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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! The Superstar Shake-up is over, but a Superstar Sheikh-up is coming this Friday. Oh come on, that’s literally the best pun ever. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, April 23rd 2018.

Raw (Scottrade Center, Saint Louis MO)

Announced: The only thing that’s been announced at time of writing is that Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman will be back on Raw ahead of the Universal Championship match at Friday’s Greatest Royal Rumble.

What to expect: With Samoa Joe now over on SmackDown, Lesnar’s appearance here is a slam-dunk for getting the attention of Roman Reigns this week. A confrontation of some sort to sell Friday’s event is a safe bet. Ronda Rousey appears to have found an ally (for how long?) in Natalya, though if that angle continues it won’t be opposite Absolution, who have switched to Tuesday nights. The match last week between Sasha Banks and Bayley was wrecked by The Riott Squad, coming the other way, so there’s a chance Bayley and Banks will try to put their issues aside tonight to face down the trio. Other possible angles include Titus Worldwide losing looking for a match against Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre, while the possible future of the Miztourage may be a curious footnote.

There are also some interbrand peculiarities left over from last week’s Superstar Shake-up, affecting upcoming championship matches. How these play out across Raw and SmackDown remains to be seen, but on Friday we have a Raw Tag Team Championships match between Bray Wyatt & Matt Hardy (Raw) and The Bar (SD), a United States Championship match between Jinder Mahal (Raw) and Jeff Hardy (SD), and an Intercontinental Championship four-way with two men on each brand. One more week of brand in-exclusivity seems to be ahead. We should also start to get a better picture of how Raw’s recent new arrivals – such as Ember Moon, Bobby Lashley, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and so on – will be fitting into the ecosystem.

Spotlight: Here are three different takes on Dolph Ziggler pairing with Drew McIntyre on last week’s Raw.

1: Ziggler gets the extra definition his character badly needed by associating a beefcake bodyguard type, which would form a welcome reboot of his successful run with another promoted NXT Champion, Big E. Meanwhile, it’s a win-win as leaning on an established name helps reintroduce McIntyre to a mainstream, non-NXT-watching audience (and, for some newer fans, introducing for the first time; it’s coming up on four years since WWE previously released him). It’s also a more imaginative main roster call-up than just pitching him into a feud with someone like – oh, I don’t know – Dolph Ziggler.

2: McIntyre will, one presumes, eventually be pitched into the traditional main roster call-up feud with Dolph Ziggler and this may just end up marking time until it happens. ‘Sidekick to Dolph Ziggler’ might be the lowest-key role for a former NXT Champion upon their promotion to the main roster in years and, depending on how the relationship works (which I accept we need to wait and see), could limit and cool McIntyre’s appeal at a key stage. He’s clearly a much better all-around performer than when he left the company for the first time, while his look and presence during his time in NXT suggested he’d be capable of going straight in to work Raw’s upper mid-card on his own terms.

3: Ziggler and McIntyre as an honest-to-God tag team pairing for the foreseeable future could be an inspired idea. Pairing up a couple of very talented individuals who, for one reason or another, are at a crossroads with their characters can ultimately have outstanding results. Sheamus and Cesaro are the obvious recent proof of this, and warrants this pairing being given the benefit of the doubt. Given that The Bar themselves have now jumped over to SmackDown (along with the rest of Finn Balor’s Club, while only Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are in the non-Fashion Files category of pairs coming the other way) it’s a chance Raw may have to take. Plus, that Claymore/Zig-Zag combo is pretty sick.

Which of these represents my personal view? I have no idea. I keep flitting between all three; they all have some elements of value. I think a lot depends on Ziggler, who is mercurially talented but whose career seems to have followed this odd pattern of the hottest streaks – genuinely rivaling anyone on the roster with him – spaced out by chewy periods of deeply uninspiring material. The other key point is going to be the relationship between the two; whether they’re equals in a common cause or if there’s a pecking order. The chemistry between them will be a big factor in whether this is a success for both men. We should learn more tonight.

