Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! It feels like most of the card for Money in the Bank is complete but here we are, still about three weeks away from it. What twists and turns does the world’s leading pro wrestling promotion have in store for us? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 28th 2018.
Raw (The Coliseum, Richmond VA)
Announced: Seth Rollins (c) vs Jinder Mahal for the Intercontinental Championship. A gauntlet match with Mickie James, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Dana Brooke, Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan – winner claims the final spot in the women’s Money in the Bank contest.
What to expect: Stephanie McMahon returned last week and her influence may continue to be felt this week. The contract signing she supervised, between Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey, ended with Rousey threatening to take both Jax’s title and her arm; whether Jax responds and if Steph has an influence will be interesting to see. The Raw Commissioner also had some interaction with Roman Reigns last week; unusually, Reigns is not being advertised for tonight’s show on WWE.com – the focus for his Money in the Bank opponent Jinder Mahal may therefore be fully on his match with Seth Rollins instead (which could be a real test of the latter’s hot streak of good matches on Raw recently).
Elsewhere on the show, the window for getting onto the card at Money in the Bank is starting to close. Possible opponents for Rollins himself – and surely there will be one – are yet to emerge. The four Raw participants in the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match are set and may start to focus on each other (Finn Balor and Braun Strowman are a week ahead of everyone else on that), but for the women’s match it’s all about running the gauntlet tonight. Banks or Bayley look most likely winners there, with James and Riott as possible outside bets. Meanwhile Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre move towards challenging Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt for the tag titles, though The B Team might be the next (low) hurdle for them to clear. Finally, whatever Bobby Lashley and Sami Zayn do with each other next, it surely shouldn’t be as bad as last week’s segment with Lashley’s ‘sisters’.
Also on a little side note, tonight is the ninth birthday of the Raw Deal here at TJRWrestling.net so make sure you join John as usual for his live recap!
Spotlight: Here’s a fun study question. What is Raw’s current main event scene? With no Universal Championship program starting this side of Money in the Bank (and reasonable doubt whether there’d be one before the SummerSlam cycle in August), the top of the card on Monday nights seems to be a more confused picture than it would’ve been a few years ago when Raw ran for two hours and the brand’s top champion would be a fixture of programming. The absence of the major championship is one difference, but the recent trend of big segments closing hour two of a three-hour Raw (or opening the show with them) due to questions about the audience switching away to watch other events is another confusing element.
Seeing how the card for Backlash was set up the other week, it’s clear one contender is ‘whatever Roman Reigns is doing’. The current answer to that is ‘Jinder Mahal’ and the next pay-per-view is happening in Chicago, which doesn’t inspire confidence. This week on Raw, Mahal will be the latest man to challenge Seth Rollins for the Intercontinental Championship; could we consider Rollins and his strong run of televised title matches, especially in the absence of the Universal Championship, the main event scene? Certainly on performance alone there’s a case that can be made and, with his trajectory intersecting with that of Reigns and Mahal last week the lines are further blurred.
Hang on a moment though, because here’s Stephanie McMahon returning as an on-screen character and claiming at least some of the spotlight. ‘Whatever Stephanie McMahon is doing’ is rather similar to ‘whatever Roman Reigns is doing’ in both principle and effect. Last week these were partially combined, as Stephanie’s presence was used to further validate the storyline of Reigns believing the powers-that-be have some sort of vendetta against him. Yes, Roman against The Authority is something we’ve seen before, but this has all the ingredients of your flagship show’s go-to option for a main event storyline.
However not only is the Reigns vs Mahal program not built on that principle at all, but Stephanie is simultaneously sparking off high-level character-driven issues elsewhere. In last week’s opening segment she also went some way towards rekindling her power struggle with Kurt Angle and casually laid down some clear boundaries with Kevin Owens too. Then, later in the show, she conveniently took care of the contract signing between Raw Women’s Champion Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey (which, as we’ve previously suggested here, needs an ‘out’ that protects both women). From a promotional point of view, that program could also be considered main event material.
I was probably heading somewhere with this. I think where I was heading may have been ‘it’s really hard to work out what to put in my Spotlight each Monday when Raw itself can’t seem to figure out what the most important thing on the show is’. Maybe that’s just me. For reference, the Raw shows on WWE’s European tour were being closed by Reigns, Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley defeating Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and (SmackDown Live’s) Samoa Joe, which is just a compound mix of star power; namely ‘whatever Reigns is doing’, the Strowman factor and the ongoing angle between Lashley and Zayn.
Oh God. Raw’s current main event scene is Bobby Lashley’s sisters, isn’t it?
SmackDown Live (PNC Arena, Raleigh NC)
Announced: Samoa Joe vs Daniel Bryan in the final qualifying match for Money in the Bank. Also there’s The Miz, Sheamus & Cesaro vs The New Day.
