Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Three weeks to go until WrestleMania, Raw comes from Chicago and Brock Lesnar returns to television again. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 18th 2019.

Raw (Allstate Arena, Chicago IL)

Announced: Ronda Rousey vs Dana Brooke for the Raw Women’s Championship. Seth Rollins vs Drew McIntyre. Finn Balor and a partner in a tag match against Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush. Kurt Angle will announce his ‘farewell match’ opponent for WrestleMania. Brock Lesnar’s back.

What to expect: Universal Champion Brock Lesnar appearing is, as we’ve come to expect, pretty rare, so having him interact in some way with Seth Rollins to sell their WrestleMania match looks like a given. Whether that’ll happen independently of the announced Rollins vs Drew McIntyre match is a point to consider; that match already has a strong chance of being interrupted by Roman Reigns and/or Dean Ambrose, both of whom were put down by McIntyre last week. Did you miss The Shield? The announced Ronda Rousey vs Dana Brooke title match is…. Well, Rousey’s winning, obviously, unless we’re doing an unlikely four-way at WrestleMania. The question is around whether we’ll see any more of Rousey’s ‘bad attitude’ outside of the match itself (and as always, whether Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch will show up).

My prediction last week that Finn Balor looked a safe bet to retain the Intercontinental Championship was, obviously, terrible, so you won’t get any pointers from me as to who his mystery tag partner might be here. Hopefully we’ll get an idea of what’s next for Balor though. We should definitely get an idea of what’s next for Kurt Angle (more on my thoughts on that in a moment). Expect Triple H to cut another angry promo on Batista; Big Dave doesn’t look to be expected to appear tonight. Beth Phoenix, however, should appear and should continue her and Natalya’s feud with Nia Jax and Tamina; some idea of whether that also fits into the WrestleMania plans of Bayley and Sasha Banks would be welcome here. Plans for the men’s tag champs, The Revival, also look to be crystallizing around a multi-team match, with Gable & Roode and Black & Ricochet the challenging teams. Elsewhere, expect Lacey Evans, Braun Strowman and Elias to compete for the award of ‘most pointless segment of the night’. Again.

Spotlight: Last week’s announcement by Kurt Angle that he’d be ending his in-ring career with a ‘farewell match’ at WrestleMania didn’t come as too great a surprise, but was sad to hear nonetheless. Angle, to be as kind as possible, hasn’t looked near his phenomenal athletic peak at the age of 50 and the decision to go out on the big stage before time makes it harder still to keep up appearances is one to be respected – and celebrated. Despite time catching up with the Olympian, the booking of Angle over the last few months has often seemed to go against the WWE standard for their legends where, whatever their physical condition, an air of invulnerability has always been retained. For Angle, that was brutally shattered by Drew McIntyre back in November and, ever since, the question of when he’d be able to start enjoying retirement came to the forefront. Thoughts now turn to his choice of final opponent, though sadly this too feels like it could end things with a whimper rather than a bang.

The question of who Angle’s opponent at WrestleMania will be is an interesting one, as a lot of the presumed dream matches or old familiars are out of the picture due to other plans – and in any case, the way he’s been presented in the past few months presents a credibility problem for putting him against any top-tier opponent. If Daniel Bryan had nothing better to do, if Samoa Joe needed a challenger for the United States Championship, if Drew McIntyre weren’t heading for a collision with Roman Reigns; does 2019 Kurt Angle, on evidence, belong in the ring with these men? It’s sad because a year-unspecific Angle easily belongs in that sort of company, and in contrast to other WrestleMania retirement matches for all-time greats (and I believe Angle to be one), this looks like having a low-key feel.

If an illustration was necessary, the current best guess for Angle’s opponent is Baron Corbin, presumably to provide closure to their previous authority figure storyline with a quick squash victory for Angle. It’s logical and, if we’re being honest, a 7hr+ event really doesn’t need a 50-year-old Kurt Angle wrestling a singles match for 20 minutes. However, I’m still regretful that I haven’t been able – or haven’t been invited – to suspend my disbelief about what he can and can’t do at this stage of his career, just for a few months longer and at least to carry him into one last marquee match. I hold out hope that John Cena’s cryptic Instagram posts and lack of obvious alternative storylines means he’ll be jumping Corbin for that spot. I’d prefer six minutes of Angle/Cena over six of Angle/Corbin.

Supposedly we’ll get that confirmed tonight and, in the meantime, Kurt Angle’s ‘farewell tour’ is apparently due to continue. It would be nice if one or two dream matches could be ticked off his career bucket list (an unlikely detour to SmackDown might be necessary for some of them), but more bouts like the one with Apollo Crews last week, which gave a rub to an athletic young talent who needed it and serviced a nice bit of trivia with each man’s link to the Olympic city of Atlanta, would also be good. There are three Raws left until WrestleMania; if I had to pick three final opponents for Angle across these last Monday nights, they’d be Chad Gable, Shelton Benjamin – after he returned to relevance last week – and a squash match for Brock Lesnar as a warm-up for his Universal Championship match. But I’d swap Kurt Angle getting a fitting WrestleMania send-off for all of that.

