Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. WWE put on a couple of mixed main roster TV offerings, NXT set up a huge show for later in the month, AEW also presented a so-so episode of Dynamite. A couple of WWE superstars look like they might be exploring their options, while a former star returned to the fold. Let's get things underway on a busy week with a look at Smackdown from last Friday night.
After Survivor Series it seemed that Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan were ostensibly done, especially given Wyatt pinned Bryan clean-as-a-whistle in the middle of the ring. However, that was not to be the case, as these two shared the main event segment on this week’s Smackdown as Bryan responded to Wyatt’s challenge (issued earlier in the night via the Firefly Funhouse). I like the idea they were pushing that Wyatt’s interactions with Finn Balor and Seth Rollins changed who they are and had a hand in their respective recent heel turns because of the toll “The Fiend” took on them. It’s certainly an interesting concept and one that makes things all the more interesting for this feud, even if it is more of a coincidence than anything. The hair removal under the ring provides a hook for next week as we wait to see what Bryan looks like after being assaulted by Wyatt, but the whole thing ranks as one of the more bizarre things on WWE television in recent memory. Wyatt also unveiled a custom title belt on this show, despite only unveiling the new blue Universal title a couple of weeks ago, which features the face of “The Fiend” and is designed by Tom Savini (horror design legend). It looks like Wyatt in Firefly Funhouse mode will hold the blue belt while his alter ego will have the custom title. However, it also smacks of WWE trying to cash in on their biggest merch seller with a limited edition belt, especially as they will be numbered and retail at an eye-watering $6000. Now that’s a collector's item that only the die-hards will really be able to afford. There were plenty of interesting talking points coming out of this, but there were definitely issues with the logic and execution overall.
The rest of the show was a so-so affair. Roman Reigns vs Bobby Roode was fine, if unspectacular although the post-match ruckus with Reigns, Roode, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin was done very well and made Reigns seem like an absolute badass, something sorely missing from his act as of late. Mustafa Ali vs Drew Gulak was a quick showcase for Ali. Nikki Cross vs Sonya Deville was basically a set up for Alexa Bliss to make her return and save Cross from a 2-on-1 beat down. Elias returned in a pretty meaningless segment. Sasha Banks and Bayley had a strong segment with Lacey Evans, who looks likely to be a main antagonist within the Smackdown women’s roster. The New Day vs Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro was a strong TV match, but more notable was Sami Zayn’s pre-match promo which basically called out the WWE for being a capitalist machine. It was a cracking promo, although how he is the heel here I will never understand. Finally, Sheamus returned in a pre-recorded video cutting an excellent promo on how the roster has gone “soft”. The “Celtic Warrior” has been much missed, and he should be a fantastic addition to the already stacked Smackdown roster, and he’ll feel really fresh in this role. A decent show overall.
After Seth Rollins appeared to turn heel and there was a tease of an alliance with AoP last week, this week was more of the same as Rollins’ deluded, self-appointed locker room reader character continued to be developed. His in-ring “apology” was well delivered and kept his motivations ambiguous. Kevin Owens continued to position himself as the everyman top babyface on Raw. The fake of AoP challenging Rollins and Kevin Owens to a match was a nice moment, and although AoP ambushing Owens in his match with Bobby Lashley continued to push that story forward. Prior to that though, Owens had a fun shouting match with Lana that led to his match with Lashley. The role reversal with Lashley and Lana being arrested after Rusev once again made his presence felt was satisfying if not a bit silly. This whole angle has been ridiculous, but I like that this segment had two big programmes collide and bleed into each other’s narratives. Also, Rusev is over like rover and I wonder if this eventually allows Aiden English to return to his side and reform the previously over-huge Rusev Day team.
