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 a very busy Raw, an eventful Smackdown, the finals of the New Japan Cup, and the closure of one notorious British company. However, all of that pales in comparison to the big news regarding one Daniel Bryan.
Daniel Bryan to return
Without a doubt, the single biggest news story this week is the return to in-ring competition of Daniel Bryan. After retiring in 2016 due to multiple concussion issues and WWE refusing to clear him, he has continued as Smackdown GM although all the while seeing various specialists throughout the world to try and get himself cleared by WWE to wrestle, and they finally have. The outpouring of love and support for Bryan online when the news broke on Tuesday was overwhelming and you have to think he was delighted both to be back doing what he loves, but to have finally got back to the biggest stage available to do so. There is no bigger babyface on the planet than Daniel Bryan now, and while we have no firm indication of what sort of schedule Bryan will wrestle (you would presume something akin to Shawn Michaels in his second run with the company, provided his health holds up) its superb to have him back, and I for one am a whole lot more interested in Wrestlemania now he is back. The dream matches with those on the roster now for Bryan to have are plentiful (AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe to name just a few) and his return is great news for wrestling in general.
Raw was DELIGHTFUL! Yes, the big story coming out of the week’s Raw wasn’t even something that happened in the arena, but the pre-taped Ultimate Deletion between Bray Wyatt and “Woken” Matt Hardy. The match itself was the exact mix of crazy and familiar that fans of the original Final Deletion in TNA will have enjoyed and it was very entertaining, in a bizarre sort of way. Bray Wyatt’s deletion in the Lake of Reincarnation was a nice touch too and suggests that Wyatt is going to be repackaged in some form or fashion, which can only be viewed as a good thing, even if it is just for a while before they bring the Wyatt character back. Wyatt is so stale and played out that it could use a rest, and hopefully, it will breathe new life into the arias formerly known as Husky Harris.
Brock Lesnar’s long-awaited return to Raw was an interesting one. The “suspended” Roman Reigns turning up (in his gear, or at least in a shirt that resembled his normal gear) was a bit silly, and the attack and stretcher angle with the two was a bit contrived. I’m not sure if this was designed to garner sympathy for Reigns, because if it was, they were poorly using a narrative device designed to gain a pop for the returning attacker. Still, the build is certainly interesting and still has a while to go, so we’ll see how this pans out in the coming weeks.
The rest of the show was fun, if not a bit of a blur. Asuka vs Alexa Bliss was fine, although the finish was cheap. It’s necessary, and given Asuka is likely Smackdown bound after Wrestlemania it makes sense not to damage either by having a definitive result. The build for Nia Jax vs Bliss for Mania has felt a bit rushed, but it’s a compelling story, especially given the weird body-shaming angle they’re opting for. Interestingly, Mickie James taking Alexa’s side is hilarious, given one of the last programmes of her previous run in WWE featured Lay-Cool referring to her as a “Piggy James”, but still.
John Cena calling out The Undertaker was a fine segment until Kane turned up. I could happily never see Kane vs Cena again, so the announcement of the two fighting next week doesn’t fill me with joy, but I suppose it keeps s Cena busy till the go-home show the week after. I do wonder if the way this has been built will lead to Taker not turning up until then, or even until the night itself.
Finn Balor and Gallows & Anderson vs The Miz and The Miz-tourage was a decent TV match and keeps the guild up for the three-way at Mania, especially with the Seth Rollins post-match run in. Absolution vs Sasha Banks and Bayley was a good bit of storyline build for Banks vs Bayley if we are getting that at Mania, although I have my concerns they are just going to be shoved into the battle royal or onto the pre-show. Braun Strowman vs Cesaro was fun and showed how undervalued Cesaro is as a singles competitor, while also giving us a preview of Strowman plus his mystery partner (my money is on Elias, despite how little sense that makes) vs The Bar at Wrestlemania. Finally, The Revival vs Titus Worldwide was just there. It made Dash and Dawson look strong, but despite declaring for the battle royal at Mania, you have to suspect they will be cannon fodder for the eventual winner.
A very decent Raw, if not a bit disjointed. Everything has a purpose, nothing dragged and everything made sense. WWE are doing a very good job of building the Raw side of things and my excitement level after this show was very high where Wrestlemania is concerned.
For very good reasons, pretty much everything on the show this week was overshadowed by the return and in-ring clearance of Daniel Bryan. The opening promo from Bryan was phenomenal, emotionally charged, and felt totally natural. I defy anyone not be moved by seeing the connection Bryan has with the fans, and it was in full force this week. The interaction with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in the main event segment was well executed, and their attack on Bryan after he fired the pair yielded nuclear heat from the audience. Bryan looked like he had not missed a step physically, and the bump he took was pretty significant. Given the end of the show, I do expect that we are getting Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan vs Owens and Zayn at Wrestlemania, which makes the most sense, and after this, I am very excited to see.
Elsewhere on this show, Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura had a very fun match with AJ Styles on commentary, although I’m not sure they’ve done enough to build Styles and Nakamura to the level it should be at just yet. Although if the rumours of Styles having a minor injury are true, then you have to imagine that this may have impacted the original plans for the two here. That said there are a couple of weeks left to build this up, so I suspect by April 8th this will be very highly anticipated.
