead I want to focus on my other appalling prediction from last week, where I said making a point of Sasha Banks never successfully defending any of her previous three championship wins “kind of telegraphs Banks retaining here”.

I promise this isn’t sour grapes but what the hell, WWE? I realise title changes are all the rage at the moment, but I don’t understand the logic in consciously making and then reinforcing a point about Sasha Banks being useless at defending a championship. At least when she was doing this against Charlotte Flair last year, there was more of a mitigating narrative. Charlotte was a unique athlete and more than a match for Banks, riding this bulletproof record on pay-per-view; Sasha would scrap her way to success on TV but just couldn’t put her arch-rival away on the glamorous Sunday stage. I love Alexa Bliss to bits, but she does not come off as a Charlotte Flair in the ring and so there’s less mitigation here; this time it just seems down to Sasha bottling it. Bliss looks little better for having briefly lost and regained the title and the ‘Alexa Bliss is being shoved down our throats’ comments online grow a little louder.

Meanwhile, Nia Jax’s arrival in the title picture is probably overdue. Her in-ring work hasn’t been wanting and she’s taken a few more losses than perhaps she’s needed to. But there were many other ways of reaching this point of Bliss vs Jax, many of them better. Why not have her come out and run interference at SummerSlam, allowing Alexa to retain? The card already had another women’s title change hands via submission, it would’ve protected Banks from a clean loss, shows Nia’s logical frustration at Banks beating her twice for title opportunities and better establishes an alliance between Bliss and Jax which feeds into the ‘shocking’ betrayal. I don’t know about you, but the moment Nia Jax showed up to help Bliss celebrate last week, I immediately knew she would be turning on her because there was simply no other context we’d been invited to believe.

We then have a potentially tricky bit of future booking, when Asuka finally makes her main roster debut – rumored to be on the Monday night brand. Asuka has an unbeaten streak to defend, pushed hard in recent months on NXT, while Jax surely has to be put over as an unbeatable monster if and when she presumably becomes champion. If that happens at No Mercy (and it looks difficult not to pull the trigger on Nia Jax now), can WWE find a way to keep the two of them apart until WrestleMania in April? Or, as with Cena and Reigns, will they rush into it sooner? If it’s the latter, Sasha Banks may not be the last of the women on Raw – after Bayley and Emma – to have her selling points badly undermined in this annual cycle.

SmackDown Live (Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls SD)

Announced: Randy Orton vs Shinsuke Nakamura to decide the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Natalya vs Carmella (non-title match).

What to expect: Let’s start with the number one contender’s match, which looks like a similar affair to the match between Nakamura and John Cena prior to SummerSlam. If Orton brings his working boots (and avoids landing on his head on the reverse exploder) it could be pretty great and one assumes Nakamura should win to get a second crack at Jinder Mahal. Randy Orton’s immediate future may be Rusev and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he pops up here to cost Orton his shot. Natalya vs Naomi for the Women’s Championship has been penciled in for next week, so the champion’s match with Carmella this week should be inconsequential….. But given the way the men’s Money in the Bank briefcase went a few weeks ago, I’m wincing heavily as I type that.

Speaking of Baron Corbin, he looks to be the next proper challenger to United States Champion AJ Styles, but with a bit of time yet until the next pay-per-view we may get another week of the US title open challenge here. Meanwhile, previous champion Kevin Owens may face consequences from his boss Shane McMahon (and possibly his human punchbag Sami Zayn) for last week’s actions. Elsewhere on the roster, Dolph Ziggler cutting heel promos on flamboyant gimmicks while the embodiment of flamboyant gimmicks Bobby Roode wrestles three-minute babyface matches feels like too much of a coincidence, and Tamina may wrestle another exceedingly dull squash. In the tag division, we may see more Fashion Files and another step forward for Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable, while The Usos get to choose the stipulation for their tag titles rematch with The New Day. If only there was a gimmick-branded pay-per-view just around the corner!

