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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! It’s an odd time for WWE’s weekly programming, simultaneously building towards three different pay-per-views with unfamiliar names. Let’s struggle to keep track together; welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 24th 2018.

Raw (Pepsi Center, Denver CO)

Announced: Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre (c) vs The Revival for the Raw Tag Team Championships. Bobby Lashley vs Elias. Brie Bella vs Ruby Riott.

What to expect: Raw at the moment seems to be a little lopsided, with many big names and championships tied up in a small number of feuds. The Revival getting this tag team titles match is a follow-up to Ziggler and McIntyre taking their spot against The B-Team a few weeks back to win the championships in the first place. There’s a possible way WWE could book this where The Shield interfere, cost the champions the match and the six-man tag at Super Show-Down (also involving Braun Strowman) only occupies the Universal and Intercontinental Champions, as the tag division badly needs the space for a fresh start. Will that happen? God knows. WWE has posted on Twitter that The Shield will open the show, so it’s equally possible they could stay away from that match. Definitely in the category of ‘simple match gets complicated by trios program’ however, there’s no way Brie Bella vs Ruby Riott doesn’t go down without at least most of The Riott Squad, Nikki Bella and Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey also getting involved.

Everything else likely to be on Raw tonight is at varying stages of development. The dynamic of Lio Rush as Bobby Lashley’s manager was established effectively last week, and is likely to play a part in Lashley vs Elias tonight (as is Kevin Owens). Wherever we’re going with Chad Gable and Bobby Roode as a team – the focus on Gable suggests it’ll be a Roode turn – one of them wrestling Konnor of The Ascension seems likely tonight. WWE.com is making a note of Nia Jax returning to Raw last week being bad news for Alexa Bliss, which suggests that’s relevant. Finally, getting down to ‘other stuff that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere’, mark your card for AoP winning another squash match, Baron Corbin being a generally unlikable but incompetent authority figure and Bayley and Sasha Banks being….. hang on….. still friends. Oh, and with nothing announced in advance, it looks like we may be getting a quiet week on the Undertaker/Triple H front.

Spotlight: Bringing Lio Rush in to act as Bobby Lashley’s mouthpiece on Raw looks like being a smart piece of business all round. Rush, who doesn’t turn 24 until November, follows in the footsteps of Drake Maverick making the jump from his ‘day job’ in the cruiserweight division to add microphone skills and charisma to a muscular act on Raw badly in need of both. You could probably put two vocally-gifted cruiserweights becoming the managers of massive dudes on WWE’s main roster down to coincidence, even when it only happens in the space of a few weeks. If a third one comes along this side of Christmas, it would definitely be fair to say this is one of Vince McMahon’s latest habits.

If this is indeed a trend, it comes at an interesting time when the cruiserweight division within WWE is undergoing something of a renaissance, or certainly something of an adjustment. In the drawbacks column, 205 Live is no longer Live – a fairly minor demotion but a demotion nonetheless – and despite still being supposedly ‘exclusive’ to the Raw brand, the division no longer makes it onto screen in its own right on Monday nights. In the positives column, the programs and matches on 205 Live are showcasing their performers’ strengths much better than in the past. Is it better to be showing off near-everything you can do on a taped show with a small audience? Or some of what you can do live on Mondays in front of millions?

It’s especially interesting to consider this in light of the division’s past luminaries who have since left the company. The option to manage a main roster beefcake probably wouldn’t have changed the heart of Neville, who reportedly saw a glass ceiling constraining him (even when gravity had forgotten him). Conversely, Austin Aries stated on Chris Jericho’s podcast that he’d have been “happy to do whatever”, had WWE found something for him creatively instead of deciding to release him. Enzo Amore, meanwhile, found himself parachuted into the Cruiserweight Championship precisely because of his mic work on Raw.

People getting eyes on Rush can only benefit him, though that focus will inevitably change once one John Felix Anthony Cena gets dropped into the current program in time for Super Show-Down at the end of next week. With Cena having trimmed down and jacked up for the movie he’s been shooting with Jackie Chan, his pairing with Lashley will be one of the most ripped tag teams WWE has seen in many, many years. Rush’s presence probably won’t be necessary for making those two guys look big, but I hope he’s ringside and involved in Melbourne rather than being summarily airbrushed from the feud.

A word quickly about Cena, who is surely due to be worked into this story imminently having barely been namechecked up until now. His blossoming movie career may now have put paid to his being a full-timer in WWE, but it speaks to his dedication to the company that he fronts up for these big shows when WWE need. I do hope we’re offered more of a rhyme and reason behind his teaming with Lashley soon though; Raw has gone to some lengths to explain why Triple H and The Undertaker have to wrestle each other again, but right now it feels like it should be Lashley and Rush taking on Owens and Elias.

SmackDown Live (Pepsi Center, Denver CO)

Announced: A contract signing with AJ Styles and Samoa Joe for their WWE Championship match at Super Show-Down.

