Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 29th 2018.
Last week was a bit of a strange one. It ended with a (very good) all-female pay-per-view, but started with one of the most shocking and sad moments on WWE television in many years. Get well soon, Roman. The strangeness isn’t behind us yet, as we’re all off to Saudi Arabia this Friday. Strap in.
Raw (Spectrum Center, Charlotte NC)
Announced: Nothing firm announced, although the reveal for the ‘World Cup’ tournament brackets for Crown Jewel were mentioned in passing during the Evolution broadcast last night.
What to expect: The big story tonight is likely to revolve around Dean Ambrose, who turned on Seth Rollins after the pair won the Raw Tag Team Championships in last week’s main event. The first question to answer will be why he did it (which could be an awkward one aimed at Renee Young by her fellow members of the announce team). The second question will be what happens to the tag titles. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre might ordinarily be seeking a rematch for those; McIntyre, meanwhile, is clearly setting up a future Universal Championship feud with Braun Strowman. Strowman, meanwhile, faces Brock Lesnar in Saudi Arabia this Friday for said Universal Championship.
Nia Jax won the battle royal at Evolution last night to get a future championship shot at Ronda Rousey. WWE tends to follow through on these stipulations pretty quickly, so expect that to be set up tonight; bear in mind that Survivor Series is the next major stop for the company’s women, so booking for that division should now begin to lead towards that event. Meanwhile, looking ahead to the other matches at Crown Jewel, there’s a good chance D-Generation X will get into it with Kane and The Undertaker and, if John Cena is pulling out of the World Cup tournament (as has been rumored), we should learn of his replacement here. Other points likely to be touched on tonight include a follow-up on last week’s apparent face turn for Elias and probably Bobby Lashley beating down Finn Balor for beating him with a flash pin last Monday.
Spotlight: A week on, it’s still tough to come to terms with the news about Roman Reigns, more still to put it into any sort of context. The unexpected shock of his announcement no doubt accounts for some of that. That’s cancer for you, though; whatever science or statistics tell us about who may be at a higher or lower risk, it can (and does) strike indiscriminately – even if you’re big, tough, fit, young, seemingly indestructible and the face of a billion-dollar entertainment company. Before last Monday, Reigns was the most divisive figure in WWE. Now he’s the least divisive; every wrestling fan in the world will be behind him. However, until the triumphant return we’re all looking forward to him making, there’s a massive void that WWE will need to fill.
Solidarity with Roman Reigns and addressing the pressing issue of his absence should not be mutually exclusive. Even given the most optimistic timetables, November is upon us and the Royal Rumble will follow soon; plans for WrestleMania will need to be drawn up that don’t include Reigns in a fifth consecutive main event. Beyond that, nothing is certain. In this light, launching the inevitable program between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins with the maximum possible heat – Ambrose turning on Rollins on the same night – was a bold and brilliant move. And I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with the point of view that doing so was in poor taste.
I apologize for what might come across as a blunt and uncomfortable point, but last week’s Raw wasn’t a tribute show in memoriam when storylines and regular programming get suspended (and, obviously, nor should it have been); WWE put two and a half hours of business as usual between Reigns’ announcement and Ambrose’s turn, while – wisely – Reigns wasn’t involved in the angle itself. From the point of view of the narrative, there’s no reason why Ambrose boiling over on Rollins a) has to be incongruous with a continuing love of Reigns, or b) get magically defused when, whatever his reasons, his breaking point was clearly imminent. Too soon, though? See how many times Roman’s announcement is recapped tonight; I doubt the angle would’ve felt a lot less exploitative this week.
However you look at it, WWE has a void to fill at the top of the card. To fill it, the guys who were just below the main event scene – such as Rollins and Ambrose – will have to step up, and the best WWE can do to help them is to put them into the strongest starting positions possible and give their characters more urgency. It’s striking while the iron is hottest. It’s also the polar opposite of what Raw has done with Sasha Banks and Bayley this year (and why some parts of Evolution last night felt like a consolation prize). The Shield going back into mothballs left little ground to cover before the turn anyway. Until Roman Reigns is back with us, I can think of nothing better than Ambrose and Rollins ripping it up in his honor.
