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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! We’re back in the saddle now that the fallout from SummerSlam has subsided and, this week, the WWE circus rolls into Toronto. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, August 27th 2018.

Raw (Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON)

Announced: Nothing official at time of writing.

What to expect: Braun Strowman has challenged Roman Reigns on social media to meet him in the ring tonight, alone and without the rest of The Shield. That could happen, though it seems unlikely to result in Strowman cashing in – a title match is more likely to be set for Hell in a Cell and, in any case, having The Shield around to back Reigns up is too valuable an angle to drop after one week. If Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are doing anything else this evening, it might be a tag match with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre (Ziggler may also be owed an Intercontinental Championship rematch against Rollins at some point). Perhaps pivotal in this is that Baron Corbin is in sole charge of Raw after Kurt Angle was sent on temporary leave by Stephanie McMahon; it could be a rough night for babyfaces. Certainly expect Ronda Rousey to face consequences for putting an armbar on the boss again last Monday.

Another likely high-profile target for Corbin’s ire is Finn Balor, after last weekend in Brooklyn. The Revival have probably worked themselves into an inevitable rematch for the tag championships against The B-Team irrespective of having a sympathetic General Manager, though that could be formally set up here too. A split appears to be coming for Titus Worldwide – look for Apollo Crews and Dana Brooke to distance themselves from Titus O’Neil again this week. Further hype for Triple H vs The Undertaker in Australia in a few weeks time should also drip through on most Mondays between now and then. Finally, your all-important weekly update: Bayley and Sasha Banks are currently still friends (and they’re probably still wrestling The Riott Squad).

Spotlight: The red side of WWE’s main roster got an awful lot done in heavily concentrated doses last week in Brooklyn. All the short matches on the main SummerSlam card were from the Raw brand, efficiently booked to reboot Finn Balor as the dynamic, exciting threat everyone knows he can be, put the Women’s Championship onto the company’s most marketable asset and reclaim the Universal Championship (and its holder) as a feature of weekly programming without a large-scale riot. The following night continued the momentum, reaffirming Balor as a contender, reigniting Ronda Rousey’s successful everywoman contrast to Stephanie McMahon and keeping the Universal Championship intrigue rolling.

It’d be churlish not to have respect and admiration for how WWE have managed to dig themselves out of a hole with the Universal Championship, seemingly without having put down the shovel that first got them into it. That’s the kind of chutzpah that made Vince McMahon’s company the biggest pro wrestling enterprise in the world. Leveraging the SummerSlam crowd’s appetite for a Braun Strowman cash-in to pull the audience through a main event they otherwise would’ve rejected from the outset, only to complete the planned coronation of Roman Reigns and quickly close up the broadcast – leaving Strowman’s title ambitions something to tune in next time for – was a masterpiece of presentation.

However, with the prospect of sending the new Universal Champion back out into the Barclays Center the following night for another televised show, it was clear one swerve would never be enough. Hence having Reigns skip any real talk of his success in his opening promo on Raw and immediately pivot to giving Balor a popular title shot, the goodwill (or at least, lack of badwill) of which could be sustained through the entire show until it was time for Strowman to show up again; notice how he was out to hype the cash-in before Reigns pinned Balor – which, had it happened in a vacuum, probably wouldn’t have gone over well the live crowd. And then we have to talk about The Shield.

It’s pretty much a matter of objective record that the most universally popular version of Roman Reigns is the version which has Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at his side. This worked to the advantage of Reigns when he completed his Grand Slam of WWE titles late last year by taking the Intercontinental Championship from The Miz, a transition that was assisted by his brothers-in-arms being present to neutralize interference. Was this a lesson that informed WWE how best to handle Reigns as Universal Champion? Speculating further, might WWE have gone ahead with the Reigns coronation at WrestleMania if Ambrose had been fit to play this role?

It does seem that this new story’s dynamic – the three Shield brothers facing off against someone who’s been portrayed as an unstoppable force of nature over the past year – would’ve worked equally as well with Brock Lesnar in Braun Strowman’s place. It’s also mutually beneficial; The Shield look like the badasses they are for taking down Strowman, while Strowman himself looks like even more of a monster the longer he’s able to resist the trio. It’s a strong main event angle going forward. On alignments? Unlike some current issues over on SmackDown (more on that in a moment), I think questions of virtue and sympathy take a back seat here; sometimes you just want to see some awesome guys throw down. Long live the Universal Champion – and his friends.

SmackDown Live (Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON)

Announced: Charlotte Flair (c) vs Carmella for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs The Colóns vs The Bar.

