Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! The Survivor Series matches are set, SmackDown’s roster invaded Raw and a few main roster wrestlers have been released. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 30th 2017.
Back to the preview as usual from this week, but with a brief note first. On last week’s Raw and SmackDown Live, a raft of interbranded matches were announced for Survivor Series – many of them champion vs champion affairs – the concept of each brand’s talent ‘invading’ the other’s show was established, and many previous alignments and existing feuds were downplayed, ignored or completely forgotten.
So take any previews between now and Survivor Series with a pinch of salt. Not every brand-exclusive storyline will be featured in a consistent way, people under the spotlight for Monday may instead pop up on Tuesday and championships may change hands on a dime in order for some of those pay-per-view matches to make more sense. On that last point, the women’s belts and the secondary singles titles for the men are both currently heel vs heel and look particularly vulnerable – especially the women’s match, where based on existing feuds Bliss vs Flair and James vs Natalya would both have more logical selling points than Bliss vs Natalya.
What I’m saying is to expect the unexpected. And I’ll touch on last week’s events and the battle for brand supremacy generally in the SmackDown Live Spotlight further down.
Raw (Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore MD)
Announced: Nothing formally announced.
What to expect: Although there’ll definitely be some talk (and recaps) on Raw of last week’s SmackDown invasion, the biggest order of business will without question be naming participants in the two traditional five-on-five elimination matches at Survivor Series. So far, the only Raw name officially confirmed for either is Alicia Fox, captaining the women’s team; expect her ‘crazy’ character to be a feature of the story of who gets added to the team – although there aren’t many options for who that’ll be. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James are more likely to continue tangling in an ongoing Women’s Championship feud. Might Asuka join the team? If nothing else, we certainly know she won’t be wrestling Emma again tonight…..
On the men’s side, Braun Strowman is being advertised to appear; if he does, he’ll likely go after Kane – although Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose also owe him retribution after last week (and are slated to face The Usos at Survivor Series so don’t really need to be in the picture for the elimination match). The Miz’s grudge against Kurt Angle is also likely to continue as a feature in the narrative, while Jason Jordan seeking payback on Elias after getting smacked with the latter’s guitar last week is another internal Raw storyline that should continue. In the cruiserweight division, Enzo Amore retained his championship after being disqualified in Kalisto’s contractual rematch. A further rematch at Survivor Series looks on the cards; either that or another elimination match, which would basically be a reworking of the ten-man tag that was on Raw last week.
Spotlight: One of the events of last week’s Raw that attracted the most comment was Kane beating Finn Balor clean and comprehensively after three chokeslams. Kane is 50 and running to be the Mayor of Knox County. Balor is a fairly well-protected crowd favorite and tipped to be the next Universal Championship challenger. It seemed a bizarre and counterproductive decision. Naturally, the basic theory behind booking a strong win over a top talent is that Kane needs to be seen as a credible opponent for Braun Strowman. But in the question of how ‘strong’, ‘top’ and ‘credible’ is really necessary we’re missing a subtle factor – WWE loves having their babyfaces fighting from underneath and, if they’re now consciously embracing Strowman’s popularity, it may be that Kane is putting more water than is strictly necessary between himself and the rest of the roster for a reason.
If you wanted concrete proof that Braun Strowman’s fate at TLC, loaded into a trash compactor by his four team-mates, was an official face turn then this is it. It’s instructive to note how the booking focus has suddenly switched away from Strowman being a threat to everyone else, towards other people – in this case Kane – being a threat to him. Previously (and part of the reason crowds started to warm towards him) Strowman was effortlessly in the ascendency, flipping every ambulance that stood in his way as the babyfaces across the ring tried in vain to stop him. Now he’s been put down and Kane’s the one cutting promos about how it’s not his role to get back up. The question is no longer ‘who can stop Braun?’ but ‘is Braun the only man who can stop Kane?’.
WWE has form with this sort of switch, and it can be a painful process. In the 2014 Royal Rumble, The Shield was still together and Roman Reigns eliminated twelve men. Reigns was cool and a badass; he didn’t say any more than he needed to, wasn’t put in a position where he had to make us feel anything other than excitement and there was no arbitrary limit on how much shop that trio could wreck. Nobody had any issue with Reigns dumping out nearly half the field before taking his leave. Fast forward to the 2015 Royal Rumble and the story of ‘can Reigns overcome Big Show, Kane and Rusev at the end?’. Yes, there were other issues in play that affected the crowd reactions to both those shows (mostly involving Daniel Bryan), but WWE had taken somebody fresh, vital and exciting and had them overcome clichéd vulnerability in the most predictable way to the benefit of nobody – certainly not Reigns or everyone else who were afterthoughts in the booking of the 2015 Rumble.
As questionable benefits for Strowman, so questionable benefits for Balor who we really ought to mention here. Firstly I’ll happily concede that if this ends up leading to a Demon vs Demon match at some point, it’ll be something off my wishlist from when Balor was called up to the main roster. But any signs of a widening gulf between the abilities of Man Balor and Demon Balor should be a cause for serious concern – we can’t slip into a situation where Balor needs to lean on the Demon like a crutch. This was one (lonely) thing that his feud with Bray Wyatt got right; Balor needed to win the ‘man vs man’ match. Getting out the gimmick (for no reason other than because it had been advertised, which I do understand) to beat AJ Styles one night, then losing badly to a part-timer without it the next night is less reassuring form. One wonders whether a program with the all-conquering Brock Lesnar is really what Finn Balor needs next.
