Welcome to this week's edition of Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things pro wrestling. It's been another busy week in the build to WWE Payback, so lets dive right in with this weeks TV shows, before we look at the other news doing the rounds. Lets start with Raw.
Well Raw was certainly interesting his week, if not necessarily good. First and foremost, I want to tackle the Braun Strowman and Kalisto match. I actually thought the bout was very enjoyable (even if Kalisto's new music is one of the worst entrance themes they've done in a while. Seriously, what was that?). The loss for Strowman was surprising, but no-one was talking about that after the end of the post-match beat down, which I suppose is the point, and the stipulation match loss at least gives Strowman some protection. The dumpster spot with the stage looked a bit tame in terms of the actual stunt, but I thought Strowman sold his "victory" well, and it certainly maintains his aura as an absolute killer. Kalisto was a good choice here too, as he garnered plenty of sympathy. If Strowman is meant to be the heel in this situation, then this was the way to get that across ahead of his match with Roman Reigns at Payback on Sunday. Also, further points to Kalisto for saying the line "I am no garbage" with a straight face.
The shenanigans in the opening segment with the The Miz, Dean Ambrose, and Chris Jericho were entertaining, although the segment went a bit longer than it probably needed to. The call back to Ambrose and Jericho's history was a nice change from WWE's usual attitude of babyfaces all being friends regardless of their previous interactions, and Ambrose giving Jericho a home-made coat was a nice touch. I also enjoyed their interaction backstage with Jericho taking Ambrose off the list only to re-add him. Equally their main event against The Miz and a mystery partner was a bit of a mess for me, and lacked the energy and enthusiasm needed for a big main event match. I enjoyed the Bray Wyatt involvement in the main event, and I'm glad they've decided to get behind him, even though he is clearly losing on Sunday, unless the WWE championship is not on the line, which is not abundantly clear at this stage. Still, it established Wyatt as one of the top heels, and certainly kept him strong, even if it also made Ambrose and The Miz seem like bonafide midcarders. Jericho also seems a bit lost in this babyface role without Kevin Owens to play off, so hopefully he'll be disappearing for a while after Sunday's big show.
For me WWE missed a big opportunity, or certainly squandered one on Raw this week by having Finn Balor face off against The Club as part of the six-man tag on Raw. Given their history, and the intrigue about how their interactions would go down, it seems insane to waste that with no build-up on a random Raw, by inserting Balor into a random tag match that was essentially just a vehicle to push the Seth Rollins vs Samoa Joe match at Payback. The six-man match was actually very good, but it just seemed a bit pointless. WWE clearly have nothing for Balor currently, so I appreciate that they need to keep him busy and on television, but surely they could have done something less wasteful with him. Seth's new finisher is interesting, and while I'm glad it's not the pedigree, I'm not sure this is the answer to permanently replacing the curb stomp. Still, Joe and Rollins both looked good here, and I think their match on Sunday should be excellent.
While the long-term (or even starting in the short term) plan is to go to a Sasha Banks heel turn and a match against Bayley, it's a shame that it probably means Alexa Bliss has to lose on Sunday, as she has been fantastic on Raw in the past few weeks since arriving from Smackdown Live! Bliss is great on the mic, even managing to combat the dreaded "What?" chant form the crowd really effectively. The match against Sasha was a nothing affair, and Bliss walking off as the cowardly heel, and then eventually returning to attack Bayley set a nice tone for their match at Payback. Equally, you can see Banks is subtly planting seeds for her turn, and there is definitely something in the offing, it just depends where and when WWE decide to kick the angle off.
Elsewhere on this show, Matt Hardy and Sheamus had a passable TV match, with some hints that the "Broken" gimmick is still on the table for The Hardys, Apollo Crews squashed Curt Hawkins in a match that helped no-one, Dana Brooke vs Alicia Fox was pretty poor, but the post-match with Emma at least forwarded the programme with Emma and Dana. Finally, we got Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher vs Neville and TJ Perkins, in what was probably the best match on the card even if it actually meant very little in the grand scheme of things. I am looking forward to Aries vs Neville at Payback off the back of this, so hopefully they get a decent spot on the show.
All in all, not a great show. WWE are trying new things, and now is certainly the time to do it, but with the repercussions of the "Superstar Shake-Up" still yet to be settled, everything feels like it's in limbo until after Payback is out of the way and the cross brand feuds come to an end.