Spotlight: Penny for the thoughts of the referees’ union after the last few weeks on SmackDown Live. After one of its members was called out for a bad decision before SummerSlam, Shane McMahon nicked their spot for the United States Championship match – and didn’t even wear a proper zebra jersey for it. Having made a bit of a hash of that match, the SmackDown commissioner let defeated challenger Kevin Owens choose his own referee, which resulted in Baron Corbin wearing an even worse zebra jersey before being summarily replaced during the match by….. Shane McMahon. Then, last week, angry at the events to date, Owens himself replaced a different member of the referees’ union during Aiden English vs Sami Zayn and successfully commanded control of the timekeeper and production truck. Backstage, Shane McMahon ruled the match result wouldn’t stand as you can’t just jump in the ring and become the referee (despite the fact that he’d done exactly that the previous week).

If we hold off on the facetiousness for a moment, there is of course a point to all of this. Shane McMahon has to be seen to make the best fist of his on-screen job he can under difficult circumstances, while Kevin Owens has to be an asshole about it at every turn. We have five episodes of SmackDown Live to get through before Hell in a Cell and, if this feud is to become bitter enough to suit the Cell structure, not only will Owens have to show a lot more dissent but Shane will have to make a few more awkward – and imperfect – calls. I’d have thought it would be tougher to goad your non-wrestling boss into accepting a dangerous match if he has no insecurities whatsoever about the decisions you’ve forced him into.

Hell in a Cell is not only the presumed target destination of this match but it’s probably also the best environment in which it could take place. I recall looking forward to WrestleMania earlier this year, with an optimism that Shane McMahon vs AJ Styles might be an awful lot better than many people were fearing. Shane, the theory went, still had a few tricks in his bag and Styles is one of the best workers in the world; why wouldn’t they be able to put on something fun for 20 minutes? In the end it worked out as one of the best matches on the show. Kevin Owens may be (and is) a fantastic worker too, but is he in the league of an AJ Styles? Come to that, who is? I think a weapons-based, no-disqualification environment will do both men a favor here.

In fact, this is probably the second-best potential Hell in a Cell match that SmackDown could offer within the current storylines – and as Raw staged three in last year’s pay-per-view one would presume there would be at least a couple on offer this year. The WWE Championship match will surely be one of them, but I fear even Shinsuke Nakamura wouldn’t be able to save us from the misery of another round of ‘Jinder Mahal won’t be able to get any help tonight, oops, the Singh brothers seemed to have sneaked into the structure’. I refuse to entertain the possibility of Randy Orton winning this week’s number one contender’s match and effectively retreading the Punjabi Prison match. So no, the best potential Hell in a Cell match that SmackDown could put on right now? The Usos vs The New Day. I’m badly hoping that match gets confirmed this Tuesday.

Also This Week

The next four episodes of the Mae Young Classic are available on demand on the WWE Network now (and as with last week, will premiere in sequence on the Network’s programming following the big weekly shows, starting with Raw tonight). These episodes take us through to the conclusion of the semi-finals and, if you’re trying to avoid results as you watch through these next rounds, be warned that the later episode synopses are blatantly spoilery for the earlier episodes. The finals are broadcast live next week.

With remarkably convenient and precise coincidental timing with the Mae Young Classic, Asuka will address her future on this week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday). The show also sees Kassius Ohno vs Hideo Itami with a no-disqualification stipulation and Lars Sullivan in a three-on-one handicap match.

Cards on the table; with the Mae Young Classic going on, I managed to completely ignore 205 Live (Tuesday) last week. Looking at the results, I’d summarise it as ‘business as usual’. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets bumped for the Mae Young finals next week – or if the Las Vegas crowd has to sit through three hours of wrestling before trying to get hot for two competitors they may never have seen wrestle before – but for this week at least it’s safe.

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 would be the best way to continue the program between John Cena and Roman Reigns this week?
  2. Before we inevitably get to AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin, who would you like to see answer the United States Championship open challenge if it takes place this week?
  3. What would you rather watch after SmackDown Live next week: 205 Live or the Mae Young Classic Finals?

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