Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week is one of the busiest weeks in the calendar year for the wrestling community with the huge Wrestlemania show on Sunday, NXT Takeover on Saturday, as well as the big go-home shows for Raw and Smackdown, plus this week we had the big New Japan Sakura Genesis show. So with plenty to cover, let's get started by taking a look at this week's go-home Raw.
Well, this week's show wasn't short of eventful moments, and few were as eventful as in the main event segment. While the build for Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar has been somewhat erratic in the past few weeks, this segment was red hot. Paul Heyman's promo was superb, and Reigns convincing the roster of assembled superstars to step aside rather than protecting a "part-timer" was a great way of getting back to the hart of the issue between the two. The physicality with the multiple Superman punches from Reigns was great in providing a call back to Wrestlemania 31 (prior to Seth Rollins' cash in) where it looked like Reigns might be getting the better of Lesnar, but Lesnar getting the F5 to end the segment redressed the balance immediately. I'm in no doubt the Reigns s winning, but at least this segment made it feel like the main event of Wrestlemania, which I suspect it will be, come Sunday. Good work all around.
The in-ring face-off between the teams of Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon was well executed and helped turn up the heat for the big mixed tag match at Wrestlemania. Of course like all in-ring face-offs, contract signings and summits it ended in violence, only this time Stephanie McMahon was the one who got the upper hand. Stephanie putting Ronda through the table was a nice move as it gives Rousey even more reason to give Stephanie her comeuppance, presumably via an armbar. A decent segment, with some good verbal jousting as well as excellent build for Sunday.
The other big focus on Raw came from John Cena, as his challenge to The Undertaker was once again ignored. This angle is really odd, and I genuinely hope that have something really spectacularly brilliant in mind for Sunday, because otherwise, this is just a programme that is making The Undertaker look like a coward, Cena look like a bit of a dick, and the whole company seem foolish for letting him drone on about it for weeks. A very odd build for what you would imagine was originally pegged as one of the marquee matches at Mania, although I will admit I am intrigued as to how this all unfolds.
The rest of the show was very eventful. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor had a superb bout which further built towards the three-way with The Miz at Wrestlemania for the Intercontinental title, while Braun Strowman had a fun confrontation with The Bar, introducing his "Tag partner", Brains Strowman. It was a fun way to keep everyone guessing as to who Strowman's partner will be on Sunday. The build for Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax continued with a nice video segment with Jax, as well as the post-match following Alexa Bliss and Mickie James vs the odd team of Asuka and Dana Brooke. Speaking of Asuka, it certainly seems there is very little more for her to do on the Raw brand, so hopefully she'll be over to Smackdown after Wrestlemania. Although the paring with Brooke also underlines the lack of top female babyfaces on Raw, something they need to address with the draft (possibly by bringing over Becky Lynch who has been criminally underused on Smackdown in recent months). Elias vs Heath Slater was essentially just there to continue building Elias (presumably for a performance/segment at Wrestlemania). Matt Hardy vs Goldust was fun but pretty inconsequential other than building towards the battle royal, with Bayley and Sonya Deville doing very much the same on the women's side of things, and continuing to build Bayley's feud with Sasha Banks.
A very decent go-home show, with some good in-ring action, well-executed build, and plenty of intriguing possibilities set up for Sunday. I am certainly looking forward to Wrestlemania more after watching the show, so it's job done for this week's Raw.
The go-home show for the blue brand was nicely built and did plenty to get anyone not on board firmly on the Wrestlemania hype train. The opening segment with Shane McMahon making a miraculous recovery and accepting Daniel Bryan’s offer to be his partner was really well done, although I cannot shake the sinking feeling that we’re getting a Shane (or if they want to do something really dumb, Bryan) heel turn, because it was all a bit too easy to put them back on the same page after months of bickering. We’ll see how that pans out. The appearance of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, later on, was a nice tease for Sunday, especially as they continued their “invasion” from the recent house shows.
The main event with Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles taking on Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin was very well done, with a very enjoyable match. The post-match with Styles and Nakamura, with Styles reciprocating Nakamura’s mind games from last week, added some much-needed fire to the bout, and in conjunction with the sit-down interviews earlier in the night has really put some focus on this bout. Sure the build is simple, but that’s all it needed to be.
