Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week the biggest news comes from a brand new promotion launching, while WWE had a second round of festive editions of Raw and Smackdown, and we lost a wrestling legend. Let's get started with the biggest news of the week, the launch of All Elite Wrestling.
The biggest story of the week arrived as the New Year did, with The Elite announcing a sequel to the successful All In show, Double or Nothing, although this time it will be under the banner of the long-rumoured All Elite Wrestling promotion. Of course, we don’t know all the details currently, but it appears that Cody Rhodes will be the Executive Producer and The Young Bucks will be taking booking duties. There are rumours abound that television networks are interested in picking up an AEW TV show, while billionaire Tony Khan has been all but confirmed to be involved. Reportedly several big names are under contract (probably exactly who you would expect), and the company has big plans.
There are various scenarios that make this announcement particularly promising. With Ring of Honor backed by Sinclair broadcasting and WWE the leader in the industry, there are potentially three major companies who are now going to be vying for the top available talent. Look at the case of Bandido, who was recently apparently the subject of a three-way bidding war, eventually won by ROH. This could create a real sense of competition between the top organisations and hopefully force WWE to up their game, while ROH invests more heavily and AEW offers a second alternative both for fans and talent. The whole thing could be a huge boost for the industry. Alternatively, this could end up as another in a long line of money mark promotions that goes absolutely nowhere. It’s hard to say. Only time will tell.
One other factor in all of this is NJPW. The Young Bucks and Cody are current NJPW champions going into Wrestle Kingdom (which may have already happened depending on when you’re reading this). Ring of Honor has a working relationship with ROH, while Elite member Kenny Omega is the current IWGP Champion, but he has taken a less active role where All In and by the looks of it AEW is concerned. Will he stay in NJPW? If so how does that impact the company’s planned expansion into America? There are so many questions and so many possibilities. Either this will be something that changes the landscape massively, or it may have no impact at all but it certainly should be a fun ride while we see how it all shakes out.
Raw and Smackdown
With episodes recorded in advance Raw and Smackdown this week may not have been the most eventful, but there were still some fun moments worth discussing. On Raw, Seth Rollins felt like he was being positioned as the top babyface, and using Triple H to try and achieve that, as well as give Rollins a bit more edge was a smart move. The match with Bobby Lashley after was a standard TV match, although that curb stomp on Lio Rush looked brutal. Dolph Ziggler vs Drew McIntyre in a cage was surprisingly enjoyable, and the post-match did a great job in making McIntyre look like a killer. The “fresh start” battle royal was enjoyable, but Apollo Crews getting the win felt like a waste. His prize, a shot at Dean Ambrose and the Intercontinental title, was a bit of a dud for me, mostly because the idea of Crews getting the win felt pretty unbelievable given how he’s been booked in recent memory. Elias and Baron Corbin kicking off a feud does nothing for me, nor did Bayley, Sasha Banks and Ember Moon facing The Riott Squad, again. Seeing Rhyno and Heath Slater back together was nice, but the match with Jinder Mahal and The Singh Brothers was a dull, nothing match. Ronda Rousey and Natalya vs Tamina and Nia Jax was a fine main event in the context of a show like this, although it was far from memorable. The most exciting thing to come out of this show was probably the announcements for next week with Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar and John Cena all appearing next week, while Alexa Bliss will host a Moment of Bliss segment.
On the blue side of things, we got a slightly more eventful show, punctuated by a cracking main event. After Samoa Joe beat Jeff Hardy earlier in the night to earn a place in the main event, he faced off with Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Mustafa Ali and AJ Styles. Despite this being a period when most people phone it in these five guys went out to have a scorcher of a main event. All five guys shone, and while I would have preferred to see someone other than AJ Styles get the win, I can’t say it was a downbeat ending to a superb bout, and I will never turn my nose up at a match between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. John Cena (and his hair) sharing a segment with Becky Lynch, who arguably overshadowed Cena, was electric. Lynch is such a brilliant promo, and Cena played his part to a tee. The interruption and mixed tag match with Zelina Vega and Andrade “Cien” Almas was very good, and the interactions with Cena and Becky continued to push her character and the idea she wants to finally take centre stage, and not only within the women’s division. The Miz and Shane McMahon had a fun backstage moment regarding their new team, in a continuation of an angle that still has no clear direction, while Shane also had an interesting interaction with his father and AJ Styles. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev appeared to continue their feud following Rusev’s victory last week and that’s no bad thing given the quality of that match. The New Day cut a fun promo, but it was more of the same as usual. Finally, Naomi and Sonya Deville had a decent match, but the use of Mandy Rose as a possible mistress for Naomi’s husband is a weird, backwards step for WWE given the way they’ve so successfully booked the women's division in 2018. Unless there is more to this. Probably not.
