Hello again grappling fans, and welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber. In another busy week, we had a better than average Raw, a fiery but less than brilliant Smackdown Live, and we look ahead to Fastlane this Sunday. Let's get cracking.
With Fastlane quickly approaching this Sunday, and after last week's mixed efforts Raw really needed to move into high gear in terms of the build for the PPV. Thankfully that is just what we got this week, and for the most part this was an impactful and exciting show. I very much enjoyed the Bill Goldberg and Kevin Owens segment. For the second week in a row Owens felt like he was being presented as a serious heel and an actual threat to Goldberg, which makes all the potential outcomes for Sunday even more interesting. Goldberg also looked strong and this was a lovely little segment to build for Fastlane.
The closing segment of the show with Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns was also very enjoyable, and I liked that for once this was a contract signing that was requested by one of the competitors, and for a legitimate reason. This was again a fun brawl, and made me excited to see them go full pelt on Sunday. The turnbuckle spot was actually quite nifty, and something I'm not sure I've seen done before. Strowman is fantastic as the beast in this role, and I am more and more beginning to see him as a future main eventer for WWE. Reigns also looked great here, and while he has his detractors for his character work, and arguably the way he’s been booked you cannot fault him for his in-ring work which has been absolutely stellar for some time now. I genuinely believe this could be the match of the night on Sunday.
The Seth Rollins segment was very well executed in my opinion, although I can appreciate why he still not quite as over as a babyface as some would like. Again a portion of the blame has to lay at the feet of the writers here, but Rollins has struggled to get traction in this role. However, his promo did exactly what was needed here, garnering sympathy when it looked like he would miss Wrestlemania, and cheers when he fired up on Triple H, and vowed his revenge at the biggest show of the year. It was easily the best Rollins has come across as a babyface in the past 6 months and hopefully this is the start of more of the same for him. Equally, Triple H was brilliant here as the authority figure heel, playing up to his 'creator' moniker as per a few weeks ago. This segment didn't make it entirely clear whether Rollins would be cleared for a full match, or will just be "calling out" Triple H for Mania, but either way we're getting something, which is good news as far as I'm concerned.
Elsewhere, Raw was a bit more of mish-mash of good and bad. Enzo & Cass continued their weird dynamic shift, with Enzo verging on heel-ish in his behaviour. It is certainly concerning, and I hope they aren't sacrificing the team for the Cass babyface run, and I certainly hope they aren’t turning Enzo. Time will tell. Cesaro and Samoa Joe's match was short but very fun and I think showcased both men well. Speaking of Joe, his brawl with Sami Zayn was excellent, very heated and felt like these two genuinely dislike each other, so that was well worth the time they put into it. The segments, and the match with Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Nia Jax was enjoyable enough, but it all seems a bit tired and predictable now. The flip-flopping of the title has really hurt its credibility and they absolutely threw away the big Wrestlemania moment with Bayley for seemingly no reason. The stuff with the cruiserweights was just there, and Sheamus vs Titus O'Neill was the bore I expected, and The New Day vs Jinder Mahal and Rusev was another match between these teams, which is about as much as I can say for it. Oh and Big Show squashed the Shining Stars as the punchline to a bad joke about the Oscars.
A good show for the most part, dragged down by the presence of a good amount of filler, although that can be forgiven considering they have three hours to fill. This would have been a very strong, impactful 2 hour show without all the filler, but that is not the world we live in.
Well, that was different, wasn’t it? Randy Orton, arsonist. I have really enjoyed the slow build for the Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton match at Wrestlemania. I fully expected Wyatt to be the recipient of an "RKO out of nowhere", rather than having the Wyatt compound burnt down, including the remain of his dead sister, apparently. The whole thing was a mess.
I suppose in some ways, this creative approach should be applauded, but the execution was pretty poor. Orton's plan must have been so convoluted and complicated that it defies logic. Also, considering what Bray did to Orton it seemed a bit excessive to go to such extremes. I should also point out that Orton doing his pose in front of the burning remains of the Wyatt compound was just ludicrous. In fairness to Bray be sold this all incredibly well, like a broken man. You have to applaud Wyatt who has taken whatever mystical rubbish he's been given over the years and made the best of it, but even he couldn’t save this debacle.
AJ Styles vs Luke Harper was a very entertaining bout, marred by a silly Dusty finish. Styles and Harper actually work really well together and I look forward to seeing more of this pairing in the future. The finish was well executed, but I now have no idea what they do with AJ. Given Orton forfeited his title shot, AJ would surely be the number 1 contender, but somehow I see them manoeuvring this into a match with Shane McMahon. Such a shame for Styles who deserves far better. This whole thing is a confusing, convoluted mess which they really need to sort before it results in loss of interest, or harms the build to Mania.
While the crowd in the arena might not have been completely won over by the prospect of John Cena and Nikki Bella teaming up, I really enjoyed the segments they had with The Miz and Maryse. The Miz was excellent as always and Maryse shone here too. Miz actually had some pretty valid points as far as I can see, and I thought Cena actually seemed a bit like the heel in this feud for brief moments here. Still a good build for the Mania feud, and like it or not this is the direction they are taking. Plus, we now get Nikki and Cena facing off with James Ellsworth and Carmella next week, which should be tremendous fun.
