Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 18th 2019.
My apologies, firstly, for missing the last few weeks – life gets in the way sometimes! It’s been a good moment to return to business though, with a cracking Elimination Chamber pay-per-view last night and another week on the Road to WrestleMania ahead.
Raw (Cajundome, Lafayette LA)
Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing, following last night’s pay-per-view.
What to expect: Fallout from Elimination Chamber will certainly include the next steps for Women’s Tag Team Champions Sasha Banks and Bayley (and possibly the first challengers), while on the men’s side The Revival are also newly-minted tag champs following last Monday’s Raw. Meanwhile the two biggest matches currently set for WrestleMania both appear to be playing out on Raw, though in each case they are currently proxy wars (which is fine, there’s still ages yet until April). Brock Lesnar is not booked to appear tonight, so it looks like another week of Seth Rollins (and Paul Heyman) carrying the Universal Championship program, while opposite Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch has made a lot of recent appearances for someone who’s been suspended. Charlotte Flair appearing again remains likely.
Expect to see the next chapter in Braun Strowman’s never-ending war against Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley following last night’s heavily-booked no-disqualification match. There will be new questions, though, over Lashley’s relationship with Lio Rush, and whether he’ll be going back after new Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor. Elsewhere, Raw’s a soup of characters waiting for direction, whether it’s half-out-the-door Dean Ambrose continuing his short program with weirdly-mute EC3, the other recent NXT call-ups doing relatively little, or whatever the future plans are for Elias or the soon-to-return Kevin Owens.
Spotlight: Sasha Banks and Bayley are the inaugural WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions and – slightly lackluster team name aside – all is right with the world. I read a fair amount of online commentary ahead of last night’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view that speculated it would make sense to have an ascendant heel team (such as Nia Jax and Tamina) claim the belts and have ‘The Boss N Hug Connection’ chase them into WrestleMania, but to me it never did. Banks and Bayley, who have been on the drift creatively arguably since the same pay-per-view last year, needed to claim this ‘first-ever’ accolade – because true or not, that’s inevitably how the company will package it – and move on already.
Taken in the view of WWE’s (short-termist) perception of its internal history, Banks and Bayley join ‘first-ever’ Raw Women’s Champion (lineage via the replacement of the Divas Championship) Charlotte Flair, and SmackDown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch. When you look at it like that – and think back to the Four Horsewomen curtain call at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn a few years ago – it would’ve been an act of creative self-harm not to write the history of the company’s women’s division this way. With Ronda Rousey rumored to be stepping away, and Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir taking tentative steps in NXT, which is the more bankable quartet?
I don’t have a fixed view about the proliferation of part-time performers on WrestleMania cards; at the main event level, it can potentially choke off opportunities – for all of Roman Reigns’ four consecutive main events before 2019, the only full-timer he’s wrestled has been Seth Rollins via Money in the Bank cash-in – but in the right place and with the right matchup, they can offer the sort of spectacle the show is meant to deliver. This is definitely one of those occasions, and giving Sasha Banks and Bayley a marquee title defense against Trish Stratus and Lita, or the Bella Twins (yes, even the Bellas) on the grand stage is essential. There’s Fastlane between now and then for a routine match with Jax and Tamina, should such a thing be desired.
What happens after April is less clear. How does WWE effectively book cross-brand women’s tag titles, when historically the problem has less been ‘not enough titles for the women to wrestle for’ than it has been ‘not enough time for the women to wrestle’? A suggestion I’ve seen rumored is a gradual transition to the entire women’s division becoming cross-brand, which I mention not because it’s impeccably sourced necessarily but because it’s a terrifyingly bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing hot Becky Lynch segments on Raw, but it’s a path to fewer women getting featured, not more. Whatever the strategy, I hope the weeks and months of limbo are over for the new tag champions and their inaugural reign will unfold with direction and purpose.
SmackDown Live (Smoothie King Center, New Orleans LA)
Announced: Nothing announced at the time of writing.
