Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Survivor Series took place last night and Raw swept the scoreboard. Gotta keep Raw strong! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 19th 2018.
Raw (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA)
Announced: Nothing formally announced at time of writing, asides from the fallout from Survivor Series.
What to expect: The next WWE pay-per-view is TLC (Tables, Ladders and Chairs, duh!) on December 16th. There are a few big points to come out of Survivor Series that’ll affect that show. Braun Strowman, having played his part in a Raw victory, should get a match confirmed against Baron Corbin (and another one, possibly for the Royal Rumble, against Brock Lesnar) – look for Stephanie McMahon to make that official tonight. Strowman will probably go after Corbin tonight (if not some of his Survivor Series team-mates too). Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship has already been confirmed for TLC, so with Survivor Series, Crown Jewel and the tag championships now out of the way, expect that feud to be full steam ahead. Ronda Rousey vs Nia Jax may also be set up here too.
Nia Jax may have other issues in the shorter term, with Sasha Banks – who she pushed off the top turnbuckle at the conclusion of last night’s elimination match – likely to join Ember Moon in the list of people with an axe to grind. Bayley and Banks have already noted they’re out for payback on the rest of their Survivor Series team. The next chapter of the spat between Natalya and The Riott Squad should also play out. Elias may resume his brief feud with Bobby Lashley from last Monday, while new challengers for tag champions AOP may start emerging – although based on recording Raw’s only loss at Survivor Series last night, whether they’ll be perceived as much of a threat remains to be seen.
Spotlight: WWE is never more predictable (and rarely as frustrating) as when it feels like it’s got an amazing but obvious idea. From week-to-week stuff like flogging topical pop-culture jokes until they’re very deceased to the inevitable triumphs of the widely-understood faces of the company (Cena, Reigns). The points at which I realized WWE was doing a ‘sweep’ storyline for Raw at Survivor Series last night were at either end of the second match, between Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura. What’s that, Michael Cole? The tag team elimination match on the pre-show, won by SmackDown, mysteriously doesn’t count? Stephanie’s backstage demanding a sweep by name? Rollins is winning this clean with no sign of Ambrose? Lesnar and Rousey are still to come? Right.
This was my second such realization of the night. The first was when Nia Jax immediately began leaning into the heavy booing in the women’s elimination match that opened the show. I was watching with my better half, a convert to pro wrestling in the last few years, who said: “Imagine if Jax won? The crowd would hate that.” This was shortly after Naomi had been a surprise first elimination, and the penny suddenly dropped. “It’ll come down to Asuka trying to defy the odds like last year,” I sighed, “and then Jax will snuff her out.” In retrospect, of course WWE would cultivate Jax’s newly-won crowd heat, especially with a title match against Ronda Rousey on the horizon. The sincerity with which Los Angeles hated Nia Jax for putting Becky Lynch on the shelf was immaterial; the fact they hated her was the gift.
Jesus, I’ve read some terrible takes on the internet about Nia Jax this past week. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, and I don’t assume mine are any more valid, but the few cogent points out there are being drowned in hypocrisy, bad-faith arguments and revisionist history. The Twitter commenters now pinning Zelina Vega’s reported concussion at Evolution on Jax’s military press slam, when those same people had been retweeting ‘LOL Tamina can’t catch’ GIFs at the time. Generalizing responsibility for recent reported injuries to Alexa Bliss, when they hadn’t questioned speculation that the most recent had come from working with (the less experienced) Ronda Rousey. Criticizing Jax’s positioning on Charlotte Flair’s moonsault, when few have ever looked like they were in the right position for Charlotte Flair’s moonsault.
The more sensible takes have all been largely similar (and, unsurprisingly, not juicy enough to power likes, retweets and clickbait headlines). Shit happens. Yes, in her career so far, Nia Jax has undeniably worked a couple of spots that have caused or risked injury; this hardly makes her unique though, nor justifies her being labelled ‘unsafe’. What’s ‘safe’ about Brock Lesnar elbowing Randy Orton’s head open or throwing Singh Brothers onto their necks? How much of NXT TakeOver: WarGames on Saturday was ‘safe’? Nor is ‘a pattern’ necessarily a fair reflection of reality. In the space of just over 12 months from July 2015, Seth Rollins also broke a senior figure’s nose (John Cena), before being directly involved in injuries that ended the career of a Hall of Famer (Sting) and shelved the Universal Champion for six months (Finn Balor).
Yes, some similar internet criticism of Rollins proliferated at the time. But in difference to Jax, fewer pundits – some of whom should know better – seriously claimed Rollins should be “sent back to developmental” while the chatter never organically transferred to his crowd reactions as visceral hatred. Becky Lynch missing Survivor Series sucked, but was no more of a heartbreaker than what happened to Balor. It’s therefore hard to shake the feeling that Los Angeles only reacted to Nia Jax as vehemently as they did because – as the song notes – she’s not like most girls, and many consider her an easier target than they would top men. So while WWE leveraging legitimate crowd heat may be predictable (and, for some, may be frustrating), the cynic in me hopes that she milks the determined haters ruthlessly. Careful with those right hooks though, Nia.
SmackDown Live (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA)
Announced: Nothing at time of writing.
What to expect: If you don’t count the tag team elimination match on the pre-show (and apparently we aren’t) SmackDown left Survivor Series empty-handed last night. This Tuesday may focus on the fallout from that, which could mean the return of Authority Figure Drama between Paige and Shane McMahon (which I know we’ve all missed). The subject of a contractual WWE Championship rematch for AJ Styles will also be a central story; expect Styles to be pretty angry and for us to get a bigger look at new champion Daniel Bryan’s change in mentality. An update on another Survivor Series absentee, Becky Lynch, and the future of her championship should also be provided.
