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 surprising name announced for the Hall of Fame and much more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at a historic Raw from Monday night.
Well, that was different. The longest match in WWE history took place on Raw and it was excellent. This was certainly a rare experiment by WWE standards, and I do think it paid off. The biggest beneficiary of this unique episode was definitely Seth Rollins. “The Architect” got a huge reaction from the crowd which was very much deserved. They are telling a brilliant story with Rollins, as the guy who used to be a man eventer and who hasn’t quite got back to that stage since he returned from his injury in 2016. Rollins has been there and thereabouts and did have a very brief title reign in June 2016, but hasn’t been able to get a sniff since. The tag title reign with Jason Jordan and The Shield reunion both fell to injuries and poor luck, but this match might have finally given Rollins the platform to cement himself as a top guy. Beating Roman Reigns and John Cena cleanly in one night is quite the achievement and wrestling for the longest duration in televised match, and being a part of the longest match in WWE history will have done him no harm.
As for Reigns and Cena, they both find themselves in unusual scenarios at this stage. Cena was playing the subtle (and at times not-s-subtle) heel against Rollins, and there are hint of a more desperate, less scrupulous Reigns has now lost in another high-profile match. You imagine, that if Reigns vs Brock Lesnar is the plan for Wrestlemania then this is just an effort to add a bit of suspense to what everyone is considering a foregone conclusion of Reigns winning. I still think he goes over in the chamber, but if they wanted to do something really interesting I’d have Rollins win, and somehow crowbar him into a three-way with Lesnar and Reigns. It gives a multitude of storyline options, Lesnar feels he is outnumbered, which calls back to something Paul Heyman has touched on throughout the year; Reigns feels he is the top dog, which causes friction with Rollins who is desperate to get back to the top of the mountain, and you have the backstory stemming from the finish to Wrestlemania 31 with Rollins cashing in at the end of Reigns vs Lesnar and walking out champion. There is a rich story to tell there, and it might stop fans revolting against the main event as they will have someone to cheer for. A genuinely over, possibly main-event level babyface, who could provide a proper David to Lesnar’s Goliath. You could even have Rollins slay the beast, and have Reigns obliterate him after the match, giving you a genuine main event heel in Lesnar’s absence (OK, Lesnar is a tweeter, but still).
The gauntlet was a match of two halves, because after Elias picked off an understandably exhausted Rollins (which was a lovely bit of build to Elias having won the right to enter the chamber last, and freshest as a result), the turns of Finn Balor and The Miz couldn’t really live up to the hype. Enter Braun Strowman to save the day. He again looked dominant, booked to hi strengths and made to seem like an absolute beast. Even the post-match made him seem like a massive deal, and although I suspect he gets diverted with The Miz coming out of the chamber, I could also see Strowman as the guy to take on Lesnar at Mania. That I am even considering other options goes to show how well WWE did with this match and what a cracking bit of television they provided this week.
There wasn’t a great deal else on this show, given the gauntlet took up two thirds of the three hours, but I am not complaining. The “main event” featured the six competitors for the women’s chamber match in a decent affair, mostly designed to showcase the reunion of Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, Bayley’s new aggressive streak, and Sasha Banks’ burgeoning heel tendencies, as well as Absolution having a number advantage. To that end it was successful, if not super engaging. The Nia Jax attack on Asuka was well done, and did what it needed to build their match at the PPV. Ronda Rousey's hype video was very well done also. Finally Apollo (sans Crews) and Titus O’Neill beat The Bar in a decent match, presumably bagging them a title shot at Elimination Chamber (probably on the pre-show.)
A very good show this week, or certainly a very strong first hour. WWE should be applauded for daring to do something different and hopefully this attitude keeps going into their booking philosophies over the coming weeks, rather than reverting to type. We shall see.
Smackdown this week was a bit of a nothing show if I'm honest. Especially compared with the excitement on Raw. The main focus of the show was the fatal five-way scheduled for WWE Fastlane. The opening promo with AJ Styles (who made an awful attempt at a joke about a boil, which went down like a lead balloon), Kevin Owens, and Baron Corbin which resulted in matches between Owens and Dolph Ziggler, which was pretty decent; and between Baron Corbin and AJ Styles which was actually a very good match and did plenty to put Corbin over, especially as he stood tall after the post-match brawl. I do enjoy that they have positioned Sami Zayn as potentially turning on Owens, and given KO's facial expression during the segment where Zayn told him he would lay down for him, this further sowed the seeds of mistrust there. If they are going for Owens vs Zayn at Wrestlemania I do hope that they are split up after that for the foreseeable because it really is necessary to avoid their pairing getting stale. Of course they have been heavily involved with the continued Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan "feud" which appears to have now also spread towards the US title programme. After the segment with Jinder Mahal, Randy Orton and Bobby Roode (which was fine for what it was), they argued over Roode's opponent for Fastlane, which for now is Orton, but presumably ends up being both men. They really just need this angle to culminate and go somewhere after months of nonsense.
