Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview – what there is of the week, plus some other bits – for World Wrestling Entertainment, December 24th 2018.

Given that this week’s episodes of both Raw and SmackDown have already been taped, we’ve already covered the results from those tapings here at TJRWrestling and much of WWE’s target audience in the Western Hemisphere will be on holiday, there’s limited use in a traditional preview for most of this week. As such, let’s run through some brief notes on Raw, SmackDown and everything else before a quick look ahead at a few thoughts on 2019.

Raw (Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA)

Announced: Ronda Rousey (c) vs Natalya for the Raw Women’s Championship, Bobby Roode & Chad Gable (c) vs The Revival for the Raw Tag Team Championships, Seth Rollins vs Baron Corbin, Finn Balor vs Dolph Ziggler vs Drew McIntyre, Elias vs Bobby Lashley in a ‘Miracle on 34th Street Fight’ and Paul Heyman will also appear.

General Thoughts: John covered full spoilers for this episode of Raw last week on the site, so rather than the usual speculation on what might happen (which is slightly pointless) I’ll just add some notes on the above announced segments.

A couple of championship matches set up by people winning recent contender matches is always a good basic booking plan, as it gives the challengers credibility that’s fresh in the memory. Normalizing routine Ronda Rousey championship matches and proper competition in the tag division are noble goals too. Seth Rollins vs Baron Corbin seems ready-made to send people home happy at Christmas, though what Corbin’s immediate future on WWE programming will look like is hard to see. The three-way between Balor, Ziggler and McIntyre makes sense given the past couple of weeks. If you’ve ever watched WWE in December before, you’ll already know what to expect from the Christmas-themed street fight between Elias and Bobby Lashley. Finally, expect Paul Heyman to address Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship match against Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble in January.

SmackDown Live (Save Mart Center, Fresno CA)

Announced: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Rusev for the United States Championship, Jeff Hardy vs Samoa Joe and The Miz will welcome Shane McMahon as a guest on Miz TV.

General Thoughts: As with Raw, you can read John’s report on SmackDown spoilers for the full run-down of what to expect. Again, I’ll leave most of the details to that article, if you’ve no problem getting spoiled.

It’s interesting that the presumed climaxes of the two programs running on the SmackDown undercard that didn’t get the nod for TLC – Nakamura/Rusev over the United States Title and Hardy/Joe – are rolled out here in the graveyard slot on Christmas Day. Without giving anything away (there’s a link above for that, after all) both programs could very conceivably continue, although how many short-term plans have changed due to last week’s upheaval remain to be seen. The other announced segment for this week’s SmackDown – Shane McMahon on Miz TV – is in a similar state of flux; whatever the booking plan was behind Shane winning the ‘World Cup’ tournament in Saudi Arabia, the new authority figure story may have changed things. At the same time, the storyline of The Miz sucking up to Shane is clearly continuing as before. Any progress here on clarifying what this story’s about would be welcome.

Also This Week

NXT (Wednesday) features Undisputed Era defending their Tag Team Championships against Heavy Machinery – which, even if you’ve managed to stay away from NXT taping spoilers, has probably lost what tension it had due to last week’s announcement that Heavy Machinery are main roster-bound. The fresh twist this week is supplied by a number one contender’s match for the NXT Women’s Championship between Bianca Belair, Mia Yim, Lacey Evans and Io Shirai.

The Women’s Championship in NXT UK (Wednesday) will be defended by Rhea Ripley against Deonna Purrazzo in the main announced match for this week’s double-header of episodes. Meanwhile, 205 Live (Wednesday) is a ‘best of’ compilation show – which effectively means this week it’s not live, twice over.

Spotlight on 2019

Just briefly, a few thoughts from the Week In Preview on what 2019 might hold for us.

WWE’s ‘new era’ angle on the main roster: We noted here last week that the primary purpose of promoting Vince McMahon in advance for Raw was to arrest the slide in ratings for Monday nights. To a large extent, the announcement he made – that both Raw and SmackDown would feature as many McMahons as possible, all the time – is a continuation of that plan, though the apparent response to recent negative critical reaction to Raw also bears looking at separately.

Yes, some of the changes we’ve seen so far might be dismissed as cosmetic window-dressing, the sort of tinkering that could be put down to one of Vince’s whims – such as suddenly deciding rematch clauses are out of fashion. Some of the changes (e.g. “you are The Authority”) might be dismissed as empty marketing talk. There will, however, be an expectation on WWE to deliver meaningful short-to-medium-term change and the decision to subvert the on-screen power structure and rules of engagement on both main roster shows (when SmackDown, as we saw at TLC, hasn’t been having anything like the same problems as Raw) does at least suggest the company believes it has a new recipe for success.

