Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at the biggest stories in professional wrestling from the past seven days. It's been a busy week with Sunday's Hell in a Cell show. the fallout on Raw and Smackdown, plus NJPW also got their Destruction tour underway this week. We'll start off taking a look back at an eventful night as WWE presented Hell in a Cell.
Hell in a Cell
WWE’s annual Hell in a Cell show was an interesting and exciting affair with plenty of talking points and no shortage of memorable moments. Of course, one of the most talked about elements of the evening was the new red cell. I’m not sure it made much difference to things, and it seemed like a literal fresh coat of paint on the existing structure, and if it helps WWE sell more toy sets, who can blame them.
The main event with Braun Strowman challenging Roman Reigns was a hard-hitting affair that devolved into a clusterfuck in the final stretch. Having Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre get involved felt more like a distraction than anything, although it added to the feeling of chaos which is what they were clearly aiming for. The bump with Ziggler and Rollins was relatively safe but it looked really impressive and that was more than enough to pop the crowd. Brock Lesnar returning was a pleasant surprise and he looked like a boss with the beard, the lack of merch and kicking the door off its hinges looked badass. There will be some who will understandably quibble about the lack of a decisive finish, but given the setup for a future three-way bout Lesnar, Reigns and Strowman and the enjoyable surprise ending, I’m happy to let them off somewhat on that front.
The other cell match was a nice contrast to the main event, with Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton having a really engaging pretty brutal bout, with some big spots including Jeff Hardy’s big ladder/table spot to end the match. I’m very glad we didn’t get the dive off the cell that many were concerned might happen, while Orton looked his sadistic best especially with the ear/screwdriver spot which surely made everyone else wince as much as I did. A good use of both men, and while I’m not sure it was the best candidate for a cell match I can see the thought process and both men delivered big.
The remainder of the show was a good blend of storyline development and in-ring action. Both women’s matches delivered big for me but in different ways. Becky Lynch vs Charlotte wasn’t the best encounter the two have ever had, but was more than passable and having Lynch win the title was a shrewd move. Having her win clean but refuse a handshake was a nice way to ramp things up even further. Alexa Bliss vs Ronda Rousey was a nice contrast to the match they had at Summerslam, with Alexa getting a really good match out of Rousey who is definitely improving. That said, her trash talk needs some winding back, as it comes across as really cheesy currently. AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe was excellent, and one of my favourite matches on the night. The finish sets up a rematch brilliantly, and give Joe justification for continuing to pursue Styles, and hopefully take the belt at Super Showdown. The Miz and Maryse vs Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella was a good match considering the participants, although it felt like the focus was more on the women than Miz/Bryan. However, it keeps the feud motoring along. Finally, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had a cracker with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler which really showcased all our men and had one of the best times finishes in recent memory.
Hell in a Cell 2018 was a very good show. There might be some booking decisions that might not be to everyone’s taste, especially from the main event, but it’s hard to complain about the action in the ring. Helpfully, this was also not a marathon event, and everything moved along nicely without dragging anywhere particularly, which was a big help.
With Hell in a Cell firmly in the rear-view, Raw was mostly concerned with the aftermath from the prior night. The opening segment with Baron Corbin, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman did a really good job of setting the agenda for the next few weeks, including the announcement of the Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia on November 2nd, as well as setting up Corbin vs Reigns for the main event. The match itself was pretty average (as has become the standard for Corbin matches) although the interference from The Shield and Strowman and co made for a good bit of build to their six-man tag match at Super Showdown. This was also enhanced by the show long storyline of Ziggler trying to invoke his IC title rematch clause thinking Seth Rollins was too injured to compete only to find out Rollins was cleared. The match between the two was an excellent TV match, but hopefully, Rollins winning means that this pairing is done for now. Drew McIntyre vs Dean Ambrose was also a fun TV match and a nice showcase for both men.
The rest of the show had lots of enjoyable matches and segments. Elias vs Bobby Lashley was more of a match than an angle, but the interactions between Elias and Lio Rush, who is now Bobby Lashley’s hype man, were excellent and Rush came off as a genuine star, while Elias was his usual brilliant self. The open challenge segment with Natalya, The Riott Squad and Ronda Rousey was a bit clumsy although the tease of Natalya facing Rousey was a nice bit of potential foreshadowing for the future. Chad Gable vs Viktor continued the budding relationship between Bobby Roode and Gable, as well as a tease of a split for The Ascension. Bayley vs Dana Brooke was essentially a squash, while the AoP also squashed some local talent. Unfortunately, Drake Maverick has also reverted to dressing like his charges and did not cut a promo which seems a waste of his talent. The return of Nia Jax as the mystery partner for Ember Moon got a good response, and the tag match against Mickie James and Alicia Fox was probably better than it had any right to be. Finally, The Undertaker returned and cut a promo on Triple H and Shawn Michaels before revealing Kane would be in his corner next week at Super Showdown. Presumably, it’s a bank holiday in Knoxville County.
