Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Question: How do you get punters to retrospectively appreciate the Greatest Royal Rumble? Answer: Book a show like Backlash. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, May 7th 2018.
Raw (Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY)
Announced: Nothing formally announced yet, coming off Backlash last night. The backlash from Backlash, I guess?
What to expect: The next pay-per-view is Money in the Bank on June 17th – ages away, given how many big shows have been squeezed into the past month – and WWE.com is noting that qualifying matches to the eponymous ladder contest will start this week. This may be what’s next for Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley, Braun Strowman and possibly even Roman Reigns – another rematch with Brock Lesnar looks certain, but there’s no news on whether Lesnar’s working the Money in the Bank show (and he’s certainly not expected this evening). Some light may be shed here. Meanwhile, champions should start to find new challengers – Nia Jax and the team of Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt both need new opponents to emerge.
Lingering issues coming out of Backlash include whether Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are having relationship troubles once again. Bayley fell victim to The Riott Squad thanks to the dreaded numbers game and may need to get back on the same page as Sasha Banks, while the angle between Ronda Rousey, Natalya, Mickie James and Alexa Bliss may be further developed. As always (and we should start saying that now) there’s a women’s Money in the Bank to build towards too, which may take precedence. Finally, Elias was interrupted at Backlash by a whole parade of people; of those, Bobby Roode will probably resume their feud, while Titus Worldwide and No Way Jose are more likely to be in the sights of Baron Corbin based on the events of last Monday.
Spotlight: Interesting times ahead for the Raw women’s division, as it finds itself needing to take steps forward on several different narrative fronts. Some of those will be necessarily bold, into untested territory, while some more familiar options would be overdue and feel like they’re only coming about by inertia. The price of inaction on the character development of Ronda Rousey, Nia Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks feels high right now. 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. Bayley and Banks need to do something.
Rousey is an interesting challenge. On the one hand, you’ve got a marquee talent with a legitimate athletic pedigree; I’ve read some takes that mixing her into what appears a routine feud with Natalya opposite Mickie James and Alexa Bliss risks making her ‘just another gal’ on the roster – but I don’t agree that makes it a bad choice. What’s the alternative? This isn’t like when Brock Lesnar returned to the company. WWE’s women’s roster doesn’t yet have the depth and high-profile history that enabled it to book the likes of John Cena, Triple H and The Undertaker against Lesnar in massive bouts, before using him to enhance newer projects like Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.
Rousey’s biggest possible opponents right now – arguably the only ones with profiles to validate Lesnar-style ‘marquee matches’ – are over on SmackDown. That would make for a seriously dry year on Raw for Rousey if she doesn’t get her hands dirty with a few of the show’s regulars. She’s also considered a key asset for negotiating television contracts later in the year, so there’s a big business incentive to feature her regularly too. I simply don’t buy that you can keep her above the grind for the next year. To that end, working with veterans like James and Natalya and avoiding singles feuds which could expose weaknesses and lack credible competition is a good path. It also gives Alexa Bliss something different but high-profile to interfere in and hilariously complain about in her ‘Moment of Bliss’ segments.
Ah, Bliss. If you’re a regular to the Week In Preview, you’ll know we don’t have a bad word to say about Bliss here. But the time is right for her to step away from the championship scene; the crowd reaction to Nia Jax’s post-match promo last night said everything about how much that angle has fully run its course. Rather than being cast as a victim, Jax needs to return to what will better connect her to an audience as a dominant champion – murdering opponents with incredible feats of strength. Fresh title challengers who aren’t Alexa Bliss would be good, too. Who doesn’t want to see Nia Jax give all of The Riott Squad a Samoan Drop at the same time? Liv Morgan-plus-one at least is clearly possible.
Of course, that scenario assumes Ruby Riott and her pals might be done with Sasha Banks and Bayley any time soon. The superficial story is that Banks and, last night, Bayley can’t overcome The Riott Squad on their own, so they might have to put their differences aside to do it together. The actual story, however, is when Banks and Bayley are finally going to get on with turning on each other properly, because this has been going on for months and neither has become a better character because of it. Longtime NXT fans will know these two are capable of telling a great story, but it needs one (Banks please) to be clearly evil and the other to be clearly justified, rather than both being petty and without virtue. Here, steps forward are greatly overdue.
SmackDown Live (Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore MD)
Announced: Mandy Rose vs Becky Lynch. Also, The Miz has noted he’ll be in a Money in the Bank qualifying match.
