Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling in the past seven days. This week we look towards the big, and somewhat controversial Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia happening this Friday. We also had big episodes of Raw and Smackdown, news from ITV and World of Sport, as well as a couple of sad losses to the wrestling world. Let's get started by looking at this week's episode of Raw from Monday night.
Although the focus of this week’s Raw was chiefly the Greatest Royal Rumble on Friday (beyond the traditional tribute done for the late Bruno Sammartino), even though the go-home was a bit half-hearted, WWE did everything it could to ignore the controversy surrounding the women’s division not appearing on the show later this week in Saudi Arabia. The division did get some focus by being thrust into the main event slot this week, in what was a decent match, although not quite what you might have hoped for given the combatants. Ember Moon shone, as did Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, while The Riott Squad did fine despite still appearing as quite an incongruous group of individuals. Ironically, having Ronda Rousey save the day actually undermined the build for the other women and certainly made it clear to everyone who the real star was here. Still, this helped push towards the likely turn from Natalya on Rousey, and her first programme, so it made sense to a degree.
The confrontation between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar was a good way to build towards their title match on Friday, but Reigns continuing his belligerent teenager routine is a difficult watch at times. I’m not sure it made me feel particularly excited about seeing the two of them facing off in the cage, but then the build for Wrestlemania was such an odd affair, it’s to be expected, not to mention the weird cross build happening here for Reigns’ match with Samoa Joe at Backlash. Here’s hoping we get some clarity after this show, and things start moving in the right direction.
Raw had a big focus on tag matches this week. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt vs The Ascension was very enjoyable (on a side note with The Ascension doing very little currently I wouldn’t be dead against them being folded into the whole “Broken” universe stuff); Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vs The former Miz-tourage was a squash, but I am enjoying the storyline they have started with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel here. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre actually looked really good as a team here (and the post-match promo was surprisingly good too) against Titus Worldwide. I was skeptical about what this might do for both men, but so far they have knocked it out of the park. The Sami and Kevin show segment with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was a nice touch (and Sami Zayn again shined here on the microphone as the dickhead heel, while Kevin Owens was great as always). I enjoyed the resultant tag match pitting the two against Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman. This provided a nice shine for both big men ahead of the Greatest Royal Rumble match.
The rest of the show was quite the mixed bag. No Way Jose getting attacked by Baron Corbin was fine but I'm not sure this feud does anything for either of them. Chad Gable made a good impression in his Raw debut beating Jinder Mahal in a pretty fun match, while Elias and Bobby Roode had a slightly lacklustre bout which wasn't great for either man.
A decent show, but nothing blow away. This week's Raw was mostly concerned with Friday night, and hopefully, once this show is out of the way we can get back on track building to Backlash.
Much like their colleagues on the red brand, Smackdown's superstars were chiefly concerned this week with the big show in Saudi Arabia. However, the main event pitting Shinsuke Nakamura (with his ace new music), Rusev and Aiden English vs AJ Styles, Gallows & Anderson was superb. I know I keep harping on about it, but Nakamura as a heel has been sensational, and the idea that he is taking out AJ's friends (even if they went a bit strong on the mafia/yakuza comparisons on commentary) was superb. This was great build for Friday night and the WWE title match, and AJ Styles sold it huge. Also, who knew Karl Anderson was such a good sympathetic babyface.
The opening Miz TV segement was a great example of giving something to the fans only to take it away. This should have been the much-anticipated face-off between The Miz and Daniel Bryan, but by having Big Cass come out instead, with Bryan laid out backstage, this was a perfect bait and switch. Cass cut an excellent promo about his reasons for attacking Bryan, and he has clearly been working on his promo skills during his time off. While of course, I want to see Bryan vs The Miz, this is a fine detour for Bryan, and hopefully means they can save the big match until a show that deserves it, maybe even Summerslam. Cass should get a big rub as the new monster heel, and Bryan loses nothing by playing the underdog to him. A very effective segment.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable, and did plenty for the new faces on the roster, as well as the newly crowned champions. Carmella's segment with Charlotte was really excellent. Charlotte looked like a badass, while Carmella got to show some excellent heel work. The IIConics vs Becky Lynch and Asuka was really good, and not only gets the Aussie duo over, but sets up a very exciting possible feud between Lynch and Asuka, something that might not have been possible had Asuka's streak not ended. Jimmy Uso vs Rowan was a fine TV match and forwarded the build for The Usos vs Bludgeon Brothers. Finally, Shelton Benjamin vs Randy Orton was a fun match between two OVW graduates, and the interactions between Orton and Jeff Hardy did plenty to build that feud in parallel.
A very enjoyable show, with a lot of fresh vibrant things happening in the post-Superstar Shake-Up portion of the year.
