Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It’s been a huge week with a big Raw, a huge card from NJPW on US soil, as well as a sad death in the Hart family. Lets kick things off by looking at Raw's offering this week, the go-home show for WWE Great Balls of Fire.
It was full steam ahead this week for the red brand, with all the build for this Sunday's WWE Great Balls of Fire show. There was plenty to like on this show, and it felt like the momentum for Sunday's show built to a nice crescendo. The opening segment with Enzo Amore biting back at Big Cass after his former partner turned on him. Amore cut one of the best promos of his career and if I'm honest it made me reconsider who I believe the company should be getting behind coming out of this feud. The rebuttal from Cass and the backstage brawl were both well executed and definitely added fuel to the fire ahead of their bout on Sunday. So far this feud has been built brilliantly, and both Enzo and Cass are coming out of this stronger than they were as a team, and to steal a phrase, you can’t teach that.
Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe having a 'sit down' interview, albeit via satellite, doesn't sound that interesting on paper. However, this was an exhilarating segment with Lesnar talking more than usual but doing a great job of talking up his achievements and superiority over Joe, while Joe brought an intensity that made this segment feel essential and so effective in hyping the match on Sunday. Watching Joe "hunt" Lesnar was quite the sight, and I cannot wait to see the two of them tear into each other on Sunday.
The main event featuring Braun Strowman and Apollo Crews was probably the best thing they've done with Crews since his arrival over a year ago and once again went a long way to making Strowman look like an absolute monster. The closing moments with Roman Reigns surprising Strowman by jumping out of the door of the ambulance was very well done, and provided a nice go-home for their ambulance match on Sunday, especially with Roman standing tall after the big spear spot, but Strowman recovering instantly. It made it seem like Reigns was hard as nails, but Strowman was unbeatable. This ambulance match should be a great brawl, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.
Elsewhere Raw was a very busy show, with Sasha Banks and Bayley having a fun match with Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax (although it was basically a handicap match after Bayley was taken out early in the match). I'm not sure where they are going with Bayley and Banks, but presumably they have something in mind for these two. The Miz TV segment with Heath Slater taking on The Miz in an impromptu match was entertaining, if not a little predictable, and I would be happy if I never see Dean Ambrose vs The Miz again after Sunday. The two cruiserweight matches were much of the same as always with Cedric Alexander and Noam Dar appear to finally end their lengthy feud over Alicia Fox, and Neville convincingly beating Mustafa Ali to build Neville further before his match with Akira Tozawa on Sunday. Curt Hawkins vs Seth Rollins was much of the same as last week and really just an excuse for Rollins to cut a promo on Bray Wyatt, which led to Wyatt's bizarre video wandering around the desert. Finn Balor vs Cesaro was a fun match which helped forward the feuds between Balor and "The Drifter" Elias Samson as well as Cesaro and Sheamus vs The Hardys. Finally we got a fun segment with R Truth and Goldust, which shows how excellent Goldust has been since his turn and actually got the crowd invested in Truth getting his revenge, which in itself is a minor miracle.
A decent show overall, and a good build to Sunday's big show.
The biggest news from the blue brand this week was the return of one John Cena, who returned for the American Independence day celebrations, and in doing so heralded the return of Rusev, still doing the full anti-American, pro-Soviet-style gimmick. The announcement of a flag match between the two seemed a bit out of leftfield, but they have had really good matches in the past and although it's not a new or particularly exciting programme for either man it'll keep Cena busy till whoever his Summerslam programme is gets free of what they're doing at the moment. Cena did mention his "free agent" status, which certainly allows for him to face off against anyone on Raw at Summerslam, so I suppose his next feud is likely tied up with the Reigns/Strowman feud on Raw, or the Randy Orton/Jinder Mahal feud unless they are positioning him for a Shinsuke Nakamura match at Summerslam (here's hoping). Still, a cracking return for one of the biggest stars WWE have.
AJ Styles vs Chad Gable seemed a bit unusual as a match, but it was certainly a match that delivered. It's nice to see the company doing something with American Alpha, even if it does mean Jason Jordan has been side-lined a little. Jordan was in the battle royal, so it's hardly a demotion, but it seems that the company are higher on Gable than previously thought. The match with Styles was brilliant, and although it meant Gable wasn’t in the battle royal, it probably did more for him than losing in the main event. The battle royal seemed a tad predictable in the end, although I will never turn down the option of seeing Sami Zayn and AJ Styles face off. Having Zayn nearly win certainly elevated him, while still keeping the Styles-Kevin Owens feud alive for the US title. The beat down after the match certainly helped that visual, and kept the feud bubbling along.