The rest of the show was just there. The New Day beating Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin to win the shot at The Usos was fine, although presumably it’s just something to keep The Usos busy until they face The Bludgeon Brothers at Mania; the six woman bout with Charlotte, Naomi and Becky Lynch taking on The Riott Squad. I'm not sure why Ruby Riott got the pin on Lynch rather than Charlotte to set up her title shot at Fastlane, but I presume it has something to do with keeping Charlotte strong for Asuka, otherwise that makes no sense.
Smackdown feels like it is stuck in a holding pattern at the moment, something which should end after the single brand PPVs are no more, but from now until Fastlane it looks like much of the same on the blue brand side of things.
Jeff Jarrett in the HOF?
In perhaps the most surprising but of news this week, Jeff Jarrett (yes that’s J-E-double F- J-A-double R- E- double T) was announced as a member of the 2018 WWE HOF class. Jarrett, the founder of TNA and a man who famously held up WWE for more money in October 1999 has apparently been welcomed back into the fold. WWE have brought back several talent over the past few years who had issues with the company in the past, but Jarrett always seemed unlikely. He was the man who founded the competition and who was even name checked on camera after the end of WCW as being not welcome. It just goes to show that WWE really do believe in doing what they see as best for business. I did wonder, with the addition of Jeremy Borash recently and Jarrett’s connections with getting the World of Sport deal going with ITV a year or so back whether this could have something to do with attempting to launch WWE UK. Unlikely, but otherwise it is hard to see the logic behind this move. That said, I would bet on Jarrett hitting a guitar shot on Elias either at Wrestlemania or the night after. Anyway, apparently hell has frozen over.
Rich Swann released
Despite being cleared of all charges, WWE announced earlier this week that former WWE cruiserweight champion Rich Swann had been released by the company. If I’m honest, I’m not totally surprised and I can understand the company wanting to steer clear of having Swann involved for a while for fear of bad press. I’m sure he’ll be welcomed back down the road, when things have died down somewhat.
Elimination Chamber preview
Finally this week, we’ll take a quick look at Raw’s big PPV on Sunday, Elimination Chamber. The main focus coming out of Raw is the big men’s chamber match, featuring Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Elias, Finn Balor and John Cena. It’s the biggest chamber match, in terms of competitors, ever. I ran through much of this when looking at Raw and I imagine this match sets up some of the bigger Wrestlemania programmes for the Raw side of things. I still suspect Seth Rollins is going to be paired off with Finn Balor or maybe even Kurt Angle, while Roman Reigns wins the match and goes on to face Brock Lesnar, and Strowman spins off into a programme with The Miz. We will have to see, but I can certainly see this match going very long and having some major spots. It should be a corker considering the participants, but I would bet the house on Reigns winning (don’t actually bet on wrestling, it’s a terrible idea).
The other big intrigue on this show is for where the women’s division ends up. Asuka vs Nia Jax presumably ends with Asuka winning and then heading to Smackdown to challenge Charlotte, unless WWE do something very silly and sacrifice Asuka’s streak to Jax (not impossible, I appreciate). I think Alexa Bliss wins the chamber, possibly by screwing over Mickie James given the build-up. Of course Ronda Rousey’s contract signing is a big deal, but in order to get the most from her debut at Wrestlemania I suspect we are getting Rousey and a male tag partner vs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to ensure she gets the best debut possible. Whatever happens, I suspect after next week’s TV we’ll have a better grasp on the main programmes in the division.
The other two matches are difficult to care about. Matt Hardy vs Bray Wyatt seems like an afterthought and a missed opportunity with this programme, while Titus Worldwide vs The Bar (which is not announced currently, but presumably is the pre-show match) should be a fine, but ultimately pointless bout.
This should be a good show, it’s very top heavy and there’s plenty of intrigue. The main matches should deliver and hopefully WWE won’t be as predictable as we all expect. As I said earlier, we shall see.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Elimination Chamber, 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.