Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling over the past seven days. After all the excitement of last week and the Royal Rumble weekend, this week was slightly quieter, although that doesn't mean it was uneventful. WWE had two big episodes of their weekly TV shows, as well as on NXT, while they also announced the signings of two major free agents. Outside of WWE, AEW put on a busy episode of Dynamite, while MLW confirmed an interesting future partnership. Let's dive right in and have a look back at Smackdown from Friday night.
After a fantastic Royal Rumble, and a strong subsequent episode of Raw, Smackdown had a lot to do to keep their momentum going. Perhaps the biggest occurrence on this show was the culmination of several weeks of interactions between Braun Strowman and Shinsuke Nakamura/Sami Zayn/Cesaro and the pay off with Strowman winning the Intercontinental title from Nakamura in a surprisingly fun encounter. There were shenanigans, and I expect the fallout from that will either be the title being made vacant or it being held up in some form or fashion, but this was a really strong moment for Strowman as he picked up his first singles title in WWE. It should have been a world title, and it should have been a couple of years ago but the company has done some good work recently in reheating Strowman and that certainly paid off here. Zayn’s protests bled into a segment with Elias, which suggested that Elias and Strowman may well continue the alliance that has been teased in recent weeks.
Elsewhere on this week’s show, The Usos and Roman Reigns beat Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode, and I cannot tell you how glad I will be if this was the last time we have to see this combination. The matches have been fine, sometimes even good, but this programme needed to end. The post-match suggests that it has, with Corbin doused in dog food as Reigns appeared to finally have the last laugh. The Miz and John Morrison winning the tag team number one contendership match against The Lucha House Party, The Revival and Heavy Machinery is a logical move, and while the match wasn’t anything special it sets up Miz and Morrison as worthy challengers to The New Day. The whole Mandy Rose/Otis/Sonya Deville thing carried on here, both backstage and during the Fire and Desire vs Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss match, although I suspect it is all going to come to a head on the Valentine’s day edition of Smackdown. Sheamus squashed Chad Gable, to the surprise of no-one I’m sure. Finally, Bayley cut a decent promo before she was interrupted by Naomi, who looks to be the next challenger for the Smackdown Women’s title. Naomi looked great at the Rumble, and she is a fresh challenger who can go in the ring and provides a likeable babyface, of which Smackdown is in dire need.
A so-so show, with a few decent matches, some storyline development, but largely nothing memorable. Compared to Raw, which is on a bit of a roll as of late, this show feels sluggish and repetitive, although hopefully, Mania season will get things moving for the blue brand.
While Smackdown might be stagnating somewhat Raw, conversely, has found its feet and seems to be firing on pretty much all cylinders. With Super Showdown, the big Saudi Arabia show, coming up in a few weeks there was a focus on this week’s episode on setting up that event, and the main event was very effective in doing just that. Having Bobby Lashley, Ricochet and Seth Rollins all cut promos throughout the night gave the main event a feel of something important and from an in-ring perspective it mostly paid off. Ricochet winning may have been predictable, given his recent issues with Brock Lesnar, but it makes a lot of sense and provides a fun diversion for the WWE Champion before Wrestlemania. Equally, Lesnar often does his best work with smaller, faster opponents and if he has in his working shoes on this could a be a cracker. Or it could be a five-second squash. Either way, it was well set up here, and Lesnar making a surprise appearance to attack Ricochet after the bout cemented that rivalry and gave a good hook to go off the air with.
Charlotte Flair’s Wrestlemania opponent appears to have been all but confirmed this week, as NXT Champion Rhea Ripley walked out during Charlotte’s promo and challenged her to an NXT title match on the biggest show of the year. It is slightly problematic, given NXT have a show the night before, but I do expect this to be the direction that this programme goes in. Ripley looked like a world-beater and an absolute megastar here, and even inch Charlotte’s equal. With Charlotte refusing to give an answer and the announcement later that she would be on NXT this week to address the situation was a clever bit of cross-promotion that will hopefully get some extra eyeballs on the Wednesday night show (more on that shortly). Good work all round.
The rest of the show was mostly quite enjoyable. Liv Morgan vs Lana was pretty much a retread of their last match, but Ruby Riott returning after the match and attacking her former Riott Squad teammate was a nice touch that sets in motion a programme between the two and provided an unexpected return. Randy Orton’s appearance and non-promo was a heel masterclass after his deplorable actions towards Edge last week. Drew McIntyre destroyed Mojo Rawley with ease, while Aleister Black did similar to Eric Young. Not sure the post-match promo from Black hit as well as it had been hoped but at least they are doing something with him. Asuka beat Natalya in a surprisingly cerebral, holds-based match that felt different from anything else on the show, which was refreshing, and the post-match confrontation with Becky Lynch (who came across as the heel here from my perspective) set up a rematch between the two for next week. Kevin Owens and The Viking Raiders vs AOP and Buddy Murphy was a fine TV match that continued the ongoing rivalry between the babyfaces and the still-unnamed heel faction. Finally, with Andrade suspended Zelina Vega introduced Angel Garza who got into things with Humberto Carrillo, as it was revealed they are real-life cousins. Garza looked great here, and taking out Carrillo, but also getting the better of Rey Mysterio, who tried to make the save is a great way to introduce him. Garza clearly has a massive future, so hopefully, this results in more than a stand-in role for Andrade.
A strong offering from the red brand this week, with a couple of nice surprises, a solid main event and no major filler, which is a major step forward for Raw.
