Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all the big moments and news from the past seven days in the crazy world of professional wrestling. Of course, we are deep into Wrestlemania season, and this week the build to April’s big show continued with the Elimination Chamber PPV. In addition, Raw and Smackdown yielded some unexpected debuts and there was even news of an upcoming film featuring one of the most recognisable faces in wrestling history. Let’s start off with Elimination Chamber from this past Sunday.
Going into Elimination Chamber, I’m not sure that fan expectation was at a fever pitch. While the show is a traditional stop on the “Road to Wrestlemania”, with the addition of Fastlane just a few weeks later, and in the era of dual brand PPVs it doesn’t have quite the same significance and high stakes that it might have has in years gone by. That said, there was plenty of action on this card and viewed in isolation, Elimination Chamber was actually a very good show. The main event was, as expected, superb with all six men putting in a shift to make it arguably the best chamber match WWE has done in the past decade. While Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Jeff Hardy were all fantastic, the real spotlight of this main event shone on Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston. The near falls got the crowd massively invested in Kofi, even buying that he might win the belt off the SOS and the Trouble in Paradise. Bryan sold everything superbly, and while Kofi might not have been in title contention before last Thursday, after this show everyone had been reminded just how good Kingston really is. Bryan retaining was expected, but this made Kingston in a lot of people’s eyes, and he deserves his time to shine at the moment.
The women’s tag title match was almost as good as the main event, telling a great story of Sasha Banks and Bayley having to overcome the odds, while everyone waited for the dominant Nia Jax and Tamina to get involved, only for Jax to be taken out by her own momentum and Bayley and Banks to be left with Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose to beat to win the titles. The callbacks to last year’s chamber match were a nice touch, even though there was no real danger of Banks turning on her partner. Having the babyfaces win the belts made for a really quite touching moment and definitely sets up some intriguing possibilities going into Wrestlemania. Equally, Deville and Rose gained plenty from running Banks and Bayley so close, and I could definitely see that pairing getting a run with the belts in the spring.
Outside of the two chamber matches, there was plenty of solid, enjoyable stuff to get excited about. The Usos vs The Miz and Shane McMahon was better than expected, and the story they built with Miz feeling as though he let Shane, his wife, and his family down in losing was executed brilliantly. When the turn comes, whichever way it goes, it should actually be very impactful which would have been a surprising turn of events a few months back. Finn Balor vs Lio Rush and Bobby Lashley was fine, but the result always seemed like a foregone conclusion, as did the post-match with Rush and Lashley. Ronda Rousey vs Ruby Riott was a glorified squash, and more of a backdrop for the angle with Charlotte and then Becky Lynch getting involved. Becky attacking both her probable Wrestlemania opponents with a crutch did go some way to rehabbing her after last week’s Raw, and continued to push her as the anti-authority babyface although the lack of security involvement given the status of the “suspended” Lynch made this all feel a little inauthentic. Finally, Baron Corbin and Braun Strowman was a total snooze-fest and the finish with Bobby Lashley, Corbin and Drew McIntyre getting involved was uninspired and frankly lazy.
Elimination Chamber was mostly a very good show and one that benefitted from coming in at just under three hours. It wasn’t bloated, or overbooked and everything felt like it got plenty of time. The two chamber matches were different and enjoyable, and nothing dragged, which has to be considered a win.
Raw and Smackdown
This week, we’ll deal with Raw and Smackdown together as the big story coming out of both is much the same. On Raw, Triple H unexpectedly announced that we were getting some big NXT call ups, with NXT Champion Tomasso Ciampa, North American Champion (at least until this week’s NXT when he dropped it to Velveteen Dream) Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black, and Ricochet all coming up to the main roster, although it wasn’t quite clear whether it is a permanent move or just a showcase for NXT. All four men would have strong showings on both shows. On Raw, we had Ricochet teaming with Finn Balor (which was an excellent not to their shared past) to take on Lio Rush and Bobby Lashley in a fun match, Black beating Elias in impressive style with a brutal looking Black Mass, and the former DIY getting a big win over Raw tag team champions The Revival. Then on Tuesday night, Ricochet would get a solo spotlight against Eric Young (appearing for the first time in who knows how long), Aleister Black again was able to shine, this time against Andrade, and Gargano and Ciampa would have a cracking tag match with The Bar. All four men were very heavily pushed, and you can see that, even if not necessarily in the short term, WWE has big plans for the quartet. I thought Aleister Black especially looked good, and both matches got over how sudden and devastating the Black Mass can be. Like all great finishers, he can hit it on anyone, it looks unique and it is very believable. All four men clearly took this opportunity with both hands, and while this would probably have made more sense as a post-Wrestlemania move, it wasn’t wholly unwelcome, even it was a bit jarring. It is not clear if these four will be working both NXT and the main roster, but it was certainly a breath of fresh air to see them on these shows.