What to expect: Everyone’s hoping for a great match between Bryan and Joe and I’d imagine what we’ll get is a similar affair to Bryan’s recent television outings against Jeff Hardy and Rusev – pretty good but within limitations that keep us hungry to see more at a potential later date. The big question here is over whether the Big Cass injury storyline is 100% shoot and whether he’ll cost Bryan this match to set up a second meeting between them. Every other blue team spot in the Money in the Bank ladder matches have already been filled and, among the angles that could develop between those participants, the possibility of Rusev and Lana as ‘Mr & Mrs Money in the Bank’ is one theme that could be explored.
We still, of course, need to determine which member of The New Day will be taking up their space in the match; I’d imagine they will keep us waiting a little longer on that, while tonight’s match keeps the team’s ongoing program with The Bar ticking over nicely too. AJ Styles may look for violent retribution against Shinsuke Nakamura, befitting of the stipulation of their upcoming match (Last Man Standing), while Carmella will continue to try to convince us she’s not scared of Asuka. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson become number one contenders to tag champions The Bludgeon Brothers last week, so those guys may come face to face to establish some chemistry or terms of engagement for Money in the Bank. Finally, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas may continue to beat up local talent on a winding path towards his eventual first feud on the main roster.
Spotlight: We have new contenders for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The Good Brothers will face The Bludgeon Brothers at Money in the Bank – Luke Gallows lining up the neat play on words in last week’s pre-match promo isn’t the last time we’re likely to hear it put in those terms – and finally the blue brand’s tag division is starting to move forwards again. It hadn’t exactly hit the rocks following WrestleMania (that would be too unkind), but there had been a growing sense of aimlessness once it was clear Harper and Rowan would be putting The Usos behind them.
I suppose this is inevitable when the division had been dominated by Jimmy, Jey and their most regular opponents over the past 12 months, The New Day, for so long. Any step away from both teams would’ve necessarily felt like a strange, unfamiliar break, and a step away was certainly necessary. We already had a look at possible future directions for The New Day here in this column last week; for The Usos, options for new paths are possibly not as obvious. That said, it’s not as if they have to disavow themselves of future title ambitions – they just have to find something else to occupy themselves with for a cycle or two while The Bludgeon Brothers tour the gold elsewhere.
All of this, again, seems necessary. Cutting through the Uso and New Day axis so brutally and in one shot might’ve at least partly been influenced by the schedule for WrestleMania – at another time of year, perhaps things would’ve been strung out more and Harper and Rowan would’ve gone through one team at a time – but proving more than a match for both of the division’s top teams was necessary to justify introducing a new dominant force on Tuesday nights. Beating The Usos comprehensively during the rematch cycle was necessary to eliminate them from the picture for a while. Moving on to face teams like The Club is necessary to measure other duos in the division against the new yardstick.
I’d have to think The Bludgeon Brothers would ultimately retain when we get to Money in the Bank and continue their reign of terror, at least for now. We have three weeks of build between now and then and, hopefully, that should be enough time to make Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson look like a viable threat to them and at least put the result in some sort of doubt. The Club have never been booked like division-leading talents since their arrival from Japan and that may not be about to change here, but making a better fist of challenging Harper and Rowan than their previous opponents may give them something of a boost. The size of Luke Gallows also gives them a physical asset that Jimmy and Jey didn’t have available to them.
Gallows and Anderson against Harper and Rowan will be functional, though is unlikely to be era-defining. Elsewhere in the division, Sheamus and Cesaro are currently foils for The New Day (which may well continue either side of whatever those men achieve at Money in the Bank). What we’ll see The Usos do next, in the short term at least, is unknown. However, a bigger unknown still is when SAnitY – the stable promoted from NXT of Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain – will be arriving on screen and how they will fit into the picture on Tuesday nights. Will they be the ones to take down Harper and Rowan? Or will they be the next big problem for Jimmy and Jey?
Also This Week
On 205 Live (Tuesday) it’s a Cruiserweight Championship match between Cedric Alexander and Buddy Murphy which has had a decent amount of build behind it. With WWE’s pay-per-views now loaded with talent from both brands, the chance of seeing cruiserweight bouts – and therefore title changes – on a Sunday has probably diminished. Does this increase the chances of seeing new champions crowned on a Tuesday? Probably. But that’s no guarantee of it happening here.
Meanwhile, it’s also a fairly busy week on NXT (Wednesday), with Shayna Baszler defending the NXT Women’s Championship against the wonderful-but-destined-to-get-wrecked-here Dakota Kai, Roderick Strong vs Danny Burch and Aleister Black in action too.
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!
- Who are you picking to win the gauntlet match on Raw tonight?
- Who should the first proper opponent for Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas on the SmackDown Live roster be?
- Will Cedric Alexander lose his Cruiserweight Championship to Buddy Murphy this Tuesday or not?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.