Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! We’re off to Brooklyn for SummerSlam this coming weekend, so let’s get straight down to business. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, August 14th 2017.
Raw (TD Garden, Boston MA)
Announced: Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax in a number one contender’s match to face Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss at SummerSlam.
What to expect: Right then – expect Brock Lesnar to throw down with his three SummerSlam opponents. It has to happen here, doesn’t it? Since a red-hot segment the night after WWE Hot Balls, he bizarrely hasn’t been anywhere near them. You’d also get short odds on Lesnar being the one who ends tonight standing tall, especially if the speculation of him dropping the title on Sunday is true. Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt will probably do more appearing, disappearing and creepy prophesising (so bad news if that’s not your bag), while the ‘shark cage’ gimmick for the SummerSlam match between Big Show and Big Cass will probably lead to the structure being in the house tonight as a selling point. Meanwhile, as the Women’s Championship picture is yet to be properly developed, Banks vs Jax should get plenty of time and hype, plus a post-match confrontation to set up Sunday.
Another two programs that need more time in the oven before Sunday are Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins vs Sheamus & Cesaro, and The Miz vs Jason Jordan. The first of these is pretty simple to fix, only requiring Ambrose and Rollins to follow through on that Shield fistbump they’ve been teasing and for the match to be signed. As for Miz and Jordan, an Intercontinental Championship challenge may be laid down here or the feud may quietly be held over beyond SummerSlam. With The Revival on the shelf again due to injury, a low-key program between the Hardys and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson may get lip service here, while Neville and Akira Tozawa will probably have a brief segment to sell their upcoming Cruiserweight Championship match. Also look out for more hints of Goldust’s ‘new masterpiece’, hinted at last week as some form of alliance on or around SummerSlam.
Spotlight: You’re writing the go-home show for Raw, with SummerSlam on the weekend. You are yet to crown a number one contender for your Women’s Championship. You need somebody who has enough previous beef with current champ Alexa Bliss to tell a story for Sunday (and allow you to edit a video package) with the minimum possible run-up. You need somebody who’ll get an instant face reaction to sell the match. You’re in Boston. What do you do?
The smart money would seem to be on Sasha Banks winning the announced number one contender’s match tonight. When we went back to the well with Bayley as number one contender a few weeks ago, I was probably one of many who were slightly surprised if not disappointed; Banks had come off an entertaining little bout with Bliss at WWE Hot Balls a couple of weeks earlier which seemed like it would lead to more. That match ended in a countout loss for Bliss, allowing her to escape with her title, and spilled over into a spicy post-match brawl over and off the announce desk. Surely the precursor to a rematch.
Banks therefore seems the wise pick here. The story for Sunday – Bliss escaped her last time but won’t this time, as Sasha chases the opportunity that injury denied her best friend – is simple to recap and sell. Nia Jax having to take another loss in order to get there would be unfortunate, but doesn’t have to be terminal. Could Jax be winning tonight, rushing us into the steamrollering of Bliss that we all figure is coming at some point? Could we get a schmoz of some sort, leading to a three-way contest? They’re possible, but I don’t know if they’re as likely. Or whether they’d be any better.
A final note on the women’s title picture….. I was interested to see a lot of love for Emma in the comments last week when I asked who should step into the breach to face Alexa Bliss, and I have to say I absolutely feel that love too. She’s had a rough experience on the main roster having (twice) shown enormous potential to be a star in NXT, but I hope it turns around for her. Whether a perception that her recent frustrated comments on social media have turned her into a pinfall magnet in the last few weeks are based in any reality or not, more television appearances are good news and the Toronto crowd last week gave her a decent reaction.
Another chance for Emma was just one of the positives to take from last week’s triple threat matches that got us to this week’s number one contender showdown. However predictable the two winners may have been, allowing all the division’s women to openly compete for the chance is a much healthier and more entertaining way to feature their talent – Mickie James, Alicia Fox and even Dana Brooke all have something to offer – and a path I kinda wish they’d taken from the outset. This and the gauntlet match the other month? More please.
SmackDown Live (Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence RI)
Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing.
