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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! WWE’s first all-female pay-per-view is this Sunday and, accordingly, our focus this week is on the company’s women. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 22nd 2018.

Raw (Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence RI)

Announced: Nothing firm announced at the time of writing.

What to expect: The Bellas will probably exact some sort of revenge for Ronda Rousey’s comments last week; it’ll be interesting to see, having dug deep into personal details for last week’s angles, whether we get more of the same here. It certainly made for good television, irrespective of how much we may/may not care for a Rousey vs Nikki Bella match at this point. I’m holding out hope for that Trish Stratus vs Mickie James singles match, but I’m not sure whether we’ll get it – the physicals in that program may get saved for pay-per-view. Expect Sasha Banks, Bayley and Natalya vs The Riott Squad to get made official for Evolution, while some sort of preview of the battle royal (similar to last week’s tag match with Nia Jax, Ember Moon, Tamina and Dana Brooke) is also likely.

Shawn Michaels and Triple H are both advertised to appear, so expect some sort of promo response to The Undertaker and Kane following last week. Also expect fallout from Drew McIntyre levelling Braun Strowman at the end of last Monday’s six-man tag – it could be that McIntyre, Strowman and Dolph Ziggler will have more of an issue with each other going forward than they will with The Shield – where Dean Ambrose’s mindset is still likely to be the focal point. Bobby Lashley is on a collision course with Finn Balor, Elias will probably seek some payback on Apollo Crews after having his segment interrupted last week, and Kurt Angle will probably show up in his floral shirt again to irritate Baron Corbin. We may also learn a bit more about the bracket for WWE’s ‘World Cup’ tournament at Crown Jewel.

Spotlight: Have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss? I mean, recently? Such has been the rise of the diminutive self-proclaimed Goddess that pointing out her virtues nowadays seems superfluous if not passé. She’s become a permanent fixture in the spotlight of Monday Night Raw, while the stars of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Nia Jax and others who many predicted were surer bets for main roster glory upon their graduation from NXT have waned by comparison. There’ll no doubt be many who’d argue natural justice hasn’t been served; that Bliss has been afforded more opportunities than her in-ring work justifies, while those viewed as better workers are slumming it in the undercard. There are certainly fewer who’d argue that two or so years ago, Alexa Bliss was the most likely member of the roster to land a spot opposite Trish Stratus and Lita on pay-per-view.

So what happened? Firstly, Alexa Bliss got too damn good at propelling her character from week to week on the back of minimal time and creative input. This is a skill that particularly suits WWE television; despite the weekly broadcast hours available, few performers – outside, in recent times, of an ‘open challenge’ gimmick or the tag division going on a hot streak – get the opportunity to wrestle substantial, competitive matches on a regular basis. A lot of WWE television is repetitive, cookie-cutter promos and short matches used more as angles. Where Bliss is, in fact, strong in the ring is that every moment serves her character – her facial expressions, her mannerisms, the way she carries herself. I’d argue that Bliss squeezes more storytelling value out of a five-minute match than most – and that’s before we consider her promo ability. Whether she’d wrestle the most entertaining pay-per-view match is a matter for debate; whether she can fill the Mondays in between entertainingly, to sell the pay-per-view match, isn’t.

Where I entirely sympathize with those who bemoan the likes of Sasha Banks and Bayley being underused is that there should be enough time and writing talent on Raw to give them a compelling role, even with the existence of Bliss, Ronda Rousey and others. With Banks and Bayley, we have now reached the final point where their strange year could’ve made any sense; their bust-ups at the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber didn’t lead to a WrestleMania match, nor did their counselling segments lead to a match on sacred ground in Brooklyn for SummerSlam. Now a featured Banks vs Bayley match seemingly won’t come to pass at Evolution either, while speculation their holding pattern partnership was in preparation for new tag team championships has so far proven empty. Alexa Bliss deserves her spot this Sunday; it’s just a shame there isn’t something better on offer for Banks and Bayley too.

