Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week we focus on Backlash, with Smackdown acting as a go-home show, as well as NXT, AEW, Raw and New Japan Pro Wrestling. It's been pretty busy. However, we'll start things off this week by talking about an intriguing peek behind the curtain with some information that has become public knowledge as part of a lawsuit against WWE.
The biggest news this week is perhaps not anything that occurred on camera, but in documents submitted to a courthouse. A lawsuit that was filed against WWE by various shareholders that the company mis-led them over negotiations with TV networks in Saudi Arabia regarding the potential value of that deal. In addition, it is alleged that high ranking WWE shareholders sold stock before information that would affect the share price was made public/released to shareholders. In short, insider trading. In fairness, these are still allegations that WWE strongly denies and given the climate in America, as well as the difficulty of proving these allegations, I suspect this will be settled without making it to a courtroom one way or another, but it's certainly not a good look for WWE in terms of future investments.
However, one of the more interesting details that have been released in the court documents is an apparent confirmation of a number of the rumours surrounding the alleged “hostage situation” with the WWE talent in Saudi Arabia after Crown Jewel last year. A mystery witness, who is said to have worked for the company between 2012 and April 2020, who performed on the Crown Jewel show (which narrows it down to one of about three guys) has essentially confirmed that there was a tense atmosphere and talent were prevented from leaving the country following an argument between Vince McMahon and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud. Again WWE has denied this story, and although the source is anonymous, it certainly is a story that seems to corroborate the rumours of there being more than “mechanical issues” at play with all the delays last November.
Whether this story comes to anything, or it gets thrown out of court, or even if WWE gets a slap on the wrist, it’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds over the coming weeks and whether there is more to come from this story.
I’ll touch on Smackdown briefly, simply because it mostly operated as an uneventful go-home show for Backlash. It was a show of contrasts when it comes to the two big talking points coming out of this episode.
The finals of the Intercontinental title tournament between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan was excellent, and probably the best match that we have seen on these empty arena shows. It shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise given the calibre of the two performers involved, but I would genuinely recommend this as something worth checking out even if you haven’t been tuning in to the weekly TV shows in their current form. Although Styles got the win, it certainly feels like they did enough to justify a rematch in the near future and probably an extended programme between these two.
On the flip side, the contract signing segment between Sheamus and Jeff Hardy was a little distasteful. I appreciate this whole programme has walked a controversial line with Jeff Hardy’s sobriety and Sheamus exploiting that to try and get into his head. Although this segment incorporated the drug test and urine being thrown in Sheamus’ face (much like the angle with Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels many years ago) it felt like an odd choice in 2020. I have not been a fan of this whole feud, and I feel like perhaps it would be best if this element of the programme between these men is phased out as it moves forward.
The rest of the show was just there, really. The main event was more of a reminder of everyone’s roles for the Universal title match at Backlash, while the segment with Sasha Banks and Bayley with Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross was a last-minute push for the three-way on the PPV. Finally Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro beating The New Day in a non-title match helps position them as possible title challengers, and although the match was good the method of getting them into title contention was a bit lazy.
Branding something “The Greatest Wrestling Match of All Time” before it has even happened is a sure-fire way to ensure a match doesn’t live up to those expectations. It would have been impossible for any match to do that, but Edge and Randy Orton did their level best to try and live up to that billing. The match went a solid 45 minutes with Edge and Orton both telling a great story with Orton being sharper than Edge, before Edge regained his confidence, leading to Orton targeting Edge’s neck. It was engaging, exciting, well-paced and in front of an engaged audience it could have been a Match of the Year contender. Unfortunately the lack of an organic crowd did detract from the bout, despite both men’s best efforts. In doing so, Edge did manage to tear his triceps and will now be out for eight months, which is a blow for him I’m sure. However, given the seemingly cursed nature of his return run with Covid-19, perhaps a return in time for Mania season next year is a great way to reboot his comeback.
The rest of the show was pretty by-the-numbers. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable; in fact almost everything on this show was very good. However, little of it seemed to have any lasting consequences in the bigger picture. The Street Profits vs The Viking Raiders in a cinematic match was silly, and although plenty of fans will have hated it, I quite enjoyed it for the stupid, fun skit that it was. Bayley and Sasha Banks vs Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross vs The Iiconics was better than I expected, showcasing the improvements in Billie Kay and Peyton Royce compared to a year ago, as well as continuing to tease Sasha and Bayley having a future parting of ways.
Sheamus vs Jeff Hardy was a fine, very WWE-style match. It plodded in places but overall it was enjoyable. Asuka vs Nia Jax was moving along nicely pitting Jax’s power against Asuka’s submissions and striking. Size vs speed and technique. However, the count-out ending was cheap and unnecessary. Braun Strowman vs The Miz and John Morrison was a pretty standard handicap match and the stipulation preventing Miz and Morrison becoming co-champions telegraphed the finish. A lack of an appearance by The Fiend was a surprise, but maybe that is being saved for now. Finally, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley put together a hard-hitting, heavyweight battle with both men coming out of it looking strong. I wasn’t a huge fan of the finish, but I appreciate why it was inserted in order to move the Lashley-MVP partnership away from the association with Lana.
