Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Randy Orton is a Grand Slam champion, Brock Lesnar’s showing up this week and AJ Styles is still on to face Shinsuke Nakamura one-on-one (thank God). Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 12th 2018.
Raw (Little Caesars Arena, Detroit MI)
Announced: Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns come face to face.
What to expect: From the point of view of the Lesnar/Reigns segment, it’s easier to say what not to expect. The angle WWE seem to be going for with Lesnar is as a mercenary who isn’t in the business to please the crowd. Be braced, therefore, for this segment to deliberately underdeliver, possibly with Lesnar walking away from a fight. Nothing else has been formally announced, but following last night’s SmackDown pay-per-view Fastlane – and Asuka’s defection to Tuesday nights – the issue of a WrestleMania opponent for Alexa Bliss is guaranteed to come up (which looks like Nia Jax, after that vintage Bliss segment last week). Ronda Rousey will be on the show again, perhaps facing a measure of vengeance from Stephanie McMahon and her husband this week.
Expect more details on the what/when/how regarding the ‘Ultimate Deletion’ between Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt (more on that in a moment). Sheamus & Cesaro are actively looking for WrestleMania challengers for the Tag Team Championships, possibly from outside the current division. Bayley definitely has the hump with Sasha Banks, which if anything may deepen this week. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor may struggle to co-exist in the race to prise the Intercontinental Championship away from The Miz. There’s a big questionmark over what Braun Strowman – who was originally speculated to be in the program – might be up to in New Orleans; it’ll be interesting to see if his WrestleMania plans are set in motion here. Speaking of which, finally, John Cena is also being advertised, so a big moment involving him may be in the offing tonight.
Spotlight: Just as the most patient of wills was set to break, finally Matt Hardy is taking Bray Wyatt to the Hardy Compound for some old-school Impact-style fun and games. Word on the street (well, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter technically) expects this segment to go down on an episode of Raw prior to WrestleMania rather than at WrestleMania itself. That probably figures. The thought of WWE putting out a pre-taped backyard-style video during its ‘Showcase of the Immortals’ would’ve been a breathtaking risk, but even this is a gamble; the flagship live show, at the height of the build to the year’s big event. Lest we forget WWE isn’t usually great at skits like this.
Even lest-er we forget that Bray Wyatt has found himself in the middle of all the bad ones. There was that time his Family faced The New Day, coincidentally (though probably not) only the week after Matt and Jeff fought their ‘Final Deletion’ match on Impact, then the projection of bugs onto the canvas in his WrestleMania match last year, then the House of Horrors. I’m still the only person I know who was willing to give the bugs thing a pass – what, people can have their extravagant ring entrances at WrestleMania but not try any extravagant match lighting? – but overall none of that has done Wyatt any favors. Now here he is, with the rest of his Family being repackaged or becoming cult heroes, really needing the rub from a bit of Broken Brilliance.
I accept this sounds dramatic, but the forthcoming ‘Ultimate Deletion’ match between Hardy and Wyatt could be life-and-death for the characters if not WWE careers of both men. While Braun Strowman has become one of the hottest properties in the company and Luke Harper and Erick Rowan head towards a likely tag championships match at WrestleMania, Bray Wyatt’s character has stagnated. A fresh jolt is needed, but another high-concept failure would be embarrassing. For Hardy meanwhile, this sort of segment is meant to be his wheelhouse; the reason he and his brother’s stock raised sufficiently, arguably, for WWE to bring them back into the fold. That reputation will be on the line here and we’ll see whether the strange chemistry will translate to WWE television.
It’s important to remember that a key part of what drew people in to the gimmick of matches at the Hardy Compound on Impact was the kitsch value. It was often-scarcely-believable actors playing scarcely-believable characters, falling around in lakes and shouting nonsense at each other, being filmed by drones and handheld cameras and backed by a generic rock soundtrack. To replicate the success of those segments, the production of this forthcoming instalment should be kept as far away as possible from anyone with high ingrained standards of turning out slick television content with a glossy, professional sheen. The problem here is that WWE, at the decision-making level certainly, is full of people like that. And so we have an impasse.
If the ‘Broken/Woken’ gimmick is to have a future, at least in WWE, this is the moment it needs to prove it – but it will require a massive leap of faith, a huge show of trust, from Vince McMahon. He and his most seasoned of lieutenants in the fields of production and creative may need to let go and place faith in Matt Hardy; not question the bizarre writing, not disapprove of the raw footage and not intervene unnecessarily in the edit. Not only is this kind of segment relatively alien to those who usually produce WWE television, but their only attempts at it so far have ended poorly. The futures of Matt and Jeff Hardy – and possibly Bray Wyatt too – lie in the balance. I can’t remember being more nervous for a Raw segment.
SmackDown Live (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN)
Announced: Nothing formally announced at the moment, with SmackDown just coming off the Fastlane pay-per-view last night.
