Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. It is not an exaggeration to say that this week is the busiest in the professional wrestling calendar in the run-up to Wrestlemania and the immediate aftermath on Raw and Smackdown. However, there is also a huge NXT show, and NJPW and ROH are putting on a huge joint show at the most famous arena in the world. With so much to cover, let's have a look back at the go-home editions of Raw and Smackdown before previewing the other big events of the weekend.
As big, final go-home angles for Wrestlemania go WWE hit a home run on Raw with Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair. The addition of the “winner-take-all” stipulation for Sunday adds another level of significance to the bout, but the forced cooperation of the three opponents against The Riott Squad was a nice twist on the usual formula. However, the post-match is where things really ramped up with all three getting arrested. Rousey crashing the police car was a particular highlight, while Charlotte looked like she murdered Ronda with a knee to the face while Rousey was hanging out the car window. It was silly; it was violent, chaotic and utterly brilliant. I loved every minute of it, and I feel WWE should be patted on the back for finally nailing the build to this match. It took some time but they got there.
The feud between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar has been somewhat lacklustre, especially given it’s a bit further down the bill now that the women have (quite rightly) taken centre stage. The confrontation between the two men was a huge step in the right direction for this programme, but that’s not saying much. This certainly made Rollins seem like a far more worthwhile contender and a credible threat to Lesnar. That said I am increasingly of the belief that Rollins will be unsuccessful in his pursuit of the title, partially because of the presence of the now healthy Roman Reigns. It remains to be seen, but regardless the match between these two is sure to be something very special.
The rest of the show was pretty darn effective in providing the last-minute hype for Wrestlemania. Batista cut the greatest four-word promo in wrestling history, which did wonders for his feud with Triple H. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Natalya and Beth Phoenix vs Tamina Snuka, Nia Jax and The IIconics was a decent TV match that provided a nice showcase for the returning Phoenix. Jinder Mahal vs Apollo Crews was fine mid-card fodder, although it did serve to highlight some of the competitors in the two battle royals at Wrestlemania in the melee that followed the match. Braun Strowman destroying two enhancement talents at the same time was a nice throwback, but also a reminder of how much Strowman is wasted in this silly feud with the two SNL hosts. The segment with Kurt Angle was pretty well executed, but the resultant match with Baron Corbin vs Rey Mysterio was something of an anti-climax for the main event on arguably the most important Raw of the year. The Bobby Lashley-Finn Balor segment got where it needed to go, but I can only hope that we don’t get a lengthy match and Balor, in his “Demon” guise squashes “The Almighty” (see Balor vs Baron Corbin at Summerslam for what I’m referring to). Heavy Machinery vs Chad Gable and Bobby Roode, and The Revival vs Ricochet & Aleister Black were both very enjoyable contests that both served to highlight the Raw tag division and the fact there is not a scheduled match for the titles on Sunday, which is a crying shame. Finally, Drew McIntyre continued to look every inch the megastar taking out Roman Reigns backstage and continuing the notion that Reigns might not be 100% (which pretty much guarantees a feel-good Reigns win on Sunday).
Given that Raw has failed to deliver as a go-home show in the past few years, this was surprisingly focused and effective in building the big programmes, giving everyone something to do and putting on a watchable wrestling show. It’s not Smackdown, but it’s still way better than some of the other episodes that have been on Mondays this past year or so.
After Raw, Smackdown had quite the act to follow. However, as usual, it did not disappoint. Following on from the huge angle with her opponents, Becky Lynch cut a fantastic promo, running through where they all were a year ago and giving the final push for the main event on Sunday. Also, her arriving in a police car was a very nice detail. Having her cut this promo helped frame her has the crowd favourite even more than before, and giving one last sell felt like something from a bygone era, the sort of thing that used to happen years ago after a big angle was shot. A really good use of Lynch, and a nice exclamation point on everything that happened up to this point.
The contract signing with Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan was a fiery cap on top of a feud that has plenty of twists and turns. While some may not be all in on Kingston as a babyface challenger, he once again proved he has the fire and the drive to succeed in this role and the story being told certainly got the audience behind him on this show. It was odd to see a contract signing end without violence, but as has been the case in recent times when that has happened, it was refreshing after the dogmatic programming of repetitive wrestling content has conditioned us to expect a brawl.
