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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Last week saw the naming of a several number one contenders; this week sees a couple of big returns as we continue to build towards SummerSlam. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 30th 2018.

Raw (American Airlines Arena, Miami FL)

Announced: Seth Rollins vs Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor vs Baron Corbin. Brock Lesnar is back tonight, as is Ronda Rousey following the end of her storyline suspension.

What to expect: The Universal Champion returns to Raw and will probably run into a confrontation with Roman Reigns. The intrigue will be around how this is packaged to make the crowd hungry for Reigns dethroning Lesnar. What Bobby Lashley does assuming he’s disappearing from the picture is an interesting side note. Ronda Rousey will presumably go straight for Alexa Bliss upon her return, possibly with Mickie James and Natalya playing supporting roles. The two announced matches are reworked versions of programs we’ve already seen, but hopefully should make for passable matchups. Dolph Ziggler will factor into Rollins vs McIntyre of course, though with Balor vs Corbin the plan is less clear.

Other good bets for segments or matches this week would include Braun Strowman vs Jinder Mahal, to which Kevin Owens might end up attached. Another rematch for the Tag Team Championships for Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt again The B-Team looks on the cards for SummerSlam, which may be confirmed here. The Authors of Pain vs Titus Worldwide also looks to be happening again at some point, though that may be a lot sooner. Mojo Rawley and Bobby Roode are currently right at the bottom of the potential undercard for SummerSlam, so expect their feud to get a nod tonight. Finally, if you’re still keeping score on the Bayley and Sasha Banks program, they’re friends again and back on the same page. I smell a turn coming.

Spotlight: You’ll have to excuse me for having little to say about most of Raw’s matches for SummerSlam. We’ve already discussed the Intercontinental Championship feud between Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler in this column and, honestly, figured we’d be done with it after their Iron Man contest at Extreme Rules. There isn’t a lot more to say about it. For Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns you can multiply that by a hundred. The program between Alexa Bliss and Ronda Rousey is a little more interesting, but basically boils down to ‘how do you tell a story that avoids Alexa wrecking Ronda on promos before Ronda wrecks Alexa in the ring’.

Let’s instead talk about one of the smaller (ha ha) programs on the roster at the moment, in which we’re seeing how Finn Balor measures up (ha ha) against Constable Baron Corbin. For those who enjoyed the Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass feud earlier this year on SmackDown Live and either a) need their little vs large fix on Monday nights or b) miss Big Cass from weekly WWE programming, your prayers have been answered. I don’t think I know anybody who falls into either category. WWE’s big man/small man programs tend to descend into childishness pretty easily and, while it’s hardly anything to get upset about, it’s rarely something that makes for compelling programming.

So, like Finn, we’ve had to grin and bear the kid’s playhouse gags to get to the matches, which might end up being the saving grace. Their match at Extreme Rules was inoffensive; it would’ve struggled to be a lot more within its eight-minute running time, but it was perfectly fine and left enough on the table with a flash pinfall finish to make revisiting the matchup a fair option. Corbin is a far more athletic big man than, for example, Kane, who Balor did not have a productive time with in a couple of meetings towards the end of 2017. There should be a decent match that can play out between these two, once the size jokes are put aside for a night.

Perhaps tonight is the night. What I’d like to see, rather than Balor outsmarting Corbin for another straightforward win, is for Baron Corbin to find an underhand advantage and then absolutely smoke the Irishman. Whether it’s a second End Of Days after the end of the match, or a post-match beatdown or even a disqualification finish, this feud would benefit from gaining a serious edge. The thing about the timing of this rematch, happening as it is mid-cycle with a few weeks until SummerSlam, is that it needs to set up a major direction if the plan is to pay it off in Brooklyn.

If that is indeed the plan, a more dominant, oppressive Corbin may be required to set up Balor in a legitimate underdog story that doesn’t rely on jokes about disparity of stature. On a side note, one of the (unintended?) consequences of Balor’s recent run of being there or thereabouts on the card, having a ‘club’ without really having a ‘club’, wearing the rainbow gear at WrestleMania and then not in Saudi Arabia – essentially just having a steady run – is that we’re starting to forget about the Demon. That’s exactly as it should be. Perhaps he might be brought out of the locker at SummerSlam?

SmackDown Live (Amalie Arena, Tampa FL)

Announced: The Usos vs The Bar in the other half of the number one contenders’ tournament for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Zelina Vega vs Lana has also been announced earlier today.