What to expect: Points that need to be hit in the WWE Championship contract signing segment include a) Samoa Joe pointing out that AJ Styles tapped out at Hell in a Cell and that he should already be champion, b) some ‘there must be a clear winner’ justification for a no countout, no disqualification stipulation that wouldn’t have changed the Hell in a Cell outcome, and c) some sort of throwdown. The next challenger for the WWE Championship, after Melbourne, should be either Daniel Bryan or The Miz – Maryse has apparently now stepped away from television again, so expect that feud to focus on the two men again from here on out. Meanwhile at the top of the women’s division, expect Charlotte Flair to pay Becky Lynch back for the disrespect (and beatdown) she received last week.

In terms of possible matches this Tuesday? Sheamus taking on a member of The New Day (who isn’t Kofi Kingston) might be the best bet going. Rusev and Aiden English may get a spot confirmed on the card for Melbourne or, failing that, Rusev might just have it out with English on television – certainly you’d think he’d respond in some way this week. In other news, Randy Orton has gone full crazy-and-sadistic and is looking for his next ‘victim’; we may find out who that is this week or, just as likely, just see more segments of him harassing production staff. Some sort of lip service should also be paid to the disappointingly underdeveloped feud between Asuka, Naomi and The IIconics.

Spotlight: The above is likely to be a pretty exhaustive list of people who could be featured and things that could go down on what is a two-hour show every Tuesday. We talk about the difference between SmackDown Live’s two hours and Raw’s three hours on a pretty regular basis; it does feel like, with a shorter amount of time to play with, there’s a natural tendency towards urgency and meaning – relatively little that makes it onto screen on SmackDown feels like it doesn’t have a purpose being there, certainly in comparison to Raw. With time at a premium there’s no excuse for segments that outstay their welcome.

There also isn’t always enough time for talent who don’t have a good reason to appear; having more top-class performers than you have space to showcase them is, at least, one way of ensuring you keep the quality of a weekly show high (and the characters fresh). I think we’re less inclined to acquiesce to Finn Balor being left off episodes of Raw, for example, if we feel it’s fairly apparent there are parts of that show which drag and could be cut back. We might still notice that Shinsuke Nakamura has been an absent United States Champion on most Tuesdays, but tend to be more forgiving when The Miz and Daniel Bryan, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, cracking tag matches and so on are filling most of the time instead.

Consider the high quality and profile of some of the SmackDown talent not named in the ‘what to expect’ section above, presently filling the roles of supporting actors at best. Let’s examine their outlook. Nakamura, as a secondary champion, is an obvious absentee from regular programming and in any judgement this isn’t ideal. A dearth of midcard babyfaces on the blue brand is an obvious issue – adding a successful title defense to Nakamura’s name last week, in the process of enabling Aiden English’s turn on Rusev, was a positive step (anything that helps validate your champion as a champion is a positive), but who else is there below Daniel Bryan and above Tye Dillinger on the Power Rankings?

As another midcard bad guy, it’s possible Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas may soon find himself in the same boat. Almas has featured semi-regularly on SmackDown in recent weeks and has been outstanding in his role, with strong matches against Bryan and, last week, AJ Styles. However, he’s not in a regular program with either of those men and doesn’t look like being in line to be so in the near future; he and Zelina Vega also concluded a brief spat with Rusev and Lana at SummerSlam. The quality of Almas’ work in the matches he’s worked on Tuesdays should, surely, guarantee him more opportunities in the future, but when? And against whom?

One solution to all this which I wouldn’t mind seeing is a temporary recasting of The New Day as a stable with independence, rather than simply as a tag team unit. We had the slightest taste of this when Kofi Kingston entered the Money in the Bank ladder match a few months back, in which the live crowd proved the all-weather New Day popularity will transfer to those guys wrestling the odd singles match. Giving Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods singles assignments, without losing any backstage skits or other gimmickry, might help give the likes of Almas and Nakamura more to get their teeth into. Not to mention opening up the tag division further for guys like The Usos. Remember them?

Also This Week

205 Live (Wednesday and not live) is promoting Mustafa Ali vs Hideo Itami and Noam Dar vs Lio Rush. On NXT (Wednesday) it’ll be Tommaso Ciampa vs Otis Dozovic and what’ll also likely be another squash for Lars Sullivan.

The first round of the Mae Young Classic (Wednesday) concludes with Taynara Conti vs Jessie Elaban, Rachel Evers vs Hiroyo Matsumoto, Isla Dawn vs Nicole Matthews and Io Shirai vs Xia Brookside – star attraction of the episode is without doubt Shirai, one of the pre-tournament favorites and by common consensus one of the best female wrestlers in the world.

Week two of the Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) sees The Miz and Asuka – winners of the previous tournament – facing R-Truth and Carmella, plus Bobby Lashley and Mickie James (an injury substitution for Sasha Banks) vs Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox.

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. Do you think the move to manage Bobby Lashley is a good one for Lio Rush?
  2. How would you solve SmackDown Live’s shortage of mid-card good guys?
  3. Which of WWE’s big upcoming shows – Super Show-Down, Evolution and Crown Jewel – are you most looking forward to?

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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