As the Revolution PPV gets closer, AEW has begun building excitement and the closing segment on this week’s Dynamite did a fantastic job of achieving that aim. We knew in advance that Cody would be taking ten lashes from MJF as per the stipulations for their match at Revolution, but it was built steadily throughout the show and reached a crescendo in the closing moments. MJF was a brilliantly detestable heel, Cody was as sympathetic as ever with some great selling as he took his lashes, and the friends and family supporting him was well done. It perhaps dragged on slightly, but I can see why it was given time and space given the weighty nature of the segment. Excellent work from all involved and this gives the match at Revolution a huge boost.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable. The Elite vs The Butcher and the Blade/The Lucha Bros was insane. What it lacked in psychology and logic it made up for with spectacular spots. It was done at breakneck speed, and the finish furthered the rift between Hangman Page and The Young Bucks while Kenny Omega played peacemaker. Speaking of which, the PAC segment continued to build his feud with Omega, and Riho vs Nyla Rose in the process. Jon Moxley vs Santana was a strong opener, and Moxley attacking Santana’s eye was a nice dose of revenge as Moxley continues to be built as a major threat to Chris Jericho’s title. SCU vs Best Friends was all kinds of fun, and the Dark Order stuff afterwards was intriguing. Joey Janela vs Kip Sabian was a nothing match. Finally, Yuka Sakazaki vs Britt Baker surprised me, both in terms of the quality of the match and the ending. Baker doing the rope/curb stomp after losing was excellent, even if the execution wasn’t 100% on point.
A very fun Dynamite, with minimal wasted motion, and lots of focus towards the upcoming shows, as well as the Revolution PPV.
With lots happening on WWE television, it’s no surprise that this week’s NXT was stacked, especially with NXT Takeover: Portland on the horizon. The big hook for this show was the appearance of Charlotte Flair to answer Rhea Ripley’s challenge. Going into this segment, I was concerned this would make Bianca Belair into an afterthought as the challenger for Portland, especially after her lengthy and impressive showing at the Royal Rumble. However, my fears were unfounded. Although it is clear from this confrontation that Ripley vs Charlotte is the match they are heading towards, Belair was a bonafide star on this show, including some brilliant lines and a nice Mean Girls reference. I also enjoyed the “Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend” logic of Ripley and Belair teaming up to attack Flair because she is an outsider before resuming their rivalry. It makes sense in an NXT atmosphere and continued the tweener role Belair has been moving into.
The show was bookended by The Bro-serweights and Undisputed Era clashing, verbally to open this show, and physically in a six-man tag alongside Tomasso Ciampa (who also had a chaotic brawl with UE during the show, although I should point out Undisputed Era were doing some great heel work prior to that backstage brawl) in the main event. The opening yielded some great lines from Riddle, and the main event was a nice preview of what to expect in the coming weeks. Velveteen Dream’s return was a nice surprise, and it’ll be very intriguing to see where he fits in over the next few weeks. Angle Garza vs Isiah “Swerve” Scott and Mercedes Martinez vs Kacey Catanzaro were both superb TV matches, while Jordan Devlin continued to up his stock with a strong performance opposite Tyler Breeze. Finally Dominik Dijakovic got a big statement win over Killian Dain in a hard-hitting affair, and the stare down and handshake with Keith Lee afterwards was a great primer for their renewal of a much-lauded rivalry in Portland.
A very strong NXT, with lots of focus, some strong character work, a big surprise return and build for Wrestlemania and NXT Takeover: Portland. Solid work.
Killer Kross and Timothy Thatcher sign with WWE
WWE announced some new signings this week, with one expected and one not so much dominating the headlines. Killer Kross had been a free agent since leaving Impact a while back and there had been a high level of speculation that he was NXT bound, especially with his real-life partner Scarlett Bordeaux having signed with WWE quite recently. Kross was a stand out on Impact for some time, and brings lots of experience as well as quite a bit of buzz with him. The other noteworthy signing was Timothy Thatcher, who has been an ever-present on the Indies for a while now, making a splash on these shores and in Europe as part of Ringkampf alongside WALTER in Progress, WXW and other European federations, as well as within the Evolve promotion in his home country. Despite the links those companies have with WWE, it was long presumed that Thatcher was not interested in a WWE-based role, but it would seem that has changed or was incorrect. At 36 Timothy Thatcher still has a good number of years in front of him, and could be an asset to WWE given his size, physique and presence, as well as his throwback style which is much more grappling influenced. This was a very notable signing, and the fact WWE announced both names on WWE Backstage suggests that both men are in the company’s plans for the near future.
MLW and Dragon Gate forge a working agreement
In some very promising news, MLW has announced a working partnership with Dragon Gate out of Japan, which will involve talent sharing and more. MLW previously had a relationship with Pro Wrestling Noah, but that appears to be over now, possibly due to the recent changes in management for Noah. MLW has been making noises about getting a new TV deal once their existing contract with BeIN Sports expires, and this would appear to be a strong statement of intent for any possible deal. I would assume this will be an exclusive deal, and I don’t know whether that might preclude the likes of PAC working for Dragon Gate due to his contract with AEW. This story is still unfolding, but the possibility of more Dragon Gate talent on TV with US Promotions can only be a good thing, and will hopefully increase their visibility outside Japan.
That is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at this week's Raw, Smackdown, NXT, AEW and anything else that breaks in the next seven days. 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/MLW