Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. Things have been very busy this week, with big news from All Elite Wrestling, a huge title change in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the sad death of a wrestling legend. However, let's start things off with a look back at the go-home episodes of Raw and Smackdown for this Sunday's Elimination Chamber.
Oh WWE, it was all going so well. With the suspended Becky Lynch advertised for Raw, it felt like we would get something special, and instead, WWE seemed to take things in a direction no-one seemed to want. The show long storyline of Becky Lynch having to apologise to keep her title match at Wrestlemania was well executed, but everyone assumed it would end with Lynch doing her best Stone Cold Steve Austin impression. The interactions during the show with Ronda Rousey, Alexa Bliss and Finn Balor helped build up to what should have been a great crescendo to this week’s episode, only for Lynch to uncharacteristically apologise, which seemed to cut the legs off her character entirely. It’s not a total death knell, but she will need some rehabbing from this. The bait and switch of Lynch being re-suspended and removed from the Wrestlemania match by Vince McMahon, and Charlotte being inserted is not the idea I would personally have plumped for, but I can see the logic if they are stubbornly sticking with the three-way match at Mania, despite the fact Lynch vs Ronda Rousey is clearly the money match. It does position Charlotte as the company’s hand-picked choice, a role in which she is clearly going to revel. There are still many weeks to go till Wrestlemania, so I’ll give WWE the benefit of the doubt for now, but hopefully, they see the misstep with the Lynch character here.
The Revival took a pretty prominent role on Raw this week, facing off with Bobby Roode and Chad Gable in a lengthy, but tremendously enjoyable tag bout. It may be the threat of their potential departure to AEW, or it could be just coincidence, but WWE is finally giving Dash and Dawson the push their hard work has deserved and it’s great to see. The Raw tag division isn’t exactly deep, so there is no reason why the clear best team on the show shouldn’t be atop the tag team ranks. As for Roode and Gable, you have to imagine a heel turn is imminent, presumably for Roode who could really shine as an antagonist on the red brand. If Jason Jordan is anywhere close to a return (admittedly it’s gone quiet on that front and I have to assume that’s not good news for Jordan’s future) he could even come back and we could go for the American Alpha reformation. Still, a great night for The Revival as new tag team champions.
The rest of the show was mostly inoffensive, even enjoyable at points. Seth Rollins and Paul Heyman had a fine segment, although I’m not sure what the interaction between Rollins and Dean Ambrose was all about unless Ambrose is turning babyface on his way out the door. Ambrose did have a very good match with EC3, and it did feel like he was working as a face, so perhaps that is the direction for him in the next month or so. Why not? His heel run hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success, and as it’s a short term thing, so it seems as good an idea as any. Bayley and Sasha Banks vs Tamina and Nia Jax was a decent TV match and provided a good build for the Elimination Chamber on Sunday, even if it was a glorified handicap match. Elias and The Lucha House Party had a decent segment; even if it was only designed to get more heel heat on Elias. The whole Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre match that then became Balor, Braun Strowman and Kurt Angle vs McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Baron Corbin was far too long, and offered little more than this convoluted crossover of feuds has done in the past three weeks. It was dull. Nikki Cross vs Ruby Riott was a nice showcase for Riott ahead of her title match with Rousey on Sunday, and while the result is not exactly in doubt, it should elevate Riott who has quietly become a key member of the Raw women’s division. Finally, Kevin Owens cut a promo from his phone teasing he would return soon, although it was as yet uncertain which brand he would join. Owens has been sorely missed, and his return would be a big boost to either show.
A mixed bag of a Raw this week. The Revival vs Roode and Gable was a fantastic television match that could have easily been on the PPV on Sunday. However, the six-man tag dragged on for what felt like hours. The storyline development with Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey and Charlotte is certainly interesting and while I’m not sure I agree with all of the booking, I am hoping this proves to be a well thought out story that yields a top Wrestlemania match.