SmackDown Live (Prudential Center, Newark NJ)

Announced: Naomi vs Mandy Rose.

What to expect: With last week’s 1,000th episode out of the way, it’s back to normal service for SmackDown Live. Expect Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, helming one of the most important matches on the Evolution card this Sunday, to feature heavily. Elsewhere on the SmackDown roster, there isn’t a lot going on in terms of cohesive women’s storylines leading into Evolution – we’ll come onto that in more detail in a moment – so the announced match between Naomi and Mandy Rose will be an effort to create some sort of an angle leading in. I will be stunned if those two women get through their match this Tuesday without being joined by anybody else for a brawl, either during or after.

AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan failed to co-exist in their tag match last week and, with the WWE Championship match at Crown Jewel now only a couple of weeks away, some sort of face-to-face seems likely. The Bar are the new SmackDown Tag Team Champions and The New Day would seem likely to invoke their rematch clause fairly soon, although the role of Big Show, turning heel last week, is a big question to be answered – is he in The Bar’s corner? Is he out to get The New Day? Or does he have other plans? Tension between SmackDown’s ‘World Cup’ qualifiers is also likely to feature, as is the continuing drama between Aiden English, Rusev and Lana.

Spotlight: As things stand for Evolution, it’s with some regret I have to put the boot into SmackDown Live for failing all but two of their women at a key moment in the company’s history for women’s wrestling. Becky Lynch vs Charlotte Flair is the correct choice at the right time for a championship match at WWE’s first all-female pay-per-view. Beneath that, however, the blue brand has somehow conspired to book its women into a dead end, with no other storyline or angle worth the name. While Raw has Hall of Famers lined up for Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, and what looks like a lip-service trios match for Sasha Banks, Bayley and others, everyone else from the blue brand – from the formerly-undefeated Asuka, who won the first women’s Royal Rumble, to Carmella, who worked her tail off to justify her maiden run as champion – has been piled into a battle royal.

The truth of whether women’s tag team championships – long speculated as a possible next step in WWE’s rehabilitation of its female divisions – were ever a viable possibility for introduction at Evolution may be something we’ll never know for certain. Unless we’re blindsided by some announcements and a rejig of the card this week, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting them. But the pattern of WWE’s booking over the past couple of months has certainly suggested the possibility was at some point open. We’ve already noted some of these patterns on Raw above, while over here on SmackDown the program between Asuka, Naomi and The IIconics seemed to be making strides towards setting up tag team contenders for a division on Tuesday nights too.

But somehow that story came to a conclusion at Super Show-Down in Melbourne and then ran out of road; there were more comprehensive SmackDown women’s storylines at Super Show-Down than there’ll be at the all-women show this Sunday, which seems a pretty bad oversight. Couldn’t Royce and Kay’s win on home turf have been cheap enough to necessitate a rematch at Evolution? Whether it was ever a possibility, the lack of tag team championships being introduced this weekend has revealed an awkward oversight in booking on what’s generally still the better of WWE’s two weekly network shows overall. Yes, SmackDown may only have the two hours to play with while Raw has three, but this was the brand that managed to book three women’s singles matches for Elimination Chamber in 2017. No excuses.

Also This Week

The semifinals of the Mae Young Classic (Wednesday) will be Rhea Ripley vs Io Shirai and Meiko Satomura vs Toni Storm. The two winners will face off in the finals at Evolution on Sunday. With just the two matches for this week’s show – even with the possibility of a filler tag match being broadcast between them – should allow plenty of time to finish what’s been a great second running of this tournament with a couple of excellent contests.

The second episode of NXT UK (Wednesday) sees Tyler Bate vs Wolfgang and Killer Kelly vs Dakota Kai. WWE has been expected to add a match for the new United Kingdom Women’s Championship to the card for Evolution this Sunday, but the tournament that was taped for NXT UK to crown the inaugural champion has yet to be aired – watch out for a possible reveal this Wednesday if that’s going to be rushed through in time for Evolution.

