Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Starrcade happened (which I’d managed to be completely unaware of this time last Monday), Daniel Bryan explained why he’s an asshole now and people made fun of Drake Maverick peeing himself. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 26th 2018.
Raw (Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee WI)
Announced: AOP (c) vs Bobby Roode & Chad Gable for the Raw Tag Team Championships. Elias vs Bobby Lashley. Baron Corbin vs Finn Balor. Seth Rollins will issue an open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship.
What to expect: Lots announced this week. Seth Rollins has a date with Dean Ambrose at TLC, so at the least would be expected to win his open challenge tonight (assuming it goes to a finish and isn’t compromised by Ambrose). Few people have been asking for another Baron Corbin vs Finn Balor match, but the sub-plots here are whether any indication is given of a change of direction from the planned Corbin vs Braun Strowman match for TLC, given Strowman’s surgery for bone chips is reported to be happening today. Balor, also, seems to have a feud brewing with Drew McIntyre. Meanwhile, Elias vs Bobby Lashley is precious little more than what’s being described on the tin.
As I’ll come onto in a moment, I’m not exactly stoked to see the match for the tag championships. AOP really shouldn’t lose the titles this soon after winning them. Sadly the biggest guarantee here is more lavatorial humor, so I’m going for ‘AOP retains after Drake Maverick causes a distraction by deliberately peeing himself’. Any other tag matches will be short and fairly pointless. Expect Nia Jax to continue to heavily reference her ‘facebreaker’ right hand and step up to Ronda Rousey to build their championship match for TLC. It’s unclear whether Natalya’s personal feud with Ruby Riott and her Squad is now over but, given Bayley and Sasha Banks haven’t got anything else to do, the chances of seeing yet another six-woman tag sadly can’t be dismissed.
Spotlight: As we hurtle towards the ‘look back on the year’ season, it’s likely already beyond argument that no division in WWE has had a rougher 2018 than the Raw tag team division. True, the lineage of Raw’s Universal Championship has been profoundly depressing – around the waist of an absentee Brock Lesnar for most of the year, asides from a brief, awkwardly-booked spell where WWE tried to reverse the prevailing winds of popularity towards Roman Reigns (which, of course, ended abruptly and technically successfully, but for the saddest of unexpected reasons). The show’s tag division, however, has been prolific in providing cheap disappointment.
Short matches, unimaginative booking and established tag duos being given very little relevance or momentum are the chief problems, while the Tag Team Championships in 2018 capture the misery well. Seth Rollins has lost them while outnumbered twice, starting the year with his ‘partnership’ with Jason Jordan. Braun Strowman has single-handedly wrecked tag team battle royals twice; the first led to him ending The Bar’s reign at WrestleMania while accompanied by a ten-year-old boy. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt teamed blandly, with Wyatt practically unchanged by Hardy’s Lake of Reincarnation. The B-Team’s run was a comedy gimmick, before Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler held the titles as accessories during a six-man feud that primarily addressed the Universal and Intercontinental Championships.
The remaining part of 2018 doesn’t promise much improvement. Having established a credible specialist tag team as undisputed champions, free from the concerns of singles competition, last week’s Raw set up the next championship feud in one of the few ways it seems to know how – a non-title defeat via some flavor of flash pin inside of five minutes. It matters little that it was a sunset flip rather than a ROLLUP OF DEATH~! or that it was executed by Chad Gable, whose in-ring work couldn’t be prettier if you tied a bow on it. It’s a lazy way of setting up a match that could’ve been purpose-built for the TLC Kickoff show were it not taking place tonight, and which only gets worse when you scratch the surface to the ‘story’ beneath.
If your heart sank when Drake Maverick ‘peed his pants’ in setting up the finish of AOP’s Survivor Series match, it at least in part would’ve been because you knew it would lead to a barrage of third-grade humor on Raw the next night. Bless Maverick for doing selfless work here, but the Authors of Pain used to be managed by Paul Ellering. Now they’re getting ‘A-O-Pee-Pee’ chanted at them. Gable and Bobby Roode, meanwhile, still feel like a placeholder team with a limited shelf life. Can Roode get on and turn on Gable already? Their team still doesn’t have the sort of natural foundations that were present when Gable paired with Shelton Benjamin (sharing amateur and tag specialist backgrounds), or when blood rivals Sheamus and Cesaro came together.
When the Superstar Shake-up this year (ugh, can’t believe I’m having to write that phrase again already) sent The Bar and Gallows & Anderson to SmackDown – which already had two bona-fide Hall of Fame teams in The Usos and The New Day – the imbalance between the brands was made concrete. Injuries may have hit Breezango, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn who went the other way, but there’s little evidence them being fit to wrestle would’ve made any difference to Raw’s priorities. There’s still regular reasons for optimism in SmackDown’s tag programming. On Monday nights, however, tag team wrestling has been firmly established as the new bathroom break slot – no Maverick-related pun intended. We’ll see how tonight’s championship match goes and revisit this again in next week’s column.
SmackDown Live (Target Center, Minneapolis MN)
Announced: AJ Styles will return to address Daniel Bryan.
What to expect: What’s AJ Styles likely to say about Daniel Bryan? If he’s angry and it includes the words “coward”, “respect” or “honor”, take a shot and I’ll see you all at the emergency room for us to have our stomachs pumped together. Seriously though, I hope we see more of the ‘new’ Daniel Bryan turning up to spar with Styles here, as this has the makings of a good program. Further indications of the short-term future of Becky Lynch and the SmackDown Women’s Championship would also be most welcome – Lynch is one of the hottest acts in the company, and her absence is being felt. More about Charlotte Flair’s recent vicious streak may alternatively be explored. Expect Rey Mysterio to be on Randy Orton’s case after Orton unmasked him at the end of last Tuesday’s main event.
