Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling over the past seven days. In WWE everything is gearing up for the huge Royal Rumble weekend, and that was reflected in Raw, Smackdown and even NXT. WWE also had a huge announcement surrounding their UK TV deal. Meanwhile, AEW had a very special show of their own this week in a very unusual location. Let's dive in with a look back at this week's WWE TV offerings.
With Royal Rumble just around the corner, WWE has been largely focused on hyping the big programmes ahead of arguably the second most anticipated event of the year. On Smackdown, the penultimate episode was dominated by the return of Kane in his full demon garb rather than as the Mayor of Knoxville. Having him reunite with his Team Hell No partner Daniel Bryan was a logical move and getting one over on “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt makes it seem more believable that Bryan could outsmart him and get the win at the Rumble. A strong angle.
The rest of Smackdown was so-so, and while the in-ring action was very good, everything else was a bit disappointing. The backstage confrontation with Sheamus and “Shorty G” Chad Gable was lazy, although it does set up the match between the two. John Morrison vs Big E was excellent, as was The Usos vs The Revival. Alexa Bliss vs Sonya Deville, much like last week was more of a backdrop for the continuing Otis/Mandy Rose storyline. Bayley vs Lacey Evans was a decent way to orchestrate a scenario for the two having a match at the Rumble, but the set-up with Sasha Banks’ “injury” and Adam Pearce making the match felt a bit weird. Braun Strowman continued to push for an intercontinental title match, although the segment with Elias, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn and Cesaro was pretty paint-by-numbers. Is Elias a face now? I can’t tell week-to-week. Finally, Roman Reigns beat Bobby Roode in a largely enjoyable tables match and got to choose his stipulation for his match with Baron Corbin at the Rumble, and he went for falls-count-anywhere, which is hopefully a solid enough gimmick to finally blow off this feud.
On Raw, there was a major follow-up to Buddy Murphy joining forces with Seth Rollins and AoP. The opening promo from Rollins (and his lovely new T-shirt) was excellent, and the confrontation with Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens, who were then joined by The Viking Raiders helped set up a tag title match. Surprisingly, it was Murphy and Rollins rather than AoP who would take on the champions and pick up an unlikely win for the straps. I can see the logic as this keeps Rollins busy, elevates Murphy and keeps The Viking Raiders away from AoP so they can build that match for Wrestlemania. Good work all around here.
The remainder of the show was mostly very good, although the third hour left quite a lot to be desired. Ricochet’s segment with Brock Lesnar was utterly pointless unless there are plans to pay it off somehow on Sunday. Aleister Black absolutely murdered an enhancement talent with one of the best Black Mass finishes I’ve ever seen. Drew McIntyre vs Randy Orton was a lot of fun and further set up their rivalry for the Rumble. Becky Lynch vs Kairi Sane was less enjoyable than you might expect, but again it was designed to help build Lynch vs Asuka. The Street Profits segment was pretty bad, and the “main event” with Bobby Lashley and Lana vs Liv Morgan and Rusev wasn’t much better. Erick Rowan vs Matt Hardy was a squash. Finally, Andrade and Rey Mysterio had a batshit crazy ladder match for the US Title that wouldn’t have been out of place on a PPV. I genuinely thought Mysterio might have broken his neck on two separate occasions in this match. Still, a very spectacular bout and the post-match sets up the returning Humberto Carrillo as Andrade’s next opponent. A very decent go-home episode of Raw for Sunday’s Royal Rumble.
