Welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber, looking at all the big news and events from the past seven days in the world of professional wrestling. It's been quite the busy week with an Elimination Chamber, some huge developments from Raw, a big main-event-dominated episode of Smackdown, and more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at Raw from Monday night.
It may not have been the most surprising show of the year, but there’s no doubt Elimination Chamber was a solid show. The main event featuring Finn Balor, Elias, John Cena, The Miz, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and eventual winner Roman Reigns was a solid, if not predictable affair. The action itself was fun, with Braun Strowman in tip-top form, and it certainly opened the doors to plenty of Wrestlemania developments. Elias was great in his pre-match segment, although I would have preferred him to take his guitar into the pod with him and continue playing while in there, as I suspect that would have gained some phenomenal heat. The Miz had a good performance, but seems destined for a damp squib of a feud against Seth Rollins and/or Finn Balor (more on that later), and to see Rollins squashed by Strowman, while necessary seemed a huge waste based on what they did with him last week in the gauntlet match on Raw. John Cena losing cleanly, and the over-the-top reaction shots of him outside the chamber helped continue the build to his story about being desperate to get on the Wrestlemania card effectively, even if it was a bit hammy in places.
As for Braun Strowman, he looked phenomenal here, every incite superstar and probably the most over person in this match, and yet it was Roman Reigns, who predictably and to the collective groans of all involved picked up the win. I know WWE are insistent on making Reigns their top babyface star, and I’m not even saying it’s impossible to make that happen, but booking him as the all-conquering superman is not going to be a way to achieve that end. Equally, Strowman genuinely has a shot of being that next big babyface star, and they are instead using him to try and put Reigns in that position. This is somewhat puzzling to me, especially as it’s hard to see how Strowman fits into the Wrestlemania picture now with everyone else pretty much tied up. Reigns will do just fine against Brock Lesnar, and while the build may end up being a very one-sided mixed bag, the match should be excellent much like their unexpectedly superb bout at Wrestlemania 31.
Speaking of Wrestlemania 31, the main event was not the only moment on this show that harked back events from San Jose, California nearly three years ago. Ronda Rousey’s contract signing was an interesting segment, and although the reaction to her was initially somewhat mixed, and her promo skills are clearly in need of a lot of work, her silent killer face, and the physical side of things with Triple H was really well done here and certainly achieved the aims of the segment. Kudos to Stephanie McMahon too for a very well delivered slap and some excellent selling of being petrified of Rousey. The only person who came out of this poorly was Raw GM Kurt Angle, who looked like an idiot here, doddering around with his transition from Olympic gold medallist to utter joke entirely complete. Still, a decent segment that did its job effectively.
The women’s chamber match was excellent, and probably the match of the night even if nothing about it was surprising during the bout itself, from Absolution being in the match in order which facilitated the double team, to the odds ending up stacked against Alexa Bliss and her planned alliance with Mickie James not panning out. There were some nifty spots making use of the chamber itself, but seeing Sasha Banks again turn on Bayley was great, and certainly helped the continuing build to what appears to be a match between the two at Wrestlemania. Bliss’ post-match promo was also phenomenal and really made her look like a brilliantly crafty character, but also one who can back it up. Few on the main roster have such a strong understanding of the nuances of their character and Bliss really does deserve praise for how far she has come in the last year or two.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable, if again fairly predictable. The Bar vs Titus Worldwide was fine, but nothing spectacular, although it did hint at Apollo going off on his own which would be a good call at this stage; while Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt had another tedious match that did little for either man. Barring a bonkers-house-of-horrors-final-deletion-style match, I really don’t see where they go with either character now. Finally, Asuka and Nia Jax had a very good match, probably Nia’s best since NXT, which kept both looking strong for Wrestlemania, even if the outcome was never really in doubt.
A very solid show all in all, even if the outcomes were very predictable. We certainly have everything moving in the right direction now for the Raw side of things as we move into the final build for Wrestlemania and things start to come together.
This week's Raw was less about the fallout from Elimination Chamber than the build to Wrestlemania, and it was full steam ahead. The show closing angle with Ronda Rousey, Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H was really well done, and this did a far better job of presenting Rousey as a killer babyface than the previous night's effort. She seemed more assured on the microphone and far more comfortable than the previous evening. Triple H decking Angle presumably means we are getting angle and Rousey against Triple H and Stephanie, although I would hope WWE has at least attempted to make a play for The Rock, even if he is likely busy, as Angle is a bit of a damp squib in this role.
Roman Reigns had a very eventful evening. His pseudo-shoot promo on Brock Lesnar might be the best thing he's done since the night after Wrestlemania 33. Reigns was booked like a badass and actually stood up for the fans and took their side, which might actually do something to endear him to the audience. That said, it’s a dangerous game trying to make Brock Lesnar seem like a mercenary who doesn’t care about the fans, given he is still a huge draw in terms of merchandise and ticket sales. Still, it was good booking of Roman and made him seem more credible than any time in almost a year, so that can only be a good thing. Keep booking him like this, and perhaps he does have a future as a top line babyface.
John Cena addressing Wrestlemania was interesting for a number of reasons. His call out of The Undertaker, only to take it back, branding the possibility "impossible" was interesting. Presumably, that is still the plan but with Cena heading off to Smackdown for a bit (more on that shortly), it gives more time to tease the Taker match without confirming it. I for one, am quite enjoying this more desperate side of John Cena, and although I doubt we'll ever get a full heel turn from Cena, this is certainly an interesting way to book him that puts him in new, more ambiguous territory. If Cena was ever to turn heel, this seems like the way to tease it before it happens (it's not happening).
