Welcome to Slammer Jabber your all in one look at the biggest news stories and happenings in the topsy turvy world of pro wrestling from the last seven days. This week has been a very busy one indeed with episodes of Raw and Smackdown, the sad passing of a WCW stalwart, some news about Vince McMahon's newest venture, as well as the final PPV of the WWE calendar for 2018. Lets get started with Sunday's big Clash of Champions show.
Clash of Champions
As is so often the case, Clash of Champions looked like a dud of a show on paper given the lack of tangible stakes for most matches and the almost filler nature of the show. To an extent that was how things transpired on this show, but with plenty of good quality in-ring action. The main event between AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal was a pleasant surprise, and while AJ did most of the heavy lifting Mahal did manage to keep pace with the best wrestler on the planet today. Thankfully WWE decided not to pull a swerve and have Mahal regain the title, which has to signal that the Jinder experiment is conclusively over. Thankfully. Mahal is a decent upper mid-carder and he has done very well with his limited ability in difficult position, but he hasn’t caught fire as a headliner and WWE couldn’t really give him much more, so it will be interesting to see how he fares from here on out. For Styles this cemented him as the top guy on Smackdown, and hopefully WWE now build towards a big match for Styles at Wrestlemania rather than something more akin to a caretaker role. A very good main event.
The other big match on this show revolved around Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton, but in reality this was a mess that was all about Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. The constant shenanigans, the splitting of the ring for each referee, Shane's attempted screwing of Owens and Zayn, only for Bryan to even the odds with a fast count was massively overbooked. It's a shame, because the match itself could have been excellent given the people involved, and it's really hard to see where this actually goes, given Bryan can’t get cleared, and even if he does somehow then surely Shane isn’t the person to put him with? It's an odd angle which was furthered here, at the expense of good match.
Elsewhere on this show, Charlotte and Natalya had a surprisingly tame lumberjack match, but it was to the matches’ benefit and they put on a very enjoyable bout. Dolph Ziggler vs Bobby Roode vs Baron Corbin was surprisingly excellent, probably the match of the night, and did plenty to elevate all three men. I'm not sure about the logic of putting the US title on Dolph Ziggler but the match itself was very well executed. The Bludgeon Brothers vs Breezango was basically just a squash, and really only existed to further push Harper and Rowan. Finally, The Usos vs The New Day vs Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin vs Rusev & Aiden English was a fun, fast paced tag match. I'm not sure that WWE haven’t missed a trick in not putting the titles on Rusev and English who were brilliant in the pre-match segment they had, and were clearly the most over with the crowd. Rusev Day is massively over, and WWE should really be getting on board with this before it’s too late.
All things being equal, this was a very enjoyable, but utterly pointless show. Nothing was really progressed in terms of storylines, save the Bryan/Shane conflict, but the in-ring was very good.
The big news coming out of this week’s Raw came from the closing segment, and the reveal that for the first time WWE will be holding an all women Royal Rumble, alongside the male equivalent in 2018. The preceding match with Bayley, Mickie James and Sasha Banks against Absolution was really just an excuse to get the whole female Raw roster out there and didn’t add a huge amount to the show. The interactions between the three women (Bayley, Mickie and Sasha) and Elias before the match was also pretty odd and seemed to achieve very little. It was really incongruous with the rest of the show and the main event, so I’m not sure why that was thrown in. The announcement itself had been rumoured as something that might happen for some time now, but I’m glad the company have followed through with it. There are some incredibly talented female workers on the roster and rather than shoehorning them into the male match and presenting the idea of a female entrant as a sideshow, we can have a genuinely competitive affair and make it so the winner of the match gets a huge boost from the win, and the Women’s Title match can be promoted as a marquee main event match at Wrestlemania. If done right, this could be a huge deal and hopefully WWE do things the right way and present this as a big deal.
I’m enjoying that WWE are booking a variety of storylines to interconnect on Raw, rather than just having everything isolated, and linear by design. The example of this from Monday’s show was Seth Rollins, The Shield, Samoa Joe, The Bar and one Jason Jordan. The interaction between Jordan and Rollins as they vied to face Joe in the opening match was well executed and made Samoa Joe seem like a really big deal, something backed up by his promo. The actual match with Jordan and Rollins was very good, and shows just how much Raw relies on Rollins to come up trumps from an in-ring perspective, especially on shows like Monday’s where Roman Reigns is MIA. The second match later on in the night with Joe and The Bar vs Rollins, Jordan and Dean Ambrose was very good, although obviously Jordan is no replacement for Roman Reigns. The angle with The Bar taking out Ambrose was well done, even if it was an obvious injury angle, and as we have since found out was done to write off Ambrose for a lengthy period due to a Triceps injury. With that, The Shield reunion presumably ends, but at least it gives Sheamus, Cesaro and Joe something of a rub and an excuse for Rollins and Reigns to team with Ambrose as a surprise partner at a future date.
