Welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. In a week of uncertainty due to Coronavirus, wrestling has continued with WWE hosting a PPV that wasn't warmly received, Raw, Smackdown, AEW and NXT producing big TV shows, a wrestling legend having a health scare and much more. Let's kick off with Smackdown from Friday night.
WWE kicked off a busy week with a defacto go-home show for Elimination Chamber, not that you would have known based on this show. The most relevant match on this week’s show featured a preview of the tag team elimination chamber match on Sunday. Otis from Heavy Machinery was the star here, really getting over with the crowd and although his team would eventually be defeated by Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler, who earned the right to exit their pod last, it certainly made Heavy Machinery seem like the big babyfaces going into Sunday’s PPV. Of course this was not the only segment that featured these competitors, with Otis and Mandy Rose having an interaction backstage, as well as Ziggler accompanying Rose to the ring alongside Sonya Deville for their tag match against Carmella and Dana Brooke earlier in the night, as the Otis-Dolph-Mandy love triangle formed the background subtext here. The match itself was fun, but given the lack of big matches on the Eliminations Chamber card, it was hard to really invest too heavily in this lengthy bout, especially given WWE have done the gauntlet match to death over the past few years.
The rest of the show was largely passable, but not especially exciting in truth. Sheamus squashing Apollo Crews seems to have been more of a set up for the continued tease of something with Crews and Shorty G, as seen after the match. That said, I wonder if Sheamus is being built up as a post-mania feud for someone given his lack of any real direction four weeks out from the big event. The backstage segment with Daniel Bryan, Drake Maverick and Drew Gulak set up a very exciting match between Bryan and Gulak for Elimination Chamber. There was also a backstage tease for Baron Corbin vs Elias, which I’m sure everyone was just dying to see. Sasha Banks and Bayley vs Naomi and Lacey Evans was nothing to write home about. The segment with the NWO, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, Braun Strowman, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn and Cesaro was fun, but ultimately pretty throwaway. Finally, Bray Wyatt cut a promo in the Firefly Funhouse giving some backstory to his challenge to John Cena. It wasn’t a hugely informative segment, but it all helps when Wyatt is having to shoulder the largest part of the Mania build for his match with Cena.
Not a great show, with very little to get overly enthusiastic about. Nothing was particularly bad on this week’s episode, but nothing seemed hugely significant.
WWE frequently changes plans. That is far from news. However, this week it became evident that Elimination Chamber was a casualty of a change of booking plans given the lack of momentum and spotlight on this show, and the lack of a definitive main event. The defacto main event featured a dominant performance from Shayna Baszler, who obliterated the field in fairly short order within the chamber. This was a great way to make Shayna seem like a legitimate threat to Becky Lynch for Wrestlemania, and yes I can understand why some felt this was a “burial” of the Raw women’s division, but at the same time they needed to establish Shayna as a killer and they did that effectively. Sadly, the audience didn’t really take to her here, and perhaps they need to do some more work with establishing who Baszler is and what she is about in order to make her feel like Becky’s equal. A weird main event, but one that was necessary. Perhaps it shouldn’t have gone on last.
The rest of the show was fine, but also instantly forgettable. The tag team chamber match went down as expected for the most part; although The Lucha House Party did everything they could to make an impression and definitely raised their stock within WWE as a result, even though they were eliminated as The Miz and John Morrison retained their titles. AJ Styles vs Aleister Black wasn’t bad, but it also underwhelmed somewhat considering the competitors involved. The Undertaker getting involved was predictable, but I would have preferred to see him give Black the rub, given the similar elements involved with their gimmicks. Andrade vs Humberto Carrillo was another fine entry into their long-running feud, although their frequent matches are beginning to blur into one. Likewise for The Street Profits vs Murphy and Seth Rollins, although this felt like it was designed to further Rollins vs Kevin Owens, presumably for Wrestlemania. Sami Zayn, Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura vs Braun Strowman was better than expected, and Zayn getting the win was superb. I can’t wait to see what Zayn does next, and hopefully we can use this as a reminder that Sami Zayn is actually excellent in the ring, and not just a cowardly manager.
Finally, Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak opened the show with easily the match of the night. This was very different to the average WWE-style match and it made for a hugely refreshing change. Of course, we all know how good Bryan is, but Gulak got a tremendous amount of shine here and looked every inch Bryan’s equal. This was as close to “Catchpoint” era Gulak as we have seen in WWE, and it made for a tremendous opener and probably the only truly memorable match on this throwaway PPV.
With Wrestlemania theoretically approaching (more on that shortly) the red brand began to get their ducks in a row for the biggest show of the year. The most prominent storyline development focused on the Edge vs Randy Orton programme with the “Rated-R Superstar” returning to gain some revenge on Orton for both the attack on himself, and the RKO on his wife, Beth Phoenix, last week. Edge was great here, although the adoption of the RKO as a finish, despite the relevance, felt weird. Also the involvement of MVP felt crowbarred, even if it did allow Edge to get some dominant physically in without cutting the legs off Orton, so that is understandable. A solid segment in a generally strong build between these two.
