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 a somewhat predictable Fastlane show, some huge developments from Raw, a decent Smackdown with a big main event angle, and more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at Fastlane from this past Sunday night.
The final stop on the road to Wrestlemania for the blue brand, Fastlane, was a fairly predictable affair in the end. So predictable in fact that I predicted much of the fallout on the show last week. The main event was excellent, with plenty of intertwining stories providing some major highlights. John Cena was in great form, and his exchanges with AJ Styles were superb. The ongoing Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn dissension was well handled, as was Shane McMahon getting involved to cost both the opportunity at winning. Baron Corbin was made to look strong, while Dolph Ziggler was just there in the end, making up the numbers. While the outcome was never in doubt, I am glad that this moved things along and put the pieces in place for the big main event stories on the Smackdown side for Wrestlemania.
The other huge story development on this show came in the women’s division. Charlotte vs Ruby Riott was an excellent match that did a great job of showcasing Riott. The finish was superb and had an innovative setup that made me sit up and pay attention. Obviously like the main event, no-one had any investment in Ruby winning but it was a very good match. The big story, however, was in the post-match as Asuka made her way out and challenged Charlotte for Wrestlemania as expected. That is the money match for the women’s title, with Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss presumably making up the Raw title match which makes logical sense all round. Not a surprise, but it sets things up nicely moving forward.
The rest of the card was good, although far from spectacular or surprising. Rusev vs Shinsuke Nakamura was a showcase for Nakamura, which worked fine. Naomi and Becky Lynch vs Carmella and Natalya was fine for what it was and gave Carmella some much-needed momentum going Ito Wrestlemania season. Bobby Roode vs Randy Orton for the US title was actually pretty good once it got going, although it was a slow start. The build with this is clearly designed to continue towards a three-way dance at Wrestlemania with Jinder Mahal, but it did its job as a match. Finally, The Usos and The New Day had a good match before the non-finish and possibly the longest beat down in recent memory as The Bludgeon Brothers destroyed both teams. Presumably, this leads to a three-way at Mania, but it certainly did lots for Harper and Rowan.
Fastlane was a good show, with some cracking in-ring action. It may not have been the most unpredictable show in WWE history, but sometimes predictable is not a bad thing, especially when there is a need to get all the ducks in a row for the Wrestlemania build, and this show did that very well.
This week’s show was another very busy edition of Raw, with the Wrestlemania train firmly on track. The opening segment with Roman Reigns was more of the same build for his match with Brock Lesnar, as Reigns came out and once again called out the universal champion for his no-show (despite being advertised for this show). Reigns storming backstage and confronting Vince McMahon was well done and added some sense of realism to this, as did the ensuing “private meeting” with Reigns storming out. I understand what WWE are trying to do and involving McMahon seems like a great call here, especially given it has previously yielded positive results for Reigns. However, I also believe WWE are playing with fire by booking Lesnar like this and could end up with both men being booed out of the building on April 8th. Given Vince confirmed that Lesnar is due back next week, we’ll presumably get an idea of how that might work.
The John Cena segment, challenging The Undertaker was well handled. It was a good balance of desperation from Cena and him going “off-script”. The references to Taker’s real life has made many people think that perhaps we are getting a return of the much-maligned American Badass character circa 2000, fuelled by the announcement of Kid Rock as entering the HOF. I personally can’t see it, but I do expect there to be a less mysterious, less mystical version of Taker that makes a comeback in the next few weeks. Possibly on the go-home. Although for me, I would love to see Taker not turn up until Wrestlemania, leaving some doubt as to whether he actually plans to accept Cena’s challenge.
The developments in the tag division were very interesting. The Bar getting beaten down by the whole tag team roster was a nice moment (although it showcased the lack of depth in the division), and the battle royal was a nice idea. I’m not sure how I feel about Braun Strowman winning the match, as it depends on how they play this, but it certainly opens up plenty of intriguing possibilities and puts The Bar in a featured match, so I think I’m in favour overall.
