Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! In new news, Big Cass ditched Enzo Amore and we’ll see the fallout this week; in old news, Goldust ditched R-Truth and we’ll see the fallout this week; in timeless news, WWE made a women’s division booking decision and everybody hated it. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, June 26th 2017.
Raw (Staples Center, Los Angeles CA)
Announced: Brock Lesnar is back on Raw this week. Also, Goldust will present a ‘movie premiere’ to which R-Truth is invited.
What to expect: Brock Lesnar is back this week and next week, so the excellent build for the Universal Champion’s match with Samoa Joe at WWE Hot Balls (yep, two more weeks of me using that instead of Great Balls of Fire) has all the elements it needs to succeed. The probability of more physicality tonight is high. The other match so far confirmed for the pay-per-view next week, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman in a de facto number one contender’s Ambulance Match, also lends itself well to a violent build; expect those two to continue their war from where they left off a few weeks back.
Last week’s big reveal that Big Cass was Enzo Amore’s attacker will surely be followed up, in a neat parallel to the announced ‘movie preview’ (of a production called “The Shattered Truth”, apparently) that will finally follow up the split between Goldust and R-Truth in front of a live crowd. It’ll be interesting to see how much the crowd in LA is into that segment, and hopefully the issues between Enzo and Cass won’t be left on the shelf for that long.
With one mystery solved, eyes will be on developments in the other big mystery about Kurt Angle’s reputation (which I’m happy to admit I was wrong about possibly being connected). I also live in eternal hope that another mystery – who’s the next contender for Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss – might also be moved on this week. Meanwhile, Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins continue to plod towards a pay-per-view match that could do with less talk and more trousers; a feud between Finn Balor and Elias Samson, kindled only last week, already has more video-package-friendly highlights. The Miz may be looking for Maryse to forgive him again this week, but expect to see Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas to back him up against the threat of Dean Ambrose again. Finally, the possibility of an appearance by LaVar Ball would be highly likely to account for this week’s ‘Titus Brand’ segment which has been making handy use of Titus O’Neil, Apollo Crews and Akira Tozawa of late.
Spotlight: I thought Raw was very good last week, and is now hitting a potential hot streak that should carry Monday nights through to SummerSlam with great success. There are some intriguing and personal angles, such as the split between Enzo Amore and Big Cass – big credit to Amore for how he sold his emotions at last week’s reveal – and the Kurt Angle mystery that best educated guesses are suggesting might lead to the return of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H (and a match between Angle and Hunter; yes please). The Universal Championship, after months of being an occasional prop on WWE programming, is now being well looked after, with a red-hot program between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe currently unfolding and likely to be followed by a new contender in Braun Strowman. There’s plenty going on.
The Miz has come into Raw from being a big fish in a small pool. SmackDown Live may have been outperforming Raw by most subjective judgments in the past year, but for long stretches of that – through periods when John Cena was absent, Randy Orton was working under the radar and Shinsuke Nakamura was still in NXT – The Miz was a key player on the blue team’s smaller roster. The memorable promos on both SmackDown Live and Talking Smack set up programs with the likes of Dolph Ziggler and John Cena and an ongoing grudge with Daniel Bryan that really delivered. I’d stop short of saying Miz was the glue that held a lot of Tuesday night episodes together (because when you have AJ Styles as WWE Champion and a high-performing women’s division you’ll only ever be part of the success), but for sure he was a franchise player.
With a lot more going on at the moment on Raw, he finds himself working similar stories in the midcard as the Intercontinental Champion but with more people around him, jostling for the spotlight. With episodes of Raw Talk running far less frequently than Talking Smack, one of the strongest platforms Miz had available to him as a launching pad for his work, it’s not any easier for him to get himself across. So how’s he managing? The answer, I think, is pretty well; about as well as anybody in his spot could be doing. His promos are still hitting the mark and is doing game work with the comedy segments that seem to be a permanent fixture of anything involving Dean Ambrose nowadays.
There are signs of a slight repackaging though. The addition of Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas as his entourage is great news for those guys, who despite their talent haven’t had much chance to get on television since the end of the Social Outcasts, but looks as though it could mark a move away from the ‘It Couple’ gimmick that Miz shared with Maryse. That would be a shame and I don’t know how beneficial a move it would be; Maryse doesn’t seem likely to start working matches again and the pair of them had a great look together that lent extra credibility to Miz’s image as a champion. I worry that a stable-style arrangement with Axel and Dallas could be shaky ground for Miz, when for the last few months many of us have been asking whether he might be close to reaching world championship status again. On the face of it, this doesn’t look like a path towards that.
If there’s any truth in Dave Meltzer’s speculation this past week that WWE’s reasoning for splitting Miz and Maryse is the presence of Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis on SmackDown Live, that would be a pretty ludicrous reason. Performers on different shows being linked in the most tenuous ways is the basis for a future interbrand, intergender program (if anything) rather than a threat. If, alternatively, the thinking is that Miz just needs a bit of a refresh, I’d rather just see him move on from Dean Ambrose. Losing Maryse undoubtedly risks losing some of his shine.
SmackDown Live (Valley View Casino Center, San Diego CA)
Announced: Many things! A rerun of the women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch vs Carmella vs Tamina vs Natalya); Naomi vs Lana for the SmackDown Women’s Championship; The Usos vs The Hype Bros; Baron Corbin vs. Sami Zayn
What to expect: In a two-hour show, there won’t be a huge amount of time for content outside of the four (!) announced matches, but let’s start with those scraps: It looks as though we’ll be getting a third WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal, which this week should further establish. United States Champion Kevin Owens might continue with his ‘Face of America’ open challenge, which AJ Styles appear to be in close attendance for again. Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura had a pretty great match on last week’s episode, which seemed to represent the end of their program, and might get squeezed this week. Mike and Maria Kanellis got squeezed last week, and with so much going on this Tuesday might not be doing a great amount more just yet. The New Day are clearly still targeting The Usos, so expect them to pop up at some point on this week’s show.
