Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! SummerSlam is on the horizon, Kurt Angle is Jason Jordan’s daddy and The Great Khali is back? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 24th 2017.
Raw (Verizon Center, Washington DC)
Announced: A number one contender’s match between Bayley and Sasha Banks. Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins vs The Miz, Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas in a two-on-three handicap match. A no-disqualification match between Finn Balor and Elias Samson.
What to expect: Expect the issue of number one contenders to feature heavily. Last week’s main event match between Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, designed to decide the SummerSlam challenger to Brock Lesnar (who is advertised to appear next week but not expected tonight), was wrecked by Braun Strowman. Raw GM Kurt Angle, no doubt in between catching up with long-lost son Jason Jordan, will likely propose a solution tonight. It’s widely tipped to end in a four-way match for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam. If Angle rewards Strowman’s actions by adding him to the picture, what are the chances Nia Jax sees the example that’s been set and wrecks tonight’s Bayley-Banks match? A four-way for the Raw Women’s Championship held by Alexa Bliss looked pretty likely a couple of weeks ago. Not that I’ll be complaining if we just get a straight-up match between Bayley and Banks tonight with a clear winner, given their previous history against each other.
In the other two announced matches, a no-DQ stipulation for Finn Balor vs Elias Samson is surely destined for legal Bray Wyatt interference, allowing Samson to ‘win’ his first main roster feud of note and setting up Balor and Wyatt for SummerSlam. The handicap tag match also looks to be about defining a program for SummerSlam, over The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship. Akira Tozawa theoretically still seems Neville’s most likely challenger for the Cruiserweight Championship, though he may continue to be preoccupied with the less-than-helpful influence of Titus O’Neil. Tag Team Champions Sheamus & Cesaro currently don’t have any challengers (and weren’t even on the show last week), with The Hardy Boyz and The Revival likely to continue their program; hopefully that’ll be remedied and possibly even tied together this week. Also, Enzo Amore will likely continue to talk Big Cass and The Big Show into a match against each other at SummerSlam which I imagine looks a lot better in Vince McMahon’s head than it does in mine.
Spotlight: The big reveal of Kurt Angle’s mystery secret scandal, coming to prominence through the mediums of text messaging and Corey Graves, took place on last week’s episode of Raw. Rather than being the old ‘romantic affair with an on-screen performer’ angle – which many jaded souls like myself had supposed – it turned out to be the ‘on-screen performer is revealed as his offspring’ angle (which, if we’re splitting hairs, isn’t the most original either). Jason Jordan is the man in question and, as much as I recognize we need to let things play out and give them a chance, worrying is in my nature. I’ve worried about every new Doctor Who – not just the most recent one – and I worry about this. Sorry, I can’t help it. Here I think I’m mostly sad at seeing the end (at least for now) of American Alpha.
Unless the plan is for a heel turn (which I’ll come back to shortly), splitting American Alpha at this juncture didn’t feel like it was entirely necessary. Chad Gable could’ve been brought over to Raw too; you can’t tell me the Raw General Manager didn’t see the team his son was in and not feel a pang of recognition. But even if a heel turn or other plans are coming, the situation with babyface tag teams in WWE continues to get worse. After the recent upheavals, the only face teams on the main roster – covering both Raw and SmackDown – are The New Day, The Hardy Boyz, Breezango (entirely a comedy act at the moment) and Heath Slater & Rhyno. I’m assuming the The Hype Bros split will go through, rather than being retconned out of existence (which was what happened to Slater & Rhyno, back when that team was relevant). Even down in NXT, the only possible saviors are Heavy Machinery and the currently-shelved TM61. It’s a mess.
This is also a big test of Jason Jordan who, let’s not forget, was struggling to find his place in NXT until he started tagging with Gable. It’s not an exaggeration to say American Alpha made Jordan in WWE and a lot of that was down to the easy charisma between the two. Unless Angle will be holding his hand throughout, flying solo and taking the audience with him could be a big challenge for Jordan. It’s hard not to see this as a gamble that relies heavily on the value of a Hall of Famer’s name to forge an inorganic connection between a younger guy and the audience. Ask Curtis Axel (who had Paul Heyman’s mouth at his disposal) how that worked out. Plus it looks like we don’t get a Kurt Angle match at SummerSlam, or – if the focus remains as it should on Jordan as his charge and proxy – any time soon. Boo.
