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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 16th 2018.

Slightly shorter notes this week, given both brands are coming off the Extreme Rules pay-per-view last night – read John’s live report if you’re yet to do so – and a lot of this week will be about setting up the next cycle. Five weeks of television separate us from SummerSlam on August 19th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Raw (KeyBank Center, Buffalo NY)

Announced: At Extreme Rules, General Manager Kurt Angle announced Brock Lesnar could come to Raw, agree his next Universal Championship match or get stripped of the title, implying at least one of those three things will happen tonight.

What to expect: Lesnar isn’t being advertised for tonight’s show, so I’d imagine it’ll be the second of the above. The question of who faces him at SummerSlam should be addressed tonight, but is likely to be open to dispute. Expect Bobby Lashley to claim victory over Roman Reigns puts him in the driving seat. Expect Reigns to claim he’s still owed another shot. Braun Strowman could also tease cashing in his briefcase. Might Seth Rollins, who may now have finished with the Intercontinental Championship, also be injected into the frame? If so, a new program for Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre may be in the offing.

We’re technically only 28 days into Ronda Rousey’s storyline 30-day suspension so, although the SummerSlam program looks like being Rousey, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss for the Women’s Championship, expect to only see it talked about tonight. A mandatory rematch for Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt against new tag champions The B-Team is on the cards, a medical update on Kevin Owens after his massive bump off the cage last night is a good bet, a continuation of the Finn Balor/Baron Corbin feud seems likely after Balor’s no-finishers-used win at Extreme Rules and don’t forget that Bayley and Sasha Banks are still in therapy.

Spotlight: The 30-minute Iron Man contest between Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler at Extreme Rules last night was, probably along with its co-main event for the WWE Championship, the best match on the show. Last week I was quite optimistic about the Extreme Rules card looking solid, if not spectacular and the later parts of the show were the only points where it threatened to break free of the ‘solid’. I briefly wrote about both men’s trajectories a few weeks ago; rather than go back over that ground, I thought instead I’d share some of my thoughts on last night’s match and, in an effort to make it fit a ‘preview’ theme, note what consequences we might expect to come from it or what we should learn for the future.

Firstly, I was interested to see the match go on last. Once again, Raw didn’t have a Universal Championship match on a pay-per-view (although it’s probably the last time that’ll happen for a while), but considering it was booked to end with a heel victory off a distraction when the clear alternative as a show-closer was that WWE Championship match – a highly popular champion in AJ Styles beating foreign heel Rusev in a competitive, well-planned match – it surprised me a little bit. I’d probably have backed Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley to go on last over this match, too. Minimum length considerations may have played a role in it being quantitatively insurmountable as the show’s climax, but otherwise all of this call should be seen as a confidence vote in the abilities and recent performances of Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler.

I think once that decision was made (and this being WWE, I recognize it may only have been taken at around 5pm Sunday), the decision not to make this Iron Man the full 60 minutes does look like a missed opportunity in retrospect. I can understand WWE being cautious about hour-long matches without the cumulative star power of several top men rather than just two fixtures of the upper-midcard, but although the 30-minute countdown did have a sense of theatre (which it would’ve had even without the crowd turning it into a Royal Rumble-style hook) it may have provided the ‘spectacular’ the show was missing. However with two matches already on the Kickoff show and the United States Championship match going less than ten seconds, that would sadly never have been an option.

Given it was going only 30 minutes, I thought fitting in eight falls – nine if we include overtime, which we may as well given the finish was pretty much instant – was a bit overzealous, particularly given neither man could muster one on Raw in the same amount of time a couple of weeks previously. Don’t get me wrong, they came with a good amount of logic – Rollins’ early fall is only a flash pin, McIntyre’s attack accounts for a disqualification fall and Rollins becomes vulnerable to Ziggler’s follow-ups – but it could’ve achieved the same with a 4-3 scoreline at most. It’s certainly enough pinfalls to bring what has been a very good program to a close; I don’t think there’s appetite or need to see anything further here. Ziggler can proceed as an Intercontinental Champion with an Iron Man win and main event under his belt, while perhaps Rollins may force his way into the Universal Championship picture by next month?

SmackDown Live (Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre PA)

Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing.

