There’s a SHAKEUP happening in Hartford on April 16!
A week after Raw shook things up with a slew of WrestleMania title changes - and one shocking retention, and followed that up with an influx of talent returning from injury (Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy), promoted from NXT (Ember Moon, Authors of Pain, No Way Jose) and signed after stints with other companies (Bobby Lashley), things get really wild. It’s the second annual Superstar Shakeup, which means some of the new Raw debuts and returns won’t even stay on Team Red!
WWE’s second brand split era started with a draft, but since that didn’t really include much in the way of storyline anyway (it wasn’t “SmackDown Top 10” bad, but those of us hoping for traded picks, negotiations between General Managers or discussion about the strategy of roster construction were left disappointed) the Shakeup which replaced it last year was more fitting. Let the hand of God/Vince McMahon just tell us who’s moving where and get on with things.
“Getting on with things” has another wrinkle this year, with match-ups already announced for two major shows - Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash - in the coming weeks. With the return of dual brand pay-per-view (PPV), those don’t necessarily telegraph much of anything. But presuming The ‘E will want to keep Red vs. Blue match-ups to a minimum throughout the year, there are a few rivalries which might be about to be paused if one of the wrestlers involved gets shipped to the other brand tonight.
There’s always a bit of extra intrigue for “fight forever” pairs of oft-feuding friends around these things. Usually that’s involved Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, but they would appear to be immune from the Shakeup on account of being kayfabe unemployed right now, so... that leaves us plenty of mental bandwidth to obsess about Sasha Banks and Bayley.
After years of fans wanting a heel turn from The Boss in order to get these two real-life pals back to the beef which helped make them stars in NXT, that finally started to happen at Royal Rumble. It continued to build from there with backstage brawls and other clear signs that BFF time was over, to the point it looked at one point like Sasha and Bayley might get a singles match at ‘Mania. Though their story played a big role in the battle royal on the Kickoff show, that didn’t come to be. But when an inadvertant assault by The Hugster cost Banks her match with Mandy Rose last Monday, a night after Bayles dumped her over the top rope in the Superdome, it was time for a one-on-one.
WWE.com’s official preview for tonight is teasing this as either the end of their friendship, or the start of a reconciliation between the two. But it seems just as likely it could a last chance to whet our appetite for a big PPV showdown in the future before one of these women head to SmackDown.
Whether that happens or not, if KO and Sami have taught us anything, it’s that WWE will always find their way back to their story. So let’s enjoy another match between two talented workers with great chemistry, and see where it goes. What choice do we have anyway? Things are about to get shaken up.
The title scene
We won’t pretend to know what’s going on with Universal champion Brock Lesnar’s contract. He’s not advertised for XL Center tonight, but he is defending his belt against Roman Reigns in a steel cage in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on April 27. Of course, Reigns is also gearing up with a fight against Samoa Joe at Backlash in May, and Joe will be on Raw this week... Interesting times.
New Women’s champ Nia Jax picked up a new friend in former NXT titleholder Moon, and Ember helped The Irresistible Force pick up another win over former champ Alexa Bliss. Now we wait to see who’s on what roster so we can start making guesses about Nia’s first challenger.
New Grand Slam club member and Intercontinental titleholder Seth Rollins also picked up a new friend in Jeff Hardy, as The Charismatic Enigma, Finn Bálor and Rollins took down The Miztourage in a very house show-like main event last Monday. Which is probably good practice for his ladder match defense against Finn, The Miz and Joe at Greatest Royal Rumble, since no one is sure if that show is a PPV or a house show.
The most intriguing division right now is probably the pairs scene. No matter how you feel about Braun Strowman’s essentially one-man win at ‘Mania, the division was reset when The Monster Among Men relinquished the belts due to his partner’s busy middle school schedule. Now the delightful duo of Woken Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt face The Revival in the finals of GM Kurt Angle’s tag team eliminator to see who will fight Cesaro and Sheamus for the tag belts in Saudi Arabia.
Is 205 Live included in the Shake-Up? Are the cruiserweights still part of the Raw roster? Our guesses are “no” and “we guess”, but they’re not a recurring presence on Monday nights any more, so we’ll just remind you Cedric Alexander is Cruiserweight champion.
Other stuff to keep an eye on:
- Like her fellow UFC alum the Universal Champ, WrestleMania 34’s breakout star Ronda Rousey isn’t listed among WWE’s “Featured Superstars” for Hartford. But a week after slapping a pair of armbars on commissioner Stephanie McMahon, expect Rowdy’s storyline to have a big role on this episode even if she doesn’t. Rousey certainly won’t be shipped to SmackDown, but she might be given time to train in Orlando for her next match due to a kayfabe suspension.
- Another MMA fighter who probably won’t leave the flagship is Lashley. The Bellator heavyweight says he’s back in WWE for the “big fights”. Not that we don’t love Elias, but that presumably doesn’t mean a long program with the man he beat up in his return. So, apologies to a new Hall of Famer, who’s next for Bobby?
- Will they do much more in terms of building to Greatest Royal Rumble on Raw? Will they ever add some stakes to the 50 man match which gives the April 27 show a name?
- Who’s getting shaken to where? Our money is on the return of Daniel Bryan to Monday nights. Beyond that (and assuming names like Lesnar, Rousey and Reigns aren’t going anywhere)... we really don’t know! What fun!
Three weeks until Backlash!
What will you be looking for on Raw tonight?