Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Randy Orton is going to WrestleMania (again), Roman Reigns is going to be unpopular at WrestleMania (again) and tonight’s episode of Raw is WWE’s last at The Joe before it gets pulled down; if I was still doing WWE Bingo, Corey Graves making a reference to the venue during a Samoa Joe segment would totally be on it. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, March 13th 2017.
Raw (Joe Louis Arena, Detroit MI)
Announced: Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs Sheamus & Cesaro, winner faces Gallows & Anderson for the Raw Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania.
What to expect: I’m gonna focus in more detail on where we are with current feuds in the Spotlight sections this week, so let’s just briefly summarize some likely key issues specific to this week’s episode.
Universal Champion Bill Goldberg was suckered into an F5 by his WrestleMania challenger Brock Lesnar, but Goldberg isn’t expected to be at Raw, so look for payback perhaps next week.
Roman Reigns was left laying by The Undertaker last week. Neither man is backwards in coming forwards, so expect at least one spear to a WrestleMania opponent this week. Austin Aries is officially now part of the cruiserweight division (if you don’t watch 205 Live, he made his in-ring debut last week), so expect his program with Neville to hit the ground running tonight. Bayley’s reaction to her best friend Sasha Banks becoming a challenger for the Women’s Championship will be a key character development point, while the announced tag match will either end in Enzo and Cass winning clean or a non-finish that sets up a WrestleMania triple threat. Oh, and Stephanie McMahon will probably have a go at Mick Foley about something or other.
Spotlight: With the first week of post-Fastlane programming now behind us, Raw has now set out its stall for the build to WrestleMania (and SmackDown Live, no longer needing to hold off until its sister show has caught up, has done the same). With that in mind, let’s shake up the format a bit this week and summarize where we’re expecting to head with just under three weeks until the big night in Orlando.
What’s happening? Bill Goldberg agreed to fight Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, then won the Universal Championship which he’ll now be defending in the process.
Where’s it leading? A fairly short match that is a strong favourite to close the show.
How’s it going to get there? With a single F5, this build already has more physicality than for the previous match between these guys in November. More of the same seems the best way to go, to sell the rivalry as bitter and dangerous, with a pull-apart brawl at the top of many wish lists.
What’s happening? The Undertaker looked at the WrestleMania sign last week before chokeslamming Roman Reigns.
Where’s it leading? Somewhere a lot of people aren’t going to like.
How’s it going to get there? The “this is my yard now” angle looks to be making this feud about earning respect and passing the torch, but make no mistake, there’s no chance of anointing a new hero here. Prepare for the levels of Reigns-hate to reach previously unseen heights, as audiences start to face up to the likelihood of him being booked to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Expect Reigns not to back down and, if confidence turns to arrogance and a victory follows in Orlando, it could kick-start the hottest heel run WWE has seen in many, many years….. If that path is chosen.
What’s happening? Bayley was told she had to defend her Women’s Championship against Charlotte Flair, before losing a match to Sasha Banks that now adds Banks as a contender.
Where’s it leading? Bayley vs Charlotte vs Sasha is locked in, though its long been expected and is still expected that Nia Jax will join them.
How’s it going to get there? An evolving dynamic between Bayley and Sasha Banks is likely to be the key part of this build after Banks’ victory last week, with questions likely raised as to whether the two can stay friends with the title up for grabs. Nia Jax was still interrupting Bayley promos at Fastlane with vague threats and, despite losing to Banks at that show, is still a logical addition to the match at this point. Will Bayley have to eat another non-title defeat in order to add Jax to the card?
What’s happening? Chris Jericho has put his United States Championship on the line in order to get his hands on ex-friend Kevin Owens on the big stage.
Where’s it leading? Jericho vs Owens, although last week’s Raw leaves open the slim possibility that could be expanded further.
How’s it going to get there? The slim possibility: It could just have been the ‘cross two stories over for the Monday after a pay-per-view’ thing that WWE regularly does with little consequence, but I’m on the lookout for a Owens/Joe vs Jericho/Zayn tag match tonight after last week’s interactions. Are new monster Samoa Joe and popular underdog Sami Zayn just going to be battle royal participants, or is there any chance they might sneak into this match? This week’s Raw should iron those wrinkles out. Otherwise the heavy lifting on the story between Jericho and Owens has pretty much already been done.
