Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your one-stop shop for all things pro wrestling form the last seven days. This week, we look back at WWE's big event in Saudi Arabia, two very Survivor Series focused episodes of Raw and Smackdown respectively, as well as the death of a wrestling legend. However, we'll start off this week looking at the controversial Crown Jewel show from last Friday.
Well, that was a weird show. In contrast to the Greatest Royal Rumble earlier this year Crown Jewel was one of the oddest WWE shows in recent memory. Now there was, of course, the many issues surrounding the show outside of the wrestling itself which have been well documented, and led to John Cena and Daniel Bryan not working this show out of moral objections. Add to that the show being moved from its original enormous stadium to a much more modest university location after construction work took place on the first venue, and of course the loss of Roman Reigns after his recent Leukaemia diagnosis. From start to finish, this show has been an absolute disaster but at least the wrestling on the show would save the day right? Not exactly.
The main event of Crown Jewel, featuring Shawn Michaels’ in-ring return after 8 years of retirement was, it would be charitable to say, a calamity. The match was an attempt at every shortcut and smoke-and-mirrors tactic to mask the limitations of four legends who are years past their prime. Triple H is still capable of a decent match, but his injury left the other three to dodder slowly through an embarrassing bout. I get that the star power in the ring was huge, and the entrances were pretty spectacular, but as soon as the bell rang this was pure farce. Kane’s wig falling off was a particularly laughable highlight. Shawn Michaels looked passable, but he clearly did not want to be part of this whole thing and seemed very relieved when it was over, while Kane and The Undertaker appeared to be there to collect a paycheque. As main events go, this will easily be the worst WWE puts on this year, but the company had to put on what the General Sports Authority wanted and this whole show was more of a publicity stunt gone wrong than anything and I’m sure everyone will be glad to see this back of this show.
Beyond the main event, the rest of the show was mostly taken up by the World Cup tournament. However, none of the matches in the early going really shone as anything particularly memorable or worth going out of your way to see. Randy Orton vs Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy vs The Miz, Seth Rollins vs Bobby Lashley and Dolph Ziggler vs Kurt Angle were all fine matches, but nothing much above the standard TV match. Ziggler/Angle was probably the best of the bunch, but it was still pretty forgettable. The semi-finals with Ziggler vs Rollins, a match we’ve seen done to death in recent months, and Rey Mysterio vs The Miz were again both fine but not particularly memorable and Ziggler/Rollins seemed especially wasteful given the opportunity was there to forward the Rollins/Dean Ambrose programme (especially as Ambrose flew to Saudi Arabia only to not be used on the show). The final, however, may have been one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen. Shane McMahon taking over from the “injured” Miz was ludicrous, and him not only winning, but acting like he’d won the whole tournament was almost as ludicrous as the main event. The World Cup concept, which featured solely North American talent was a bust from the start, so I can’t really complain, but what a waste of an opportunity to elevate their talent.
The two big title matches were both very interesting in wildly different ways. AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe, which was necessitated on short notice by Daniel Bryan’s understandable no-show, was a cracking bout which did plenty to put over both men and keeps Styles looking like a top star. However, Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman for the vacant Universal title yielded quite the surprise, with Lesnar taking the belt. With Brock supposedly off to fight in UFC early next year, I’m not sure how WWE book him going forward and whether we are back to the old days of Raw having no champion. I’m not sure what this loss says about how the company want to book Braun Strowman moving forward, whether he will be challenging Lesnar come Wrestlemania time, or whether this is the company bailing on giving Strowman the big push. Finally, The Bar beat The New Day in a fine match, although it felt pretty throwaway in the end.
Crown Jewel was a pretty average show, with a terrible main event, some surprises and ultimately a whole load of controversy. Hulk Hogan “hosting” the event was weird, for obvious reasons and the lack of female competitors made for a weird hole in the card. That said, it pales in comparison to the absolute shitstorm the company faced over this show, and I imagine they are relieved it’s all over.
With Crown Jewel firmly in the rear-view mirror (and we are all glad to see the back of it), Raw was very focused on getting the build to Survivor Series. The opening segment did a great job of putting the pieces in place with only a couple of weeks to go until the cross-brand event. Baron Corbin essentially running away from Braun Strowman was a nice follow up from Crown Jewel. Having Kurt Angle continue his feud with Corbin by trying to get control of the Survivor Series team was a nice touch, and I honestly believed they planned to put Angle over Drew McIntyre (subbing in for Corbin who had run off in a car in fear of Braun Strowman) in the main event. However, by having McIntyre dominate and decisively beat Angle it felt like a proper banner moment for the Scotsman, who they clearly see big things for in the very near future. I very much expect him to have a huge role in the Survivor Series 5-on-5 match, maybe even as the sole survivor for Raw. This segment also set up Alexa Bliss as the captain of the Raw women’s team, and having her in a suit here was a nice glimpse of what could be done with her should her current injuries keep her out of the ring for any length of time. The whole Survivors Series build felt rushed, mostly because it clearly was. However, it did bring a sense of frenetic energy to the show, which is often lacking and made for an exciting, unpredictable show which can only be a good thing given Raw’s habitual lacklustre performance on that front.
