Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Two Royal Rumble matches happened, both were pretty good and both left the live crowd in Philly feeling happy. Rejoice! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, January 29th 2018.
Raw (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA)
Announced: Nothing at the time of writing. The Royal Rumble(s) took place last night and the dust is still settling.
What to expect: Raw’s next pay-per-view is Elimination Chamber on February 25th, meaning the red brand has four shows, including this week’s, to set things up. Boasting no winner from the men’s Rumble, expect the Elimination Chamber match to be set up as a number one contender’s match to face Brock Lesnar (not advertised for tonight) at WrestleMania. Therefore also expect Roman Reigns to figure, possibly via the detour of an Intercontinental Championship rematch with The Miz (who along with Braun Strowman seems to be another potential contender for the Chamber). Raw does have the women’s Rumble winner, though, although the WWE.com preview for tonight seems understandably as occupied with answers to the Ronda Rousey situation as it does for which champion Asuka will decide to challenge. Interesting potential side plot coming out of the women’s Rumble will be whether Sasha Banks and Bayley’s friendship has splintered.
Expect Seth Rollins to be asking Jason Jordan what was up with him last night, while new tag champs Sheamus & Cesaro (inevitable contractual rematch notwithstanding) have recent losses to Titus Worldwide that may indicate their next destination. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy eliminated each other from the Rumble and will surely continue their odd conflict. John Cena – who is advertised for tonight – will be likely to get involved with Elias in revenge for being smashed with a guitar at Raw 25 (or Elias will get revenge for Cena eliminating him from the Royal Rumble; same end goal). Finally we may get some steer on the fate of the cruiserweight division and its now-vacant championship.
Spotlight: What a bloody terrible situation the whole Enzo Amore issue that dropped out of the sky last week is. It’s terrible for everybody. Primarily, of course, it’s terrible for the people centrally involved; the reported allegations are deeply unpleasant (though also firmly contested) and, until the whole matter is tested legally, leave us simple fans with no recourse other than to shake our heads sadly. However it’s also terrible for WWE, who had the whole thing fall into their lap, and the cruiserweight division in particular, which was counting on Amore to pin down its identity. Those, at least, are two things I’m happy to retreat into writing about.
As initially reported by PWInsider and covered here at TJRWrestling too, WWE was apparently blindsided by the story; Amore hadn’t passed on the news that he was knowingly under investigation, despite apparently being in a position to do so since October. It was this that’s reported to be the reason for the company’s summary decision to release him and, you’ve got to say, it’s hard to argue with that decision. Being put on the spot about serious allegations against one of your champions, and the face of one of your weekly WWE Network shows, when you’re trying to promote 25 years of Monday Night Raw is seriously embarrassing. Had WWE known, might they have been able to quietly shift the spotlight and the championship off Enzo Amore? We’ll probably never know.
However belatedly, WWE does now need to find a new focus for the cruiserweight division. The change is probably more stark and more sudden than they would’ve liked, which doesn’t help, but they still face the same problem; the entire character and appeal of the division was Enzo’s. Even if he had informed WWE of the investigation at the time and the company had moved the Cruiserweight Championship onto Kalisto at the shows that followed, his personality permeated the entire division. Removing him creates a hole in the division that WWE, until now, has not shown many indications of a Plan B for filling.
Perhaps this week’s impending announcement of a General Manager for 205 Live is the Plan B? The addition of a token on-screen authority figure for the Tuesday night WWE Network show may not, on the face of it, have much of a direct impact on Raw, but the timing is interesting. This offers the opportunity to give 205 Live a new personality, in place of the one provided by Amore, if WWE has somebody earmarked for the role who will bring character, presence and – most importantly – eyes to the product. The cruiserweight division is fit to burst with wrestling talent, but if Raw continues to use it in single segments, short matches and usually only a championship match on pay-per-view, it may need a new hook to keep people engaged on Monday nights.
Most of all, the one thing coming out of this that has helped me to find some peace and happiness is the complete and total nerfing of the romance angle between Amore and Nia Jax. Not only was it terminated as swiftly as Amore’s contract, it’ll likely never even be referenced again. I hope this is a blessing in disguise for Nia and we’ll see her return to a focus of dominating people in the women’s division. She’s a unique athlete who has added a lot of impressive skills to her ring arsenal, still has the belief of live crowds (see the reactions to her spots in last night’s Rumble) and could offer a great foil opposite, for example, the two rookies in Absolution. If one good thing results from the Enzo Amore dismissal, I hope it’s a new calling for Nia Jax.
SmackDown Live (Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA)
Announced: Nothing yet! See above note for Raw.
