Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week we take a look at how both Raw and Smackdown fared in the 2018 Superstar Shake-Up, as well as looking at Brock Lesnar's new deal, a bit of news on Progress SSS16, and of course the news about John Cena and Nikki Bella. So let's dive straight on in with a look back at this week's edition of Raw.
This week's Raw (and Smackdown for that matter) were chiefly concerned with the "Superstar Shake-Up", which is not a draft but basically amounts to the same thing, only minus the logic of who moves where, and why. For the Raw point of view, it's an interesting mix of talent that they've had arrive, some excellent, but some who I'm not sure I would have shifted on the supposed "A" show. The opening segment with Sunil Singh and Jinder Mahal debuting was well done and shows there is some heat still in the Jinder character. The interplay with Kurt Angle was fun, and the ensuing match with the recently returned Jeff Hardy was a great way to kick off the show. Hardy feels really fresh, and at US Champion level it's a really good fit for him.
Although technically not part of the shake-up, the arrival of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens on Raw makes a lot of sense. The idea of Stephanie McMahon overruling Kurt Angle is a nice way for her to get back at Angle after their Mania match, although given that Owens viciously attacked her father not that long ago, which was immediately followed by Stephanie coming out to check on Vince it seems odd that this is the route that they chose. Still, the Miz TV segment with both guys and The Miz was fun (Zayn, in particular, was really good here), and the news that Miz was off to Smackdown at the request of Daniel Bryan was a very nice touch. The ten-man tag main event that this set up was as chaotic as a match of that nature is always going to be, but it was still very enjoyable. Bobby Roode being unveiled as the mystery partner is an interesting way to introduce him, and hopefully, a heel turn in the coming weeks will get him back on track in his new home. I did feel like Bobby Lashley got lost in the shuffle a bit here, but there is plenty of time to get moving on Lashley. The send-off for Miz via a Braun Strowman powerslam, after being abandoned by the long-suffering Miz-tourage was pretty much note-perfect and exactly the way it should have happened. Very well done Raw.
The Raw women's division got some new faces, although not quite the ones I expected. Bayley vs Sasha Banks is a match that would have been unthinkable to waste as a throwaway TV match a few years ago, but now it was here on Raw, and although we got some more development in the feud between the two, it was mostly an excuse to introduce the debuting Riott Squad. That said with Carmella, a heel, now Smackdown Women's Champion and Charlotte having already beaten all the members of the group it makes sense for them to move to Raw. Natalya moving to Raw was also a surprise, but the link with Ronda Rousey was quickly established, and her match with Mandy Rose was entertaining. The post-match with Rousey was great, especially her facial expressions when faced with Sonya Deville and her MMA gimmick, and her beatdown that followed (Rose and Deville are both off to Smackdown, so it does them no real harm). Rousey really seems to be taking to the subtleties and nuances of the business, and given her physical prowess, you can see why they have so much faith in her. Natalya's facial expressions were also great here, and presumably, Natalya is turning on Rousey sooner or later.
The final big surprise debut segment here was Dolph Ziggler, who had a bit of back-and-forth with Titus Worldwide after cutting his usual, played out, tired promo. His act is very stale, but having the surprise ally in the form of Drew McIntyre was superb, and the zig-zag/claymore kick finish looked great. Drew looks fantastic and is definitely poised to be a big star here, but an alliance with Ziggler could do great things for both guys along the way. This does mean that all of the former members of 3MB are on the same show now though. Make of that what you will.
The rest of the show was pretty entertaining, if not quite at the level of last week's show (for obvious reasons). The Authors of Pain's squashing of Rhyno and Heath Slater was a fine win for the team, Breezango (who were also moved over from Smackdown) getting the win over The Bar (who we later found out were moving the other way) was a nice touch and doesn't hurt The Bar particularly. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt vs The Revival was a good match, and the pairing of Wyatt and Hardy (who apparently are going by "The Deleters of Worlds", which is just awful) is pretty fun so far. Ember Moon had a very impressive outing with Mickie James, with Nia Jax on commentary and Alexa Bliss cutting a backstage promo mid-match. Finally, Roman Reigns cut another whiny promo (surely he's turning heel, given the booking) only to be taken down by Samoa Joe in promo form, with little to no rebuttal, as we build simultaneously to both The Greatest Royal Rumble and also Backlash the week after.
A very enjoyable show overall, and hopefully a move to Raw for a lot of these performers will revitalise them, as the likes of Jinder Mahal, Bobby Roode, Breezango and the like all looked like dead-wood in the Smackdown mid-card.
With Raw out of the way, it was the blue brand's turn to shake things up, and we got plenty of new faces here. Arguably the biggest debut here came from Samoa Joe, who squashed Sin Cara in short order and cut a promo basically calling out all the top babyfaces on Smackdown, as well as promising to beat Roman Reigns at Backlash. Joe's move over to the blue side complicates that match further because if Reigns beats Brock Lesnar for the Universal title at GRR, he'll effectively be defending it against a Smackdown guy, who presumably can take the belt over should he win. Unless it won't be a title match? or Lesnar isn't dropping the belt in Saudi Arabia? Or it's a spoiler that Reigns beats Joe. So hard to say at this stage, and it's a move that certainly works in Smackdown's favour, even if it raises plenty of questions.
Fresh off winning the US Title Jeff Hardy was here on Smackdown, which is a great move for the Smackdown mid-card and really revitalises it. His match with Shelton Benjamin (who is apparently now sans-Chad Gable, after Gable was moved to Raw, presumably announced on social media or WWE.com? Or did I miss that?) was really excellent, and although it gives an idea of where Benjamin's ceiling likely is as a singles guy, it was a nice showcase for Hardy. The little moment with Randy Orton on the ramp was interesting, and I wonder if that points to the two of them feuding, which to me is a fine way to keep both busy in the upper mid-card of a show with a very packed main event scene.
