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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Seven men and six women step into the Elimination Chamber this Sunday at the last Raw-exclusive pay-per-view for the foreseeable future. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, February 19th 2018.

Raw (Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ)

Announced: Elimination Chamber competitors John Cena, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Elias and The Miz will compete in a Gauntlet Match. Also, a six-woman tag between the other Chamber participants: Bayley, Sasha Banks & Mickie James vs Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville

What to expect: The last couple of weeks of Raw have been pretty heavy on the wrestling, and that should continue with the announced gauntlet match. Effectively working through six consecutive singles matches, without short-changing any of the guys involved before Sunday, will demand a fair amount of time – even if Braun Strowman ultimately steamrollers through the competition to give us a ‘who can stop Braun’ cliffhanger. The women’s tag match will likely see tension between Bayley and Sasha Banks, and somebody other than Alexa Bliss claiming the pinfall or submission. Chances of a post-match brawl are high.

There will need to be time on the show tonight to set up a few more matches for Sunday. Terms should be set for Matt Hardy vs Bray Wyatt (I’d imagine a straightforward singles match, but you never know). Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson lost last week to The Revival in what’s been a back-and-forth rivalry, while Sheamus & Cesaro currently need new Tag Team Championship challengers. Nia Jax and Asuka will probably come face to face in some form to hype their match for Sunday and, speaking of hype, expect Ronda Rousey’s ‘contract signing’ on Sunday to also be mentioned regularly.

Spotlight: Despite his outlook for this Sunday’s Elimination Chamber suffering from the presumed inevitability of Roman Reigns being the one to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, Braun Strowman’s stock continues to rise. Last week, he turned his hand – add your own ‘get these hands’ reference here – to another new character trait, with a musical turn in a comedy skit with Elias. It could’ve been cheesy and terrible in the wrong hands – and if you missed your ‘get these hands’ cue earlier, here’s another chance – but Strowman delivered it with aplomb, underplaying his part and making a simple premise work. The singing was endearingly terrible, the asskicking followed quickly and the locals in San Jose lapped it up. It was the latest in a series of daft things that have propelled Strowman to the status of a crowd darling.

Nobody on WWE television has done anything like the preposterous things that Braun Strowman has done in the last year. He’s flipped over ambulances, trucks and entire sections of the Raw stage. He collapsed the ring while superplexing Big Show and, on a separate occasion, powerslammed WWE’s other notable giant through the side of a steel cage. He was in an ambulance crash orchestrated by Roman Reigns but walked away. He was thrown into a garbage truck and crushed, only to appear out of a totally different garbage truck in a totally different city a couple of weeks later. He’s pulled scaffolding down onto people with a grappling hook, wrestled in dumpster matches and taken legit mid-match right hands from a pissed-off Brock Lesnar. Now, add to that a comedy musical skit.

This looks like the kind of track record you might’ve expected to see in the Attitude Era, possibly attributed to someone like Strowman’s most recent nemesis Kane, but even then it would’ve been a lot to fit into 12 months. The fact that it’s now 2018 and this stuff is working is a testament both to Strowman’s abilities as a performer and to WWE’s senior creative minds for how they’ve deployed him. Any weaknesses he has as a performer are seldom left exposed, while there seems no shortage of new and novel opportunities for him to show off a new talent. See also his Mixed Match Challenge partnership with the diminutive Alexa Bliss, where he’s dabbling in ‘odd couple’ comedy and what will presumably be a passing romance angle. The MMC second round starts next week.

Coming back to this week, he’s probably the only guy who might have a long shot, outside of Reigns, to win the Elimination Chamber match. Reigns vs Lesnar has been the assumed WrestleMania match since WrestleMania last year, but more so than we could’ve thought back then it feels like it’ll be happening in spite of the popularity of Braun Strowman. The rumor has been that he’ll find a spot opposite The Miz over the Intercontinental Championship, come April. This would be an improvement over last year, where he was thrown out in the first half of the André the Giant Battle Royal on the pre-show – an unthinkable spot for him now – but it still feels like a holding pattern for a guy who’s in a sweet spot of writing and performing where even ridiculous concepts seem to work for him. Strowman will surely see WrestleMania main events in the future.

