Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Today’s column is set to launch Week Two of #GiveRawTagTeamsAChance, but given the state of Raw last week we might want to offer a prayer for every division on the show. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, December 3rd 2018.
Raw (Toyota Center, Houston TX)
Announced: Ronda Rousey and Natalya vs Nia Jax and Tamina.
What to expect: I’d like to say “expect it to be better than last week”, but I’m not holding my breath. Surely it at least can’t be any worse. Hopefully tonight’s segments will gel a bit better, but Raw’s storylines are still essentially on an unchanged path. The announcement during the past week that Elias vs Bobby Lashley and Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre have been added to the TLC card isn’t promising; we tried to get through Elias vs Lashley last Monday, while McIntyre was added to a handicap match opposite Balor at the insistence of Baron Corbin. The problem is that, while Braun Strowman is continuing to recover from elbow surgery, the story of Corbin’s unchecked power trip – and pride coming before a fall – is the only game in town. More of what we already saw between these men last week therefore looks highly probable.
At least Dean Ambrose should be in the arena this week, to pick up his bitter feud with Seth Rollins in person. The show really needs this program to simmer strongly right now. Some fireworks may be possible, along with the possibility of Ambrose getting cheap heat by talking about the inoculations he needed for coming to Houston. The announced tag match will tease Ronda Rousey mixing things up with Nia Jax, but you could probably flip a coin as to which of their partners will be taking the loss. Alexa Bliss now ‘overseeing’ the women’s division will likely result in a tag match between some of her friends (probably Mickie James and Alicia Fox) and Bayley and Sasha Banks. Finally, do I have to talk about the tag division? Ugh. Okay, fine. Bobby Roode had his robe pissed on by Drake Maverick, so he’ll be unhappy and there’ll probably be another tag titles match set up. Also, Lucha House Party will probably win another match under their special ‘Lucha House Rules’ (which up until now we’ve known as ‘a handicap match’).
Spotlight: And so it came to pass that the match for the Raw Tag Team Championships ended by way of urine-related shenanigans. In last Monday’s Week In Preview, with a heavy heart, I said: “AOP really shouldn’t lose the titles this soon after winning them. Sadly the biggest guarantee here is more lavatorial humor, so I’m going for ‘AOP retains after Drake Maverick causes a distraction by deliberately peeing himself’.” I was pretty close. At least AOP are still champions, I suppose, although that’s something of a double-edged sword given the suspicion that their run in a featured role may now be inextricably tied to the length of Vince McMahon’s list of pee jokes.
— Drake Maverick (@WWEMaverick) November 27, 2018
To address the humor first, I realize it’s not designed for me. I appreciate WWE has to aim at a wide demographic on Raw and, amazing as some may find it, there is a (mostly juvenile) audience that laps this sort of stuff up. A quick glance at Maverick’s Twitter mentions shows the demand. Incidentally, Drake Maverick continues to sell this like an absolute saint, responding with flame towards those who ridiculed him after Survivor Series before switching to accusations of hypocrisy towards those who were bemoaning the angle last week (even though in all likelihood those two groups of people have always been mutually exclusive).
Really, I have two specific problems with the humor. First is that it’s just poor content; the lowest common denominator, when ‘low’ would’ve been sufficient. It’s possible to do base humor that also shows imagination and some layers of subtlety. Witness the new series of Edge and Christian’s WWE Network show that premiered after last week’s Raw, which included a skit where Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson posed as scientists (a throwback to their brief ‘ball doctors’ gimmick on Raw a couple of years back that was genuinely more amusing than the current A-O-Pee-Pee angle) promoting ‘Thunder Plugs’ suppositories – and Gallows corpsing terribly at having to deliver the line “they go right in your ass”. Yeah, that got a laugh out of me. I’m a child. Also, it was funny.
My second problem is an issue of place and time. Edge and Christian’s show, with Bray Wyatt flipping off midwives and what have you, is squirreled away on the WWE Network where the hit rate for this sort of comedy doesn’t matter as much. As noted, Maverick is doing everything he can with his role on Twitter, where rebooting the #GloriousBomb meme from Bobby Roode’s NXT run more easily finds its niche audience on its natural platform. Raw is, by the wide nature of its exposure, too often avoids niche or alternative humor and by far the worst type of base humor is conservative base humor. What’s more of a handicap is injecting this into the very top of a struggling division.
When Gallows and Anderson ran their ‘ball doctors’ gimmick in 2016, not only did it offer more amusement, but it was being delivered by no-hope challengers to champions The New Day (who everyone and their dog knew by that stage were on the path to breaking Demolition’s record title reign). Here, with The Revival scratching around and everyone else in filler roles, AOP are Raw’s best hope for kick-starting a competitive tag division – and they’re hamstrung as a duo by all their agency being exercised through a pissing manager. It makes The New Day’s successful emergence as a booty-obsessed future Hall of Fame team built on niche humor look like even more of a divine miracle.
SmackDown Live (Frank Erwin Center, Austin TX)
Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing.
