Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, November 6th 2017.
We’re live-on-tape from the UK this week; both shows come from the Manchester Arena. You may recognize the name as being the venue where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured hundreds more (many of them children) following an Ariana Grande concert back in May this year. WWE – as always – was commendable in its response, with Bobby Roode and others turning up to surprise one of the young victims caught up in the attack, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the odd reference crop up during this week’s shows.
I know I tend to snark a bit at WWE on these previews, so I just wanted to start this week by thanking them for understanding how stuff like this can really help when a community, a city and a country are hurting. It’s one of the many things the company does very, very well.
Raw (Manchester Arena, Manchester UK)
Announced: Miz TV (opening the show) with special guest Kurt Angle. Elias vs Jason Jordan in a ‘Guitar-on-a-Pole Match’.
What to expect: Expect the ‘Guitar-on-a-Pole Match’ to get mixed reactions (ranging from ‘hated it’ to ‘really hated it’). Hopefully the rest of the show inspires greater optimism. Raw is miles behind SmackDown in appointing its Survivor Series teams, with only four of ten spots officially filled, so that’s likely to be one of the most significant things addressed here. Kurt Angle may well announce more of the men’s team on Miz TV, while Alicia Fox will probably recruit most of the rest of her women’s team tonight too. Effectively, perm three from Finn Balor, Kane, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns and three from Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James and Asuka. Unless Bo Dallas and Dana Brooke are going to elbow their way in at the last minute.
As for tonight? Braun Strowman will either continue wrecking The Miz and his Miztourage or seek out Sheamus & Cesaro or Kane for their part in his garbage truck ride. Some element of pressure on Kurt Angle will be talked about, after Stephanie McMahon gave him a dressing down last week. Enzo Amore and Kalisto will continue feuding ahead of the only brand-exclusive Survivor Series match announced so far, while Alexa Bliss will probably rub everyone’s noses in one of the worst finishes to a Women’s Championship match in recent history last Monday. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins will likely feature on the show prominently but to some degree will just be spinning their wheels while waiting to face The Usos or Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable at Survivor Series. Neither Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar are in Manchester for this week’s Raw.
Spotlight: WWE is on its biannual UK tour and, this past Friday, I attended the Raw brand’s house show at Wembley Arena in London. Apart from being a great time – house shows may rarely surprise or deliver five-star classics but always play the hits and don’t leave fans wanting – it provided an interesting insight into the feelings of a live crowd towards the Raw performers at this point in time. Yes, there were a few pockets of hardcore Brit fans familiar with the indie scene (the chants for Tyson T-Bone in the UK division tag match had to come from somewhere), but there were also a lot of families. A lot. I’m not going to claim a Friday house show crowd in the UK is typical of the WWE demographic, but it’s somewhere in the ballpark.
If Vince McMahon were ever to make a habit of sneaking out into live audiences in a Sin Cara mask and Bayley tee – I have absolutely no evidence that he’s not already doing this, by the way – I wonder how many things he’d pick up on that might otherwise go unnoticed when you’re plugged into the production feed. You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you the crowd were into Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe as an opener, still wanted to chant along with Enzo Amore and love a bit of Braun Strowman. However I found some of the night’s other small details quite interesting for the Raw roster.
Elias first. The writing isn’t exactly Shakespeare and wrestling barn-burners isn’t his role (or possibly even his level), but the gimmick is definitely working. The majority of the heat you hear is engaged, rather than dismissive; Elias plays off it well and the audience relationship works. The gimmick’s execution is perfect. Here, before an eight-man tag match, Elias played a very respectable version of Wonderwall which the crowd was fully on board with until he changed the second verse to diss London. If he doesn’t bring out that party piece in Manchester tonight – the birthplace of Oasis – for Jason Jordan to defend the city’s cultural honor, it’ll be a massive missed opportunity. Noticeable boos for Jordan, by the way.
Oddly, Asuka vs Mickie James seemed to suffer for following that eight-man tag. The match was good and the crowd were following it, just without getting too exercised. I wonder whether Asuka’s more deliberate, purposeful style, her submission game and dominant record might make a heel turn in the near future quite attractive for a main roster audience; I got the sense the crowd did buy into her as a unique talent but without quite getting invested. Nia Jax – who teamed with Alexa Bliss against Bayley and Sasha Banks in the other women’s match – is definitely somebody who London bought into as a unique talent; you could hear a quiet intake of breath go round every time she tagged in. One can see why losing throwaway Kickoff Show matches to Sasha Banks (despite Banks and Bayley being universally loved here) may be best avoided.
Finally, the other night provided another illustration of why WWE falls back on veteran performers as often as they do (a subject Mike Sanchez also explored last week). The desire to sell more tickets and Network subscriptions around WrestleMania is as understandable as younger talent who propel programming on a weekly basis taking a supporting role is regrettable, but this is the other thing: Long-time fans still react big to old favorites. Asides from full-timers Mickie James and Matt Hardy both getting love from London (Hardy got one of the biggest reactions of the night), Kane’s recent monster push didn’t diminish the pop he also got when he came out. Meanwhile, in the main event, nobody cared about the gaping logic holes of Triple H joining The Shield (remember he was trying to end the career of Seth Rollins back in April). Maybe don’t expect that angle to play out on Raw tonight though.