SmackDown Live (Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ)

Announced: Charlotte Flair, Naomi & Becky Lynch vs Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan.

What to expect: WWE Champion AJ Styles should be back on the show after being absent last week. He now faces four men at Fastlane for his title and establishing a dynamic between him and the newest two (Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler) should be a priority. He worked with Corbin over the United States Championship relatively recently, but it’s been a while since he’s shared a ring with Ziggler. The other four men being heels, it’ll be interesting to see if Styles gets any babyface support from elsewhere on the roster. A good spot for Shinsuke Nakamura, perhaps? As for the Women’s Champion, the announced six-woman tag will probably be geared towards setting up Charlotte Flair vs Ruby Riott at Fastlane.

The United States Championship picture has been helped by a well-articulated promo last week between Bobby Roode, Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal. Expect that to continue, whether there’s a retread this week with Roode’s open challenge or possibly a number one contender’s match between Orton and Mahal. Whether Rusev is also in the picture remains to be seen, but he’s too popular to not be in some sort of picture right now. The Bludgeon Brothers are surely going to jump The Usos any week now, while the rest of the tag division (minus Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin) seem to be in comedy skit mode. Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon may or may not disagree over something; perhaps the question of whether we’ll ever see the SmackDown Live Top 10 List again.

Spotlight: Bear with me on this, but there’s an old episode of South Park where Trey Parker and Matt Stone savagely lampoon the stereotypical Rob Schneider movie vehicle. Schneider plays tragi-comic characters in a series of increasingly interchangeable and banal plots until, eventually, all pretense of creative identity falls away and he’s seen starring in a movie entitled “Da Derp Dee Derp Da Teetley Derpee Derpee Dumb” (variations on which also make up the majority of the trailer narrator’s synopsis). For some reason this has been stuck in my head on most days for the past several months. I assume it’s my reaction to the daily grind when the days are short and the weather is grey; in my mind I hear it on buses, I hear it when I’m at work….. But rarely do I hear it as loudly as when Dolph Ziggler is on my television screen nowadays.

Whether he’s walking to the ring with the announce team recapping his recent exploits, or when he’s cutting a promo – especially when he’s cutting a promo, in fact – all I hear is “Dolph Ziggler derp dee derp. Derp dee derpity derpy derp. Until one day, a derpa derpa derpaderp” and so on. I feel terrible about it, because I’ve always liked Ziggler as a wrestler but as a character it’s become progressively more difficult to see an original twist in anything he says or does. Everything is a variation on his perception of being the best in the ring, but after this has supposedly been measured in matches there are rarely any consequences; the character has hardly any sense of self-reflection and those offending promos start to sound like a broken record. He lives for this. He’s arrogant because he knows he’s good. He’s the best and will prove he’s the best. Derp.

The most recent gimmick he’s been working, of shunning elaborate entrances because he’s the best in the ring and doesn’t need them, contributes nothing narratively and (tellingly) isn’t even being applied consistently with when his music does and doesn’t play. The one oasis of optimism was his reaction to winning the United States Championship at Clash of Champions back in December, where the character’s high opinion of himself finally paid off with interesting narrative consequences. It was his best promo in a long, long time. Someone puffing themselves up to the point where they declare themselves above holding a WWE championship for the benefit of others and voluntarily vacating it? That’s bold. Getting past the bump in the road of Ziggler’s surprisingly muted return in the Royal Rumble, that decision now needs to give the character a new edge going forward.

Last week on SmackDown Live, Ziggler got himself added to the match for the WWE Championship at Fastlane, before news broke of him signing a new and well-remunerated contract with the company. Whether it’ll be worth the money is, I’d argue, now a challenge for the writers more than it’ll be for Ziggler himself, who’s been a good pro for WWE over the last decade-plus. A more important, or at least more interesting role would be welcome. While the chances of him winning at Fastlane are slim (AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura is still the right WWE Championship match for WrestleMania), I hope he’ll at least look good and emerge with a sense of purpose. Set up correctly, Ziggler as a capable heel opponent for either Styles or Nakamura after WrestleMania – and teasing the possibility of vacating the company’s top prize if he wins it – would be an improvement on what had previously become a stale and predictable mid-card act.

