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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Fastlane is now out of the way and we’re fully, properly on the Road to WrestleMania. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 11th 2019.

Raw (PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA)

Announced: Finn Balor (c) vs Bobby Lashley for the Intercontinental Championship. A face-to-face confrontation between Triple H and Batista. The Shield will give a ‘farewell address’.

What to expect: Whether this ‘farewell address’ by The Shield will go down exactly as advertised is the first question and, let’s be honest, that’s not something you should usually expect from WWE programming. An angle of some sort seems likely; Brock Lesnar is expected to be back next Monday in Chicago, so what happens is less likely to be related to Seth Rollins’ upcoming Universal Championship match than it is to establishing the WrestleMania plans of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose or – quite possibly – both. The confrontation between Triple H and Batista might get physical but (as I’ll come on to below) is likely to more promo time first. Elsewhere, now the Triple Threat for the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania has been confirmed, Charlotte Flair showing up to confront Ronda Rousey over what happened last night (and Rousey going ‘off-script’ again) seems likely.

In the announced Intercontinental Championship match the likelihood seems to be that Finn Balor will retain, clearing the decks for whatever the plans are for the title on WrestleMania weekend. The Revival are still Tag Team Champions, but given Aleister Black and Ricochet ended their post-match scrap last night standing tall, there may be unfinished business there. New challengers may emerge for the women’s tag champs, Bayley and Sasha Banks, while there’s a good chance of Beth Phoenix showing up to continue the surprise angle with Nia Jax and Tamina from last night. Elsewhere on Raw, Heavy Machinery and Lacey Evans may continue to tread water, Elias, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin may find some sort of new purpose and we’ll all wonder what happened to Mojo Rawley after he cut all those promos in front of a mirror about a month ago.

Spotlight: Since his last WWE match, Dave Bautista has appeared in two Guardians of the Galaxy films, a James Bond movie, a sequel to Blade Runner and the fourth-highest-grossing film in cinema history (Avengers: Infinity War). Some of those roles have been smaller than others, but it terms of visibility it’s pretty impressive and arguably puts him closer to a Dwayne Johnson than a John Cena. You’d therefore think WWE will be falling over itself on Raw tonight to formalize what will presumably be the retirement match he’s previously talked about in interviews, so the company can get on with promoting it as a huge deal. The vehicle for this is a ‘face-to-face’ confrontation with Triple H, following Batista’s attack on Ric Flair two weeks ago. Will we only get words, or will we get action too?

The optimist in me thinks both men need to come to blows, but how practical that’ll be remains to be seen; there’s no chance of Big Dave sitting out in a Batista Bomb if he’s favoring the tight jeans, while Hunter (who turns 50 in July) is four months into a rehab period for a torn pectoral muscle that was initially speculated to be anything up to six months. Why take any big risks now? I’m therefore expecting a bit more talking yet. Promo-heavy story progression now seems to be a hallmark of Triple H feuds and, though Mike Sanchez made a very good case in favor of The Game here on the site last week, ‘heavy’ is an appropriate word; a standard Triple H promo comes with so many repeated and rephrased lines it can sometimes feel like wading through treacle. Saying more with fewer words is, regrettably, not one of his gifts.

Last week’s promo was one of his best though, mixing intensity with personal themes and some more nimble rebukes, but even here he needed to take a couple of stabs at many of the points he was looking to hit. There’s an irony in Triple H facing a man who’s now probably more famous to the world at large as a movie actor than a wrestler, as what Hunter often does with these promos (whether it’s deliberate, given his deeper knowledge of production since his career branched out into backstage roles, or not) is offer a number of alternative ‘takes’. Keep an eye out for the video package when we get to WrestleMania to see how the lines which scan the best get cherry-picked for inclusion. It’s a style that’s great for for telling a story in two edited minutes, but once it’s in your head it can test the patience watching live. He can ramble a bit. There, I said it.

Fortunately, he can also wrestle a bit too, because the level of ring rust Batista may have after nearly five years away from competing is a matter for some speculation. That Batista keeps himself in great shape isn’t in any doubt, but how much the time demands of being a full-time actor have allowed him to prepare to step back into a ring is unclear. On his last return in 2014, he entered the Royal Rumble at number 28, had a few television angles and a short singles match at Elimination Chamber before the big WrestleMania match. Here, he has four weeks, not all of which I expect to require him to exert himself physically. I’m definitely up for seeing Triple H vs Batista one more time at WrestleMania – I’m a fan of both men – but before then I’m hoping the lingering ghost of The Game’s turgid program with The Undertaker last year doesn’t come back to haunt us.

SmackDown Live (Nutter Center, Dayton OH)

Announced: The Hardy Boyz, Ricochet & Aleister Black vs The Bar, Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura. Samoa Joe (c) vs R-Truth for the United States Championship. Shane McMahon will explain his attack on The Miz at Fastlane.