The domestic NXT (Wednesday) is leading with an announcement by General Manager William Regal about the NXT Championship match at the upcoming TakeOver: War Games next month. On 205 Live (Wednesday, not live) it’s Hideo Itami vs Mustafa Ali in a falls count anywhere match, along with Mike Kanellis vs Lince Dorado. This week’s matches on Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) are Bobby Roode & Natalya vs Finn Balor & Bayley, along with Jimmy Uso & Naomi vs The Miz & Asuka.

WWE Evolution (Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and (limited) additions during the week are guaranteed – more on that in a moment. Official matches stated by WWE at time of writing are:

  • Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (c) vs Nikki Bella
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs Charlotte Flair (Last Woman Standing)
  • Trish Stratus & Lita vs Alexa Bliss & Mickie James
  • NXT Women’s Championship: Kairi Sane (c) vs Shayna Baszler
  • Mae Young Classic Finals
  • Battle Royal for a future Women’s Championship opportunity (field includes Asuka, Naomi, Carmella, Nia Jax, Ember Moon, Alicia Fox, Dana Brooke, Lana, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Tamina, Torrie Wilson, Michelle McCool, Alundra Blayze, Ivory, Molly Holly, Kelly Kelly and Maria Kanellis)

What to expect: I really, really wish I didn’t have to tee off on the card of WWE’s first all-female pay-per-view for being inadequate, but for the reasons mentioned in the Spotlights above I can’t help but feel this show is looking like a missed opportunity. We all know there’s enough talent among the women of WWE’s main roster to justify a full card of strong matchups, but for whatever reason WWE has dedicated insufficient time to establishing enough of those through engaging storylines on weekly television. Whether it’s the weird year for Sasha Banks and Bayley, the tag-titles-that-never-were, SmackDown’s inexplicable dead-end for 80% of its roster or whatever, the above card looks frighteningly shallow below its two main championship matches.

Banks and Bayley teaming with Natalya against The Riott Squad (which at least builds logically on previous feuds) will be added to the above, but otherwise the only majority-participation match for the main roster outside of the Raw and SmackDown championship matches is an over-the-top-rope battle royal – and two more prestigious versions of that (Royal Rumble and WrestleMania) have already been held this year. If you’re a modern-day fan who only watches main roster programming and are not particularly stoked about seeing Trish Stratus and Lita teaming up (speaking personally, I thankfully am) or the nostalgia entrants in the battle royal, there’s really very little here to get excited about. And none of that is the fault of the performers.

A disproportionate amount of responsibility, then, rests on the shoulders of women who currently aren’t on WWE’s main roster – and it’s here I find some positives, because this is a remarkable opportunity at exposure for some very talented performers. Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler could steal the show, while the two women in the Mae Young Classic finals – without giving anything away – also have the ability to draw the eye. There’s also the rumored United Kingdom Women’s Championship match. Expect some breakout performances in this part of the undercard. Otherwise, one suspects Ronda Rousey vs Nikki Bella will be the main event – though Becky Lynch vs Charlotte Flair should truthfully be the climax of the show. At least if there’s one thing an all-female WWE pay-per-view guarantees, it’s that the most important women’s matches shouldn’t be shortchanged on time.

Be sure to check in with John and the guys at the end of the week for the full TJRWrestling preview. Despite my pessimism, I’m looking forward to the show – and if, like me, you wish WWE would’ve made a bit more of an effort with it, the answer is to tune in to support the show while making your feelings known on social media. The last part of that is what dragged women’s wrestling in WWE upwards to this point, while the first part is what, above everything, will convince the company to take it further.

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!

  1. Which match are you most looking forward to at WWE Evolution?
  2. Would you have preferred to see Bayley and Sasha Banks wrestling for new tag team championships or facing each other in a singles match?
  3. Is criticism of SmackDown for not booking any other programs for Evolution fair, and what if anything would you have liked to see booked differently?

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

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