Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week is absolutely insane in terms of news, WWE television, the preparation for Summerslam and NXT Takeover, big news from the British Wrestling scene and some great news for AEW. However, we’ll start off with some sad news as we lost one of the all-time greats in the wrestling industry this week.
RIP Harley Race
We start off this week with sad news, as we learned late last week that wrestling legend Harley Race had passed away. Race had reportedly been in a bad way for a little while now, having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer earlier this year, but his condition had deteriorated in recent weeks and it was revealed last Thursday that he had passed. For those of you reading this who are perhaps less familiar with Race’s work, I urge you to seek out his matches with Ric Flair, Terry Funk or his tag matches alongside Larry “The Ax” Hennig, or even his WWF work in the 1980s. Race was the arguably the last torch bearer of a generation of wrestlers where looking like a bodybuilder wasn’t the norm, and although he was by no means a small man, he had more of the physique of someone you wouldn’t want to mess with if you made eye contact in a bar. Race had a gravel-laced voice that could send shudders down the spine of any man, and in the ring he could go with the best of them. Arguably, without beating Harley Race at Starrcade and solidifying himself as the main man in the NWA, Ric Flair would never have ascended to the level he did, such was Race’s standing. A multi-time world champion, a headliner all over the world and one of the all-time greats, Race would have a second career as a manager in WCW in the early 90s bringing an extra edge and legitimacy to the presentation of Big Van Vader and Lex Luger, leading both to the pinnacle of the company under his (on-screen) management. A true legend, and a huge loss to the industry. RIP “Handsome” Harley Race.
With Summerslam mere days away, WWE put on their two go-home shows for the “biggest party of the summer” (I’m not sure they even use that tagline anymore, but I like it), beginning with Raw. With a jam-packed card it was surprising to see Miz TV set up as the final segment on the show, but the payoff was something that spiked my interest in Sunday’s show massively. Goldberg returning to take on Dolph Ziggler at Summerslam is a major draw for Sunday and a huge upgrade on Ziggler vs The Miz. Shawn Michaels’ involvement in this angle is still puzzling but it was effective here in setting up Ziggler getting his comeuppance and it certainly made for a hot angle to close the show.
The other big angle shot on this show involved Roman Reigns and another attempt on his life. The stunt with the car was really well done and a far cry from the goofy scaffolding angle they did on Smackdown last week. This felt far more heavy duty, and better produced. When coupled with Samoa Joe’s in-ring protestations it basically turned Joe babyface in the process as he put aside his differences with Roman to try and help him after the attack. This sets up a potentially mouth-watering pairing between the two as reluctant allies. It also looked like it set up Reigns’ Summerslam programme, but we’ll get to that when we talk about Smackdown. Viewed in isolation, this was excellent and did a great job of creating a spectacular moment.
The rest of the show was very eventful, even if plenty of those interesting moments were not necessarily designed to play into Summerslam. The show opening match with Trish Stratus returning alongside Natalya against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair was puzzling on paper, given the lack of promotion for Trish returning before her advertised match at Summerslam and Lynch and Charlotte’s longstanding feud. However, this was actually quite enjoyable and they kept Stratus out of the ring, and didn’t just ignore the Lynch/Charlotte issue. Natalya snapping was nicely done and gave her some extra edge going into Summerslam as well as setting up an injury angle for Lynch. Andrade vs Rey Mysterio was as good as you’d expect, and although they’re not announced for Sunday’s card I liked that the tease for a potential mask vs hair match was forwarded again here. Bray Wyatt attacking Kurt Angle and again using the mandible claw was excellent. The OC vs The New Day and Ricochet was a nice preview for Ricochet vs AJ Styles, but it also felt like there was a tease for Gallows & Anderson vs Big E and Xavier Woods although that is not scheduled for Summerslam either as it stands. There’s no shame in keeping some of these programmes for the next big PPV rather than cramming everything on Summerslam, and it will definitely help avoid audience burnout. The Viking Raiders squashed another local team, while Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar took part in a very underwhelming segment that did Rollins no favours ahead of his title match on Sunday. Mike Kanellis pinning his wife while she was having her antenatal appointment was bizarre and silly, but a fresh spin on the 24/7 title, or it would have been had R-Truth not beaten Mike almost immediately.