The development in the women's division was interesting this week. The six-woman tag match was entertaining and added to the Sasha Banks/Bayley disharmony. It also seems that Alexa Bliss vs Asuka is the assumed match for the Raw Women's title, to the point where it looks like the build is starting. However, I believe this is still an ongoing swerve, and Alexa Bliss will be getting a shock when she realises that Nia Jax will actually e her challenger and Asuka is off to Smackdown to challenge Charlotte. I could be wrong, but it seems like a massive missed opportunity if they don't go with the biggest money match, especially as Charlotte is currently without an opponent for Wrestlemania. We shall see, but I have an inkling that there is more to this story.
The rest of the show was pretty busy. The Miz taking on and losing to both Finn Balor and Seth Rollins suggests to me that either The Miz is taking on both in three-way at Wrestlemania or Balor and Rollins are facing off for the title (possibly a bit of both depending on when Maryse goes into labour, given she is due on Wrestlemania weekend) which should be a fine Mania match, The Bar vs Titus Worldwide in a 2/3 falls match was more of the same as the previous night, and surely spells the end for Apollo and Titus O'Neill as a team. I have no idea who WWE has planned to challenge The Bar at Wrestlemania, although currently, I wouldn't be surprised if both men are in the battle royal given the lack of credible opponents. Bray Wyatt beat up Heath Slater and Rhyno before issuing a challenge to Matt Hardy for part 476 of their feud, which no-one cares about at this stage. It's a real contrast when you compare where Bray Wyatt was this time last year, as WWE champion. Finally, in a consolation prize for not winning the Elimination Chamber, in beating the tar out of Elias, although with Elias getting away (or drifting away I suppose) it looks like this feud will continue. Not sure what that limo situation was about unless it was just Triple H and Stephanie arriving, although I love a good mystery so let's hope it's something more.
A very good show, with lots of developments and lots of set up for Wrestlemania. Two weeks in a row of big shows for the red brand, and long may it continue.
This week’s Smackdown was a busy one, but the biggest story was perhaps the return of John Cena to the blue brand. Exploiting his still somewhat unexplained “free agent” status. Cena’s appearance was a great lift to the brand this week, and his promo was excellent. The resultant match with AJ Styles, was, of course, brilliant and although I would have preferred to see Cena vs Shinsuke Nakamura at Fastlane, his inclusion in the WWE title match odds a bit more believability to the idea that Styles could lose (even if it seems unlikely). The other build to the title match was good, with Baron Corbin and Sami Zayn having a fine match, even if it was marred by the continuing backstage cuts to Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan as they continued bickering. This angle really needs to go somewhere now, before it ruins Smackdown for good in the run-up to Wrestlemania. The intervention of Dolph Ziggler here, as well as the involvement of all the participants after the main event, worked well to help build the match at Fastlane, which seems far more interesting than it did a week ago. Super Cena indeed.
The rest of the show ranged from enjoyable to excellent. Ruby Riott vs Naomi was a very decent TV match, and did plenty to build Riott up for her match with Charlotte at Fastlane. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Aiden English was fun, although mostly for the involvement of Rusev, even if this match had no real story behind it, although the post-match stare down with John Cena was a nice touch, especially as a tease that perhaps Styles is not winning at Fastlane (even though he almost certainly is). The segment with Bobby Roode and Randy Orton was fine, and did a job to build their bout at the PPV for the US title, but it was nothing spectacular. Finally, The Usos and The New Day had a white-hot promo battle, which put over both teams hugely ahead of their match at the PPV. I really would implore you to check this out if you haven’t seen it, as The Usos, and especially Big E came across like megastars here. The Bludgeon Brothers coming out and spoiling the party was a nice touch to show the huge task for whoever wins the tag title match at Fastlane, even though they seemed to come out for no reason, as they were gone when the next segment started.
Anyway, a very enjoyable episode of Smackdown, and a huge improvement on recent weeks. The booking still has its problems, notably the Bryan-McMahon storyline, but hopefully that gets resolved, or at least moves forward soon so we can start the Wrestlemania build proper for the blue brand.
Brock Lesnar - Dana White picture
On Sunday night, while the Raw brand was in Las Vegas, strangely so was Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, only he was pictured with UFC President Dana White, while wearing a UFC shirt. Ominous as that may seem initially, I’m not sure I buy that this was a genuine indication of Lesnar's real intentions. His contract with WWE runs out some time after Wrestlemania, and he apparently has a provision in the paperwork that allows WWE to keep him until August if needed although this has not been officially confirmed by any of the parties involved. The UFC’s television rights are up for negotiation this year, and Dana White needs all the help he can get. Therefore for me, I’m going to call this out as a grandstanding/trolling activity to increase the bargaining position for both. Lesnar is unlikely, at 40 to want to return to the UFC full time, but I don’t doubt we could see him in a similar capacity to his return at UFC 200 while still under WWE contract. That said, perhaps both WWE and UFC could benefit from Lesnar taking a year off and going back to MMA. An absence from WWE would certainly freshen him up, while if he has the right fights booked Lesnar could be a huge draw for UFC if he wants one final run before returning for one last WWE run in a year or so. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops, and how invested Lesnar is in WWE will certainly be evident by the sort of bout he has with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania, and whether he walks out champion or not.
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 we continue the build to Wrestlemania, 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.