The rest of the show was pretty forgettable. Drew McIntyre vs Akira Tozawa (who is getting lots of TV time at the moment, which is great to see) was a nothing match that really existed for Drew McIntyre to look strong before challenging Randy Orton. But that only existed to get Orton into a position where The OC could attack, and set up the main event with Humberto Carrillo, Rey Mysterio and Ricochet against AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, while McIntyre disappeared. It was an odd way to get to that main event. The match was fine, and AJ getting the win followed by a surprise RKO from Orton made for interesting viewing, but where this all goes in terms of specific programmes, I’m just not sure. Andrade squashed Eric Young, while Erick Rowan did the same to No Way Jose, although that was a backdrop for more shenanigans with this cage he has. I can’t see how this can have a satisfying conclusion in all honesty. Another Squash from The Viking Raiders, while Aleister Black beat Tony Nese as his feud with Buddy Murphy continues to unfold. Finally, in easily the best match on this show, Asuka and Kairi Sane beat Charlotte Flair in a handicap match. They got time, it was surprisingly well-paced and there was a great story told with another innovative finish.
A pretty poor Raw beyond the main angles in the first hour. For Raw, it’s very much auto-pilot season until we get to January and this show as proof positive of that fact.
For NXT, this week’s show was mostly focused on setting up the big December 18th episode for the black and yellow brand which is shaping up to be a landmark night. Coming off his huge showing over Survivor Series weekend Keith Lee felt pretty central to the main event plans for NXT on this show. The segment with Undisputed Era, Lee and Tomasso Ciampa was really effective, while the main event with Lee and Ciampa teaming with Dominic Dijakovic against Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong. Naturally, Finn Balor (who had himself made a statement in a pre-recorded video earlier in the night) got involved, and the chaos eventually ended with Lee pinning Cole with a Jackhammer. Big night for Keith Lee, and with Ciampa, Balor and Lee set to clash next week I wouldn’t be shocked to see the big man triumph in that three-way and advance to face Cole on December 18th.
The groundwork on Rhea Ripley vs Shayna Baszler for December 18th continued to be laid here. Her segment ahead of her scheduled match with Dakota Kai put her over strongly, allowed Kai to spin off into a programme with a retuning Mia Yim (which is smart rather than going to the programme with Tegan Nox immediately). Ripley getting taken out by Baszler and her cronies, but valiantly fighting on against the odds until she passed out made her look incredible while keeping Shayna strong too.
The rest of the show ticked along nicely. Pete Dunne vs Killian Dain was a very physical encounter, but enjoyable even if the finish made Dunne look a bit silly. The Forgotten Sons destroyed Evolve competitors Leon Ruff and Adrian Alanis in short order. Kushida and Cameron Grimes had a very fun TV match and I hope they run this back in the near future as they appear to have great chemistry. Finally, Matt Riddle and a returning Kassius Ohno had a very fun back-and-forth contest, and although Ohno got some offence in, I’m not sure he shouldn’t have been presented as more of a threat ahead of the NXT vs NXT UK Worlds Collide event in January.
A decent show that set up lots of fun stuff for December 18th, and left plenty of room for next week to act as a go-home for what feels like a mini-Takeover even to round off 2019.
After some sizeable drops in viewership over the past few weeks, I expected AEW to fire back with something big on this show and I’m not sure that’s quite what happened. Chris Jericho, as usual, had the best segment of the night as he introduced the “Lexicon of Le Champion” which is a weird hybrid between his “List of Jericho” and his “List of Holds” from his WCW days. Using this as a way to set up a match with Jungle Boy for December 18th was a smart move, while also keeping Jon Moxley on the backburner. I thought Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus both came across well here, but Jericho had the best line in response to Luchasaurus saying Marko Stunt was small for his age, as Jericho retorted that Stunt was “small for any age”. Solid work all around that set up a big show for a couple of weeks’ time. With no PPV on the immediate horizon, this feels like a smart move, even if it will be going up against NXT’s big show on the same night.
The rest of the show was enjoyable if occasionally a bit illogical. Cody cutting a promo on The Butcher and The Blade, as well as MJF, was fine although he needs to figure out if he’s the “Common Man” ala Dusty Rhodes or 1980s Ric Flair because I don’t know if you can quite be both. Also, I have no idea who Q.T Marshall is, or if him teaming with Cody next week is positive or negative. Fenix vs Trent was very good, while the whole segment with Nyla Rose did a great job of rebuilding her as an unstoppable monster. Hikaru Shida vs Kris Statlander was also pretty good, but it’s baffling that Shida is losing here, and the match was an afterthought to the horrendously cringe-worthy Brandi Rhodes/Awesome Kong story. The Dark Order vignettes continue to be a highlight. Joey Janela vs Jon Moxley was a decent main event and the post-match kept the flame of things with Jericho burning. Lastly, Pentagon Jr and Christopher Daniels had a passable bout that sadly exposed that Daniels is perhaps a step or two off the pace for a singles act in this company, and that moonsault botch was pretty woeful, sadly.