What to expect: It’s also, of course, the go-home show for SmackDown Live and as with Raw there are some obvious boxes to tick. WWE Champion Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura, wrestling each other on Sunday, are yet to come face to face. AJ Styles accidentally hit Shane McMahon with a pele kick last week, so expect fallout over who McMahon (guest referee for Styles vs Kevin Owens this weekend) may or may not have tension with going into the match. Meanwhile, John Cena and Baron Corbin have pretty much just got started; Corbin may seek the upper hand going into Summerslam. Randy Orton may seek an RKO on Rusev after last week’s sneak attack. I’d put the chances of seeing that faithful WWE booking tactic of pairing up singles feuds for a pre-pay-per-view tag team match at ‘high’ to ‘very high’ this Tuesday.
The order of business at the top of the women’s division is much the same as at the top of the men’s division; Naomi and Natalya need to get face-to-face this week. The fact that James Ellsworth returned from his storyline suspension last week will almost surely also come up, as a Money in the Bank cash-in from Carmella continues to be teased. Elsewhere, it’s a last chance to see whether Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair (or for that matter Lana and Tamina) might find themselves a late slot on the SummerSlam card. The New Day and The Usos are already there and their match is already sold, though The Usos may seek payback after The New Day jumped them last week (also out of revenge). Another ‘Fashion Files’ segment is inevitable, while the likes of poor Sami Zayn – seemingly destined to miss this weekend’s action – may also figure.
Spotlight: SmackDown will have had four weeks to, for want of a kinder phrase, sort its shit out for SummerSlam following the Battleground pay-per-view on July 23rd. Yet somehow a lot of its offerings still feel a bit undercooked. Yes, Raw may have had a head start in booking for SummerSlam without any secondary pay-per-views getting in the way, but Jinder Mahal is yet to look his WWE Championship challenger in the eye and John Cena and Randy Orton have been dropped into slots (it seems) against whoever else was unattached with no backstory and very little build. It leaves us having to take a lot of the blue half of WWE’s second-biggest show of the year on trust.
The calendar patterns around WWE’s ‘big four’ pay-per-views since last summer’s brand split have not always been kind to SmackDown Live, although interestingly the problem has previously been with secondary pay-per-views shortly afterwards rather than beforehand. Both Survivor Series last November and the Royal Rumble in January took place only two weeks before SmackDown-exclusive shows (TLC and Elimination Chamber respectively), and had a clear impact in how invested the brand was in both shows.
Take the Royal Rumble. Asides from the – awesome, outstanding – WWE Championship match between John Cena and AJ Styles and a six-woman tag on the Kickoff show, the only SmackDown superstars who appeared did so in the Rumble match. Raw, meanwhile, contributed four championship matches to the main card plus a second women’s match for good measure. Survivor Series was a little more even-handed – although with Raw only having three weeks to build interest following the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, we ended up with the spectacle of some big names wrestling classic Survivor Series matches for brand supremacy, but with hardly any feeling of importance.
However, four weeks’ build should be enough. The programs between The New Day and The Usos and, even despite the gimmick inclusion of a special referee, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are dependable fare and have been well-paced since their inception to peak and pay off here. The other matches – Cena/Corbin, Orton/Rusev, Mahal/Nakamura – may well be at the other end of that spectrum; everybody understands the value of seeing fresh, first-time matchups at big shows, but these usually either come with more hype attached or they’re the kind of matches that need little hyping. Why were we doing John Cena vs Shinsuke Nakamura two weeks ago rather than here?
We know that WWE is constantly reviewing its Network content (rest in peace, Talking Smack and Edge & Christian’s show). No doubt that will include the proliferation of brand-exclusive pay-per-views that have been launched since the brand split. But while the metrics used will no doubt include viewership numbers, I hope they also carry a fashion of quality measurement or audience rating. Because if brands are struggling to turn out a fully-formed, can’t-miss offering for SummerSlam, something’s not quite right.
Also This Week
205 Live (Tuesday) may carry any further build towards Neville vs Tozawa that can’t be shoehorned into the token cruiserweight spot on Raw. The last stop for NXT (Wednesday) before the big weekend in Brooklyn sees Drew McIntyre vs Roderick Strong with consequences; if Strong wins, he’ll get an NXT Championship shot following TakeOver. There’s also a contract signing between Asuka and Ember Moon ahead of their championship match this weekend.