Naomi and Becky Lynch vs Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan was a fine TV match, as was Luke Harper vs Jimmy Uso, while Baron Corbin vs Tye Dillinger was just something that happened and had no consequences or anything notable beyond an obvious botched attempt of the End of Days from Corbin. The segment with Randy Orton, Jinder Mahal, and Bobby Roode was very dull, and I have zero reasons to be invested in this feud, especially as this match is surely bound for the pre-show. Finally, Charlotte and Natalya had a very enjoyable match, which did a great job of keeping Carmella and the Money in the Bank briefcase at the forefront of everyone’s minds going into Wrestlemania. I’m suggesting it should be done, but can you imagine the heat, if Asuka beats Charlotte at Wrestlemania only for Carmella to attack her and cash in successfully? It would be insane.
A very one-note show for the most part, but let’s face it that one note is the biggest story of the year so far in terms of WWE, and the company were right to give it this sort of focus. Welcome back Daniel Bryan.
5 Star Wrestling folds
In sad, but not unexpected news it was revealed earlier this week that UK promotion 5 Star wrestling was to fold. The company have been showing a three our weekly live show on Freeview channel Freesports, which is quite the coup for a UK-based company, and they brought in many to name US imports for these shows. Unfortunately, it did not work out and they were holding shows in half-empty arenas, and it appears the backer providing the funds pulled the plug this week. 5 Star also got some bad press for cancelling shows last minute in 2017, as well as using the Manchester bombing last May to cancel shows, based on supposed safety concerns, even though it was apparent they coincidentally had very poor ticket sales. The company always seemed doomed to fail due to a poor strategy of relying heavily on import talent over UK talent, which just doesn’t seem sustainable. It’s sad, because wrestling on TV in the UK is always a good thing, and having one less place for the talented workers who were under the 5 Star banner to ply their trade is not a positive. That said, I do wonder if Freesports might look to other UK companies now to fill the void in their programming, which could lead to appositive outcome in the end.
Mark Henry HOF
Somebody’s gonna get inducted…somebody’s gonna get their…Ok, I have no better jokes to add. The news broke on Monday that Mark Henry was to be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame this year, and I honestly couldn’t be more delighted. Henry’s WWE career may have been an up and down affair, and while the Mae Young hand, Sexual Chocolate, and sex therapy runs may have been low points, Henry eventually had the run of his career in 2011 with the (now aptly named) Hall of Pain campaign, and subsequent world title run. However, perhaps Henry’s crowning moment (aside from coining the term “”Brain-yerism”) came in 2013 when he faked a retirement speech as a way of swerving John Cena, and the fans, and getting a WWE title shot. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you search it out immediately, it’s genuinely brilliant. I actually really hope we get the return of the infamous salmon jacket for his induction, and John Cena is the one to induct him, or failing that D-Lo Brown. Either way, I suspect Henry’s speech should be brilliant and is definitely a huge must-see moment of Wrestlemania weekend for me.
Greatest Royal Rumble - Saudi - update
A few weeks back, you might recall we covered the interesting news that WWE would be hosting a 50-man Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia in April. However, WWE released a bit more information this week, including the news that every WWE title will be defended on that show, and in an interview, Roman Reigns let slip that is being planned as a WWE Network exclusive show. This is very interesting, and just goes to show the investment WWE are placing in the Middle East as a potential market, as well as the money to be made as part of the 2030 initiative (long story short, it’s a programme by the Saudi Arabian government to invest in diversifying the Saudi economy beyond oil over the next decade, including bringing in major sporting events and entertainment companies, hence the WWE involvement). Whether this is indicative of a shift away from focusing on the Indian and wider Asian markets in the wake of the failed Jinder Mahal experiment, or whether they are just taking a larger global approach remains to be seen, but I suspect this is not the last we will hear of WWE expanding significantly into the region.
New Japan Cup/Strong Style Evolved
Over the past few weeks, NJPW has been hosting a series of shows featuring the New Japan Cup tournament, which concluded on Wednesday. The highlights of the tournament have been plentiful, but no-one has shone quite as brightly as the Isle of Sheppey’s own Zack Sabre Jr. With Taka Michinoku as his Japanese mouthpiece, ZSJ has been on an absolute tear recently, even defeating Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi in the second round. However, his opponent in the final Hiroshi Tanahashi also looked superb throughout the tournament, with an incredibly strong redemption storyline, and some fine performances. As such, it is not a surprise these two ended up in the final yesterday, and the match was just as good as the encounters the two had in the G1 last year, and last autumn. Naturally this match was another stone-cold classic, and Zack Sabre Jr winning was the icing on the cake. With the win Sabre is the first ever British winner of the New Japan Cup, and by virtue of his challenge to Kazuchika Okada after the match (as is his right as the winner of the cup) the first UK-born challenger to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship since Steven Regal in 1995, which is quite the feat. I quite like that Gedo’s booking strategy allows for some believability of Sabre winning the belt, even though it is incredibly unlikely. Okada winning the belt in 2012 itself was such a bold, out of the blue move that now it always feels possible that Gedo could pull a shock and switch the belt onto someone new. In all likelihood, ZSJ is losing to Okada, but they have put him over huge in recent weeks and he feels like a genuinely credible threat to Okada, and sets up a mouth-watering clash at Sakura Genesis.
However, this is not the only NJPW news this week. This coming Saturday New Japan will be hosting their shows in the USA, with Strong Style Evolved, emanating from Long Beach, California. This show should be absolutely huge, headlined by The Young Bucks taking on friend/possibly now enemy Kenny Omega and his partner Kota Ibushi, The Golden Lovers. Honestly, this should be one of the best matches of the year, and another huge outing from NJPW. Further down the card “Switchblade” Jay White will defend his US Title against Adam Page, while Jushin “Thunder” Liger takes on fellow legend Rey Mysterio Jr in what should be a fun nostalgia bout. All this, plus I’m sure plenty of further stellar action on what will surely be a stunning night of Japanese action on American soil.
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.