Welcome to this week's edition of Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling in the past seven days. It's been an interesting week with Raw and Smackdown continuing to have contrasting creative fortunes, some big shows fro New Japan Pro Wrestling and of course the big CM Punk/Colt Cabana. We'll start as we so often do with this week's episode of Raw.
Another week. Another creatively moribund episode of Raw. I like to try and see the good in any wrestling show, I really do, but this week’s Raw was a very tough show to get through. Perhaps the high point of the show came in the opening segment with Seth Rollins and Elias. The back-and-forth between the two was very good, and the introduction of Jinder Mahal and Sunil Singh nicely teed up the return of Roman Reigns, who got a surprisingly positive reaction from the crowd. Although I’m not totally in favour of Rollins being used to get Reigns over, it seemed to work for this week, especially when coupled with Reigns being off TV last week. The tag match between the former Shield teammates and Elias/Jinder was surprisingly enjoyable, although the finish was far from ideal (presumably the referee was supposed to have not seen the DDT on the chair, even though it would have been hard for him to miss). This did set up the Rollins vs Elias feud, and the combination of this match and the backstage segment with Jinder and Roman later certainly added to that programme ahead of Money in the Bank.
As for everything else, it all just seemed really lazily written, and pretty pedestrian. Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens was a pretty watchable main event, but the ridiculously weak finish after nearly twenty minutes made it instantly forgettable. I appreciate the ladder and briefcase stuff is there to make Balor look strong after being pasted by Braun Strowman for the last couple of weeks, but it seems very copy and paste from week-to-week. One guy beats down another competitor in the ladder match, sits on a ladder/points at the briefcase/grabs the briefcase. It’s lazy booking, and no-one really benefits because, in the end, nothing of note happens. It’s the early summer equivalent of pointing at the Wrestlemania sign, and while I appreciate non-verbal symbolism as much as the next guy, it’s very much the law of diminishing returns at work here.
The introduction of Baron Corbin as “Constable” of Raw does nothing for me. I understand he hasn’t got a feud going right now, but adding another authority figure into an already convoluted and overcrowded power structure on Raw is hugely unnecessary. His attack on Curt Hawkins was poor, his backstage segments with Kurt Angle wooden, and his role in general redundant. The six-woman tag was one of the better parts of Raw, but the screwy finish, and reversal of the decision backstage was badly handled and provided another example of how badly they’ve booked the Sasha Banks character. Is she a heel? Or a face? No-one knows, not even Sasha apparently. Poor Bayley.
The Ronda Rousey-Nia Jax feud took another weird turn on this show, with Jax apparently a babyface again and the feud being booked as babyface vs babyface despite Jax being a clear cocky heel the past two weeks. Also, Ronda Rousey should really be kept away from anything that requires acting, or speaking til she’s a bit further along as she was almost as bad an actor as Jax in that backstage segment with Natalya. The only logical move, with the way this went down, would be for Jax to fully turn alongside Natalya and screw Rousey, but apparently, that is not the direction this is going. My head hurts.
Braun Strowman vs Bobby Roode was a glorified squash (pun intended), while Sami Zayn and Bobby Lashley had another pretty terrible segment. Bless Sami Zayn for trying to get something worthwhile out of the rubbish he’s been given to work with. Finally, we had the tag team battle royal, with The B Team winning and getting a shot at Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt (who cut a pretty by-the-numbers promo before the match). The bout was fine, but unspectacular although it marked a slight misuse of Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler, who were eliminated early doors (although they got some retribution after), although if they want to go with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel I get the logic. The post-match was fun, and despite the pretty woeful booking for the division, you’d have to have a cold, flint-like heart to not enjoy Axel and Dallas’ exuberant celebration.
A very average show overall. Raw is in something of a rut currently, where nothing feels like it means anything and bright ideas seem like they are in short supply. Still, hopefully, as is so often the case things will pick up after Money in the Bank and we’ll start moving towards the build for Summerslam.
While things meander on the red brand, Smackdown continues to flourish for the most part. Perhaps my favourite part of the show this week took place backstage with the contract signing between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles. Nakamura’s mind games and the subtle elements of his character worked superbly in this setting and AJ was the perfect foil. For me, the backstage setting was a nice throwback to the old days where contract signings weren’t necessarily destined to end in violence. Think back to Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior sitting across from each other in the build to Wrestlemania 6 with Jack Tunney sitting between them, and while this wasn’t exactly the same it achieved the same purpose. For the first time in weeks, I’m excited about this feud and how it might be resolved, which is no minor feat considering how badly this feud had gone off the boil just a few short weeks ago.
The women’s division shone pretty brightly on this week’s show. The opening segment with Carmella trying to expose Asuka as broken following her loss to Charlotte at Wrestlemania, only for Asuka to confront her and then have a very enjoyable match with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. This segment was far better than I expected, but I had Zayn-Lashley-esque expectations, and the segment avoiding casual racism already made it better than I expected beforehand. Carmella standing tall kept her strong, and I like the idea that there could be an alliance in the offing with Rose and Deville. Later in the show, Becky Lynch and Charlotte had a great match, which did a great job of rehabbing Lynch, as she got the clean win over Flair. Good work all round in the build to Money in the Bank.