Much like last week, Smackdown did a really good job of forwarding multiple programmes within the women's division within one lengthy segment. While she may not be great in the ring, Carmella's celebration here was a superb piece of character work, which played really well to her strengths. Charlotte looked strong in her interruption, and The IIconics (no that's not a typo, yes it is what WWE are insisting on calling them) looked great here. The match with Charlotte and Billie Kay was very good, and we even got Asuka debuting on Smackdown proper. A great little segment that sets up lots of possible options moving forward for the division, as well as presumably Asuka taking the title from Carmella and eventually setting up the rematch with Charlotte.
AJ Styles had quite an eventful week. His show-opening promo on Shinsuke Nakamura was very good, as was the resulting match with the over-like-rover Rusev. I liked that Rusev didn't lose cleanly, with Aiden English causing the DQ, and keeping Daniel Bryan, as the other big babyface on the show, in the mix by making the save. Paige making a tag match main event was a nice nod to Teddy Long, and a decent way to build the guys involved. The backstage segment with Bryan and the returning Big Cass foreshadowed the end of the main event, and clearly signals a detour feud for Bryan, but that's no bad thing if they want to hold off on the matches with The Miz, and eventually both Styles and Nakamura. Nakamura continues to be a revelation as a heel, and his sarcastic manner (the mocking "no speak English" especially) and continued low blows are a lovely addition to his arsenal. I love the idea that he's such a dick now, that he can beat you fairly, or he could attack you with his many effective moves, but prefer the low blow. An effective build on the main event side of things with Backlash on the horizon
The rest of the show was really enjoyable. We had teases for Sanity and Andrade "Cien" Almas debuting, as well as The Bar and The Miz (whose promo from his home was superb heel work) which was a wise option, rather than trying to cram them on this show. Jey Uso vs Luke Harper was also very good, if not a bit abrupt, but I was somewhat confused by the post-match stuff with Naomi. Perhaps there is more to come from that story.
Overall, a very good show, with lots going on, little filler and plenty of pieces moved around to start a number of new and exciting feuds, plus a whole new, fresh mid-card.
RIP Bruno Sammartino
In sad news this week, WWE Hall of Fame and all around legend Bruno Sammartino passed away. Arguably one of the top stars in the WWWF, and the longest reigning heavyweight champion of all time, Sammartino was a huge draw in his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. His feuds with Larry Zybysko, Ivan Koloff, Killer Kowalski and Gorilla Monsoon were the stuff of legend, and arguably the bedrock on which the modern WWE was built on. After retiring Sammartino was still involved with WWE in many guises, including as a manager for his son David in the 1980s before having a huge falling our with the company, which would see him stay away until 2013 when Triple H reached out and the company made peace with Sammartino, and put him in the Hall of Fame. Sammartino was always regarded as a class act, a gentleman, and a wildly popular performer, selling out Madison Square Garden over 180 times. Our thoughts are with his family, as he passed away aged 82. RIP Bruno.
John Cena/ Nikki Bella
While it's not normally the sort of thing we cover in this column, but it was big news this week that John Cena and Nikki Bella have ended their relationship for undisclosed, but totally mutual reasons. This may well be genuine, which is shocking when you consider their engagement at Wrestlemania last year and their upcoming nuptials. That said, it appears this was due to something on Cena's end (presumably Nikki Bella not cleaning up the washing or something similar based on Cena's actions on Total Bellas, and as per The Miz and Maryse's impressions last year), and I don't want to sound cynical, but it would not surprise me if big John's sudden cold feet got a lot warmer, just in time for I dunno, say the filming of the Total Bellas season finale? We shall see.
Taker/Rusev back on
Last week we reported on the changes to the Greatest Royal Rumble card, with Rusev being pulled from the casket match with The Undertaker, leading to Chris Jericho being inserted in his place and speculation over Rusev's status with WWE. However, this week we got the news from WWE that he was back in the match after all. If this was all a booking strategy it is a very odd one. The prevailing theory is that Rusev made some comments about The Undertaker being old, and WWE removed him as a punishment thinking Taker would be annoyed, only to find out he wasn't and to put Rusev back in the match which is hilarious if it is true. Either way, I for one am glad he's back in the match and we'll be seeing him on what promises to be a huge show.
Earlier this week, a few sources online leaked the alleged details of Brock Lesnar's new deal with WWE. Apparently, Lesnar has a unique deal with WWE where is paid on a per-date basis and WWE can use him as and when they need him, which allows him to work on a similar deal with UFC which keeps all three happy. It would certainly be unprecedented in the modern era for WWE to offer such a deal for one of their top stars (and current champion), but given Triple H's growing influence, and the type of contracts offered to the WWE UK guys, it certainly seems very feasible. Certainly, this is a situation to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
Kassius Ohno for Progress SSS16
Finally this week, we found out that in addition to the many stellar competitors involved already (including Pete Dunne, Zack Sabre Jr, Angelico, Tyler Bate, TK Cooper, Doug Williams, Keith Lee, Mark Andrews, Joey Janela, Chris Brookes, and David Starr among others) that one Kassius Ohno will be competing in the Progress Super Strong Style 16 tournament at Alexandra Palace in May. This tournament should be huge, and you imagine will set in place the big headline feud for the huge Wembley Arena show in September. While Ohno is a WWE superstar (on NXT) they do reportedly have a strong working relationship with Progress, and have previously released talent to do indie shows for companies they have an understanding with (for example Apollo Crews working a one-off for PCW), and with Ohno's history with the tournament (having competed in 2016), this is a great decision all round that should deliver huge on this show.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news Raw and Smackdown, the build to the Greatest Royal Rumble, 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.