Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! All of Raw’s champions retained at WWE Hot Balls, one of SmackDown’s champions was dethroned at a house show in New York and NXT also got in on the act with a great title match on regular programming last week. What’s next? Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 10th 2017.
Raw (Toyota Center, Houston TX)
Announced: Nothing announced at time of writing, coming off the back of Great Balls of Fire (hopefully the last we’ll hear of that pay-per-view name) last night.
What to expect: Universal Champion Brock Lesnar is scheduled to appear on this week’s Raw before disappearing back into the shadows for a few weeks, so you’d have thought there’d be some effort to set up or at least foreshadow his SummerSlam match tonight. The problem here is that Roman Reigns technically lost his Ambulance Match with Braun Strowman, but still ended up besting him, while Samoa Joe’s challenge last night was brief enough to leave the audience wanting more (although whether we’ll get more remains to be seen). So expect there to be some disagreement, in need of resolution, around the number one contendership for SummerSlam. Two safer bets for title rematches, be they at SummerSlam or sooner, would be between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks for the Women’s Championship and Neville and Akira Tozawa (with the backing of Titus O’Neil) for the Cruiserweight Championship. Both of those should be addressed.
Meanwhile, filed under the ‘totally fine with not seeing a rematch but you could see how they’d get there’ category, it’s hard to see how Seth Rollins will give Bray Wyatt a pass for that thumb-to-the-eye-assisted-finish last night and The Miz needed a substantial amount of interference to defeat Dean Ambrose. All those men could continue to butt heads tonight but transition away to something else for SummerSlam. Sheamus & Cesaro had a more conclusive win over The Hardy Boyz, but unless a TLC match is in their future it’s hard to see who they could move on to face next. The Revival? Raw has a dearth of babyface tag teams at the moment, having split up Enzo and Big Cass. Speaking of which, most educated guesses have Big Cass meeting Big Show (possibly backed by Enzo Amore) in the near future. We should also see some movement towards a resolution for the programs that didn’t make the pay-per-view card, involving Goldust and R-Truth and (especially) Finn Balor and Elias Samson. Surely there must be something better for Finn Balor to be doing once we get to SummerSlam.
Spotlight: It’s a long six-week run to SummerSlam now for the Raw brand. For the bigger names on the Monday night roster, the pieces should start to fall into place tonight. For all the love that you or I may have for the Royal Rumble match, SummerSlam is pretty well cemented now as WWE’s second-biggest show of the year. That means big, obvious matches at the top of the card, supported by lots of build. With SmackDown Live tied up with Battleground for the next couple of weeks, the onus falls onto Raw to get things started tonight and they have the big names required to do so. Brock Lesnar defending the Universal Championship is one of the obvious main events WWE can book and, even if he isn’t the challenger, whatever Roman Reigns is doing will be a big deal. I’ll also mark your card for a resolution to the recent mystery surrounding General Manager Kurt Angle; if a possible Angle vs Triple H match is on the cards, that will obviously be huge.
Matches on that sort of scale would generally be set up swiftly and then wrung out for all they’re worth over the coming weeks with no diversions. Lower down the card, however, where matches don’t usually require six weeks of build, things may work out a little differently and we may see some diversions on the road towards Brooklyn in August. The women’s division – which, on Raw, is exclusively centered around the Women’s Championship at the moment – is one such example. The logical endpoint to the story of Alexa Bliss sucking up to and avoiding conflict with Nia Jax is for Bliss to avoid the division’s other threats before Jax finally gets the chance to smear her all over the canvas. On the face of it, that felt like it would be a SummerSlam-scale event. However, after taking a count-out loss and some knees in her face last night, it looks as though the champion’s short-term future will see a continued challenge from Sasha Banks. Which is fine with me.
In his live review, John Canton noted it was “probably the best singles match Bliss has had at this point in her career”. I would agree with that. My feelings on Bliss are pretty well known at this point, but I’d be one of the first to concede that her in-ring game is the part in most need of improvement. She carries herself and her character brilliantly in the ring, but carrying an opponent through an engaging match isn’t looking as natural yet. Fortunately – and as I noted briefly in last week’s preview – Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss have always had pretty good chemistry, going back to their NXT days. In the later part of 2014 and early 2015, they had a series of entertaining little bouts that further helped to confirm Banks as a future superstar in waiting and also showed Bliss was starting to put things together too. They’re all on the WWE Network, with sunset flip powerbombs and broken noses in all their glory, and worth a look if you have some time to kill. I could certainly watch more of these two fighting over the Raw Women’s Championship and could see them putting on better contests still if they get the chance.