What to expect: Daniel Bryan survived the Elimination Chamber with his WWE Championship reign unbroken, but equal interest this Tuesday will be in the fallout from Kofi Kingston’s heroic performance. Perhaps a one-on-one program is in the offing? Other stories to come out of the Chamber may come into focus. I have a hunch that Randy Orton eliminating AJ Styles might soon pave the way for a WrestleMania program. We may also get an update on Mustafa Ali, who was pulled from the Elimination Chamber match due to a concussion.
A virtual guarantee for a segment is The Miz and Shane McMahon conducting a postmortem into losing their Tag Team Championships. Speculation is rife there might be a heel turn coming for one of the men to set up a WrestleMania feud. It’s hard to call what we’ll see in the women’s division this week; the new tag titles didn’t come to Tuesdays, while the blue brand’s top draws are fixated on Ronda Rousey, resident on Raw, or ‘indefinitely suspended’. A new challenger for Asuka, even for a routine television defense, would be welcome. We may also see a continuation of the program between Andrade and Rey Mysterio.
Spotlight: Out of nowhere, following an untimely concussion for Mustafa Ali, the past week has been a professional triumph for Kofi Kingston. A late substitution into last night’s Elimination Chamber bout for the WWE Championship, Kingston wrestled an hour of a Gauntlet Match last Tuesday, pinning Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe in the process, before going on to work a thrilling final sequence in the Chamber itself. It was a fresh, exciting and heartening performance, as the member of The New Day stepped up to fill a main event spot – something that’s never felt too great a task to put into the trio’s sextet of capable hands.
There are two significant stories coming out of this: Kofi Kingston’s restoration as a legitimate contender in singles competition and The New Day’s overdue diversification into other pursuits. To take the latter of those first, consistent quality notwithstanding, the past couple of years have exhausted the novelty of New Day as tag title holders or challengers (along with the freshness of matches against the company’s other pre-eminent teams, such as The Usos). Creative change-ups have mostly been limited to standalone comedy skits or ‘hosting’ duties. If what we’re seeing here is a tentative temporary transition from tag team to a form of stable, it’ll be a welcome variation.
Goodness knows things look bleak for the short-to-medium-term future of The Shield right now, so there’s arguably now a vacant role in WWE for a three-man unit who can combine achievements in singles and tag competition. There’s also no reason to split New Day up in order to achieve this; Big E and Xavier Woods supported Kingston flawlessly through this past week and both men are also well capable of standing out in solo competition. The concept of the trio being strong individually and even stronger together is a compelling and easy thing to portray – WWE has already done a third of the work required within one week.
The choice of Kofi Kingston as the man to step into the role is a good one. A veteran four-time Intercontinental Champion and three-time United States Champion, I appreciate how this hasn’t been made to feel like Kingston has ‘rediscovered his form’ or anything like that; the feeling I’ve come away with is that he is and always has been a threat as a singles guy, and that he’s just chosen to focus on another division for a while. I think that helps greatly when you only have a week to replace Mustafa Ali and need to get an audience to buy into it. And while it’s hard not to have sympathy for Ali, knowing he may have got this kind of boost himself had he been cleared to compete, hopefully this’ll be the start of new, good things for Kofi and The New Day.
Also This Week
NXT (Wednesday) sees a North American Championship match between current champ Johnny Gargano and Velveteen Dream, who won the ‘Worlds Collide’ tournament on Royal Rumble weekend that gave him a title shot of his choosing. There’s also the promise of Roderick Strong vs Aleister Black, so a couple of good-looking matches for this week.
NXT UK (Wednesday) features Toni Storm vs Rhea Ripley for Storm’s Women’s Championship, along with a tag match pitting Joe and Mark Coffey against Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster. Meanwhile, 205 Live (Tuesday) is likely to deal among other things with the fallout from Buddy Murphy’s successful Cruiserweight Championship defense at Elimination Chamber last night.
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!
- Where does last night’s WWE Championship match rank in your all-time favorite Chamber matches?
- With no Brock Lesnar booked for Raw again tonight, what should the short-term focus be for Seth Rollins?
- What should be next for Kofi Kingston and The New Day?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.