Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Hey, have you heard the new EP from Elias yet? No, me neither. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 23rd 2018.
Raw (U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati OH)
Announced: Roman Reigns vs Bobby Lashley to determine Brock Lesnar’s SummerSlam opponent. The B-Team defend the Raw Tag Team Championships against Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt. Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre has been made a late addition today. Stephanie McMahon will be making ‘a historic announcement’.
What to expect: Let’s deal with these announced segments first, because there’s some weight to them. I’m not sure why Roman Reigns vs Bobby Lashley at Extreme Rules couldn’t have been the number one contender’s match, but here we are. A repeat of Lashley winning clean seems unlikely; Reigns or even some kind of schmoz to set up a three-way at SummerSlam seems more possible. The B-Team feel like transitional champions for the tag titles; I’m nervously betting on a low-key retention here. Finally, we covered the likely content of Stephanie McMahon’s announcement here on Friday; an additional curiosity is whether, with Steph present, there’ll be any interaction with previous nemesis Ronda Rousey, but I’d guess not given Rousey has to serve out the final week of her storyline suspension before getting her match with Alexa Bliss.
Elsewhere there are a lot of loose ends on Raw after last week, some of which may start to get organised into SummerSlam feuds this week. Finn Balor, Drew McIntyre, Seth Rollins and Elias – who now has an EP, which you can guarantee will feature heavily in promos tonight – all came up short in qualifying matches last week and need new action. For McIntyre that’ll be in a match against Balor, while his associate Dolph Ziggler will likely need a new Intercontinental Championship challenger. Could that end up being Balor too? Sasha Banks and Bayley are continuing to work through their troubles after a (very strange) tag match last Monday. Mojo Rawley may be goading Bobby Roode into a match somewhen. Kevin Owens might also be back after his big bump at Extreme Rules; Braun Strowman may be waiting for him.
Spotlight: If you’ve followed the link above or were already across developments from before the weekend then you’ll know John Canton’s take on the likely nature of tonight’s announcement – an all-women pay-per-view, likely scheduled in October. It’s very hard, perhaps impossible, to call against that; it lines up perfectly with the recent chatter and comes with the hallmarks of all recent women’s division announcements, the words ‘Stephanie McMahon’ and ‘historic’. So for the purposes of this week’s preview, let’s assume it’s a racing certainty.
How do we feel about that? If this does indeed come to pass, comment will inevitably include a reflection on April’s Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia and its exclusion of female performers. There’ll be some who will note, with some justification, that an all-female pay-per-view doesn’t make up for WWE leaving its Women’s Revolution at home in the pursuit of coin; not only that, but two wrongs don’t make a right in terms of the company working towards performers having equal profiles on shared platforms. But the reality of the company, at the moment, is that its Women’s Revolution has stalled a bit and another kick-start would probably help more than it hurts.
Take Raw’s current storylines as an example. As we’ve noted here before, the program between Bayley and Sasha Banks has taken far too long to properly get going, strapped for development time while it was outside of the championship picture. The counselling segments these last few weeks haven’t connected, partly because it takes certain character types and performers to make that kind of thing work but also because the audience has steadily been forgetting why they invested in either woman.
Look also at Ember Moon’s loss to Sarah Logan last week; what does it mean in the context of The Riott Squad’s effectiveness or Moon’s viability as a top star? There’s very little narrative that links five-minute matches each week; yes, there may be an occasional backstage segment too, but it only accomplishes things in isolation. It reminds us that these characters exist in a shared universe, it reminds us who they are each week, what their theme music is and their finisher (assuming it isn’t a roll-up or disqualification), their strengths, weaknesses and attitudes. It doesn’t show where they’re going.
A designated pay-per-view, even if it’s three months off and not built on the soundest of premises, is at least a start. Had it always been signposted that Bayley and Banks were bound for SummerSlam, as now seems likely, would we on the internet have relaxed a little and accepted there was an end goal in sight, even if the week-to-week content was underwhelming? Possibly. If nothing else, an all-women pay-per-view would certainly reveal the full extent of the drawing power of Ronda Rousey who, being given the full Steve Austin treatment on television right now, is currently the hottest asset on Raw – male or female.
SmackDown Live (Ford Center, Evansville IN)
Announced: Carmella vs Becky Lynch (non-title); Lynch gets a Women’s Championship shot at SummerSlam if she wins. Paige will announce the number one contender to WWE Champion AJ Styles for SummerSlam. A tournament to name new number one contenders to the tag championships will begin.