In essence, Backlash was a one match show (which given the marketing around the main event was inevitable), but that match was very good and everything else moved along at a reasonable pace, and nothing was a major let-down, with plenty of excellent in-ring work.
Raw including a Covid-19 positive test
Before we get into the show itself, it’s important to note the Covid-19 issue that was thrown up at Raw. A performer who is not in NXT or on the main roster (and is yet unnamed) reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, which is especially worrying as the crowd at Raw this week included friends and family of performers, which is obviously a concern. As a result WWE paused their tapings due for Tuesday and began testing everyone who was at the PC. Of course, they should already have been testing for the past few weeks and months, but hopefully at least they will begin testing and contact tracing from here out if they are to persist with these shows and having an audience involved.
On to the show itself, obviously the fallout from Backlash was going to be a big part of things. Randy Orton was on rare form with his promo addressing Edge, the triceps injury and everything that happened the night before. The interaction with Christian and the show-long storyline of whether Christian would defend the honour of his friend and come out of retirement was intriguing and compelling, while the turn by Ric Flair who sided with Orton was a nice surprise. Where we go from here, who knows, but I can’t imagine WWE let Christian do even this much unless he was medically cleared.
After separating from Lana (he asked for a divorce, and hopefully that’s the end of this), Bobby Lashley would team with MVP against R-Truth and Drew McIntyre (after Truth talked them into it, and then made it so his 24/7 title wasn’t on the line, although not deliberately). The match was decent, and R-Truth getting the pin on MVP allows for the Lashley-McIntyre feud to possible continue. Speaking of MVP, he seems to be attempting to recruit Shelton Benjamin and/or Apollo Crews (who had a good match on this show, even if it was a bit short), with a heel turn being teased for Crews. Both Crews and Benjamin would benefit greatly from MVP acting as a mouthpiece so hopefully that comes to fruition.
Asuka vs Nia Jax was an improvement t on the prior evening’s effort, and the finish doesn’t really hurt Jax even in defeat. The Viking Profits vs Akira Tozawa’s ninjas was weird. Not much more to say there, other than The Big Show returned and he still looks like he’s in pain. Kevin Owens vs Angel Garza was short and sweet, and added more layers to the tension between Andrade and Garza. The Iiconics vs Liv Morgan and Natalya was short and forgettable, but the post-match and the later interaction set up Royce and Kay for a match against Sasha and Bayley next week. Finally, Seth Rollins continued his feud with Rey Mysterio only this time Dominick got involved and took out Rollins before escaping. Dominick looked good here, and although he’s still early in his career, it’s a solid way to introduce him in a more physical role.
NXT and AEW
With a particularly busy week, we’ll just cover the broad strokes from NXT and AEW. On NXT a big triple threat for the North American title was set up between Finn Balor, Keith Lee and Johnny Gargano next week, with the winner taking on Adam Cole on July 8th. Bronson Reed challenged Karrion Kross (who they continue to tease being a part of the NXT title picture). Bayley and Sasha Banks vs Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart was a great main event, and Io Shirai getting the heat afterwards taking down Banks/Bayley was a nice way to finish the show. The promo from Santos Escobar (formerly El Hijo Del Fantasma) was pretty good, and the brawl/beat down of Drake Maverick was well done. Breezango vs Imperium, Xia Li vs Aaliyah, and Killian Dain vs Damien Priest were all very strong matches. The less said about “Undisputed Therapy” the better though. We got vignettes for Timothy Thatcher, positioning him even more the previously as a sadistic shooter, and some hype videos for Mercedes Martinez, as well as the tease of Velveteen Dream and Dexter Lumis teaming and going for the tag titles.
Over on AEW it was a very busy evening. NWA favourite Ricky Starks made is AEW debut going toe-to-toe with Cody Rhodes. Starks came up short but looked great in the process. Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs QT Marshall and Dustin Rhodes was a fun opener. Anna Jay vs Abadon (who has an incredible, vaguely terrifying look) was a nice showcase for both women, and the stuff with Dark Order, Jay and Colt Cabana after the match was intriguing, MJF vs Billy Gunn was decent, while Kip Sabian and Jimmy Havoc vs The Young Bucks was a fine tag match that did plenty for Sabian and Havoc, even if the Bucks got the victory. FTR making the save after Butcher and the Blade attacked the Bucks was basically a re-run of the angle they did when FTR debuted, only with spike piledrivers.
Finally, Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara did a great job of elevating and putting over Best Friends, with the help of a mystery cameraman, who turned out to be Orange Cassidy, setting up his match with Jericho at Fyter Fest. Honestly, it was a good angle, but doing this without an audience feels like a waste. A good show overall.
Finally this week, New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to action with their Together Special at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Although there were no fans, the show was a fun special, with lots of Japanese talent making appearances for the first time since February. The card was not hugely eventful, but it set up the New Japan Cup shows that have begun this week, and the tease for who might win the trophy and go on to face Tetsuya Naito for either the IWGP Heavyweight or Intercontinental titles. It’s great to see NJPW back in action and over the next few months they have a whole host of events planned, including shows with audiences, which is a very welcome sight. Welcome back New Japan!
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Backlash at all the WWE and AEW TV and anything big that breaks in the meantime. 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/NJPW