That point about The New Day may also play into the possible result of the non-title match between The Usos and The Hype Bros. Possible outcomes swirl around a rumored Hype Bros split, though whether that’s this week or after an unsuccessful title shot in the near future remains to be seen. Money in the Bank briefcase holder Baron Corbin is probably owed a victory over Sami Zayn to re-establish him as a threat. Naomi is surely not dropping the Women’s Championship to Lana in what should be a fairly routine defense. James Ellsworth is banned from ringside for the Money in the Bank rematch among the rest of the women’s division, which should be the highlight of this week’s show, but at the same time….. Ugh.
Spotlight: I really wanted to talk about something else this week. How great it was to see one half of American Alpha get on TV for the first time in weeks, or an appraisal of the reconvened Hype Bros and where they might go from here. But then SmackDown Live called a wildly aggressive mulligan on their ‘historic’ women’s Money in the Bank match. After a (credit where it’s due, well-delivered) promo where Carmella fired shots at the many people who pointed out that having a man – James Ellsworth, the lowest rung of the active roster’s ladder – essentially win your first women’s ladder match looks a bit shitty for a company promoting female empowerment, General Manager Daniel Bryan announced we’d do it all again this week. Not acknowledging the result, moving on, forcing Carmella to put the briefcase up against Becky Lynch or anything like that. We’re just doing it all again. Less than two weeks later. Outside of the pay-per-view that specifically carries that gimmick’s name. With one hand WWE lambasted the sincere adverse comment from parts of their audience for heat, while with the other hand prepared themselves an opportunity to rewrite history.
Mike Sanchez was erudite and cautionary and extremely rational when he wrote about this a few days ago (and if you’re reading this, you should absolutely check that out in the name of balance if you have the time), but he was also a lot more generous than I’m willing to be. One of two things has happened here: Either the match finish at Money in the Bank made it through the entire creative team, agents and producers without anybody realizing it smelled bad – which, given it’s been flagged up on podcasts by industry veterans like Jerry Lawler (“that’s one thing that disturbed me”) and Steve Austin (“it rubbed me the wrong way”) and not just casual fans, would be quite an achievement – or it was flagged up as smelling bad but was overruled from above; in which case it suggests the tone-deafness is institutional and top-down. John Canton speculated in his SmackDown Live review last week that torpedoing the first match for heat and running a second match afterwards may always have been the plan, but again, how does that help build trust with the audience that a) you’re big on women’s equality, b) moments you’re promoting as being historic will end up mattering and c) the big issues always get settled on pay-per-view?
For me, it boils down to this: You can tell the exact same story and Carmella can draw the exact same heat if Ellsworth only pushes Becky Lynch off the ladder, clearing the path. Having the guy retrieve the briefcase, because the poor delicate ladies are too damaged to manage it, still looks terrible.
I can’t make a case for any of the women in this week’s rematch winning. If anyone except Carmella wins, the controversy of Money in the Bank was for no long-term benefit and the life expectancy of any heat that has successfully been put on Carmella and Ellsworth depends heavily on their next program. If Carmella wins by retrieving the briefcase personally, my point above stands; you could’ve achieved the same result originally through slightly different means. If Ellsworth ignores the fact he’s banned from ringside, runs down (because it’s no-DQ) and performs a carbon-copy repeat of the first match, my foot goes through my TV. Over the past year since the brand split, I have given SmackDown Live a lot of credit in comparison to Raw in these previews – some might say too much – but I’m afraid on this occasion I will be holding their feet to the fire. Next week, the Spotlight will be on the women’s division again and I will be assessing how they’ve managed to emerge from this tangle.
For all WWE’s bluster about their Women’s Revolution, their perpetual belief that any heat is good heat and willingness to antagonize a part of their fanbase to style out their decisions, they can’t half be clumsy sometimes. And let’s not forget they are no trailblazers; certainly not in comparison to Shimmer or Shine, or joshi puroresu in Japan. Even on network television in North America, Impact Wrestling were booking women in ladder matches all the way back in 2008. So by all means tune in to SmackDown Live this week to see who wins the Money in the Bank rematch. It probably won’t matter much this time next year, or possibly even matter by Christmas. But if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this week’s Spotlight, it’s this: Maybe give Impact Wrestling a bit of your time too this week, or perhaps binge all episodes of GLOW on Netflix. And pray that the Mae Young Classic later this summer is produced by the same team that brought us the CWC last year, showcasing those women in something like their best light before – just like the cruiserweights – they fall into the hands of the cack-handed, error-prone writers of the WWE main roster.
Also This Week
Speaking of showcasing women in their best light, the real standout for entertainment value elsewhere in WWE this week is likely to be on NXT (Wednesday), with a Last Woman Standing match between Asuka and Nikki Cross for the NXT Women’s Championship. That should be enormous fun and a safe bet to lower my blood pressure after Tuesday night.
Tuesday night’s other show, 205 Live, continues to be mostly set up during Raw’s cruiserweight division segments on Monday night. The delivery, however, continues to have a pleasingly niche focus, with programs like the one between Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali revolving around the virtues of technical grappling and high-flying. Also, Neville vs Akira Tozawa when it happens will be pretty ace.
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 could be done to spice up the program between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt?
- Should Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley stay together as The Hype Bros, or are their short-term futures more interesting as singles wrestlers?
- What’s the best and worst outcome you can think of for the women’s Money in the Bank rematch this week?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.