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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! In last week’s column I asked for a shake-up in Raw’s undercard, and for Kevin Owens to get a rest and a fresh start. One of those two things happened. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 10th 2018.

Raw (Smoothie King Center, New Orleans LA)

Announced: Ronda Rousey & Natalya vs Alexa Bliss & Alicia Fox. Triple H will show up to promote his match with The Undertaker in Australia. Mick Foley is also scheduled to make an appearance. Also breaking today, WWE has announced Renee Young will replace Jonathan Coachman at the announce desk permanently.

What to expect: It’s the go-home Raw before Hell in a Cell and the announced women’s tag match could turn out to be a fairly routine precursor to Rousey vs Bliss on Sunday (and Bella Twins involvement may be kept to a minimum). Triple H showing up to cut another straight promo on The Undertaker seems a little too simple; it might make sense for Mick Foley, being wheeled out for his annual “be careful about Hell in a Cell, kids” spot, to also get involved in that. In any case, the build for Raw’s Cell match is more likely to continue being based around whether The Shield can deal with avoiding prison (?) and getting beaten down by Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre and half of the rest of the roster.

Something else that may occupy Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre is The B-Team looking for a contractual rematch for the tag titles (and The Revival looking for revenge for being attacked and having their spot taken). Questions around the tag titles before Hell in a Cell should be settled tonight. Elsewhere in the tag division, Drake Maverick is now managing AOP, we may see more of whether Chad Gable and Bobby Roode can hit it off as a new team and Dana Brooke looks to be done with the crumbling Titus Worldwide. Kevin Owens spent one week ‘quitting’ only to come back to attack Bobby Lashley – look for Lashley to get payback tonight – and it appears that Baron Corbin will continue victimizing Finn Balor. Bayley and Sasha Banks are still friends.

Spotlight: WWE programming is occasionally subject to sudden, inexplicable changes of direction on a whim; the kinds of decisions that beg to co-opt us in a collective amnesia and go along for a (new) ride while the awkward questions are a) finessed or b) fade away. Take Raw’s tag division last Monday. Several weeks of purposeful build towards a championship match between The B-Team and The Revival was swept away to seemingly move the belts over to an entirely different feud, Bobby Roode and Chad Gable were randomly paired together and, my main subject today, the babyface authority figure from WWE’s cruiserweight show became the manager of a heel team of heavyweights.

Though a bit random, it’s not the worst of ideas because it not only gives The Authors of Pain, now merely referred to as AOP, a capable mouthpiece to articulate their points of strength – something they’ve needed after Paul Ellering didn’t follow them onto the main roster – but also a point of weakness where they can be hurt. I will offer you the world’s shortest odds that Maverick will follow in the great tradition of pro wrestling managers who get themselves beaten up in the course of advocating for their charges. Maverick is not a sexagenarian like Ellering, non-wrestler like Paul Heyman or a female valet in a PG era. It’s a good thing he’s been given his own flak jacket, because he’s going to be taking a lot of bullets.

This is therefore a potential step forward for the WWE career of the former Rockstar Spud, moving from a character of backstage administration – which he pulls off very well – steadily towards an in-ring (or at least all-round) performer for the company. It’s certainly a step up in terms of visibility, with Raw’s audience dwarfing that of 205 Live and the cruiserweight division now rarely on Monday night’s call sheet, despite in theory still being brand-exclusive. If WWE can smooth over his peculiar transition – the parallel of Maverick spotting ‘untapped potential’ is a promising start – it should be positive for him.

This should definitely be a positive change for AOP too. For better or worse, WWE often relies on the relatability of its characters to justify the ebb and flow of its stories; behaviour, motivation and consequences have to evolve with each episode – winning squash matches in a vacuum has a limited effect. The limited week-to-week exposure in NXT protects and extends this shelf life but, when you need to tell chapters of a story every Monday, the ability to say something new and suffer setbacks – even if you’re a team of unstoppable monsters – is invaluable. The limited value SmackDown Live has extracted from The Bludgeon Brothers and, indeed, AOP’s run on Raw so far are good cases in point.

