Welcome everyone to this week's Slammer Jabber. It has been a crazy week in pro wrestling, and we have a huge amount to get you all caught up on. Not only do we have the usual Raw and Smackdown reviews, but also news from WWE UK, NXT, ROH, Impact Wrestling and much more. As we do most weeks, let us start with this week's offering from Raw.
Three weeks before Wrestlemania, and we are well on the road with Raw this week. For the most part I enjoyed the Mick Foley storyline with Stephanie McMahon trying to get teach him to toughen up by firings someone, only for him to suggest firing her. The Triple H involvement was very good, and Trips was brilliant here and played the heel fantastically. As a result for the second time since his injury Seth Rollins looked like a massively over babyface making the save, but even more so once the beat down happened. I enjoyed Triple H busting out a Nagata lock type submission, which also gives the whole story of their match at Wrestlemania (provided Rollins is cleared) an extra bit of story development to work around for the match itself, and extra level to the doubts over whether Rollins is healthy for the match. I also assume this segment will be getting the ball rolling on Foley being removed as GM, and someone else filing his shoes (Kurt Angle perhaps?) so Mick can go and hive his hip surgery. There were also more hints of Triple H pulling the strings on Raw from the shadows, and the continued slow burn to the formation of the stable that he seems to be assembling with the now established link between Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, as well as perhaps someone else in the near future. A well-executed, multi-layered segment.
We got more development for Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker this week, with Reigns beating Jinder Mahal despite Taker's gong going off during his match. However, after the match we got Shawn Michaels out to give his yearly warning on the perils of facing The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. I enjoyed Reigns here as he basically shrugged off HBK's warning and proclaimed himself the owner of his 'yard'. Reigns looked like badass here, which is exactly how they should be booking him and hopefully this ends with him beating Taker and turning heel, as I think this version of Reigns could be a big deal as a bad guy. They can even refer back to his 'the guy' speech form the previous year as would now be a 'bad guy'. I'm definitely more excited for this feud now. I also enjoyed that we got Braun Strowman absolutely murdering him at the end of the segment, which gives more build to Braun here. Equally, I suspect Roman beats him clean next week to continue his momentum on the way to Mania, and Braun to then be re-habbed by beasting the Andre the Giant Battle Royal in impressive fashion.
There were some nice further developments in the women's division on Raw this week. I enjoyed the seed of doubt being planted by Sasha Banks in Bayley's mind that some people don’t believe she deserves the belt. I suspect this will also foreshadow the Sasha heel turn, either at Wrestlemania, or more likely the night after. The Sasha -Dana Brooke match was passable, if not great but I really enjoyed the post-match with Dana and Charlotte. I would never have been able to see Dana as a babyface (and I'm not sure I do now), but Charlotte is that good a heel that the turn by Dana actually got fans on her sign as Charlotte berated her for failing. It very much reminded me of The Miz and Alex Riley a few years back, where the apprentice rebels against the heel tutor after much berating. This felt a bit out of nowhere, but it was a nice moment and if Dana is going face that leaves a nice vacancy for a top heel, should Sasha turn on Bayley. I also found Nia Jax surprisingly entertaining here, and possibly for the first time in a while they seem to have booked her really well. She looked dominant, and destructive which she absolutely should be and although she lost by DQ I suspect she ends up finding her way into the title match at Wrestlemania alongside Bayley, Sasha and Charlotte. Good work all round here.
Kevin Owens was once again in fine form this week. His promo before the match was very well done and garnered him more heel heat, and I hope the spotlight gimmick is one they keep on with as it suits him really well. The formalising of a link with Samoa Joe was very well done here too leading into the match with Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn. Obviously the partnership of Zayn and Jericho has a few logic holes but I'm happy to forgive that based on the storyline necessity. Another good match here, and I'm looking forward to seeing Jericho interviewing 'the real Kevin Owens' next week in what could be a cracking segment depending what direction they take it in.
The Brock Lesnar promo (well Paul Heyman promo, but you know what I mean) segment at the start of the show wasn't really anything special, but it did a job in continuing to build to the Bill Goldberg match at Mania. In all honesty less is more with these two, and given that the next time we see either of them I believe is on the go-home show this is a nice reminder that we have these two on the back-burner while the focus shifts to the other big matches on the show.
Finally, we got some development with the tag and cruiserweight titles. The Tag scene, shallow as it is on Raw, moved towards the logical match at Wrestlemania featuring all three teams. I liked that Gallows & Anderson got some time to look dominant here, and actually have some momentum building for them, finally. However, I assume that Enzo & Big Cass are winning the belts at the big show, and then Sheamus and Cesaro end up feuding post mania. In terms of the cruiserweights Austin Aries looked great in his match with Ariya Daivairi, building him nicely for his match with Neville (something confirmed on 205 Live), while the other 4 competitors in the 205 Live match battled in a tag match, which actually showcased some of the better workers (TJ Perkins, Akira Tozawa, The Brian Kendrick) and the worst (Tony Nese). The division is getting there slowly but surely, although having Neville watching backstage and not appearing ringside at all seems a waste.
