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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Roman Reigns escaped the steel cage in Jeddah first but still lost, Braun Strowman had an infinitely more successful Royal Rumble than Titus O’Neil, and AJ Styles suffered a shot to the goolies again. Twice in a week. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, April 30th 2018.

Raw (Bell Centre, Montreal QC)

Announced: Nothing’s been announced. With Friday’s Greatest Royal Rumble just having passed, that’s not too much of a surprise.

What to expect: Raw and SmackDown are both in Montreal this week (keep an eye out for the reactions for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn tonight), and there’s a quick turnaround needed before Backlash on Sunday. Expect something to be made of Roman Reigns appearing to escape the cage (official definition) first at Greatest Royal Rumble, but Brock Lesnar isn’t here this week and Reigns has SmackDown’s Samoa Joe to worry about this Sunday. Similarly, Finn Balor seems a likely next challenger for Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins, but Rollins has The Miz to prepare for. Apart from building to the Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss rematch, the big intrigue in the women’s division is what Ronda Rousey does next after appearing to land in the middle of it last week, and whether/when it ends up being more than ‘Natalya’s bodyguard’.

Otherwise the story of Raw will likely be fallout from Greatest Royal Rumble and quickly setting the agenda for what’s next. Braun Strowman won the eponymous match, but is lacking an obvious match at Backlash. Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt are the new tag champions, but with no obvious challengers. Could Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre fill that gap? Jinder Mahal lost his United States Championship rematch to Jeff Hardy on Friday after being sunk by Chad Gable last Monday, so it remains to be seen what’s next for him. Other possible threads to pick up on from Friday are eliminations from the Royal Rumble, with Baron Corbin chucking Bobby Roode and Elias accounting for Kurt Angle.

Spotlight: Here’s a proposal: Seth Rollins has hardly ever been a compelling character. He’s always been a compelling performer, but that’s not the same thing. As a third of The Shield, he was neither the maniacal main mouthpiece or the brooding strong-but-silent one; he was the other one, whose value only truly became apparent when the bell rang. True, there was a spark of life when he took a steel chair to his brothers, but once that was parlayed to the cowardly corporate heel template, hiding behind his lackeys, it wasn’t always flattering of his strengths. It was hard to fault his mic work when he was opening Raw with 15-minute monologues, but let’s be honest, most of us wanted to skip ahead to the blowoff matches (in which, obviously, he was usually great).

I, therefore, hope what we’ve seen in the last couple of months is an affirmation that the best possible portrayal of Seth Rollins as a character is as Seth Rollins the performer. The hour-plus he spent running the gauntlet on the Raw before Elimination Chamber was a timely reinvention. If I’m being picky, I’d have loved it more if his downfall in the Chamber itself had played more on his condition coming off that previous match (“he’s paid the price for being too good on Monday, Cole”), but he’s got the whole ‘Monday Night Rollins’ line going now, so I guess we’ve ended up at the same destination. The point is that Rollins being defined as an outstanding performer is the biggest strength WWE can play to and his spot as a workhorse Intercontinental Champion is one of the best he could be in right now.

It’s also the best natural progression from where he found himself at the start of the year. Rollins was having great matches alongside Dean Ambrose and opposite The Bar, until his partner got injured and he hit a crossroads. When fate intervened for a second time with Jason Jordan – and no disrespect to Jordan here – it liberated Rollins to pursue the lighter path of demonstrating his clinical excellence, rather than being hampered by a character-based program. Getting the curb stomp back was a timely boon too. Having a series of strong matches as Intercontinental Champion – he’ll have one this Sunday against The Miz and one would assume Finn Balor is next in line – is a positive, logical jump from the strong tag matches. The longer Seth Rollins’ calling card is his formidable in-ring performances, the better it’ll be for him and the Intercontinental Championship too.

SmackDown Live (Bell Centre, Montreal QC)

Announced: Nothing formally announced at the time of writing.

What to expect: Some form of confrontation between WWE Champion AJ Styles and plumstriker extraordinaire Shinsuke Nakamura is likely, along with the possibility of a stipulation being announced for their rematch at Backlash. After Big Cass ended Daniel Bryan’s fairytale run in the Greatest Royal Rumble (and following his implied ambush last Tuesday), Cass may find Bryan coming out fighting tonight. Carmella and Charlotte Flair have signed their contracts for the SmackDown Women’s Championship rematch, so it’s possible more (or at least further) attention may be paid this week to how Asuka and The IIconics fit into the women’s division ecosystem.

Elsewhere, the ‘what’s next’ following Saudi Arabia and before Backlash is central. How tag champions The Bludgeon Brothers proceed next is open to speculation; The Usos have surely now been capably dispatched, while Sheamus & Cesaro last week looked as though they may be on the cusp of a program with The New Day. Perhaps this is the point where newcomers SAnitY from NXT come in? Might Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas also debut? The Miz and Samoa Joe might also be on the show in body, though possibly not in spirit given their upcoming Backlash matches with Raw talent. Finally, any ill effects for Rusev and Aiden English after being shut in a casket by The Undertaker on Friday? We’ll see.