What to expect: Shinsuke Nakamura won the Royal Rumble and has chosen to face the WWE Champion. We can probably expect him to get a moment with AJ Styles here, although it’s equally as likely that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens will be showing up to argue they deserve another shot at Styles first after last night’s controversial finish. As night follows day, this should provide an opportunity for Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon to disagree on the solution. Meanwhile, Bobby Roode and The Usos successfully defended their respective championships last night with comprehensive wins. Will new contenders emerge here? Or might they just be the same contenders again?
Elsewhere, it currently looks like being a case of footnotes coming out of last night’s two Rumble matches. Ronda Rousey vs Charlotte Flair seemed like a WrestleMania match WWE was keen to do, so depending on what happens on Raw there may be some overspill of consequences here. Nikki Bella returned to action in last night’s Rumble; officially speaking she is still on the SmackDown roster, so might she stick around? Dolph Ziggler certainly appears to be back in circulation, so what’ll be next for him is an unresolved issue. There may also be fresh animosity between The New Day and Jinder Mahal after they clashed last night. It’s a long time until the next SmackDown pay-per-view, so there’s not as much rush to set up new programs as there is on Monday nights.
Spotlight: There’s our provisional WWE Championship match for WrestleMania, then. The one we wanted. Admittedly there’s still a chance it could be changed at the SmackDown-exclusive pay-per-view Fastlane in March; if like me you felt tense throughout the last few minutes of Shinsuke Nakamura’s face-off with Roman Reigns, be prepared to chew the fingernails again when AJ Styles comes round to clear the final obstacle. WWE delivered some smart drama last night and fair play to them if they take the opportunity to do so again.
To clear that issue up first, there really isn’t any reasonable logic behind Styles dropping the belt before we get to New Orleans and leaving us to watch Nakamura face somebody else. For all the lurking of Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin, and the absence of an obvious WrestleMania match for Randy Orton, the other men who could feasibly step into a fresh program for the show’s second-biggest championship match (because Reigns vs Brock Lesnar is obviously still happening and going on later in the card) are realistically not an upgrade on Styles vs Nakamura.
So what we probably have is a detour first. There are six weeks of build available for Fastlane, which is plenty of time to give AJ Styles a reasonable one-shot program against one or several contenders (local advertisements were suggesting a five-way, while Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn don’t appear to be done with the title picture yet) while starting to sow the seeds for Nakamura in April. How the program plays out will be interesting; face against face, against a background of past history, respect and technical supremacy seems the obvious path at present, though could one man take on the role of antagonist? It’s possible, but don’t expect any heavy storytelling to kick in for a few weeks.
Expect to hear, at some point during this title feud, occasional comments from the announce team and their colleagues about how ‘the internet’ is blowing up over the prospect of Styles vs Nakamura. I think we generally see that as code for ‘this one’s for the wrestling geeks’. That would be disingenuous here though. The prime appeal of Styles vs Nakamura isn’t really one of a ‘strong style’ technical clinic for the hardcore fans and it’s certainly not just Blah Blah Japan Blah. Yes, all of that is relevant and not a cliché here, but the success of this WWE Championship match isn’t reliant on what we might be tempted to think the WWE mainstream sees only as indie cred.
Actually this succeeds just as well on WWE’s own terms. This WWE Championship match still would’ve topped fans’ wishlists based only on what the two men have done in the company and how the company have handled them – and for that, everyone involved is due some credit. Styles, as we’ve noted in these pages, has established himself as a bankable main event asset through performance as much as reputation. Nakamura hasn’t had the smoothest road on the main roster (the program with Jinder Mahal springs to mind), but his year-long period in NXT was a masterstroke in establishing his aura for more casual fans; despite his trials since, he’s never stopped feeling special – and he and Styles have carefully been kept apart so that this moment counts. Let the record show WWE got 2018’s Royal Rumble absolutely right.
Also This Week
As noted above, the announcement of a General Manager for 205 Live (Tuesday) is one of the most interesting events of the week outside of the company’s big two television shows. This will be a pivotal couple of weeks for 205 Live after Enzo Amore’s departure.
After yet another pretty good TakeOver event, this week’s episode of NXT (Wednesday) provides the dark matches from Philadelphia. Promoted are Nikki Cross vs Lacey Evans and the return to televised action for TM61. A little more insight into the new signees featured in the crowd on Saturday (Ricochet, EC3, War Machine) is also possible.
This week’s contest for the Mixed Match Challenge (Tuesday Facebook Watch/Thursday WWE Network) is Alexa Bliss & Braun Strowman vs Becky Lynch & Sami Zayn, which could be the high point for watchability so far on what has been a very watchable tournament. The prospect of either of those precious duos being dumped out in the first round is heartbreaking though.
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 would you like to see AJ Styles do at Fastlane before he faces Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania?
- Assuming Raw’s Elimination Chamber will decide Brock Lesnar’s opponent for WrestleMania, which six men would you like to see in the match?
- Who would you pick as the new General Manager of 205 Live?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.