Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week, we look at the build to TLC with a much-improved episode of Raw, and a very decent Smackdown. We also look at the sad loss of a wrestling legend, as well a scary moment involving a former WWE superstar. Let's get started with this week's episode of Raw.
With ratings (and quality booking) noticeably down over the past few weeks, we all figured WWE would likely coast till after TLC and then into the new year before picking things up again properly in time to hype the Royal Rumble. However Raw opened this week with a tirade from Seth Rollins essentially representing the views of the audience watching, pointing out all the things wrong with the show in recent weeks, and using Baron Corbin as a surrogate of sorts for Vince McMahon and the writing team, as the target for Rollins/the fans’ issues. The segment was weird and felt a bit too meta for my liking, however, I think it certainly worked to build to the main event between the two. The TLC match was verging on PPV quality and created a very believable scenario for a potential Corbin win and a title change. Rollins scraped by in the end, but it was very good, probably Corbin’s best outing on the main roster this year. It did seem an unusual way to build Rollins vs Dean Ambrose for TLC, but I’d prefer this to more of what we got from Ambrose, with WWE continuing to exploit Roman Reigns’ leukaemia with Ambrose callously saying “Who cares?” I really hope this isn’t the road WWE continues to take all the way to Wrestlemania, but it feels like it might be.
The rest of the show was better than the last couple of weeks, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a ringing endorsement. Drew McIntyre vs Dolph Ziggler was a decent bout, but it seems like a rush-job to propel McIntyre forward at the expense of the dissolution of their partnership. Chad Gable and Bobby Roode beating AoP and Drake Maverick for the tag titles was a nice moment but it ended a damp squib of a reign for AoP. The segment with Natalya and Ruby Riott was in pretty poor taste, but at least it seems to be leading up to Riott getting her comeuppance and hopefully we can all move on. Bayley vs Alicia Fox was essentially a promo for Mixed Match Challenge, Ember Moon vs Tamina was also in place to promote a different match with Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey, although Jax’s promo was pretty awful. Finally, Elias vs Lio Rush was actually quite enjoyable, and the Heath Slater referee involvement was an interesting twist that will hopefully pay off in the coming weeks.
This was a definite improvement on recent shows, and I’m glad WWE are addressing the very real issues with their recent episodes of Raw. They still have a long way to go, but this was much better and a decent go-home show for TLC.
No match holds more intrigue for me ahead of TLC than the Smackdown Women’s title match between Asuka, Charlotte and Becky Lynch. There are so many different ways the match could go and this week’s go-home show was as strong an indication yet that the women of the blue brand have a solid case for headlining the PPV. Asuka vs Charlotte was not quite n the level of their excellent Wrestlemania match earlier this year, but given it was a TV match and it lacked the stakes of Asuka’s streak it is hardly surprising. That said it was an excellent main event, and although it was a non-finish, in the end, it did a great job of putting over all three women strongly but reminding the audience that Asuka is every bit on the level of her opponents. If the plan is to build to Becky vs Ronda at Wrestlemania I could very much see Becky dropping the belt to Asuka on Sunday. Although I suppose they could just as easily have Nia Jax beat Ronda by some shenanigans that protect Rousey, and have her win the Rumble and face Becky at Mania that way. There are many scenarios, but let’s not look past TLC and what should be a fantastic match that was very well built up in the closing segment of this week’s show.
The “new” Daniel Bryan is superb. There’s no way around it, his new heel persona is fresh, and feels like it makes so much better use of Bryan than I expected it would. I know he’s been a heel before and done a great job, but this run has so far been on a whole other level. The comment about sheep at the beginning of his show-opening promo was superb. It was nice to see Mustafa Ali, who has quietly been killing it on 205 Live for months, get to share a ring with Bryan especially with Bryan putting his abilities over before getting into more great heel work. Bryan’s smug superiority and criticism of Ali driving a big car was superb. While Bryan got the dominant win, the match between the two was really quite good and shone a light on Ali. He will likely head off back to 205 after this, but I hope he sticks around as there could be some mouth-watering combinations involving Mustafa Ali and a variety of members of the Smackdown roster. A very good segment and an even better match.
The rest of the show was mostly very entertaining. AJ Styles cut a fine promo backstage, although they could have done more with him on this show. The rap battle segment could have been a mess, but it was actually very enjoyable. The Shane McMahon segment with The Miz was a bit of a car crash in the end, including the worst tornado DDT I’ve ever seen. I honestly have no idea where this storyline is leading, but I hope it hurries up and gets there. It really feels like a waste of Miz’s talents. Rey Mysterio ambushing Randy Orton mid-promo was a nice touch and put the exclamation point on the animosity between the two going into TLC. Finally, Rusev and Jeff Hardy vs Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe was a nice way to continue the respective singles feuds and seeing Rusev get the rub here was a very exciting development.
Overall, this week’s Smackdown was a very good show that absolutely trounced Raw even with the red brand improving on recent efforts. It’s a shame that TLC is so Raw-heavy because the stories being told on their opposite brand are far superior.