Finally, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross won a very entertaining four-team elimination match to win the Women’s tag team titles. This was actually a pretty long match all things told, but having The IIconics eliminated first was smart as it guaranteed new champions, it provided a nice showcase for Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose, Kairi Sane impressed, as did Asuka. Cross and Bliss (or “Bliss Cross” as I imagine they will be called) make for a much more high-profile pairing for these titles, losing them lets The IIconics do what they do best, and you have ready-made feuds for these titles on both shows as well as setting up the longer term split and babyface turn for Cross. Makes total sense, and as this match had zero chance of appearing on the Summerslam card I’m glad they got the requisite time on this show.
All in all, a very decent Raw for the third or so week in a row. It might be the Paul Heyman effect, it might just be the Summerslam build. Whatever the reason, this show feels fresher, better written and more logically put together than it has in months. Long may it continue.
On the blue side of things we got even more build for Summerslam. One of the major focuses this week was Roman Reigns, following on from Monday night. His sit down interview sowed the seeds that he was coming for answers, and he got them at the end of the show, sort of. The main event with Daniel Bryan and Rowan taking on The New Day in an excellent TV match, was followed by Roman Reigns cornering Buddy Murphy backstage (who had been seen in the background after the initial attack last week) who eventually gave up that it was Rowan who was responsible. It’s a weird way to go off the air, and didn’t set up a definitive match on Sunday. However, if rather than rushing to get to that match at Summerslam, they take their time and do some sort of angle on the show, it’ll be far better. This is a major programme that could play out over several months, so doing it this way makes sense given the time scales involved. We shall see how this one unfolds on Sunday.
The rest of the show was pretty tightly focused on the last-minute hype for Summerslam, but like Raw things that aren’t likely to make the show were given time here too. Aleister Black vs Sami Zayn seemed like the end to their mini-programme here and another way to get Black over. The two didn’t gel as well as I had hoped so perhaps it’s just as well it’s off Sunday’s show. Trish Stratus and Charlotte’s verbal sparring was a nice final touch to their feud. Dolph Ziggler vs Ali (after Ziggler took out Rey Mysterio) was effective in getting Ziggler’s heat back following Monday’s closing angle. Natalya vs Ember Moon was fun while it lasted and both pushed Natalya’s new aggressive streak, but also Moon as not being a “charity case” as she registered her displeasure at Bayley coming to her aid. Finally, Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon’s segment predictably ended in violence after Owens tried to convince McMahon to also put his career on the line on Sunday. I suspect Shane might yet add that stipulation, but possibly for some sort of rematch. Still, it was a nice go-home angle for the hottest babyface on the blue brand.
A very creditable show this week from Smackdown. The in-ring action was strong, there were plenty of storyline developments and it moved at a decent pace. However, for the third week running it couldn’t match the energy or vibrancy of Raw, something that will need to be addressed before their move to Fox in a few months.
Defiant wrestling closes down
Although the UK independent scene may be thriving, not all companies are able to survive, and one casualty was Defiant Wrestling, who closed their doors this week. Defiant was formed out of the ashes of What Culture Pro Wrestling, which had been operated by the popular entertainment website, although WCPW had divided opinion with their booking and organisation. Defiant, however, was much more universally enjoyed and put on some excellent shows in the north-east with major stars like Will Ospreay, PAC, Killian Dane, Rampage Brown, David Starr and many others. Unfortunately, it is a very crowded market, especially with WWE no longer allowing NXT UK talents to work on certain other shows and with a lack of big names to call on, the company sadly was deemed no longer viable. It’s a shame to see any company close their doors, and yes you can certainly see the effect WWE’s UK expansion has had on this company, but Defiant’s reliance on those big names and inability to create new stars in a way other indies have (see the likes of Riptide for an example of how to do just that) was their undoing. This is not a death knell for the industry or British wrestling, but it does show that both WWE mean business when it comes to their talent, but also how difficult it is for indie promotions in the UK to continue with talent being vacuumed up by bigger companies unless they are forward thinking and able to adapt to create new stars.
Jim Smallman leaving Progress
Speaking of the UK independent scene, earlier this week Jim Smallman, one of the founders of Progress wrestling announced he would be departing the company at the end of the year. Smallman, who has been the company ring announcer and at points onscreen figurehead since 2012, is also one of the key members of staff at NXT UK and with that taking up much of his time and a young family at home he has decided to step away. Smallman is very popular with Progress fans and will be missed, but with his departure it does give Progress an opportunity to refresh their look and format somewhat, which might help the company in the future. Smallman is leaving on good terms and the next few months will surely be very interesting as he inches towards his departure. Good luck Jim!