The rest of the show was a mixed bag of sorts. Mickie James vs Becky Lynch was a good match, although the 2/3 falls stipulation seemed a bit out of the blue. Still, you have to imagine this moves Becky on to something else now. The Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin promos were well done, and given the physicality in previous weeks it made for a nice change of pace. Apollo Crews vs Dolph Ziggler was ok, but nothing special, but I'm still struggling to see anything in either man currently, making it hard to invest much stock in this match.
All in all, not a brilliant show. A rare misstep for Smackdown Live, and an even rarer occurrence of Raw being the better show. The main event segment was a real slice of Wrestlecrap, and that image of Randy Orton doing his pose in front of the flames may be one of the silliest images in recent WWE history.
It's been quite the turbulent week for TNA with multiple talents leaving the company after declining to re-sign their contracts. Obviously the company is doing lots of cleaning house at the moment with Anthem having taken over, and Jeff Jarrett coming back in to a position of power under the new regime. These all seem like positive changes, but it seems not everything is as well as it seemed on the surface. The biggest departure of the week featured arguably TNA's biggest two stars, Matt and Jeff Hardy. The Final Deletion, Apocalypto, and everything else they did as part of the BROKEN storyline has been propping up the company for much of 2016. As such it is surprising that TNA would allow this to happen. In addition apparently The Hardys have told independent promotors that they cannot take booking beyond the end of April, which as it stands suggests they are WWE bound. What WWE would do with a gimmick like Matt has been cultivating, and how much control they would give him is a big question mark hanging over this. Equally, Jeff Hardy could easily slot into the upper midcard/main event slot in WWE as it stands with the company short on top line stars on the babyface side of things. We should know more in the coming weeks, but I expect the brothers Hardy to be a developing news story in the next month or so, wherever they go. Make no mistake, as the current tag champions and the biggest stars in the company this is a major loss for TNA.
Outside of The Hardys, TNA have also lost Drew Galloway (who was the Impact Grand Champion, not that it matters if we're being honest, the concept was circling the drain). Galloway is someone I could definitely see WWE taking a look at in the near future, as he is a solid worker who has improved dramatically over the past year or so. I hope he gets a good run in the midcard on Smackdown if he does come in, as he could be a nice fit there. Mike Bennett and Maria are also gone, but I've never really got the hype with Bennett. He seems an average worker, with average verbal skills, and an attractive female counterpart. I suspect Ring of Honor might be the likely destination for Bennett, but I wouldn’t be willing to put money on it. I certainly don’t see WWE having much interest.
This is certainly an alarming precedent and it'll be very interesting to see what other performers have their contracts expiring soon. If you are a TNA worker, disgruntled with the return of the old management there is a very good chance you’ll be looking at the likes of Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode in WWE and wondering if the grass might be a little greener.
As is customary on the Thursday before a PPV, I've got some predictions for Fastlane this Sunday. It should be an excellent card headlined by an intriguing and interesting main event. Kevin Owens has looked better than the rest of his whole run as Universal Champion in the past two weeks, and Goldberg is probably the top babyface in WWE right now. However, there are some lingering doubts over Goldberg’s ability to work a match longer than a few minutes, and Owens may well have his work cut out for him. I can see this going one of two ways, either Chris Jericho interferes costing Owens the belt, or Lesnar squashes Owens in a minute flat. I don’t see this going super long, I don't see Brock Lesnar being involved, and I don't see Owens holding onto the belt. Is it the right decision? I'm not entirely sure in terms of whether Gold berg vs Brock Lesnar needs the belt, but perhaps the belt would benefit from the credibility that feud brings.
Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman is a hard match to call. The company won’t want to take the shine off Strowman, who has been supremely protected up to this point, but Reigns needs to be strong for a potential match with The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Personally, I think Reigns gets the win, but only just, or perhaps loses after some sort of Undertaker interference (if so don't expect interference in the main event, and get ready for that Goldberg squash). The finish will certainly be done to rightly protect both men, and I expect this to be a crazy brawl with some huge spots. A sleeper for math of the night for me.
Elsewhere, Jack Gallagher vs Neville should be fun, but Neville will retain ready to feud with Austin Aries at Wrestlemania. Gallows & Anderson will pick up a tainted win against Enzo & Cass via nefarious means, and Samoa Joe will destroy Sami Zayn (although I'm not sure if this has been made official as a match just yet).
Finally, we have the situation with the Women's division. This is a difficult one to call, as both matches intertwine with each other. However, it looks to me like we'll be getting Sasha losing to Nia Jax to keep Jax strong before turning on Bayley and costing her the Women's title. Or certainly causing a DQ in that match or something equally screwy to put the pieces in place for the Wrestlemania four-way.
On paper this could be a cracking little card, and all the matches have potential. I'm genuinely intrigued to see how the matches unfold, and where that leaves everyone when the dust settles and we get to Raw on Monday night. Exciting times.
Well that is it for me this week. I'll be back next Thursday with a run down of Fastlane, Raw, Smackdown, and more. Until then, check out the rest of Screenjabber for all the best in movies, DVD and Blu-ray, as well video games, interviews, competitions and a whole lot more. Until next week, so long folks.