Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This has been a particularly crazy week, with the launch of Smackdown on Fox, a controversial WWE PPV (especially the ending), another strong week for AEW and NXT as well as the launch of a brand new show from one of the oldest wrestling organisations in history. Without further adieu let's get things underway by looking at WWE's debut on Fox.
For over a year we’ve known that WWE will be airing Smackdown on Fox every Friday as of this October, and they have been building to their debut show for some time. Last Friday it finally happened and for better or worse, it was a very eventful evening. Since Brock Lesnar returned a few weeks ago the big focus has been his challenge to Kofi Kingston for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, that was over in mere seconds as Lesnar squashed Kingston with an F5 instantly. Kingston deserved better and this felt like a massive demotion for Kofi. A bit like WWE telling him to go back to the mid-card because the real stars are back. I suspect WWE was aiming for an MMA-style, legit sports quick knockout, but it shouldn’t have been at the expense of the man who has been carrying the brand since April. However, the post-match is probably what everyone will remember as Rey Mysterio came out to confront Lesnar (following Brock’s attack on his son on Raw last week) with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, who took the UFC belt from Lesnar in 2010. Velasquez has worked some dates for AAA and was believed to be close to signing with AEW, so this was something of a coup for WWE. Whether this leads to a Wrestlemania match, a lengthy run for Cain or even just a match in Saudi Arabia I have no idea as yet, but Velasquez certainly made a big impact on this show, and it was a huge talking point for this first massive show on Fox.
Any show where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is making an appearance is sure to be memorable, but his segment here was a fantastic way to commence the Fox era. Becky Lynch sparked off Rock and looked like a star in the process, while Baron Corbin provided a great foil for the pair. It wasn’t a segment that really led to anything, but it was fun for the live crowd and came across brilliantly on television. Immediately following that segment Becky teamed up with Charlotte to take on Sasha Banks and Bayley in a very solid TV match that helped with the last-minute push for both women’s title matches at Hell in a Cell.
The rest of the show was pretty action-packed. Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon in a ladder match was everything I expected it to be, and the finish was both satisfying and a logical way to write Shane off TV. The eight-man tag match was fine, although it was basically a backdrop for an angle with Braun Strowman and boxer Tyson Fury. Roman Reigns vs Erick Rowan was surprisingly well put together. Finally, Seth Rollins was once again attacked by "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt which derailed his match with Shinsuke Nakamura, which is a shame because given some time I suspect those two could have had an excellent match, but I understand the logic going into Hell in a Cell.
This was a big statement show, and WWE pulled out the big guns for the Fox debut. Pretty much everything they tried landed big, the new set and graphics looked great and the whole show had a big-time feel. It’ll be very interesting to see how this show looks in a couple of weeks once the hype has died down, but for now, this was a very good start to life on Fox for WWE.
Hell in a Cell
For the sublime right back to the ridiculous, Hell in a Cell made a whole heap of people angry and it is easy to see why. The main event of this card featured one of the oddest, most bizarrely booked ideas in WWE PPV history. Seth Rollins vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt should never have been booked for this show, in the knowledge that it would require a Hell in a Cell match and that they presumably neither wanted to take the title off Rollins nor beat Wyatt. You could smell a non-finish from a mile away, but I think everyone presumed they had a decent plan in mind. Nope. The match took place entirely under a red light, something that they have done before for Kane in 1997 and later (with blue and orange lights) for Sin Cara in 2011 and both times it was a resounding failure. That should probably have served as a warning sign. What followed was a lopsided match in which Rollins killed the credibility of his finisher, Wyatt was booked like a monster (the sole positive here), but still failed to get the better of Rollins for most of the match, a cartoon-like mallet came into play. However, the most egregious element came in the form of the finish, where Rollins was seemingly disqualified in a Hell in a Cell match for using a sledgehammer (this has since been retconned as a “referee stoppage”, which still makes little sense), only for Wyatt to get back up and assault Rollins with the mandible claw before the show went off the air. You can push the idea that it’s a different time from the HIAC of old, with Mankind, Undertaker etc. However, that doesn’t hold up when you have Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch doing almost as violent things in the opening match. It’s just bad, inconsistent booking. The fans in attendance were furious, and understandably so. It was a clusterfuck of a finish after the company had booked themselves into the corner and has resulted in an almost universal backlash among fans. Personally, I can see what they were going for, but the execution was appalling. I also don’t think it will have a lasting impact on Wyatt and his momentum moving forward, but Rollins is very much damaged by this booking. Pure Wrestlecrap.
The rest of the show was largely uneventful. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch had the best match of the night with a tremendous cell match that frankly should have headlined if they planned to go through with the finish they did for Wyatt-Rollins. Lynch really shone here, and coming off Smackdown on Friday her stock is definitely back on the rise. Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns vs Luke Harper and Erick Rowan was excellent and provided a nice cap on what started as a terrible angle. The Kabuki Warriors (who are now heels apparently) vs Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross was pretty solid, and the introduction of the mist gimmick for Asuka is very welcome. Charlotte vs Bayley was fine but unspectacular, while The OC vs The Viking Raiders and Braun Strowman, and Randy Orton vs Ali were both acceptable TV matches of no real consequence. Finally, Chad Gable and Baron Corbin had a decent match, but all this “shorty” business is cringe-worthily bad. Poor Gable.
Hell in a Cell was a largely forgettable event with a main event that will be very much remembered but for all the wrong reasons. Probably best to move on and try and pretend it didn’t happen, especially as that is what WWE will likely plan on doing.