The rest of the show was excellent. AJ Styles and Randy Orton had another very close-to-the-bone back-and-forth verbal sparring match on the Kevin Owens show before Owens, in the spot of the night, left the ring foreseeing what was to come as the two Mania opponents brawled. It really is a shame after his big return that Owens has been a bit of an afterthought, but hopefully, he gets a big spot on Sunday, be it in the battle royal, or something with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin backstage, given his recent use of the stunner. Back to Orton and Styles, it is interesting that the RKO-Phenomenal forearm spot was used here, which to me either suggests that Styles is winning on Sunday, or they have something even more daring planned. The Usos, Ricochet and Aleister Black vs Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura and The Bar had some fun moments and helped continue to hype the tag title match for Mania. The 18 person tag match was pure chaos, and much like on Raw was a neat way to get all the battle royal competitors in one place. Shane McMahon making The Miz face off against the lesser spotted Sanity was a nice abuse of power from Shane, and helped set the table for their falls-count-anywhere match nicely. Shane really has been great in this new heel role. The IIconics cut a promo in the only way they know how. Finally, Samoa Joe beat Mustafa Ali, in what was a very entertaining TV match, even if it was utterly forgettable this close to Wrestlemania.
A very good show this week, focused and succinct. Yet there was plenty of in-ring action, lots of last-minute storyline development and some great promo work. Plus not a gauntlet match in sight. Good work Smackers!
As has become traditional over Wrestlemania weekend in recent years, NXT will be putting on their Takeover show on Friday, and what a show it should be. While the injury to Tomasso Ciampa is less than ideal and it cuts short the overarching storyline between himself and Johnny Gargano short, NXT have scrambled and made the best main event they possibly can in the shape of Gargano vs Adam Cole. In a sense, it is genius, because Cole has been bleating on about 2019 being the year Undisputed Era hold all of the gold in NXT and this could be the first step to achieving that aim. Equally, Gargano taking home the gold could make for a big feel-good moment if they stick to his strengths. The two-out-of-three falls stipulation pretty much ensures high drama, and with Gargano and Cole seemingly having been kept apart for a good while I can absolutely see this tearing the roof off the Barclays Centre.
The rest of the card is just as strong. Pete Dunne vs WALTER for the WWE UK Championship should be a belter, and feels like a really fresh match. This stage provides a great showcase for NXT UK Championship, but you have to expect Walter is taking the title with Dunne presumably going up to NXT proper, or even the main roster in the very near future. Velveteen Dream vs Matt Riddle might be the match I’m most excited about, with both men likely to pull out all the stops to try and steal the show. I expect it to be hard-hitting, with huge spots throughout and the ring struggling to contain the charisma of the two fan favourites. While the focus of the weekend may be on the women main eventing Wrestlemania, the best women’s match that WWE produces might well be here, with Shayne Baszler, Bianca Belair, Kairi Sane and Io Shirai. I feel like the smart money is Shirai, but any of the four could credibly walk out champion. Finally, War Raiders defend their NXT Tag Team Championships against Ricochet and Aleister Black, with the latter looking likely to be in line to potentially take home both the Raw and NXT tag titles in consecutive nights. It would make for a hell of a feat, but with the challengers surely going up to the main roster full time after Wrestlemania, I have to imagine War Raiders retain.
Wrestlemania should be quite the spectacle, but I am personally very excited to see what NXT can offer, and although New Japan and Mania may offer stiff competition, this has the makings of the best show of the weekend if it delivers half of what is on offer on paper.
New Japan/ROH G1 Super Show preview
As aggressive a move as any company outside of WCW in its pomp has made into WWE territory, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor took the wrestling world by surprise when they booked a show at Madison Square Garden over Wrestlemania weekend. Of course, MSG had always been the arena most closely associated with WWE but in recent years the company favoured the larger, less expensive Barclays Centre. As mentioned last week, this show is all about Kazuchika Okada vs “Switchblade” Jay White. It may be White’s first IWGP title defence, but I’d be stunned if there wasn’t a strong plan to put the big belt on Okada. He is the biggest star in NJPW at the moment and the idea of him winning the big one and avenging his Wrestle Kingdom loss on the biggest show in company history outside of Japan, may prove too strong an option. White will rebound, and I’m not sure having a short run hurts him here.