Things got much clearer in terms of the tag team picture on Raw, with Seth Rollins’ reluctant attempt to relinquish the tag titles he holds with Dean Ambrose, giving way to a handicap drubbing by AoP. This was really effective in making Rollins an even more sympathetic babyface, and got AoP over as the monsters they should have booked as from day one, and shot them directly to the summit of the Raw tag division. This made sense all around, and the post-match with Ambrose teasing giving an answer to why he turned on his Shield brother, only to not do so was superb booking. WWE for once is actually benefitting from having a slow burn plan in place and being forced to avoid hot-shotting that plan due to the format of Survivor Series. By the time these two clash at TLC the heat should be nuclear. It’s easy to be critical of WWE, but the booking of this turn and feud so far has been superb.
The rest of the show was pretty enjoyable for the most part, especially considering this was a UK Raw, which are often maligned for being less eventful than events held in the US. Ronda Rousey’s promo on Becky Lynch was well executed and made Ronda look like a real badass. Following on from Lynch’s promo on Smackdown last week, this was a very good response. Natalya, Sasha Banks and Bayley vs The Riott Squad was another fine TV match, but it was more of an angle for Natalya’s sunglasses (belonging to her late father) being destroyed in the post-match. It certainly makes Riott and co bigger heels, but I’m not sure on the direction they’ve picked to go with Natalya. Apollo Crews vs Jinder Mahal was fine, and it’s clear they have plans for Crews. Elias vs Dolph Ziggler was a decent TV match, mostly intended as an excuse to troll Ziggler for losing to Shane in Saudi Arabia. Ember Moon vs Nia Jax was enjoyable, and the full heel turn from Jax, plus her alignment with real-life relative Tamina Snuka was a move in the right direction for everyone involved. Finally, Finn Balor and Bobby Lashley had yet another match although the interaction (and attack) with Balor and Drew McIntyre after the bout suggests we might finally be free of the Balor/Lashley never-ending loop.
A decent episode of Raw, the pace was frenetic at times and you could absolutely tell they had lots to fit in, but they got there in the end, and their direction for the next few weeks seems far clearer after this show than it was going into it.
Much like Raw, Smackdown was very much concerned this week with getting all the pieces in place for Survivor Series, ready for next week’s go-home show. The opening segment with Shane being ridiculous with the “world cup” trophy, gave way to himself and Paige setting up Daniel Bryan and The Miz as co-captains. While they may have only recently had a very personal feud, this odd couple pairing was a really nice twist on the two men’s interactions. It worked surprisingly well, and I look forward to seeing more from them next week doing the same thing. This dynamic also played excellently into the pseudo-qualifiers for the Survivor Series team, with Rey Mysterio besting Andrade “Cien” Almas in a mouth-watering affair that really whets my appetite to see these two go at it in a setting that has more spotlight on it. Mysterio continues to defy father time by being as good as he was ten, or even fifteen years ago, and although the RKO after the match from Randy Orton suggests we’re getting more from these two, it wasn’t unwelcome. The other defacto qualifier was a very good main event featuring Samoa Joe and Jeff Hardy. The blow-up between Joe and Bryan after the match was also a nice touch, perhaps hinting at a post-Survivor Series direction for both men.
Much of the show focused around the women’s matches at Survivor Series and provided some of the highlights of the show for me. Becky Lynch cut a ridiculously heated promo on Ronda Rousey, and I’m totally 100% sold on this match now despite the lack of a face-to-face confrontation. Equally, her match with Nikki Cross (who may have debuted here, along with Sanity who returned, or may have just been here as a one-off given it was a UK show) was very good and provided a nice platform for both Cross and Lynch. The other segment with Paige introducing the female team for Survivor Series was well handled and did a great job of getting the best out of Mandy Rose, who is coming on leaps and bounds. I hope this doesn’t end in her and Sonya Deville splitting away from each other, because for me they are a shoo-in for the women’s tag titles when they introduce them. Charlotte was conspicuous by her absence, and it does make me wonder, given the reactions Becky Lynch is getting, whether there is a plan to have Charlotte return and turn heel at Survivor Series as a way of getting out of Ronda or Becky having to lose. We shall see.
The New Day vs The Usos was exactly what you would expect from these two teams, and it was an excellent match. I was certain that New Day’s act would have gone stale by now, but they have been quietly brilliant for quite some time now, while The Usos still feel very fresh. Finally, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura cut promos on their Raw opponents (Lesnar and Rollins respectively) which help set the scene for what could be the two best matches on the night at Survivor Series.
Much like Raw, there is no doubt that the build for Survivor Series was very rushed, however, this was such a different approach and with the roster that Smackdown has they used everything to their disposal to put together another killer show.
Joe Lothario RIP
In sad news this week, the legendary Jose Lothario passed away aged 83. While he may have as a mainstay of the NWA in the 1970 and into the 80s he was largely responsible for introducing American fans to a Mexican style of wrestling (not necessarily lucha libre though, for clarity), and could be considered one of the first Mexican “stars” in the USA. However, Lothario’s true legacy is as the trainer of one Shawn Michaels, something WWE used to great effect in 1996 during HBK’s first title reign. Lothario was a fixture on WWE television for much of year, even taking part in a memorable angle with Sid and a camera at Survivor Series 1996, and having a match with Jim Cornette on PPV. As the man who trained one of the greatest of all time, his place in wrestling history is assured. RIP Jose Lothario.
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, previewing Survivor Series, 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.