Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 15th 2018.

This week sees the 1,000th episode of SmackDown, which is being treated as the pretty big deal that it is for the company – so in reflection of that, for one week only, Tuesday night is where we’ll start.

SmackDown Live (Capital One Arena, Washington DC)

Announced: Rey Mysterio returns to WWE television to face Shinsuke Nakamura in a ‘World Cup’ qualifying match. Evolution – the stable, not the pay-per-view – will reunite which therefore includes a WWE appearance by Batista for the first time in over four years. Appearances from The Undertaker, Kane, Michelle McCool, Torrie Wilson, Vickie Guerrero and Teddy Long have also been confirmed.

What to expect: Wow – Rey Mysterio vs Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s a treat. Mysterio wins a competitive but probably not feature-length match. Otherwise a lot of the show is likely to be based around special appearances. Batista returning is significant and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any indication that he may return to the ring in the future. With The Undertaker and Kane also in the building, it’s possible the segment with Evolution (the stable) could be used to further the tag match with D-Generation X at Crown Jewel. Michelle McCool and Torrie Wilson are likely to announce their involvement at Evolution (the pay-per-view; keep up at the back). There’s also been chatter about possible cameos by Edge (in person) and The Rock (by video), though those possibilities aren’t confirmed.

In the remaining time on the show available for regular storylines, the most likely content will be another ‘World Cup’ qualifying match to round out the eighth and final participant in the tournament for Crown Jewel. The Miz was still sniffing around the WWE Championship picture last week, so it’ll be interesting to see if AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan have a third wheel this week too. Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair had a violent brawl last week, so something more subtle to build towards their upcoming Last Woman Standing contest – a promo or interview or video segment perhaps – seems likely. Finally, Rusev and Aiden English remain deep into soap opera territory after establishing what did and didn’t happen in Milwaukee, and a continuation of that is probably on the way.

Spotlight: Rey Mysterio returning is a pretty great hook for SmackDown’s milestone celebrations and even better is the widespread reports that he’s signed a contract to return as a regular member of the blue roster and this’ll be the first Tuesday of many. Mysterio, who turns 44 in December, looked in fantastic shape when he made his surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble in January and his return to WWE could prove massively valuable to the company for three reasons – his profile as one of the biggest pro wrestling names of the 21st century, his appeal to the Hispanic market and (if his Rumble performance is any sort of barometer) the chance to promote some pretty great wrestling matches.

One assumes he beats Nakamura this week. If you’re to run a tournament full of icons to find ‘the best in the world’, Mysterio is a sound fit; however the terminology is starting to stick in the throat slightly – particularly the use of ‘World Cup’ – when the Californian would be joining four other Americans to have qualified so far, at the expense of a modern-day Japanese icon. Nakamura would make the bracket on a genuine World Cup of WWE 99 times out of 100, but this is the one time when ‘World Cup’ more correctly means ‘surefire Hall-of-Famers the House of Saud may have heard of playoffs’. It’s a shame in a way – though still a tournament I’d watch.

And we get to see Rey Mysterio vs Shinsuke Nakamura on the 1,000th episode of SmackDown, which is pretty amazing. On a two-hour show where we’d have to assume Evolution (the stable, not the pay-per-view) will get the maximum amount of screen time you could possibly justify, plus the promise of an Undertaker segment – if it includes his entrance, that’s another five to ten minutes right there – we may need to temper our expectations for how long the match will be able to go; however being left wanting more wouldn’t be the worse feeling. If Mysterio will indeed be sticking around on Tuesday nights going forward, a full United States Championship program between these two would be very welcome.

Once again, as with the return to the ring for Daniel Bryan, we’re blessed with a situation of listing dream opponents for Mysterio who have established themselves in WWE since his last run with the company. Nakamura is high up that list and (as far as I’m aware) would be a genuine first-time-ever, while so many other potential matchups would be fresh and novel. On SmackDown alone you’d list Bryan, AJ Styles, Rusev, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Samoa Joe – and all those before you’d need to a) look at the Raw roster, or b) consider pairing him up with someone (if the WWE Championship picture isn’t Daniel Bryan’s destiny, there would be worse choices) and do a shift in the blue brand’s outstanding tag division. Exciting times ahead.

Raw (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA)

Announced: Seth Rollins vs Drew McIntyre and Dean Ambrose vs Dolph Ziggler in two ‘World Cup’ qualifying matches. WWE.com is also indicating that Ronda Rousey addressing last week’s beatdown by the Bellas is a confirmed segment.

What to expect: There’s no reason for those two announced matches tonight to be anything other than very good, although at least some focus will be on Dean Ambrose walking away from his two Shield brothers after the conclusion of last week’s six-man tag. There’s almost certainly more distance for that story to run, while Braun Strowman, Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler weren’t exactly a harmonious trio on last week’s show either. The winners of tonight’s matches will join four WWE veterans at Crown Jewel, so the results will be very interesting. I’d pick Rollins and Ambrose if you held a gun to my head. The Undertaker and Kane are expected to respond to Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement and D-Generation X’s challenge for Crown Jewel, in Raw’s other big story.

