Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Will Roman Reigns accept Drew McIntyre’s challenge? Will Kofi Kingston get his WWE Championship match? Will Kurt Angle’s retirement match be a massive anticlimax to his retirement tour? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 25th 2019.
Raw (TD Garden, Boston MA)
Announced: Kurt Angle vs Samoa Joe.
What to expect: Next Monday is the go-home Raw before WrestleMania, and it looks as though at least some of the fireworks will be saved until then. Neither Brock Lesnar nor Batista are scheduled to appear tonight, which means something to pass the time will be required for Seth Rollins – perhaps assisting the path of Roman Reigns to accepting Drew McIntyre’s WrestleMania challenge (because that’ll be happening one way or another tonight) – and Triple H – some sort of intense, angry promo is my guess for that one. If you want to tick the final box off your ‘Shield Bingo’ card, while such a thing can still exist, some idea what Dean Ambrose is doing at WrestleMania may also become apparent here. The WrestleMania main event, however, is now confirmed as the Raw Women’s Championship match and tonight will probably see ramifications for Ronda Rousey and her husband Travis Browne, along with the reintroduction of Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch to the picture on Monday nights?
The announced match between Angle and Joe is the latest in Angle’s brand-unspecific retirement tour; keep an eye out for anything WWE does here to build heat for Angle’s WrestleMania farewell against Baron Corbin, which received a lukewarm reaction last week. Sasha Banks and Bayley may have their Women’s Tag Team match for WrestleMania confirmed (a four-way against Nia Jax and Tamina, Beth Phoenix and Natalya, and The IIconics). Another skit about Braun Strowman’s feud with SNL hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost – and whether Alexa Bliss has ironed out the problems – is likely, while Strowman should start to be joined by other men declaring themselves for WrestleMania’s André the Giant battle royal. Will that include Finn Balor and Bobby Lashley, or will they set up another match for the Intercontinental Championship? It’ll more likely include guys like Elias, No Way Jose and Mojo Rawley. Also look out for confirmation of whether The Revival will be defending the Raw Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania too.
Spotlight: Before we reach WrestleMania week, let’s stop in one final time on the Raw Women’s Championship program – which through a combination of fate, circumstance, talent and one-off must-see performers has today apparently been confirmed as the first literal main event for women at WrestleMania. WWE talks a lot about ‘making history’ with its women’s division; much of that may be inflated, most of it is merely overturning precedents the company has set for itself, but this occasion will be one for genuine celebration as it represents a true pinnacle that was previously thought out of reach. You can count me among those who thought WWE could never create a women’s feud that it wouldn’t trump with a men’s program of some description at its biggest show of the year. I’m very happy to be proven wrong.
— WWE (@WWE) March 25, 2019
To be under no illusions, in a puritan world the match should’ve just been Ronda Rousey vs Becky Lynch. Despite reports of the company top brass previously going backwards and forwards over whether Charlotte Flair would also be in the match, I don’t believe there was ever a realistic probability that she would not. Ever since last year’s WrestleMania in New Orleans, where Rousey debuted and Flair ended Asuka’s undefeated streak, 2019’s big women’s match had been written in the stars. Put in that context, Lynch forcing herself into the picture is a remarkable achievement – commensurate with how Daniel Bryan’s popularity forced WWE’s hand in 2014 – and for that reason I think even the puritans might want to consider themselves grateful for this match going down as it is.
What WWE has done to reach that point has been a mess at times – quite asides from the heavy McMahon family involvement, I’m no fan of any storyline where the Royal Rumble winner loses and has to re-earn their WrestleMania shot – but if you follow the above train of thought there’s a broad logic behind it. Once the company had established it was dealing with a possible main event (and was determined to do it as a three-way), so the need to protect and avoid diminishing it rose. Two points then became key: 1) having anyone other than Becky Lynch win the Royal Rumble would’ve been rejected by a majority of fans, and 2) finding a way to add Lynch to Rousey vs Flair builds hype, whereas adding Flair to Rousey vs Lynch would’ve punctured it.
Once we look beyond the gymnastics WWE needed to employ to safely achieve both of the above points, the detail of the story itself has been largely good and has benefited from a commitment to go for broke on the portrayal of all three characters. The portrayal of Lynch as the reckless, permanently-injured underdog has been bordering on farcical at times but overall it’s added to her popular response. Flair is revelling in the opportunity to play the full-on arrogant heel again, which worked so well opposite Sasha Banks the last time the Raw Women’s Championship was this hot. And as for Rousey, WWE is really emptying the locker – the buzz, friction and headlines created by her ‘shoot’ comments on the business guarantee this match, if it is to be her last for the time being, will end her run with the company with a bang. Congratulations to all three women. Bring on April 7th.
SmackDown Live (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville CT)
Announced: Kurt Angle vs AJ Styles. Carmella vs Naomi vs Mandy Rose vs Sonya Deville with the winner facing Asuka for the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania.