What to expect: Not a huge amount to say about SmackDown, following Extreme Rules. This cycle could be a relatively hard reboot for the blue brand, with senior champions AJ Styles and Carmella seeming to close the book on their respective programs. New challengers (Samoa Joe? Becky Lynch?) may emerge this week. The same could also be said of The Bludgeon Brothers, while the question of what’s next for Daniel Bryan – more Team Hell No with Kane or that long-awaited feud with The Miz – is also a key point for this Tuesday.

Randy Orton is back and looks to have turned heel. A contractual rematch for Jeff Hardy against Shinsuke Nakamura is a possibility, but Orton seems to have violently inserted himself into that picture. Is the play Orton vs Nakamura in a heel vs heel program, Orton vs Hardy and something else for Nakamura, or a three-way feud? Speaking of the power of three, SAnitY may have beaten The New Day in their tables match at Extreme Rules, but a rematch with standard rules seems a good bet. Also on last night’s Kickoff show, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas beat Sin Cara once again and seems pretty ready to move on now, if we’re honest.

Spotlight: Surefire future WWE Hall of Famer Randal Keith Orton returned to the spotlight at Extreme Rules, following a two-month absence while he recovered from minor knee surgery. The last time we saw him, he was losing a United States Championship match to Jeff Hardy at Backlash. Last night, he belatedly took out what must’ve been doggedly lingering storyline frustrations by coming to the ring after Hardy’s swift title loss to Shinsuke Nakamura, stamping on the former champion’s balls as he lay prone on the mat and then leaving. Nakamura, who had gone back to the well with a low-blow of his own to set up his victory, was left looking on from ringside, having seen his plumstriking exploits upstaged.

A United States Championship scene based around the fundamentals of Nakamura as a charismatic but nefarious champion and WWE veterans Hardy and Orton chasing him is a strong premise indeed, if that’s where we’re headed. It makes quite a lot of sense in the circumstances – one would think AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe and The Miz vs Daniel Bryan (assuming the latter is now done with the Team Hell No reunion with Kane) are the best bets for SmackDown’s other top feuds on the men’s side of the roster heading into SummerSlam. It also not only plays into Orton’s last program before his absence, but also a few televised matches from late 2017 where he worked with Nakamura as an opponent and partner. The wrinkle of Orton’s apparent heel turn does, however, make things a little more interesting here with how things will play out.

According to some recent reports, Jeff Hardy has been suffering a few niggling injuries of his own of late and plenty of speculation went round Twitter following last night’s match that this was a way to getting him off the road for a bit to recoup. If that turns out to be the case, will the stage be left to Orton and Nakamura to turn against each other in a battle of competitive neutering? It would be an odd heel vs heel program. Looking at the SmackDown roster, it isn’t that clear where else Nakamura’s serious babyface challengers are going to come from – Bryan currently seems to have other priorities (as essential a future program as that otherwise is), Styles is WWE Champion and The New Day are back to wrestling as a trio. Who else is there? You’d have to assume Hardy will be hanging in there for the short term, however beat up he is, especially given how hard Orton has turned.

Count me as one, probably many and based on his previous comments Orton being among them, who thinks Randy has done his better work over the years as a heel. The whole face/heel terminology in pro wrestling isn’t always straightforward to apply – consider the term ‘tweener’ and the reactions Roman Reigns and John Cena have previously received – and with Orton this is often true, vicious as a character trait and (as the song says) consistently at the mercy of ‘voices’ inside his head. Often it’s only been his good-guy traits of photogenic poses and a ridiculously over finishing move that has designated his alignment, but there should be no doubt here. There was no ghosting in with an RKO out of nowhere, no climbing the turnbuckles for the fans. It looks as though a full-fat evil Randy Orton is back – which is great news.

Also This Week

The second annual Mae Young Classic is just around the corner and this week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday) has two women’s matches announced in the more regular action from Full Sail University. A number one contender’s match between Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross, Candice LeRae and Bianca Belair will decide Shayna Baszler’s next opponent for the NXT Women’s Championship, while meanwhile Dakota Kai will face Lacey Evans.

205 Live (Tuesday) sees Akira Tozawa vs Lio Rush and also a rematch between the recently-returned Noam Dar and TJP. Dar is also now the number one contender for the United Kingdom Championship so, with the NXT UK brand starting tapings this month, it’ll be interesting to see what his role is on 205 Live in the foreseeable future.

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 face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam?
  2. Would you be interested in seeing a heel vs heel program between Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura?
  3. What other matches would you like to see announced for SummerSlam?

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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