The build for AJ Styles vs The Undertaker took a weird turn here. Having Styles cut a promo on Taker’s wife is a weird move, unless it’s based in the notion that they have the same finishing move. Becky Lynch and Charlotte both cut strong promos on their Wrestlemania opponents, although Charlotte’s ended in a physical altercation with Rhea Ripley. Angel Garza vs Rey Mysterio was fun, although it forwarded nothing in particular. Seth Rollins and his crew had a busy night, attacking Kevin Owens backstage, and then later offering Aleister Black a spot in their faction. The match between Rollins and Black was a nice taster of what they could do together given more time. The resulting brawl and eight-man tag team bout between The Street Profits, The Viking Raiders and Rollins and co was chaotic and fun, but I felt like it marginalised Aleister Black somewhat. Owens returning made sense and kept that programme rolling as Rollins stood tall following several stomps. Bobby Lashley vs Zack Ryder and Riddick Moss vs Cedric Alexander were both just “there” really. Finally, The Kabuki Warriors vs Natalya and Liv Morgan effectively moved the story between the former trio of Riott Squad members onward, as Sarah Logan and Ruby Riott got involved at ringside.
A busy episode of Raw with lots going on, there seemed to be minimal waster motion here and almost everything had a purpose.
AEW and NXT
With so much going on this week, we’ll truncate the two Wednesday night shows into one quick review. For AEW it was a week of setting up for the next few episodes. The main event with Sammy Guevara and Chris Jericho vs Hangman Page and a mystery partner was fine, but the reveal of Dustin Rhodes as the partner was underwhelming. The angle between The Inner Circle and The Elite is taking shape ahead of Blood and Guts AKA War Games, especially after the attack on Nick Jackson made everything that much more personal. Death Triangle looked strong as a unit against Joey Janela and Private Party, while Nyla Rose and Bea Priestley vs Hikaru Shida and Kris Statlander, and The Butcher, The Blade and MJF vs Jurassic Express were both excellent TV matches. Finally, Cody vs Ortiz was a fun opener, but it was very much overshadowed by Jake “The Snake” Roberts introducing his client Lance Archer, as they scouted Cody from ringside. Archer feels like a big addition to AEW, and Roberts is a superb mouthpiece for the former Killer Elite Squad member.
Over on NXT, things looked a bit unusual as the show emanated from the WWE Performance Centre. The opener with Cameron Grimes challenging Keith Lee was a hot way to start the show, and the post-match angle with Damien Priest and Dominick Dijakovic sets up a possible three-way for Takeover. Mia Yim going over Dakota Kai was a surprise, although Kai got her heat back after the match thanks to Raquel Gonzalez. Kushida vs Raul Mendoza was a nice spotlight for Kushida but more intriguing was the angle with Mendoza being “kidnapped” later in the night. The tease for Austin Theory vs Tyler Breeze was intriguing and it’ll be interesting to see that programme unfold. Tegan Nox vs Deanna Purazzo was a nice way to rehab Nox after losing the blow-off to her feud with Dakota Kai. The segment with Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley was a very solid moment and a great way to continue building that feud for Wrestlemania. The Bro-serweights vs Undisputed Era was excellent, although perhaps a step below their Takeover match. Finally, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa had a massive brawl ending in a huge, and very impressive spot through a table as the show went off the air.
Two very strong shows, with NXT perhaps edging it in quality terms even if AEW set up way more intriguing prospects for next week. A strong week all around.
Scott Steiner collapses
In a scary turn of events this week, Scott Steiner reportedly collapsed backstage during the Impact Wrestling tapings and was hospitalised shortly afterwards, undergoing a heart procedure in the days that followed. Steiner, a former WCW World Champion and multiple time tag champion all over the world alongside his brother Rick Steiner, is said to be doing well and we wish him a speedy recovery in the coming months. Pne of the greatest of all time, Steiner, who recently worked for NWA challenging Aron Stevens for the NWA North American Championship at NWA Hard Times, has been working the independent scene quite regularly in recent years having burned bridges with WWE (only last week he did an interview giving his very real, very strong feelings about the company). Regardless, hopefully this is the start of Steiner slowing down and beginning to wind down his in-ring career.
Smackdown from the PC? Wrestlemania postponed?
The biggest news in the world currently revolves around Coronavirus and professional wrestling has not been exempt from the effects of the virus. WWE have been forced to cancel their Smackdown taping on Friday and it will now take place at the WWE PC in Orlando, Florida. Likewise with sporting events being cancelled left, right and centre there seems to be a substantial chance that Wrestlemania is postponed or cancelled. Travel limitations have seen several major independent shows cancelled, with OTT’s much-anticipated Scrappermania card in Dublin this weekend, one of the bigger casualties. In addition AEW have been forced to move their Dynamite taping from Rochester, New York to their home base of Jacksonville, Florida. As sanctions and methods of containment continue to escalate alongside the progress and spread of the virus, it is inevitable that professional wrestling events will be affected in a big way. Right now, we just don’t know. Wrestlemania being delayed or cancelled would be unprecedented, but attendance will already be drastically affected by the US travel ban if it does go ahead, with most European fans unable to attend. It almost seems inevitable it will not go ahead on April 5th, even though both WWE and the City of Tampa claim it is still scheduled as it stands. Watch this space as this story develops.
That is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown, NXT and AEW Dynamite, plus anything else that breaks in the next seven days. 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