Smackdown Live! certainly seems to be doing plenty to try and promote the idea that it really is the land of opportunity, as this week's episode featured lots of acts getting the opportunity to shine here. The big angle on the show focused on Charlotte taking on Naomi for the Smackdown Women's champion, and the development of the alliance between Tamina, Carmella, Natalya and James Ellsworth against Naomi and Charlotte, with the tease of Becky Lynch joining either side. While Becky didn’t side with her former friend Charlotte, or the alliance of the incumbent Women (and Ellsworth), it allows for some interesting developments on this going forward, and presumably a build to Becky vs Charlotte eventually as the big money programme, The match between Charlotte and Naomi was again very good, and while I never enjoyed a non-finish I liked that we had Tamina, Natalya, Carmella and Ellsworth standing tall to send Smackdown off the air.
Another example this week of opportunities being given out on the blue brand extended to the tag division, where American Alpha would win their match against The Colons in the beat the clock challenge, only for Breezango to get the surprise quick win over The Ascension to get a shot at the Smackdown tag titles at Backlash. I like that this gives Breezango a shot at the belts, as they have quietly been excellent at whatever they've been given over the past few months, and also it continues to build Alpha as failing at every turn, presumably so they can have gable end up as the 'weak link' and they can finally pout the missing piece in the puzzle in place to have a dominant win, much like the story they told with Daniel Bryan and Kane in the spring of 2013. Or I'm rewarding too much into it and they don’t know how to book American Alpha.
I enjoyed the continued build of Jinder Mahal this week in the run up to his match with Randy Orton at Backlash. Orton vs Erick Rowan was a nice way to keep the upcoming House of Horrors match with Bray Wyatt at Payback in the front of fans minds, but with the post-match reminding everyone that Mahal is next in line. The match with Rowan was entertaining, although I'm not sure how great it would have been without the NoDQ stipulation. Mahal sounded like a really convincing heel in his promo, and the attack on Orton alongside The Bollywood Boys (now known at The Singh Brothers apparently) with subsequent belt theft was well-executed and makes sense in the story they're trying to tell. The Mahal-Orton feud is building nicely, so I look forward to seeing where that goes, and Mahal seems to be grabbing this opportunity with both hands.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler's confrontation in the opening segment was a nice way to keep their feud bubbling along and the tease of the Kinshasa should make it all the more impactful when he finally does hit it (hopefully not until Backlash). I equally enjoyed the Rusev video promo clamouring for a WWE title shot when he returns at Money in the Bank, which will be a big lift for a brand fairly light on top heels.
Finally, we had AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin, which although a rematch from their match last week felt very fresh. Although Styles won, I like that is seemed a fortuitous victory rather than something definitive as they do really need to keep Corbin strong given he is arguably the biggest heel they have at the moment. The post-match beat down from Owens and Corbin was well done, and as an aside made me very interested in the idea of Corbin and Owens as a team down the line somewhere. The save from Sami Zayn was fine for what it was, although I wish they had kept him and Owens on separate brands. In a bit of an extra to this, Talking Smack featured Corbin beating down Zayn on the show, so I expect they are being paired up going forward which should be good for Corbin's development. A good match/angle overall.
A decent show, and although I didn't love everything I'm glad there is a continued push to try new things and to try and make new stars on Smackdown, which makes for a much more interesting and unpredictable show.
Vince McMahon: The Movie
The news dropped earlier this week that the life story of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is to be developed as a feature film. The movie is due to be developed and produced by WWE Studios and overseen by Tristar for a full cinematic release. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus, This is Us, Crazy Stupid Love, I Love you Phillip Morris) are on board to direct, based on a script written by Craig A. Williams. Now before anyone gets too excited, there is a big difference between a film being developed and actually making it to filming, let alone a cinematic release. However, if this does become a reality it will be fascinating to see what makes it into the film, and what is left out given the incredible, visionary, and often controversial nature of Vince's life over the years. The steroid trial, the allegations of various misdeeds, the Montreal screw job, and a litany of other well-known incidents could be dealt with, or just as easily left out of the story. It will be hugely intriguing if it ever happens, and that's before you talk about casting. Who exactly could play the most influential man in the history of professional wrestling? Time will tell on this one, but we will definitely update you once there is more information available.
