Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at the biggest stories in professional wrestling from the past seven days. It's been a busy week with both Raw and Smackdown pushing forward with the build to Summerslam, while NJPW has been continuing with the G1 Climax tournament and British wrestling has something of a revival this weekend. Let's start as normal, with a look at this week's episode of Raw.
No story coming out of this week's Raw was bigger than the announcement of the WWE Evolution show in October, featuring the company's first all-female PPV. In all honesty, this is not a huge surprise given WWE’s recent growth in the area of women’s wrestling, nut the self-aggrandising nature of the announcement and ramming down the throats of the viewer all night really turned me off. Stephanie McMahon’s character work is a bit all over the place, with her playing babyface here, but acting the heel when granting Kevin Owens a match against Braun Strowman for the Money in the Bank briefcase. The addition of Triple H and Vince McMahon to this segment helped reinforce that it really is a big deal, and don’t get me wrong it absolutely is. However, much like the previous historic announcements of the women’s Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber etc., and this felt like it was a case of over promotion by WWE. That said, the idea of having women from NXT, Raw and Smackdown on the same show as well as some legends and the finals of the Mae Young Classic does make this a very intriguing show and could lead to some interesting possibilities down the road as well as some excellent matches.
Outside of the Evolution announcement, Raw was chiefly designed to get the build to Summerslam moving for the red brand, and that meant having Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley face off in a hard-hitting and pretty enjoyable main event, with Reigns getting the predictable win. I’m not sure what the real end game is with Reigns, but this was pretty uninspiring. If Brock Lesnar loses clean to Reigns, or Braun Strowman cashes in (or Owens if he somehow beats Strowman) it’s going to be really messy with Reigns as the babyface. Let’s hope they have a plan in mind.
The rest of Raw was not particularly inspiring, although there were a few bright spots. Sasha Banks and Bayley seem to be back on the same page even if it’s as friends, which strikes me as something of a correction from where they were seemingly going last week (unless that’s still the plan and they just did a really bad job with the pair this week, it’s hard to tell). Either way, hopefully, this angle is either finished or actually going somewhere. The B Team vs Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt was nothing to write home about, while Mojo Rawley vs Tyler Breeze was another good showing from Rawley, although I’d be worried if I was Breeze. Ember Moon vs Liv Morgan and Mickie James vs Natalya were both fine TV matches but little more. The confrontation between Titus Worldwide and The Authors of Pain was awkward and didn’t achieve much for either team. Kevin Owens segment with Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon and Baron Corbin was very well executed and Owens was great, although the same can’t be said for Corbin’s segment with Finn Balor and the tiny house. Very cringe-worthy stuff. Elias’ attempts to sing, but being interrupted were a nice diversion during the show.
Finally, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler was a really enjoyable TV match. Rollins continues to be excellent, and the decision to have him plodding through the mid-card chasing the Intercontinental seems like such a waste of his talents. In many ways the same could be said for McIntyre and Balor who both deserve a meatier role on Raw, and hopefully, after Summerslam, they’ll end up with more to do.
Although this show was a bit lopsided, this was still one of the better episodes of Raw in recent memory. Despite the predictability factor, the main event was enjoyable, the in-ring action throughout the show was fun, and there was plenty of storyline development, especially with Summerslam in a few weeks’ time.
I feel like a broken record sometimes, but once again this week while Raw was a bit of a mixed bag, Smackdown produced a really excellent show. The big angle, of course, was The Miz and Maryse promoting their new reality show, and Daniel Bryan predictably getting involved. The tease of bringing out their baby, the “bloopers” video and the eventual twist that it was a doll and Bryan getting attacked by Miz was all excellently executed. Bryan vs Miz is starting to heat up nicely, and with a bit more effort and backstory in the coming weeks, this could easily be the main event of Summerslam, given the heat for this feud.