SmackDown Live (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN)

Announced: Kofi Kingston has to get through Randy Orton, Samoa Joe, The Bar and Rowan in a Gauntlet Match to get his WWE Championship shot at WrestleMania. The Miz will return to respond to Shane McMahon’s words and actions.

What to expect: By nature, these are likely to be shorter notes, because we can expect roughly half of the show (possibly more) to be taken up with the Gauntlet Match in order to get Kofi Kingston to where he needs to be. Kingston surely has to overcome the odds here to write the next chapter in his story, while possible interference may come from AJ Styles who is feuding with Randy Orton, a number of possible challengers to United States Champion Samoa Joe, Kingston’s New Day buddies to continue a tag team spat with The Bar and Daniel Bryan in Rowan’s corner at the very end.

What else may be squeezed into the show? Angry, babyface Miz should use his promo powers for good and take Shane McMahon down a notch, tensions may continue between Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville (or both may put that behind them to target Asuka jointly), the rest of the SmackDown tag division may find out who’ll face The Usos at WrestleMania for the championships, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair may trade more shots in the absence of Ronda Rousey from Tuesdays and we may find out what’s next for the recently-returned Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali.

Spotlight: It looks as though Kofi Kingston is set to confirm his well-deserved WrestleMania match for the WWE Championship this Tuesday in Indianapolis; all he has to do is survive a gauntlet of Randy Orton, Samoa Joe, The Bar and current sidekick to reigning champion Daniel Bryan, (Erick) Rowan. While the nihilist in me would find it faintly amusing to see Kingston get only two opponents deep before being unceremoniously choked out by Joe, realistically the time is right to have the heroic underdog battle through and move on to cut some promos opposite (the former heroic underdog) Bryan from next week. There’s plenty of material there. Congrats Kofi; your time is surely nigh. But what of the five men who’ll play the stooges this week? What are their WrestleMania-and-short-term futures looking like?

Up first, Randy Orton is arguably the best-positioned out of all of them – not just (if we are to believe the order in which they were announced last Tuesday) at the head of the Gauntlet Match, where losing to a fresh Kingston is no great shame without an asterisk beside it, but with a WrestleMania match pending against AJ Styles which has been a lay-up of a potential feud ever since the two men have been sharing a brand. Last week’s promo by Orton, where he ripped on Styles’ indie credentials and professional background, felt like it channeled some of the spirit of the ‘Legend Killer’ Randy Orton – still, in my opinion, the best kind of Randy Orton – as a guy with a chip on his shoulder, seeking to explode the myth of someone with a status he secretly feels inferior to. It has the potential to be a far better WrestleMania feud than Orton had with Bray Wyatt a couple of years ago.

Samoa Joe, up second, may currently be the United States Champion but has come into his title reign at an unpredictable time. On the face of it, Joe has the credentials and the ability to enjoy a long and notorious championship reign, brutally snuffing out lesser contenders until a worthy hero steps up and ends his run. The legacy of Rusev’s first run as United States Championship – ended by John Cena at WrestleMania 31 – is seen by some as problematic, but lest we forget that before Cena rolled into the picture Rusev had held the title for five months and entered WrestleMania with his dominant championship reign established. And riding a tank. For Joe, it looks like he could defend against several men at WrestleMania this year, and with a couple of those (Rey Mysterio, Andrade) being dynamic, exciting, marketable stars, the chances of him turning out to be a mere transitional champion look very real.

As for the remaining three men, The Bar are not looking like this year’s WrestleMania will be much of an improvement over last year’s show, where they were beaten for the Raw Tag Team Championships by Braun Strowman and a ten-year-old kid called Nicholas. If Sheamus and Cesaro are getting on the card this year, outside of the annual battle royal, it’ll be in a multi-team match for the tag titles held by The Usos – though I still feel like Matt and Jeff Hardy as the only challengers are the best choice. Whether the rest of The New Day would be part of such a match is an interesting question; it’s possible that on the night they may only be booked to get involved with the WWE Championship match by neutralizing the interference of Rowan (the last man on this list), who has currently settled firmly into the role of goon. How his relationship with Daniel Bryan will develop – and what his former Wyatt Family brothers may be doing when they return to WWE television, possibly fairly soon, may be a question for another time.

Also This Week

Just some quick notes of the main features elsewhere this week: 205 Live (Tuesday) sees Cedric Alexander vs Tony Nese to decide Buddy Murphy’s challenger for the Cruiserweight Championship at WrestleMania. NXT (Wednesday) has the rematch between Keith Lee and Dominic Dijakovic. NXT UK (Wednesday) promises Pete Dunne making a challenge for WrestleMania weekend, plus the return of Eddie Dennis.

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 should Finn Balor be doing at WrestleMania?
  2. Who, between Samoa Joe and Andrade, would you be most interested to see as United States Champion after WrestleMania?
  3. If you could pick anybody from Raw, SmackDown, NXT or an active ‘free agent’ (e.g. John Cena) to face Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, who would you choose?

Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.