This week’s All Elite Wrestling Dynamite had something of a unique look to proceedings. Wednesday night’s episode was pre-recorded on Tuesday and emanated from the Jericho Cruise, which is an event on a cruise ship organised by Chris Jericho featuring wrestling and (I believe) performances from Fozzy among other acts. In many respects, that sounds like my idea of hell. However, it did produce a unique wrestling show that was a nice break from the norm. PAC vs Jon Moxley, who looks increasingly badass with an eye patch, was excellent if not slightly hampered by some boat-based issues. Kenny Omega and Hangman Page beating SCU for the tag titles was a nice surprise, especially with the ongoing storyline regarding Page distancing himself from The Elite, and this was furthered here. That said, I’m less keen on the “drinking” aspect of this character and I hope they don’t take that in an overly exploitative direction. Joey Janela vs MJF was a decent match, but Cody getting around the “no-touch” rule with MJF by having The Young Bucks do his dirty work was hardly the work of a babyface. Odd booking choice. Britt Baker turning heel was a bit out of nowhere (what isn’t in the women’s division?) but she seemed far more comfortable in her new role and the segment with Tony Schiavone was possibly the most enjoyable thing she has done in her tenure with AEW thus far. Finally, Chris Jericho teaming with Proud and Powerful against The Jurassic Express was all kinds of fun, and although Jericho’s team went over everyone came out of this looking great.
An entertaining show, with a few perplexing booking decisions. The location helped a lot to make this show feel like a big deal and something unique, which is always nice when you’re used to seeing the identikit sets for TV in WWE, and in AEW for the most part.
With AEW on tape delay, it’s hardly surprising that NXT put on a jammed pack show, with a big, must-see main event. Keith Lee and Roderick Strong put on a fantastic match that showcased both men, but Lee especially. I’m really glad they are striking while the iron is hot with Lee, who is potentially a once-in-a-generation talent. The post-match with WALTER and Adam Cole, and the Undisputed Era and Imperium was a nice way to get everyone excited for the Worlds Collide show at the weekend, for which this week’s episode was a defacto go-home show. Grizzled Young Veterans beating Undisputed Era, even with the assist from Imperium was a major upset, while The Bro-serweights had a cracking bout with Imperium which set up the finals of the Dusty Cup for next week. Shotzi Blackheart looked very strong both in her promo and in defeat to Shayna Baszler. Toni Storm vs Io Shirai was excellent, as expected, although Bianca Belair causing the DQ and then Rhea Ripley getting involved felt a tiny bit contrived. I appreciate it was done to hype Storm vs Ripley for WC but it seemed a bit forced, and I’m not sure Storm got the reaction that they had hoped for. Finally, Finn Balor was dominant against Joaquin Wilde, which in tandem with a promo from Ilja Draganov increased interest in an already mouth-watering bout between the two for the weekend.
NXT definitely looked to capitalise on being live up against a taped AEW show, and largely it worked. In essence, this week’s episode was all about Worlds Collide, and for the most part, NXT has succeeded in taking a show that seemed a bit like a nothing event and making it into a show with Takeover-level anticipation. On Sunday,
WWE on Channel 5
One of the biggest stories this week came from WWE in the UK. While WWE has recently moved to BT from their long-standing home on Sky Sports, with AEW on terrestrial TV that left WWE with arguably an inferior platform on these shores. However, in a move no-one really saw coming it was announced that WWE will be offering a free one-hour highlights show of both Smackdown (on Saturday mornings) and Raw (on Sunday mornings) on Channel 5. This is a huge deal for WWE and will get a massive number of eyeballs on their product. Of course, it remains to be seen how big a delay the episodes will air on, I imagine Smackdown from the previous Friday will air on Saturday and Raw from that week’s Monday although I could be wrong. I know WWE hasn’t always had the best luck on UK terrestrial TV (the Channel 4 deal twenty years ago was not a roaring success), but this will certainly allow for more young fans to access the product and perhaps draw more casual or lapsed fans back into the product. Kudos to WWE for getting a great deal here.
Royal Rumble weekend preview
This weekend, there are multiple massive shows happening bot from WWE, and the National Wrestling Alliance, who kick things off with Hard Times on Friday night, airing on Fite TV. The main focus of this show is the tournament for the World Television title, with one man having to win three matches to take home the gold. Of the opening round matches, Tim Storm vs Ken Anderson looks good, Ricky Starks vs Matt Cross might well steal the show, The Question Mark vs Trevor Murdoch is a re-run of their very enjoyable match from Into the Fire, while Zicky Dice vs Dan Maff feels like it will either be a surprise win for Dice or an absolute slaughter by Maff. Of those contenders, I wonder if Tim Storm might get the belt given he can no longer challenge for the “Ten Pounds of Gold”, Ricky Starks is another strong contender and the title would elevate him hugely. Maybe even The Question Mark, who is over like rover with the NWA audience. Regardless, this should be tremendous fun.
