Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! I didn’t watch Crown Jewel live; the first I heard about what happened was from John’s write-up – thought he’d started his birthday celebrations early and was tripping. No such luck. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 5th 2018.
Raw (Manchester Arena, Manchester, UK)
Announced: Bobby Lashley vs Finn Balor (again). The Riott Squad vs Sasha Banks, Bayley & Natalya (again). Ronda Rousey will respond to Becky Lynch’s promo from last week’s episode of SmackDown.
What to expect: Well, thank God Survivor Series is coming. The downside is there are only two weeks left to build it, so expect this week to be heavy on interbrand rivalry and setting up matches. There’s a SmackDown house show less than two hours away from Manchester tonight, so the odd cross-brand run-in isn’t beyond possibility. New Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, obviously, isn’t making the trip, so there’s little point in AJ Styles rocking up, but Becky Lynch doorstepping Ronda Rousey’s promo doesn’t sound like a bad idea. We’ll see. Two Survivor Series matches for which we should definitely expect to see red halves get arranged tonight are the traditional elimination matches, with teams of men and women both needing to be picked. Tonight’s six-woman tag rematch from Evolution will surely play into the formation of Raw’s women’s team.
A big issue ahead of Survivor Series (which is being picked up on the WWE.com preview too) is that Raw doesn’t really have functional tag team champions. Expect further developments between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, and probably some sort of arrangement for new champions. If the latter happens, AOP and the team of Bobby Roode and Chad Gable put themselves in good positions to feature last Monday. Elsewhere, expect Braun Strowman to hunt down Baron Corbin with bad intentions after the acting GM blindsided him before his Universal Championship match on Friday. How Dolph Ziggler reacts to an unprepared Shane McMahon beating him handily in the ‘World Cup’ at Crown Jewel (and also how Kurt Angle reacts to being handily beaten by Dolph Ziggler) may also be on the agenda. Also tonight, Finn Balor wrestles Bobby Lashley, which is a sentence I’d already typed before WWE officially announced the match this afternoon.
Spotlight: WWE remains on the road this week, with Raw and SmackDown broadcasting their now-customary November episodes from the United Kingdom. Pity the Manchester Arena, though, as this year it will be playing both maid and midwife; clearing up the creative mess from the debauched booking party that was Crown Jewel, while simultaneously delivering the difficult birth of a Raw vs SmackDown program – likely for no more than ‘brand supremacy’ and with little greater rationale behind matches other than whomsoever happen to be champions right now – that has to be resolved within two weeks. A lot needs to happen on both shows this week, which usually means they’ll either be great television or a hot mess. Take your pick as to which is more likely.
We’ll try to address some of SmackDown’s lion’s share of the problems later. Raw’s chief problem obviously lies at the top of its card, with what can only be described as a regressive step in returning the Universal Championship to the (now leaner) waist of Brock Lesnar. It’s a tacit admission that, over what looks like being a few months more, Raw won’t be touring or broadcasting for most weeks with a world champion. Clearly, obviously, this is Plan B and there isn’t a person watching who’d have preferred a healthy and well Roman Reigns as champion right now, but no top title on a show that has already lost its top guy is just another handicap. No pressure on Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to have the feud of the year, then.
Those guys aside, what else can top the Raw card while Lesnar is off preparing for UFC? I’m all for Ronda Rousey and Nia Jax getting more exposure, but otherwise it looks like Braun Strowman either in a hoss fight with Drew McIntyre (interesting) or pasting Baron Corbin in short order (less interesting). It’s truth that Strowman has again been lessened by eating an anticlimactic three-minute defeat, not because he was made to look weak – needing five F-5s after a championship belt to the back of the head to keep someone down is quite a lot – but because he was made to look something of an afterthought, a disposable prop in the cause of returning to the status quo of Lesnar as champion in the quickest way possible. Asides from Rollins and Ambrose, that’s probably the third most relevant guy regularly on Monday nights.
As I’ve been trying to think over the weekend why WWE may have gone down this path, I keep coming back to the shock news about Roman Reigns and what a rattled team of decision-makers in the company would suddenly have been required to do. Their personal, emotional attachments to Reigns aside (and I can’t begin to think of the impact the news of his leukemia would’ve had on his friends and co-workers), the company was clearly settling into a long run with him as its face and top draw. Not only is he now on the shelf, but a return date can’t even be penciled in. Retreating into familiar territory is an understandable move – Brock Lesnar as an absent champion may be something most of us feel has run its course, but it’s a known quantity for WWE.
In this sense, the company has bought itself time; probably quite literally when you wonder how much money was thrown at Lesnar for this latest contract extension. Rather than take the plunge with Strowman as Universal Champion and winging it with challengers to him thereafter, presumably what we’ll now start to see on Raw is some subtle repositioning of key talent while the company figures out who is going to step up to fill the boots of Roman Reigns; that person will then have the chance to go through the same rite of passage (i.e. Lesnar) that Reigns did and eventually there’ll be some semblance of order restored to Monday nights. But the first step, an absent champion and a neutered monster, does look to be a pretty conservative one.
SmackDown Live (Manchester Arena, Manchester, UK)
Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing.
What to expect: One of the most coherent angles to come out of Crown Jewel was Randy Orton’s post-match attack on Rey Mysterio in the ‘World Cup’ tournament. A feud of some sort seems certain to be set up from tonight. Some sort of storyline update on The Miz’s ‘injury’ at Crown Jewel is a certainty (as well as how he feels about being replaced by Shane McMahon in the finals. Meanwhile, WWE Champion AJ Styles will probably be filling time talking about his Survivor Series opponent who definitely won’t be showing up to face him this week, and the reintroduction of his original opponent for Crown Jewel, Daniel Bryan, to the show will be an interesting detail to watch for.
