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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Braun Strowman has turned, Kevin Owens has quit and Samoa Joe has invited himself to a barbecue. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, September 3rd 2018.

Raw (Schottenstein Center, Columbus OH)

Announced: The B-Team (c) vs The Revival for the tag team championships. Nikki and Brie Bella vs The Riott Squad. Shawn Michaels will make a rare appearance to hype the upcoming Triple H/Undertaker match in Australia.

What to expect: Two weeks of television left before he faces Roman Reigns inside Hell in a Cell and Braun Strowman appears to have firmly aligned with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre to combat The Shield. Establishing what’s clearly a heel turn for Strowman will be a key part of tonight’s show, along with playing both factions off against each other (Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are widely expected to face Ziggler and McIntyre in a separate bout at the pay-per-view). The other big talking point from last week’s show was Kevin Owens ‘quitting’; we may find out more tonight about what that entails and what may be next for him. Elsewhere, Alexa Bliss needs to find some sort of advantage against Ronda Rousey either this week or next, else their rematch at Hell in a Cell looks like a foregone conclusion, even in-story.

Among the announced segments, WWE.com is leading with the Bellas wrestling their first match together in a long time, noting that it’ll be two members of the Riott Squad against them (rather than as a handicap match). There’s a reasonably good chance of a title change for the Tag Team Championships, or at least one assumes that’s the reason The Revival have had another chance rushed around so quickly. Shawn Michaels will flog the matchup we thought we were done with in 2012 for all he’s worth. Otherwise it’s the usual assortment of Monday night odds and ends – Baron Corbin may have moved on from Finn Balor to Bobby Lashley, Titus Worldwide look like they may be heading for a split, Elias will probably turn up to play something (or try to play something) and again, the best you can say for Bayley and Sasha Banks is that they’re currently still friends. The Raw undercard could do with a few fresh starts.

Spotlight: Don’t panic – Kevin Owens almost certainly isn’t going anywhere. The ‘I quit’ storyline hasn’t been dusted off for use in WWE for a little while now and, as we reported previously, Owens has only recently signed a new contract. We all, therefore, wait to see where this goes – which is of course the idea. It was nice, however, that before Kevin Owens stepped away (however temporarily), we got to see him at his best in yet another epic Seth Rollins television match. A fierce competitor and mercurial talent with a chip on his shoulder; it sometimes feels like we’ve not seen the natural Owens enough recently.

A break from the character-driven, cowardly version of the character is due. We may find out more about how significant that break might be tonight, although personally I’d prefer to think we won’t see Kevin Owens again for a little while – whatever the plan, time is WWE’s friend for implementing it. The longer that last image of Owens the competitor is allowed to linger the better, while the other stuff – the comic whining, the brutal bumps and (most of all) the very comfortable defeats – will start to fade away. A well-earned rest period for Owens followed by a fresh approach to his character, sweeping away recent memories, would be for the better.

Let’s take a bad example and a good example of this happening from elsewhere on the Raw roster this year. Bad: Bray Wyatt, badly in need of a fresh start, went for a dunk in Matt Hardy’s gimmick-changing lake on March 19th, only to return inside of three weeks with no discernible difference aside from a decision to team with his nemesis. With the winding down of Hardy’s career now appearing to have accelerated, Wyatt is very much back to square one. Good: Dean Ambrose, on the shelf for eight months with a triceps injury, recently returned with a new look, revised moveset and less cartoonish demeanour.

It’s not a stretch to say the optimum period of time away for Owens might fall somewhere between those two examples, and certainly closer to the three weeks than the eight months. However the example of Ambrose is particularly instructive in how, if you do take a character out of circulation for a while, it’s possible to plan out enough small adjustments – haircut, couple of new moves, attitude reset – to make a world of difference. Nothing about Kevin Owens is wrong, or bad, or particularly needs fixing, but a fresh reintroduction to the performer we know and admire wouldn’t be a bad thing.

SmackDown Live (Little Caesars Arena, Detroit MI)

Announced: The Usos vs SAnitY vs Rusev & Aidan English in the tournament to name new contenders for the Tag Team Championships.