Still a good show all in all, with everything building nicely to Wrestlemania and only a few filler moments (The New Day had a segment, it was terrible and Titus O'Neill was squashed by Big Show) that didn’t do much for me.
For the blue brand this week was all about setting up AJ Styles and Shane McMahon for Wrestlemania. Styles disgruntled attitude built throughout the show and I enjoyed the physical angle to properly kick things off with him and Shane, who sold the car window very well. I'm still not a massive fan of the angle but I feel like they are doing their best to build this feud into a big deal between the two and hopefully a big match at Wrestlemania. I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a NoDQ or stipulation match to cover for Shane's shortcomings, but if nothing else it should give us an idea of just how good AJ is, and whether he can carry Shane to an excellent match.
The Miz TV segment was very good this week with both The Miz and Maryse on good form, and I'm glad they have finally found a way to tie Daniel Bryan into a feud with Miz given they can’t have an physicality (in WWE at least, who know what happens with Bryan once his WWE contract expires), and John Cena and Nikki Bella as his surrogates of sorts with their in-law connection makes as much sense as anything. Again, this is an angle that I'm not a huge fan of on paper, but they have done very well getting me interested and I'm hoping we get a short but fun little match at Mania.
The Randy Orton-Bray Wyatt promo was well executed even if it is veering into campy, ridiculous territory. Orton's plan still doesn’t quite make sense, and the conditional nature of much of his plot still seems a bit convoluted. However, Bray Wyatt is so dedicated to his character that it somehow works. Even when he is pouring what are purported to be the ashes of his dead sister on himself it is somehow believable. The match should be good on April 2nd, but I'm still baffled as to Randy Orton, the arsonist, is the babyface in this feud. One thing is for sure, there is almost no chance this goes on last at Wrestlemania. Also, where is Luke Harper?
Elsewhere, Mickie James had a good match with Alexa Bliss and that further built Mickie as a threat for the big women's match at Mania, while Becky Lynch and Carmella had a bout earlier in the show that achieved the same outcome for Lynch. American Alpha had a fun bout with The Usos which furthers their feud despite the fact it will likely not lead to match at Wrestlemania, or certainly not much more than a pre-show bout. It's a shame, but the show is so stacked already. Baron Corbin cut a good promo on Dean Ambrose and challenged him to an Intercontinental title match, which hopefully does happen as I'd like to see Corbin take the belt now. Finally Dolph Ziggler and Mojo Rawley had a match that I could not have cared any less about, and I hope both get eliminated from the battle royal at Wrestlemania in double quick, off screen fashion.
A good show this week, and although not as strong as a month or so ago, it was definitely the best show for a few weeks from Smackdown Live! There is still work to do, but it certainly feels that much like Raw the blue brand has got its working boots on now, and the build-up is very much on in the next couple of weeks.
Anthem cease and desist to ROH
After the departure of The Hardys from Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA) and their subsequent shock arrival into Ring of Honor, they were scheduled to compete on the ROH PPV last Friday night, only for Anthem to send a cease and desist letter regarding the use of the "Broken" gimmick for the team. Unfortunately, that letter was sent not only to ROH but also to the various TV networks and PPV carriers that were showing the ROH product. Anthem essentially were staking a claim to the Broken gimmicks as their Intellectual Property after the characters were developed under the banner of TNA. This is perfectly within the rights of the company to do this, but the timing of the letter seems suspicious given it was merely hours prior to the show going on air. As a result one PPV company ended up dropping the show for fear of legal repercussions, and The Hardys were unable to use many of their mannerisms or Matt Hardy's promo style on the show. For me, Anthem may have shot themselves in the foot slightly here, as while this is a very good business decision but it is likely to have alienated a good portion of their own audience, as well as created bad blood with ROH. The whole thing seems very short sighted for me, and if Anthem are planning on continuing to use the IP control tactic then it may well discourage stars from wanting to sign with them in the future for fear of legal issues with suing their gimmick. I know WWE do this regularly, but the gulf in size, scope and reach between those companies is gigantic. Impact Wrestling needs to be a viable alternative place for people to go, and this could set a precedent that Anthem are not good employers to work for. The wording of Matt and Jeff's contracts will be the telling part of this wrangle, as it will depend on the exact wording used in regard to character development. I'm sure there will be more developments in this story, and we should have a clearer idea of how this will affect The Hardys in the short term in ROH, and the possibility of a run in WWE in the future.
ROH – Chris Daniels
While on the subject of ROH, I'd like to congratulate the company on a stellar PPV, at their 15th Anniversary show. The highlight of the show for me was the main event and Christopher Daniels winning the ROH World Championship for the first time at the tender age of 45. The angle with Kazarian in the main event was executed perfectly, and told a great story of one of the original ROH performers triumphing on their 15th anniversary. I really enjoyed the match with Adam Cole, who is surely WWE-bound (or more accurately NXT-bound) now his contract is up. The rest of the card was excellent, with a really fun three-way tag title street fight with The Hardys (sans the more obvious trappings of the "Broken" gimmick), Roppongi Vice, and The Young Bucks, Jay Lethal taking on Bobby Fish, and Lio Rush failing in his pursuit of Marty Scurll's Television title all particular highlights. A card well worth seeing, even if you’re not a big ROH fan.