SmackDown Live (Cajundome, Lafayette LA)

Announced: The Bar vs Rusev & Aiden English, with the winners facing The New Day at Hell in a Cell for the tag titles. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Jeff Hardy and Charlotte Flair vs Sonya Deville in non-title matches. R-Truth vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. Brie Bella vs Maryse (apparently in the main event).

What to expect: The main event of Brie Bella vs Maryse is, obviously, a vehicle to set up the intergender tag match at Hell in a Cell on Sunday, so expect Daniel Bryan and The Miz to play a fuller part in proceedings than just as supporting actors. I’ll come on to talk about the women’s division in more detail below, but elsewhere Flair’s match with Deville may be disrupted by the presence of Becky Lynch – though just about everything that needs to be done between Flair and Lynch has been done – while Peyton Royce and Billie Kay may continue to be thwarted by Asuka’s alliance with Naomi. Also on the subject of intergender tags, the announced match between R-Truth and ‘Cien’ Almas looks to just be laying the groundwork for the return of Mixed Match Challenge next week.

The announced match to determine The New Day’s challengers does look to be the meat of this Tuesday’s action. Upcoming house shows, including in Melbourne, strongly point to Sheamus and Cesaro winning, while Aiden English turning on Rusev could nicely set up a Kickoff match for Sunday (and also explain why they made it to this spot instead of The Usos or SAnitY). Jeff Hardy’s match with Shinsuke Nakamura might end in carnage at the hands of Randy Orton – a wild brawl to send Hardy and Orton off to the Cell seems too sensible to avoid. Finally, there may be little spare time to fit them on the show but it’ll be interesting to see if General Manager Paige has any consequences for AJ Styles for dealing out violent payback to Samoa Joe last week, apparently against his word.

Spotlight: There can be few tests of loyalty to a cause steeper than the one faced by progressive viewers of SmackDown Live this Tuesday, when the latest step forward in the Women’s Evolution/Revolution is a main event match between Brie Bella and Maryse. Obviously their husbands will be getting involved, but is anybody seriously hyped for that match in principle? The two had a few matches together back in 2010 – definitely a point on the graph of the darkest times for WWE’s women’s wrestling – and I’d love to say I’d give them credit for throwing in some callbacks this Tuesday, but I rewatched one of those only today and couldn’t now recall any details (Twin Magic aside) if you put a gun to my head.

To recap, this is a roster that includes Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Asuka, Naomi and many others who might warrant a main event spot over Brie Bella vs Maryse. Not that I don’t feel good for them; fair play for emerging from the abyss of 2010 and closing an episode of SmackDown in 2018, after both becoming mothers (Maryse less than six months ago). In that respect this match is somewhat of a triumph and one they can feel proud of. However, having barely raised their stock as in-ring performers in the intervening eight years, it does seem an odd main event to promote – particularly as WWE has struggled getting Tuesday night live crowds even to stay through 205 Live.

The rest of the division is a mixed picture. On the one hand, I suppose we should be grateful for Asuka getting a new program that brings her back to television – and in fact, a few weeks’ absence to clear away the baggage of being duped twice by Carmella and James Bleedin’ Ellsworth in championship matches is exactly the sort of thing I though Kevin Owens could’ve done with when I wrote last week’s column. I wish we were seeing more depth to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, though; I’m not sure they’re well enough served by scripted pre-match promos, when social channel-style material contributed to much of their charm in NXT.

Thank heavens then for Lynch and Flair, who will have the opportunity to wrestle a prestigious championship match with a resonant face/heel dynamic on Sunday. For all we might fret, the details of that dynamic matter far less once the pay-per-view matches arrive and the bell rings; it’s a little more troublesome when you have to book sneak attacks, heel promos and reaction shots trying to generate sympathy for a champion towards whom the majority of the crowd are not sympathetic. Little makes pro wrestling crowds cheer or boo characters more than it being brazenly implied that they shouldn’t. To that end, it’s fair to say Brie Bella vs Maryse is unlikely to be the most important women’s match put on by the blue brand this week.