Ronda Rousey will seek some sort of retribution on Nikki and Brie Bella. I’d have to think, with Nikki being the one booked to face Rousey for the title, that Brie will catch an armbar this week or next. A tag match with Natalya may also go down. Bobby Lashley has a new alignment; expect him to cement his heel turn here, possibly to start a program with Finn Balor (and certainly with Lio Rush on a live microphone). Alexa Bliss and Mickie James are likely to respond to the challenge they now face at Evolution (the pay-per-view, not the stable) from Trish Stratus and Lita. AOP vs Chad Gable & Bobby Roode is an excellent bet for a tag team match on this week’s show, while keep an eye out for Baron Corbin’s reaction to Kurt Angle getting one over his previous authority-figure-rival in last week’s battle royal.

Spotlight: Last week I had a minor nervous breakdown when I came to write the Spotlight for Raw. We’ve just come off a stadium show but nothing’s really changed, I wailed at myself while sat in front of the keyboard, and we’ve already talked about most of the things that are happening on Monday nights in as much detail as bears detailing. Suffice to say that my experience watching Raw last week was like a drowning man surfacing to gasp oxygen. Shawn Michaels unretires! Bobby Lashley turns! The Bellas mugged Ronda Rousey! Trish Stratus and Lita are now teaming at Evolution (the pay-per-view, not the stable)! Kurt Angle returned! Dean Ambrose walked away from his Shield brothers! Hardly anything on the show was unremarkable.

I’ll need to be very selective about what we go on to look at here, just in case the above subjects are the only ones we’re stuck with for the next several weeks, but it’s a welcome problem to have. Let’s talk about Michaels, whose agreement to step into the ring again had long been reported – John posted our report on it over a month ago – but the storyline justification for which has only now been squared. Coming out of an in-ring retirement after more than eight years (almost exactly twice as long as the duration of his first retirement from 1998), caused by a WrestleMania stipulation, needs more than a cursory dismissal. Tying that stipulation to The Undertaker’s honor, then rescinding it in kind when his honor is tainted by events that follow, is simplistic but it works.

There was something that really bothered me about last week’s segment, which was this: Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest of all time, on the lists of anybody and everybody, and so much of his legacy is assured even outside of his D-Generation X material. I personally think it’s indisputable that ‘Shawn Michaels’ is a bigger deal than ‘D-Generation X’. So why was the main thrust of the promo sunk into the giddiness of a DX reunion rather than the wider headline of a pre-eminent Hall of Famer coming out of retirement? Maybe I’m a dunce for missing the obvious catchphrase cue, but I was expecting Triple H’s three words that Michaels never thought he’d hear again to be along the lines of ‘lace your boots’. Sod your catchphrases, you can wheel them out next week – Shawn Michaels is wrestling again.

Everybody has a price. If you’re enjoying the nostalgia trips of recent Raws and this week’s SmackDown, chances are you’ll have heard that phrase used in pro wrestling before. Here, WWE getting several million dollars for its shows in Saudi Arabia is the price that has brought Michaels out of retirement. With U.S. Senators calling for Crown Jewel to be pulled, whether his return to the ring goes ahead as advertised isn’t beyond the possibility of change, but the taboo of ‘one more match’ has now been broken. Whether or not Shawn Michaels wants to do more than one match and, especially pertinent after watching Undertaker and Triple H in Melbourne, the question of whether his body will let him remains to be seen. But let the lobbying for dream matches against the likes of Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles resume more fiercely than ever.

Also This Week

WWE’s midweek schedule has suddenly become even more loaded, with the fairly short-notice announcement of the NXT UK (Wednesday) premiere this week. It goes out at 8pm UK time, which is 3pm Eastern in the States. Pete Dunne vs Noam Dar for Dunne’s United Kingdom Championship is the big hook for episode #1. Only 999 to go before it matches SmackDown’s achievement – which would be somewhere around the New Year in 2038. You’re welcome.

The main-brand NXT (Wednesday) show has what’s being billed as a double main event, with Undisputed Era vs War Raiders for the NXT Tag Team Championships and a rematch between Nikki Cross and Bianca Belair. Elsewhere, it’s quarterfinals week on the Mae Young Classic (Wednesday), with Meiko Satomura vs Lacey Lane, Toni Storm vs Mia Yim, Tegan Nox vs Rhea Ripley and Io Shirai vs Deonna Purrazzo. It’s a little unfortunate that four such promising matches are being jammed into a single hour, but the tournament needs to get broadcast before Evolution (the pay-per-view, not the stable).

Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) sees The Miz & Asuka vs Rusev & Lana, while the place of the injured Kevin Owens – now off having knee surgery – will be taken by Bobby Roode who will team with Natalya against Bobby Lashley & Mickie James. That’s quite a few substitutions we’re seeing with MMC this year. Finally, nothing’s being promoted for 205 Live (Wednesday, not live) but last week’s debut of Mike and Maria Kanellis on the brand is a sure bet for being followed up.

Three Burning Questions

All SmackDown-related this week; two serious and one slightly cheeky – though you can bet I’ll have the stopwatch out for that third one on Tuesday night now I’ve thought of it. Throw down your answers in the comments section as usual.

  1. What’s your favorite moment from SmackDown over its first 999 episodes?
  2. Who of the list of returns and cameos for SmackDown’s 1,000th episode are you most looking forward to seeing?
  3. Do you think more of SmackDown’s 1,000th episode will be spent on Evolution the stable (whose main run ended in 2005) or Evolution the pay-per-view (happening at the end of next week)?

Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.