What to expect: The winners of this Tuesday’s announced three-way tag match will face The Bar next week, with the winners of that going on to face The New Day at Hell in a Cell. The usual expectation rules apply: SmackDown books a tag match, it’ll usually be solid. Everyone and their dog is predicting Aiden English to turn on Rusev sooner or later though. Elsewhere on Tuesday night, expect Samoa Joe to continue to rile AJ Styles via a fixation with his family (possibly including a visit to a ‘back-to-school barbecue’ if last week’s segment is to be believed). Randy Orton vs Jeff Hardy is official for Hell in a Cell, inside the Cell itself, so further playing up of both men’s ‘extreme’ credentials is likely.

The extremely popular Becky Lynch has challenged Charlotte Flair to a Women’s Championship match at Hell in a Cell, and we should see a response from Flair this week in a program where audiences are proving to be firmly behind the heel Lynch. After a singles match between the men, Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella teaming against Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Zelina Vega in a mixed tag match is a possibility, as the former pair prepare for The Miz and Maryse at Hell in a Cell. Finally, with Carmella’s rematch clause for the Women’s Championship now exhausted, will we finally get that match with R-Truth? Or will Truth set his sights on Charlotte Flair? And why am I making that sound like it even matters?

Spotlight: There’s always room in pro wrestling for a good ol’ bit of casually threatening people’s families, which has quickly become the cornerstone of this WWE Championship feud between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. It’s territory that certainly plays to the strengths of Joe as a performer, while the role family man is obviously a natural fit for Styles – although beyond that, the champion is regularly finding himself a passenger in his own story once again. However, the best heroes are often only defined by good villains and in that sense the dynamic works. Joe’s fixation with the Styles family is just so dastardly that AJ needs to do little but the basics. It’s simple and it works.

It would be obvious to the least-knowledgeable of observers that part of the reason this feud is succeeding in connecting where the program between Styles and Nakamura did not is Joe’s ability to cut English promos. That’s absolutely not a critique of Nakamura, if anything it’s a limitation of how WWE’s main roster team is used to writing rivalries. Nakamura’s body language and stage presence are also gifts, yet when your starting template for non-verbal action doesn’t stretch further than ‘uppercuts to the plums’, even the best will struggle to make that material shine.

Samoa Joe is not encountering the same problems for a simple reason – a story based on casually threatening people’s families is deep in both his and WWE’s creative team’s wheelhouse. SmackDown’s writers seem to have a better grasp on Joe’s gifts than they do Nakamura’s; from performance point of view, they are speaking the same language – both literally and figuratively. Joe snaffles this sort of material and performs it, seemingly effortlessly, like a man who believes every word of what he’s saying, laying on the menace thicker and thicker. And that in turn allows the writing team some freedom.

Take last week for example. Styles cuts a relatively routine promo about mind games, settling things like men and calling out his opponent, and Joe responds by appearing backstage and holding a one-sided telephone conversation, ostensibly with Styles’ wife. It goes from cookie-cutter into hokey pretty fast, but Joe’s performance just about makes it work for me. There’s a good chance the envelope will be pushed further this week, given Joe’s talk of paying the Styles family a visit. Hopefully what results will be less of a food fight and something more Hitchcockian – I know, setting my sights high – but if anyone can pull off a threatening back-to-school barbecue, it’s probably Samoa Joe.

Also This Week

This week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday) features Johnny Gargano vs Velveteen Dream, a tag match for the team of Steve Cutler, Wesley Blake and Jaxson Ryker (the former Gunner in Impact Wrestling) and an appearance by new NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane. As for 205 Live (Tuesday), nothing’s been announced at time of writing.

The second Mae Young Classic (Wednesday) starts this week, airing on the WWE Network immediately after NXT. The matches for the first episode are Meiko Satomura vs Killer Kelly, Tegan Nox vs Zatara, Lacey Lane vs Vanessa Kraven and Rhea Ripley vs MJ Jenkins. The first round of these WWE tournaments is usually a little low-key, but there’s a lot of women with strong reputations in this year’s tournament and this first episode looks like a cracking way to start.

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. Where do you think the Kevin Owens story is going?
  2. Who do you think will win the three-way tag match on SmackDown Live this week?
  3. Will you be watching the Mae Young Classic and if so, what are your expectations for the tournament?

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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