Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! WWE television airs live from Toronto’s most famous arena this week, in which ‘Centre’ is spelled the same way I’m used to here in the UK. Not saying either way is right or wrong, just that the familiarity is a welcome change. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, August 7th 2017.
Raw (Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON)
Announced: A Last Man Standing Match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. It was also announced this afternoon that Bayley’s shoulder injury will force her to miss SummerSlam; there will be two Triple Threat matches in the women’s division tonight and the winner of each will face each other next week for the number one contendership.
— WWE (@WWE) August 7, 2017
What to expect: Reigns and Strowman should have an entertaining Last Man Standing brawl but, having already faced each other so many times, wrestling in a no-disqualification environment and with a four-way match looming, I can’t believe nobody else will get involved here. I’m playing my ‘Brock Lesnar shows up to wreck house’ card again, because it’s surely gonna happen either this week or next week. Lesnar is being advertised for tonight. The other big story this week is the announcement that Bayley will miss SummerSlam, after suffering a legitimate shoulder injury last week. We’re yet to find out at time of writing who’s in the two matches tonight, but giving six women from the division a competitive shot is a fantastic solution to the problem; look for Sasha Banks and Nia Jax to be the favorites to qualify for next week’s number one contender’s match. Also, expect to see a match for the Tag Team Championships confirmed between Sheamus & Cesaro and the former Shield brothers, who will continue to tell the story of slowly rebuilding trust, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.
Elsewhere in Raw’s tag division, a three-way feud between the Hardys, Gallows & Anderson and The Revival is now well-established and should result in something being set for SummerSlam. Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt will likely continue to play mind games with each other (it’s likely to be Wyatt’s turn to get the upper hand tonight), but keen eyes will be on any indication of Balor’s Demon persona being confirmed for SummerSlam. The Miz is clearly heading towards an Intercontinental Championship match with Jason Jordan at some point soon, Big Show and Big Cass ended in a non-finish last week so will probably be re-set for Brooklyn with some sort of gimmick (probably affecting Enzo) and there’ll be a token cruiserweight segment to establish the terms for Akira Tozawa’s second crack at Neville for the division’s championship.
Spotlight: I think a lot of people watching Raw last week would’ve been slightly surprised when Big Cass vs Big Show was the main event of the night. Especially when Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe were being booked to wrestle a physical three-way match for 16 minutes with a clean finish to further develop the program for the top championship on Monday nights. We’re instinctively conditioned to think the last match of the night is the big one, the climax, the proper ‘main event’. In John Canton’s live report last week, he noted that most weeks Raw’s peak viewership tends to be at the end of the second hour which may explain why Reigns, Strowman and Joe wrestled then and Cass and Show went on last. All things considered, we can probably assume one or more of the following things are true: One, Raw is an hour too long. Two, there may be a few more ‘main events’ airing at the end of hour two in the future. Three, the program between Big Cass, Enzo Amore and the Big Show is viewed as a big deal by WWE’s decision-makers.
The first of those things is something that’s been long-debated (pretty much ever since Raw expanded to three hours) and the second is something that we’ll have to see the evidence on, so what about the third? The observation that Vince McMahon has a soft spot for big men is one that we’ve all made at some point and, although that’s obviously steeped in past evidence, this isn’t exactly a stereotypical clash of musclebound monsters. Cass is undeniably in great trim and a great athlete, while it’s great to see Show in arguably the best shape of his career, but these men are in a slightly nuanced spot in comparison to the kind which has benefited the careers of, say, Braun Strowman and Jinder Mahal in recent times. These are not two meatheads beating on each other to establish the dominant meathead, but a guy who happens to be seven feet tall (which you can’t teach) finding out the price of betrayal and disrespect (which you can).
No doubt the height of Big Cass has not hurt in getting him to where he is now, but running up against the Big Show is justified in telling the story that needs to be told right now. Cass considers himself above Enzo – literally and figuratively. In size and world champion credentials, but certainly in size if nothing else, Big Show represents the peer that Cass could never see in his ex-partner. No, Show may not be the kind of in-ring opponent that’s going to paint Cass in the most flattering of lights – if Big Cass is going to succeed on his own, a lot of that will eventually be down to dominating smaller, faster more technical guys in better contests – but this is the logical place it needs to start. So bear with it, because the chances of continuing much beyond a conclusive Cass win at SummerSlam should be slim. I’ll spare you another miserable discussion around my favorite subject matter of the past couple of months – the regularity with which WWE is breaking up its tag teams – because apart from anything else, the success of splitting Enzo and Cass won’t be measured by how good or bad this particular program plays out or how it ends, but what happens for each of them in the future.
For Cass, can he really go on to main event WrestleMania? He’s young and has the time, his height will give him more opportunities than most and clearly he has the ambition. Time will tell and it clearly won’t be this program that gets him there. For Enzo, the immediate future may be less optimistic. Recent reports have noted that he may be moved to 205 Live or even back to NXT when this program finishes, which presumably would be following SummerSlam. Putting aside any speculation over backstage politics or whether either potential move (NXT especially) would be seen as a massive demotion, the fact there are at least some alternative plans being considered for Enzo is reassuring. He’s too much of an entertainment asset to be lost to two-minute squashes on Raw or appearances on Main Event, irrespective of any shortcomings he has. Perhaps a year from now, Big Cass will be looking like a well-rounded future world champion and Enzo Amore will be the face of NXT in an environment that better supports him. And perhaps the penalty we have to pay for that is a couple more weeks of Big Cass vs Big Show.
SmackDown Live (Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON)
Announced: Women’s Champion Naomi vs Money in the Bank holder Carmella in a non-title match. Also, Lana last week challenged Charlotte Flair to a match, which may happen here.
