Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look back at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It has been quite the week with a WWE PPV that no-one was looking forward to, some major news on possible changes to the WWE creative process, as well as the usual WWE TV shows. In addition, AEW has a big show this coming Saturday. Let's get started by having a look back at WWE's show from Tacoma, Washington from Sunday night.
To minimal fanfare, WWE hosted their inaugural Stomping Grounds show this past Sunday. The vent was mired in poor ticket sales and a general malaise surrounding the booking of the product, but in general, it was a more than serviceable show on the night.
One of the bigger hooks going into the show was who the reveal of the special guest referee for the main event. While Lacey Evans may not have been the obvious choice, she added plenty to the match and given the direction they had clearly planned with Seth Rollins teaming up with real-life partner Becky Lynch, it was a vaguely logical move. The match itself was fine, but Baron Corbin is massively uninspiring as a top heel. Rollins did his best, and the overbooked referee role, as well as Lynch getting involved, helped paper over the cracks of what would otherwise have been a pretty dull affair. Speaking of Lynch and Evans, their match earlier in the night was fine, but nothing particularly noteworthy, with Lynch getting the decisive win.
Kofi Kingston vs Dolph Ziggler was better than it had any right to be, and the finish with Kofi making the dive was as spectacular and original a finish to a cage match as I recall in a number of years. Kingston is really growing into his role as WWE Champion and he’s getting bigger and bigger reactions from the crowd, so hopefully, WWE stays the course with him for a bit longer. Alexa Bliss vs Bayley was probably the best outing the two have had together, and I liked that it continued the Nikki Cross storyline in the process. They could have a massive babyface on their hands with Nikki depending on how the angle plays out.
The rest of the show ticked along at a nice pace. Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre was a fine match between two big lads, although I would have preferred the programme end here rather than continue onward. Daniel Bryan and Rowan vs Heavy Machinery was tremendous fun with Bryan clearly back on form and his partner and opponents putting in stellar performances. The cruiserweight title match on the pre-show was fantastic, and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens vs Xavier Woods and Big E was another fun mid-card tag match, even if it had no real stakes attached. Finally, Ricochet and Samoa Joe had a very good back-and-forth contest with Ricochet getting the win in the middle of the ring to pick up his first singles title on the main roster. I liked the post-match segment at gorilla position too, something that made this feel far more special and elevated both Ricochet and the title in the process.
It may have been the least anticipated WWE PPV in years, and it also might not have been the most impactful show ever, but Stomping Grounds was very entertaining for what it was. There will be gripes coming out it and there should be, but on the whole, it was a very enjoyable, if not mostly inconsequential show.
Coming off the back of the better-than-expected Stomping Grounds show, WWE continued that momentum with a very solid episode of Raw. The show opened with Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch, and while Lacey Evans and Baron Corbin attacking telegraphed the announcement (as did the finish the prior night) that the two inter-gender duos will now face-off at Extreme Rules in a winner-take-all match. It’s not the sort of match that is going to draw in masses of new fans or make a dent in the ratings but built up well it could certainly hold some intrigue, especially if tensions boil up between Lynch and Rollins. We’ll have to see where they go with this programme, but for now, at least I’m on board.
Speaking of tag matches, it looks like we’re getting another big, but wholly more unexpected tag match at Extreme Rules. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre vs Roman Reigns was a decent handicap match, although the main story came from the appearance of The Undertaker after the match. Taker making the save for Reigns is something I assume we’ll get more information on in the coming weeks although it seems an odd fit. For his part, Undertaker looked in fairly rough shape, and that hair needs to go because it is rapidly thinning. Still, it was unexpected and Raw could certainly use more surprises.
The rest of the show was, in general, pretty good. The tag team elimination match was a particularly solid affair and sets up The New Day vs Bryan and Rowan as well as The Usos vs The Revival as possible tag title feuds moving forward on the two brands. The 24/7 segments continue to be a highlight, with Drake Maverick and R-Truth doing some of the best work of their respective careers. The tug-of-war segment with Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley was a nice spectacle and made for an effective change of pace. Kofi Kingston vs Sami Zayn and then Kevin Owens was fine, although it was clearly a backdrop for the post-match with Samoa Joe attacking Kofi. The idea that Joe is moving straight on from dropping the US Title to a WWE Title feud is a cracking proposition, and Joe brings a very different sort of challenge to Kingston which should make for a great match at Extreme Rules. Alexa Bliss vs Naomi, and the resulting Bliss and Nikki Cross vs Naomi and Natalya match was mostly filler, but it does forward the storyline with Bliss and Cross, slowly and with layers. Although there was no Firefly Funhouse this week, there were hints of Bray Wyatt all over this show, with various characters from the Funhouse appearing in the background, which to me indicates that Bray’s return is imminent. Finally, we had the matches and story involving The Club, with AJ Styles chastising Gallows & Anderson backstage for not being serious, only for them to then be squashed by The Viking Raiders. Styles himself would send them to the back when they tried to interfere in the main event as he took on Ricochet in a sterling TV match. Styles pinning Ricochet sets up a title match between the two and the tease of something with Gallows and Anderson certainly adds another layer to things, maybe even hinting at a Styles heel turn.
Raw was still overly long, with too much to really digest (such is the problem of having a three-hour show), but it was better than it has been. There are signs that the company are trying to turn things around, and although it won’t happen straight away they are certainly attempting to steer the ship back on course.