We’ll have to see what happens. Is there time to blaze through a rematch for Banks and start a program between Bliss and Jax before SummerSlam? Probably. But I don’t know that it would help either Banks or Bliss – Sasha Banks dropping back into the pack so quickly wouldn’t be great news for her, while more matches of this quality for Alexa Bliss can’t hurt her confidence. In my opinion, this would still make for a good SummerSlam rematch. However, I think it’s going to be difficult to hold Nia Jax away from the title picture for long; she’s been nearly faultless in what she’s done in the ring so far in her time on the main roster and the story of the invincible champion, who crushes Bliss and Banks, plus Mickie James, Emma and everyone else on the roster – until finally falling to a resurgent Bayley, perhaps at WrestleMania – is too good to pass up. It’s hard to see how Jax can be in the holding pattern of dominant but not on top for much longer.
The Raw women’s division at the moment has a lot of talent but not a lot of shape. If I had one wish for Raw at the moment, it would be to commit to a secondary story in the division and run with it for a few weeks. Even if it isn’t that progressive or doesn’t change the world, just something that makes us care about Emma or Mickie James or even Dana Brooke for a few weeks as it’ll mean more when they cycle into the spot as championship challenger. The last thing those three women did was get pinned by Nia Jax, within the space of ten minutes, in the gauntlet match a couple of weeks ago. Not great.
SmackDown Live (AT&T Center, San Antonio TX)
Announced: Nothing formally announced for this week; we’ve been pretty lucky with matches being announced in advance for the past few Tuesdays!
What to expect: Since last Tuesday, when AJ Styles won the right to challenge Kevin Owens for the United States Championship, Styles has taken that opportunity and the title with it. Therefore expect this week’s episode to cover that switch and formally set up Owens’ contractual rematch for Battleground in a couple of weeks. Already set for Battleground is a Flag Match between John Cena and Rusev – so expect a patriotism-heavy build between those men – while two other grudges are also now beginning to play out; for Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin, the emotion driving the story is fear (and how neither man holds it for the other), while for Mike and Maria Kanellis the emotion is love (and how Sami Zayn keeps blundering onto the scene and interrupting it). There’s a good chance of these stories being further established this week.
For the WWE Championship feud, so much has already gone on between Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton, that it’s hard to see what else can be added; perhaps a focus on the Punjabi Prison gimmick, through a video package or whatever, wouldn’t hurt. For the Women’s Championship, Naomi should (thankfully) be moving on from Lana, although there are questions over the latter’s new alliance with Tamina. Whether or not Carmella will be in the picture, James Ellsworth is storyline-suspended for the next month. The program for the Tag Team Championships between The Usos and The New Day might have more edge after last week’s surprisingly great rap battle, which gave those guys a chance to show a bit more range, while undercurrents elsewhere in the division are creating interesting times for American Alpha and, in particular, The Hype Bros. About that……
Spotlight: I don’t know if it’s just me – please feel free to write in and complain if it is just me and from your perspective everything’s fine – but it feels like shocking breakups of tag teams in WWE are too common an occurrence. Yes, the shock value may still work, but we find ourselves speculating too often about if and (here’s the issue) when teams will be split rather than being blindsided by it. We’re conditioned now to think that all good things must come to an end and, as a result, we spend more time thinking about that end rather than enjoying the ride. I understand that mismatched pairs are less likely to stay together than double-acts who are bonded by family or levels of talent; I understand why Marty Jannetty had to go through the barbershop window, how Matt and Jeff Hardy’s on-screen splits could never be final enough to render their brotherhood irreparable and why The Usos have been tagging for so long when for much of that time the commentary desk were pointing out body tattoos to help the audience tell them apart. It just feels like, outside of the obvious, WWE may have developed an itchy trigger finger in the last couple of years.