What to expect: If you were watching the WWE Network last week after SmackDown Live went off the air, you’d have seen John Cena give Baron Corbin an Attitude Adjustment through the announce desk. Look for Corbin to seek revenge this week and give Cena a SummerSlam program. With only two weeks to build a WWE Championship match, expect Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura to come face to face (though hopefully there’ll be more action than talk). With Shane McMahon confirmed as guest referee for SummerSlam’s United States Championship match, will his existing tension with Kevin Owens find comparison to his previous tensions with AJ Styles earlier in the year? WWE loves their special guest referees either monstrously biased or equally distrusted. Also, Randy Orton and Rusev are fighting now; if you missed last week’s show, that’s basically a full recap.
With the Tag Team Championships rematch now confirmed for SummerSlam, The New Day will likely return after the sneak attack by The Usos two weeks ago. Another Fashion Files segment is almost certain, as Tyler Breeze and Fandango continue to make good yards from their comedy-mystery gimmick, while elsewhere among the men’s roster Aiden English and the feud between Sami Zayn and Mike & Maria Kanellis are the also-rans. In the women’s division, the match between Lana and Charlotte Flair (assuming it happens) suggests an angle to set up something for Charlotte rather than anything resembling a proper contest, while Naomi should manage to negotiate her way past Carmella on her path towards Natalya in Brooklyn – although it’s worth noting that James Ellsworth’s storyline suspension from the company expired in the past week.
Spotlight: I noted in last week’s preview for SmackDown Live that the blue brand’s Women’s Championship program for SummerSlam – between Naomi and Natalya – was exactly the kind of thing Naomi could’ve and should’ve been doing the moment she emerged from WrestleMania weekend, having reclaimed the title she never lost and seeing off former champion Alexa Bliss to Raw in the ‘Superstar Shake-up’. But the more comment I read around the internet following recent episodes of SmackDown Live, the more I get the sense this feud is dividing opinion. Natalya at SummerSlam in such a basic angle? When you’ve got Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch warming the bench? I’ll admit it has given me pause for thought.
To address those issues first, the absence of Flair and Lynch from the SummerSlam lineup at the time of writing can’t really be ignored. Both remain high-value players on Tuesday nights but are among the several big names SmackDown seems to have had problems jamming into their side of the Brooklyn card organically (see Orton vs Rusev). Coming out of the Battleground pay-per-view a couple of weeks ago, the possibility of a tag match with Tamina and Lana was immediately taken and decisively won, as it probably should have been. The problem is there aren’t many other places for both women to move onto after that, at least not outside of the title picture. Could you turn Charlotte heel again and start a program between the two? Will Charlotte vs Lana on this week’s show lead to something different? Could Becky Lynch vs Cris Cyborg actually happen? Do you wait on Asuka or somebody being promoted from NXT? Through all of these options, we’re less than two weeks to SummerSlam so time is not a friend.
However this doesn’t have to reflect on the Women’s Championship match that SmackDown has booked. Fresh, simple booking between an obvious antagonist and an obvious crowd favorite, that you don’t need a bout of amnesia or a flipchart and marker pens to see the logic of, is something I feel WWE (outside of NXT) doesn’t do enough. Naomi is the young, dynamic new champion while Nattie is the veteran in tune with the heritage. Nattie believes Naomi’s enhanced championship belt disrespects that heritage, but Naomi wants to show she’s earned the right to redefine the division. As I said, this is exactly the sort of thing Naomi could’ve done with at the start of her championship reign. Following the breakthrough of her initial title win, massive crowd sympathy when she had to give it up due to injury and fairytale comeback in her hometown at WrestleMania; following all of that, a story where she has to show her worth as a champion and that she belongs on top of the heap? It’s potentially a superstar-making angle. It’s also a great use of Natalya in the role of veteran; far better than, for instance, how Raw is currently using (or not using) Mickie James.
So in summary, yes, I am still on board with the SmackDown Women’s Championship feud. However I’ll accept at least some of my benevolence towards it comes from a relief that both women are doing something that plays to their strengths in the positions they’re currently in. If I were to nitpick – and it’s here that I agree with the dissenters – it probably should’ve happened earlier. Post-roster changes, SmackDown Live had to expend a lot of energy re-establishing the dominant order in its women’s division; paying lip service to Charlotte’s championship ambitions, as befits a signing of her calibre, before turning her babyface against a thrown-together ‘Welcoming Committee’ group who (including Natalya) had been devoid of threat and needed to find some momentum. It was a world away from the confidence in one-on-one feuds the blue brand showed after the initial roster split last year and throughout, Naomi was in the spotlight far less than the champion should’ve been. I’m down for Naomi vs Natalya, sure – but we should probably have got past this by now, with Naomi moving onto a program with a little more flair (pun very much intended) at SummerSlam.
Also This Week
An announced match for 205 Live (Tuesday), made a week in advance? Yep, that’s right: Rich Swann and TJP will step between the purple ropes this week to face each other. It would be lovely to think this is a sign of things to come, that the hype is a cue for both guys to go all-out and put on a CWC-style classic and that kind of promotion will become a weekly hook for 205 Live. It would be lovely to think…..
NXT (Wednesday) is therefore in the unfamiliar spot of not having the most tempting pre-announced segment in the fairly narrow market of midweek wrestling shows on the WWE Network, merely offering No Way Jose vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and the debut of The Street Profits. Bobby Roode did tease a sit-down conversation with Drew McIntyre on last week’s show, so the yellow brand may yet have more to offer.
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!
- Who should replace Bayley to challenge Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship?
- Asides from ‘added to the SmackDown title match’, what would you like to see Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch doing at SummerSlam?
- On balance, which of WWE’s two main brands do you think has the most interesting matches lined up for SummerSlam?
Until next week – and the big preview for SummerSlam weekend – strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.