SmackDown Live (State Farm Arena, Atlanta GA)
Announced: Nothing announced for SmackDown at time of writing either. As a quick local note, the State Farm Arena was until recently known as the Philips Arena.
What to expect: Apart from being a good rub for The Usos, who haven’t had much else going for them on SmackDown recently, the last couple of Tuesdays have been effective at driving a wedge between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan for their face vs face match at Crown Jewel. There are rumors that Bryan may not travel to Saudi Arabia for the event; if there’s any substance to that, we should find out here. Becky Lynch retained her Women’s Championship in an outstanding match with Charlotte Flair at Evolution last night, and may now seek a new challenger. As with Raw, the next stop for SmackDown’s women will be Survivor Series. Perhaps there’ll be more storylines for the blue brand’s women coming out of last night’s battle royal?
The Big Show is, it turns out, very much aligned with The Bar now, evening out the numbers ahead of their title rematch with The New Day at Crown Jewel. Expect more instances of Big E, Kofi and Xavier trying to live with this new alliance this week. Elsewhere, it’ll be interesting to see if the story between Rusev, Lana and Aiden English has come to what seemed to be an abrupt end last week – and, if so, what’s next for all involved. If any remaining parts of the ‘World Cup’ bracket haven’t been revealed following Raw, that will be concluded here, while the four SmackDown participants in the tournament will probably face off in some form, perhaps not dissimilarly to last week. Pencil in a dance break skit with R-Truth and Carmella somewhere too.
Spotlight: I wonder if we’ve underestimated how smartly WWE have been playing the situation with Becky Lynch. This occurred to me over the weekend, in the build-up to Evolution, watching videos the company was posting to YouTube chronicling Lynch’s media commitments in New York. I know YouTube isn’t television, nor is it always kayfabe. However, watching Lynch switch effortlessly between characterized self-aggrandizement and introspection, and in particular genuine love for her fans in the clip below, it’s clear that WWE’s on-screen portrayal of her is no impediment to her value as an ambassador for the company. If anything, it looks to be the opposite. There’s a logical argument that if whatever you’re doing is making someone a big star, then for goodness’ sake, keep doing it and don’t change anything.
With intended antagonists in WWE who have organically become anti-heroes, such as Steve Austin and CM Punk, it’s generally been the case that very little in the character changes. Punk, in particular, carried an arrogance similar to Lynch about his greatness no matter which side of the moral line he was on. We’re kidding ourselves if we think WWE isn’t aware of the unintended reactions Becky Lynch is getting; of course they are. They must also have become aware that if they fed it, through brutal one-liners about Edge’s neck (or dubbing in boos at that point in video packages), it’ll grow. When Michael Cole slipped in a line at the conclusion of last night’s awesome Last Woman Standing match, validating this response by “many of these WWE fans”, it seemed both an admission and a boast. WWE has managed to make all the cool kids love Becky Lynch, without telling all the cool kids to love Becky Lynch.
The choice of Lynch’s next challenger could, however, be a pivotal moment. I think it’s fair to say that throughout this program with Charlotte Flair – which does, now, appear to have reached a definitive end – at least some of the prevailing wind that has turned fans so vocally behind a woman they’re explicitly being told to dislike has originated from who fans have explicitly been told to like by comparison. Flair has already had a strong 2018. Judging fan reactions, this program doesn’t feel like it’s been as simple as ‘like Becky’ and ‘dislike Charlotte’ – on the whole, I think the majority are still fond of Charlotte – but rather ‘right now it should be Becky’s time over Charlotte’. WWE may have seemed tone deaf with alignments in this feud, but they ultimately recognized the correct outcome.
Where Lynch’s next challenger becomes interesting is that this dynamic won’t necessarily exist with women who aren’t Charlotte Flair. If Flair is done with the championship picture on SmackDown for now and may instead be lined up for a Royal Rumble win and Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania – if anything more likely in the absence of Roman Reigns from that show – the blue brand will be full of women who aren’t Charlotte Flair. Moreover, many of them share the popular perception of Lynch’s USP of being overlooked. Naomi, for example, and Asuka, who seems a likely WrestleMania opponent. Just because Becky Lynch’s dogged heeling hasn’t worked so far, doesn’t mean the tide can’t change if her next opponent is a babyface who audiences have no reservations about getting behind.