WWE 2K20 news
As has become traditional this time of year, WWE has released the first details of their new video game for the year, WWE 2K20 including the cover stars. This year WWE have opted for Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch as co-cover stars, which seems like a logical and sensible move given Reigns will likely be the faceoff the company once again in 2020 and Becky is one of their most over baby faces. However, in addition to a fun trailer featuring the likes of Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Velveteen Dream and other superstars who will be included in the game, we also got some in game footage as well as information on what we can expect from the newest installment in the series. The following is from the WWE press release:
WWE 2K20, in direct response to fan feedback, will include several franchise firsts alongside streamlined gameplay and a variety of popular modes. The story-driven, objective-based 2K Showcase: The Women’s Evolution will follow the careers of the Four Horsewomen – Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch, Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley®, Charlotte Flair® and Sasha Banks®. Controls will be streamlined to allow new players to jump into the game more easily, while experienced players will still enjoy a challenge.
In addition, WWE 2K20 players will be able to compete as both male and female Superstars in MyCAREER and Mixed Tag matches, while last year’s popular WWE Towers returns with exciting new challenges, including a story-driven Tower centered around the career of Roman Reigns.
The game will also introduce a new service model – WWE 2K20 Originals – set to deliver a wealth of 2K Showcase add-on content for player exploration beyond the game’s initial launch. Each of the WWE 2K20 Originals will present a new playable world and its own unique theme, with more details to be announced in the coming months. WWE 2K20 Originals is downloadable content that may require additional purchase.
It certainly sounds as though the developers are listening to fans and have attempted to make an even more engaging and enjoyable game which includes plenty of firsts and lots of innovation. I for one am very excited about the game and look forward to seeing how it stacks up against 2019’s excellent game.
AEW sells out first TV Taping
Before we begin previewing a huge weekend of wrestling, I would be remiss not to mention that the folks at AEW have done it again. Their first TV taping scheduled for October 2nd in Washington sold out almost immediately. While Double or Nothing and All Out sold out almost immediately they were/are tent pole events with the whole Starrcast event attached which will have attracted visitors from all over the world. However, to sell out a TV taping on a Wednesday night is something completely different. Of course, how long they continue selling out these shows will depend on the quality of the product but AEW have certainly put their best foot forward, and with shows in in Philadelphia and Boston lined up in weeks two and three it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of those shows following suit and selling out.
NXT Takeover preview
With it being Summerslam weekend, of course WWE have a plethora of satellite events on hand for punters in the city of Toronto. As is customary, one such event is NXT Takeover: Toronto which has a very exciting card the night before their parent company host their biggest show of the summer. The main event of Takeover features (presumably) the final battle between NXT Champion Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano in a two-out-of-three-falls match, where the first fall is a wrestling match, the second is a street fight, and the third if necessary (presumably it will be necessary), will be have a stipulation chosen by NXT GM William Regal. Gargano and Cole have already had several belters this year, and I don’t expect this to be any different. That said, I hope Cole holds on to the belt as he seems to have a far bigger upside in this role than Gargano who is probably ready to move up to the main roster at this stage. This should be a cracker, and I have no doubt it’ll compete with anything on the show the night after.
The rest of the show should be almost as good as the main event promises to be. The Undisputed Era have the chance to leave with all the male gold in NXT, with Kyle O’ Reilly and Bobby Fish taking on The Street Profits in what should be very enjoyable bout, and Roderick Strong involved in what could be a show-stealing three-way with Pete Dunne and Velveteen Dream for the North American title. It will certainly be interesting to see how the booking works and whether this is the start of Adam Cole’s prophecy, or whether his cohorts hold up their end and Cole fails or any other or the myriad of permutations that NXT could use here. With The Street Profits already on the main roster now they seem like dead certs to drop the belts but it is far from unheard of for NXT to pull a surprise. Either way the fallout from this show should be significant for Undisputed Era.
The women’s division is well represented on this show. Mia Yim challenges Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s title, and although the build has been very good unless they have bigger plans for Shayna I don’t see her dropping the belt here. Io Shirai and Candace LeRae will have what promises to be a very physical encounter and a great springboard for Shirai’s new heel character to gain some momentum after turning on LeRae a few weeks back.
