Welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber, looking at all the big news and events from the past seven days in the world of professional wrestling. It's been quite the busy week with an eventful Raw, a big main-event-dominated episode of Smackdown, a personal feud between two WWE commentators and much more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at Raw from monday night.
Another week, and another slice of the build for Elimination Chamber, and ultimately Wrestlemania 34 drops into place. This week’s Raw was very much about building the next PPV, but the best of that build came from the women’s division. The backstage interaction between Bayley and Sasha Banks was excellent, and started to push the idea of a competitive rivalry between the two, which is sorely needed for both. The seeds are definitely being sewn for a Sasha heel turn, and I suspect these two will have a big match on the biggest show of the year, if they aren’t involved in a multi-women’s match for the title. Personally, I can see Bayley, Sasha, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss in a fatal four way, given the recent build for all four, with Asuka choosing to jump to Smackdown and face Charlotte for the other women’s title. Given the way WWE have given away Sasha vs Asuka, and Bayley vs Asuka on free TV over the past two weeks that indicates to me that WWE might be looking at Asuka moving off Raw. The match with Bayley here was excellent, perhaps not quite to the standard of what they did in NXT, but very good nevertheless.
Outside of the Bayley/Asuka/Sasha story, we also got the entrants for the Women’s Elimination Chamber match, with Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose and Mickie James being announced alongside Bayley, Sasha and of course Raw women’s champion Alexa Bliss, by Raw GM Kurt Angle. Bliss herself made some excellent points about the way the women are treated and the comparison she made to Brock Lesnar in terms of being Raw’s top champion were very fair. I appreciate the idea was to paint Bliss as attempting to get out of a tough title defence, and as a cowardly heel, but the mixed reaction from the crowd when asked to decide if Bliss should have to defend her belt in the chamber very much shows how on point her comments really were. It’s an odd paradox, because Lesnar is a part time attraction, but he is also a big PPV draw, so they have to acquiesce to his schedule. That said, in the age of the network and the changing of the way WWE is financed I do wonder if Bliss’ argument wasn’t something of comment on the real feelings of some of the higher ups backstage. Nia Jax was also given an interesting spot at Elimination Chamber, not in the match, but up against Asuka with her getting inserted in the title match at Wrestlemania if she wins. Hopefully WWE aren’t planning on sacrificing Asuka’s streak to Jax, because even if Asuka is off to Smackdown, she needs the streak to make for the biggest match possible against Charlotte. That said, Jax squashing a local talent here certainly makes it seem as though she is being built for the title programme at Mania. I mentioned Sonya Deville earlier, and she had a very good match with Mickie James on this show, but the post-match with Alexa Bliss making the save was more even more intriguing, and it’ll be really interesting to see what path they take with that particular story. A good night for the women’s division.
Outside of the women's division, we had plenty of build towards the men's elimination chamber. In the main event of the show, Elias vs John Cena vs Braun Strowman for the last pod entry, was very good, and although Strowman left a crime scene behind and stood tall at the end, it was Elias who pinned John Cena, surprisingly. The Miz vs Apollo Crews was a very decent match that put some real spotlight on Crews even in defeat, while Roman Reigns defeated Bray Wyatt in a decent encounter to secure the his spot in the chamber. The post-match with Matt Hardy was barely worth mentioning, as the feud between Hardy and Wyatt has hit a bit of a wall, sadly. Back to the build for the chamber, and I can only assume that Roman Reigns wins the match, possibly last eliminating Cena who presumably starts questioning himself and his ability to compete before we get the reveal of his Wrestlemania opponent. Still they set up some good stuff here, and it'll be interesting to see how things move forward in the coming weeks.
The rest of the show had some fun stuff throughout. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali vs Drew Gulak and Tony Nese was a very good bout, as was Finn Balor and Karl Anderson vs The Revival. Finally, we had the curious case of Jason Jordan. It is well known that Jordan is injured currently, and the segments with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns leading to Reigns having to do double-duty to fill in for Jordan were really well done. This has been a surprisingly entertaining story, and while I'm not sure if Jordan is turning heel imminently, presumably that is the end game for this story. Rollins for his part was great here, starting off supporting and slowly getting tired of Jordan’s screw ups, and the finish to the tag match against The Bar was really well executed. The angle with Jordan being sent home by his Kurt was interesting, given that we now know he had successful neck surgery this week. The procedure was minimally invasive, but Wrestlemania might be slightly too soon and presumably this was a way to write him off television. However, where does that leave Seth Rollins?
A fun show overall, with some real bright spots, and a much bigger focus on the women's division, which is long overdue, plus plenty of build towards Elimination Chamber.