Also This Week

Week two of the Mae Young Classic (Wednesday) features Deonna Purrazzo vs Priscilla Kelly, Zeuxis vs Aerial Monroe, Kacy Catanzaro vs Reina Gonzalez and Ashley Rayne vs Mercedes Martinez. A few notes here; Rayne is probably better known by the name Madison Rayne from her time in Impact Wrestling, while her match with Martinez – one of the key performers from last year’s tournament – is probably the standout from this week’s four. Catanzaro may be familiar to North American viewers from competing on the American Ninja Warrior TV show.

Finding time to slip out of his flak jacket and get comfortable at the 205 Live (Tuesday) GM’s desk, Drake Maverick has announced Buddy Murphy vs Gran Metalik, plus Cedric Alexander & Akira Tozawa vs Drew Gulak & Jack Gallagher for this Tuesday’s cruiserweight show. Meanwhile, this week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday) has only Lars Sullivan vs Raul Mendoza officially set.

Hell in a Cell (AT&T Center, San Antonio TX)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are certain, given how few details have been announced so far. Official matches at time of writing are:

  • Universal Championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs Braun Strowman (Hell in a Cell match)
  • WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Samoa Joe
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (c) vs Alexa Bliss
  • SmackDown Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair (c) vs Becky Lynch
  • Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella vs The Miz & Maryse
  • Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton (Hell in a Cell match)

What to expect: With not-insignificant parts of weekly WWE programming already fervently building towards the two big shows following Hell in a Cell (Super Show-Down in Melbourne on October 6th and Evolution on October 28th), large parts of this Sunday’s pay-per-view do not look designed to live long in the memory. If Michael Cole sees fit to call anything routine as ‘making history’ here, suffice to say that my eyebrows will be rising more than usual.

The thing that matters the most at Hell in a Cell is, obviously, having Cell matches that matter and are worth doing. Happily, the Raw side fully delivers here; Reigns and Strowman have had entertaining brawls previously and WWE gets extra points from me for finding a storyline explanation for holding a Cell match – Braun trading in his Money in the Bank shot for a particular time and date, for a guarantee of favorable conditions – other than ‘long feud’ or ‘attacked each other a lot’. It’ll go on last and be a worthy main event. I’m less convinced of the choice of Cell match on the SmackDown side; Orton and Hardy are WWE veterans with ‘extreme’ credentials, but I’m not sure how much more a Cell match does for either character or their program right now (Jeff Hardy certainly doesn’t need to be jumping off anything crazily at this point of his career). I’d probably have been more interested to see AJ Styles get Samoa Joe inside of the structure for harassing his family.

It’s not impossible that match may end up being added to those happening inside the Cell, though either way it’s likely to be a high point on the card. It’s also not impossible that a title change may occur (although my money remains on The Miz – surely losing his intergender tag match here – eventually being the one to dethrone Styles). The women’s matches are both charting difficult courses, trying to keep Ronda Rousey dominant without becoming too invulnerable and making Becky Lynch the most beloved heel in all of wrestling. As noted above though, Flair vs Lynch should be pretty good. Matches for both Tag Team Championships haven’t been added to the WWE.com preview yet, but we already know The New Day will be defending their titles against the winner of Tuesday’s match while Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler facing Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose looks like a lay-up.

Be sure to check in with John and the guys at the end of the week for the full TJRWrestling preview. WWE history may forget Hell in a Cell quite quickly, but if those tag matches get made official during the week there should be some decent wrestling to look forward to.

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. What would you most like to see Mick Foley say or do on Raw tonight?
  2. Which out of AJ Styles/Samoa Joe or Randy Orton/Jeff Hardy do you think would’ve been the better choice for a match inside Hell in a Cell?
  3. What title changes, if any, do you think we might see at Hell in a Cell?

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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