We’ll cover Raw briefly here, but only because it was mostly a placeholder show before the big draft and full reset that will follow Smackdown this coming Friday. The main event segment with Braun Strowman and Tyson Fury was a fun pull-apart following their angle on Friday and Fury was very well suited to the pro wrestling environment. The show opening angle with Lana, Rusev, Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton and Baron Corbin was pretty terrible. Lashley is an awful actor, and this sort of angle feels really distasteful. The last woman standing match between Lacey Evans and Natalya was better than it had any right to be, while the Viking Raiders finally seem to be entering the tag title picture with a win over the current champions Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode in a solid outing aside from a slightly mistimed finish. Aleister Black squashed The Singh Brothers in a “draft showcase”, while Ricochet and Apollo Crews did as much as they could in 4 minutes under the same umbrella. The OC vs The Lucha House Party happened. I feel like I’ve seen this match at least ten times now, and it still means nothing. Finally, The Kabuki Warriors picked up a win over Charlotte and Becky Lynch following another mist attack by Asuka on Lynch allowed Kairi Sane (sans pirate gimmick) to pin the champion. This was one of the very few bright spots on this show as it kept the long-standing Charlotte-Becky rivalry bubbling under the surface as they tried to one-up each other, while it also set up Asuka and Kairi as possible challengers for Lynch. Good work.
An utterly forgettable Raw that benefitted from keeping Wyatt and Rollins off the show and distancing themselves from the prior night’s nonsense, and looking forward to Friday’s draft.
Week 2 of the “Wednesday night wars” got underway this week, and it seems that both AEW and NXT still have their eyes firmly on the prize. For AEW it was about consolidating and moving the story from last week onward. Chris Jericho's explanation of the formation of his new faction "The Inner Circle" (and his railing on the "We the People" chant that had been a previous staple of Jake Hagar's WWE tenure) was masterful and really set the table for the top-end heel faction. In the main event, Jericho and Sammy Guevara had a strong showing up against Dustin Rhodes and Hangman Page, but the post-match was what made the lasting impression. Hagar and Dustin are clearly spinning off into what could be an exciting feud for both men, while Darby Allin (fresh off claiming a title shot next week against Jericho by beating Jimmy Havoc in a so-so match earlier in the night) benefitted from being alongside Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Page as the show reached it's climax, and riding down the ramp on a skateboard was actually very cool. Allin looked more like a star here than when surrounded by the likes of Jimmy Havoc or Joey Janela, so I'm glad to see he's getting a push given the reactions he's gotten so far from the audiences.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable. Private Party and The Young Bucks had a barnstormer and giving Private Party the win over Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson is a major upset that really puts over the relatively unknown team. Jon Moxley and Shawn Spears had a very physical encounter, but again it was perhaps overshadowed by Kenny Omega with his barbed wire bat and mop (a lovely touch) and then the arrival of PAC. A three-way between this trio seems likely based on this, and that should be quite the match. Britt Baker and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Bea Priestley was a decent TV match, while perhaps the biggest reaction of the show was saved for Orange Cassidy giving a thumbs up during a Best Friends promo, showing just how over the "King of Sloth Style" is to this audience. A very solid second episode from AEW
NXT, fresh off losing the ratings battle on week one put on a very stacked show this week, but perhaps a better look at what NXT will look like week-to-week. It also felt like NXT was perhaps less bothered about hot-shotting a rating against AEW and more about putting on a good show, which they absolutely did here. Lio Rush vs Drew Gulak was a very strong cruiserweight contest, and putting the belt on Rush seems like a logical step. I especially liked the demonstration of his new-found humility with the backstage stuff and post-match with Gulak. WALTER vs KUSHIDA (in the battle of the capitalised names) was superb, and easily the best showing from the former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion in NXT. Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair both put forward strong cases for a shot at Shayna Baszler with wins over Aliyah and Dakota Kai respectively. Boa vs Cameron Grimes was over in a flash, but more interesting was Killian Dane getting involved after the match and attacking Boa. Roderick Strong vs Isiah "Swerve" Scott was a nice showcase for the former Shane Strickland, while both Velveteen Dream and Tomasso Ciampa made their title intentions clear, in contrasting fashion, after the bout. Finally, Breezango and The Forgotten Sons had a match that happened, with nothing massively noteworthy involved. One thing to add was this show did have plenty of vignettes to hype Damian Priest vs Pete Dunne and Dominic Dijak vs Keith Lee in the coming weeks, which was a great way to build interest in those future matches.
Both shows were very strong this week, and it feels like both have already moved past the tropes of the "war" and are building their shows in very different directions which is a smart move for both brands. Like I said last week, it's great for fans and means there is even more top-quality wrestling to enjoy
Finally this week, I wanted to briefly touch on the launch of the weekly NWA Powerrr show, a weekly YouTube show. Although NWA has had a weekly documentary-style web show, 10 Pounds of Gold, for some time now this is their first foray into the world of a weekly in-ring product under the leadership of Billy Corgan. The studio setting is a fantastic throwback to the 70s and 80s NWA/Georgia Championship Wrestling and it provides a refreshing alternative to AEW and WWE. It harks back to a simpler time when squash matches and studio promos were the norm. The in-ring product is simple but effective and makes for a very easy watch. NWA may be a long way behind the big companies, but they have a solid roster and plenty of scope to bring in freelancers while keeping costs down and creating a fresh product. Based on this first episode I would highly recommend checking it out.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown and whatever else breaks in the meantime. 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