Not a bad show, but certainly not on the level of what NXT is putting together. AEW feel like they are stuck in the mud at the moment, with an overreliance on matches and not enough storyline development. There are nuances that AEW don’t seem to be nailing and things still seem muddled week-to-week. It’s a good show, but there is a lot of work to be done.
In a small but notable bit of news this week, Charlotte Flair and Andrade made some interesting submissions to the trademark office. The couple applied for the rights to the names “Ashley Flair”, “El Idola” and “La Sombra”, which encompasses their pre-WWE names (well Ashley is Flair’s real first name, and La Sombra was Andrade’s masked moniker in Mexico, where the trademark will not apply). This could be a complete non-story with nothing more than two talents looking to protect their future interests should they ever leave the company. Equally, it could signal that one or both are considering exploring their options outside of WWE, and with the current climate being especially favourable for wrestlers it would be hard to blame them. It could also be a potential negotiating tactic with their current employers as both seek to leverage their status into new, improved contracts. It remains to be seen, but this is certainly a developing story that could become more significant in the next few months
John Morrison returns
This ain't no make-believe! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). On Tuesday’s WWE backstage show on Fox, WWE announced that John Morrison would be returning to the company having signed a “multi-year deal” to return. Morrison, real name John Hennigan has been working for a variety of companies over the past seven years while also honing his acting skills. The former Johnny Nitro/Impact/Mundo was an athletic standout for much of his WWE run, and at several points seemed poised to break on through (pun intended) only to fall short. However his work since has been excellent, and his acting and character work has come on leaps and bounds. He could be a great fit for a Smackdown midcard full of top workers, as well as his former partner The Miz, or on Raw where he could resume his rivalry with Ricochet from their time in Lucha Underground. He could even be an asset to NXT working with a plethora of talented up-and-coming superstars and using some of the wisdom and experience he has accumulated over the years. Regardless of where he goes, he certainly seems like a smart signing for WWE and can definitely add something to the product.
WWE Road to Wrestlemania Board Game
Finally this week, in a fun but of news WWE have released a new board game designed by renowned designer Rachel Lowe, who was the brain behind the Destination series of games, and the She Who Dares brand. Road to Wrestlemania does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing players to play as their favourite WWE superstar on the way to the biggest showcase in professional wrestling. Here’s a bit of the info from the press release:
"WWE has a passionate and devoted global fanbase who are drawn to these fantastic athletes and the excitement of the dramatic, action-packed storylines,” said Rachel Lowe. “I’m thrilled to work with WWE and bring this game to life so thousands of fans across the UK have the opportunity to become part of this exciting world."
Rachel launches WWE: Road to WrestleMania just a few weeks after being awarded the Game of the Year by the Toy Retailers Association (TRA) for the Jumanji board game. Rachel launched the Jumanji board game in December 2017 and it quickly became a smash hit reaching the top of the UK Amazon ranking in the board games category two years running alongside Cards Against Humanity and other best sellers.
"I am absolutely delighted to receive the Game of the Year award for the Jumanji Board Game. The feedback we've had about the game has been wonderful so to receive this award as well is just fabulous.
"It recognises the hard work and effort I put into getting it to the number 1 ranking on Amazon and the hard work of my distributor, Heathside Trading, who achieved volume sales throughout the duration of my contract with Sony," added Rachel.
"The success we've had has established a good foundation of distribution for my new licenses and we anticipate similar success with our new board game: WWE Road to WrestleMania and our Call the Midwife board game, puzzle and playing cards which are all available on www.rachellowe.co.uk and will have national distribution in 2020."
The game looks great, and it’s nice to see WWE going a bit further outside the box with their licensing rather than the usual, pretty drab merchandise. Hopefully, we’ll get our hands on a copy at some point in the near future and be able to give you a full review in the near future.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown, AEW, NXT 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/AEW/Rachel Lowe