Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 17th 2018.
Hell in a Cell went down last night and there’s also a fair bit about WWE’s secondary shows this week that we need to cover, so you’ll have to forgive me for some slightly briefer thoughts on Raw and SmackDown. I’ll try not to short-change you. Let’s get to it.
Raw (American Airlines Center, Dallas TX)
Announced: The Undertaker will appear to respond to Triple H’s promo from last week.
What to expect: In a statistic that’s unlikely to be repeated any time soon, only three matches from Raw featured on last night’s pay-per-view card. Of those, Brock Lesnar surprisingly returning and laying waste to Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman was the biggest story. I’ve seen no confirmation at the time of writing to expect Lesnar on Raw tonight but it’s likely Baron Corbin, as the (heel) Acting General Manager, will ultimately grant him a Universal Championship rematch (likely a three-way with Strowman included). Tonight may also see the announcement of the much-rumored November 2nd show in Saudi Arabia, where that match is likely to happen.
The main focus of Raw will be building matches for Super Show-Down, the big WWE Network special coming from Melbourne, Australia on October 6th. The Shield vs Strowman, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre is already announced – so that program will continue tonight largely unchanged. Expect Nikki and Brie Bella to start showing up alongside Ronda Rousey on Mondays to build to another trios match (against the Riott Squad). Kevin Owens & Elias vs Bobby Lashley & John Cena has also been announced for Melbourne and is therefore also likely to be addressed tonight – Lashley responding to last week’s promo by Owens seems a good way to start. Elsewhere, AOP and Chad Gable’s team with Bobby Roode are the most likely to feature, but otherwise we’re into a new cycle. So let’s skip ahead and talk about The Undertaker.
Spotlight: With Hell in a Cell behind us, the next major destination for the WWE circus – and at the time of writing the only big event for its men this side of Survivor Series in late November – is Super Show-Down in Melbourne; a terrible name that makes me cringe every time I write it, but hey, at least it isn’t Great Balls of Fire. As such, Raw can now unashamedly book segments involving The Undertaker and Triple H to build towards their special-attraction match without eating up Monday minutes in the middle of a different pay-per-view cycle. Obviously though, this hasn’t stopped them from doing exactly that in previous weeks.
Admittedly the turnaround before Melbourne is fairly quick (the show takes place two weeks from this coming Saturday) for building a marquee match, but how much really still needs to be said about this feud? Certainly there doesn’t seem anything new to say. The last three Raws have covered so much of the old ground that it becomes difficult to see where else these men can go on the next three Raws. The context of Triple H’s two recent in-ring promos may have evolved, due to the segment with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker that took place in the week between them, but it’s hard to see why the same effect couldn’t be achieved by Hunter only doing one promo, last week.
Virtually anything is forgivable though, if what results from it is good television. That’s pretty much a golden rule with WWE and always has been. And however much this feud takes six weeks to cover the same themes it went through six years ago (end of an era, Shawn Michaels’ retirement, respect etc), these men are masters at this. I learned nothing new over the last three weeks – except there’s a glimmer of a chance of Michaels coming out of retirement, but perhaps that’s a column for another day – but I felt and cared for it. Am I now hyped to see another Triple H/Undertaker match? Not especially, no. But I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent preparing for it, and that isn’t always the case with WWE storylines on television.
The lesson here is that we could choose to get uptight about part-time legends eating up chunks of time on Raw, but when it makes for good television there’s no reason not to indulge. Raw’s three hours long anyway for pity’s sake, and it’s a marked improvement over the (non-existent) build to Hunter’s match with John Cena earlier this year in Saudi Arabia. But if these are the ground rules, please also give us 15 minutes of Mickie James – in her current role of chief lackey to Alexa Bliss – against Trish Stratus one more time, on the last Raw before Evolution. That’s the deal, WWE; Monday night nostalgia for all. I’ll be rather cross if I’m not previewing that in a few weeks’ time.
SmackDown Live (BOK Center, Tulsa OK)
Announced: AJ Styles vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas in a non-title match. Shinsuke Nakamura defends the United States Championship against Rusev.
What to expect: After the controversial end to last night’s WWE Championship match, General Manager Paige confirmed Samoa Joe would get a rematch with AJ Styles at Super Show-Down. It was implied the match would be no countout, no disqualification – expect that to be codified this Tuesday (and for Joe to disrupt Styles’ announced match if it isn’t). Becky Lynch is the new Women’s Champion; a rematch with Charlotte Flair is already set for Melbourne, but first Lynch has some bragging to do this Tuesday. The level of audience investment in that program right now is sky-high and deserves to be milked. Tag champs The New Day will be switching focus from Rusev Day to The Bar, ahead of another title defense in Melbourne.