What’s happening? Enzo & Cass are facing Sheamus & Cesaro for the right to face The Club for the tag titles.
Where’s it leading? Probably a three-way between all those teams; outside chance that Enzo & Cass are the sole challengers.
How’s it going to get there? Enzo & Cass are in a dispute with Sheamus & Cesaro that’s been gradually increasing in bitterness. There’s a chance this comes to a head and gets blown off tonight, with the pure babyface team advancing to face Gallows and Anderson at the big show (with Cesaro and Sheamus adding some star power to the Andre The Giant Battle Royal), but it feels like the more likely outcome is some sort of schmoz and a triple threat between Raw’s only serious tag teams that aren’t being saddled with ice cream and hosting duties.
What’s happening? Cruiserweight Champion Neville thinks he’s better than the whole division, but Austin Aries and his impressive package wishes to disagree.
Where’s it leading? Most likely a singles match, with the chances of a multi-man affair receding as each episode of Raw or 205 Live goes by.
How’s it going to get there? Putting all the small flippy people into a ladder match must’ve been a temptation, but it now looks as though this will be a private affair and a launching pad for Aries on the main roster (which is a welcome vote of confidence in both men). As for the other cruiserweights? One suspects The Granddaddy Of All Kickoff Show Tag Matches is the new temptation.
What’s happening? Seth Rollins is injured and undergoing rehabilitation. His mentor-turned-tormentor Triple H is loving it and is telling Rollins not to show up at WrestleMania looking for a fight.
Where’s it leading? Seth Rollins will turn up at WrestleMania looking for a fight. What we don’t yet know is whether it will be a sanctioned one, or how soon we may find that out for sure.
How’s it going to get there? The build for this so far has needed to be clever; Rollins is currently not cleared to wrestle, likely with no guarantee he’ll be cleared by April 2nd, so the story has had to be told in a way that allows for one of two possibilities – either that he wrestles Triple H in a singles contest, or that he shows up swinging a crutch or a chair or something to confront the COO in a segment between matches. To that end, watch carefully over the next few weeks to spot any subtle changes in language that may give away when a final decision has been made.
Other things: Finn Balor is ready to return, but the longer it goes without him appearing on TV the less likely his name will be on the card in Orlando. If so, it’s still possible he may show up unannounced in full Demon paint on the night for a ‘WrestleMania Moment’ of some sort. The long-discussed match between Big Show and Shaquille O’Neal looks to be up in the air at the moment and may not end up happening.
SmackDown Live (PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA)
Announced: At time of writing, nothing seems to have been formally announced.
What to expect: Similar to Raw, some development on all of the below programs should be expected, but let’s first just highlight some likely standouts. Shane McMahon reacting to AJ Styles’ post-show outburst last week will almost certainly be a key feature. Central to what’s likely to be open warfare in the women’s division will be the fallout from Mickie James turning on ally Alexa Bliss last week. Replays of the promo cut by The Miz on last week’s Talking Smack (which again has gained a fair amount of internet buzz) will probably be leveraged. And in a sentence I’m copying and pasting from last week’s preview, no tag division content last week should guarantee something involving American Alpha and/or The Usos going down this week. I’ll keep copying and pasting it until it becomes a reality.
Spotlight: As we did with Raw, let’s briefly take stock of where we are at the moment, where we’re headed going towards WrestleMania and how things are likely to unfold on the way.
What’s happening? Randy Orton is challenging his (adoptive) Wyatt Family brother Bray for the WWE Championship.
Where’s it leading? Er…. That.
How’s it going to get there? As should be the case for the WWE Championship feud at WrestleMania, there’s precious little setup needed at this late stage. A few mind games, a bit of existential menace and some talk about betrayal is likely all that’s required. And if anybody on commentary mentions Bray Wyatt is now truly alone and will be vulnerable at WrestleMania, remember that Erick Rowan has reportedly been cleared to return from injury…..
What’s happening? Alexa Bliss must defend the SmackDown Women’s Championship against “every available woman” on the roster.
