Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter
After completing a successful European tour while coming off record low ratings against NBA playoff competition, WWE is promoting a number of major events all at the same time.
This coming weekend will be a taped U.K. special on 5/19, where the company has already publicly given away the endings of the top two taped matches. The show is built around Pete Dunne vs. Trent Seven for the No. 1 contender spot for the U.K. title, and Tyler Bate vs. Mark Andrews for the U.K. title. Both were reported to be excellent matches. However, WWE announced Bate vs. Dunne, the two winners, for the 5/20 Takeover show right after the 5/7 matches had ended. After the NXT Takeover show, and Backlash, will come the revamped Extreme Rules show on 6/4 in Baltimore.
The major news regarding that show is that Braun Strowman will be out six to eight weeks after minor elbow surgery on 5/11 in Birmingham. Because the original plan for the 6/4 show was Roman Reigns vs. Strowman in the main event leading to Brock Lesnar vs. Strowman on 7/9, everything had to be redone.
The new direction is a five-way match as the main event for Extreme Rules, with Seth Rollins, Reigns, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe. That’s something of a contradiction since the pick of the top contenders including Balor and Rollins, who were just two weeks ago battling Miz with the idea that the winner would face Dean Ambrose, and from there, that would set up who would face Lesnar. But this time, Miz, who won the match, and Ambrose, the IC champion are no longer in the running. It pretty much established the IC title as a battle for sixth place out of the seven active pushed singles wrestlers on the brand.
Most likely, it’s not a major change. Whoever wins, with Rollins or Balor as the favorites, would face Lesnar on 7/9. Given that both had talked two weeks ago about challenging for the title, it’s likely both will be in the title picture over the next year. Unless the idea is to back away from Reigns over Lesnar for the title at Mania, Reigns should be kept away from Lesnar. Feuds with Strowman, Joe and Wyatt can occupy his time.
Since Strowman will be back for SummerSlam, they could do Lesnar vs. Strowman there, and whatever the SummerSlam plan was, that would be moved up one PPV.
The WWE announced both on its website and on television that Strowman would be out “up to six months.” They pushed that the injury was a shattered elbow. They were doing a storyline where Reigns and Strowman were destroying each other, but even with injuries, were still out there wrestling. Strowman was supposed to have a torn rotator cuff in storyline yet he’d still wrestle. But reality got in the way, so to make up for it, he’ll show up “four months early” from this injury that was exaggerated in scope.
There will be an NXT Takeover show on 5/20 at the All-State Arena in Chicago. Matches official are Bobby Roode vs. Hideo Itami for the NXT title, Authors of Pain vs. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa for the tag titles in a ladder match, Bate vs. Dunne for the U.K. title and Asuka vs. Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross for the women’s title. The show will be a real test for Itami, who has not looked anything special since returning after two shoulder operations. He never fit well in NXT. The difference is that other Japanese wrestlers didn’t have to remake their styles that much coming in. Itami, because he got over on the harder style he grew up with, had to change more than anyone to fit in, and he’s never really figured out how to make that work, plus the injuries have hurt him as well. It’s pretty clear he’s a placeholder opponent, as is everyone on this show, because the directions seem to be Roode vs. Drew McIntyre, Asuka vs. Ember Moon and AOP vs. Heavy Machinery, likely for the pre-SummerSlam show.
The WWE ratings patterns over the last year remain significant drops, largely among male viewers. This past week saw Raw tie its seasonal ratings low at 1.89, and then Smackdown almost surely did its worst numbers of the year by a wide margin, and worst ever since going live except against the election cycle. The overall drops are notable. To an extent, there is the excuse that all television is down, which isn’t true, but overall television is down. There are things down more than WWE, but Raw and Total Divas are also down far more than normal programming. Smackdown is up from moving days and going live with an exclusive roster. But once annual comparisons are made under the same circumstances in July, the likelihood is that it’ll show similar drops to Raw. It is significant given WWE is a television company. But the PPV shows are doing strong live business and it doesn’t matter what is presented.
The Takeover show in Chicago has sold well even with a lineup that on paper doesn’t look like something that would sell well, as they are expecting in the range of 8,000 fans. In fact, lineups are meaningless. NXT, which has declined greatly in quality, still has a hot buzz and Takeovers have always delivered.
Smackdown on 5/21 has a lineup that would have bombed in the PPV days, but tickets were nearly sold out in Chicago before any direction was known. The main event is Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE title, but most of the promotion has been around the first televised Shinsuke Nakamura match on the main roster.
Match order is interesting. Orton is coming off a really bad series with Bray Wyatt. With Mahal, it’s probably going to be a basic match. Chicago is a strong city for reactions and Mahal will have his seconds to interfere and have the foreign villain thing going for him. Still, you can’t predict crowds and if they go on last there is a risk the crowd won’t be that interested.
The rest of the show has Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens vs. A.J. Styles for the U.S. title, Usos vs. Tyler Breeze & Fandango for the tag titles, Naomi & Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch vs. Tamina & Natalya & Carmella, Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin and Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan. They’ll open with Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English in the pre-show match.
For Extreme Rules, the depth is different as instead of the top six guys being in three singles matches likely with gimmicked rules, Reigns vs. Strowman, Joe vs. Rollins and Balor vs. Wyatt, they are in one match.
Other matches set for that show are Ambrose vs. Miz for the IC title with the stipulations that the title can change hands via DQ, Hardys vs. Sheamus & Cesaro for the tag titles, Neville vs. Austin Aries for the cruiserweight title (they have a tease going on of a three-way involving TJ Perkins but they may not pull the trigger on that until later) and Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley for the women’s title in a kendo stick on a pole match. Bayley challenging for the title now makes the result where Bliss won clean in San Jose without cheating, and then pinned her clean the next night in Sacramento when she had three partners who could have lost, make no sense in hindsight. Needing more matches, that probably led to some angles on Raw to set up R-Truth vs. Goldust, as well as Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Titus O’Neil & Apollo Crews as new programs on that side.