Elsewhere, Randy Orton destroying Aiden English was fun, and Jinder Mahal's promo afterwards was more of the same as the past few weeks. Naomi vs Lana was the best outing the two have had (which is not saying much at all), but the most interesting thing about the match was the tease of an alliance between Lana and Tamina Snuka, which could certainly be an interesting development for both in the coming weeks. Carmella and James Ellsworth's segment with Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan was excellent, and I am really enjoying the growing tension between Bryan and Ellsworth, although I'm not sure where that leads in the end. Finally, Baron Corbin blindsiding Shinsuke Nakamura backstage and beating him down was a nice touch to move the feud between these two forward, although hopefully it is one and done rather than a prolonged programme for either man.
Not the worst show by any stretch, but nothing spectacular. It certainly could have used a Becky Lynch or Charlotte match to pad things out, and despite having a smaller roster it seems like Smackdown are failing to utilise the variety they have available in the same way Raw have in recent weeks.
NJPW G-1 US specials
Last weekend New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted their pre-G1 Climax specials in Long Beach, California. The two night event showcased some of the best talent NJPW have to offer. It also featured a fantastic match between Kazuchika Okada and Cody Rhodes that furthered the simmering tensions between Rhodes and Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega, as Omega threatened to throw in the towel for Rhodes, mirroring Rhodes' actions from NJPW Dominion. Okada retaining was interesting, and certainly opens plenty of options moving forward. Speaking of Omega, he had quite the weekend himself winning the tournament for the inaugural NJPW US Championship, beating Tomohiro Ishii in a phenomenal match to win the belt. There was further tease with Cody Rhodes after the match but they hugged out their differences, for now. The two shows were excellent, and certainly helped New Japan make a good start on their international expansion, which will hopefully continue with future events.
TNA now GFW
We all long expected the death of TNA, and now it has happened. Sort of. The company still exists under the ownership of parent company Anthem, but late last week it broke that Anthem had bought the rights to the name Global Force Wrestling, and low and behold at this weekend’s Slammiversary PPV came the unification of the belts, and the news that TNA is no more. From now on it will be GFW Impact Wrestling. I have to say I'm not surprised, and I think this is an excellent move by Anthem. The TNA brand has a stink upon it, and removing the company from that dark past gives the company something of a fresh start. It may be too little too late, but we shall see.
Smith Hart passes away
In sad news this week Smith Hart, brother of Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Owen Hart, Bruce Hart, son of the legendary Stu and Helen Hart, passed away aged 68 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Smith Hart was primarily an independent wrestler for his father's Calgary Stampede promotion in Canada, although he made a few appearances on WWE television over the years in storylines with his more well-known brothers. We here at Slammer Jabber offer our sincerest condolences to Hart family during this sad time. RIP.
Great Balls of Fire preview
Finally this week it is time to preview the upcoming Raw brand PPV this Sunday, Great Balls of Fire. If you’ve been reading this column over the past few weeks you know I have been a big fan of the build for this show, and I do believe WWE have managed to take a "B" show and build in some genuine intrigue. No match has more intrigue for me than Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship. It is hard to see past a Lesnar win given that he is rumoured to be facing either Reigns or Strowman at Summerslam. However, given how fantastic Joe has been here in grabbing the opportunity handed to him I could genuinely see Joe getting the win here. Whoever wins, this is sure to be an absolute slug fest with suplexes, and stiff, jarring from the outset.
After the title match the net biggest bout (in literal terms) is the Braun Strowman vs Roman Reigns ambulance match. This should be another belter with if spots aplenty. I could see some sort of big, heavily gimmicked spot here. Whether that is going off a stage, or through the ambulance or something similar I think the loser will definitely be protected and the winner will look very strong. That said, my money is on Reigns.
Perhaps the most emotionally-charged storyline in the build to this show has been the battle between Enzo Amore and his former partner Big Cass. I suspect Cass picks up the win here, possibly by cheating to reinforce his new heel status, probably in something quite one-sided to push Enzo as an underdog. I certainly can’t see this being one and done for these two.
Further down the card, Alexa Bliss battles Sasha Banks in a match that I can only see Banks winning, unless Bayley somehow gets involved to further a programme between Banks and Bayley. The Hardys take on Sheamus and Cesaro in a 30 minute Iron man match (a first of its kind for tag teams I believe) which I imagine will be won by Cesaro & Sheamus, allowing The Hardys to spin off to something different. The Miz should retain against Dean Ambrose, and again hopefully this frees both men up for new things. Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt should be a fine match in-ring but it is very difficult to care who actually wins, especially as this feud is likely to carry over to Summerslam. Finally, Neville vs Akira Tozawa is on the pre-show, but will almost certainly be worth checking out as these two have great chemistry in the ring (something that goes back to their days together in the Dragon Gate promotion in Japan), and this could foreseeably be the match of the night despite stellar competition for that accolade.
All in all, this should be a cracking show and I am very much looking forward to seeing how it turns out, especially at the top of the card.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the fallout from Great Balls of Fire, Raw, Smackdown, and whatever other news breaks 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.