Where’s it leading? Definite contenders: Mickie James, Becky Lynch and Natalya. Possible contenders: Naomi, Carmella. Wild cards: Eva Marie, Tamina, Kelly Kelly, somebody from NXT.
How’s it going to get there? It’s basically a multi-woman match to get everyone from SmackDown’s women’s division on the card, so these ladies will likely just butt heads in a variety of ways for a few weeks. The way it was very deliberately set up (“every available woman”) leaves the door open for Naomi to compete (and quite possibly win) if she recovers from her knee injury in time and also some possible surprises – such as a returning Kelly Kelly, who has already hinted that WWE wants her to do something in Orlando.
What’s happening? AJ Styles blames Shane McMahon for him not being in the WWE Championship match.
Where’s it leading? Styles vs McMahon.
How’s it going to get there? One of the things the blue brand (often through Talking Smack) is doing better than Raw at the moment is taking the trouble to ground character motivations in relatable terms; it may not be a coincidence that a key figure on the writing team, Ryan Ward, was achieving similar things when he was working in NXT. The beauty of this clip from last week’s Talking Smack isn’t just the innovative staged shoot in the Gorilla Position (yep, Michael Cole also works Tuesday nights, here’s Brian James and Michael Hayes; Ward himself appears too), but how Daniel Bryan puts Styles’ fury into context. The line is that AJ’s frustration is reasonable, but his desire to blame Shane is odd – and if he this week takes it too far, it may become unreasonable and that raises the prospect of settling it in the ring. A to B to C without too many stark jumps.
What’s happening? Blaming Dean Ambrose for ruining his recent opportunities, Baron Corbin has been alternating between a) committing surprise attacks and b) goading Ambrose into having surprise attacks committed against him.
Where’s it leading? An Intercontinental Championship match between the two.
How’s it going to get there? Of all of SmackDown Live’s featured matches for WrestleMania, this one has so far had the most physical build and that’s likely to continue. Neither Corbin nor Ambrose are in the business of backing down, and may spend the next few weeks brawling around on Tuesday nights. The WrestleMania title match may not have any special stipulations, but I’d wager those will follow as this feud continues beyond April. These two seem a good fit for each other so far.
What’s happening? John Cena and Nikki Bella are the perfect couple, but Miz is roasting them for a perceived jealousy of him and his wife Maryse.
Where’s it leading? A mixed tag match. Speaking personally, it’s leading to a toilet break.
How’s it going to get there? The money here – and I think WWE is realising this – is in the kind of promos Miz was cutting last Tuesday. A fresh, uncomfortable personal edge is really working here, especially as the expected match won’t dazzle on its own. After all, the thing everyone remembers about Cena’s initial feud with The Rock wasn’t the match, but when John called The Great One out for writing his promo notes on his hand.
Other things: Two consecutive episodes of SmackDown Live with no mention of the tag division suggests that if the feud between American Alpha and The Usos will climax at WrestleMania at all, it’s fast becoming a candidate for the Kickoff show (which would be The Usos’ fifth pre-show match in five WrestleMania appearances). Otherwise the rest of the SmackDown roster looks like it might be destined for the Battle Royal.
Also This Week
On this week’s NXT (Wednesday), Kassius Ohno challenges Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship. Like the main roster, WWE’s developmental brand is now showing its hand for WrestleMania weekend, with the winner of this week’s championship match defending against Shinsuke Nakamura at TakeOver: Orlando. Ember Moon vs Asuka is also now officially set, with strong evidence that it’ll be joined by #DIY vs The Revival vs The Authors Of Pain and a match between SAnitY and a Tye Dillinger suicide squad.
Also, 205 Live (Tuesday) continues to carry any other cruiserweight stuff that’s been set up on Raw. It’s still good to watch but a pain in the arse to preview any more than 24 hours in advance! There’ll be some wrestling. There y’go.
Three Burning Questions
Continuing the theme this week, which of the likely matches on WrestleMania weekend are floating your boat right now? Throw down your answers in the comments section as usual!
- Which match from Raw are you currently most looking forward to at WrestleMania?
- Which match from SmackDown Live are you currently most looking forward to at WrestleMania?
- Which match from NXT are you currently most looking forward to at TakeOver: Orlando?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.