SmackDown Live (Norfolk Scope Arena, Norfolk VA)
Announced: Kevin Owens vs Shinsuke Nakamura for a place on Team SmackDown at Survivor Series. Bobby Roode vs Dolph Ziggler (2 out of 3 falls), also for a place on Team SmackDown. AJ Styles vs Samir Singh. Breezango will be doing a Stranger Things parody.
What to expect: You should certainly expect Halloween gimmicks, as Tuesday is the 31st and we know how WWE loves a Halloween gimmick. A Raw invasion is a slim possibility – the red brand doesn’t have a house show scheduled that night, but they need to be in Scotland the next evening for the start of the European tour. If they combine the two with a ‘trick or treat’ Raw invasion, I won’t really care if the rest of my preview here turns out to be wrong! Otherwise preparations for Survivor Series are much further advanced on SmackDown Live; the women’s team is set and matches for the second and third spots on the men’s team have already been announced for this week – although there’ll probably be more segments with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan discussing match plans and inter-brand raids.
The announced segments will probably take up the lion’s share of time this Tuesday. Nakamura vs Owens should be a gift and I really hope it gets time; with Sami Zayn losing his qualifying match last week, the expectation is for Nakamura to win here and Zayn and Owens to head towards something else. Bobby Roode seems the most likely winner of the other qualifying match. Styles vs Singh shouldn’t be much more than a re-run of last week’s match with the other Singh brother. Tips for other featured programs, in the remaining time on the show, would be Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable being built up for their tag titles match with The Usos at some unconfirmed point in the future, Sin Cara possibly getting a shot at Baron Corbin’s United States Championship and some sort of character color for the five-woman Survivor Series team that was confirmed last week.
Spotlight: The ending to last week’s episode of Raw – where the SmackDown roster put their personal differences aside to carry out a pre-emptive strike on the Raw roster – seemed to polarize opinion. Many thought it was awesome and the shot in the arm the main roster needed before Survivor Series. Some thought it sold out characters and broke the suspension of disbelief. The truth is these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The Attitude Era, for example, was massively entertaining but from a technical standpoint could often be a trashy, overbooked horror with a greater reliance on run-ins and blood. The ‘PG era’ isn’t perfect, but it has forced WWE to develop more subtle storytelling skills – and it’s more noticeable when these fail. So yes, I was entertained by SmackDown invading Raw, but at the same time I was one of those who had big problems with it.
The reason I think this matters is because of the emphasis WWE itself chooses to put on the ‘entertainment’ part of ‘sports entertainment’. Sports are allowed to be random and irrationally tribal, and not everything always makes sense. However for all the segments on ESPN, WWE wants to have its cake and eat it by producing scripted drama they expect their viewership to buy into. It would be facetious to suggest Raw or SmackDown is in the same market as a Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, but if pro wrestling on network television is going to break through to the kind of crossover audience WWE dreams of, outside of its core base, it needs at least to trade punches with the writing of weekly serials. That means a consistent narrative, logical motivations, the evolution of characters in a way that doesn’t invalidate their story to date and the discipline to not abandon any of those first three just to pop a rating.
As mentioned above, there’s an outside possibility Raw could invade SmackDown Live this week. If it doesn’t happen here, it’ll happen on the go-home show before Survivor Series. Either way, I have less problem with that. The Raw stars were ambushed, backstage at their own show while they were minding their own business; as individuals they may have their differences but, as a workplace security breach, it’s a professional issue and a valid rallying point to transcend differences. You can mark it on the same narrative spectrum as an entire roster gathering on the stage to mark somebody’s passing or a world event (which never needs to be explained, but is nonetheless a fact of WWE’s programming reality). SmackDown invading Raw last week, though, was rootless by comparison and too harsh a retcon of motivations.
The presumption WWE makes is that ‘brand supremacy’ is the ultimate in motivating factors. It’s enough to make Chad Gable lead an unprovoked attack on Jason Jordan, to make Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler work together, to make guys who have openly criticized Shane McMahon on programming follow him into battle (no questions asked) or directly volunteer their services to him the next night. The viewer – who may enjoy one show over another at any given time but is likely no Team Red or Team Blue fanatic – is invited to disown their individual character allegiances and asked whether, if for instance they like Becky Lynch, they should feel more affinity with Baron Corbin than they do with Bayley. I don’t think this is how the minds of fans work. When Daniel Bryan was the only character to ask rational questions about the wisdom of an invasion last Tuesday, some experienced wrestling commentators wondered whether it was the seeds of a heel turn. Is that the extent of nuanced characterization that will be tolerated? WWE can and probably will make these next few weeks hugely entertaining, but they could be rowing against a tide of logic in order to do so.
Also This Week
While the main roster sorts itself out for Survivor Series, NXT (Wednesday) is in the final stages of setting up the next TakeOver event the same weekend. Last week the Women’s Championship match was finalized, this week there’s a contract signing for the NXT Championship match between Drew McIntyre and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. There’s also a big championship match this week, between SAnitY and The Authors of Pain for the tag titles.
On 205 Live (Tuesday), Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher have promised to come after Rich Swann, while if Enzo Amore’s voice hasn’t returned I’d be happy to see the other cruiserweights continue to cut promos for him; that worked kinda well last week.
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!
- Who would be in your best-case five-man Raw team for Survivor Series?
- Who would join Randy Orton in your best-case five-man SmackDown team for Survivor Series?
- Would Emma have made your Raw team for Survivor Series, and what are your hopes for the women’s elimination match now?
Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.