What to expect: Again, as with Raw, let’s look at those announced items first. Becky Lynch’s recent winning run has clearly been in the cause of lining her up for the next SmackDown Women’s Championship shot; one has to assume she wins this match to set up one of SmackDown’s major title matches for SummerSlam. As for the other, possible marquee opponents for AJ Styles – given this is one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year – are thin on the ground. Samoa Joe looks like the popular bet. The announced tag team tournament will feature The New Day, SAnitY, The Usos and The Bar; no indication at time of writing which two will face each other this week (although it will likely just be the one match this Tuesday as the announcement noted a three-week timeframe).
Randy Orton doubled down on targeting Jeff Hardy last week; we may find out answers about Orton’s motivations this week (or at least the questions may be put to him). United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura looks like he’s out of the woods now with regards Hardy’s challenge though. It also looks as though The Miz and Daniel Bryan will have their long-awaited singles match at SummerSlam; watch out for a possible announcement on that. Other threads to pick up may include the hinted trouble between Aiden English and Rusev (more on that in a moment) and hopefully more work for Andrade Almas, who had a very good showing in a non-title match with Styles last Tuesday.
Spotlight: I’m trying to make up my mind on whether I’m for or against splitting up Rusev and Aiden English. This breakup angle has come back onto the creative radar since Extreme Rules, where English inadvertently cost Rusev his WWE Championship match with AJ Styles by exposing a turnbuckle that later factored into the finish. English’s apology to Rusev, offered via Lana on last week’s episode of SmackDown, suggested some continuity with a backstage segment from the show on May 1st, where Lana suggested to her husband that he was being ‘held back’. A split may be back on.
When the idea was first teased, on balance I was against it; the whole Rusev Day act was just into its stride and had been getting progressively more popular with audiences; there was a sense that cutting its legs out from under it wouldn’t serve the interests of anybody involved as opposed to harnessing that popularity to make those people organically feel like a bigger deal. In fact (and happily) this latter path was the outcome. Rusev’s relevance and charisma, nurtured through a run of being an identifiable on-screen character, helped his success as a strong heel challenger to the WWE Championship (even if it was only for one cycle).
I’m wavering now. With that chance now passed, perhaps the gimmick has served its purpose? The ‘Rusev Day’ concept, while always being something that’ll make me smile, has been thoroughly wrung out and is well entrenched with the audience. There’s nothing further that can be added to it and, if we’re honest, English’s sung introductions may start to grate (if they haven’t already). Coming off a strong athletic performance and being a legitimate threat to the show’s top champion is a good jumping off point for Rusev to pocket what’s left of the Rusev Day love and move on to something new.
It would also neatly return us to a state where Rusev was previously at his most valuable; Rusev Prime if you will. Rusev with only Lana at his side, as the Bulgarian who models himself as the Super Athlete and is presented as a legitimate contender for championships. This was arguably where he was at his strongest, shortly after his arrival on the main roster and during that first monster push. Now he’s better-established, having shown greater range as a performer and gained more admirers among casual WWE fans. It’s been good that the Rusev Day gimmick has run long enough to allow him to rehabilitate his character, but perhaps now is the chance to cash in.
A final note on Lana’s Russian accent, which has occasionally wobbled in the past but last week appeared to crumble almost completely. It has always seemed an odd decision to persevere with the accent when WWE goes out of its way to draw attention to behind-the-curtain truths via Total Divas (her real accent, ironically, being one of the most truthful elements of that show). Idea for a storyline explanation for last week’s aberration: Lana’s gradually gaining an American accent due to working in the States for such a prolonged period. You can have that one for free, WWE.
Also This Week
Huge match on NXT (Wednesday) this week, with Aleister Black and Tommaso Ciampa facing off for the NXT Championship. The yellow brand’s annual TakeOver in Brooklyn is now fast approaching and it’s fair to say this episode will be a pivotal one in the build towards that show.
205 Live (Tuesday) has TJP vs Mustafa Ali vs Hideo Itami vs Drew Gulak, the winner getting a shot at Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander. Might that eventual match happen at SummerSlam? Tony Nese vs Kalisto has also been planned for this Tuesday.
Finally, Elias has a ‘Live from Bourbon Street’ special on the WWE Network after Raw tonight. Don’t wrinkle your nose at it; you know we’ll all be tuning in…..
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!
- Do you hope Stephanie McMahon’s announcement tonight is an all-female pay-per-view, or would you be wishing for something else?
- Who should be Dolph Ziggler’s opponent for SummerSlam?
- Which of the four tag teams in SmackDown Live’s number one contenders tournament would you like to see face The Bludgeon Brothers at SummerSlam?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.