Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! John Cena is back on Raw, Bobby Roode is now on SmackDown and Enzo Amore is moonlighting on 205 Live. Got that? Great, let’s crack on. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, August 28th 2017.
Raw (FedExForum, Memphis TN)
Announced: Sasha Banks (c) vs Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship.
What to expect: Last week, Alexa Bliss pointed out that four-time Women’s Champion Sasha Banks has never successfully defended the title. That kind of telegraphs Banks retaining here (not forgetting that, duh, Sasha’s weakness is pay-per-views; title matches on Raw are her wheelhouse). No Mercy, Raw’s next pay-per-view, is still several weeks away, so there’s plenty of time to set up new programs. Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman is already set. Lesnar is being advertised for tonight, but after plenty of action between the two in Brooklyn last Sunday and Monday, is it too much to hope for another brawl tonight?
Elsewhere spotting the key building blocks for the No Mercy card should be easier after tonight than it is now, but we can make some assumptions. Sheamus and Cesaro watched from backstage last Monday as the focus remained on new tag champions Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose rediscovering the potential of their alliance. A rematch for the titles at No Mercy is likely, but that focus could continue tonight. Meanwhile, local adverts for forthcoming house shows suggest John Cena may be facing Samoa Joe. Would that leave Roman Reigns paired up with Intercontinental Champion The Miz, based on last week’s tag match? Perhaps we’ll see tonight.
In a fast tour of everything else going on, Jason Jordan seems to be on a losing streak (which one assumes may end in either a heel turn or him starting to use an Olympic Slam and ankle lock as finishers), Elias will probably sing a song ripping on the rich musical heritage of Memphis, Emma will probably get squashed again and Enzo Amore will probably get in Neville’s face now that his business with Big Cass is behind him. Get well soon, Cass.
Spotlight: John Cena returned to Raw last week, thanks to his unique ‘free agency’ status. There’s a lot to be said about the pros and cons of that arrangement – the ability to use Cena wherever’s best in between his increasingly numerous media commitments and prop up live receipts, but also the lessening of impact for brand drafts or Superstar Shake-ups when they occur – all of which could wait for another day. The first item of business his move over to Raw addressed, however, was a totally logical one, made at absolutely the right time given the development of the WWE roster’s quasi-fictional ecosystem. Since the brand split last year, Roman Reigns has definitively made Raw his ‘yard’ and, at some point, a clash with the face of WWE’s brand over the past decade was inevitable.
Cena vs Reigns obviously needs to happen and this is probably the right time to be doing it. John Cena may have tried to create the label of ‘all-timer’ in response to suggestions he’s a part-timer, but the truth of the matter is that he’ll likely never be a full-timer in WWE again. The guy’s too talented and has too much else going on. This is the right point of his career to be putting over Reigns. Reigns himself has gone through every other rite of passage; he’s beaten corporate heel Triple H for a world championship and apparently retired The Undertaker – both in WrestleMania main events. There’s only one person left who can rival him as the company’s kayfabe ‘top man’. Rumors still abound that WWE’s plan for WrestleMania next year is to do Reigns vs Brock Lesnar again, but the time feels more right for Reigns vs Cena.
With Undertaker seeming to have joined Shawn Michaels and Sting in retirement, Triple H and Brock Lesnar’s respective most-obvious programs gradually being picked off and some doubt as to if and when the likes of The Rock or Kurt Angle may step between the ropes again, the fact is that John Cena vs Roman Reigns is pretty much the last mega-match that WWE currently has left in its locker. Yes, there are plenty of dream matches involving world-renowned stars AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, but let’s be honest – in the narrative of WWE, none of those would be as big as Cena vs Reigns. For a match like that, I’d have thought only the Grandest Stage would be suitable, rather than seeing it being tossed away at a Survivor Series or Royal Rumble, but we shall see.
The next point on the graph heading towards April is probably whether Lesnar retains his Universal Championship against Braun Strowman at No Mercy. In the meantime, it looks as though we may be getting John Cena vs Samoa Joe – and in fairness, why wouldn’t you do John Cena vs Samoa Joe if you had the chance? Especially given that Styles and Nakamura have both now been ticked off Cena’s bucket list. Joe has been on fire on the microphone recently and, if John Cena invests in a program opposite him like Lesnar did, it should make for pretty good viewing.
However, something else struck me last week as The Miz was berating WWE’s golden geese; the Intercontinental Championship remains missing from John Cena’s résumé. Apart from the match with Reigns and breaking the tie for world championships with Ric Flair – which one’s tempted to think may be left on the shelf while Flair continues his recovery, as everybody is willing him to do – this is the only other accomplishment remaining for Cena to achieve. And, like the other two, one feels it’s inevitable. Could Cena and Miz revisit their entertaining WrestleMania feud before too long and tick off one of the last things on Big Match John’s To Do List? If it doesn’t happen this year, ‘John Cena wins the Intercontinental Championship’ is going in my 2018 staff picks for sure.
SmackDown Live (Verizon Arena, North Little Rock AR)
Announced: A lot of vague things were promised last Tuesday: Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin tagging together for the first time, some sort of in-ring return for Dolph Ziggler, Lana and Tamina beginning a journey towards the SmackDown Women’s Championship…..