So to NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III (Saturday) which, as the name suggests, is NXT’s third visit to the Barclays Center the night before SummerSlam. The confirmed card is as follows:
- NXT Championship: Bobby Roode (c) vs Drew McIntyre
- NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon
- NXT Tag Team Championship: The Authors of Pain (c) vs SAnitY
- Aleister Black vs Hideo Itami
- Johnny Gargano vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
For all the prestige and attention showered upon it by WrestleMania weekend, it’s easy to argue that NXT’s TakeOver series has always had its annual showcase event in August, not April.
Seemingly as always with NXT’s special events, the standard to match from what’s gone before is high but the short card boasts plenty of potential. Roode and McIntyre, along with the tag match, provide some heavyweight title contests with intrigue, while Black vs Itami will be a hard-striking fiesta – but it’s Asuka vs Ember Moon that may have the best chance of stealing the show, with the Japanese champion surely headed to the main roster imminently and deserving of a big send-off. Will TakeOver at the Barclays Center outshine SummerSlam once again? It’s certainly possible.
Final bit of content to draw your attention to this week: A one-hour ‘bracketology’ show for the Mae Young Classic airs on Sunday immediately following SummerSlam.
SummerSlam (Barclays Center, Brooklyn NY; joint brand pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and – God help us – additions during the week are likely. It’s going to be a long night. Official matches on WWE.com at time of writing are:
- Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman (Fatal 4-Way Match)
- WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
- SmackDown Women’s Championship: Naomi (c) vs Natalya
- United States Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens (Shane McMahon as special guest referee)
- SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The New Day (c) vs The Usos
- WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs Akira Tozawa
- Randy Orton vs Rusev
- Big Show vs Big Cass (Enzo Amore in a Shark Cage above the ring)
- Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt
- John Cena vs Baron Corbin
What to expect: Let’s start with the likely additional matches: As noted above, Alexa Bliss will definitely be defending the Raw Women’s Championship. It’s also pretty clear that Sheamus & Cesaro will defend the Raw Tag Team Championships against Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. An Intercontinental Championship match between The Miz and Jason Jordan, and Matt and Jeff Hardy facing Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are also possible additions. The SmackDown side looks pretty much set, although Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair are notable absentees and Breezango are odds-on to make a comedy skit appearance.
Of the two big title matches at the top of the card, the Universal Championship match is the favorite to go on last. Four high-profile big men, all specialists in the field of in-ring physicality, in an effectively lawless environment should absolutely tear the house down here. There’s no excuse. With rumors of Brock Lesnar being UFC-bound again soon, there’s also genuinely uncertainty around the result. Expectations are perhaps not as high for the WWE Championship match, as we wait to see what Shinsuke Nakamura can extract from Jinder Mahal. Hopefully at least Nakamura’s entrance will be memorable.
Elsewhere in the card, SmackDown has a couple of dependable matches in The New Day vs The Usos – which has been an excellent feud and should deliver again here – and AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens, although the latter of those will probably play heavily on the angle of Shane McMahon as a special guest referee. On the Raw side, the question of whether we’ll see Finn Balor’s Demon persona is one that this week’s Raw episode would do well to clearly signpost; Balor himself has been playing down the possibility in interviews and, although “it’s SummerSlam and Bray Wyatt has something of the occult about him too” may well end up being reason enough, the casual absence of Demon paint may not give the Brooklyn crowd much encouragement to love the match.
Of the matches that may be added from the red side of the brand split after tonight, the Raw Tag Team Championships match looks quite appealing, but if Sasha Banks comes through as the challenger to Alexa Bliss that match could also exceed expectations. On the blue side, veterans John Cena and Randy Orton have been penciled in for pretty rushed matches that may not live long in the memory, although I’m secretly optimistic to see what Cena and Baron Corbin could do. Corbin and, in the SmackDown women’s division, Carmella both have Money in the Bank briefcases and there’s a very real probability at least one of them will attempt to cash in here. Look, it’s a huge card and much like 2016’s show, some of it will probably be very good or even great, while some of it may well be a bit ordinary. Either way, after six hours you’ll definitely be satiated.
SummerSlam starts at 7pm Eastern, with the two-hour Kickoff show starting at 5pm. As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang as they run down the mammoth card.
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!
- What will be the best match of the night at SummerSlam?
- What will be the best match of the night at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III?
- Will we see a Money in the Bank cash-in from Baron Corbin, Carmella or both?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.