Greetings grapple fans, welcome to this week's edition of Slammer Jabber. This week we've got plenty happening from Raw, Smackdown, the sad passing of some wrestling legends, and a strange incident involving The Rock and CM Punk. Lets get started with this week's Raw.
After last week's excellent episode, I had hoped we were due another instalment in Raw this week, with more build for Wrestlemania (via Fastlane). In some areas we got that, and in others not so much. The main event was an example of an area where things were done well. Braun Strowman was made to look like an absolute beast against the Big Show, not only kicking out of the knockout punch, but slamming Show in brutal fashion, before looking strong again against Roman Reigns. I'm increasingly convinced by Strowman and that he will be the next big star for WWE, just with the little things he does he seems to really be starting to understand the nuances of the art of professional wrestling. Reigns looked good here too, and I'm looking forward to the two of them butting heads at Fastlane significantly more that I was a few weeks ago.
Another big positive this week came from Kevin Owens, as he cut one of the best promos of his WWE tenure to open the show. I especially enjoyed how he talking up the potential weaknesses that he planned to exploit in the game of Bill Goldberg, and as such how he plans to beat him. However, Owens was also involved in a match with Sami Zayn later in the show, which was disappointing. I have greatly enjoyed some of the bouts these two have had, but they need to separate them, desperately for a long period of time, or their career-long potentially defining rivalry will be used up and burnt out in less than 2 years. The match was good, and made Owens look strong, but they are on shaky ground sticking these two in together again.
Brock Lesnar made an unexpected, and unusual appearance on this show. His promo interview segment with Paul Heyman was a tad strange, especially as he discussed the potential outcome of Kevin Owens vs Goldberg at Fastlane. It was a good way of keeping Lesnar looking busy and strong, while keeping him waiting in the wings for Goldberg after Fastlane, but this had an odd vibe to it. Still, it was nice to see Lesnar scaring the granny out of Michael Cole.
The women's situation was a bit strange on this week's show, the segment between Bayley and Stephanie McMahon was very strong and painted Bayley as a very strong babyface and set her up nicely against the authority heel in Stephanie. However, this then led to a match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte, and while we got the announcement that Bayley will defend (and probably lose, given the nature of the nonsensical booking of this whole Charlotte-PPV streak business), the match featuring the other two made Bayley seem like something of an afterthought. Also, much like Zayn and Owens, they really need to do something with Charlotte and Sasha to separate them, because they are in very real danger of making their revolutionary, glass ceiling-shattering feud an afterthought as well. Again, a very good match but one that should not be happening again and again.
Elsewhere on this show we got Gallows & Anderson taking a beat-down from Reigns which did the no favours, while Enzo & Big Cass earned a title shot against Gallows & Anderson for Fastlane (which I cannot see them winning at this stage), Jack Gallagher and Neville had a fun segment to further build towards their cruiserweight title match at Fastlane with Neville excelling on the microphone again, THE Brian Kendrick beat down Akira Tozawa furthering their feud, The New Day beat "Handsome Rusev" & "Hardbody" Mahal in a fun match which featured a nice running joke about Russian hacking which was surprisingly current for WWE, and Nia Jax won a squash match and called out Bayley. This was an up and down show for sure, but that is generally the nature of the three hour Raw format. However, the good stuff was very good and definitely has me continuing to be interested in Fastlane, even if this show wasn’t quite up to the same standard as last week.
Another week, another cracking show for the blue brand. I feel like I say this every week, but it is such a well written, well thought out show that is lean and acts to forward storylines with every segment. The highlight of course this week was the battle royal to crown a new number one contender to face Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania, following Randy Orton's vow of loyalty to Wyatt last week. The match itself was very good, and I liked that it advanced several storylines in one go, with more development for Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose, a kick off of sorts to a feud between The Miz and John Cena (more on that shortly), as well as Dolph Ziggler, Apollo Crews and Kalisto continuing to build their feud. However, the final pairing of AJ Styles and Luke Harper had a fun back and forth, before they did the both men over the top at the same time finish, ala Royal Rumble 1994. How intentional this was I don’t know, it may have been more an ode to Royal Rumble 2005 when John Cena and Batista went over at the same time even though that wasn’t the plan. The lack of replay angles suggests they didn't quite nail the landing simultaneously (I think AJ landed first by quite some way), but it doesn’t matter. This was very good, helps everyone involved, and sets up a corking potential match between Luke Harper and AJ Styles next week, as well as either creating a Luke Harper push to a title match at Wrestlemania, or a potential four-way match if the rumours of a Styles vs Shane McMahon match don’t come to fruition. It certainly makes for intriguing show next week.
We had quite the situation unfold in the Smackdown Women's division. Naomi being forced to relinquish the women's championship due to injury was unfortunate, especially given the idea was for her to defend the belt in her hometown at Wrestlemania. However, the plus side of this situation is that we got a cracking little promo from Alexa Bliss, before she battled Becky Lynch for the vacant title, picking up the win with help from Mickie James. I like that this continues the build for multiple potential challengers here, as well as putting the belt back on Bliss who is more than deserving at this stage. I suspect the chances of getting some sort of multi-woman match at Mania look likely, but all of these women deserve to be on the card.
