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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Last week, Roman Reigns got ‘arrested’, the main event of Raw took place at the Hardy Compound and Daniel Bryan was cleared to wrestle again. A year ago all of these would’ve been unreasonable items for a wish list. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 26th 2018.

Raw (Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland OH)

Announced: John Cena vs Kane.

What to expect: Ah, the weekly agony of trying to tell you with any certainty who will or won’t be on Raw. Right. Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are both being advertised for the show and there are good narrative reasons for them both, indeed, to appear on-screen. Lesnar beat up a prone Roman Reigns last week and having him gloat about it while Paul Heyman runs down anyone who thinks his client’s a mercenary is probably more productive business than trying to get sympathy heat for Reigns. As for Reigns, a ‘medical update’ if not a run-in. Rousey and Kurt Angle, meanwhile, ought to be subject to revenge from Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Will they be? God knows. The announced match of John Cena vs Kane is set up to call out The Undertaker to answer Cena’s WrestleMania challenge. Will Undertaker appear? Surely sooner or later. All this stuff should go down either this week or next week, so you take your chances, really.

The category of ‘people who will definitely be on Raw’ is easier to predict. Alexa Bliss will likely continue to badmouth and dodge Nia Jax; it’s possible Asuka will still be around tonight and be given a rematch with Bliss after the champion took a non-title countout loss last week. The identity of Braun Strowman’s WrestleMania partner will likely be teased but not revealed, while a match between himself and Sheamus – plus a match between Intercontinental Championship contenders Finn Balor and Seth Rollins – are good side bets for extra segments that’ll be set up during the show. There’ll probably be some fallout from Matt Hardy’s ‘deletion’ of Bray Wyatt, as well as further aggro between Sasha Banks and Bayley and the odd spot where further midcarders stake their claim for winning the respective WrestleMania battle royals.

Spotlight: After watching the latest episode of WWE 24 last week – aired after Raw on Monday and obliquely (by WWE 24 standards) subtitled ‘Empowered’ for what was effectively just a behind-the-scenes of the women’s Royal Rumble – I went back and watched the Rumble again for good measure. It got me thinking about the genesis of the red brand’s women’s programs for WrestleMania, now jostling for position on the card. Ronda Rousey’s mixed tag match has a heavily-promoted slot assured but can’t really be taken to count; the stark offset in ring experience between the men and the women in that match makes last year’s Cena/Bella/Miz/Maryse affair look like a Mixed Match Challenge finals from an alternative universe.

This leaves the SmackDown Women’s Championship match between Charlotte Flair and Asuka as clearly the biggest women’s match on the show. Flair went over her Raw opposite number Alexa Bliss in their champion-versus-champion match at Survivor Series in November, while the unbeaten Asuka challenges as the Rumble winner. As oddly as that match is being built – Asuka’s still spending time on Raw rather than just jumping brands now and being done with it – it’s the de facto biggest deal. That leaves the current programs between Bliss and Nia Jax and between Sasha Banks and Bayley in a kind of limbo, remaining in the shadow of Rousey and Asuka on Monday nights as they tell their stories in the hope of a good spot on the New Orleans card.

I’ve seen more than a few negative takes on Bliss and Jax, which largely fall into two categories. The first one, a choice for Bliss to invoke body image in her heel work against Jax, I have some sympathy with. Theatre and fiction should address issues like this, but not crassly and with the expectation of a clear story arc that leads you to trust the storyteller. Yes, this should end with Nia Jax smearing Alexa over the mat and first five rows of the Superdome, but WWE hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt on this. Jinder Mahal’s questionable material on Shinsuke Nakamura last year ultimately went unavenged when the title matches came around; comeuppance, even when narratively required, is never guaranteed.

The second category of negative take is about expectations for the match, which for the majority appear low. On this point I disagree. This match will be a big deal for Jax and Bliss, close friends on the road, and they’ll be planning to pull out everything they’ve got. No, it won’t be the longest match on the show (possibly to its benefit), but I think they’ll surprise us. Concerns about material aside, Bliss has been right at the top of her promo game in the last two weeks and it’s working in getting the crowds behind Jax. Both women are pushing to make the angle work and, though Flair and Asuka will be a bigger deal, should ensure a spot on the main card is fully validated.

It’s a tougher deal for Sasha Banks and Bayley. Back in 2015 when the two were feuding in NXT, you’d have put money on this being a big singles match at WrestleMania in 2018. However, with two weeks to go to the big night, the story on a slow burn and Banks officially declared for the women’s battle royal (which currently looks like a prime pre-show candidate), it seems the current effort being put into their story on Raw will end up being absorbed into a routine multi-woman contest. Watching the Rumble again last week, seeing Banks dump Bayley out unceremoniously, I wondered how we haven’t managed to arrive at a compelling singles match between them for the big show. Wouldn’t have happened to the men?

SmackDown Live (PPG Paints Arena, Pennsylvania PA)

Announced: Randy Orton & Bobby Roode vs Jinder Mahal & Sunil Singh. WWE may as well have announced who’s taking the pin in that match, but sadly they haven’t.