The rest of the show was pretty enjoyable. Charlotte vs Natalya was a good TV match that served to build Charlotte, keep Carmella in the forefront of the story, as well as a nice little verbal face off in the post-match with Asuka and Flair. Like Nakamura/Styles, perhaps this doesn’t need the build to be any more complex than Asuka being the undefeatable monster, and Charlotte being the best, and we’ll see who wins. Rusev vs Jinder Mahal wasn’t great but helped build the US title bout, especially with Randy Orton and Bobby Roode getting involved. It actually made me think that I might like to see Roode and Orton as a heel tag team in the near future, but that’s something for post-Mania. Finally, we had the battle royal competitors having a tag match that was instantly forgettable, and frankly, no-one on the blue brand seems a likely winner of the match, nor should they be.
A very decent go-home with plenty of solid action, a fun main event and lots of last-minute build for the big matches on Sunday.
This past weekend NJPW put on another stellar show, with their Sakura Genesis event. The main focus was, of course, Kazuchika Okada's defence of the IWGP Heavyweight championship against New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr. While Okada won, the match was excellent and a great illustration of the different styles of match that can happen in NJPW. Despite losing, Sabre Jr was definitely cemented as an upper-mid-card/lower main eventer here and that is a great boost for his career. The post-match with Hiroshi Tanahashi was very interesting and certainly builds to the logical match between these two old foes. It actually seems like a fresh match, such has been the time since they last fought, and it should be a cracker at Dontaku.
The rest of the show was really enjoyable. Will Ospreay vs "The Villain" Marty Scurll was the usual classic these two always seem to put on. Although that Spanish fly spot off the apron should definitely be retired from Ospreay's arsenal after this, given it looked brutal and he seemed genuinely hurt. The Young Bucks got their first win at heavyweight over Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens as the civil war within Bullet Club continues, and the questions mount over where The Bucks allegiances lie. The Golden Lovers vs Cody Rhodes and Adam Page was excellent, as you would expect and really showed what a versatile character Kenny Omega is as either a heel or a babyface. The LIJ vs Suzuki-Gun (and Roppongi 3K in the case of the Jr Heavyweight tag match) bouts were very enjoyable mid-card matches, even if the focus was on the upper end of the card, and we had the usual various good, but forgettable six-man tags to make up the rest of the show. Another fun card from NJPW, which set up plenty of new feuds for next month's big show.
RIP Jimmy Valiant
In sad news this week, WWE Hall of Famer and all-around legend "Luscious" Johnny Valiant passed away, after being struck by a lorry, aged 71. The former WWWF tag team champion also competed in the AWA, and NWA. He was of course also the storyline brother of one "Boogie Woogie" Jimmy Valiant, although they were not related in real life. Valiant's most famous run was perhaps not as a wrestler but as a manager, co-managing WWF tag team champions The Dream Team (alongside Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart), Dino Bravo and even managing a young Hulk Hogan before he became a star in WWF. Valiant was a big star in the early days of the Rock 'n' Wrestling era, especially as a villainous manager. After retiring Valiant would have a second career as an actor, most notably in a recurring role in The Sopranos, as well as a comedian.
While Valiant was 71, it's always sad to see a revered member of the wrestling community pass away, especially in a week where we celebrate all things professional wrestling. RIP "Luscious" Johnny V.
NXT Takeover: New Orleans preview
As has become traditional, NXT has a huge show the night before Wrestlemania this year, and Takeover: New Orleans is a ridiculously stacked card. In the main event, Andrade “Cien” Almas defends his NXT title against Aleister Black, which should be excellent. However, the unsanctioned match is perhaps the real main event as Johnny Gargano gets the chance to return and redeem himself against former friend and partner Tomasso Ciampa. This is easily one of the best-built feuds in recent WWE history, and I have no doubt these two will have an emotion-packed stormer of a bout.
Further down the card, there is a huge six-man ladder match for the debuting NXT North American Championship, with Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream and the debuting Ricochet and EC3. I honestly believe this could be the show-stealer match of the night and maybe even the weekend, although I sense perhaps that it might be Dream walking out with the belt. The Authors of Pain, The Undisputed Era, and the team of Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong face off in a tag match for the NXT Tag team championships, and the Dusty Classic trophy. It’s an odd one because, with Bobby Fish on the injured list, this might mean Adam Cole is doing double duty. It should be an excellent bout, and possibly the last high profile bout AoP have in NXT with a call-up to the main roster surely looming. Finally, Shayna Baszler challenges Ember Moon, in a match that I imagine will be similar to their affair in Houston in January, but I expect Baszler might get the win this time.