SmackDown Live (Manchester Arena, Manchester UK)
Announced: Jinder Mahal (c) vs AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. The Usos (c) vs Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships.
What to expect: Two big championship matches for this week’s SmackDown. The Usos facing Gable and Benjamin should continue WWE’s current run of great tag title matches, but The Usos retaining and going on to face two-thirds of The Shield at Survivor Series seems a safe bet. Mahal vs Styles is potentially more interesting, and we’ll look at that in the Spotlight below. WWE had originally planned for Styles vs Rusev this week, to name the final member of Team SmackDown, but that now appears to be out of the window. Expect Rusev to push for inclusion on Team SmackDown – but in reality the fifth man will ultimately end up being the guy who leaves the WWE Championship match empty-handed. Whether all of that plays out this Tuesday we’ll have to see.
With SmackDown Live already having its teams mostly set – and next week’s go-home show likely to carry heavy odds on a Raw ‘invasion’ – there’ll likely be a look at some team dynamics (the women’s team already have a ‘weak link’ talking point going). There’s also the question of what some notable people – such as The New Day, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler – will be doing given they currently have no spot on the Survivor Series card. Sin Cara and Baron Corbin’s United States Championship program is clearly far from finished (and seems to be focusing on Sin Cara’s mask). Finally, last week’s SmackDown suggested Breezango may be doing a ‘Saw’ gimmick for the next episode of the Fashion Files, while another Bludgeon Brothers video in a forest somewhere is highly probable.
Spotlight: On the face of it, this week’s WWE Championship match between titleholder Jinder Mahal – yeah, it still feels weird to write that – and AJ Styles is a win-win situation. If Styles claims the title, we get AJ Styles vs Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series which would obviously be a much bigger deal than the existing plan. In a week when New Japan announced Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega for Wrestle Kingdom 12 in January and given recent ratings wobbles for SmackDown Live and the willingness of the Raw producers to fantasy-book third members of The Shield, it’s not hard to see the temptation. If Mahal retains, however, as I noted a couple of weeks ago it neatly quarantines two champions whose recent matches have underwhelmed; Lesnar vs Mahal will probably only last ten minutes or so and the rest of the show may be better for it.
The temptation for saying ‘screw it’, pulling the trigger on a title change this Tuesday and doing Styles vs Lesnar instead is, as I said, surely in the mix somewhere. No speculation has yet come out as to how dimly WWE top brass may be viewing Jericho’s upcoming appointment in Tokyo, but there would at the very least be a heavy dose of irony in them putting two former New Japan stars – and two of the biggest names in the world – on a collision course a few days later and reclaiming all the wrestling headlines. With Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor possibly close behind, Styles is the biggest marquee opponent left for Lesnar in his current WWE run; surely this match will happen at some point before Lesnar’s contract ends. Why not here?
The answer to that question, of course, is “Jinder Mahal”. While it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Mahal could briefly lose the WWE Championship only to reclaim it before (or even at) the live events in India on the 8th and 9th of December – there were reports last month he was being billed as a two-time champion in publicity for that event – it doesn’t seem productive for WWE to have doggedly stuck with his title reign and carry on with recent promos on Lesnar only to bench him at the last moment. Could WWE then bring themselves to leave him off the card completely? With those live events in India coming up?
Because if that’s not the case, you would imagine the next logical spot for Mahal to slot into would have to be the SmackDown team in the 5-on-5 elimination match. Bearing in mind that the men’s elimination tag last year ran for all of 53 minutes, that’s potentially a lot of Jinder Mahal in a featured role. That’s the price of AJ Styles vs Brock Lesnar. I don’t mean to run down Mahal unnecessarily – no doubt he’s doing everything he can in a spotlight he’s been thrust into and he surely has an audience interested in seeing him succeed – but if you’re not sparked by what he brings in matches of fifteen minutes, you’re unlikely to be converted in fifty. That spot is surely one that Styles is the better man to fill.
Yes, I would love to see AJ Styles face Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. In a vacuum it would make perfect sense. But ultimately I think the logic stacks up the other way. WWE have employed this cute little trick a few times recently where they’ve booked title matches for television with half an eye on what fans might start to think if they’re looking ahead. That’s not to say WWE lives in paranoia of what any of us say on the internet (as I’m sure they don’t), but booking matches where an educated audience can see and get excited for different plausible results is something they’re very much in the business of understanding – even if the title change doesn’t then follow. SmackDown Live will be taped six hours prior to broadcast this week and spoilers will circulate; my money’s on a Mahal disqualification, a continuation of Plan A and a rematch at Clash of Champions in December.
Also This Week
NXT (Wednesday) sees Kairi Sane vs Billie Kay. It’ll be good to have Sane as a fixture on NXT once the situation with the vacant Women’s Championship has been resolved, one way or another, at what is now officially NXT TakeOver: WarGames in a couple of weeks.
With 205 Live (Tuesday) airing from Manchester along with the main roster shows, it’ll be interesting to see how WWE approaches the issue of dastardly heel Jack Gallagher getting cheered to the rafters by the English crowd for simply existing.
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!
- On balance, were you happy to see Stephanie McMahon back on TV last week?
- What would you prefer AJ Styles to be doing at Survivor Series?
- Can you think of a worse Women’s Championship match finish in WWE than last week’s Alexa Bliss punch on Raw? I’ve no doubt there are many, but at the moment I just can’t think of one…..
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.