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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! The WWE circus lands here in England this week, providing welcome relief as we lurch from Eurovision misery towards World Cup misery, against a backdrop of Brexit. If you don’t know what any of those things are, don’t worry, you’re probably better off for it. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 14th 2018.

Raw (The O2 Arena, London UK)

Announced: Seth Rollins vs Kevin Owens for the Intercontinental Championship.

What to expect: Some briefer notes than usual this week, as a lot of the issues around building the Money in the Bank card need to get ironed out on both brands this week – another pair of action-heavy shows are likely. Which I’m all for! Last week was one of the better weeks for Raw and SmackDown combined so far this year. Two places remain for Raw talent in the men’s ladder match in Chicago, an unspecified number (possibly also two) for the women. Braun Strowman, Finn Balor and Ember Moon have already punched their tickets. More qualification matches should happen tonight, while the announced match between Rollins and Owens should be excellent (assuming it doesn’t end in a non-finish to set up a pay-per-view rematch).

Roman Reigns is seeking another match with Brock Lesnar, but Lesnar isn’t in London tonight and so Reigns is likely to meet Jinder Mahal again (and neither will be gain universal love from the local crowd). Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre will continue to make waves in the tag division, possibly lining themselves up for a match with Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt at some point in the future? Among other issues likely to be addressed on the show, the continued humanization of Bobby Lashley might come around again. And about that…..

Spotlight: Last week on Raw, in a sit-down interview segment, Renee Young tried to provide a probably-overdue answer to an important question: ‘Who is Bobby Lashley?’ We don’t say it enough, mostly because she’s a total pro who ensures the spotlight only shines on the subject it should, but Young is easily one of the company’s on-screen MVPs – so it’s not on her that we emerged from the interview with the original question unanswered and and joined by a second: ‘What the hell was all that about his sisters?’ Is Bobby Lashley a family man? Is he a past victim of bullying? Is he a serial killer who’s buried half his family under the patio? What’s his angle? We just don’t know.

Not having an angle for Lashley’s character, even in spite of character not being his strongest suit, seems inconceivable. He’s a former member of the United States Armed Forces (ding). He’s got a 15-2 MMA record (ding). He’s of a minority group (ding). He’s built like a house (ding). As far as WWE are concerned, this man should be a marketing dream, yet it feels like we’re no closer to understanding how the company is selling him to us. It’s totally understandable why Lashley has come straight to the main roster on his return to WWE – he was a fairly big deal when he was last with the company ten years ago – but in any other situation this is kind of the reason why NXT exists.

Currently down in NXT is another recent TNA headliner and previous WWE man, EC3 (formerly known as Derrick Bateman) and I’ll admit straight away that he’s a totally different case; Bateman pretty much never made it past NXT in his first stint and he’s only been gone five years. He’s also got a very different skill-set to Lashley, with character work being his biggest strength. But this is where NXT works wonders as a developmental system, once you get your head around the idea of ‘developmental’ never being used in a pejorative sense. Nobody who’s ever watched a TakeOver show has thought the NXT roster can’t get it done; the brand goes hard with everything that works for each performer while giving the other pieces time to fall into place.

Perhaps that’s what’s happening for Bobby Lashley too. Monday Night Raw is a much harsher spotlight to be doing it in though and, while EC3 was given a theme song with lyrics about who he is and swiftly dispatched to a poolside terrace to create a full promo reel, it’s hard to see what foundations have been put in place for Lashley to build on. Sure, he’s still got the look and despite turning 42 this summer is still a prime athlete, but there’s not a lot else in place; his finish, that vertical suplex, hasn’t looked convincing or even viable at times, while Michael Cole reeling off his army, MMA and WWE history feels a bit empty when it’s not being backed up.

I’m not saying Lashley should start throwing salutes on his way to the ring (a la John Cena), or shun the clotheslines and start working a mat-based MMA-hybrid style – I mean, I wouldn’t object to it if he did because that would be some sort of progress – but he needs to have some sort of clear, easy-to-understand purpose in 2018 established fairly quickly. In ten years, the WWE audience has evolved; most kids and some adults won’t have been watching in 2008. The company itself has also evolved and the influence of NXT in shaping well-rounded, TV-ready superstars is beginning to show. The Bobby Lashley character of ten years ago will not be deep enough today. How WWE helps him overcome that is anyone’s guess.

SmackDown Live (The O2 Arena, London UK)

Announced: The New Day vs Sheamus & Cesaro (winners have a member added to the Money in the Bank ladder match). The debut of Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Zelina Vega. Something that Carmella is calling a ‘Royal Mellabration’.