Also This Week

High stakes on NXT (Wednesday), with Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas putting the NXT Championship on the line against Johnny Gargano – if Gargano loses, he has to leave NXT. Their last match together was outstanding, so with even more on the line here it’ll essential viewing. Also, by way of massive variety, Velveteen Dream vs No Way Jose.

More action in the Cruiserweight Championship tournament on 205 Live (Tuesday) with Buddy Murphy vs Ariya Daivari and Jack Gallagher vs Mustafa Ali. It’s good to see Murphy, who came across as a pretty good worker in NXT, get a shot on the main roster.

Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch, Thursday WWE Network) sees Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode vs Apollo Crews & Nia Jax in the final first round match. Gotta be a win for the SmackDown pair, hasn’t it?

Elimination Chamber (T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas NV; Raw pay-per-view)

Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and there will be additions during the week given how few matches have been announced so far. At time of writing, those are:

  • Braun Strowman vs Elias vs John Cena vs Roman Reigns vs The Miz vs Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins (Elimination Chamber Match, winner faces Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania)
  • Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Bayley vs Mandy Rose vs Sonya Deville vs Mickie James vs Sasha Banks (Elimination Chamber Match)
  • Asuka vs Nia Jax

Also announced is a segment with Ronda Rousey signing her Raw contract, which is likely to involve a significant angle with Stephanie McMahon ahead of WrestleMania.

What to expect: As I always say here on pay-per-view week, make sure you check in with the guys on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview. Without wishing to spoil that or rob them of any agency, I’m going to stick my neck out and guess everyone will be picking the same winner in the main event: Roman Reigns. In fact, he might be the pick of everyone, period. If we assume the destination will be no surprise, the pressure is on the match to make the journey worthwhile. The good news is, there’s plenty of scope for that here.

WrestleMania programs for John Cena, Braun Strowman and The Miz are rumored but not yet manifest, while two more of Raw’s top guys – Seth Rollins and Finn Balor – currently have even fewer obvious plans. This match may start to change that, providing some badly-needed intrigue, while the star power involved should make it entertaining. There’s also the near-certainty of Braun Strowman throwing people through ‘bulletproof’ pods before we get to the inevitable finish. We know for sure that The Miz is entering the match first, while Elias is entering last; the best guess anyone has as to how the seven-man issue will be handled is to have two other guys (possibly Rollins and Balor, last to qualify) starting with Miz.

The first-ever women’s match in the Chamber will be a story of three pairs – whether Alexa Bliss is genuinely an ally of Mickie James, whether Sasha Banks is no longer an ally of Bayley and whether Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose can take advantage of the distrust between the four of them. It’s unlikely to be as compelling as the men’s match, while sharing a widespread assumption about the result (which is that Bliss retains). Asuka vs Nia Jax is more interesting, not only as Asuka’s possible jump to SmackDown would mean there’s no need for the two women to leave anything on the table here, but also to see how Asuka’s streak and Nia’s legitimacy as a WrestleMania contender can both emerge intact.

There’ll be other matches officially added to the show tonight and during the week – Bray Wyatt vs Matt Hardy seems certain, either of The Revival or Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson against Sheamus & Cesaro seems likely, a showcase from the revitalized cruiserweight division seems possible – but in truth there’ll be nothing that threatens the two Chamber matches and the Rousey segment for dominance on the card. Expect the men’s match in particular to go long and deliver in spectacle what it might ultimately lack in a surprise winner.

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. Are you picking anyone other than Roman Reigns to win in the Chamber? Seriously, if any readers are, I’m genuinely interested to know – please drop us a comment.
  2. Who do you feel has the most potential as United States Champion out of Bobby Roode, Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal?
  3. Dolph Ziggler derp dee derp. Derp dee derpity derpy derp?

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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