Greatest Royal Rumble
This Friday, we have the unusual, but quite anticipated WWE card from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Greatest Royal Rumble has been more than a little controversial, not least because it feels like a massive cash grab for WWE, but also that women are not allowed to perform on this show due to the local laws of the country. Given WWE’s stance on the women’s revolution in the past few years, it’s been seen as a little hypocritical, although in fairness Triple H has reiterated in recent days that they have spoken to local officials about the need to change this in the future, so hopefully in the long term they can affect change. Or there’s just money to be made and this is all lip service. Who can say?
The show itself, on paper, looks fantastic. The prospect of a 50-man Royal Rumble is itself very intriguing, both logistically and in terms of how it gets booked. I suspect this will be a platform for a feel-good story, be it a Daniel Bryan or a Braun Strowman getting the win, but it should be a very fun affair overall.
The matches on the undercard are also pretty stacked. Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar in a cage is a really interesting situation. It would be easy to see Reigns getting a fluke win, maybe by being suplexed out of the cage by Lesnar, but I actually think we are getting a clean Lesnar win here. What happens next with Reigns? Hard to say, but their lack of faith in him at Wrestlemania suggests that things have shifted somewhat unless that was a ploy to give Reigns the win here.
Shinsuke Nakamura has been brilliant lately, and hopefully they pull the trigger on him as champion here, beating Styles in what should hopefully be a cracking match away from the pressures of Wrestlemania. John Cena vs Triple H should be a fun throwback, with plenty of star power; while The Undertaker vs Rusev in a casket match is more than likely just a showcase for Taker much like his Mania appearance was. The Intercontinental ladder match should be one of the better matches on the night, and I fully expect Rollins to retain; The Bar vs Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt looks fairly likely to be a win for the Raw team, with The Bar carrying on with the feud they seem to have reignited with The New Day on Smackdown. The Usos vs Bludgeon Brothers should end with a Harper and Rowan win I imagine. Finally, Jeff Hardy vs Jinder Mahal, well who knows? Probably a Hardy win.
Overall, this looks like a very good card. It feels like WWE have gone in hard on the gimmicks (perhaps to compensate for the lack of variety that losing the female competitors has caused), and this should be a very entertaining, if not somewhat overbooked card.
RIP Motoko Baba & Paul Jones
In sad news this week, two notable figures in the wrestling world passed away. Firstly Paul Jones, a mainstay of Florida and Mid-Atlantic during the heyday of the territories in the 1970s and 1980s, both as a wrestler and a manager. He notably tagged with Ricky “The Dragon“ Steamboat, as well as holding numerous high profile territorial titles throughout his career. However, his managerial career as the head of Paul Jones’ Army was perhaps what he is best remembered for, managing everyone from Abdullah the Butcher to Masked Superstar to Superstar Billy Graham, The Powers of Pain, Rick Rude, Jake “the Snake” Roberts and Kamala. Jones retired in 1991, and dropped off the scene living out his days in North Carolina, and Georgia, before passing away aged 75. RIP.
Motoko Baba may not be a name that immediately rings a bell with western wrestling fans but the wife of the legendary Giant Baba looms large over wrestling in Japan. Baba was the former owner of All Japan Pro Wrestling, but his wife Motoko was very much involved in the day-to-day operations of the business in all aspects, and after his death in 1999, Motoko Baba took a much bigger role in the company. Motoko was arguably a part of the reasoning for the notorious exodus by top stars including Mitsuhara Misawa (who had been names All Japan President after Giant Baba passed away), the subsequent unlikely return of Genichiro Tenryu after his exodus in the early 90s (western fans may remebere him from his appearances at Wrestlemania 7 alongside Koji Kitao against Demolition and his brief runs in the 1993 and 1994 Royal Rumble matches as part of a working relationship between WWE and the now-defunct SWS promotion, which he founded); the inter-promotional activities with New Japan Pro Wrestling, the installation of Keiji Mutoh as president and sale of the company in 2002, and she would even later work as a consultant for All Japan when no longer the majority shareholder in the organisation.
Baba’s legacy may well be more complicated than most, and she is certainly a divisive figure within the history of Japanese professional wrestling, but you could argue that she was integral to the rise and later survival of AJPW just as easily as you could that she was part of its near extinction for a few years. Either way, Motoko Baba passed away last week, aged 78. RIP.
World of Sport
Almost 18 months after the pilot aired on ITV for the relaunched World of Sport promotion, and almost a year after the cancelled television tapings, in surprising news this week we learned that the promotion would be returning with a televised ten-week run on ITV. Tapings are due to take place in May at Epic Studios in Norwich, with little other detail available except that the show will be produced by ITV Entertainment rather than ITV Sport, and Jim Ross will not be involved, following his role in the pilot. What will be very intriguing, is how WWE respond to this. With WWE UK having some shows in London in a few months you imagine there may be some push within the company to compete with WOS, who arguably are moving into an area they would hope to monopolise. Either way, wrestling back on TV can only be a good thing, and let's face it there is no way it can be worse than what 5 Star Wrestling provided earlier this year. Hopefully.
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 fallout from 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.