Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week the news was dominated by WWE's deal with USA to air NXT on Wednesday nights opposite AEW, but we also had two pretty eventful TV shows from WWE, while Riptide Wrestling hosts their big bank holiday show this weekend (well Monday, but you know what I meant). Let's get started by having a look at the big NXT news this week.
NXT moving to USA Network - goes head-to-head with AEW
We all knew WWE would want to do something to combat the rising threat of All Elite Wrestling, and they had already shown signs of a willingness to counter programme their rivals by airing an Evolve special on the WWE network against AEW’s Fight for the Fallen match last month. However, this week it was announced that NXT would be going live for two hours on the USA Network directly opposite AEW’s as-yet-unnamed weekly show on TNT. The show will air weekly live from Full Sail with the on-demand version added to the WWE Network the following day.
There’s quite a bit to unpack here. Firstly this feels like the first major acknowledgement from WWE that they see AEW as competition. That said, they are also clearly very aware of the segment of fans that AEW most appeals to and by running NXT up against AEW them they are essentially splitting the audience. That said, the on-demand aspect probably means most fans who are torn will watch AEW live and NXT afterwards, which might make for catastrophic ratings for NXT. The onus will be on WWE to make the show “must see” in the face of their opposition. For their part AEW have started playing done the “ratings war” aspect of things, but you would expect them to do so, even if those comments have a bit less credence now because the likes of Chris Jericho were quoted doing the whole chest-puffing “it’s a war” thing when the brand launched earlier this year. There is an element of this which will be damaging to AEW given that WWE will have an advantage when it comes to potential sponsorship in that slot, as for many WWE is ubiquitous with wrestling.
I appreciate it doesn’t play into the narrative of AEW as the underdog and WWE as the big bad, but given how long TV deals tend to take to put together I would imagine that this has been in the works for some time. Of course, the timeslot and the timing of the show starting will likely have been impacted by AEW’s TV deal with TNT and I’m not saying there isn’t an element of cynicism to this move, but I suspect WWE have long planned for NXT to be on television, and with the deal for this worth around $50 million I imagine it was a simple decision for the company.
There is also a consideration to be made as to what this will do to NXT as an entity. For years it has been the developmental territory, allowing green superstars a platform to improve in an environment that is like the main roster but smaller and more forgiving. In doing so, it transformed into a sort of “super indie” federation with a loyal fan base, many of whom dislike the main roster output. With the move to two hours, will this force more filler into the shows and make it harder to tell simple stories, something NXT has excelled at. Will it lose its underground feel with Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn more involved, or will Triple H continue to run the show? These are big questions about what NXT is, and what it might become that can only be answered when the show goes live in September. It certainly makes for an exciting time to be a wrestling fan and the idea of both shows going head-to-head should make both strive to be better and that can only be a good thing.
With Summerslam in the history books, all eyes looked to be on Clash of Champions coming up in a few weeks, and it became abundantly clear on this show that the top programme on Raw for that show definitely looks to be featuring Seth Rollins defending his Universal championship against Braun Strowman. I have to admit that I had reservations about this pairing last week, but I like the direction they’ve chosen this week. Keeping both as babyfaces and having Strowman cooperate with Rollins but while keeping his Universal title aspirations in the foreground was well handled, and this boosted The OC as the top heel group on this show in opposition. The scheduled Strowman vs AJ Styles bout wasn’t much of a match in the end, but set up the main event with the classic ”top babyfaces who have to face each other take on the tag champions” trope, which predictably ended with Strowman and Rollins dethroning Gallows & Anderson. We all know their reign will be short, and they’ll probably lose the titles back to the former champions, but it builds interest for the inevitable showdown between “The Architect” and “The Monster among Men”, which feels like a fresh match and so far has been built slowly and carefully.
The Raw Women’s title picture felt reinvigorated on this show, following the shocking return of Sasha Banks last week. Becky Lynch cut an incredible promo, probably the best she’s done in a while which helped sell Banks’ return as a very big deal. Banks herself cut an equally top-notch reply which showed much of the signature heel work that had been missing from her drab babyface run prior to her hiatus. However, perhaps the most stunning moment came as Banks attacked Natalya during a backstage interview, with a viciousness and vigour that has been sorely missed. Ok, her line about Natalya’s deceased father was perhaps in bad taste but it felt oddly fitting for the “Boss” character and definitely made her a far more hateable heel. Becky needed a suitable villain, something she has sorely lacked since Wrestlemania and Banks fits that role to a tee. Sterling work all round.