While I enjoyed Raw, Smackdown did far less for me. The opening segment with Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler was flat, and the lack of Samoa Joe despite the wildcard rule being in place was an odd decision. Kofi and Dolph have wrestled each other on television over sixty times in the past decade, which is far too many and while both are solid in the ring, this combination is groan-inducing, especially in yet another 2/3 falls match. It was overkill, but hopefully, this puts a cap on this feud and Ziggler will move onto other things while Kingston moves into a far more interesting feud with Samoa Joe.
For me, the most enjoyable parts of this week’s show were the segments that set up future potential programmes. The backstage segment with Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura suggests these two facing off, which is a natural programme to go to and one which should produce some tremendous matches. Aleister Black finally appears to have an answer to his ongoing quest for someone to knock on his door. You have to imagine it’ll be Cesaro or someone of his ilk that is answering the challenge, but again that sets up a very enticing series of matches. I also very much enjoyed Drake Maverick and R-Truth’s confrontation backstage, another home run from both men as the 24/7 title continues to be fantastic value. In the background throughout the show we also got various further cameos from “characters” we’ve seen during the Firefly Funhouse, so maybe Bray Wyatt isn’t necessarily bound for Raw (although at this point the wildcard rule is such a joke they should probably just abandon the brand split).
The rest of the show was pretty so-so. The feud between The Miz and Shane McMahon really needs to come to an end soon, it really is getting old, and I have no enthusiasm for Miz vs Elias, which was a chore to get through. Two very strong characters, but there is a lack of chemistry between them. Nikki Cross vs Bayley was a decent TV match and gave Cross an opportunity to shine. Ember Moon continues to be wasted as she took on Sonya Deville. Finally The New Day vs Bryan and Rowan, and then what became an eight-man tag also involving Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Heavy Machinery was enjoyable enough, but Owens leaving Zayn high and dry was an odd development given they are both playing obnoxious heels.
It’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but I think Raw might actually have been better than Smackdown this week. The blue brand failed to offer much beyond the usual enjoyment of Kofi Kingston and The New Day, but even that couldn’t mask the oversaturation of the ⅔ falls gimmick they seem intent on fostering onto WWE viewers at every turn. I understand that they don’t want to have matches interrupted by commercial breaks, but this is a ludicrous and unsustainable solution to a larger problem.
Evolve Anniversary show to air on WWE Network
Evolve have had a working relationship with revered independent company Evolve for some time now, with NXT superstars like Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream and many others appearing at Evolve shows. However, it appears that relationship is taking a step forward with Evolve now having their 10th-anniversary show streamed live on the WWE Network, with Evolve alumni such as Matt Riddle and Drew Gulak appearing on the show. Now, this would be good news for wrestling fans, but the date of this show also coincides with AEW’s Fight for the Fallen charity show. There has, of course, been outrage from the usual places at WWE daring to stream a live show on the same night as AEW’s philanthropic endeavour, and I’m sure there is an air of counterprogramming about it, but in all honesty, it feels like the outrage is unwarranted. Fans will watch what they want to, and just because WWE is offering them a different option to watch it shouldn’t have a huge impact on AEW, simply because fans who want to see both will simply watch one show live, and the other on delay. Also, charity or no it was hugely naive of AEW to believe WWE wouldn't counter programme them, because after all if you come for the king, you better not miss. The bottom line is, this is good news for wrestling fans and at the end of the day that is what we should be focusing on.
AEW Fyter Fest preview
All Elite Wrestling host their second official show this weekend as part of the CEO Gaming Convention at the Ocean Centre in Daytona, Florida. While probably not on the scale of Double or Nothing or the upcoming All Out show in September, this is still an intriguing opportunity to see more of AEW, and the card has some potentially very exciting matches. Cody Rhodes vs Darby Allin should be a nice showcase for Allin who has been making quite the name for himself on the indies. The Elite vs The Lucha Bros and Laredo Kid will likely be a mad dash high spots and superkicks, with no-selling of big moves included. It’ll almost certainly be fantastic but within that context of that caveat. Jon Moxley vs Joey Janela has the potential to be all kinds of insane, and Christopher Daniels vs Cima is a battle of two old pros. Hangman Page vs MJF vs Jimmy Havoc vs Jungle Boy should be a good indication of who the promotion sees as their strongest upper mid-carders. Yuka Sakazaki vs Riho vs Nyla Rose should provide another look at the basis of the women’s division, although it still feels a bit short on star power, something they hopefully resolve before their TV show launches. Finally, we have the tag match featuring The Best Friends vs SoCal Uncensored vs Private Party with the winner getting a shot at a potentially advantageous spot in the tag title tournament when they get started on TNT, in what is one of the more convoluted stipulations I’ve heard in recent times.
Although Fyter Fest is only available in the UK on the FITE TV App it should be well worth tracking down. The card looks strong, and at this stage, every AEW show has a tonne of anticipation because of the buzz about the company. Let’s hope they can keep that up with this show.
Bischoff and Heyman
In some late, breaking news this week WWE announced that Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman would be taking over as “Executive Directors” of Smackdown and Raw respectively, in an off-screen capacity. To say this was a bolt out of the blue would be a massive understatement and the idea off both being involved in the creative process is a major surprise. That said, this could make a huge difference in how the creative process works with two major forces taking the wheel for the individual brands. This will also hopefully yield a slightly different look and feel to each show, which is something that has been sorely missing in recent years. Given the falling ratings for both shows and the looming threat of AEW, WWE is clearly keen to roll the dice and with Vince McMahon potentially busy with the start of the XFL in 2020, as well as the start of the Fox deal in the autumn this could be a very interesting time indeed. Unless Vince changes his mind within a week and sacks both of them. Exciting times, and presumably a story that will evolve in the coming weeks.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at Fyter Fest, Raw and Smackdown, as well as whatever else 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.