How Rusev and Aiden English react to their defeat last night will be an interesting footnote, while it’ll be good to see Shinsuke Nakamura competing on television again after being left off the Hell in a Cell card. Expect The Miz to rub his and Maryse’s victory in last night’s mixed tag match in Daniel Bryan’s face – Miz and Bryan face each other again in a singles match in Melbourne. It’s likely Brie Bella and Maryse may slip back out of the spotlight now in this feud (if anything, Bella’s likely to switch focus to Mondays). Jeff Hardy is likely to have been written off television for this week after his storyline injuries from last night’s Hell in a Cell match, but what happens next for Randy Orton may certainly be on the agenda. Also expect more ground to be covered in the program between Asuka, Naomi and The IIconics.
Spotlight: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but WWE is booking rematches for televised stadium-based house shows abroad between WWE Champion AJ Styles and an old adversary, in a rivalry we never thought we’d see play out in a WWE ring only a few years ago. The matches in the series have been good, though you can’t help but feel they could have been better. It’s also rapidly becoming apparent that any hopes of the challenger claiming the title – however much the time seems right to kick them up to the next level within the company – were built on foundations of sand. As with Shinsuke Nakamura, so with Samoa Joe.
— WWE (@WWE) September 17, 2018
Sadly, I think we’re on very familiar ground. The Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia was only the second match between Styles and Nakamura – Melbourne will be Styles and Joe’s third – but the double countout finish made it a cousin in indecisive spirit to last night’s ‘simultaneous’ pinfall/submission. It’s shorthand for ‘we want to do another match before we’ve rinsed this feud’ and little else. By the third Styles-Nakamura match (no disqualification, double low-blow, both men counted out; really hope Melbourne’s not as bad as that), it was obvious that if Nakamura was going to be crowned WWE Champion it already would’ve happened by then.
One of the reasons I’m getting that vibe again here is the lengths to which last night’s finish went in presenting Joe as the uncrowned champion. Styles clearly tapped out first and the backstage segment between Joe and Paige that followed was predicated on it being obvious. Joe got a grab-and-hold-up-the-belt moment after the finish. Doing everything short of putting the championship on Joe feels like the convenient substitute for….. putting the championship on Joe. SmackDown clearly isn’t afraid to pull the trigger quickly if it looks like good business; Becky Lynch last night, for example. But on we stumble. Nakamura, meanwhile, may now be United States Champion but didn’t make the Hell in a Cell card at all.
All this doesn’t do wonders for AJ Styles, either, who is seemingly glued to the title without the narrative allowing him to excel and elevate it. Believe it or not, his title reign is coming up on a year (he’ll be just a month shy of that mark if he retains in Melbourne) and it’s seen a number of title matches with overbooked finishes that have often prioritized the virtue of luck over skill. Over on Raw, Seth Rollins wins great open challenges on a weekly basis against midcarders who can afford a loss; this fits a secondary championship far better, but it’s the kind of work Styles needs. If the moment has indeed passed for Samoa Joe, a few more title defenses for Styles like his match against Rusev at Extreme Rules wouldn’t go amiss.
Also This Week
We’ve possibly reached peak ‘Also This Week’ in-ring content, with the return of Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network). The format this time around is two matches per week, double from earlier this year, which is likely to mean shorter matches by design; the number of viewers tuning out of the Facebook stream (a platform on which people appear to have the attention spans of goldfish) was a metric that attracted some attention during the first tournament. Shallower dives would be a little bit of a shame, as the original run gave space for some fresh and fun dynamics – chief among them Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss, who reunite this week against Kevin Owens and Natalya. The other match sees AJ Styles and Charlotte Flair taking on Jimmy Uso and Naomi.
Former Divas Champion Kaitlyn returns to a WWE ring for the first time since early 2014 in this week’s Mae Young Classic (Wednesday), taking on Kavita Devi. The other matches are Toni Storm vs Jinny, Xia Li vs Karen Q and Allysin Kay vs Mia Yim as the first round continues. From this week, the MYC now forms part of a three-hour block on the WWE Network – with Mixed Match Challenge now airing live after SmackDown, 205 Live also moves to Wednesday, airing immediately before NXT.
The first Wednesday episode of 205 (Not So) Live features a Cruiserweight Championship match between Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak – don’t assume that’s a foregone conclusion, should the plan ultimately be to put the belt on Buddy Murphy in front of 70,000 of his townsfolk in Melbourne. Either way, spoilers will be available before Wednesday. Lio Rush vs Noam Dar is also booked. NXT has Ricochet vs Pete Dunne in a champion vs champion match, with both the United Kingdom and North American Championships on the line. The match should be great, but the establishment of the separate NXT UK brand has to make a clear winner (and thus double champion) highly improbable. Also this week, Dakota Kai & Deonna Purrazzo vs Lacey Evans & Aliyah.
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!
- Are you happy to see Brock Lesnar back for more?
- Who do you think is most likely to take the WWE Championship from AJ Styles?
- What’s your level of interest for the return of Mixed Match Challenge?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.