The developments in the women’s division were well handled this week. Alexa Bliss interacting with Asuka was well done in the wake of Asuka challenging Charlotte for Mania. The match between Mickie James and Asuka was unsurprisingly excellent, and there were some great false finishes that made the idea of James winning almost believable. More importantly, we had the interactions between Bliss and Nia Jax, and the big reveal that Bliss and James have been using Jax (via the old unseen microphone snafu). It builds nicely to Jax as a face taking on Bliss on the big show, and maybe even making a sympathetic babyface. With Asuka facing Charlotte, this is 100% the match to make and this was very well executed.
Elsewhere on the show, Sasha Banks had a match with Sonya Deville that was a fine TV match, although it was mostly designed to further Banks’ feud with Bayley. Finn Balor and Seth Rollins was an excellent match (as was the segment between the two and The Miz), while we also got the announcement that next week will feature Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy at the Hardy compound in the Ultimate Deletion. While it might be misplaced, I am actually quite excited for next week.
Overall, a very decent show, with little in the way of wasted motion and plenty of meaningful storyline development throughout. Wrestlemania season is very much underway, and WWE are doing plenty to get me interested in the show on April 8th.
This week's Smackdown was busy, but mostly pretty forgettable. The one very impactful moment came from Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. McMahon's appearance to end the show and announce a leave of absence was pretty pedestrian until Zayn and Owens attacked. The beat down in the ring, followed by the backstage assault made the two look very dangerous, and although Shane had announced he had booked a match between Zayn and Owens for Wrestlemania, it certainly did not look like they were enemies as the show went off the air. In theory this should point to a tag match with Zayn and Owens vs Shane and a partner, although who that is remains to be seen. Logically, this would be a great spot for Daniel Bryan, but given he is unlikely to get cleared (unless something we don’t know has been happening behind the scenes) that is probably not an option. Chris Jericho would seem like a good option, given his history with Owens, but he is booked on a show that weekend with Fozzy. As such, that doesn't leave a lot of options unless Shane recruits someone from the current roster who is currently not attached to a match at Mania (Ziggler? Corbin? Neither logically makes sense) or we get a really leftfield choice. Either way, we should know more next week.
The rest of the show was designed to build to Wrestlemania, but everything felt a bit slow compared to the frenetic pace of Raw. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura had a nice face off, but it felt like it needed a bit more. The resultant match between Styles and Rusev was very good though. I like that Styles had a bit more of a cocky swagger here, indicating he is likely playing subtle heel in this ace vs face match with Nakamura. Charlotte and Asuka also had a face-off, but it didn’t yield much of note. The Bludgeon Brothers vs Jimmy Uso and Big E was an interesting experiment, but it was basically a squash. Jinder Mahal vs Bobby Roode was a fairly dull affair, even with Randy Orton's involvement, and the pre-match promos with Orton and Roode weren't much better. Finally, Carmella beat Naomi in an average but forgettable bout, presumably building both for the battle royal at Wrestlemania.
A decent show overall, but not very memorable and certainly not at the level required to effectively build up the feuds and rivalries for Wrestlemania. The main event angle was well executed, but everyone else needs to get their working boots on.
The announcement this week of the first ever Fabulous Moolah Women’s Battle Royal for Wrestlemania was intended to be another step in the Women’s revolution that WWE has been pushing very hard over the past few years, but it was met with something of a backlash on social media. While Moolah may have been revered as a major player in the female division of decades gone by, there is a darker seedier side that has reared its ugly head when it comes to Moolah’s legacy. She was more than just a wrestler, she was heavily involved with the booking of female talent in the territory days and it seems that this is where the unsightly stories and rumours come from, including allegations of allowing promoters to take advantage of female wrestlers, and far worse. With the current climate, in the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movements rising to prominence it seems crazy that WWE linked this to Moolah, given that these rumours have been public knowledge for many years, and with pressure on Twitter and Facebook mounting, WWE changed the name to the Women's Wrestlemania Battle Royal, but the damage has been done in PR terms.
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 we continue the build to Wrestlemania, 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.