Considering these were the two shows between Christmas and New Year, I can’t really fault the product on either show. Neither were firing on full power, but there was nothing overly terrible on either show and they both kept things ticking along before the build to the Royal Rumble starts in earnest next week.
RIP “Mean” Gene Okerlund
In sad news this week, one of wrestling’s legendary voices left us as “Mean” Gene Okerlund passed away aged 72. After a run in the AWA, Okerlund moved to WWF in the early 80s, and for many was one of the key figures in the golden age of wrestling, as the go-to interviewer on WWF television during the 1980s. Hulk Hogan bellowing the line “Well you know something, Mean Gene” is perhaps one of the soundbites most synonymous with the Hulkamania era. He was present at the first nine Wrestlemania events, bringing his own unique style to proceedings, with some very memorable interactions with some of the biggest superstars of the era.
As things began to shift within the climate of early 90s WWF, Okerlund ended up moving over to WCW alongside Hogan (who he was very close with off-camera) in 1994 where he remained an integral part of the weekly Nitro broadcasts, as well as performing various other tasks for the company until 2001 when the company closed. Okerlund would even have a couple of matches on Nitro under Vince Russo’s reign of terror. When WCW closed Okerlund returned to WWE where he would take commentary duties at Wrestlemania 17 for the Gimmick Battle Royal, as well as going on to host the syndicated WWE Vintage show for a number of years and making sporadic appearances on television thereafter.
Okerlund was truly one of the great characters in modern wrestling history; he fulfilled a valuable role on television with a style and panache that has never been truly replicated by any other backstage interviewer. “Mean” Gene is absolutely the bar, and he will always be remembered as such. His ability to walk the line between the serious and the comedic where required was masterful and his work would always help put over the performers rather than focus on getting himself over. Of course, he also had his hotlines for that, but everyone has to make a living. RIP “Mean” Gene Okerlund, you truly will be missed by wrestling fans worldwide.
Reasons to be Cheerful - 2019 edition
As a community, we wrestling fans have a tendency to err towards the negative, so with 2019 having arrived, I thought we should look at some potentially exciting things that may happen this year. Obviously we have the yearly stalwarts, with Wrestle Kingdom on January 4th (again, you may have already seen it by now), Royal Rumble later this month, which is one of my favourite nights of the year; Wrestlemania is only a few months away and although it's been a mixed bag the past few years it still gets me all giddy when it rolls around. Of course, both shows will undoubtedly have big Takeover events attached to them as well. NJPW and ROH have a super show from Madison Square Garden on Mania weekend which had the potential to be excellent. All Elite Wrestling have Double of Nothing, as well as a potential TV deal. The American wrestling scene looks very healthy, and while there are those who have concerns about the British scene with the NXT UK contract situation, it is thriving currently. Riptide, Progress, Rev Pro, FCP, Attack, Southside, Tidal, Kapow, Anarchy Pro and countless others are putting on brilliant, different types of show almost every night of the week. For those of us who tried to get to wrestling in the early 00s, this is a dream come true.
There are plenty of individual wrestlers who could have a breakout year in 2019. Becky Lynch could end up being the biggest star WWE have if they book her correctly. Kenny Omega could make the jump to the US, or continue to thrive in Japan. Tetsuya Naito might finally ascend to main event status, or we will see the comeback of "The Rainmaker" as Kazuchika Okada reclaims his spot in NJPW. Wrestlers like Chuck Mambo, Spike Trivet, Drew Parker, TK Cooper, Chris Brookes, Kid Lykos, The OJMO and many more could all have huge years in the UK and internationally this year. In WWE Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, Matt Riddle, Ricochet, Undisputed Era, Johnny Gargano, Velveteen Dream, Tomasso Ciampa or Keith Lee could end up making a splash on the main roster. NXT UK has its first Takeover show, with Millie McKenzie, Toni Storm, Rhea Ripley, Zack Gibson, Eddie Dennis and more sure to try and steal the show. Finn Balor, Drew McIntyre or Seth Rollins could end up as world champion, or WWE could shock us all with something hugely unexpected. Hell, CM Punk could come back to wrestling, with AEW, or even with WWE should they find a way to do business. 2019 is full of possibilities. Let's remain positive and see what this year in wrestling might deliver.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at Wrestle Kingdom, Raw, Smackdown and more. 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.
Photos: WWE.COM & Being The Elite