What to expect: Let’s neatly split this into matches that have been announced for TLC and matches that haven’t. On the confirmed side, we have AJ Styles vs Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, where both men have given strong promos in the past two weeks, but haven’t come face-to-face since Bryan won the title. That will surely change here. Then we have two potentially excellent three-ways, with Asuka likely to be interjected into the rivalry between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair this week to add a new dimension, while The Bar – with Big Show now no longer beside them (reportedly to be given time to rehab a hamstring injury) – will have to cope with both The New Day and The Usos. Both challengers have won non-title matches in the last two weeks; might they face off with each other this week?
The feuds that haven’t as yet resulted in matches announced for TLC are headed up by Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio; expect the announcement this week of a Chairs Match between them. While Mysterio will be gunning for revenge after being left laying by Orton a couple of times now, Rusev will likely be looking for an opportunity to get his match with Shinsuke Nakamura which was aborted before it began last week. That’ll likely now be for Nakamura’s United States Championship. Finally, last week’s strong angle between Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe did a great job making us care about Hardy while giving Joe ample time to be an awful human being. Expect continued barbs over Jeff’s legacy this week, as this sort of personal aspect tends to be the specialism of Joe’s feuds on SmackDown this year.
Spotlight: The upcoming SmackDown Women’s Championship match at TLC is looking for all the world like a pivotal moment in WWE’s preparations for WrestleMania, likely dictating the short term futures of the women’s divisions on both brands. To recap: Ronda Rousey is the Raw Women’s Champion and the focus of the red brand. Assuming she survives the current challenge of Nia Jax – which seems inevitable – her only possible marquee feuds for WrestleMania are currently on the blue brand; Charlotte Flair, who beat her down at Survivor Series, and SmackDown’s current champion Becky Lynch, who set that beating in motion. The choice of Rousey’s big-name opponent will surely come down to one of those two.
Who it’ll be is likely to hinge, in the first instance, upon who leaves TLC empty-handed in just under two weeks. As we’ve seen in the last month, WWE isn’t adverse to doing big title switches on television when plans need to change, but this looks like it’s the purpose-built opportunity to start everyone down their respective paths. What makes the stakes higher here is that whichever out of Lynch and Flair are not destined to go up against Rousey on the grandest stage, the other will be absolutely undroppable from whatever the SmackDown Women’s Championship match will be. And their best prospect of a marquee opponent? TLC’s conspicuous third wheel, Asuka.
The assumption is that Rousey vs Lynch is the money match, but is that a dangerous assumption? The program, resurrected and continued last Tuesday, between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair should be considered a massive success due to how it has raised both women’s profiles. Recent developments are interesting though. Flair’s disqualification and savage beatdown of Rousey appears to have been less a change in alignment and more the sharpening of her character to present a more defined edge, mirroring where Lynch has found the most recent success. Both now have issues with Rousey. Both were popular in doing it. Both have been put over as ruthless warriors. But there’s one key difference between them which could be awkward for Lynch.
The difference, shown in last week’s promo segment, is that Charlotte Flair’s character is still doing ‘the right thing’. She beat down Rousey because Lynch picked her to do so; she did her job as asked and perfectly to order. Lynch’s character, meanwhile, is awkwardly mired in revisionist history and bullshit; she picked Charlotte but didn’t think her worthy, she hugged her but still hates her. Out of the two, Flair’s motivations currently look clearer and her foundations seem firmer. The two women are being portayed as equals, with around two months to go until decision time at the Royal Rumble. In these circumstances, could there be anyone among WWE’s powerbrokers secretly expecting what they consider the ‘natural order’ – Flair on top – to be restored?
If the options for Rousey’s WrestleMania opponent (possibly in the main event) are being kept open in this way, looking at the fate of the SmackDown Women’s Championship in April points to another possible obstacle for Becky Lynch’s hopes. If Lynch faces Rousey, the best title match left available for the blue brand would be Flair vs Asuka – which WWE already did earlier this year in New Orleans. In a vacuum, booking Rousey vs Flair and Lynch vs Asuka would make a lot of sense. It remains to be seen whether this is considered, but the result at TLC could give us a guide. A win and first main roster title for Asuka would certainly keep all possibilities on the table.
Also This Week
We’re nearing the end of this season of Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network), with the two knockout matches for SmackDown happening this week. Out of those competing in Jeff Hardy & Charlotte Flair vs R-Truth & Carmella and The Miz & Asuka vs Jimmy Uso & Naomi, only the team of R-Truth and Carmella contains nobody already booked in a match at TLC (where the finals will take place). Might they end up facing Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox on the Kickoff? That’s probably a question for next week.
NXT (Wednesday) doesn’t have much firmly fixed, with a return to Full Sail University and appearance from champion Tommaso Ciampa. Meanwhile, this week’s two episodes of NXT UK (Wednesday) will include Flash Morgan Webster vs Jordan Devlin, Travis Banks vs Wolfgang and something from new Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley. On 205 Live (Wednesday, not live) it’ll be Brian Kendrick vs Drew Gulak, along with a Tornado Tag (not ‘Lucha House Rules’ apparently) between Lucha House Party and the team of TJP and Mike Kanellis.
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!
- Looking back, what was the thing you enjoyed most about last week’s Raw?
- What potential matches out of Orton/Mysterio, Nakamura/Rusev and Hardy/Joe would you be most interested to see added to the TLC card?
- What would be your ideal Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championship matches at WrestleMania in April?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.