Also This Week
Big debut on NXT (Wednesday) this week, as Matt Riddle steps into a ring on WWE television for the first time. With Johnny Gargano apparently being revealed as Aleister Black’s attacker, plus last night’s NXT Women’s Championship match at Evolution lining up MMA’s Four Horsewomen for a program with Kairi Sane (and Io Shirai perhaps?), things are really heating up on the yellow brand. The War Raiders vs Adam Cole & Bobby Fish will also be going down this week.
On this week’s episode of NXT UK (Wednesday) Zack Gibson wrestles Noam Dar and Danny Burch will make his first appearance on the brand. On 205 Live (Wednesday, not live) it’ll be Mustafa Ali vs Tony Nese to become the number one contender to champion Buddy Murphy. Brian Kendrick vs Jack Gallagher is also booked. Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) will see Braun Strowman & Ember Moon vs Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox, along with Rusev & Lana vs AJ Styles & Charlotte Flair.
Crown Jewel (King Saud University Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Announced: Crown Jewel takes place in Saudi Arabia this Friday, in a smaller open-air stadium than the one that was used for Greatest Royal Rumble, starting at noon Eastern Time. As always, the card is subject to change (and for a while it looked like the venue could be too). Official matches at time of writing are:
- Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman
- Triple H & Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker & Kane
- WWE ‘World Cup’ Tournament (participants are John Cena, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler & The Miz)
- WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Daniel Bryan
- SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Bar (c) vs The New Day
What to expect: I don’t want to take a deep dive into the politics, but I also don’t have a huge amount I want to say about this show, so just quickly: Nothing about Crown Jewel going ahead as planned should be a surprise. In WWE’s business calculations, the astronomical cost of not going evidently outweighed the reputational risk, while from a moral perspective the case was frankly as robust as anyone could’ve made it, even before recent events (in the ‘treatment of journalists’ category of Saudi Arabia facts, Reporters Without Borders already ranked the country a heady 169th out of 180 in their world rankings of press freedom). Personally I won’t lose any sleep if Crown Jewel turns out to be the last of these big shows in Saudi Arabia but, realistically, slightly fewer complimentary video packages – and perhaps a longer gap before the next event in 2019 – might be the biggest change of course we can expect.
For the talent especially, being the people in front of the camera but with minimal stake in whether the show happens or not, it’s a tough one. John Cena, with a blossoming movie career to have PR worries about (and more clout than most), is widely expected to be replaced in the ‘World Cup’; asides from Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio competing, the tournament that’ll make up the body of this show feels largely uneventful and meaningless – and if I had to pick a winner it’d be Mysterio. There’s also a rumor (less well-substantiated at present) that Daniel Bryan will join Cena in pulling out, which would scupper the best-looking guaranteed match on the card. We’ll see during the week, but if so that would leave hopes for the show’s substance pinned on the recently-added tag titles match and an interesting bracket being announced for the tournament.
The two biggest matches on the card – the match for the vacant Universal Championship and DX against The Brothers of Destruction – will bring the show’s spectacle, although it’s likely the latter of those could go about as long as Triple H and The Undertaker went in Melbourne. A tag match at least allows the four men to share the workload more evenly, while eyes will be on how Shawn Michaels looks in his return to in-ring competition (and whether there may be further matches on his personal horizon). Expectations for the Universal Championship match, meanwhile, might reasonably be pegged at ‘standard Brock Lesnar match, twelve or so minutes, Strowman wins after a second/third/fourth running powerslam’.
Be sure to check in with John and the team later in the week for the full TJRWrestling preview. In the interests of balance, I thought Ronda Rousey spoke well in defending WWE’s Saudi Arabia trip the other day, making some strong points. Rousey’s eloquence is one of the many emerging reasons why her value to the company goes beyond name recognition; it’s just a shame audiences in Saudi Arabia are yet to have an opportunity to discover the rest.
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 would you like to see the program between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins handled from here?
- If Daniel Bryan weren’t to participate at Crown Jewel, who would you like to see wrestle AJ Styles for the WWE Championship instead?
- On a scale of one to ten, how interested are you in Crown Jewel?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.