The other big news coming out of this show was the Nikki Bella vs Natalya match, which predictably featured Maryse interfering to cost Bella the win. Alongside the Miz/Cena interaction in the main event, you have to believe this is building to the much rumoured, and much maligned mixed tag match at Wrestlemania. I personally think it's a waste of Cena, but I have a theory on how it will unfold. Presumably, this is not only the climax to this feud, but also has Cena essentially acting as surrogate for Daniel Bryan in his ongoing feud with Miz, and ends with Bryan (and Brie Bella) in the ring as Cena proposes to Nikki Bella, in order to get a YES chant going as Nikki accepts the proposal. It would certainly make for quite the Wrestlemania moment, and potentially quell some of the potential boos for Cena in that scenario.
Finally, we got American Alpha beating Breezango (who should surely be called Febreeze, no?) in a fine match, and then The Usos cutting a fine promo to further that feud. This has been a feud quietly building up, and I'm glad to see it getting some attention here, even it seems more than likely destined for the pre-show at Wrestlemania.
Another really good show overall, and one that has done a great job building all of the feuds up for Wrestlemania season.
A sad week of Wrestler Deaths
It has been a sad week in terms of performers that wrestling industry has lost this week, with three high profile deaths occurring in the past seven days. The most high profile was probably George "The Animal" Steele. A staple of the early days of the "Rock N Wrestling" era, and the first big boom for the WWF(E) in the 1980s, Steele's gimmick as a wildman with a green tongue covered in hair who used to rip off and eat the turnbuckle was unique to say the least. Steele was not necessarily the greatest worker by that point, although his character more than made up for it. Definitely one of the larger than life personas of the 1980s, Steele would be involved in a high profile feud with Randy Savage (even culminating in a match at Wrestlemania 2) as he became besotted with Savage's manager Elizabeth. Steele would even return to WWE in the late 90s as part of the Oddities faction, but this run was short lived. Steele is very well remembered, and his place in wrestling history is certainly assured. Although he also had a very high profile role in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, opposite Johnny Depp, portraying infamous B movie actor (and wrestler) Tor Johnson. Steele was a true legend, and will be sadly missed.
In addition to Steele, this week also marked the loss of one of the most fearsome wrestlers of the 20th century, the "Russian" Ivan Koloff. "The Russian Bear" who was actually Canadian, portrayed a Communist character who represented the USSR at the height of the Cold War, pitted against some of the biggest patriotic American heroes of the 1970s and 1980s. Koloff would wrestle all over America, including a stint as WWWF (the forerunner of the modern day WWE) Champion, beating the near-invincible Bruno Sammartino. Although he would lose the title some 21 days later to Pedro Morales, he was a big deal in the area and one of the top heels at that time. Perhaps his best known run came in the National Wrestling Alliance (or NWA, pre dating Ice Cube and Dr Dre's outfit by a good 40 years). He was a multi-time tag champion, as well as a mentor figure to his fellow Russians Nikita Koloff (his "nephew"), and Krusher Kruschev, again neither of whom were legitimately Russian. The three of them were top heels in the NWA during the 80s, and provided great foils for top faces such The Road Warriors, and The Rock N Roll Express. Again, another huge presence in the industry, who will be missed.
Finally, and perhaps saddest of the three was the death of Nicole Bass. I don’t want to speculate too much on the nature of her death, but passing away at 52 is very sad for anyone. After a notable career in bodybuilding, Bass had a brief run in ECW grabbing the attention of fans and industry insiders alike due to her massive physique. This was followed by a stint in WWE involved with Sable and later Val Venis in early 1999. However, unfortunately Bass left WWE under something of a cloud after a sexual harassment suit was filed against the company, specifically due to an incident where she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Steve Lombardi (AKA The Brooklyn Brawler) backstage. This was where her stint in wrestling ended, aside from a few appearances on independent shows. Bass was rumoured to be somewhat troubled, and although she is believed to have suffered a stroke leading to her passing, further details are unavailable. It doesn’t matter really, in the end it is just a very sad situation that she passed away at such a young age. RIP Nicole Bass.
Punk Rock Paiges
Finally after Raw this week, The Rock reportedly took part in some filming alongside Florence Pugh, Tessa Blanchard, and Thea Trinidad as production rolls out on the film depicting Paige's life in a wrestling family. Interestingly as this scene depicted Paige's win over AJ Lee on her first night on Raw, a big CM Punk chant went up, leading The Rock to try and call Punk on his phone, leaving a voicemail, and then missing Punk's returning the call. It was a funny moment, and certainly shows that everyone loves The Rock, even Punk. Punk was very cool about the whole thing on Twitter afterwards, thanking the Staples Center crowd for getting in touch. I imagine Punk enjoys the fact the fans still cheer his name, even if he has no intention of returning to WWE, or wrestling at all in the near future.
Well that's it from me for this week. Check out Screenjabber for all your DVD, Blu-ray, cinema, and video game reviews as well as a whole lot more. Until next time, so long folks.