Samoa Joe had a busy night. His squashing of R-Truth made him look impressive (as well as continuing his mini-feud with Tye Dillinger) while his assault of AJ Styles later was superb. The use of James Ellsworth in the later segment was a nice bit of comedy timing and a great way to write Ellsworth off until they next need him. Lining up AJ Styles and Samoa Joe makes a lot of sense considering their respective positions and, as witnessed in TNA among other places, they are more than capable of having an absolute blinder of a match.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable. I enjoyed the focus being put on the tag division with the tournament. The match between The New Day and Sanity was very good, and the post-match with The Usos and The Bar sets up a potential classic for next week’s show. Asuka looked strong in her showing against Billie Kay, while Becky Lynch had a cracking bout with Carmella, looking great in the process and bagging herself a title shot at Summerslam. With all the momentum they’ve built for Becky I truly hope they are giving her a real shot at the top of the division. Andrade “Cien” Almas and Rusev had a cracking contest with both men looking great. I also liked that this continued the tease of a split with Rusev, Aiden English and Lana, as well as giving Almas a big win. Finally, Randy Orton cut one of the best promos of his career, or at least in the past decade of his career, explaining his heel actions of late, giving his character some clearly defined motives and creating more interest in his ongoing feud with Jeff Hardy (and probably Shinsuke Nakamura). Sterling work.
Another top notch show from the blue brand, with cracking in-ring action, storyline development, nice build towards Summerslam and most importantly some strong build for specific individual characters, with Almas, Becky, The Miz and others getting some really good shine on this show.
NJPW G1 Update
To follow-up on our update last week on the opening nights of the NJPW G1, after a very enjoyable start, the tournament has continued at pace with some absolutely corking matches and something to suit fans of all styles. More importantly the G1 this year has a renewed focus on telling stories, and few are as exciting as Kazuchika Okada getting his groove back after losing the IWGP Heavyweight title to Kenny Omega at Dominion. The change of character for Okada and his slow redemption has been a real highlight thus far. Jay White has also been great, taking shortcuts, while Toru Yano has been trying to avoid the low road, only to return to his old ways to get a win. Tomohiro Ishii, Togi Makabe, Evil and Michael Elgin have all been real highlights. Okada vs Hangman Page, Minoru Suzuki vs Jay White, White vs Michael Elgin, Okada vs Makabe have all been great, as was Yano vs Zack Sabre Jr. The Golden Lovers trying to one-up each other, and even Yoshi-Hashi getting set back despite strong performances. It’s been superb so far, and you imagine it’s going to get better.
Return of World of Sport
There was much excitement from wrestling fans in the UK in December 2016 when World of Sport returned to ITV for a one of special on New Year’s Eve. Essentially marketed as a pilot, including an appearance from Davey Boy Smith Jr and Jim Ross on commentary it was a flashy affair that was not necessarily to everyone’s taste. Follow up tapings were planned and eventually shelved, but after a further revival and more tapings this year, wrestling is coming back to network television in the UK, on ITV no less, the traditional home of WOS. While WWE begins their NXT UK tapings this weekend and is set to continue over the coming weeks WOS will be in a prominent late afternoon spot, which can only be a good thing for British wrestling. With the likes of Will Ospreay involved among others, this promises to be a very interesting presentation and I’m sure I am not in the minority who are very excited about the possibility. It will be very interesting to see how this differs from the one-off special, but whatever happens, its great news to see weekly episodic wrestling on mainstream TV.
As you may have noticed on Raw, this week WWE did the unthinkable: released an EP by Elias. Available on iTunes, Spotify and in all the usual places it’s a four-track EP, very much in character and I am shocked to say it’s actually not bad. Elias has a great throwback heel gimmick and this is a cracking use of him beyond his in-ring work. Bravo WWE.
Matt Riddle to WWE
In an interesting bit of news this week, independent sensation and former UFC fighter Matt Riddle has been heavily rumoured to be WWE-bound, an idea that was only furthered when he pulled out of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament, which is arguably the biggest independent tournament in the wrestling calendar. Riddle, who hasn’t actually been wrestling for very long, is something of a prodigy and has picked up the nuances of the professional wrestling game ridiculously quickly. Riddle would make an excellent addition to NXT or even straight on the main roster. Riddle has been confirmed to appear on Evolve shows in August, but given they have close ties to WWE and he is their champion that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Expect the Triple H handshake photo any day now, or an appearance at ringside for NXT Takeover Brooklyn.
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.