The rest of the show was busy. It felt like there was minimal filler and everything was kept either short and sweet, or things that went longer had a reason for taking place. The Fiend attacking Jerry Lawler was expertly done, and while we still don’t know what is next for Bray Wyatt it was a solid reminder he is still lurking after his headline-grabbing Summerslam showing. Roman Reigns vs Dolph Ziggler felt like a reasonably hot opener. Both King of the Ring matches delivered and Cedric Alexander and Samoa Joe advancing over Sami Zayn and Cesaro respectively does make sense. Likewise Ricochet and The Miz vs Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin was a nice advert for the remaining Raw-based first round matches happening next week. The New Day vs The Revival was excellent while it lasted and although Randy Orton’s involvement meant a no-finish, the attack by The Revival on Xavier Woods’ leg was a nice throwback to what Dash and Dawson are all about. I am all in on a stable featuring The Revival and Orton; it definitely feels like an alliance that could have major potential. Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville was a fine TV match, although it does mean Bliss and Cross have pretty much cleanly pinned all of their potential challengers in recent weeks. Finally, Rey Mysterio seemed to be on the verge of retiring before his son Dominic got involved and it looks like we’re getting the two as a tag team. We’ll have to see how that goes, but I have my doubts.
A decent enough Raw, all in all. The Strowman/Rollins programme is unfolding nicely; Sasha Banks has been fantastic for the second week running while the King of the Ring tournament is now well underway. An eventful episode.
The blue brand had a big act to follow based on Monday’s offering, but Smackdown was a bit of a mixed bag, especially where the Roman Reigns attack mystery is concerned. Following on from recent weeks Buddy Murphy had a great match with Daniel Bryan before pinning the former world champion cleanly in the middle of the ring. This was a proper star-making performance following on from his match with Reigns last week and honestly made Murphy look like a real player on Smackdown. What was less satisfying was the reveal of Bryan and Rowan’s investigation which apparently yielded a bearded man who looked a bit like Rowan, but older. It was an odd reveal as the show went off the air that bordered on comedy, especially as Roman Reigns looked incredibly on confused and bemused. Presumably this will all be explained next week, but what a bizarre way to end and otherwise pretty entertaining show.
This week’s show was a bad one for Kevin Owens. Having him apologise and borderline grovel to Shane McMahon was not a good look on Owens and if they are aiming for a Stone Cold Steve Austin-type character, this was not a step in the right direction. I get that Owens should be an “everyman” and he was doing what he had to for his family, but I felt like this cut the legs off his character. Owens’ match with Elias was not great, with the two not really clicking here. The angle with Shane didn’t make a while lot of sense, but at least it provides direction for the two continuing to feud and explains Owens not going further in the King of the Ring tournament.
The rest of the show was enjoyable, and there were numerous noteworthy moments. Charlotte Flair’s appearance on Alexa Bliss’ Moment of Bliss set her up as the next challenger for Bayley, which seems an obvious direction to go, but an intriguing feud nevertheless. Kofi Kingston got a measure of revenge on Randy Orton as their feud bubbles along nicely. Andrade vs Apollo Crews was a decent TV match, as was The Revival vs Heavy Machinery. The backstage segment with Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin was pretty damaging to Gable, although it was admittedly quite funny, but it had the desired effect for Benjamin. Finally, Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura appeared to team up in beating up The Miz on Miz TV. While Zayn in the manager role for Nakamura initially feels like an odd fit, I can see how this might work quite well and hopefully end up being beneficial for both men in the long run.
Smackdown was a so-so show this week. The majority of the show was at least passable but the reveal in the Bryan-Rowan-Reigns angle left everything else feeling flat and it really took the sheen off an otherwise serviceable episode. Still, we’ll have to see how things shake out next week and whether there is a logical explanation on where this story goes next. Nakamura and Zayn though, that could be something very special if handled correctly.
Riptide in the park
Finally this week, we look ahead to a very exciting show from one of the best UK promotions going today. This bank holiday Monday, Brighton’s Riptide Wrestling will be hosting tow shows outdoors at the Brighton Open Air Theatre featuring tow dynamite cards which include Chuck Mambo defending his Riptide championship against Rampage Brown, Cara Noir vs "Speedball" Mike Bailey vs TK Cooper; Candyfloss, Chakara, Kurtis Chapman and Jordan Breaks vie for the Pride of Brighton championship in a four person tournament. Chris Brookes and Lucky Kid team up to take on Millie McKenzie and Charli Morgan, with Jordynne Grace, David Starr and many others also appearing. It should be a superb pair of shows; with some corking matches in one of the most beautiful outdoor venues you’ll see anywhere. Better still, it’s an all-ages show, so you can bring the whole family. Can’t say fairer than that! Show two is sold out but tickets are still available for show one here.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown and whatever else breaks in the meantime. Until then, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.
Images courtesy or WWE and Riptide Wrestling