What to expect: Shall we deal with the vague things first? An easy win for Gable and Benjamin, through questions of ‘will it be like American Alpha again?’, seems likely. Dolph Ziggler appeared to be returning as a frustrated heel (plus ça change), while Lana and Tamina will probably do something to be taken a little more seriously (though I probably may not care). Other topics highly likely to carry over to this week are the reaction of Kevin Owens towards Shane McMahon after last Tuesday’s United States Championship match, Naomi seeking a contractual rematch with Natalya while Carmella slinks around in the background with her Money in the Bank briefcase and whether Shinsuke Nakamura will be getting another shot at WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. Also, Charlotte Flair returned to live events over the weekend, following the recent ill health of father Ric, so may return to TV here.
A reminder at this point that SmackDown Live’s next pay-per-view isn’t until October 8th, which is a lifetime in WWE cycles. There’s therefore plenty of time to take detours and delays, establishing new motivations for the likes of Bobby Roode, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin, new potential challengers to United States Champion AJ Styles and more tag teams to take on The Usos (presuming a rematch with The New Day will blow through between now and then). We may well also see Randy Orton and Rusev continue their rivalry, given how quickly their SummerSlam match was built and then concluded – but again, there’s no rush. The next few Tuesdays will probably be a slow-burning journey towards Hell in a Cell.
Spotlight: Unless the meat of it is still to happen – and there’s clearly one big move coming that is yet to formally play out on-screen – the post-SummerSlam roster changes were a lot less eventful than some had anticipated. While Raw rolled out the red carpet last week for that knownest of quantities, John Cena, the more interesting arrivals were arguably happening over on the blue brand. Former NXT Champion and previous TNA regular Bobby Roode made his WWE main roster debut, while former Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team Champion Shelton Benjamin returned to the company and was immediately buddied up with Chad Gable.
Pairing Benjamin with Gable is one of those decisions that’s so strikingly obvious, one almost feels pleasantly relieved to see it happen. Both are amateur standouts with a Minnesota connection (as referenced last week; Benjamin was on a wrestling scholarship at the University of Minnesota and Gable was a high school state champion), while Gable’s work in American Alpha had long, long drawn favorable comparisons to the World’s Greatest Tag Team of which Benjamin was one half, alongside Charlie Haas.
As a result, it’s hard to see the new partnership between Gable and Benjamin as anything other than an Alpha proxy (or a WGTT proxy, if you’d prefer). And actually, that’s fine. Jason Jordan is clearly in pretty deep over on Raw, while the principle of a team of amateur wrestling wizards is clearly one that works. The part of me that’s still sore about splitting American Alpha in the first place is wary of Gable showing more enthusiasm than Benjamin in last week’s backstage skit, but I’m hopeful this is just a re-run of Alpha’s genesis, where Gable spent weeks getting Jordan to buy into his excitement. I have a vision of Triple H stood in the SmackDown Live writers’ room, like the police chief in 22 Jump Street, shouting “just do exactly the same thing. Exactly. The same. Thing.”
Roode, meanwhile, worked as a babyface last week, an occurrence that has created two trains of thought by way of explanation: The first is that, with Cena gone to Raw, a top spot on the face side of the roster has become vacant and nobody can bring themselves to hate Roode as long as he comes out to Glorious Domination. The second is that it was for the benefit of a Brooklyn crowd which was never going to boo his main roster debut. A lot of very wise, sage people subscribe to the former. Personally, I subscribe to the latter – or certainly I’d prefer the latter to be true.
If anything, SmackDown Live is currently doing better for top faces than it is for anything else; you don’t get much bigger than Styles, Nakamura and Orton. On the other side of the fence however, what candidates do you have to play the marquee heel who carries around a title belt like it’s weightless? Kevin Owens is arguably the most complete, while Jinder Mahal is working as hard as he can to grow into boots that currently look a size too big for him. Let’s also put to bed the idea that Glorious Bobby Roode can’t draw a heel reaction – see his NXT feud with Roderick Strong for evidence. Roode’s post-match interview with Renee Young last week was still full of ego and swagger; I could totally envisage him lapsing back into villainy before too long.
Also This Week
The big event in other in-ring WWE programming this week is the premiere of the long-awaited Mae Young Classic on the WWE Network. The first episode of the 32-woman single-elimination tournament (following the format of last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic) airs on the Network’s programming following Raw on Monday, but the first four episodes have all been added to the Network already for you to binge as you see fit. I’ll be rooting for Dakota Kai, but if the tournament is anything like the showcase for these 32 women that CWC was for the 32 cruiserweights last year then I won’t be complaining, no matter who ends up triumphant.
Speaking of the cruiserweights, despite currently having things going for it like regular appearances from Gran Metalik and a win streak for Cedric Alexander, the most notable mainstream news about 205 Live (Tuesday) probably remains Enzo Amore making his switch into the cruiserweight division. And if that puts more eyes on that product, that’s got to be good for everyone, right?
NXT (Wednesday) returns to tapings from Full Sail University and the only thing announced in advance for this week is an appearance from new NXT Champion Drew McIntyre, who will likely be full of opinions about the debut of Adam Cole at TakeOver the other weekend.
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!
- Would you rather see Reigns vs Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 or Reigns vs Cena?
- Should Bobby Roode be working as a babyface or a heel by the time we reach Hell in a Cell on October 8th? And do you believe he will be?
- Will you be watching the Mae Young Classic and if so, what are your hopes for it?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.