The rest of Raw was somewhat lacklustre for me. Ronda Rousey vs Ruby Riott was more of a showcase for Riott, and perhaps what the match on the prior night’s show should have been. The crowd were clearly expecting either Becky Lynch or Charlotte and got neither, but Rousey looked strong in fighting off the whole Riott Squad singlehandedly and Ruby looked strong taking Rousey to the limit here. Baron Corbin vs Braun Strowman in a tables match was an improvement on the prior evening and hopefully was a blow-off for the feud. The post-match with Strowman and Paul Heyman was unusual, but presumably, it is going somewhere. Speaking of Heyman, his in-ring promo hyping Brock Lesnar was actually very effective in setting out the scale of the challenge awaiting Seth Rollins. The response from Rollins backstage was fine, although I’m not sure what the interaction with Dean Ambrose was about. Ambrose vs Drew McIntyre was fine, but it felt like another opportunity to use Ambrose to elevate another guy at Dean’s expense while he’s on his way out. The segment with Lacey Evans and Heavy Machinery was odd. Lucha House Party vs Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins was nothing special, but it continues to tell the story of Hawkins and his losing streak. Finally, Sasha Banks and Bayley cut a promo that lacked the emotion of the post-match after the win at Elimination chamber, although it at least set up Nia Jax and Tamina Snuka as their likely first challengers.
On the blue brand, with a shorter runtime than their Raw compatriots, the NXT call-ups took up much of the show. However, there was still time for some other exciting moments. The main event featuring Kofi Kingston, Jeff Hardy and Aj Styles vs Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and Samoa Joe was chaotic, but tremendous fun, and I'm glad WWE are giving Kofi more time in the spotlight, having confirmed him as Bryan's challenger at Fastlane, given his show-stealing performance in the chamber. Charlotte cut a short, but effective promo backstage on Becky Lynch. Mandy Rose vs Asuka was actually quite good, and although I don’t see Rose as the Wrestlemania challenger for Asuka, her win here does provide a great platform for her to kick on and establish herself as one of the top women on Smackdown. Finally, Miz and Shane McMahon provided a really engrossing segment, as we eventually got to the booking of the rematch between the two and The Usos for Fast Lane, hyping the emotional element by having the match in Miz’s hometown, and with his father in the front row. The telegraphing suggests that Shane will turn on Miz, but I wonder if WWE might go the other way and have Miz’s frustrations boil over and his turn on Shane be the catalyst for their feud.
Overall, there were highs and lows from this week’s television. The NXT call-ups provided fresh matches, and a spotlight for four of the most talented guys under contract. However, the rest of the content on the shows was very hit and miss. Neither show was bad, and Smackdown was better than Raw by some way but both shows definitely seemed to fall short of the standard needed to get everyone excited for Wrestlemania.
Tye Dillinger requests release
In what is probably a first for his career, Tye Dillinger was one of the big news stories this week. The “Perfect Ten” has been almost invisible on the main roster for a while now and has been vocal on social media about his situation, even intimating that he requested a return to NXT but was turned down. However, earlier this week it was revealed that he asked for his release from WWE altogether, and he even went as far as to release a statement regarding his situation. It’s understandable that he is frustrated, having been utilised sparingly in the past year, but not everyone can be a top tier superstar. There are only so many spots available. I’m sure Dillinger would like to try his luck with AEW, although the idea that he would have a more prominent spot in that or any other company seems unlikely. He does have ties to Cody Rhodes, but he’s not really shown much in WWE and barring a late-career resurgence in AEW, Dillinger might find that the grass is not always greener. That said, there has never been a better time for guys to try out free agency, and if he is unhappy there are certainly options available to him should he want to make more money outside WWE.
Chris Hemsworth is Hulk Hogan?
Finally, this week the news broke that a biopic based on the life of Hulk Hogan was in the works, with Chris Hemsworth attached to play the titular role as The Hulkster. Of course, this news was met with surprise and intrigue in many quarters, given Hogan has had quite the tumultuous time in recent years with the Gawker case, being outed as a racist, and a very public fall from grace. He is still on the periphery with WWE, and although he’s not quite the pariah he was a few years ago, Hogan is still a very divisive figure. Luckily for him, and Hemsworth, the film is set to focus on the glory years of Hulk Hogan and the rise of Hulkamania, long before the scandals that affected Terry Bollea’s standing. Hemsworth seems like a very appropriate choice, and it is not hard to see how he would tackle the role, although it will be very interesting to see how the film creates a cohesive narrative, and how many of Hogan’s notorious tall tales are given attention vs how truthful the film will be, especially with regard to steroid abuse in the 1980s. It could be fascinating, or a mess of a film that never sees the light of day.
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 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.