Welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber, looking at all the big news and events from the past seven days in the world of professional wrestling. It's been quite the busy week with an eventful Raw, a big main-event-dominated episode of Smackdown, a NJPW PPV and much more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at Raw from Monday night.
With Elimination Camber in only a couple of weeks, WWE finally finished moving the pieces into place to set up the last big stop on Raw's "Road to Wrestlemania". The show opening promo with John Cena was clearly designed to be a less-than-subtle set up for the clearly pending feud and Wrestlemania match with The Undertaker. The Miz was once again excellent here, and the match between the two was the usual high standard you can expect when Cena and Miz get into the ring together. The Miz entering first is fine, and presumably leads to Cena coming out of the final pod, making his inevitable failure all the more difficult for him. The second big development was the fatal four-way match between the losers of the previous qualifiers, although thanks to the segment with Kurt Angle and Seth Rollins that became a five-way. The segment in question showed two things, that Kurt Angle is getting worse on the microphone, and that Seth Rollins is still surprisingly over as a singles prospect. Obviously, Jason Jordan being out for a few months and having to miss Wrestlemania was not what the creative team had originally planned, but inserting Rollins into the Elimination Chamber match is a good move to get him involved elsewhere. The fatal five-way with Rollins, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt, Matt Hardy and Apollo Crews was a really exciting, very well laid-out TV main event, with lots to enjoy. The finish was pretty well executed and the addition of a 7th participant adds a new dynamic to the Elimination Chamber concept, which could be an exciting prospect. I would assume, given Rollins and Balor are not facing off next week to determine the last entrant for the match, we are presumably going to see Rollins and Balor in a match at Mania which I certainly wouldn't object to.
There was plenty of build on the women's side of things this week too. Bayley vs Sasha Banks was a really good match, not the best they've had but certainly far better than either have been involved with on television in recent memory. The post-match assault by Nia Jax did plenty to build her up as a credible challenger to Asuka, and while I certainly hope Asuka is going over at Elimination Chamber this certainly helps build Jax as a credible opponent for Asuka before she presumably heads to Smackdown to challenge Charlotte. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James vs Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose was a decent affair, although it seemed to mostly exist to forward the possible alliance between Bliss and James. Still, the women's elimination chamber, as well as the Asuka-Nia match are all shaping up quite nicely. Of course we also got the news Ronda Rousey will sign her WWE contract at Elimination Chamber, which presumably should set up her Wrestlemania programme.
Elsewhere this week, Roman Reigns vs Sheamus was a fine, if unspectacular match; while The Revival got back on the right track beating Gallows & Anderson in a pretty decent affair. Finally we had the segment of the night, with Braun Strowman interrupting Elias' performance to play a song on a double bass, which he held like a guitar, before he decimated Elias. Strowman has been getting better week-on-week but this showcased a whole different side of his character, and his ability to do a comedic turn without becoming a comedy character as such. If he keeps developing his act like this he is surely bound for the very top of the company sooner rather than later.
A very enjoyable Raw this week, with lots of build to Elimination Chamber, for both big matches, as well as lots of good in-ring action and story development.
Smackdown has had plenty of ups and downs since the brand split in 2016. However, this storyline with Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon needs to come to a head sooner rather than later before it sullies everything on this show. That the bickering between the two has now resulted in a fatal five-way match which seemingly has only one likely winner (unless WWE does something really silly). The convoluted nature of getting to this point took over the whole show this week, with Dolph Ziggler (urgh) and Baron Corbin (slightly less urgh) initially supposed to face off to get a spot in the existing three-way with Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. The attack by Zayn and Owens on Ziggler and Corbin makes sense, but it massively telegraphed the two matches with Owens vs Corbin and Zayn vs Ziggler. Now both matches were fine from an in-ring perspective, but this whole thing feels incredibly overbooked and does nothing to make me want to see this match at Fastlane.