What to expect: With apologies, I’m going to run at all these in a single paragraph because following last night’s show the setup for Tuesday is really, really simple. We finally have the path cleared for AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura to begin (a promo segment and mentions of mutual respect seems an obvious starting point). Asuka will turn up to further solidify her choice of Charlotte Flair as the Royal Rumble winner’s chosen opponent. Randy Orton is the new United States Champion, Bobby Roode will demand his rematch and Jinder Mahal will make it a three-way for WrestleMania. The same outcome will result from The Bludgeon Brothers wrecking The Usos and The New Day last night (drink if there’s any ‘medical updates’ on Xavier Woods). Finally, Daniel Bryan will be pissed off with Shane McMahon for screwing over Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in last night’s main event; so will Zayn and Owens themselves, who may also be pissed off with each other too.
Sorry for not stretching it out any further than that; if you watched Fastlane (and/or read John’s live report) you’ll know that SmackDown pretty much writes itself this week. Let’s get into some detail of the forthcoming Women’s Championship match…..
Spotlight: Last night the delays and narrative procrastination over Asuka’s choice of WrestleMania opponent finally paid off with what many had speculated was the logical outcome; waiting for Charlotte Flair to win her Women’s Championship match at Fastlane before coming out to indicate she was switching brands to set up a huge match in New Orleans next month. No matter what Michael Cole and his colleagues might’ve wanted you to feel on each of the 296 occasions Asuka’s wrestled Nia Jax in the past couple of months, Flair represents by far the biggest challenge for the Japanese star in her time in WWE so far.
This week will probably see Asuka move full-time to SmackDown Live and start settling into the roster, as well as starting the build opposite Flair towards WrestleMania. There’ll be a few interesting collateral effects. Becky Lynch and Naomi, defeated in a tag match last night, may find themselves shunted further down the order of precedent on the brand. Mixed Match Challenge will now almost certainly come down to a final of The Miz and Asuka (now technically an interbranded team) against Bobby Roode and Charlotte Flair for maximum effect. If I have a concern about the immediate future, it’s that the reasons for Asuka choosing to leave Raw to come to SmackDown will need to be addressed – and here there is a possibility for some weakness.
If Alexa Bliss is given promo time on Raw tonight, it would be an easy choice to disguise her relief at escaping an ass-kicking through the claim that Asuka didn’t fancy facing her. Yes, heels lie. But Asuka would need to be in a position to refute that and ideally articulate that she wanted to take on the bigger challenge. The issue is that cutting promos, bluntly, doesn’t suit her and that’s the most likely medium here. Pointing at the WrestleMania sign only says so much. NXT, where Asuka was framed especially well, usually ran her contractual and motivational business – any that couldn’t be handled by death-stares and punchbag assaults – through an authority figure in William Regal who was professional, undistracted and didn’t hog the limelight. SmackDown’s authority figures don’t offer that right now.
All this is really nitpicking though, because the matchup looks absolutely great and a sure thing for the big stage. Leaving aside the difficult discussion of Ronda Rousey – and where the trade-off between hard-earned combat sport fame and rookie status in pro wrestling might put her on the ladder in the women’s division – this is probably the biggest women’s singles match WWE could book. From that point of view, it’s a perect fit for WrestleMania and if we can’t get excited about it, whatever the build is like, the fault is probably ours. Also, let’s consider for a moment that the result of that match may be far from a foregone conclusion.
If the women of WWE are going to break what some might consider their final remaining barrier by working the main event of a WrestleMania, one could argue the only realistic possibility of it happening in this generation is for either of these two women to be built to face Rousey next year. A dominant Rousey against an unbeaten Asuka in 2019 has much going for it in principle, but assumes the feasibility of Asuka shutting out the entire SmackDown roster for the next year and Rousey carrying her own weight in telling a story. Charlotte Flair has the mic skills and heritage to compensate better for the latter, while it remains to be seen whether audiences would accept Rousey being the one to end Asuka’s streak. A win for Flair on April 8th could elevate her to a level of ‘home-grown’ notoriety any future WrestleMania opponent of Rousey would benefit greatly from. Don’t rule it out.
Also This Week
It’s the first semi-final of the Cruiserweight Championship tournament on 205 Live (Tuesday) with Roderick Strong vs Cedric Alexander. Remember that the winner will be on the WrestleMania card, in the finals of the tournament and the championship match. There’s also a decent chance they’ll be the betting favorite in that match. Expect a pretty great match here, quite possibly the best of the week.
NXT (Wednesday) has a United Kingdom Championship match between Adam Cole vs Pete Dunne, plus two matches in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (SAnitY vs Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss and The Street Profits vs Heavy Machinery). Finally, the rare treat of a pre-announced Dakota Kai match, against Lacey Evans.
The last match of the quarterfinals in Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch, Thursday WWE Network) is Rusev & Lana vs Bobby Roode & Charlotte Flair. Surely Roode and Flair there, especially if my above notes on the latter’s feud with Asuka are to be borne out.
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!
- Charlotte Flair vs Asuka. Excited?
- The Ultimate Deletion. Nervous?
- Reigns facing Lesnar tonight. Bothered either way?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.