What to expect: The big question this Tuesday is how – with Vince McMahon fully committed to trolling him – Kofi Kingston gets to his WWE Championship match against Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. If we assume next Tuesday is required for a face-to-face between the two men, the plot twist surely comes this week. The announced match between Angle and Styles is billed as Angle’s final visit to SmackDown; is a victory via Randy Orton interference possible? The brand’s Women’s Championship match for WrestleMania should also get decisively set; I’d pick Naomi out of those four, but in truth it could be any of them. The IIconics will probably lobby for a championship match of their own having beaten the Tag Team Champions in a non-title match last week.
Though they’re probably more likely to show up on Raw at this stage, today’s announcement that Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair will take part in WrestleMania’s main event means we should expect exposure for both of them this Tuesday too. Elsewhere I’d expect to see The Miz and Shane McMahon come face-to-face in some manner after a couple of weeks of solo promos. Samoa Joe vs Rey Mysterio is now confirmed for WrestleMania so that feud should now be given some color, while a tag titles defense for The Usos hasn’t yet been confirmed at all and surely will be soon – so look out for that. Similarly to Raw, battle royal participants should start to declare themselves. Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali (now only ‘Ali’, apparently) seem obvious candidates for starters there.
Spotlight: Asides from the addition of lower-card matches like the one for the United States Championship, formalized last week as Samoa Joe vs Rey Mysterio, plus whatever’s happening for the Tag Team Championships, SmackDown Live’s WrestleMania preparations have been made to feel remarkably stable over the last few weeks (at least in comparison to Raw, with its absentee major champion, underwhelming retirement match announcements and evolving plans due to the welcome return of Roman Reigns). So much so that a lot of what needs to be said about the main programs – Kofi Kingston challenging for the WWE Championship, The Miz vs Shane McMahon, AJ Styles vs Randy Orton – has already been well covered in previous blogs here and elsewhere. These final two weeks of television isn’t about establishing big matches, but entrenching them.
We’ve already covered Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair in the Raw Spotlight above – which is, of course, SmackDown’s longest-running current feud, now exporting its stability and familiarity (and, quite frankly, success) to the Monday night show. It’s a couple of guest appearances coming in the other direction that I’ve been curious about (but welcomed) over these past couple of weeks. This Tuesday it’ll be Kurt Angle who does indeed, following my column last week pondering the idea, make a detour to the blue brand as part of his retirement tour. The announced match is billed as his last on SmackDown and pits him against AJ Styles, which is great but would’ve been a solid #2 on my wish list of opponents behind Daniel Bryan. Less expected but equally welcome was last week’s cameo (announced on Monday’s Raw) by Sasha Banks and Bayley.
As we’ve speculated on these pages before, how WWE manages the Women’s Tag Team Championships as true inter-brand titles is one of the biggest questions that’ll need answering in the next few months after April – but the presumably-certain addition of The IIconics to the WrestleMania championship match is a welcome sign of broader horizons than we might have expected. It would have seemed easy, especially with a Beth Phoenix comeback already on offer, to book the match as an all-Raw affair and be done with it. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay deserve to be in the picture though, and even if they aren’t walking out of New Jersey as champions (and I doubt they are; I can see Banks and Bayley making another NXT cameo as champions later in the year) it does no harm and more good to let them share that spotlight.
There are two reasons Royce and Kay getting that match – which may be formalized this week – is especially heartening. Firstly because it’s a result of dedicated and selfless character work throughout the past year, where asides from a crowdpleasing victory in Melbourne they’ve mostly been comic fodder for others while always staying relevant and entertaining. Secondly because it sets an invaluable example for all of WWE’s women to follow over the next few months of what’s within your control when the tag titles aren’t being held by performers on your brand. It may not happen for them at WrestleMania, but The IIconics look like being the eventual doorway into SmackDown for the tag titles. Hopefully that’ll inspire other teams on Tuesday nights to step up to match them.
Also This Week
The Forgotten Sons vs Ricochet and Aleister Black in the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic is the central pillar of this week’s NXT (Wednesday). No further mention has been made of the Keith Lee vs Dominic Dijakovic rematch that was advertised for last week before Tommaso Ciampa’s surgery changed the priorities, so look out for an update on that too.
The only thing formally announced for NXT UK (Wednesday) at time of writing is a contract signing between Pete Dunne and WALTER for the United Kingdom Championship match at the parent brand’s NXT TakeOver: New York. In contrast, 205 Live (Tuesday) doesn’t have anything announced yet – but if whatever’s on offer is as good as the Tony Nese vs Cedric Alexander match last week then it’s probably worth catching.
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!
- What do you think Dean Ambrose will be doing at WrestleMania?
- Who will win the four-way number one contender’s match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship on Tuesday?
- Which of Kurt Angle’s two announced matches this week are you most interested in seeing?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.