SmackDown Live (KFC Yum! Center, Louisville KY)

Announced: Asuka & Becky Lynch vs The IIconics, plus The Miz will make his return to Tuesday nights.

What to expect: Would it be overkill if Shinsuke Nakamura once again sneaks out to uppercut AJ Styles in the plums mid-segment and then claim in an interview not to speak English? Probably. Something more even-handed may benefit Styles before their WrestleMania rematch on Friday. Daniel Bryan may get face-to-face with The Miz, but if so don’t expect that to be anything more than a tease – Bryan’s short-term business is likely to be with Big Cass. The announced women’s tag is a good showcase for all four women to freshen up SmackDown’s female division, while Naomi seems to be moving sideways towards the program between The Usos and The Bludgeon Brothers (which should also be featured ahead of Friday).

The cross-brand issues mentioned above that are affecting Raw tonight will also probably affect SmackDown tomorrow too. Out of all those, Jeff Hardy may possibly find himself with other, separate issues to deal with – in jumping ahead of Randy Orton to answer Shelton Benjamin’s challenge last week, Hardy has practically guaranteed himself an RKO outta nowhere in the near future. Some of the other men and women traded in from Raw may also crop up, along with the possibility of NXT call-ups SAnitY and former NXT Champion Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas with his manager Zelina Vega.

Spotlight: There seems to be a widespread consensus among commentators that SmackDown Live came out as the ‘winner’ from last week’s Superstar Shake-up. You can mark me among that number. It kept its crown jewels of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, newly-cleared Daniel Bryan, WWE veteran Randy Orton, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, The Usos and The New Day, while trading much of its going-stale undercard for the likes of The Miz, Asuka, Samoa Joe, The Bar and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas from NXT – among the best performers in the company over the past year. Raw, meanwhile, may still have its top names too, but is now filled out with Hype Bros, Fashion Police and the majority of outpatients from disappointing United States Championship programs.

If we’re all agreed that SmackDown did indeed come out better from the Shake-up (if not, I’d love to hear from you in the comments) then, on the surface, this seems a tacit admission that the blue brand was either underpowered or underperforming over the last year in comparison to its longer-running Monday night sister. I’m still coming to terms with this, well remembering how I wrote a year ago (in between taking cheap shots at the name ‘KFC Yum! Center’, which I would enthusiastically double down on here) that any brand headed up by Styles, Nakamura, Owens and Zayn was fair set. Turns out it ain’t always that simple.

There’s, therefore, a lingering concern (or at the least, a question) about whether a supercharged roster is enough to avoid the same problems occurring again. SmackDown’s strict two-hour time limit – an hour and change shorter than Raw, with the scheduling of 205 Live making ten minutes of overrun a luxury that isn’t available – creates a challenge to fit the talent in. What’s certain is with the depth of ability now on the roster, there can be little excuse for lengthy deviations into the world of arguments between authority figures, or unsuccessful attempts to push enhancement talent into the main event slot for six months.

If the booking and writing is good, featured programs and segments every Tuesday night should – should – now have an impressively high hit-rate in terms of quality. Yep, this might mean a few weeks when one or two prominent stars don’t make it onto the show, such will be the competition, but I’m optimistic about it. There are so many positive secondary features behind the possible headline feuds; promos by Joe and Miz, Asuka wrestling some fresh matchups, the cementing of an all-star tag division, the chance of Gallows and Anderson hooking up with Styles again. There are so many options and, even when little is happening, it should still be a ‘little’ that’s worth your time.

Also This Week

Two big championship matches are set for NXT (Wednesday), with Aleister Black vs Johnny Gargano for the NXT Championship and Adam Cole vs Oney Lorcan for the NXT North American Championship.

On 205 Live (Tuesday) there’ll be a Gauntlet Match to determine Cedric Alexander’s opponent for the Cruiserweight Championship at the Greatest Royal Rumble event on Friday. Speaking of which…..