The rest of the show was pretty enjoyable for the most part. Big Cass did a nice throwback style interview with Renee Young which was a nice twist on the old interviews from the late 1980s, Cass is still not great though, even if this promo was better than his average work. The New Day vs The Miz, Samoa Joe and Rusev was a very fun main event, especially with the pancake antics towards the end, and Miz getting his comeuppance. Karl Anderson picking up a win over Luke Harper was a nice way to build some interest in the tag title match at Money in the Bank (probably on the pre-show), while Jimmy Uso and Naomi vs Aiden English and Lana marked perhaps the only slightly low point on the show.
A very decent, very enjoyable episode of Smackdown, with some good in-ring action especially with Charlotte and Becky Lynch, as well as some excellent storyline development in the build to Money in the Bank. The difference between Raw and Smackdown is night and day at the moment, and this week really was no exception.
NJPW BOSJ Finals and Dominion preview
Earlier this week New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, with a great card including one of the best main events, or even matches in NJPW this year. As I predicted last week, Hiromu Takahashi took on Taiji Ishimori in the finals and these two did not disappoint. Hiromu has been superb since returning from his excursion in 2016 and more than deserves this. Ishimori is set up as a future challenger, but Hiromu vs Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior heavyweight champion at Dominion should be excellent.
Speaking of Dominion, that show takes place this weekend and it should be superb. The main event of Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega for the IWGP title is a particular highlight, with the record between the two finely poised at 1-1-1, and all three matches gaining universal high praise. However, the ⅔ falls, no time limit rules mean we are certain to get a winner here and this should be an absolute corker, maybe even a match to break the rating system for old Dave Meltzer. For me, Omega winning opens up lots of possibilities, you could have Okada chase and win the G1 and face Omega in January. Equally, Omega could win the title, Okada could win the G1, and Omega could drop the title to Tetsuya Naito and he could face off with Okada at the Tokyo Dome. Or Omega could win here and Kota Ibushi wins the G1 leading to The Golden Lovers facing off at Wrestle Kingdom. There are so many permutations, and it shows how fascinating NJPW is at the moment.
Elsewhere on this show, Tetsuya Naito vs Chris Jericho should be an absolute barnburner. I could actually see Jericho getting the win here, but either way, it should help solidify Naito as one of the top stars in NJPW. Ospreay vs Hiromu should be excellent, although I think Ospreay will retain the belt. The Young Bucks challenging Evil and Sanada for the heavyweight tag titles should be an interesting proposition, while El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs Roppongi 3K should be fun. I find it hard to care too much about Hirooki Goto vs Taichi vs Michael Elgin, or David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs Jay White and Yoshi-Hashi though both matches should be at least passable. Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii vs Zack Sabre Jr and Minoru Suzuki should be superb as these bouts tend to be. Finally, Rey Mysterio makes his long overdue NJPW debut teaming with Jushin "Thunder" Liger and Hiroshi Tanahashi to take on Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll and Hangman Page in what should be a very enjoyable, although probably pretty throwaway mid-card fun bout.
On paper, this could be the best NJPW show since Wrestle Kingdom which is no small feat. This is definitely not a show to be missed, and I for one will absolutely be watching this weekend.
Johnny Saint announced as WWE UK GM
In late breaking news on Thursday, British wrestling legend Johnny Saint was announced as the GM of the WWE UK brand. Saint, a legend of the World of Sport days of British wrestling (which is quite the shot against the relaunched WOS), but also had stints in Japan and all over the world, and even worked dates as recently as 2008 well into his late 60s for Chikara and on the UK Independent scene. Most recently, Saint has been working at the WWE Performance Centre as a trainer, and he is a hugely respected figure in the industry, so this makes a lot of sense. The announcement of a GM suggests that there is a future for the WWE UK brand, and there are more plans beyond the Royal Albert Hall shows in a few weeks. Only time will tell, but WWE certainly seem to be making plans in this part of the world.
Finally, one of the biggest stories of this week was the Chris Amann defamation lawsuit against CM Punk and Colt Cabana, as detailed in last week’s column, dating back to Art of Wrestling podcast Cabana hosted with PUnk as his guest in November 2014. As the trial continued, more and more details spilled out and while I’m not sure it painted Punk, or equally Amann, in the best light overall, the jury found in favour of Punk and Cabana. On balance, given Amann isn’t mentioned by name and his testimony revealed he’d broken or at least bent a few rules I think on balance it was the right result. It is, of course, nice to see Cabana being exonerated, given he was essentially dragged into this for giving Punk a forum to vent his feelings. It’s also not ideal preparation for PUnk who has a UFC fight on Saturday. Just as interesting as the case itself, was Punk’s post-trial comments, where he expressed his relief and fairly gruffly brushed off any suggestion he would be at All In in September. Whether that is true remains to be seen, but I for one believe PUnk might be actually be done with wrestling, and if so, while it’s sad it is understandable. That said, it's wrestling so never say never.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a new edition of Slammer Jabber. 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.