But there are positives here. Jordan’s athletic standard is absolutely of the quality required to fill Angle’s big, big shoes. No, his amateur background may not be as illustrious (who’s is?) but he has all the tools and the background to convince in the role. It could be argued that the most important commodity in professional wrestling today is authenticity – which is not a question of whether you’re actually someone’s biological son when you claim to be, but whether you can make people believe it. Jason Jordan has the in-ring ability to absolutely make people believe it. Also, whatever you think of the route to get here, it’s hard to fault how the story has opened; Kurt Angle has always been a great actor, while Jordan is no stranger to wearing emotions on his sleeve/singlet. On a side note, I also hope Raw continues to use Corey Graves as a go-between and shit-stirrer in storylines, after his skits both here and in the split between Enzo Amore and Big Cass.
The Angle and Jordan situation is also the platform for a career-making heel turn for the latter; the role of the entitled, protected golden boy of Monday Night Raw looks temptingly easy to define and portray for an audience. As it happens, the antagonist route should also be seen as a great opportunity for Kurt Angle too. Not that any wrestling fan with a heart would be likely to grow tired of seeing Angle back on WWE programming, but everyone has a honeymoon period and, sooner or later, an act needs to be changed up to avoid becoming stale. There is no benefit to having Kurt Angle (who’s always been an awesome bad guy) go the way of his predecessor Mick Foley and become an avatar to pop the crowd – especially if, when Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon inevitably returns to television, he’s to viably keep his role as an authority figure.
SmackDown Live (The Coliseum, Richmond VA)
Announced: Nothing formally announced yet, coming off the back of Battleground last night.
What to expect: There are two new champions after last night’s show, which by WWE logic means we should expect two contractual rematches to be up for discussion – both of which would be welcome for different reasons. AJ Styles and new United States Champion Kevin Owens wasn’t the barn-burner it might’ve been and a suspicious-looking pin might be the vehicle for another try. Meanwhile The Usos and The New Day, tag champions once again, had an outstanding match and more of the same would be very welcome. A non-finish in the match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin also all-but-guarantees further developments between those two men this week. Some or all of these will be set up as SummerSlam feuds this week. The one match already set for the SummerSlam card is SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi against Natalya, who should come face-to-face this week to start their program.
The Great Khali is back, seemingly joining Jinder Mahal’s Indian stable. Whether you like it or not, expect some fawning over Khali this week, and speculation on whether Mahal’s reign is now unstoppable. Randy Orton may seek retribution, but surely that WWE Championship program is now over (surely) and we may see a new contender emerge. Perhaps John Cena, assuming he’ll be sticking around on Tuesdays for now despite his ‘free agent’ status? Elsewhere following last night, Breezango will likely present more Fashion Files, and place your bets on whether Aiden English, Tye Dillinger, Sami Zayn and Mike & Maria Kanellis will appear at all. Also, remember a guy called Dolph Ziggler? He might be on too, if you’re lucky.
Spotlight: Before the main event of last night’s Battleground pay-per-view, I was starting to get a clear picture of what I’d be writing about in this spot this week. Future prospects for undercard performers like Sami Zayn, Tye Dillinger and Aiden English, all of whom have the talent to play big roles but whose progress may be stalling, was just edging out the question of whether Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin’s violent stalemate is working for either man. After the main event, it’s become impossible to ignore the close-to-literal elephant in the room, The Great Khali. I often feel like I have an in-built tendency to play Devil’s Advocate; show me a great young athlete getting a big break as a beloved Olympian legend’s storyline son and the first things I think about are the negatives. So perhaps it’s telling here that The Great Khali’s return to WWE has me immediately trying to look on the bright side.