Greatest Royal Rumble (King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Announced: The impressive card is subject to change as always, but official matches at the time of writing are:

  • Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns
  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
  • 50-Man Royal Rumble Match (confirmed entrants: Daniel Bryan, Braun Strowman, Big Show, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Elias, Baron Corbin, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Shelton Benjamin, Sin Cara, Chad Gable, Goldust, Titus O’Neil, Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler)
  • Undertaker vs Rusev (Casket Match)
  • John Cena vs Triple H
  • United States Championship: Jeff Hardy (c) vs Jinder Mahal
  • Raw Tag Team Championships: Bray Wyatt & Matt Hardy vs Sheamus & Cesaro
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs The Usos
  • Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs The Miz vs Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe (Ladder Match)
  • Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander (c) vs TBC

There are no women’s matches due to WWE choosing to observe the country’s cultural norms of gender (in)equality in accepting the deal to run the show. Why would WWE do this? See page one of your Little Book of Ted DiBiase.

What to expect: From something that was originally just assumed to be a large-scale house show in a particularly wealthy market before Backlash, the Greatest Royal Rumble ends up having a WrestleMania-calibre card and a pay-per-view broadcast, with significant implications. It’s remarkable to see just how much WWE has been willing to simply fling at the show to achieve this.

WWE’s most protected match gimmick – once a year, at a set time and for a set purpose – is being dug out and preposterously inflated. Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio (widely reported but not officially confirmed) have all been tossed into it. The Undertaker is working a match. Both major championship matches from WrestleMania are being re-run, with a very real possibility of at least one title change. John Cena and Triple H face each other in a match that’s setting new standards of ‘zero build’; asides from Survivor Series – when they were on opposing teams but never interacted – I can’t remember the last time they were remotely in each other’s orbits (and for better or worse, Triple H hasn’t been the first name on the majority of lips opposite John Cena this past week).

So here we are with a super-stacked card, a WWE Network broadcast and heavy promotion on the weekly shows (with graphics on the entrance stage and everything). Yet its genesis seems to have been so random, created and elevated out of nowhere, that I’m struggling to think of a show signposted as so important but that simultaneously feels so low-key. I’m assuming the way to deal with this is to relax, watch and be pleasantly surprised. The Styles vs Nakamura rematch could have the edge necessary to top their WrestleMania encounter, while similarly, the Intercontinental Championship match has the added ingredients of ladders and Samoa Joe. Then there’s the inherent entertainment value of a 50-man Royal Rumble.

And now, the weather.

The King Abdullah Sports City Stadium is an open-roofed arena, so here are some quick notes on the ambient conditions. Sunset is at 6.47pm local time – the show starts at 7pm (that’s midday EST) with a one-hour pre-show – but that’ll make little difference to the temperatures, which will be between 27-29°C (81-84°F) throughout and around 50% humidity (with no chance of rain). Modern stadia in the Middle East have invested heavily in air conditioning, but that’ll be of least help to the men out in the middle under the lights. It could be a tough gig for anyone going long in the Rumble match, anyone with ring rust or sub-optimal conditioning and anyone who usually sweats as much as Brock Lesnar.

There’ll be a full preview here at TJRWrestling.net later in the week and John Canton will be on deck on Friday with the live review as always.

Three Burning Questions

Answers in the comments section as usual. This week, by way of a subtle Greatest Royal Rumble counterweight, they’re all about WWE’s women.

  1. Considering that Ronda Rousey seems to have taken the plunge into regular storylines, which brand’s women’s roster is looking in best shape after the Superstar Shake-up?
  2. What do you think The Riott Squad have the potential to do on Raw?
  3. Does the SmackDown women’s roster need a high-profile heel turn – and if so, who – or will Carmella, The IIconics and Absolution be able to carry those roles in championship feuds for the next year?

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

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