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WWE Fantasy: Raw and Smackdown Preview 4/3-4/4

With Wrestlemania season coming to a close last night, this week’s editions of Raw and Smackdown are arguably the most critical of the year. The importance of the Raw after Wrestlemania is so widely recognized that it is getting its own DVD set, while the brand spit is now bringing the same amount of emphasis to tomorrow night’s episode of Smackdown. With last night featuring the (somewhat) shocking return of the Hardy Boyz along with the culminations of Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker, AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon, and many more last night, this week’s television is all about new beginnings. And with new beginnings, come new faces in new places.

Confirmed Matches and Segments for Raw, per WWE.com:

  • Roman Reigns Rules the Yard
  • The Beast—Brock Lesnar— claims the Universal Title
  • Rollins Wins His Freedom
  • Hardy Homecoming
  • The List of Owens (WWE.com also teased that, after losing his U.S. Champion last night, Chris Jericho is “certainly welcome to try and take it back.”)

Confirmed Matches and Segments for Smackdown, per WWE.com:

  • No matches or segments have been confirmed as of this writing.

A Night of Legendary Debuts and Returns

The nights following Wrestlemania have become known for epic debuts and returns. At the end of last week, I gave you some NXT names to keep on your radar for debuts either tonight, or somewhere down the line in 2017. With big names such as Goldberg, the Undertaker, HHH and John Cena (you could even Lesnar to the list, as his appearances will soon be scarce once again) disappearing now that Wrestlemania season has passed, the door of opportunity is wider than ever. The return of the Hardy Boyz set the tone for the entire week; now is the time to reshuffle the deck. While some names are locks to make a splash this week, others have been kicking around the rumor mill for the past several weeks.

Raw: Filling in the Holes Left by the Exodus of Part-timers

Finn Balor

The man behind the demon has been wrestling on the live event circuit for weeks now, and still has a legitimate claim to the Universal Championship after relinquishing it due to injury late last August. With three of Raw’s recent anchors now out of the week-to-week picture, Stephanie McMahon will need a fresh star to help carry the load. Expect Balor, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and maybe even Kevin Owens to jockey for the position of number one contender to the Universal Championship.

AJ Styles

“He’s been on TV since last year’s Royal Rumble; you can’t call this a debut or return blah blah blah.” No shit, but switching brands is close enough, and with Styles being arguably the top star in the company, it’s a huge deal. Don’t forget: he was fired from Smackdown. The fact that Daniel Bryan sent him packing got lost in the Wrestlemania hype and will undoubtedly be addressed. Vince McMahon is said to be very impressed with the Phenomenal One’s work as of late and wants him on the “flagship show.” We all know Styles’s in-ring work is unsurpassed on the main roster; surprisingly, his work on the mic is what has jettisoned him to elite status in WWE.

Kurt Angle

Raw needs a new general manager, and the crowd was eating up Angle’s nostalgia-laden hall of fame speech. The 11-time world champion (including his run in TNA) has experience in the role, and—although his extensive injury history will limit his possible number of matches—he can get physical when push comes to shove. This will provide something recent WWE general manager angles have sorely lacked: payoff.

Smackdown: Shoring the Foundation and Securing the Cracks

Shinsuke Nakamura

Several sites, including the typo-plagued Wrestlezone, have reported that the King of Strong Style is a lock to debut tomorrow. His failure to recapture the NXT title from Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover furthers the speculation that his main roster call-up is imminent. With Cena taking a hiatus to film another movie and Styles possibly moving over to Raw, there is a huge hole at the top of the Smackdown roster. Although it has been refreshing to see many slow-build feuds heading into Mania, the matchups are starting to grow stale. Nakamura would provide a refreshing boost to the brand with his unique style and personality.

The Revival

Although it is the more entertaining show, Smackdown has lost a lot of momentum during the build to Wrestlemania. Repetitive matchups and segments have hindered the majority of the blue bland, most poignantly the tag-team division. This realization was furthered last night not only by the fact that the new tag-team champions, the Usos, did not defend their titles, but also by their placement in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Al Roker got more of the spotlight than the entire division on the grandest stage of them all. The Revival is arguably the best tag-team in ALL of professional wrestling. Expect them to inject some much-needed energy into WWE’s most lackluster division after failing to regain the NXT Tag-Team Championships at NXT Takeover: Orlando.

Shelton Benjamin

As of last week, the former Intercontinental, United States, and Tag-team Champion is officially cleared to return to action. An annual member of the Royal Rumble rumor mill, Benjamin would provide Smackdown with something refreshing that it is sorely lacking: a standout in-ring technician. At 41, he can still go. He’ll thrive against the veterans and make the unpolished stars of tomorrow look like gold. WWE would foolish not to utilize him during a time of transition on Smackdown.

Any combination of Eve Torres, Kelly Kelly, and/or Victoria:

Although it is better than most give it credit for, the Smackdown women’s division still pales in comparison to that of Raw. The addition of the veteran Mickie James has helped, but more fortification is needed for Smackdown to make the jump to the next level. Before the format of the Wrestlemania’s Smackdown Women’s Championship match was confirmed, Torres, Kelly, and Victoria—all former champions—were all rumored participants, with the former two ultimately appearing in other WWE events over the weekend. Also, Victoria’s name has constantly been in-and-out of the rumor mill over the past year. Expect at least one to pop up on TV this week.

Expect many of these faces, and maybe even a few more, to shake up WWE television this week.

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