There wasn’t a great deal of time for anything else on this week’s show. Charlotte vs Sarah Logan was a decent affair, and made me want to see more of what Logan can do in a singles capacity; Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin vs The New Day was a cracking TV match, albeit one that happened for the silliest of reasons. The slightly screwy finish also guarantees more bouts between these two teams which is no bad thing. The segment with Randy Orton, Jinder Mahal and Bobby Roode was enjoyable, and at least it does something to try and make the new rankings system seem important. Finally, The Usos cut a good promo, and The Bludgeon Brothers smashed a TV with their rubber hammers. The gimmicks might be a bit of a mismatch, but that should yield some excellent bouts, so who am I to complain.
A decent, but hugely overlooked show revolving around an angle we’re all tired of by now. One question I do have, is where on earth is Shinsuke Nakamura? I hope this is a deliberate booking strategy rather than just doing nothing with the challenger for Wrestlemania for the WWE title.
End of dual-brand PPVs after Mania?
There have been rumours abound this week that WWE plan to end their single brand PPVs after Wrestlemania 34, with Backlash being the first of regular dual-branded shows, and eventually plan to return to a traditional 12 or so PPV shows a year. I can’t say I’m wholly surprised, the idea of a PPV every two weeks is sometimes way too much to keep up with, and if it hasn’t done anything for subscriber numbers I can see why they have made this decision. I suspect there will be more random “Network Exclusive” shows like they did a few years ago every one and a while, but a less rigid structure seems a good plan. Plus this saves the awkward holding pattern-style booking that seems to crop up form time-to-time when one brand can’t start booking things moving forward until the other has completed their latest show (see the build for Survivor Series for example). A welcome simplification if true.
In an interesting tidbit of news this week, WWE and Impact Wrestling have come to a deal on the ability for WWE to use footage of Matt and Jeff Hardy from their TNA days, which is intriguing. Given that a number of WWE performers have history in TNA, including AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, even Kurt Angle, this could start a trend of WWE being able to feature some of their footage on the WWE Network or on DVD releases. While I’m not suggesting that we are approaching the US equivalent of the Pro Wrestling Love period from Japan, it’s nice to see both companies cooperating in a way that makes sense for everyone involved.
Eddie Dennis injury
Just a quick note, as we saw the sad news this week that Slammer Jabber favourite, and all around good guy Eddie Dennis will have to undergo surgery for a torn pectoral muscle which will put him out of action until July. Dennis has been doing some of the best work of his career since his big heel turn on Mark Andrews at the big Progress show at Ally Pally in September, and his intense promo work has been just as impressive. We wish Eddie the best of luck with a speedy recovery and hope to see him back in the ring over the summer (if not behind the bar at a Riptide show in Brighton).
It was announced this week that Ivory, would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Ivory, real name Lisa Moretti was a stalwart of the WWE women’s division, as well as a former member of GLOW (which might explain her addition this year, given that season 2 of the hit Netflix show is due in the summer). It's certainly a worthwhile induction, and Ivory makes a good addition to Goldberg and The Dudleys in the 2018 class.
NJPW New Beginning in Osaka
NJPW hosted its New Beginning PPV this past Sunday, and what a show it was. It was a great card overall, which as usual is well worth checking out. For me the two highlights were Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi which was a phenomenal back-and-forth battle, and Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada which was a fantastic bout that did lots for Sanada, even in defeat. This show set up plenty moving forward with current storylines, and plenty of feuds including the odd choice of Taichi vs Tetsuya Naito (although I suspect this is to keep Naito busy until Chris Jericho re-emerges, presumably for Dominion in June).However, perhaps the biggest news to come out of this show was the announcement of Rey Mysterio vs Jushin Thunder Liger for the NJPW show in California next month. This will mark Mysterio's NJPW debut and will be a rematch between the two from WCW Starrcade 1996. Mysterio looked great in the Royal Rumble and Liger never seems to age, so I expect this to be a fantastic match between two legendary junior heavyweights.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Raw and Smackdown, as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. 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.