Quite honestly, the above is almost as much storyline as any two-hour episode of SmackDown needs. There should – and likely there will – be more on offer though, as a few new stories on the blue brand start to take shape. New challengers to The Bar for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships may be named; if they are, The Usos look to be where the line begins and ends. The mindset of Charlotte Flair may come up for questioning, after she took an intentional disqualification and wrecked Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series. The ongoing tension between Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose surfaced again at Survivor Series and may continue here. Meanwhile, a program between Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio seemed to be in the offing before Survivor Series and may be resumed in earnest this week.
Spotlight: I’d like to start this Spotlight about a goat by using a horse analogy. You should never, as the saying has it, look a gift horse in the mouth. This is basically a weird way of saying that if you’re given a good thing, don’t examine it too carefully to question its worth. Last Tuesday’s SmackDown was an equally weird way to make Daniel Bryan WWE Champion again, and I wish I’d found it easier to enjoy the moment. That may seem picky. It probably is. But I’d feel less cynical about being surprised by a feel-good story of an unretired performer I care about reaching the pinnacle of his industry again if it didn’t seem to be tossed into the mix on a late whim to make a stakes-free pay-per-view work. Anything can happen in WWE, kids! Providing we’re into the last couple of weeks before Survivor Series and Vince can’t figure out what he wants.
These last-minute creative seizures are threatening to become endemic to the brand-on-brand Survivor Series concept; November arrives and suddenly WWE is fighting an urge to sweep everything off the table in pursuit of a one-off set of matches. Lest we forget that AJ Styles began his WWE Championship reign in these exact circumstances; the Jinder Mahal experiment had dragged on for nearly six months before the company suddenly rushed through a televised switch to upgrade Brock Lesnar’s opponent (while the SmackDown Women’s and Raw Tag Team Championships also got traded on television, late on, to line up other pieces of the puzzle). With no disrespect to Mahal, Bryan is not as great an upgrade on Styles as last year’s change was, while Styles himself deserved better than being left off the card entirely.
I realize these are first world problems. At the start of this calendar year, Daniel Bryan as WWE Champion and facing Brock Lesnar was pure fantasy. Obviously none of us picked it in the annual TJRWrestling staff predictions (while my pick that a Money in the Bank cash-in would cause just such a change to the Survivor Series card assumed far more foresight on WWE’s part). I suppose that most of us who had those fantasies saw it playing out as a more deliberate story, where Bryan negotiated a tough road back to the championship, rather than – as appears to have been the case – an eleventh hour change to avoid Styles eating another defeat in a repeat match. It also would’ve been nice if Bryan vs Lesnar could’ve been built up for more than five days – and virtually zero minutes on television.
The match itself was the best of the night, although my enjoyment of it was slightly limited by the fact I’d long since resigned myself – as noted above – to the ‘sweep’ angle, which had only become more and more of a guarantee as the night progressed. If this had been one of those more common Survivor Series results, where Raw squeaks it 4-3, with Ronda Rousey vs Becky Lynch main eventing and pushing this match deeper into the card, I probably could’ve bought Bryan winning during those spots when he had Lesnar in trouble. But although the result never felt in doubt, this match was otherwise everything we could’ve hoped for, with Bryan fighting from underneath and Lesnar working the longer, more entertaining kind of story we rarely get to see from him of late.
This Tuesday we’ll start to get an idea how the immediate future shapes up for Daniel Bryan the WWE Champion and Daniel Bryan the opportunist, low-blowing heel. The latter of those is a fresh, welcome change of direction – having Bryan back performing in a WWE ring remains as precious a commodity as it felt when he returned, but it’s to his benefit to give his character new purpose and direction rather than allowing that to eventually become stale. Bryan going on to tell new stories in a new chapter of his career is exactly what we all wanted to see, and given the entertainment value of his previous run in the company as a heel, there’s every reason to be optimistic. Hopefully this’ll turn out to be an extended run in the main event – and not just a short reign, for the sake of booking Survivor Series, with AJ Styles to be reinstalled at TLC.
Also This Week
There’ll be another double episode of NXT UK (Wednesday), featuring Ligero vs Jordan Devlin, Rhea Ripley vs Xia Brookside and Toni Storm vs Isla Dawn. Semifinals of that Women’s Championship tournament should also start (at least) this week. Domestic NXT (Wednesday) will be a mix of pre-show matches and recap videos from TakeOver; at one stage Matt Riddle vs Kassius Ohno was scheduled, before that took place – very briefly – on the TakeOver show itself.
It’s the final round of pool matches in Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) with Alicia Fox & Jinder Mahal vs Natalya & Bobby Roode, and Lana & Rusev vs Carmella & R-Truth. WWE has announced that the overall winners of the tournament – to be decided at the TLC pay-per-view – will get the #30 draws in their respective Royal Rumble matches. Nice that something’s on the line for the tournament (even if nothing was on the line for Survivor Series).
Gran Metalik vs TJP is announced for 205 Live (Wednesday, not live). A new challenger for Buddy Murphy may also be addressed. New pants for Drake Maverick hopefully won’t be.
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!
- What are your thoughts on Nia Jax?
- If Becky Lynch is fit to wrestle at TLC, who would you like to see her face?
- Did Survivor Series live up to your expectations?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.