You have to look pretty hard to see it, but there’s a bright side in there somewhere. The Singh Brothers, despite their commendable commitment to taking ugly bumps from Randy Orton, have rapidly been discredited as enforcers. Khali, despite his limitations, is harder to discredit. It also gives Mahal another narrative ‘out’ from matches and feuds, without needing him to suddenly have the measure of more illustrious opponents. No, I’ve not been besotted with Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship run to date, but it’s hard not to see the parallels with JBL’s repackaging as a singles star. Yes, his promo skills were a lot better than Mahal’s, but with sheer force of will and long-term commitment the gimmick got over and he convinced as WWE Champion – despite the fact that Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker and Booker T on the roster all seemed like more convincing options. For Mahal’s expanded stable, read JBL’s Cabinet.
Let’s not kid ourselves around here though: SmackDown Live is a show boasting AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and (apparently in passing) John Cena, but cemented in the main event scene is a stable that contains The Great Khali. Even if you could argue that it’s a stable which has been improved by The Great Khali, that’s arguably a worse synopsis. He’s not going to the group’s technician, nor is he going to replace Jinder’s rapidly-repeating promo material as their mouthpiece. Khali’s presence likely only makes Jinder’s permanence as a fixture of Tuesday nights more assured. Even if his challenger at SummerSlam is John Cena, WWE’s push into the India market is substantial enough to question the wisdom of having Mr American Grit himself Attitude Adjust the entire subcontinent at the first attempt, especially as there are potentially some promo dates on WWE’s radar for Asia in September. It may be business as usual for SmackDown Live for at least a couple more months yet.
At the least, there are a few ground rules we need to establish. Wherever possible, Khali shouldn’t be working a match. He wasn’t exactly a workhorse in his original run (or athletic, or that charismatic) and turning 45 the week after SummerSlam, I sincerely doubt he’s got more limber and sharp in his time away. But oh God, that’s going to be Randy Orton’s SummerSlam program, isn’t it? A singles match against The Great Khali, set up off the back of being denied inside the Punjabi Prison. Orton will now have all of four months to find his way into something involving mud or lingerie to complete the calendar grand slam of terrible wrestling matches in 2017. I’d say he’s doing the Lord’s work, but this clearly isn’t the work of the Lord. Give the guy a raise. Give him a medal.
The other ground rule is that, when Mahal’s stable eventually breaks up, we really don’t need to see the blowoff match. Jinder Mahal vs The Great Khali is not really something that needs to air towards the business end of a pay-per-view, or quite possibly anywhere on a pay-per-view. I’d be happy not seeing it on an episode of SmackDown Live either, to be honest. As for the weekly show itself, I hate to call Khali a burden but his presence simultaneously makes the WWE Champion’s stable harder to compromise in the short-term while adding potential obstacles to booking engaging matches. SmackDown Live, more than before, may need to succeed in spite of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion rather than because of it. In the year since the new brand split, SmackDown has by most observers’ measures outperformed Raw; it’s now seemingly attempting to do the same with one giant hand tied behind its back.
Also This Week
The eagle-eyed among Raw’s viewers last week will have noticed the ring crew seem to have given up on taping the ropes purple for Monday’s cruiserweight segments. At least one of my terrible 2017 predictions for TJRWrestling’s annual staff picks – that Raw would eventually wash its hands of the cruisers – is edging nearer, while fans of purple rope tape may now have to lean heavily on 205 Live (Tuesday), where anyone not in a program with Neville competes for the glory of getting five minutes on the USA Network the following week.
Kassius Ohno vs Hideo Itami is the big announced match for this week’s NXT (Wednesday), as the developmental brand lines up its pieces for the third TakeOver: Brooklyn event. Last week’s episode set up Bobby Roode vs Drew McIntyre for the NXT Championship, which is a pretty good start. Will TakeOver outshine SummerSlam for the third year in a row?
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!
- Do you think Jason Jordan’s new role will work for him, and how would you like to see it kick off this week?
- Who would you like to see as Jinder Mahal’s challenger for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam?
- Has your perspective on Flag Match and Punjabi Prison Match gimmicks changed since this time last week, or is it pretty much as was?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.