Elsewhere on the show, there are a few potential match of the night contenders. Will Ospreay vs Jeff Cobb should be a tremendous clash of styles, Tetsuya Naito vs Kota Ibushi is such a good matchup that it could have headlined this show, while Taiji Ishimori vs Bandido vs Dragon Lee could have some jaw-dropping aerial moves. However, the match I am most excited for is Zack Sabre Jr vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship. It is very cool to see the Rev Pro belt being defended at MSG, especially after the defence at the Tokyo Dome in January. Tana and ZSJ have great chemistry and I have no doubt that this will be another belter between the two.
Takeover and Wrestlemania might be the big WWE shows of the weekend, but there will certainly be many who see this as the real main event of the weekend and with the talent on offer it is hard to argue.
Well, here we are, the biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania 35. In looking at the card it is hard to look beyond the main event. Ronda vs Charlotte vs Becky. While I may have clamoured for a singles match between the Royal Rumble winner and the women’s champion, with Charlotte on top form recently as well as the inclusion of both titles this is absolutely the biggest match in WWE right now. I expect all three women to pull out all the stops to ensure this is both spectacular and memorable. This will surely include a table spot, Charlotte doing a massive dive, and presumably something surprising (Ronda Rousey doing a moonsault? It could happen) but hopefully WWE do the right thing and give the big ending to Lynch. She has earned that moment, it opens up more doors for potential feuds on both brands and even a Shayna Baszler to come up and try to avenge Rousey losing. Let’s hope sense prevails.
On the men’s side of things, I would assume that with the women taking centre stage, the competitors in both men’s titles will be determined to steal the show. Seth Rollins will likely have a point to prove, and while I see Lesnar retaining, I think Rollins might pull out something we’ve never seen from him before. With Kofi-mania running wild, hopefully, WWE sees sense and puts the belt on him. I wouldn’t even mind if they take it off him the following week, but if you want a real feel-good moment, Kofi Kingston beating Daniel Bryan is absolutely the key thing to make happen.
The rest of the card is stacked, but this promises to be a very long show. The women’s tag title match should be entertaining, especially with Pin-Up Strong back in the mix. Likewise, the Smackdown tag title match has the potential to be chaotic and fun, likely with The Usos or Black/Ricochet walking out as champions. Bobby Lashley vs Finn Balor should hopefully be a short affair, as hopefully will Kurt Angle vs Baron Corbin. Shane McMahon vs The Miz actually has the potential to be outstanding, and more heated than most of the matches on the show, while AJ Styles vs Randy Orton is certain to be at least solid, and probably with a memorable finish.
Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre should be physical, but ultimately it feels like a Reigns win is a foregone conclusion. Samoa Joe vs Rey Mysterio could be very good, with a classic big man vs Little man dynamic, but with Mysterio potentially injured who knows how that pans out. The two battle royals will be instantly forgettable, while the cruiserweight title match is pretty uninspiring on paper. Triple H vs Batista will almost certainly be a physical brawl, with sledgehammers and the like, but with two old pros that have great chemistry, I’m sure both will be putting in a shift here. In addition, John Cena is likely on the show somewhere, plus Elias “in concert” and maybe even an appearance from The Undertaker, and plenty of other surprises. That’s a whole lot of stuff.
Wrestlemania 35 is stacked, no question. Perhaps a bit too stacked. It feels foolish to complain about too much wrestling on a show like this, but it does seem bloated. However, I’m sure it’ll have lots to enjoy, and a main event that the fans are truly invested in for perhaps the first time since Wrestlemania 30. This has the potential to be a great show, providing the pacing is on point, the matches that need to be short are kept brief, and time is properly managed. This hasn’t been the case in the past few years, but we can always hope.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at everything that goes down over Wrestlemania weekend, including the G1 Supershow, NXT, Raw and Smackdown, as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. 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.