The main thrust of this week’s Smackdown was giving the final hype to the Elimination Chamber show on Sunday, and one man shone like no other: Kofi Kingston. Yes, with Mustafa Ali forced to give up his position in the Elimination Chamber due to injury Kingston was inserted, and indeed shoved into the gauntlet match on this week’s show to secure the elusive last entry into the cage. While Kingston has been off having fun with The New Day for a few years now, it’s easy to forget that he is, as always has been far more than a comedy character and he reminded everyone of that fact here. Lasting over an hour, beating WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe all cleanly really put Kingston over as a genuine threat. Although he tapped out to AJ Styles, this whole match echoed the way Seth Rollins lasted a similar amount of time in the memorable Raw gauntlet match last year, and he lost nothing in defeat. The rest of the match only lasted a minute anyway, as Randy Orton hit a surprise RKO to pin AJ and gain the last entry on Sunday. However, this match did exactly what was necessary to re-establish Kofi as a contender, and after all these years of toiling away in WWE, I’d hope that the matches and the crowd reaction actually give the company pause for thought as to whether to put the belt on Kingston in the Chamber, because even if it ends up as a short-lived, transitional reign there is definitely something there. A cracking match and a surprisingly effective one in getting Kofi back to the same level as the top stars on Smackdown.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable, although with the gauntlet eating up the majority of the show there wasn’t much time for a great deal more to happen. The “McMiz TV” segment with Shane McMahon, The Miz and The Usos was effective in hyping the tag title match on Sunday, which presumably begins the start of whatever turn is planned in the McMahon/Miz camp. Naomi and Carmella vs Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose vs The IIconics was fine, but not on the level of the other wrestling on this show, but it did provide a good last bit of build to the women's tag team chamber match. Finally, Charlotte did her best to taunt the crowd over her replacing Becky Lynch in the Wrestlemania match. I know many do not want her involved, myself included, but it’s hard to deny the sterling job she is doing positioning herself as the clear heel in this situation, absolutely lapping up the boos from the audience. Smug heel charlotte, who can back it up, much like her father is the best version of this particular Flair.
This was very much a one-match show, although that match lasted well over an hour so it’s hardly a complaint and they went into full damage limitation mode to position Kofi Kingston as a genuine threat to the title rather than an also-ran, which was largely successful. A very good main event and a decent show overall.
NJPW New Beginning - Jay White wins the big one
With the growth of AEW and a number of key departures from the company, NJPW looked to move on with things as they held their New Beginning show this past weekend. In truth, it was far from an eventful or memorable show outside of the main event which delivered a big twist, with “Switchblade” Jay White defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight championship. Whether you like or loathe White, he had an excellent match with Tanahashi, including some superb psychology, and a great finish. White cut a very good promo after the match, and he certainly looked every inch the new chosen one. With Kenny Omega gone, White has been slotted into the top foreign star role, and hopefully, he grows into it. It felt a bit soon for White to be thrust into this role, but Gedo has a history of backing winning horses and taking chances on the right guys, so hopefully, this works out for everyone involved and NJPW have a bonafide new main eventer on their hands. White will be defending his newly won belt at Madison Square Garden against the winner of the New Japan Cup. However, who that will be is certainly up for debate at this stage. Kazuchika Okada certainly makes sense, and that would be the biggest match NJPW can make at this stage, but with Kota Ibushi announcing he is staying put in New Japan (and presumably having signed on full time for the organisation), he could really be a contender. Is White vs Ibushi enough of a draw for MSG? Or does it matter given the show has already sold out? These are all valid questions that New Japan is sure to answer in the weeks to come.
RIP Pedro Morales
In sad news, it was announced earlier this week that WWE Hall of Fame member and former WWWF champion Pedro Morales had passed away. Morales was something of a trailblazer for the forerunner to WWE, on top of successful runs in NJPW, AWA, various NWA territories and WWC in Puerto Rico. Morales was the first Latino world champion, as well as one of the first triple crown winners in WWWF. Morales had memorable feuds with Stan Stasiak, The Spoiler and Freddie Blassie among others, as well as one of the first babyface vs babyface main events at Madison Square Garden against Bruno Sammartino (which of course, ended in a 75-minute draw). Morales would retire in 1987 but would stay around the business for many years as a road agent and commentator for both WWF and WCW. However, later in life Morales would develop Parkinsons, and eventually passed this week aged 76. Morales' legacy as one of the last old school wrestlers of the territory days and one of the biggest Latin stars in wrestling history made him a pivotal figure in wrestling history. RIP Pedro Morales.
Coming out of last week’s press event, AEW announced some major pieces of news, with the expected announcement of Kenny Omega, who is now scheduled to face Chris Jericho at Double or Nothing, as well as The Lucha Bros (Fenix and Pentagon Jr) debuting and attacking The Young Bucks. The card for their big show in Las Vegas is shaping up nicely, with more announcements to follow, but what struck me was the improved production on the event, which was miles better than for the announcement rally a few months ago. I like that the people running this are learning from their mistakes, and growing the brand gradually. The company are also promoting inclusivity, including having the first high profile transgender wrestler, Nyla Rose, booked on Double or Nothing, which is very refreshing. It bodes very well. There are of course rumours abound that TV deals are imminent, with October being the mooted stat point, while there were other rumblings about a show in England at the Royal Albert Hall in August (I suspect the BBC Proms will have something to say about that) and talks with the likes of Dave Bautista and Bill Goldberg, as well as numerous contracted WWE superstars. Honestly, it’s hard to cut through the nonsense to see the truth, but the fact there are so many rumours and there is such a buzz being created definitely marks AEW as a potential competitor to WWE.