 

There is a suspicion that a major driver of last week’s changes are intended to set up WrestleMania season; major story arcs involving the McMahons, moving the likes of Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch on to new angles by the Royal Rumble without having to tie up loose ends – WWE breathing fresh life into its programming in time for January happens to a greater or lesser extent most years, though this time the change of gears has been packaged and branded.

So asides from dropping a few dud angles (such as Drake Maverick peeing and Lucha House Rules) and confirming a batch of NXT call-ups most of which aren’t exactly huge surprises (Lars Sullivan was already announced, Nikki Cross is overdue and EC3 seemed imminent), is there anything that we can look forward to? Well, it’s easy to set up and promote championship matches in advance – as for this week – when you’re shooting two episodes on the same night, but a little bit of forward planning (and booking matches people want to see) on a regular basis can’t hurt. That and listening a little closer to what fans do and don’t want to see would be a good start. We’ll find out how deep the changes go in January, and possibly again following WrestleMania in April.

SmackDown’s move to Fox: We already know the biggest change coming to WWE’s weekly programming in 2019 though, and that’s SmackDown Live moving to Fridays due to a brand new five-year television contract with Fox in the USA, starting on October 4th. On their own, the concepts of being broadcast live and going out at the end of the week obviously aren’t alien to SmackDown, but the combination creates a new schedule for the company and those who work for it. Bigger changes, more visible to the viewer, also loom.

Fox reportedly has a certain amount of editorial interest in SmackDown’s content when the shift takes place, rumored to range from a more sports-oriented presentation style to interest in having particular talent appear on the show. How WWE will strike a balance between accommodating the network’s requests – given the money and profile opportunities the deal is giving them – and sticking to the McMahon instincts for ‘sports entertainment’ and Raw being the company’s flagship show will be interesting to see. Though the switch isn’t happening until late in the coming year, changes could start to become apparent sooner. The promised fresh start for WWE programming, as mentioned above, could result in a new tone being set for the blue brand that’ll carry through to the Fox era, while a Superstar Shake-up after WrestleMania could place some of the on-screen talent where it needs to be for October.

Make no mistake, SmackDown’s switch to Fridays on Fox will have a big impact on WWE programming and is one of the biggest things to look out for in 2019.

Further evolution of the women’s division: 2018 has been a banner year for WWE’s women’s division. Compared with most previous years this might sound like faint praise, while the company’s Saudi Arabia shows left a bad taste in the mouth for many, but when taken on their own terms the women of WWE have moved forward. At the start of the year, talk of making history at the Royal Rumble and closing the show was dismissed as lip service by some cynics; that they wouldn’t have been in that spot if Ronda Rousey wasn’t turning up. Now, at the end of the year, the SmackDown women are main-eventing TLC due to universal recognition that they’re the hottest angle in the company – not because of WWE’s token branding of a moment. Evolution was probably the best pay-per-view of the year. And yeah, it turns out Rousey’s a pretty great pro wrestler too.

Right now, 2019 looks like being the year when WWE’s women achieve something many (including myself) thought would be above the company’s glass ceiling, at least under the current regime: WrestleMania main events. It has required talent to combine with fate; Ronda Rousey was always going to be one part of the equation, but had Becky Lynch not caught fire in her program with Charlotte Flair – and had Roman Reigns been defending the Universal Championship against a huge name – the chances of women closing WWE’s biggest show of the year would not be as high as they are right now.

If that comes to pass, where does the women’s division aim next? A second all-women’s pay-per-view seems certain, while the reaction of other women in the company to the trail blazed by Lynch will be interesting to see. A 2019 renaissance for Raw’s Sasha Banks and Bayley is essential, but they’re unlikely to be the only ones who’ll be waiting to grab any opportunity with both hands. The women’s division in 2019 will be more competitive than ever.

Roman Reigns: Finally, I’d like to end this year of the Week In Preview with best wishes to Roman Reigns and his family, as he continues to fight leukemia in what we all hope – in difference to our past appreciation of him as a pro wrestler – will be a routine, predictable and uneventful Reigns victory.

Asides from the obvious point that Reigns deserves whatever privacy he needs while he deals with this, the uncomfortable truth is that even if we knew the details (which we don’t) nobody can be sure exactly how these things will play out and what the future holds. That should come into focus during 2019 though and, if every WWE fan had one wish for the coming year, it’ll be that we see Roman Reigns back in a ring by the end of it. Happy Christmas and the best of luck Roman. We all look forward to seeing you again soon.

I’ll be back on January 7th with more burning questions to answer and the first Week In Preview of 2019. Until then, I wish you the happiest of holidays and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.