Elsewhere, Survivor Series is likely to dominate again – and with the Raw house show less than an hour down the road, cross-brand appearances are very possible here. Shinsuke Nakamura got a welcome, unexpected appearance at Crown Jewel to defend his United States Championship. His next focus is Seth Rollins. The Bar presumably await some sort of news from Monday night about the Raw Tag Team Championships. Charlotte Flair was unsure seven days ago about whether she’d captain the SmackDown women’s team for the traditional elimination match; we should get an update on how she’s feeling about that here. Oh yes, and some rationale behind Shane McMahon winning the ‘World Cup’ at Crown Jewel would be nice.
Spotlight: Funnily enough, non-wrestler Shane McMahon winning a tournament he didn’t enter to be named ‘best in the world’, off a move that (without a chair or trash can assisting) I don’t think has beaten anyone ever, having kicked out of a finisher that put an Olympian and Hall of Famer away clean earlier the same night isn’t the biggest question I have coming out of Crown Jewel for SmackDown. This is WWE; shit like that tends to happen. Shit that doesn’t tend to happen in WWE is talent declining to perform; in part no doubt due to a perception that a negative effect on your career from doing so is one of the things that does happen. John Cena is too big a commodity (not to mention too part-time) for the company to dent the prospects of, even if they wished to. Daniel Bryan, though?
All eyes will be on what creative has for Bryan this Tuesday, following his extensively-reported decision not to perform at Crown Jewel. Let’s be clear from the outset that in a fair world, Bryan and his many admirers should have nothing to fear; objecting to being part of something on solid moral grounds – and whether you agree with WWE pushing ahead with Crown Jewel or not, from the widespread coverage it’s indisputable that those principles are a valid point of view – shouldn’t be penalized if the absence is worked out amicably and professionally in advance (as this appears to have been). The question of what would constitute punishment, however, is a very difficult one because the answers are often based on subjective points of view.
There’ll doubtless be a fervent slice of the fan community who will see anything less than a WWE Championship win in the next six months (possibly to a year if we’re generous) as some kind of punishment for Bryan, but this assumes that was always the plan for him. It may well be a false assumption. Bryan was never a lock to be a WWE Champion again on his return due to his injury history; you couldn’t blame the company for not taking a chance on him as their main champion if they were unsure that he wouldn’t break down again. Furthermore and by the same logic – and I’m sorry, but this’ll hurt me as much as it hurts you – you also couldn’t blame the company if they’re unsure he’d be willing to carry that championship into their most lucrative show of the year.
If WWE’s 2019 calendar is similar to 2018, the next big event under their Saudi Arabian contract might be within three weeks of WrestleMania, by which time I assume WWE hopes the country will have slipped back down the news agenda. For months, I’ve had my fingers crossed that the natural course of events on SmackDown Live would lead to The Miz (worthily) dethroning AJ Styles as WWE Champion and Bryan getting his moment of redemption in April. But would you crown a WWE Champion in the knowledge he may not work the next pay-per-view? I know; Brock Lesnar etc. But Styles – who returns to the scene of his title win this week, one year later – has notably failed to cross paths with Randy Orton until now. That seems like a more likely WWE Championship program for WrestleMania as things stand.
What, then, could realistically be next for Daniel Bryan in the short term? An immediate return to his feud with Miz seems most likely and, to be fair, some clever creative management. Since they last fought, Bryan has blown his title shot (and don’t think ‘you never even got to Crown Jewel before losing’ would be off-limits for a Miz promo) while Miz has very deliberately had the never-been-injured boast that he was rubbing in Bryan’s face taken away from him. Both men now have new things to say to each other; that’s good work. Beyond that, towards WrestleMania, perhaps he’ll be guy to take ‘best in the world’ Shane McMahon down a notch in a revisit of their authority figure relationship. Any hopes of more than that should probably be tamed.
Also This Week
Apologies firstly for being caught out by last week’s WWE Network schedule and not spotting there were back-to-back NXT UK (Wednesday) episodes lined up. That’s happening again this week. Pete Dunne vs Danny Burch will be on the first episode, airing at the normal time, while Mark Andrews, Flash Morgan Webster & Ashton Smith vs Wolfgang & The Coffey Brothers will main event the second one that follows immediately after. I wish they’d started mainlining NXT UK episodes sooner so there’d been a chance of getting the UK Women’s Championship dark match that took place at Evolution broadcast on the Kickoff or something.
Domestic NXT (Wednesday) features Velveteen Dream vs Lars Sullivan and Lacey Evans in action, as the yellow brand enters the last couple of weeks building towards TakeOver: War Games the night before Survivor Series. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, that card is shaping up to be rock solid.
205 Live (Wednesday, not live) features Buddy Murphy vs Mark Andrews and TJP vs Gran Metalik. Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) sees Bobby Lashley & Mickie James vs Finn Balor & Bayley, along with R-Truth & Carmella vs Jimmy Uso & Naomi – and if, like me, you’re wondering whether Mixed Match Challenge might be starting to outstay its welcome this time around (I feel like there’s perhaps one round of matches too many in this format), I’m afraid it’ll be with us until TLC in mid-December.
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 should Raw hit the ground running after Crown Jewel?
- How should SmackDown hit the ground running after Crown Jewel?
- Are you still interested in the Raw vs SmackDown concept for Survivor Series, or do you feel it’s run its course?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.