Takeover promises to be another excellent, show, which almost goes without saying now. These shows are always superb. You would expect all the title matches to deliver big, as well as LeRae vs Shirai. WWE will have to be careful that this doesn’t eclipse the Summerslam show on the Sunday in terms of quality.
The biggest event of the weekend, Summerslam emanates from the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, and it is a pretty stacked card. In terms of the biggest matches on this show the two men’s singles titles are likely to feature pretty high up on the bill. For me Kofi Kingston vs Randy Orton might be the match on this show I’m most excited about. The build-up to this has been simple, has drawn superbly on the history between the two and it makes for a really intriguing dynamic especially when you consider the two men have fantastic chemistry in the ring. For me, I hope this goes on last, although I suspect that may not be the case. Seth Rollins vs Brock Lesnar is a match that should have been hugely anticipated, but it feels as though the recent booking (as well as his own conduct in interviews and on social media) has cut the legs off Rollins as a top babyface, to the point that it might be better for Lesnar to beat him and Rollins to be rehabilitated away from the title picture for a while. Still it should be quite the spectacle as a match and hopefully it will deliver a fun contest.
In terms of the women’s division, there are two title matches and one major era-clashing bout. Charlotte vs Trish Stratus may not be a title match but it has easily overshadowed the title matches and with the match taking place in Stratus’ hometown and Charlotte being the sort of performer who revels in playing the heel in these situations it should create a phenomenal dynamic. The only question mark is whether Stratus can keep up with her younger opponent in her first singles match on WWE television in over a decade. Becky Lynch vs Natalya should provide a very different sort of match with the submission stipulation, although it has gotten very personal and heated so that should help. Perhaps the weakest of the three matches in terms of build, is Bayley vs Ember Moon for the Smackdown Women’s title, but the in-ring action should be excellent and I expect both women to want to steal the show out from under their more focused upon colleagues.
Further down the card, I expect Dolph Ziggler vs Goldberg to be a squash with Ziggler selling like a maniac for big Bill. Likewise, I would be stunned if Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt does not end quickly and with Wyatt standing tall in dominant fashion, especially given Balor is taking some time off. Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon is sure to be a wild brawl and I would imagine Owens will be a massive babyface with the crowd, and you would imagine will get the win, although it wouldn’t be beyond Shane to eke out a win through nefarious means if this feud is to be extended. AJ Styles vs Ricochet could potentially be the match of the night, while I would expect Drew Gulak vs Oney Lorcan to be a very, very physical encounter for the Cruiserweight title, although it might well end up on the pre-show. In addition to all that, we’ll probably get some 24/7 title shenanigans, and some sort of angle with Roman Reigns, Rowan, Daniel Bryan and possibly Samoa Joe. Stacked. Here’s hoping for a great show, and one that doesn’t last 7 hours and burn out the assembled audience.
NJPW G1 Finals
Finally this week, in addition to the enormous number of WWE-related shows, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax tournament reaches its, er, climax. Over the weekend the two final nights of the round robin phase take place with plenty still to play for. In the A block, it is a straight shoot-out between IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi with the winner taking the spot in Monday’s final. However, Okada would progress in the event of a tie (something I’m sure they’ll tease massively either way even if they don’t opt for that result). In the B block there are multiple permutations of who could go through based on head-to-head tiebreakers with Hirooki Goto, Jay White, Tetsuya Naito and Jon Moxley all on 10 points.
It’s really difficult to call who the finalists will be and who will win the tournament outright. As he is the champion, I’m not even sure what happens if Okada wins, nor am I sure how it would work if Moxley takes the overall victory given the prize is a Tokyo Dome title shot on January 4th (or 5th given it’s two nights this year) at Wrestle Kingdom, and by then he will presumably be full time with AEW. I believe the winner of the first night may dictate the winner of the second night. Should Ibushi beat Okada I suspect Naito will face him, and win in the final. However, if Okada were to win I predict that Moxley will go through and Okada will win outright meaning they will have to find an alternative means to determine the WK title contender. However, it could still be a curveball and Moxley or White could take the win (Goto seems unlikely). It’s very exciting, and I’m sure we’ll end up with an incredible final whatever way it shakes out and by next week we should have a good idea of what the Wrestle Kingdom main event might look like.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at Summerslam, the G1 Finals, Raw, Smackdown and whatever else breaks in the meantime. Until then, 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.
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