What to expect: Like Raw, we’re going on what we know that’s been announced (more in this case) and what we’re waiting to see happens next for people who are in or out of the Money in the Bank ladder matches. The Miz, Rusev and Charlotte Flair qualified last week; we know one of The New Day or The Bar will join them. That should be a good match here, and an interesting call to see who it is that goes into the match on June 19th. The debut of Andrade Almas will be great to see – he’s excelled in his recent run in NXT after a shaky start – but will probably consist of a quick squash win. Carmella’s ‘Royal Mellabration’ will likely reference Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle this coming weekend and possibly make her a new enemy from somewhere.

Elsewhere on SmackDown, AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship has been confirmed for Money in the Bank, apparently to determine a clear winner. It’ll obviously need a stipulation adding, which we may find out here. Daniel Bryan needs something to do having not qualified for Money in the Bank. Perhaps resuming hostilities with Big Cass, after the post-match attack at Backlash? Finally, General Manager Paige will get a good reception from the UK crowd, though I keep wondering if we’ll see some further tension with her former Absolution buddies after she shut down their reunion a couple of weeks ago.

Spotlight: Given we’re in the UK this week, a quick shout out to a couple of good friends of mine from London who made the journey over to New Orleans for WrestleMania this year. All told, they had a great time (though yeah, they were bored by the main event too) and they were kind enough to bring me back something from the massive WWE superstore at Axxess, namely the Rusev Day calendar. You know the one, it’s a standard wall calendar with pictures of Rusev throughout and – this is the kicker – with every day labelled ‘Rusev Day’. It might be one of the most objectively brilliant bits of merchandise WWE has ever produced.

My friends understand me well. The Rusev Day calendar, meanwhile, is a suggestion that WWE understands Rusev’s appeal just as well – although there have been times in the last few months where his most ardent of supporters may have had their doubts. Several Tuesdays coming and going without an appearance on SmackDown Live were noted. Being chosen for literal burial by The Undertaker was seen as a sacrifice. Yet through this….. Entrant #1 in the (regular) Royal Rumble in order to milk the massive crowd reaction in Philly. Forcing his way into a United States Championship match at WrestleMania he clearly wasn’t destined for. Getting a match opposite The Undertaker…..

No, Rusev isn’t always the focal point of every show he’s on. Sometimes he’s not even on the show. When he is, things don’t always end well for him. But there’s a steady undercurrent of relevancy, which all men and women in WWE who aren’t a Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar or John Cena or Ronda Rousey would seek to cultivate and retain. Now, however, there’s a fresh glimmer of hope for anyone who’s keen to see the Bulgarian Brute break through that glass ceiling, after beating Daniel Bryan – pretty much clean – to qualify for Money in the Bank next month.

A word quickly on Bryan, who John rightly pointed out in his SmackDown Live report isn’t short of potential things to do outside of Money in the Bank. Firstly, not putting Bryan in a ladder match in the immediate future is absolutely fine with me and anyone else of a nervous disposition who was pleased to see him return to the ring. He doesn’t need the briefcase, nor the rub of being in the match – at least not as much as he needs to be seen wrestling guys like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Miz and several other guys in singles feuds. He also needs to be seen to lose matches some weeks; part of Bryan’s attraction has always been as an underdog, while owning a pinfall victory over him can be a feather in somebody else’s cap.

Hence Rusev makes it into the ladder match in Chicago, his reputation enhanced with a victory over a Grand Slam champion to earn his place. He also looks a strong candidate to claim the briefcase. He has the profile and the talent to bubble along under the radar, staying relevant and entertaining even if he isn’t always in the spotlight, as WWE often requires its Money in the Bank winners to do. When the time comes, his connection to the crowd is strong enough that you could buy him cashing in successfully. Money in the Bank has proven in the past to be an excellent tool for elevating talent to the main event scene with a boost of adrenaline. Could June 19th turn out to be a Rusev Day to celebrate?

Also This Week

205 Live (Tuesday), also coming from London this week of course, will feature some of the guys from WWE’s division of United Kingdom talent. So that should mean Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews, possibly Wolfgang and…..? Still, hopefully the local crowd will give them a good reception, along with General Manager Drake Maverick.

We’re also guaranteed a prominent British presence on NXT (Wednesday) too, as Pete Dunne and Danny Burch join Oney Lorcan in a trio of supremely ugly, violent men – which I say with the utmost affection – taking on The Undisputed ERA. Should be awesome.

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. Who would you like to see join the already-qualified men in their Money in the Bank ladder match?
  2. Who would you like to see join the already-qualified women in their Money in the Bank ladder match?
  3. Has Bobby Lashley buried half his family under the patio?

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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