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WWE Raw preview (Dec. 17, 2018): Shake it up

We’ll only see three hours of it tonight*, but it’s a big Raw double-header in Sacramento.

* In addition to the Dec. 17 live broadcast, WWE is taping the Christmas Eve show at Golden 1 Center.

The Headliner(s)

The big question, of course, is what Vince McMahon will say when he shows up on a brand with flagging television numbers in real life and no General Manager in story. Given that’s official preview is teasing he’ll “shake things up”, there may be something to the speculation he’ll announce some kind of Draft, Superstar Shake-Up or other mechanism to move talent around.

Like a Mr. McMahon appearance itself, those kinds of things pop ratings. It’s unconventional to have a talent realignment before Royal Rumble, when the company is gearing up for the Road to WrestleMania - a time when conventional wisdom says they should be closing out big stories and getting ready to start new ones. But ‘Mania hasn’t necessarily been an end point for WWE’s neverending show for a while now. A few angles pay off there, but some start and the majority of them plug long toward inevitable rematches.

There are a few potential reasons to do it now:

  • If it’s something that’s going to happen immediately, it gives WWE material for the next two weeks that otherwise could deliver more historically low ratings. Not only is there the usual draw of draft picks, trades, etc., but announcements about moving talent around can be filmed on a sound stage somewhere, making them less likely to be spoiled. Draft scenes can be interspersed throughout whatever they tape tonight or at house shows before the New Year’s week episodes of Raw & SmackDown. Alternatively, they could build to a Shake-Up in early January and pop some big numbers to start 2019. Either way, it’s an audience infusion when the brands both seem to need one.
  • The Rumble pay-per-view (PPV) is built around two big, and we do mean big, matches which aren’t brand-specific anyway. It doesn’t particularly matter whether those 60 wrestlers represent red or blue. There are a couple angles where they’ll want to keep both sides of the feud together, before and after Royal Rumble, but not many.
  • And their biggest program right now features one on Raw and two on SmackDown. Women’s champ Ronda Rousey tapped out Nia Jax last night at TLC, definitively ending that feud. She then cost Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair the SmackDown belt in the main event as payback for the pairs actions before and at Survivor Series. Social media beefing is great and all, but Mr. McMahon probably wants that heat on his television shows. Putting the three of them on the same brand gives WWE at least one money segment a week as they build to a potential WrestleMania main event.
  • Let’s face it. Roman Reigns’ exit was already a shake-up. So was Lynch’s meteoric rise. If creative feels like rearranging some wrestlers would help account for those things, there’s no reason to wait until April or May just because that’s how it’s always been done.

Vince will also have to address the red brand’s leadership situation. While we’re making our holiday wish lists, can we throw in a plea for a neutral GM? Maybe even an off-screen one (represented by something other than Michael Cole and a laptop, though)? After finally getting an end to weeks of Baron Corbin drama with the babyface uprising in San Jose last night, a Raw that’s not built around whoever is in charge would be the biggest shake-up of all.

The title scene

We’re not expecting him to appear until next year, but Universal champion Brock Lesnar does finally, officially have a challenger. Braun Strowman wasn’t able to do much more than direct traffic in his win over Corbin, but it earned him another shot at the Beast on Jan. 27.

Reactions were mixed, but the result was clear. His weeks of emotional cheap shots paid off, and Dean Ambrose now holds the Intercontinental title. What’s next after proving he can outstrategize the Architect? The program between Shield brothers certainly isn’t over, especially with rumors saying Seth Rollins could be in line for a Lesnar match in April.

They were relegated to a supporting role in the Corbin/Strowman TLC match, which seems par for the course for Tag Team championship. A week after claiming the belts by pinning Drake Maverick in a handicap match where the odds were against them, what’s next for Chad Gable & Bobby Roode? Oh right, probably the “contractually obligated” rematch with AOP.

Other stuff to keep an eye on

- The Finn Bálor resurgence continued at TLC with not only a key role in Corbin’s ouster, but a surprise win over Drew McIntyre. The latter came with some unrequested assistance from Dolph Ziggler, and a backstage scene where the Show-Off attacked Bálor set-up a match between the two for tonight. Will Finn’s push continue, and where do the reported “big plans” for McIntyre fit into this?

- Another man we all assumed there were “big plans” for when he re-signed with WWE took a loss, on the Kickoff show even, on last night’s PPV. The weird guitar/ladder match stipulation and post-match beatdown protected Bobby Lashley somewhat, but is that a sign the “All Mighty” isn’t a shoe-in for the main event scene? And that Elias is destined to play bigger stages? Or is the whole scene just 50/50 booking run wild?

- Barring a Shake-Up, SmackDown has the 30 spot in both Rumble matches thanks to Fabulous Truth’s Mixed Match Challenge win. Whatever Vince is unveiling notwithstanding, Team Red may try to play catch-up and get some names into the field ASAP.

- Given the all hands on deck nature of the Women’s Rumble, they’re all probably headed to that match anyway. But with Natalya’s decisive win in San Jose, she and The Riott Squad should be done with each other. Natty can always hang around with Ronda, but Ruby & her mates probably join Ember Moon, Sasha Banks & Bayley in limbo.

- Or are the Boss ‘n’ Huggers feuding with Alexa Bliss? Is Bliss still in charge of the women’s division if the guy who gave her that job has been deposed? Can the Goddess even take a bump? Mr. McMahon has a lot to deal with tonight...

It’s the TLC fallout show!

What will you be looking for on Raw tonight?

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