What to expect: Expect Sunil Singh to take the pin. That said, I could also see the apparent distrust between Randy Orton and Bobby Roode causing mid-match problems here. There’s already a few weeks of promos in the bank between Orton, Roode and Jinder Mahal, so actions rather than words are probably overdue. The big angle coming out of last week’s show was the attack on Daniel Bryan by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. That sets up a strange situation this week, where Bryan might be off television selling the attack, Shane McMahon has already taken leave of absence and Owens and Zayn were both fired. There’s a good chance we get a video recap, possibly a match announcement for WrestleMania but no more on that this week. Especially as there’s clearly some logical progressions we can expect in other programs.

The WWE Championship feud, for example. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura have one-upped each other in whether or not they need help in post-match beatdowns from Rusev and Aiden English; the next step here is surely a tag match and inevitable win before a final face-to-face next week. In losing to a surprise roll-up last week, Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair might need to dispose of Natalya in another match this week before she can turn her attention to Asuka at WrestleMania. If so, expect Carmella and her Money in the Bank briefcase to be close at hand. Last week, Jimmy Uso lost a singles match to Luke Harper; a simple development could see The New Day return this week and have one of their members try their luck against The Bludgeon Brothers. And, like Raw, there’ll probably be one or two spots about the upcoming battle royals.

Spotlight: The only subject on everyone’s lips last Tuesday, both before SmackDown Live and during it, was the news of Daniel Bryan being cleared to return to the ring. Though it brings with it concerns over the unknowable, whether he’ll be able to pick up and continue his career in good health with no further problems, the fact he’s able to come back to doing what he loves and the WWE are convinced of the safety of it by the best medical science available, it’s impossible as a wrestling fan not to be delighted. Unless you were really, really hoping for him to go to Ring of Honor or New Japan later in the year, over and above his first match back being at the same venue where he headlined WrestleMania XXX. You absolute monsters.

Anyway, I’m not judging you. We’re all united now in making lists of ‘people on the WWE roster Daniel Bryan needs to have matches with’, most examples of which broadly start with the word ‘everyone’ and end shortly thereafter. There will, hopefully, be plenty of time for Bryan’s future programs to play out. In any case, you’ve probably read a hundred opinion pieces talking about those already, so I’ll save you wading through another one (at least until a week or two after WrestleMania, just in case I run out of inspiration any given Monday). Instead it’s worth us considering what other effects Bryan’s return to the active roster will have in the short term.

For a start, the question of authority figures for SmackDown Live may need to be raised, if not now then shortly after WrestleMania. It’s fair to assume that a Daniel Bryan who is cleared to wrestle will not be staying on as General Manager. Why would he? His retirement and subsequent unretirement are a matter of record on WWE’s scripted programming, so there’s no contradiction in him immediately ditching the suit and rejoining the active roster. Shane McMahon, meanwhile, had previously noted he would take “an indefinite leave of absence”. Though this can and might be quickly reversed, especially if Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens move over to Raw, a change in SmackDown’s on-screen office might be due.

In that case, it would seem odd that the bubbling saga of Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon being in disagreement over several months of Tuesday nights should find its payoff in a tag match where the two are paired up. As I noted in last week’s column, while rumor on Bryan was swirling but before anything had been confirmed, it’s a bit of a fudge and an awkward fit if you consider an alternative to be to run with Owens vs Zayn (which Shane had already ‘announced’ for the WrestleMania card) and then run Bryan vs McMahon in a separate match only if the medical diagnosis was favorable. Gotta get Shane McMahon on the card, I guess. I’d predict a falling-out in that match if it wasn’t such a racing certainty that the authority figures will win and Bryan will get the decision.

One thing that’s certainly now guaranteed is the match will draw a rabid reaction from the crowd in New Orleans. The reaction to the main event segment of last week’s SmackDown was the clearest illustration. Despite being well-prepared to celebrate the news of Daniel Bryan wrestling again, it was surreal viewing; Bryan launching into high corner dropkicks and taking pop-up powerbombs on the ring apron is something we’d become unaccustomed to even thinking we’d see. The crowd were white-hot there and will be white-hot in the Superdome for what, otherwise, might’ve been a routine mid-card match had Bryan not been cleared. We – not to mention Bryan himself – have all been very patient. Let’s enjoy his return at WrestleMania and see what happens next.

Also This Week

A big announcement is promised for NXT (Wednesday) this week. If you’re into spoilers, we reported what that will almost certainly be when the tapings took place a few weeks back. Otherwise it’s a loaded show with both semifinals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, while Cien Almas has called out Aleister Black and a match for Lars Sullivan has also been announced.

The Cruiserweight Championship match between Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali is set for WrestleMania, so this week 205 Live (Tuesday) turns its attention to building the next contender with TJP vs Buddy Murphy vs Akira Tozawa vs Kalisto announced. This show has been completely transformed from where it was a few months ago!

Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook, Thursday WWE Network) sees Bobby Roode & Charlotte Flair against the winners of the ‘second chance’ poll, Finn Balor & Sasha Banks. Winners face The Miz and Asuka in the tournament finals.

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 are your expectations for Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax at WrestleMania?
  2. If you had to pick Daniel Bryan’s opponent for WrestleMania 35 now, who would it be and why?
  3. Is the right plural ‘battle royals’ or ‘battles royal’? I swear I used to know, but I’ve got a splitting headache today and have misplaced my grammar notes.

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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