Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Both Raw and SmackDown Live come from Phoenix this week, while WWE Hot Balls takes place in Dallas on Sunday. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, July 3rd 2017.
Raw (Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ)
Announced: Nothing official at time of writing.
What to expect: It’s the last Raw before
Great Balls of Fire WWE Hot Balls and is likely to be largely dictated by consequences from last Monday. After a couple of weeks of Samoa Joe getting the jump on Brock Lesnar, expect Lesnar to seek some degree of payback. Also a card-carrying member of the union of seeking revenge at any costs, Roman Reigns will go after Braun Strowman and probably try to return the favor of being bundled into an ambulance. The Miz and Dean Ambrose have seemingly been fighting for months, yet we’re still waiting for an Intercontinental Championship match to be confirmed for the weekend. That should get confirmed tonight (which, with both Maryse and ‘Miztourage’ at his back, will surely see the champion retain). Challenges should also be made and accepted between the participants in last week’s six-man tag match – Finn Balor and Elias Samson, Sheamus & Cesaro and Matt & Jeff Hardy.
Other matches are already set for the pay-per-view, but need some final fleshing out. Sasha Banks will challenge Alexa Bliss, but first a face-to-face confrontation and some Real Talk is the most likely choice for the go-home show. It’s questionable whether the rest of the women’s division – which is pretty handy at the moment – will get much of a look-in this week. Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt will interact in some way (more on my apathy for that in a moment). In the world of disintegrated tag teams, Enzo Amore now knows Big Cass definitely isn’t coming back onside and will probably change his tone, while Goldust and R-Truth are back working in the arena rather than just in video packages. All those guys head towards potential matches on Sunday. Titus O’Neil’s ‘Titus Brand’ (now ‘Titus Worldwide’) thread will likely be focused entirely on Akira Tozawa’s upcoming match with Neville.
Spotlight: Here I sit, staring at a blank screen, trying to think of something to say – good or bad – about the feud between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. Minutes become hours, then hours will become days and weeks; civilizations will rise and fall, and all the time I can see myself sitting here trying to think of something to say about the feud between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. Arguably the most exciting, athletic all-round wrestler on the roster facing down the unorthodox creepy heel with the awesome character traits and unique promo style – why aren’t there a hundred things to say about this? I find myself chewing on a main course that should be melting in my mouth.
Here’s the test: Ask yourself what this feud has been about so far. No sneaky looking at Raw recaps or WWE Fan Nation videos, just off the top of your head. My answer was that Bray Wyatt was upset about losing the five-way at Extreme Rules and told Rollins he was a God. Rollins didn’t buy into that and talked about how he’s on the cover of WWE 2K18, which Wyatt isn’t interested in. The nuances of these arguments – if they even are arguments, given there are few points of disagreement of any global consequence – have been completely lost on me. I’m pretty sure the nuances have been made; I distinctly remember Rollins being fired up on the microphone and Wyatt saying spooky things from both in the ring and in his backstage lair. But none of it has stuck in my mind. So I’ve had to go back to the recaps and Fan Nation videos to try and figure it out.
I think what frustrates me about this is that it’s paint-by-numbers booking. It’s not that it’s lazy writing, it’s not that the performers involved are phoning it in, it’s just that it’s exact text-book Seth Rollins and exact text-book Bray Wyatt exhibiting exactly their default behavior, in conflict over nothing specific. The mention of the 2K18 cover is ironic, because this feels exactly like the sort of storyline you’d expect to find in a video game, where you could substitute your create-a-wrestler onto either side of the feud and it would still play out in a totally logical way. And I don’t think that’s bad as such, because Seth Rollins is still pretty great and clearly hugely popular and I can still listen to Bray Wyatt talk all day (even if he’s still saying the same things), but it’s just not memorable. I guarantee this won’t make any lists for best or worst feuds of the year.
I think one of the problems WWE has with using Bray Wyatt is that, if you’re going to have a character based in psychological warfare, cult followings and personal manipulation, his legitimacy is undermined if his shtick has no impact on opponents. Unfortunately this happens a lot, especially higher up the card, because marquee babyfaces have a brand to protect. Hence Seth Rollins, the swashbuckling hero and Kingslayer, can’t show fear or self-doubt; that’s not in his contract with the audience, so Bray might as well be shouting at the clouds. When you’re considered to be a B+ player like Daniel Bryan, who can afford to spend a month wearing a boiler suit, or Xavier Woods, who can show fear while his two stablemates wrestle the tag match, there’s more latitude. There’s also more latitude to take creative gambles with vets like John Cena (remember the sheep-mask choir?) or Randy Orton.