If there was any doubt about that buzz, the fact they sold out the MGM Grand Garden Arena should suggest that there is a lot of momentum behind this company. It’s important to state that the “sold out in four minutes” narrative is not exactly accurate, with the vast majority of tickets selling on pre-sale earlier in the week (in around 26 minutes, which is still very impressive) and the remaining tickets sold out in four minutes on general sale. It is one hell of an achievement, but it is definitely important to recognise and acknowledge the idea of selling out the whole venue in record time as something of a promotional tactic, but that should take nothing away from the genuine achievement of a fledgeling company. Double or Nothing is shaping up to be a very exciting, intriguing show and definitely something very important to the industry as a whole.
Jimmy Uso arrested
In late breaking news, on Thursday Jimmy Uso (real name Jonathan Fatu) was arrested for disorderly conduct. In a story broken by TMZ, the former Smackdown tag team champion was allegedly in a car being driven by his wife, fellow superstar Naomi (Trinity Fatu), when she turned the wrong way up a one-way street. According to the report, when pulled over by police, Uso got out of the car and "squared up" against the police officer. Uso was calmed down and eventually arrested. It will be very interesting to see how this impacts the match on Sunday between The Usos and The Miz and Shane McMahon, or if it changes booking at all. Given it's not a violent offence or likely to land Uso in prison, it may be WWE take no action at all, but I'd look out for how this unfolds in the coming weeks.
Elimination Chamber preview
Finally this week, we have a quick look at Sunday’s Elimination Chamber show, which is the second to last big show before Wrestlemania. On paper, it looks like a very good show for the most part, even if it feels like Smackdown is more of a focus here rather than an equal split between brands.
The main event will surely be the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE championship. Given the dynamic performers involved, this has the ingredients to be an early contender for match of the year. One of the things I like about this match is that in theory, anyone could win. I suspect Daniel Bryan will hold on to his new hemp title somehow, but that’s far from guaranteed. Randy Orton and AJ Styles seem less likely, with the former a pretty dull choice for a top Wrestlemania match and the latter just coming off a major title run that ended in November. Like Orton, Jeff Hardy seems like an odd choice, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Outside of a Bryan win, Samoa Joe would be a good choice and a fresh main event star, while Kofi Kingston would be a brave, inspired choice even if he only has a short reign as champion. Whatever happens, this has the makings of a very good main event, and although I’ll miss the inclusion of Mustafa Ali, he’ll have his day in the sun; such is the level of talent he possesses.
The other Elimination Chamber match could be just as good, but it also has the potential to be a complete mess. I love The IIconics, but they have had mixed fortunes in terms of in-ring work on the main roster, while Carmella and Naomi both also have had a few suspect moments in the past year, and then there’s Tamina. Of course, WWE could go the predictable route and have Sasha and Bayley as the first ever female tag champions, or continue to push Tamina and Nia Jax as the big powerful force in the division. However, I am hoping that we get a win for Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. Both are ready for the next step in their careers, but neither feels quite ready to be a breakout singles star and these tag titles could be a great step in their collective development. Here’s hoping this match lives up to the billing it’s been given, and we get a great match and a genuine moment with the winners being crowned.
The rest of the show looks good for the most part, even though there are some matches I am less looking forward to. Ronda Rousey vs Ruby Riott will presumably be a nice platform, for Riott, and she’ll get closer to beating Rousey than most expect before the inevitable Ronda win. Or Ronda squashes her. Hopefully not. Buddy Murphy vs Akira Tozawa might be the sleeper match to watch, as both her been great recently on 205 Live. Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush vs Finn Balor for the Intercontinental title and Braun Strowman vs Baron Corbin do very little for me, although the Balor vs Lashley/Rush match should be at least passable, and hopefully, Corbin/Strowman will be a squash.
Elimination Chamber should provide a good spotlight for some of the superstars who will be featured on the Wrestlemania card and it will definitely give us a clearer idea of how the Mania card will look, with two big title matches in the chamber.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at the continued build to Wrestlemania via Elimination Chamber (including the fallout from that show) and Fastlane on Raw and Smackdown, as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. In the meantime, 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.
Photos: WWE.COM, NJPWWORLD.COM & @AEWRESTLING