The rest of the card does feel a bit thrown together, with no build for Scott Steiner vs Aron “Shooter” Stevens, although that match has terrific comedic potential. Nick Aldis vs Flip Gordon is more about the feud between Aldis and “The Villain” Marty Scurll, while the three-way for the tag titles seems like a convenient way to transition the tag belts off The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and onto a younger act without having to pin the veterans. Finally, in perhaps the most exciting match on this show, Allysin Kay defends her title against Thunder Rosa. The challenger has been on a major hot streak, and I would not be averse to the idea of her defeating Kay as she has impressed massively. Unfortunately, I see Rosa losing due to backfiring interference from Melina, but hopefully, I’m wrong.
On Saturday, NXT presents its Worlds Collide show which pits NXT against NXT UK. This was largely an irrelevant show in its past iterations, but there has been significant effort put into making this seem like a must-see show, especially without a Takeover show attached to the Royal Rumble weekend.
In the main event, Imperium vs Undisputed Era has the potential to be a wild and crazy affair. We’ve seen Rhea Ripley vs Toni Storm in NXT UK, so it’s well known what those two can put together when given the chance. Finn Balor vs Ilja Draganov might quietly be the most promising match on this card, and I have very high expectations. Angel Garza vs Isiah “Swerve” Scott vs Travis Banks vs Jordan Devlin will almost certainly be full of high flying moves, big spots and hard strikes. Mia Yim vs Kay Lee Ray should be solid at the very least although there doesn’t feel like there’s much build behind it. Finally, DIY are reuniting in a possible dream match against Moustache Mountain in what will surely be an instant classic. On paper, this could be one of the best cards of the year if everything delivers and if they are given plenty of time.
Moving on to Sunday and it is time for the Royal Rumble. There are few shows that offer as much in the way of intrigue and creative booking than the Rumble. The 30-man and woman over-the-top-rope matches will certainly be a highlight for anyone watching and although I feel we may get predictable winners this year, in Roman Reigns and with Shayna Baszler or Charlotte Flair, there were surely be surprises aplenty. Plus, whoever eliminates Brock Lesnar will essentially be winning the match in setting up a big match with the WWE Champion (unless Lesnar wins of course). It should be fun, frenetic, and always hugely exciting no matter who wins.
On the undercard, there are several matches that pique my interest and plenty that doesn’t really interest me. Andrade vs Humberto Carrillo, based on previous encounters will likely be enjoyable and full of Lucha-libre spots, which is always welcome. I have minimal interest in Sheamus vs “Shorty G” Chad Gable as I can only see Sheamus obliterating Gable in short order. Bayley vs Lacey Evans doesn’t do much for me if nothing else because Evans is a terrible fit for this babyface role. She’s a natural born heel, and I can’t buy this gimmick on a fan favourite, it’s too obnoxious. Presumably, Bayley retains. I’m actually looking forward to Roman Reigns vs Baron Corbin in a falls-count-anywhere match. While I’ve been critical of their feud, Reigns tends to deliver big in these situations and as this will almost certainly be the blow-off to this programme, I foresee them doing something big.
Becky Lynch vs Asuka has had a very exciting build, arguably dating back to last year’s event, and as such, I cannot wait to see them lock up. Finally, Daniel Bryan will be challenging “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt for the Universal Championship. I can’t see Bryan taking the belt as I believe that Wyatt will be champion until Wrestlemania, but WWE has done well to sow a seed of doubt. Wyatt and Bryan have a long history of delivering high-quality matches, even wrestling at the Rumble in a terrific opener in 2014, so I imagine at worst this will be a decent match marred by the red lighting.
Royal Rumble is always dominated by the event’s signature match and this year will be no different. Some years it’s great, others it disappoints. Hopefully, this is one of the better years.
That is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at this week's big happenings, Raw, Smackdown, NXT, AEW and anything else that breaks in the next seven days. 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 of WWE/NWA/AEW