This Sunday WWE presents its final PPV show of 2018, with TLC the annual stipulation-heavy extravaganza, usually featuring a number of gimmick matches based around the traditional Tables, Ladders and Chairs that have become a massive part of WWE-lore. This year is no different, although it does feel like a somewhat Raw-dominated show. The big matches from the red brand are either highly personal or feature big stipulations or both. The main event, for lack of a better term, has definitely been presented as Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins who are facing off in what should be an excellent match. I suspect Ambrose will be taking the win, possibly by cheating, but he doesn’t feel like that sort of heel, so perhaps by sheer brutality. Getting the Intercontinental title off Rollins before the Royal Rumble would be a logical move given he is rumoured to be facing Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania for the Universal title, but that is far from confirmed at this stage. However, with Roman Reigns gone and Braun Strowman having been booked very inconsistently, Rollins seems like a shoo-in for the top, all-conquering babyface, and a win for Ambrose here, and in the feud overall, would set up a nice post-Mania programme for both men should Rollins take down Lesnar.
However, that is presuming Lesnar is still around, and he may not be if the UFC is a realistic destination for him. We do know that if Braun Strowman gets his win against Baron Corbin on this show that he will be facing Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, so that does give the company a potential out if plans need to change. That said, with Strowman coming back from an injury for this show that itself may not be an option. The inclusion of the Heath Slater as a referee angle feels like it might play into this match and Corbin may get the GM role going forward. However, Kurt Angle and Corbin still have unfinished business and having him interfere also makes sense. Either way, given Strowman is not 100% I expect this to be either short and violent, or full of smoke and mirrors to cover for any limitations Strowman may temporarily have.
Ronda Rousey vs Nia Jax is not a match I’m greatly looking forward to. Jax has been really badly booked in recent weeks and given she has garnered a reputation for being unsafe (whether fair or not) this could be an absolute car crash. Their match at Money in the Bank was very good, but I don’t have high expectations for this being anywhere near as good. Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre should be solid enough, although I expect McIntyre to get the clean win given they clearly have big plans for him. Natalya vs Ruby Riott should be fine, but again I don’t have any real desire to see this go long and hopefully this match, and the distasteful angle accompanying it are over with nice and quickly. Finally, on the Raw side we have Elias vs Bobby Lashley with a guitar on a ladder, which is legal once retrieved. Having seen them wrestle every Monday for roughly 17 years now, I will be happy if this match is the blow-off to this drawn-out feud.
On the blue side of things, Smackdown has some excellent looking matches on deck for TLC. Daniel Bryan vs AJ Styles should, naturally by a very good match especially given the new direction of the Bryan character. I can’t see anything but a Bryan win, although it could be through some sort of chicanery. Rey Mysterio vs Randy Orton in a chairs match is unlikely to set the world on fire, but neither will it be the anything less than solid. The Bar vs The Usos vs The New Day does reflect the shallow nature of the Smackdown tag division, but it also could well be the sleeper match of the night on a jam-packed card. Likewise, Buddy Murphy vs Cedric Alexandra will almost certainly be an absolute corker, while Carmella and R-Truth vs Alicia Fox and Jinder Mahal is a complete comedy bout, although somehow with very reals stakes in terms of the Royal Rumble. Finally, the real main event of this card even if it doesn’t go on last (it genuinely should), Becky Lynch vs Asuka vs Charlotte in a triple threat TLC match. All three women have raised their game in the build to this show, although Lynch still remains head and shoulders above her peers, and we know all three can deliver in the ring. Honestly, this could end up being a late contender for the match of the year if they are given the requisite time, and it could well set up the chain of events that leads to the main event of Wrestlemania this year, but either way, it should be a superb bout.
TLC looks stacked on paper, and while the booking of the TV shows recently has been lopsided at best this has the makings of a great PPV. There are twelve matches scheduled, but I expect two or three to end up on the pre-show, and if the others are booked correctly WWE could have a late contender for card of the year. However, that booking is a big "if".
RIP Larry “The Axe” Hennig
With the untimely passing of Dynamite Kid last week, one passing that got overshadowed was the sad loss of Larry “The Axe” Hennig. The father of Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig and grandfather WWE superstar Curtis Axel, Hennig was one of the top stars in the AWA winning the tag team titles on multiple occasions. Hennig sadly passed away aged 82 from Kidney failure. RIP Larry “The Axe” Hennig.
Big Cass suffers seizure
In a worrying turn of events, William Morrissey, the artist formerly known as Big Cass in WWE (now going by Big C, Cazz, Big Cazz or whatever gets him around a lawsuit from his former employers, we’ll stick with Big Cass here for clarity) had what was reported as a seizure at the recent House of Hardcore show last week, collapsing in front of fans. He was believed to have been fine afterwards, but it certainly sounds like a concerning incident for the former WWE superstar. Morrissey has had a pretty tough year, returning from injury only to be let go after reportedly getting on the wrong side of WWE brass. Recent pictures have seen him looking in fart worse shape than during his time in WWE, and have prompted concerns over his health. I wouldn’t like to speculate on the causes of his bout of ill health, but we wish him a speedy recovery and a return to good health and sincerely hope he avoids any further scary incidents.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from TLC, Raw and Smackdown and as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week, and previewing the Wrestle Kingdom 13 card on January 4th. 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.