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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Extreme Rules is this Sunday, so let’s get right to it. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 9th 2018.

Raw (TD Garden, Boston MA)

Announced: Baron Corbin & Elias vs Finn Balor & Bobby Roode has just been announced.

What to expect: The tag match announced this afternoon is, at least, a better use of the time of Finn Balor and Constable Baron Corbin than hurling playground insults at each other. More counselling session skits between Bayley and Sasha Banks are also as good as certain – last week Dr Shelby listed seven ‘tenets of friendship’ and, bad news, of those we’ve only seen ‘honesty’ so far. Also in the realms of strong possibility is a tag match between Nia Jax & Natalya and Alexa Bliss & Mickie James. In Raw’s main event scene, expect Roman Reigns to focus solely on Bobby Lashley (might the two come to blows in this, the go-home show?) and largely leave Seth Rollins to deal with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre on his own once again.

Elsewhere Kevin Owens may suffer further comic mistreatment at the hands of Braun Strowman, although what that story needs more than anything is the announcement of a match for Extreme Rules. Bray Wyatt missed last week’s Raw after being injured in a car accident – hopefully he’ll be back tonight; if there’s any doubt he’ll be fit to wrestle The B-Team on Sunday, a change in direction might be signposted here. In other possible plot points, Mojo Rawley may or may not finally get around to wrestling No Way Jose instead of hating on his conga line, while the Authors of Pain may or may not be on television again after appearing to burn through their feud with Titus Worldwide last week.

Spotlight: Brock Lesnar’s return to UFC was virtually confirmed on Saturday night as he showed up in Las Vegas, was called out by newly minted two-weight champion Daniel Cormier and got into the octagon for a staredown and the odd bit of handbags. John has covered all the key details here. The assumption – surely a safer one than WrestleMania this time – is that his loss of WWE’s Universal Championship is also now virtually confirmed for SummerSlam. The only question mark is over the identity of the man who’ll take it off him.

Roman Reigns vs Bobby Lashley at Extreme Rules this Sunday has unofficially been positioned as a number one contender’s match. It’s a program that’s shown up some interesting parallels between Reigns and Lashley, namely in how they’re best presented for an audience to engage with them. Inviting empathy has not really worked; several times in the case of Reigns, whose image of invulnerability and detachment has made it tough to believe anything’s more than a minor inconvenience for him, while the less said about Lashley’s interview regarding his sisters the better.

It seems both men are in their best light when they’re throwing arrogant shade at each other; few, tough words that they’re then prepared to back up with violence. I would struggle to care less about who’d win a match between Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley but, against my expectations, I’ve enjoyed the reasons we’ve been given for such a match needing to happen and the way both men have been cast. Bad attitudes aren’t necessarily what makes a character unlikeable (Steve Austin being the obvious standard), and Reigns and Lashley are looking the best they have in a while – and Lashley the best since he returned to WWE – thanks to embracing their inner asshole.

If this is a de facto number one contender’s match, one would always assume Reigns to be the frontrunner. With Lesnar on his way to UFC, though, pitching him against Lashley – especially a Lashley with this attitude and starting to find his stride – might be a tasty, MMA-themed option and would certainly be fresher than the alternative. I don’t know that I’d be optimistic about it happening though. The brightest glimmer of hope I can offer those who don’t want to see the coronation of Roman Reigns at SummerSlam comes in the looming shadow of a vehicle-flipping Monster with a magic briefcase. Surely the cash-in is coming.

SmackDown Live (SNHU Arena, Manchester NH)

Announced: A Lumberjack Match (technically ‘Lumberjill’ as it’ll be all women around the ring; blame WWE’s inconsistent naming policies) between Asuka and James Ellsworth.

(Note from Editor: Shortly after this was posted, WWE announced AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura on Smackdown this week.)

What to expect: I think we can make some pretty deep predictions for Asuka vs Ellsworth II; it won’t be complicated, Ellsworth won’t get in any offense worthy of the word, all the women’s roster except Carmella will target Ellsworth when he rolls outside while Carmella will target Asuka, Asuka will probably win. The main event scene of the go-home SmackDown will either focus on AJ Styles and a well-booked, clearly-heel Rusev or the Tag Team Championships feud between Team Hell No and The Bludgeon Brothers – last week’s show-closing staredown might be followed up with some sort of in-ring segment this week.

Shinsuke Nakamura, seemingly recovering well enough from his dog-bite injury to have his upcoming United States Championship match with Jeff Hardy made official, may return to live television this week to interact with Hardy. SAnitY might have found their first main roster program in The New Day after last week; we might have that confirmed here. R-Truth seemingly talked Tye Dillinger into a match with Samoa Joe on a WWE.com exclusive last week, Becky Lynch’s winning streak may continue, and The Miz is playing softball on Sunday so probably won’t be setting up anything for himself for Extreme Rules. Also, I can confirm that Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas still exists. You’re welcome.

Spotlight: You should know from the outset, dear reader, that spelling SAnitY with those capital letters is something that really grinds my gears. It’s obviously counter-intuitive and obviously aesthetically awkward. I do, however, admire the fact that WWE has so far stuck to it since the group’s elevation to the main roster; not everyone who graduates from NXT escapes the tinkering – a certain Iconic Duo, for example, who now have a name on SmackDown Live that I find even more irritating to spell. Is that two capitals in IIconic? Not to mention the effect on my spellchecker.