A good episode of Raw, but far from great. There was nothing offensive and there was plenty of momentum directed towards the final push for Super Showdown, something which I’m sure will continue next week, and on the go-home show the following Monday.
Much like Raw, this week’s Smackdown was all about the aftermath of Hell in a Cell and moving forward to look at Super Showdown, and no match or segment did more on that front than the heated “championship celebration” for one Becky Lynch. While their match at Hell in a Cell was good, but not great, this confrontation between the two was superb. Becky, despite being portrayed as a cocky heel, is so likeable as a badass who is finally taking what is owed to her after years of being walked over by everyone else. Charlotte playing the respectful babyface seemed disingenuous, but the writing here was superb and both women delivered their lines with passion and emotion. Continuing to book Becky as a heel is inadvertently making her more and more of a babyface to the crowd, and vice-versa with Charlotte. Regardless, this was a cracking segment and this feels like the most personal, hot programme on the blue brand and hopefully it gets the attention it deserves as a feud going into Super Showdown, and beyond that Evolution.
The other huge story coming out of this show was the break-up of Rusev Day, and heel turn of Aiden English. The multi-segment story, told via a backstage confrontation with Rusev and English, and then Lana and English, and throughout Rusev’s match with Shinsuke Nakamura (which was a bit of an afterthought in place of this angle) and finally culminated with a post-match assault from English which I personally didn’t see coming. It wasn’t a swerve, but the pulling of the trigger of several weeks of subtle storytelling, something WWE often fails at. It was superbly done, and while I have doubts about English on his own as a major heel, it certainly makes for a nice shift for both men.
The rest of the show moved quickly, deliberately and with intensity. The Miz’s segment with Daniel Bryan including the fake injury angle with Maryse was well executed even if some of the logic was slightly off. Still, it was intense and didn’t make the babyface, Bryan, look like an idiot which itself makes it a decent angle. Cesaro vs Kofi Kingston was a very good TV match, Asuka vs Billie Kay was fine but unspectacular and shows how badly they are misusing Asuka on the main roster compared to her NXT run. Randy Orton cut a fantastic sadistic promo, including an unsettling attack on a production worker. I’m really enjoying the revitalised, creepy Orton and I’m eager to see who he is paired with next. Finally, Andrade “Cien” Almas and AJ Styles had a damn fine match that could easily have fitted on any recent PPV, shining a light on how good Almas is, as well as his phenomenal (pun intended) chemistry with Styles. Samoa Joe’s post-match attack and the subsequent brawl was suitably rabid, and Joe shouting “You will never be safe” bordered on terrifying, which shows how great his character work is at the moment.
Another excellent episode of Smackdown. It was wrestling heavy, but also made plenty of strides in creating interest for the Super Showdown matches. The show feels vibrant, urgent and like must-see viewing which Raw sadly is not at the moment. Anyone arguing Raw is the “A” show, needs their head examining, especially with the upcoming Fox deal for the blue brand.
Crown Jewel controversy
As witnessed on this week's Raw, WWE has announced their return to Saudi Arabia for November 2nd in Riyadh, this time with an event entitled Crown Jewel. Now, of course, this has caused a certain amount of controversy, given Saudi Arabia's stance on female performers and WWE's so-called Women’s revolution. The timing also becomes even more suspect when you look at the date mere days after the historic all women's PPV, Evolution. While it may be coincidence, outwardly it certainly appears as though Evolution is a cynical PR move to appease critics of the company's deal with the KSA. It's hard to say where the truth lies, but WWE may have to fend off some tough questions ahead of these events in a few weeks.
As mentioned last week, NJPW got it's Destruction tour underway this week with some huge matches over several nights across Japan. The big highlight from the Hiroshima card came in the form of the big main event putting IWGP Champion Kenny Omega against Tomohiro Ishii. The match itself was very good, although perhaps a notch below some of their other efforts, especially in the G1. However, it was a very worthy main event. Tetsuya Naito and Minoru Suzuki had a decent encounter in Beppu although the clash of styles between the two made for a slightly awkward affair.
Looking forward to the next week on the tour we have Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the briefcase that represents the shot at the IWGP Champion at Wrestle Kingdom. I had wondered if NJPW might go the surprise route with Okada winning, but I suspect Tanahashi vs Omega is set in stone. As such expect Jay White to get involved and cost Okada the match, either inadvertently or deliberately.
Whatever happens, this has already been a more eventful tour than most and certainly has started to put things in place for King of Pro Wrestling in a few weeks.
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 on the road to Super Showdown, a preview of one of the biggest independent wrestling shows in years as Progress host thier Wembley event, 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.