Yes, we may have groaned at the House of Horrors match and the projections onto the ring canvas at WrestleMania, but at least that feud between Wyatt and Orton tried to explore something different and to show different sides to both men as performers. Given a redraft or two, some of that material may have worked much better. This feud, however, is the other end of the spectrum, with both men in a creative stalemate. They’ll probably have a perfectly good match at WWE Hot Balls, and I probably won’t remember it in three months’ time.
SmackDown Live (Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ)
Announced: A battle royal to determine the number one contender to the United States Championship; Naomi (c) vs Lana for the SmackDown Women’s Championship; a ‘rap battle’ between The New Day and The Usos (hosted by Wale); some chap named John Cena returns to WWE programming.
What to expect: The question of Cena first. WWE may now be openly noting his ‘free agent’ status – and by implication the chances of him starting to pop up on Raw instead – but Big Match John is being advertised for the SmackDown-exclusive Battleground later this month, so expect him to get into a program with someone here. The battle royal, on Independence Day, for the right to face a Canadian calling himself ‘The New Face of America’, over the United States Championship seems so obvious a vehicle I simultaneously can’t believe it would be that simple but have also been blinded to any other possibilities. Especially as Jinder Mahal is still tied up with Randy Orton (expect plenty of background exposition on the Punjabi Prison match this week). Battle royals are always good fun though, so either way there should be decent value on offer.
Elsewhere on the roster, Naomi faces Lana for the third time. One might expect Naomi to move on to something else ahead of Battleground, but a more telling dynamic will be where Carmella fits into weekly programming now that the Money in the Bank issue has been resolved. Will she inject herself into the title picture now, or get tied up with the attentions of other women on the roster? Other signs to pick up this week are whether Shinsuke Nakamura will target Baron Corbin for the latter’s pre-match attack at Money in the Bank, and whether Mike and Maria Kanellis will target Sami Zayn for interrupting their love-in last week. Also expect more comedy in the tag division with Breezango’s ‘Fashion Vice’ segments and the ‘rap battle’ between the players in the Tag Team Championships feud (which there’s no way The New Day will take even remotely seriously, despite hip-hop artist Wale being present to call proceedings).
Spotlight: Round three of the WWE Week In Preview vs the SmackDown Live women’s division, and the fortunes of the blue brand’s female storylines are a mixed bag. In a way, that’s progress, because for the last couple of weeks I’ve not had a lot of good things to say. Last week’s Money in the Bank rematch for the eponymous contract felt a little more scrappy than the original; not quite as clean, not quite as well-paced, didn’t seem quite as carefully thought-out (too much pull someone away from ladder, pull someone down from ladder, push ladder over to stun on top rope, repeat). It was comfortably only the third-best women’s main event on WWE programming last week.
That said….. It was only the third-best women’s main event on WWE programming last week because the others were very entertaining. And there were two of them. I don’t want to give the impression I underappreciate that. In the week following the Netflix release of GLOW (further evidence to the idea that very few decisions in WWE happen in a vacuum), three pretty eventful main events for women on weekly programming has got everybody talking about WWE’s females – and for positive reasons. Notwithstanding the previous issues with the finish at the Money in the Bank, it would be churlish to overlook the fact that the women of SmackDown Live have two ladder matches under their belts. The women’s ladder match is now a routine thing in WWE – as it should be. Also, Carmella comes out of this with her reputation much enhanced; her promos have nailed down a link between a sense of entitlement and her ‘princess’ stylings and she now owns the reactions she’s getting. She looks like she belongs on the platform that the briefcase offers her.
A cautionary note however on the situation with the SmackDown Women’s Championship, which has stalled slightly. Lana, who came across looking a little green but with some clear upsides at Money in the Bank, had her place in the pecking order very firmly established last week in losing her rematch with Naomi in around one minute; she’s clearly seventh out of seven on the women’s roster right now. However, here we are this week doing this title match for the third time, and irrespective of whether this was intended or not – if WWE are seriously going to rebook matches when someone’s shoulder is only 98% down on the finish, the art of the cradle pin is surely dead – it’s difficult to see how much more value can be extracted from it.