What to expect: A (supposedly) decisive match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, with some sort of stipulation – possibly ‘nut shots only’ based on the underlying trend – should be booked for Money in the Bank. Assuming enough of this week’s show remains once testicular issues have been addressed, qualifying for Money in the Bank may again be a popular theme. We know Miz will be one of the hopefuls. Otherwise Jeff Hardy is an obvious candidate, while Randy Orton and Samoa Joe (coming off losses last night) may also want in. You’d think Daniel Bryan would ordinarily also be a contender, though he may be more concerned with retribution for the post-match attack by Big Cass last night.
The women’s Money in the Bank qualification might draw some attention away from Women’s Champion Carmella, who otherwise could move on to a new challenger after overcoming Charlotte Flair last night. The announced match between Mandy Rose and Becky Lynch could very easily become a qualification match. In the tag division, The New Day and The Bar are clearly in the early stages of a program; Xavier Woods beat Sheamus last week, so another singles match between Kofi or Big E and Cesaro is an obvious lay-up. Nobody is an obvious challenger for champs The Bludgeon Brothers at the moment though. Perhaps we might see SAnitY soon? Or Andrade Almas, for that matter? Finally, look out for further developments in the story of Lana trying to convince Rusev that he’s being held back.
Spotlight: I covered a few different people when considering Raw’s women’s division earlier on in this week’s column, but for SmackDown I’m interested in one – because it’s one it looks like we’d be well advised to come to terms with for the foreseeable future. It’s Carmella. Following in the footsteps of Alexa Bliss before her, Carmella had never held a championship or even wrestled on a live special before her promotion from NXT, yet now finds herself heading up the blue brand with her much-lauded peers jostling for position behind her. In the ring, most observers would agree the champion is not an equal to most of her challengers; how long can her force of personality justify keeping her on top?
The ‘force of personality’ thing really is key. Some people were surprised when Bliss beat Becky Lynch to win her first championship, but the reality was she’d become too strong a character to leave off the show. I don’t think Carmella has Alexa’s range (few people in the company do), but it’s the relevant precedent. Any comparisons with SmackDown’s 2017 promotion-above-their-station Jinder Mahal should certainly be dismissed, and not only because Carmella already looks more engaging on the microphone. Whereas Mahal went from undercard irrelevancy to WWE Champion inside of two months, Carmella held the Money in the Bank briefcase for most of a year; any assumption that she could never be in the championship picture was obviously flawed. The company’s internal geopolitics also aren’t an issue.
Carmella, then, is no ‘experiment’ and is unlikely to be held hostage in an ill-fitting role due to external factors. Her reign may, indeed, be surplus to requirements by August; it’s hard to imagine a roster with Lynch, Asuka and Charlotte Flair getting through SummerSlam without someone taking the belt from Carmella. Based on last night’s finish though, it doesn’t look like it’ll be Flair. That was about as clean a win as any heel who’s looked so hopelessly outgunned, based on the relative portrayal of champion and challenger over the past year, could realistically hope for. No cheating-to-win of any kind; nothing that Flair can come out this Tuesday to rightfully claim entitles her to another shot.
So I’d imagine we’ll see a new challenger emerge, starting this week. One of the arguments in favor of Carmella holding the title for a few months is just how loaded the babyface side of the SmackDown women’s roster is right now. Naomi – who was the brand’s deserving Women’s Champion 12 months ago – appears to be fourth in order of precedence, and would be a good early defense. I’m firmly of the belief the division needs a heel turn somewhere along the line (especially if we’re to see compelling matches between Asuka, Lynch and Flair), but until that happens Carmella has an important job to do in holding down the role of chief antagonist.
Expect plenty more ‘Mella is Money’ over the next few weeks – yeah, it sounds a bit clunky to me too, but it’s not a big deal – and let’s be optimistic. As champion, she probably won’t be wrestling five-star title matches, even despite the women on SmackDown whom she could be facing, but she’s comfortable enough in her character and enough of a preposterous caricature that the segments should work from week to week. What appears to be an informal alliance with Billie Kay and Peyton Royce should also help. Make no mistake, character work is what has brought Carmella to the dance and it’s likely, in the short term at least, that’s what will dictate how long she stays on top.
Also This Week
Announced for 205 Live (Tuesday) is Brian Kendrick & Jack Gallagher vs Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik, along with Mustafa Ali vs Buddy Murphy, which could be an excellent match to cement Murphy as Cedric Alexander’s next Cruiserweight Championship contender.
Meanwhile on NXT (Wednesday), there’ll be a heavyweight tag match between War Raiders and Heavy Machinery, plus Kassius Ohno vs Tommaso Ciampa and the Full Sail in-ring debut of EC3.
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!
- Are there better storyline options available to Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley right now than turning against each other?
- What should the stipulation be for the next AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura match?
- Who would you like to see qualify for Money in the Bank, men’s and women’s matches, from both brands?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.