Takeover: New Orleans, could, and likely should be one of the top shows of the weekend and I for one am very much looking forward to what should be a huge show on Saturday.
So here we are, ready for the biggest show of the year and on paper what could be the best Wrestlemania WWE has put on since Wrestlemania 31 in 2015. The common link between those two shows is the headline match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, and although the build took a little bit of time to get to where it needed to be, I do feel these two will have a heated, and frankly excellent match, unless WWE does something shocking and has Reigns beat Lesnar in a squash, which given Lesnar is reportedly off to the UFC (something seemingly confirmed by UFC President Dana White this week), could well be an option. Either way, I see Reigns leaving with the title.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura could well be the match of the night. While it likely won’t live up to the Wrestle Kingdom 10 bout between the two for NJPW in 2016, I can certainly see this being a superb match between two of the best in WWE. I think Nakamura gets the win, but it doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion, and I would not be shocked to see Styles go over here.
Beyond the big singles titles, the two biggest bouts on the show come from tag matches. First, the return of Daniel Bryan as he teams with Shane McMahon against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in what should be a great match. I don’t suspect Bryan will have any ring rust, but as mentioned in this weeks section on Smackdown, whether a turn for Shane is in the offing. Either way, it should be a huge moment for the audience seeing Bryan back in the ring. The other big tag match, of course, pits Triple H and Stephanie McMahon against Kurt Angle and the debuting Ronda Rousey. The major intrigue here is of course for Rousey moving into WWE, but it will be very interesting to see how she fares, and how far along she is in her training. That said, I imagine we are getting Triple H and Angle handling the majority of in-ring duties and Rousey’s biggest spot being to tap out Stephanie with her famous armbar.
On the women’s side of things, we have two huge title matches. Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax has been really well built, and although Jax has the size advantage, I can’t see past an Alexa win, via cheating. This feud feels like it is only just getting going, and Alexa could definitely hold on to the belt for a bit longer. Charlotte vs Asuka should be a superb match, and as I’ve documented previously I do wonder whether we will get a Carmella cash-in, either is the match or afterwards. I see Asuka winning, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see Asuka lose her streak to Carmella in screwy fashion after the match. Especially in a building where streaks have been known to end unexpectedly.
The two tag team title matches should be fun. The Usos vs The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers should be excellent given the appropriate time, and although whether they will remains to be seen. I can only see Harper and Rowan walking away with the belts. On the Raw side, there is intrigue aplenty as Strowman’s mystery partner is yet to be revealed. I hope they have a good surprise in mind, although I do fear it’ll be Bray Wyatt, minus the necessary repackage teased during the Ultimate Deletion. Samoa Joe, James Ellsworth or someone completely out of left-field could all be interesting options here. Just don’t let it be Kane, please. It’s really hard to predict who will win, without knowing who the mystery partner is, but I'll say The Bar retain.
Further down the card, Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins vs The Miz should be excellent, although I think Balor walks away with the title (especially if he does the demon entrance), Bobby Roode vs Randy Orton vs Jinder Mahal vs Rusev will hopefully be mercifully short, and I can only see Rusev or Roode walking out with the belt. As for the battle royals, in the women’s match surely it comes down to Sasha Banks vs Bayley and the outcome further that feud, and in the men's? Who knows. There is certainly no obvious choice apparent, possibly Matt Hardy? Or a returning Bray? It should be good fun, either way. Finally, we have Mustafa Ali vs Cedric Alexander, and while this may only be the cruiserweight title match, I urge everyone to watch the pre-show for this as I expect both men to be doing their utmost to steal the show.
That’s it for the announced matches, but of course, we have one match that is not technically confirmed. John Cena vs The Undertaker. With Taker not accepting Cena’s challenge, I wonder if we get Cena watching the show as a fan for the whole show (maybe even including the main event), only for Taker to appear late in the show and set up the match or angle or whatever this is going to be. I’m certainly intrigued, but if this ends up just being a straight match, then this build has been a hugely wasted opportunity.
I think we can all agree that Wrestlemania 34 looks stacked. On paper, there are multiple potential match of the night contenders, and it should be a great show. Here’s hoping!
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Wrestlemania, NXT Takeover: New Orleans, the traditionally eventful post-Mania Raw and Smackdown episodes, 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.