Case studies: The Prime Time Players were split too early, before getting a proper run, leading to a paucity of individual success. Over on Raw, Enzo Amore and Big Cass have similarly burned their bridges completely, after just over a year on the main roster, and the short-term future looks equally challenging for both men. The breakup of #DIY at NXT TakeOver: Chicago may have been shocking, but had been planted in everybody’s minds since Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa wrestled each other on the Cruiserweight Classic last year. The less said about the current fortunes of The Wyatt Family the better, but those men were clearly having a better time of things as a loose collective. Why couldn’t they stay as a loose collective? Luke Harper’s permanent estrangement from Bray Wyatt didn’t seem necessary to facilitate the latter’s feud with Randy Orton, and now both Harper and Erick Rowan drift around the SmackDown Live roster somewhat aimlessly.
SmackDown Live now has a couple of new creative challenges with tag teams experiencing growing pains but, as some consolation, there are signs of nuance. The Hype Bros appear to be heading for a split, but so far the grounds are professional ambition; both want to be successful, but one is likely going to end up being a jerk about it. Mojo Rawley eliminating his partner from last week’s battle royal isn’t unreasonable – every man for himself and all that – but is enough to drive a wedge between himself and Zack Ryder, who may well react badly. Do Rawley and Ryder need to be split now? No. Do I want to see them wrestle each other? No. Can all this be sensibly undone down the road, in the way what’s gone on between Enzo and Cass can’t be? Yes. See also Chad Gable’s backstage interview about his solo exploits and the future of American Alpha, which is tone-perfect and refreshing. Even if there’s no short-term plans for Alpha, you don’t necessarily have to torpedo them to get the men over as singles competitors. Tag teams don’t always have to end in tears.
I sometimes wonder how things will play out with this era’s tag teams in the WWE Hall of Fame, when we’re looking back at it in a few decades from now. Where are this era’s great tag teams in WWE? In recent years, inductees have included the likes of The Road Warriors, The Fabulous Freebirds and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (and surely The Midnight Express should logically follow). But once the Hall of Fame has made its way up to and through the Attitude Era – presumably Christian will join Edge and JBL will join Ron Simmons eventually, the Hardys and Dudleys, The New Age Outlaws and possibly Too Cool are all obvious and strong candidates (and that’s before looking at WCW) – things might start to dry up. This era’s Hall of Fame tag teams may end up simply being those who are able to stay together long enough to make an impact. Lest we forget how strongly The Shield were booked and how much they were therefore able to get done in a short time; in their initial run they were together for less than two years. Even if we see a Shield reunion (about which there’s been much talk but little outcome yet) there’s also every chance those men will be positioned as future Hall of Famers individually.
Otherwise, you would probably argue the strongest candidates for the Hall of Fame from the current generation of WWE’s tag teams are The Usos and The New Day. Even the latter of those have been subject to speculation over the past year; whether, once their record championship run had finished, their act had run its course; whether Big E was going to break out as the obvious singles star. However, it’s hard to argue that the longer they stay together, the stronger their legacy becomes. In 20 or 30 years time, history may look back at the current program for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships as an era-defining feud. Bet we wouldn’t have thought that when Wale was hosting a rap battle last week.
Also This Week
Asides from the weekly staples, it’s worth flagging up the new episode of WWE 24 (Monday) on Kurt Angle that premieres after Raw. Essential viewing for any fans of the Olympic hero – which is all of us, right?
NXT (Wednesday) sees The Authors of Pain vs Heavy Machinery in the heaviest-of-weights clash for the NXT Tag Team Championships and the return of Johnny Gargano to Full Sail. With the word being that Tommaso Ciampa’s 2017 is over as he recovers from his knee injury, it’ll be interesting to see what NXT has in store for Johnny Wrestling while the obvious blood feud is on hold; preferably something with a degree of success, because a jealousy angle for Ciampa would be consistent and writes itself. NXT has a pretty good record with doing the simple things well.
The big story in the world of 205 Live (Tuesday) this past week is around a more permanent absence, with Austin Aries being released by the company. PWTorch reports this was at the request of Aries, citing dissatisfaction with his spot. If true, it does highlight an obstacle for talent that, if you’ve been designated a cruiserweight but aren’t part of the current title program, 205 Live (and a couple of minutes on Raw) is pretty much the only thing going for you at the moment. If you don’t count the Sasha Banks/Alicia Fox program that became the intergender tag at Extreme Rules, the only non-title cruiserweight match on a WWE pay-per-view so far in 2017 was at Fastlane back in March (and even that was on the Kickoff).
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!
- Do WWE break up their tag teams too easily?
- What’s your opinion on title changes taking place at house shows?
- How does the departure of Austin Aries reflect on the cruiserweight division?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.