Jack Swagger release
After a decade (yes, I was surprised too) Jack Swagger has departed WWE, having asked for his release a few weeks ago, and although it was declined at that stage, Swagger has now been officially let go as requested. It shouldn’t really be a surprise as Swagger has never really fulfilled his original potential. His initial run on the old revived ECW show as a jock-bully type character was very good, but his short reign as World Heavyweight Champion in an almost Jericho-lite character was ill advised and did him far more harm than good. Swagger would recover in 2013 having a brief run as a controversial right-wing patriot character alongside Zeb Coulter. The two were great, but eventually the bottom fell out of the gimmick after Swagger and Coulter had to do an out of character speech to explain that they were portraying characters in order to placate the sponsors and network. Since then, Swagger has really just been a mid-card guy, doing little to nothing of importance so I'm not surprised he chose to leave. With TNA recruiting former WWE stars, and with Dutch Mantell (AKA Zeb Coulter) in a strong position in TNA, as well as the success of the likes of Cody Rhodes on the independent circuit you have to imagine Swagger stands a far better chance of forging a long term career by going away from WWE for a time to refresh his character and hone his skills.
WWE UK dates/WAW controversy
After the success of the WWE UK Tournament, and the appearances of Trent Seven, Pete Dunne, and WWE UK Champion Tyler Bate in NXT it was only a matter of time before the proposed UK tapings took shape, and WWE have decided to organise those taping for the destination of Norwich, in the 600 seat venue of Epic Studios. On the face of it, this is a fairly natural decision to tape in a small venue that already has all the facilities for creating a TV show. However, some have suggested this is a deliberate shot a Ricky Knight and his local WAW promotion. Knight is of course the father of WWE performer Paige, who was recently spotted backstage and in the audience (though not shown on camera, at least thus far) at Impact Wrestling to support her fiancée Albert El Patron (formerly Del Rio). WAW had also announced Jack Swagger prior to his release actually being confirmed, which may have caused some friction with WWE. Equally the company are executive producing the adaptation of The Knights/Paige's story with The Rock, so I find it hard to believe that there is more to this than coincidence. I suspect this was more of an attempt to test the waters with a set of tapings somewhere that has all the required facilities needed to keep costs low, and shoot a first set of shows as a test to see how it works in the UK market. Knight may be outraged, but I think at the end of the day this will all amount to a bit of handbags at dawn, and not much else. However, let’s not have that overshadow the exciting news that one of the best tournaments WWE have ever done, and in the UK no less, is getting its own show presumably on the network. Exciting times.
NXT Tour the UK
In addition to the WWE UK Tapings which were announced this week, we also got the news that NXT would be returning to these shores this summer doing a nationwide tour culminating in a second stint at the Download Festival, after their successful debut there last year. This seems like an excellent move for NXT and while this won’t include a Takeover show, this is definitely a good way of continuing to build a grassroots following in the UK. Dates even include a rare show in Brighton, which I will certainly be getting along to if possible. Exciting times for NXT fans, and although I suspect Shinsuke Nakamura and a few others may have gone up to the main roster by then, I imagine Bobby Roode, and much of the current roster will still be knocking around so this should be a fun show to see in person.
Dennis Stamp RIP
In sad news this week, Dennis Stamp passed away after a long battle with cancer. Stamp wrestled extensively in lower card matches around the western United States, before having a run in the 80s as an enhancement talent for WWF, and AWA. However, perhaps Stamp’s greatest notoriety came as a result of his appearance in the film Beyond the Mat, a critically acclaimed documentary following the lives of Terry Funk, Mick Foley, and various other wrestlers in the late 1990s. Stamp featured heavily in the build up to Funk's retirement, including a memorable scene on a trampoline which has made him something of a cult hero to wrestling fans. A sad loss, RIP.
Undertaker/CM Punk poll WWE.com
As a quick, final note, it was interesting this week to see WWE.com posted a poll asking fans to vote for The Undertaker's best match at Wrestlemania over the years. However, one opponent was missing and surprisingly it was not Jimmy Snuka, but CM Punk. It just goes to show that the relationship is as frosty as ever, and that we certainly shouldn’t be expecting a Punk return any time soon. It seems petty, but it raised a chuckle here in Slammer Jabber HQ.
Well, that is it from another exciting week in pro wrestling. I'll be back next week with all the happenings as we inch closer to Wrestlemania. In the meantime why not check out all the latest news in film and entertainment, the best in movie, Blu-ray, DVD, and game reviews, as well as fantastic competitions, blogs and much more here at Screenjabber. Until next week, so long folks.