Spotlight: With the simultaneous ecstasy and subconscious worry over Daniel Bryan’s in-ring return starting to subside in the minds of fans, we can start turning our minds to look not just at what he might do in the future, but also what he’s actually doing right now. Lasting a record length of time in Friday’s Greatest Royal Rumble was clearly a vote of confidence in his condition and an indication that little will be off-limits for how much he’ll be expected to do. It appears the first thing he’s going to be expected to do is work a program opposite Big Cass, himself recently cleared to return after a layoff (though nowhere near as long), and achieve what every pro wrestling program should set out to do – ensure both guys come out the other side with their reputations enhanced.

Bryan has, of course, been doing shit like this for years. Whether opposite a big guy like Cass or smaller guys, the quality Daniel Bryan brings to a wrestling ring elevates matches and helps everybody involved look good. WWE would, frankly, be fools not to take advantage of this by putting young guys they want to establish into a ring with Bryan now they have him back, so those guys can benefit from the warm glow. We may all have made our personal lists of dream opponents for a healthy Daniel Bryan, but we need to accept guys like Big Cass will sit alongside guys like Styles or Angle in WWE’s own order of priority – and also that this is no bad thing. In a way, I’m glad we’re not getting the Bryan/Miz feud yet. Save it. Save it at least until The Miz has reclaimed the WWE Championship, which still looks a tempting bet for the calendar year.

Looking at Cass himself, meanwhile, there are a few challenges he needs to overcome, none of which he’s caused for himself. Moving a seven-foot frame around athletically on a surgically-repaired knee will always carry greater risk than a smaller, lighter body might face. Another thing he can’t take for granted in the same way as before his injury is stock promos. Here, his bad luck is different; Enzo Amore’s undignified departure from the company, while Cass was on the shelf, would I imagine result in an amnesty on calling people SAWFT and lecturing what things can and cannot be taught. Based on his MizTV promo last week and how he looked in the ring on Friday, he’s started well. Lining up face-to-face (or more truthfully, abdomen-to-face) with Daniel Bryan gives him an excellent chance to define himself in a WWE ring and, hopefully, it’s one that will work out well for him.

Also This Week

There’s a full menu for NXT (Wednesday) with Pete Dunne vs Roderick Strong, TM61 vs The Street Profits and Candice LeRae vs Bianca Belair. There’s also the relaunch of Kona Reeves with a gimmick going by the name of ‘The Finest’. NXT has a decent record with arrogant-vanity gimmicks (Tyler Breeze, Velveteen Dream), so let’s see how Reeves goes.

Nothing firm is set for 205 Live (Tuesday), but there’s a chance we may come back around to Buddy Murphy’s title shot following what seemed to be a detour in Jeddah.

Backlash (Prudential Center, Newark NJ)

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

  • Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe
  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs The Miz
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Nia Jax (c) vs Alexa Bliss
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Carmella (c) vs Charlotte Flair
  • Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass

What to expect: If you’ve been taking note of WWE’s ‘Best of Both Worlds’ commercials in the past couple of weeks, you’ll know – apart from the fact we need a WWE Network version of Lip Sync Battle, that Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax should be regulars on said show and that AJ Styles crooning in full ring gear is hilarious – that all regular WWE pay-per-views will now feature both Raw and SmackDown talent. And, after the excesses of WrestleMania and the Greatest Royal Rumble, a show like Backlash (merits of the card notwithstanding) is likely to feel more ‘regular’ than usual.

A quick comment on the transition from the Greatest Royal Rumble to here. Beyond last week’s ubiquitous online conversations about corporate hypocrisy, Finn’s plain gear and the Titus O’Neil plunge – and I found the last one a lot less stressful than the first two – it was striking how an event that was evidently so materially rich (the talent, the matchups, the staging, the pyro) came across feeling so shallow of value. Good match quality but the booking of a house show. Non-finishes, effectively, in both major title matches. Role-playing and ring announcing that sometimes felt understandably conservative. An arena layout that left half the floor empty and the crowd noise strangely distant. A Royal Rumble that set records while feeling entirely free of consequence, save another WWE trophy and a title belt with no obvious purpose.

So while I’m happy for the Saudi fans who enjoyed the show, for all the above reasons I’m really looking forward to Backlash feeling like a resumption of pay-per-view business as usual.

With Roman Reigns failing to claim the Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar, it looks like it’ll fall to the WWE Championship match to headline. The double count-out finish between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in Jeddah feels as though it might yet lead to some sort of stipulation here; anything ‘no disqualification’ would tip the decent odds of a title change further towards the challenger, who on current form might just start hacking at the champion’s undercarriage from the opening bell. In seriousness, this might have the setting and card placement to be the Styles/Nakamura match everyone’s been hoping for after a couple of good (if not quite great) tasters.

Elsewhere, Reigns vs Samoa Joe and the Intercontinental Championship match are both Raw vs SmackDown affairs, hangovers from before the Superstar Shake-up, and should be decent bouts. Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass is fresh and very interesting as a yardstick for Cass. Also, look! Women’s matches! How novel! I had no qualms about the Jax/Bliss match at WrestleMania; it turned out to be perfectly good character-based stuff, if at the problematic end of the card, and I’m fine with seeing a (single) repeat. In terms of extra matches that might be added, Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton for the United States Championship is a good bet, while the tag championships on both brands would ordinarily be in the frame but both may need to have new challengers established first.

Be sure to check in with John and the guys at the end of the week for the full TJRWrestling preview. By then the card should look a lot fuller.

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 should be the first challengers to Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt?
  2. Who should be the next challengers to The Bludgeon Brothers?
  3. What other matches would you like to see added to the Backlash card for Sunday?

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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