Smackdown this week was a somewhat lopsided affair, with much of this week’s focus on the Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan “feud” and the impact on the WWE title picture. The opening segment with Shane and Bryan was interesting, and surprisingly tense, but it feels like an extension of the same story they have been telling for months on end now, with AJ Styles now even joining in with questioning Bryan and whether he is living vicariously through Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Bryan made some fine points, but it is certainly being set up for a turn from someone either way, even if Shane turning makes no sense. The main event between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was also surprisingly heated given they are aligned, but Styles getting involved telegraphed the announcement of a three-way match at Fastlane. It’ll be interesting to see if that match leads to Zayn and Owens feuding at Wrestlemania, or more likely Shane and a partner of his choosing against the two of them. If it is the latter I feel sorry for Daniel Bryan, because he would be the clear choice for that role but unless he is cleared then I don’t foresee how they can salvage this angle without Bryan looking like an idiot.
Elsewhere on the show, Charlotte had a fine match with Liv Morgan (I suspect it was all down to Charlotte if I’m honest, as Morgan is still fairly limited), The Bludgeon Brothers squashed some local talent before having another brief stare down with The Usos, who themselves had a fun segment cutting an excellent promo, even if the crowd seemed a bit confused by the style of it. Bobby Roode vs Rusev for the US title was a good match, and both are very over acts. I’m not sure what the point of the RKOs on both after the match from Randy Orton were in aid of, other than to keep Orton busy, unless he’s going to be in the US title picture going forward. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin vs The Ascension was mostly a showcase for Gabel and Benjamin and a way to start rehabbing them after an unsuccessful challenge for the tag titles last month.
This was a fairly uneventful show, all things told. The main event was well executed, and leave lots of intrigue moving forward, even if the winner of the three-way at Fastlane seems a like a done deal with Styles getting the win. The top 10 concept introduced this week is interesting, if not somewhat flawed, but given it’s the first week I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the logic and kinks will be worked out moving forward.
Booker T/Corey Graves
With Jonathan Coachman's arrival as part of the Raw announce team, Booker T was dropped back to the pre-show. It initially seemed a strange move, but this week Booker T explained on his podcast that it was an issue with himself and Corey Graves that led to his removal, even going so far as to explain that he would like to have a physical altercation with Graves at some stage. Booker may not have been totally serious on the latter part, but there definitely appears to be some beef there. Corey Graves even took a veiled shot at Booker on Raw this week. However, I do suspect this is not quite the issue it initially appears to be, again because WWE would surely have let Booker go if he was genuinely threatening violence against one of their employees.
Riptide Wrestling: Deep Six
I was in attendance on Friday evening at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton for Riptide: Deep Six, the latest offering from Brighton's premier independent wrestling company. There was some great action from up-an-coming talent on the indy scene as well as some heavy hitters. Highlights included Lord Gideon Grey and Kurtis "Keyboard Warrior" Chapman vs Big T Justice and Omari, Millie McKenzie (who might be the best pure babyface in wrestling right now) vs Chris Brookes, Toni Storm vs Jimmy Havoc, Travis Banks vs "Speedball" Mike Bailey, and the main event featuring Damon Moser and "The King of Strong and Stable Style" Spike Trivet vs Jack Sexsmith and Chris Ridgeway, which featured a major angle to close the show. This was, as usual a great show and exactly the sort of thing Riptide put on every show they promote. Eth Eddie Dennis and Session Moth Martina on the bar, this felt even more fun though. Riptide is slowly but surely establishing itself as one of the hottest tickets on the UK indy scene, and I would definitely recommend getting along to one of their shows while you can still get a ticket.
NJPW New Beginning in Osaka
This Sunday marks NJPW’s first big show of the year since Wrestle Kingdom, and there are some huge matches scheduled, alongside a few of the usual standard NJPW six man tag matches. The top four matches are the big draw on this show. Hiromu Takahashi challenging Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title could be a ridiculously good high-flying encounter; Hirooki Goto vs EVIL or the Never Openweight championship should be the most hard-hitting bout of the evening; Tetsuya Naito vs Yoshi-Hashi should be a heated affair and I imagine we’ll get the tease of Yoshi-Hashi getting the big win, but Naito going over in the end. Finally, we have the match that cries the most intrigue for me, IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada. This will be the 601st day of Okada’s title reign and while everyone is talking about next year’s Wrestle Kingdom as Okada defending against Kenny Omega or Naito, but it wouldn’t be totally out of the question for NJPW to pull a swerve and have Sanada win here. It’s not likely, but it’s certainly piqued my interest.
This should be another cracking show, as all New Japan shows tend to be at the moment, but it’ll be interesting to see the long term ramifications of what happens as it pertain to the rest of the year for NJPW.
Coliseum Video on the network
Earlier this week WWE uploaded a new selection of content to the network, which included a selection of WWE Coliseum Home Video releases from the 80s and early 90s. Now normally, this might not have been news, but in this instance this was like WWE uploading my childhood onto the network. I have such fond memories of these releases on VHS, with Battle at the Albert Hall from 1991 being one of my clearest memories from that time. If you enjoyed 80s WWF and you watched these tapes, I urge you to take a trip down memory lane.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Raw and Smackdown, 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.