What to expect: SmackDown this week should be providing two explanations from members of the McMahon family, not just one from Shane (who you’d imagine will get jumped by Miz, who’ll be out for payback). We’re four weeks away from WrestleMania and the WWE Championship match hasn’t been announced; this needs to change this week and, for that, we need to find out why Vince McMahon has been trolling Kofi Kingston – and for Kingston to overcome it and get his title shot against Daniel Bryan confirmed pretty quickly. I briefly mentioned the Raw Women’s Championship picture above; how much the continuing issues between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair will feature on SmackDown from here on out – if at all – remains to be seen. For the SmackDown Women’s Championship, Asuka retained last night and needs to find a WrestleMania challenger. We may get an idea who that will be here. Expect strained discussions between Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville too, after the latter’s faux pas with the ring apron at Fastlane.

Something we should certainly see is Randy Orton and AJ Styles setting up their now-certain WrestleMania match (Styles being on the receiving end of an RKO here seems a good bet). Like with the Intercontinental Championship on Raw, I think the United States Champion Samoa Joe retaining his title here will be the odds-on favorite in the betting; given both Joe and R-Truth have been dropping John Cena references over the past couple of weeks, Joe vs Cena looks like being the eventual destination next month. The big announced eight-man tag match may give a read into the likely challengers to tag champions The Usos at WrestleMania (my money remains on Matt and Jeff Hardy for that spot). Finally, Rey Mysterio vs Andrade was pulled out of the pre-show last night to bolster the main card as part of a championship match, so will we see Mysterio/Andrade here instead? Might that get set up for WrestleMania too?

Spotlight: If you watch professional wrestling – certainly if you watch any given promotion – for any significant amount of time, a decent amount of what happens tends to become predictable. WWE is certainly no exception. A champion attacking both participants in a number one contender’s match, hoping to avoid defending their title against anyone, will soon find themselves in a three-way. If two people interrupt a show-opening promo, a fourth will likely come out to set up your tag team main event. And if a tag team of strange bedfellows spends a suspicious amount of time talking about how great it is that they’re together, betrayal isn’t far away. This predictability isn’t necessarily bad, nor does it leave no room for twists – and such was the case with The Miz and Shane McMahon last night.

Here at the Week In Preview, my notes (since before Royal Rumble) on the probability of Miz and Shane’s drawn-out courtship – this all stems from the ‘World Cup’ tournament at Crown Jewel in November – ending in tears have been drops in the ocean of similar speculation across TJRWrestling.net and, to be honest, pretty much all online wrestling comment. That doesn’t lessen the value of last night’s implosion; it’s refreshing, given the other upheavals with the main roster and its storylines that have happened in the meantime, to see a long-term story arc play out apparently as planned. It’s also refreshing that it was Shane McMahon who turned on The Miz, subverting what’s probably the majority view on natural character alignments, and adding the vicious edge of going after Miz’s dad who was sat at ringside for good measure.

There’s a lot to like about what this twist does for both characters as well as admire the dovetailing of execution and opportunity, with the fact that Fastlane took place in Miz’s hometown of Cleveland giving Shane’s turn extra organic heat. Having Shane McMahon win a tournament to be crowned ‘best in the world’ was a stretch of the imagination, pairing him with The Miz as a believable team was also a stretch, having them win the SmackDown Tag Team Championships may not have felt entirely necessary – but credit where it’s due, WWE have played this hand very well. Again, casting Shane as a ruthless heel and Miz as a sympathetic babyface (both seemingly against type) might under the wrong circumstances test the boundaries of believability, but here I think it works due to the patience with which the story’s been allowed to unfold.

It’s also good to see characters evolve and be given fresh life. Though Shane McMahon has been perennially popular with audiences in his role, his relative ambivalence to controlling the environment around him has been in stark contrast to the other members of the McMahon family, when his father’s arbitrarily shooting down Kofi Kingston and suspending Becky Lynch, his sister’s getting into heated arguments with the top of the women’s division on Raw and his brother-in-law is calling out Batista. This might have been long overdue for Shane. Miz, meanwhile, has been on a gradual journey of self-discovery, gradually finding more humanity within himself through becoming a parent (soon-to-be-twice) and starting to dabble in moves off the top rope. Shane as a corporate asshole and Miz as an enlightened ‘new man’ is something I didn’t know I was looking forward to seeing quite this much.

Also This Week

NXT (Wednesday) has announced Io Shirai vs Bianca Belair to decide who faces Shayna Baszler at NXT TakeOver on WrestleMania weekend. Look out for us also getting the semifinals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, with The Forgotten Sons vs Moustache Mountain and #DIY vs Aleister Black and Ricochet.

There’s more tournament semifinals on 205 Live (Tuesday) to determine Buddy Murphy’s Cruiserweight Championship contender at WrestleMania. Those matches are Tony Nese vs Drew Gulak and Cedric Alexander vs Oney Lorcan. Meanwhile, NXT UK (Wednesday) features a main event of Pete Dunne & WALTER vs Joe & Mark Coffey.

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. How do you think The Shield’s ‘farewell address’ tonight will go down?
  2. Who should face Asuka for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania?
  3. What was your favorite match of the night at Fastlane?

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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