What to expect: Could see this being a promo-heavy episode of SmackDown this week, though there’d be much to like if that was the case. There are two new number one contenders for the top men’s and women’s titles, in Samoa Joe and Becky Lynch, both of whom staked their claim through actions last Tuesday. A Joe promo on AJ Styles and their shared history would be a strong starting point this week, while Becky Lynch is naturally likeable in promos and will be a welcome foil for Women’s Champion Carmella. The Miz and Daniel Bryan, though already a promo-heavy feud so far, has such a deep reserve of content to mine that there’s no good reason not to have both men talk again.

But there’ll need to be matches along the line somewhere. And there are! Sheamus and Cesaro are back in action after some time away from our screens; their match with Jimmy and Jey Uso should be a strong one. Expect The New Day to be in attendance, ringside or in front of a screen backstage, watching. The Zelina Vega vs Lana match is a carry-over from last week’s match between Andrade Almas and Rusev; it’ll mainly exist to further that program or just further the angle of Aiden English screwing things up for Rusev and Lana. Finally, Randy Orton cut a great heel promo last week, but Jeff Hardy should be back for revenge imminently – and we still aren’t clear which of the two (could even be neither, or both) will be challenging United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura next.

Spotlight: Last Tuesday it was made official that we’ll be getting AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe at SummerSlam for the WWE Championship. It’s another of those statements that would’ve sounded like crazy talk for the world’s biggest pro wrestling company five years ago, in the same bracket as ‘the women bag themselves an exclusive pay-per-view because they’ve done virtually everything else except close out a WrestleMania’. You never can tell though; what would’ve seemed unlikely five years ago or way back in 2005 – when the two were having five-star matches in TNA – has come to pass. That’s the industry, I guess.

2005, just to remind you, was four years after Vince McMahon had snaffled the ailing WCW. The unlikely hadn’t always proven to be impossible in WWE in the early noughties, and in retrospect it’s fascinating to see how some of SmackDown Live’s top names in 2018 – when by common consensus the roster is at its most loaded for many years – originally managed to slip through the fingers of one of the most reliable talent operations the company’s ever had. Daniel Bryan, in arguably the blue brand’s next-highest-profile singles match at SummerSlam, was like Styles and Joe attached to the company around the end of the Attitude Era only to not make his mark.

Like Bryan, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe went on to make their mark on the independent scene, particularly in Ring of Honor, but it was Total Nonstop Action Wrestling – with its television deal – where Styles and Joe started to become known to a wider audience. It’s reassuring to know, now, that top talent does indeed make it to the pinnacle of the industry eventually, but you’d have been forgiven at the time for pessimism; sure, some WWE talent would go to TNA and eventually return, but ‘TNA guys’ didn’t go the other way and WWE conspicuously, religiously painted the company out of their picture of the world of wrestling – a stance which has only begun to soften very recently.

This is where the concerns (yes, sorry, as usual I have concerns) start for this 2018 program. If you thought WWE’s writers were being a little vague about the past history between Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura ahead of their ‘dream match’ earlier this year, you’ve likely seen nothing yet. Another reason to be wary is the disappointment of the Styles-Nakamura feud as a whole, compared to what the men involved had done together earlier in their careers. This program is in the same spot on the card, likely with the same creative team. Is there a risk it could also underdeliver?

I think everything hinges on the company’s faith in Samoa Joe. His promo work is outstanding and unique, which will drive the build to SummerSlam – and possibly beyond – amply. But if, like Nakamura, WWE can’t bring itself to put its top championship title on him even for a couple of months, the chances of another series of matches where Styles is only partially tested, rinse and repeat, look ominous. I hope I’m wrong, though when I look beyond Joe I see The Miz and newly-heel Randy Orton lining up as more likely candidates to dethrone the champion eventually. The match at SummerSlam won’t be bad, but can it be great?

Also This Week

Not a lot announced for the in-ring shows on the WWE Network this week. 205 Live (Tuesday) isn’t currently promoting anything ahead of time; a rematch between Akira Tozawa vs Lio Rush looks the most likely possibility based on in-universe social media chatter since last week.

NXT (Wednesday) has announced only EC3 vs ‘The Finest’ Kona Reeves. Here in the UK, ‘Finest’ is probably embedded in most people’s cultural consciousness as the label of premium store-brand groceries from supermarket giant Tesco. This is probably why Kona Reeves reminds me of lasagne. I don’t much care for lasagne either.

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. What would have to happen on Raw tonight to make you more interested in seeing Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns at SummerSlam?
  2. Who are you picking out of The Usos and The Bar to win this Tuesday?
  3. Do you have any dream matches you’d like to see booked for the upcoming all-women Evolution pay-per-view?

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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