I feel a little bad for Naomi, around whom events have conspired to make life as champion a little less glamorous than it could (and should) have been. Her program with Alexa Bliss was halted once due to injury and then, following Naomi’s triumphant WrestleMania return, hotshotted to facilitate Bliss moving to Raw. An apparent title program with Charlotte Flair turned out to be DOA because SmackDown was pressing ahead with the ‘Welcoming Committee’ angle, she missed both historic ladder matches through not needing to compete in them and she’s now struggling to get a feud upgrade, with the possibility of swapping Lana for Carmella the only option currently on the horizon. It’ll be a shame if Naomi ends up losing the title without working a proper championship feud with the likes of Flair or Becky Lynch, or even Natalya. She’s always shown the talent to become a genuine superstar, rather than just a transitional champion while SmackDown Live continues to put its house in order.
We’ve said plenty here about SmackDown’s women over the past few weeks. Now the Money in the Bank issue has been settled, it’s time to let the show get on with business as usual this week. Next Monday we’ll move on.
Also This Week
After a pretty great episode last week, NXT (Wednesday) has the rare allure of an NXT Championship match this week, between champion Bobby Roode and challenger Roderick Strong. There’s also a tag match promised between SAnitY and the team of Hideo Itami and Kassius Ohno. Meanwhile, with the card for Raw’s weekend pay-per-view getting very busy, 205 Live (Tuesday) will likely be split between setting up Neville vs Akira Tozawa and the usual fare that will roll on to next week. The days of six-man tags on the Kickoff Show are, for the moment, in the past. Speaking of which, let’s get onto Sunday’s show…..
Great Balls of Fire (American Airlines Center, Dallas TX; Raw pay-per-view)
Announced: As always, the card is subject to change and additions during the week are pretty much inevitable. Official matches at time of writing:
- Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Samoa Joe
- Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman (Ambulance Match)
- Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks
- Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt
- WWE Cruiserweight Championships: Neville (c) vs Akira Tozawa
What to expect: Expect the name of the pay-per-view to make me wince so hard I could clench my face into a fist, every single time it’s mentioned on commentary.
The heavyweight clash in the main event should deliver. The build has been flawless and I’m really pumped about seeing it – as, I’d hope and expect, the live crowd in Dallas will be too. Samoa Joe is not one for being half-assed in big matches, and has the intensity and work ethic to bring as much out of 2017-spec Brock Lesnar as anybody could. Expect this to be Lesnar’s best match since, what, that triple threat with Seth Rollins and John Cena a couple of years ago? Certainly since his WrestleMania match with Roman Reigns (and Rollins) a few months later.
Speaking of Reigns, the Ambulance Match should be exactly the chaotic ending to his feud with Braun Strowman that we were expecting before Strowman’s injury, but with rumors of plans for SummerSlam (and next year’s WrestleMania) being up in the air, it’ll be a brave pundit who picks a winner with any confidence. Elsewhere, the two other announced championship matches look good value; Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss had pretty good chemistry even back in their NXT clashes, while Neville and Akira Tozawa are an exciting mesh of styles. Conversely – as already noted – I have to say if Rollins and Bray Wyatt were quietly given the night off, I probably wouldn’t notice they were gone.
There are a few gaps on the confirmed card, but they’re not hard to fill in. The Miz vs Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship and Sheamus & Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz for the Raw Tag Team Championships are the obvious missing title matches, while Finn Balor vs Elias Samson joins the former-tag-teams-turned-enemies of Goldust and R-Truth and Big Cass and Enzo Amore as candidates for the undercard. There’s some intrigue and quality there, while I’d tip that potential tag titles match as being one of the best of the night.
As usual, check back here on Friday for the full TJRWrestling preview with John and the gang.
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!
- Assuming the Universal Championship match at SummerSlam will involve two of Lesnar, Joe, Reigns and Strowman, what matchup from those men would you most like to see?
- Would you rather see John Cena or AJ Styles win this week’s battle royal and face Kevin Owens at Battleground?
- As mentioned earlier: From your point of view, what has been the story of Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt up until now?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.