The wrestling world got an update this week on the condition of Katsuyori Shibata, after he collapsed following his bout with Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Sakura Genesis on April 9th. Shibata, known for his controversial full contact head-butts, suffered a subdural haematoma which led to emergency surgery. However, the news this week is not good, as Shibata is still paralysed on his right side and will need further surgery in May to assist his rehabilitation. He has said he hopes to return to wrestling, but you have to imagine no doctor will be clearing him in the future to return to the ring, effectively ending his career. Hopefully, in response NJPW will ban those head-butts and prevent others from suffering the same fate. I know "strong style" is en vogue these days, but there has to be some limitations put on such things to avoid permanent damage to wrestlers in what is an already dangerous occupation.
Next, we have the bizarre story that former TNA talent Bram was sent home this week from a tour of Japan with NOAH, after a photo of him lying in a freezer of a convenience store was posted online and NOAH higher-ups took action. I can only see this as a break in the professionalism and respectability, or certainly that is how NOAH have perceived this which had led to this occurrence. For Bram I would say this was a silly mistake, but it's hard not to feel like the punishment was a bit harsh on the guy given that it seems like a fairly innocuous offence. Still, given his chequered past, it's hard to know where the full story lies with this.
So it's Payback this Sunday, and I thought I'd hit you all with my predictions for how it'll all go down. It's an odd card, as I don’t really know what is going to main event the show. In theory the WWE Title would go on last, but given there's a very good chance that for some inexplicable reason the House of Horror match is non-title, who can truly say. As I've mentioned it, we'll start with the aforementioned Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton match. I can only see an Orton win if it's is for the tile, just given how strongly his feud with Jinder Mahal is being built on Smackdown, and with Raw technically having the Universal Title, there would be no need to have both belts on Raw. That being said, if the match is non-title I expect Wyatt to win, giving him some extra momentum for whatever programme they have lined up for him on the Raw brand. The match itself is something of a mystery (possibly even to the company themselves) but I suspect t will involve some weird, spooky pre-taped stuff in some sort of odd location that follows into a normal match at the end in the ring, something akin to boiler room brawls of years gone by. One thing I can almost guarantee is there will be lots of weird goings on, and probably people in sheep masks appearing and disappearing at will. This could be something truly amazing, but more likely it will be pure wrestlecrap. Either way I am very excited to see how this works out.
Arguably the next biggest match is Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman. With Reigns having been put out of action by Braun, in normal logic it would only make sense for Strowman to lose to Reigns here. However, with Brock Lesnar being lined up to face Strowman I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the win here and call out Lesnar in the post-match, maybe even getting him as the show goes off the air. This might set up Reigns as the conquering hero down the line, as he builds to eventually facing Lesnar. Now I've said that of course Reigns will almost certainly get the clean win here.
Further down the card Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho seems very likely to end with an Owens win. He's being pushed as the top heel on Smackdown, and with the stipulation that the winner moves over I can only see Jericho losing. He is slated to be around for a few more weeks so it's possible they find a way round it, and Jericho wins but it seems unlikely. I could see someone getting involved and costing Jericho the match, perhaps The Drifter?
Bayley vs Alexa Bliss should be a pretty straightforward victory for Bayley, unless we got interference from Sasha Banks, but I can't see anything other than Bayley retaining. Likewise, I can only foresee The Hardys retaining over Cesaro & Sheamus unless there are some sort of shenanigans afoot with the "Broken" angle getting started. Neville vs Austin Aries should be excellent, although I could quite feasibly see Jack Gallagher and TJ Perkins getting involved which could mar this somewhat, especially given the standard of their match on the Wrestlemania pre-show.
Finally, we have Samoa Joe vs Seth Rollins which I'm hoping could be a fantastic match. I have very little idea of who goes over, because in theory Rollins should given Joe took him out, but they seem to be giving Joe the slow build as a big deal, so I could easily see him getting the win. I could also see this feud going on a bit longer and possibly even involving Triple H, although either way this should be a belter of a match.
Well that is it for me this week, I'll be back next week with the fallout from Payback, the various happenings from Raw, Smackdown and whatever news breaks in the world of professional wrestling in the next seven days. Keep it locked here to 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.