The other notable happenings on this show came from a debut and a return, with Hideo Itami making his Raw debut saving Finn Balor from Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas, and then teaming with Balor to defeat the pair. It was a fine debut, but it is easy to see why WWE have shifted him to 205 Live, as he looked tiny in comparison to the other three competitors. The return came in the form of The Revival who beat Rhyno and Heath Slater. Dash and Dawson looked great, and provide an excellent addition to the tag division. Hopefully they can both stay fit now after some horrendous luck this year.
The rest of the show was mostly very enjoyable, with plenty of enjoyable stuff. Asuka squashed Alicia Fox, which was fine for what it was; Brock Lesnar made an appearance and we got the announcement that as expected he would face both Kane and Braun Strowman at the Rumble, which of course sparked a short brawl between the three of them to keep that programme ticking over. Finally, we had two segments featuring Bray Wyatt doing his usual shtick, and Matt Hardy talking to a goldfish. The “Woken” character has already gone in an odd direction, but I can’t say I’m not intrigued, so they are doing something right.
A decent show to start the build to the Royal Rumble, but with six weeks to go they are right to opt for a gradual ramping up of the hype train for this show. There was groundwork laid, and some pieces moved into to place, and the in-ring was very good, which made for a fun, and relatively easy to watch show.
In the aftermath of Clash of Champions, this show was always going to be mostly focused on the Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan issue after Bryan gave the fast count for Owens and Zayn at the PPV. The segment with the two did a great job of building on that tension, and Bryan as the one with the moral high ground. I enjoyed that it looked like Shane was getting heated, but then shook hands with Bryan and walked away. If they do turn Shane, I would like there to be some build to that turn and to give him a reason, which they started to do here with the tease. Bryan making Owens and Zayn team with Jinder Mahal against Orton, Nakamura and Styles (which provided a fun, but inconsequential main event) also gave Bryan the opportunity to further show his babyface credentials. It’s odd, it feels like this is building to a match but if Bryan is cleared then Shane seems an odd choice of opponent. That said, if they were able to do something more limited, physically, with Bryan, Shane could certainly provide the necessary smoke and mirrors type match. We’ll have to see, but it definitely feels like this is where the angle is heading.
The rest of the show was pretty forgettable, but that is par for the course this time of year. Aiden English and Rusev vs The New Day in a festive themed brawl was really fun; Charlotte and Naomi vs Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan was another fine match, while Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable out in a great showing against The Usos to set them up as viable challengers for the tag titles. Finally, we had what looks like the end of Dolph Ziggler on WWE TV. Ziggler throwing down the US Title is a great way for him to leave if he is indeed exiting the company, but regardless he definitely could do with some time off screen to refresh the character, or even a repackage. Either way, a Smackdown without Ziggler can only be a good thing.
A very good show this week, if not somewhat forgettable. I fully expected this week and next week’s shows to provide little of note, and while there were a few bright spots it still feels that Smackdown especially is in a holding pattern tie the new year.
RIP Tom Zenk
In sad news this week, it emerged that former WWE, and WCW competitor Tom "Z-Man" Zenk had passed away aged 59. Zenk was part of the Can-Am Connection with Rick Martel in the early days of the Rock 'n' Wrestling era, before leaving WWF for WCW where he was a stalwart of the late 80s and early 90s WCW undercard, forming an effective partnership with the late Brian Pillman, as well as having a great feud with Pillman over the WCW Light Heavyweight title at one point. Zenk largely disappeared from the wrestling scene in the mid-90s, although he did re-emerge as something of an internet wrestling celebrity in the early 00s as a critic of WWE on Live Audio Wrestling in Canada, as well as taking part on a number of interviews with Dave Meltzer and the Wrestling Observer, only to disappear again a few years later. Obviously, this is very sad news, and another wrestler from that era is no longer with us. Our thoughts go out to Zenk's family and friends ta this difficult time. RIP.
For those of you who may not remember, the XFL (Xtreme Football League) was something of a bust for Vince McMahon and WWE in 2001. As such you would think that would be the last of it? Well maybe not. David Bixenspan of Deadspin.com broke the news during the week that Vince McMahon had registered a new company, Alpha Entertainment, to seek investment opportunities in sports. There had of course been a long running rumour (with zero substance) of McMahon buying Newcastle United, but that seemed unlikely. However, the plot thickened further when it was revealed WWE had registered trademarks for UFL, URFL but under the umbrella of VKM Ventures. It is of course, purely speculation at this point, but there is certainly gathering expectation that McMahon is looking to relaunch some sort of American Football league, and there has been a suggestion that this was in response to the anthem protests and other recent controversies within the NFL (something backed up by his friendship with Donald Trump). This should become clear in the coming weeks, but it certainly seems like an unusual move by Vince McMahon, and given his track record outside of wrestling (XFL, WBF, Boxing) I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a successful return on his investment here, and what impact that has on WWE remains to be seen.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with any breaking news from Raw and Smackdown, as well as the Slammer Jabber end of year awards. 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, and have a very merry Christmas.