What to expect: I’d love to think somebody at WWE read this column a couple of weeks ago, where I suggested SmackDown Live could just run a tag team tournament during every pay-per-view cycle – as that’s exactly what we have here. The winners of tonight’s three-way will face the winners of another match, next week, to determine the opponents for new five-time champs The New Day. Congrats to Primo and Epico for getting a rare television outing, but it probably won’t be them. Meanwhile, the chances of Becky Lynch showing up to disrupt Charlotte Flair’s Women’s Championship match are high, but the outcome of it – not to mention the reception Lynch and Flair each get in Toronto (see below) – could be interesting.

Samoa Joe continues to push the buttons of WWE Champion AJ Styles; expect to see Styles losing his cool this week, after Joe sneak attacked him and talked trash about his family again. Like that feud, Randy Orton vs Jeff Hardy is getting more intense and extreme – look for one or either to be confirmed for Hell in a Cell, possibly inside the structure, this week. Already set for the pay-per-view is a mixed tag match featuring Daniel Bryan, Brie Bella, The Miz and Maryse; expect babies, family and questions-about-who-wears-the-trousers to be themes of the build. Finally, will Aiden English turn on Rusev and Lana? I mean, obviously he’s going to at some point, but will it be this week?

Spotlight: WWE’s fictional world has always had a peculiar relationship with the concept of natural justice. Take the introduction of expensive personal possessions, for example; they’ve generally been bought legitimately, with the owners’ hard-earned money, but they tend to be owned by heels – and are then destroyed by babyfaces, who we are invited to applaud as righteous. Presumably this is because being well-off is bad and spending your money on expensive material things is worthy of derision. This message comes from a company which sells replica championship belts on its online store with an entry point at around $400 for the more relevant titles and, at the more exclusive end of the market, rising to the thick end of $2,000.

I’m getting off subject; this isn’t a rally and, if you’re sitting up in the nosebleeds at WrestleMania next year, note I’m not claiming WWE condones you wandering down to the floor and pissing on someone’s commemorative chair (seriously, don’t do that). What did, however, feel like a rally was Becky Lynch’s promo last Tuesday, where the problem of WWE’s perception of natural justice reared its head once again. Lynch’s work on the mic was faultless – some of the best she’s done, in fact – but all the material did was reaffirm her position as the one deserving of sympathy and support.

Comparisons with CM Punk sitting on the stage in Las Vegas in 2011 are lazy – different performer, different context – but again we’re seeing how, when the antagonist’s ‘twisted’ view of the world actually resonates more deeply with what the majority of fans, events can accelerate away from the narrative. In summary, the majority not only agree with Lynch but have realised they’re just as frustrated. Even the clear mark of a heel turn promo – blaming the fans for not having her back – seemed only to further jolt people out of complacency. Yeah, random guy standing next to me, what the hell’s wrong with us? Why haven’t we got #giveBeckyachance trending?

There are also some medium-term obstacles that are created by a deep heel turn for Lynch against Flair right now. The first is the long-expected Four Horsewomen vs Four Horsewomen angle, which the Wrestling Observer is reporting is now being tentatively planned for Survivor Series in November. The rest of Ronda Rousey’s MMA-drilled squad are making strides in developmental and should all be on the same page; serious internal squabbles in the WWE-made quartet would, in my view, devalue them as a viable unit at the wrong time. Another obstacle is the inevitable Rousey/Flair match, possibly as soon as WrestleMania; is Flair really staying babyface for that?

Back to the short-term though, and the question of whether WWE will ‘change course’. There’s a well-established train of thought that the company has become immune to specific, unplanned crowd reactions; the crowd was vocal, people are talking about it and so it would be an obvious step for SmackDown to double down on it again this Tuesday. That will frustrate many. However, if the heavier-handed attempts at crowd manipulation are kept in check, the best way to get crowds behind Becky Lynch longer-term might be to deliberately cultivate this sentiment for a while longer. Heaven knows people care more openly about her fate now than this time two weeks ago.

Also This Week

A quiet week on the undercard of WWE’s weekly in-ring shows. Nothing’s announced for 205 Live (Tuesday) at time of writing, though the Toronto crowd should give the post-SmackDown show a decent amount of love.

The main selling point of NXT (Wednesday) is a tag match pitting The Undisputed Era against the team of Ricochet and Pete Dunne. Look out for some tension between the latter pair, both now minor champions on the brand, following a backstage segment after the recent TakeOver.

Also on Wednesday night, immediately following NXT on the WWE Network, is the Mae Young Classic Bracketology show. It looks like just being the usual preview show of this sort that WWE occasionally wheels out, but if you’re excited about the second running of the all-women’s tournament starting next week it might be worth a look.

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. Are you optimistic about Baron Corbin in the role of lone authority figure on Raw?
  2. Who’s your pick to win this latest SmackDown Live tag team tournament?
  3. Which matches would you like to see take place inside the Cell at next month’s pay-per-view?

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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