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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! In last week’s transatlantic adventures, Bobby Roode, Alexa Bliss, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch and a member of The New Day qualified for Money in the Bank in London, while Nia Jax was challenging Ronda Rousey at a media event in New York. What’s going to happen next? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 21st 2018.

Raw (Times Union Center, Albany NY)

Announced: Set cringe settings to maximum, as Sami Zayn brings Bobby Lashley’s sisters to Raw in order to supposedly ‘expose’ him.

What to expect: Ronda Rousey and Nia Jax are both back on television tonight, and we’ll get to see how WWE is setting out its stall for an intriguing Raw Women’s Championship program. Further down the women’s division, two spaces are left for Raw women in the Money in the Bank ladder match; with Natalya, Dana Brooke and the junior partners of the Riott Squad the only ones yet to have a shot (and Natalya being the obvious pick from those), is it possible the final spot may come down to a second chance match between Bayley and Sasha Banks? The Raw side of the men’s match, however, is fixed – and various combinations of matches between Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, Bobby Roode and Kevin Owens over the next four weeks look inevitable.

It’s hard not to pre-judge that announced segment with Lashley and Zayn, which looks to have ‘car crash soap opera’ written all over it, but I guess we’ll see. Expect Seth Rollins to wrestle another great open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship (although at some point there’ll need to be an angle to set him up for an opponent at Money in the Bank). Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel are calling themselves ‘The B-Team’ and apparently gunning for a shot at the tag titles – though that looks more likely to be the destination for the impressive Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Finally, Jinder Mahal and Roman Reigns have cost each other their shot at Money in the Bank and will probably clash again ahead of a crowdpleasing match in Chicago next month. Ha ha.

Spotlight: My apologies to all of you for totally not registering the Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey announcement in last Monday’s Week In Preview. My fault entirely; I believe it was breaking around or just before I was filing my copy, and there’s me not realizing I should keep an eye on the NBC upfront for the progression of pro wrestling storylines. You may recall that only a couple of weeks ago I talked about both women here, saying “Rousey needs a program that puts her under believable strain but protects her inexperience. Jax needs a new challenger who can validate her as champion.” I’m not sure whether this is an effective way of killing two birds with one stone, but here we are.

In the days before lucrative jaunts to Saudi Arabia at least, Money in the Bank had carved out a role as the fifth of WWE’s ‘big four’ events. A few months ago, before WWE announced all pay-per-views would be going back to being dual-branded affairs, the June 17th date in Chicago had already been announced as a joint Raw and SmackDown vehicle. Is a perceived need to rush into a huge Women’s Championship for the show a factor? Possibly. See also SmackDown Live flinging Asuka at Carmella, although there, preparing for a huge SummerSlam match (Asuka/Flair II) might be a motivation; on the surface, there doesn’t seem a similar goal here for Raw.

The booking for this pay-per-view cycle of what, for Raw, would’ve seemed to be the obvious candidate for a huge SummerSlam match does at least cover off two points of my previous statement. Rousey should be under believable strain facing the biggest, strongest, most powerful woman in the division; as big a deal as she is, the physical dimension makes victory no guarantee. Jax, meanwhile, will certainly be validated as champion in standing toe-to-toe with the former UFC star. The question of how much it protects Rousey’s inexperience has to be an area of doubt though.

Much has been made about how Ronda Rousey’s triumphant debut match at WrestleMania was carefully planned and practiced for weeks, alongside some of the most reliable character and ring workers in the company’s history. Wrestling a singles match opposite Nia Jax evidently does not come with that safety net and Rousey will have to make a lot more of the running. That said, I feel Jax has been underrated as an in-ring performer. Her feats of strength are genuine, particularly when catching opponents to set up big spots, she has the athleticism to hit flip sentons and the like and we regularly see her bump to the floor impressively. She’s an excellent opponent for a protagonist who brings enough energy. And Rousey brings energy.

I also seem to have swum against the tide of opinion about her recent matches with Alexa Bliss; despite reservations with the storyline and approach, I felt their two 8-10 minute matches couldn’t have been laid out much better to tell a logical story of how the smaller Bliss could believably outmaneuver the larger Jax. It wasn’t always thrilling but the way things played out made sense for the players – and, importantly, that’s the main requirement here. The best exit strategy for everyone may need something like a Stephanie McMahon hit-job, but as long as it makes sense narratively the quality may not matter too much at this stage of Ronda’s career. So don’t expect a five-star classic, but let’s at least be optimistic it’ll continue to make Rousey look like she belongs.

SmackDown Live (DCU Center, Worcester MA)

Announced: Lana vs Billie Kay in a Money in the Bank qualifier. The New Day will be on Miz TV to announce which member will enter Money in the Bank.