Anyway, my point is that the less tinkering that goes on with SAnitY, the better. Their entire concept works on a premise of being unusual and different, of having rough edges that shouldn’t be knocked off. If a team is going to embody the role of agents of chaos, which SAnitY very much does (and if you’re unfamiliar with them from NXT, stand by to hear Eric Young use that word – chaos – a lot in promos), it would erode their validity to gradually normalize them. So keeping the wacky name is good. Randomly wrecking pancake parties for no good reason, to set up feuds, is also good. They took a while to make their television debut since their official call-up, but we’re off on the right foot.

The idea of a program with The New Day is a good one. After taking a damp televised loss to the scratch trio of The Usos and Jeff Hardy two weeks ago, who seemed to be passing through on their way somewhere else, the idea of setting up camp inside another team’s head for a proper feud is a welcome one. So I hope this is where we’re going with SAnitY. Sure, they may well end up taking losses here too, but engaging another trio over time gives them a chance to show how they differ from guys like The New Day, how they can bend the rules and bring the random elements that will define them on the main roster. It’s the sort of introduction they should be getting.

Those who do know SAnitY’s work from NXT will know there’s one problem with the group on the main roster at the moment, which is ‘no Nikki Cross’. I’d advocate patience. NXT is giving its women’s division greater depth and backstory by the week and, before long, Cross won’t be needed to bolster their ranks – at which point I’d suggest we’ll see her join her stablemates on SmackDown. SAnitY are another team to follow The Shield, The Wyatt Family and The New Day themselves who have carved out a niche in riotous six-man tag matches. I’ll wager we’ll see a couple of good ones if this program gains roots this week – and perhaps Nikki Cross will arrive in time to tip the balance in favor of SAnitY in one of them.

Also This Week

We might’ve already reached this stage, but it’s becoming hard to argue against 205 Live (Tuesday) being essential viewing. If you’re yet to catch last week’s no-disqualification match between Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy then you really ought to – it was crazy. This week sees a Cruiserweight Championship match between Cedric Alexander and Hideo Itami and, with cruiserweight programs now seemingly divorced from the pay-per-view cycle (I’ll touch on that again in a moment), a title change is distinctly possible.

NXT (Wednesday), battling for column inches against the Tuesday night upstart, has an important rematch for the NXT Tag Team Championships between Moustache Mountain and The Undisputed Era. There’s also Adam Cole vs Danny Burch, Kairi Sane vs Vanessa Borne and a segment with Aleister Black.

Extreme Rules (PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are likely. Official matches at time of writing are:

  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Rusev
  • Roman Reigns vs Bobby Lashley
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs Team Hell No
  • Intercontinental Championship: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Seth Rollins (30-Minute Iron Man Match)
  • United States Championship: Jeff Hardy (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Nia Jax (Extreme Rules Match)
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Carmella (c) vs Asuka
  • Raw Tag Team Championships: Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt (c) vs The B-Team
  • Finn Balor vs Baron Corbin

What to expect: It seems I always start these pay-per-view sections negatively, but Extreme Rules continues WWE’s post-WrestleMania run of big shows with niggling problems. An indecisive start to the creative cycle on Raw stunted the appeal of some of the red half of this card; in the absence of a Universal Championship feud, the originally-planned six-man Extreme Rules match for the number one contendership may have been a rehash of the 2017 solution but it would’ve been fun. Its replacements (Reigns/Lashley, Balor/Corbin, probably Strowman/Owens) are looking solid, though not as spectacular.

Thank the heavens, then, for a guaranteed 30 minutes of Dolph Ziggler vs Seth Rollins. This feud is one of those rare treats where WWE books a program around two great athletes competing in a series of strong contests (as opposed to matches that play out and feel like 15-minute angles). It’ll obviously be fantastic. Ronda Rousey having ringside seats for Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax, especially given the stipulation, should massively improve a matchup we’d previously seen enough of, while the WWE Championship match is a little by-the-numbers but better for Rusev having been made to look strong going into it. So there’s some good stuff here. The tag team matches feel a little low-key though, considering how hot those divisions were around the turn of the year.

I also wonder if this show could benefit from embracing its name a little more. Yes, we’ve probably seen enough strap matches and things-on-a-pole matches to last a lifetime, but at time of writing the ‘extreme’ content stretches to one eponymous stipulation for Bliss vs Jax and that Iron Man. There are a lot of straight one-fall contests here. Is it not possible to slip in a modifier for more of the other matches, even if it’s only something like two-out-of-three falls? This seems particularly bizarre when we’re seeing two intergender Asuka vs James Ellsworth matches, Strowman tackling portaloos and that crazy Ali/Murphy cruiserweight match in the run-up; the build may end up being more extreme than the show. Also, given how light Raw was looking on marquee matches, surely this was a chance to get a Cruiserweight Championship match on the card?

Be sure to check in with John and the guys at the end of the week for the full TJRWrestling preview. The show should actually be pretty good across the board – large parts of it don’t feel a lot more important than weekly television though. Perhaps with those new multi-million dollar network contracts, it’s a feeling we may need to get used to.

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. Assuming it has to be one of the two, who out of Roman Reigns or Bobby Lashley would you prefer to see face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam?
  2. Will Shinsuke Nakamura win the United States Championship on Sunday?
  3. When do you think the next cruiserweight match on pay-per-view will be?

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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