The Miz may well continue to suck up to Commissioner Shane McMahon, although it isn’t clear where this may be going. Fallout from Miz taking an embarrassing defeat last week will probably be the focus. It also remains to be seen whether winning a Thanksgiving-themed street fight gives The New Day the next title shot against tag champions The Bar, when The Usos looked like they were at the front of the line by sealing Team SmackDown’s only win at Survivor Series (6-1). The number one contendership might be resolved this week. The slow burn towards a split between Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville will also probably continue; so far, I’d have to say it’s been nicely paced and hopefully will boost both women’s profiles.
Spotlight: This is as good an opportunity as any to apologize to the NWA/WCW lifers for me missing Starrcade out of last Monday’s Week In Preview. It had honestly passed me by until it was mentioned on Raw and SmackDown during the week – though, in fairness, the depth and importance of the version of it that aired on the WWE Network yesterday suggests it wasn’t the greatest crime in the world to have missed it. It was a better use of an hour than Main Event, say, which is such a colossal waste of time that I never even mention it in these previews (nor do I watch it regularly either, what with WWE putting out so much more vital in-ring content – perhaps if I did I’d be more interested in the Raw tag team division).
Anyway, you can read John’s review of the show here. Arguably the best content it provided was from SmackDown Live. AJ Styles, having effectively been given the weekend of Survivor Series off (swapped out of the match with Brock Lesnar in favor of Daniel Bryan before not being used on Tuesday night), beat Samoa Joe inside a steel cage – it would’ve been nice to see Joe finally get a win over Styles given the WWE Championship is no longer at stake between them, but never mind – and Rey Mysterio feature in an entertaining, disposable multi-part segment with The Miz and Shinsuke Nakamura (and, later on, Rusev). Mysterio remains a fresh part of SmackDown since his return to the company, though spreading him too thinly across programs with little consequence may cause that freshness to fade.
Perhaps here, what’s happened with Daniel Bryan since his return to the ring on SmackDown could be considered a cautionary tale. Shuttling Bryan between short programs and one-off matches, based on little other selling points but the novelty of Bryan wrestling again, gave his character very little to ground himself with. Until he moved full-time into his feud with The Miz, there was the one-time WrestleMania program with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, abortive spats with Big Cass and Rusev, one-off ‘dream matches’ with the likes of AJ Styles, usually in service of other feuds, and a tag titles shot with Kane. His program with Miz gave him more definition, before the reinvention of his character in last Tuesday’s searing heel promo.
Rey Mysterio doesn’t need to get his teeth into a heel character, nor would it even be a decision that suits him as a performer as it does with Bryan. No, the best thing to happen to Mysterio right now is for him to get sunk exclusively into his feud with Randy Orton, which at times until last week has been playing out as subplot of whatever else Mysterio has been doing at the time, be it proceeding through a ‘World Cup’ tournament at Crown Jewel, featuring on a Survivor Series elimination team or working matches at a revival house show under a long-defunct pay-per-view name. A lot of that is no doubt down to the limited schedule Randy Orton has negotiated, but hopefully after the violent end to last Tuesday’s match it should be full steam ahead.
For as much as I’d like to see Rey Mysterio in full programs with Shinsuke Nakamura and The Miz in the near future – perhaps one of those will come around by WrestleMania – last Tuesday’s show-closing angle should at least guarantee that Orton vs Mysterio is now a lock for TLC. There remains a graphic and shocking quality, which is a rare commodity in a PG environment, in removing a luchador’s mask, particularly from someone as iconic as Rey Mysterio. Like Daniel Bryan seems ready to repeat, a heel turn has been massively liberating for Randy Orton, who has plumbed depths of discomfort in the second half of this year with Jeff Hardy and now Mysterio. I’m very much ready to see these two WWE veterans tear into each other from here through to the Royal Rumble at least.
Also This Week
Big week for NXT UK (Wednesday). With the first NXT UK TakeOver show announced for January, this week’s double-episode will crown the brand’s first Women’s Champion – either Rhea Ripley or Toni Storm. Pete Dunne vs Jordan Devlin for the United Kingdom Championship is also scheduled, along with Millie McKenzie & Xia Brookside vs Charlie Morgan & Killer Kelly.
The knockout stage of Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) begins this week, with the Raw semifinals this week. Those are Bayley & Finn Balor vs Mickie James & Bobby Lashley, plus Alicia Fox & Jinder Mahal vs Ember Moon and an injury replacement – unnamed at the time of writing – for Braun Strowman. SmackDown semifinals are next week.
205 Live (Wednesday, not live) features Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali vs Buddy Murphy & Tony Nese and a return to action for Hideo Itami, in the one show of the week where Drake Maverick hopefully won’t have to endure pee jokes. Meanwhile, the original NXT (Wednesday) leads with Lars Sullivan vs Keith Lee, which indicates we’ll be diving into the yellow brand’s recent television tapings in San Jose.
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!
- How do you fix a problem like Raw’s tag team division?
- Which of Rey Mysterio’s many possible next programs would you be most interested in seeing?
- Did you watch Starrcade and, if so, what did you think of the format?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.