[UPDATE, Tuesday morning: Many thanks to John Canton for picking this up yesterday afternoon after I’d posted, but the previously-announced qualifying match for Money in the Bank between Samoa Joe and Big Cass has been canned due to what appears to be a storyline injury to Cass. Instead, Daniel Bryan will meet Jeff Hardy for the right to face Joe next week. Here’s General Manager Paige with the announcement on Twitter.]

What to expect: I was actually fairly interested in seeing Joe vs Cass, even though I was calling an obvious Joe win. Bryan vs Hardy will be no poor substitute though. Bryan might win here, but there’s no way he’s getting through this week and next without Cass somehow costing him his chance. Bryan vs Cass should still be the plan for Money in the Bank. Lana vs Kay is harder to call or, in truth, feel that invested in; either would have to be the rank outsider in Chicago as things stand. We’ll look at The New Day’s decision in a moment, while whether the other two men continue their program with Sheamus & Cesaro – and if anyone is going to step up to champions The Bludgeon Brothers – remains to be seen. SmackDown Live also needs to fill the final spot in the men’s Money in the Bank match and two spots in the women’s. That could be addressed here.

Shinsuke Nakamura, after beating AJ Styles last week, may choose his stipulation this week for their upcoming WWE Championship match. Something heavily gimmicked, having already gone down the ‘no disqualification’ route, looks inevitable. Carmella, for all her talk of being money, will probably be terrified of new challenger Asuka. Keep an eye out for any tension between Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville after being forced to compete against each other last week (or possibly friction with General Manager Paige, who has done her former friends no favors yet). It’ll also be interesting to see whether Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas gets into a program with somebody after his debut last week.

Spotlight: We’re coming up on four years of The New Day and, in that time, the trio of Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods have done just about everything there is to do as a team. Their four tag title reigns have included one of record length and they have become ubiquitous in the division; it’s hard not to keep a spotlight on them and, as much as their matches with The Usos were, are and will always be welcome, it’s proven difficult to find viable ways to keep their act in the spotlight without hogging it (e.g. hosting duties at WrestleMania when they couldn’t be squeezed into the championship picture). Money in the Bank, however, may see a whole new chapter of their story begin.

This year’s men’s Money in the Bank ladder match looks like being a showcase for much of the upper mid-card in WWE. The likes of Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, The Miz, Kevin Owens – more precisely that in some previous years, the purpose appears to be to take well-established acts on the cusp of bigger things and give one of them an all-but-guaranteed ticket to the main event scene. In joining this exclusive party, The New Day are truly, finally transcending their division. They’re no longer just a factor in the world of pairs competitions, but are starting to make featured claims for singles prizes too.

In terms of who (who?) will be the man entering the ladder match on their behalf, the common guess seems to be Big E. Many have tipped E, for quite a long time, as being the most likely breakout singles star from the group when the time came, packing as much power as he does charisma and packing as much charisma as he does pancakes down the front of his singlet. However, that may ultimately be a question of who’s be the best man to cash in. When WWE’s social media caught up with the three men backstage on tour last week, a seemingly throwaway line about a win for one being a win for all has got fans wondering about the possibility of ‘Freebirding’ the briefcase.

What if veteran athlete Kingston was their pick to win the ladder match, but Big E was seen as their best choice for cashing in, claiming and subsequently defending the major championship that followed? Money in the Bank has, in the last couple of years, looked like a slightly tired concept at times. Having The New Day hunting in a pack, keeping people guessing about the eventual identity of who would take the shot, could be a really fresh take. Plus it would resolve the quandary of how to employ a massively popular act elsewhere on the show without blocking up the top of a tag division that currently struggles to feature a wide cast of talent.

And that’s what makes this such a tempting proposition. The New Day are so popular. There’s no sense in breaking them up, but there’s equally no mileage left in the tag division for them. Kingston’s annual Royal Rumble escape spots are the biggest thing the team has done as individuals and their promotion to Shield-levels of independence while still being interdependent (which those men had even from the early days when Dean Ambrose won the United States Championship, ironically from Kofi Kingston) is surely overdue. The New Day, gimmick intact, working SmackDown’s main event scene in support of a singles champion among their number? Yes please.

Also This Week

On NXT (Wednesday) this week, we continue towards an awesome eventual Ricochet vs Velveteen Dream match at a TakeOver with both men teaming in a handicap match against Lars Sullivan. Plus, Heavy Machinery vs TM61.

It’s Akira Tozawa vs Hideo Itami this week on 205 Live (Tuesday), following the recent breakdown in communications between the two. Cedric Alexander vs Buddy Murphy for the Cruiserweight Championship is booked for next week.

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 from The New Day would you most like to see compete in the Money in the Bank ladder match?
  2. What are your hopes and/or fears for the segment with Bobby Lashley’s sisters tonight?
  3. Would you rather see a tag team Money in the Bank contest or two tag title matches in Chicago next month?

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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