Greetings grapple fans and welcome to this week's edition of Slammer Jabber. Another week, more craziness, although sadly this week it has been far more focused on what happens outside the ring than in it. This week, we start off with the scandal that gripped the wrestling world this week, involving WWE Superstar Paige.
Normally I'd start this column with a look at Raw, or the latest PPV. However, this week no story has been bigger in the world of pro wrestling than the hacking scandal surrounding Paige. Unless you've been living under a rock you’ve probably heard by now that Paige was the victim of an unfortunate hack with pictures and video of the former NXT and WWE Divas Champion. Paige has had a rocky relationship with the company for some time now, but things seemed to be improving after the WWE jumped on board to co-produce a feature film based on her life and her family, as detailed over the past few weeks. There is certainly precedent for the company ignoring issues like this when they have arisen, such as with Seth Rollins a couple of years ago. However, the Paige situation has some intricacies that will complicate matters somewhat, most importantly that she has a bad relationship with her employer already and pone of the videos purportedly shows her engaging in a sex act that also involved the WWE NXT Women's Championship. To show what will undoubtedly be perceived by WWE officials as disrespect for the title will surely land her in even hotter water. Xavier Woods, who also features in the video alongside former WWE performer Brad Maddox seems to have escaped any punitive action, although his part in the many released videos is minimal.
One thing that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle with this story is the suffering, embarrassment and anguish this will have caused for Paige herself. These were private videos and photos reportedly taken in 2013 by a naive young 29-year-old living her dream working for the biggest wrestling company in the world. Private videos and photos of her in compromising positions, and various states of undress that were never intended for public consumption being shown to entire world, forever available on the internet. I can’t even begin to imagine the psychological toll that would take on a person, let alone one so young. Make no mistake, Paige is very much the victim in this and to assert otherwise is categorically wrong. Virtually or not, these items were stolen and that is the bigger issue here for me, despite it being to the detriment of a young woman's well-being.
Where this leaves Paige, I don't honestly know. Her strained relationship with the company may not be strong enough to see her return from this in the near future, but who knows. Personally, I just feel bad for her given the situation she has found herself in, and while what goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults should stay private, performers will have to be more savvy (despite the fact they really shouldn’t have to) in future to ensure the safety of their most private photos and videos. This story may well have more to it as we move forward as there are rumours that photos leaked feature WWE superstar Summer Rae (although she has pretty much denied these photos exist), as well as there being rumblings of more material featuring former Divas Melina and Victoria, as well as current performers including Alexa Bliss. How much validity there is to these rumours I have no idea, but hopefully this unpleasant story is not one we have to return to in the future.
Another week, another solid Raw. It may not have been spectacular but there are certainly pieces moving into the correct places ahead of Wrestlemania. None more so than Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker. The match between Reigns and Braun Strowman was a decent affair, and they avoided Strowman taking another clean loss which should help him in the long run, even if it did end in him taking a chokeslam from Taker. The spear Taker took from Reigns looked very good, and the crowd reaction to Undertaker sitting up was everything it should have been. This match has become the most high-profile bout on the card and I'm beginning to think this might go on last on April 2nd. With Brock Lesnar vs Bill Goldberg likely to be a short match WWE might see more value in Taker vs Reigns as the big marquee match, and the booking thus far reflects that pretty well. If that match is going on last, could we be in for a surprise turn from Reigns? I doubt it, but I certainly hope so.
The opening segment with Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon was pretty well worked for what it was, and although Foley needed to be removed from his position I'm not sure this was the most effective method to do so. Equally it did progress the other stories on the show, so that is certainly a plus. The knock on effect with Bayley having to face Nia Jax which subsequently got Jax into the Wrestlemania match alongside Bayley, Charlotte and Sasha Banks was a helpful way of moving that along. Equally, the Sami Zayn vs Samoa Joe bout, and Sheamus & Cesaro vs Enzo & Big Cass match moved those storylines forward ahead of next week's go-home show, and both were decent enough if not basic filler for a three-hour show.
The Triple H and Seth Rollins development this week made a lot of sense, even if it came about in an odd fashion. The skit with Rollins' doctor was odd but did a job, and the Triple H promo essentially turning their match into a street fight at Wrestlemania was a clever way to give this the scope for run-ins, shenanigans, and a match that will protect Rollins knee as he gets back to full fitness. The only issue with this, is that Triple H is the valiant hero calling out Rollins for the match, when it feels like it should be the other way round, with an injured Rollins telling Triple H that Doctors won’t clear him for a wrestling match, but he wants a fight not a wrestling match. Or something to that effect. Anything to make it seem like Rollins was the hero, rather than continuing to book him badly would be a great improvement. I genuinely thought after last week the company was moving in the right direction with Rollins, but perhaps not. Still, like most things on this show it was functional if not enthralling, and moves things on nicely for Wrestlemania.
The other big segment on this week's Raw featured Chris Jericho hosting an edition of The Highlight Reel, which featured pictures of a young Kevin Owens in a Y2J shirt, as well as some real life DM exchanges between Jericho and Owens from before Owens signed with the company. I enjoyed that this walked the fine line between mocking Owens and making this a comedy segment, and telling a genuine story as to the reason the two had such a strong bond and why Owens betrayal of Jericho was such a big deal. Obviously Jericho doesn’t play up the latter too much, but I enjoyed that the subtext was there. The beat down by Owens after Samoa Joe interfered was suitably brutal, and again added more fuel to the fire for this match at Wrestlemania which I suspect could well steal the show.
Elsewhere, we got Charlotte taking on Dana Brooke in a match that really seemed to only exist to keep Charlotte busy until the go-home next week. The Cruiserweight division got a lift from a fine match between Austin Aries and Tony Nese (more because of the former than the latter I suspect) followed by a cracking promo from Neville. I like Aries, but I almost want Neville to hold on to the belt at Mania because he has been sensational in recent months. The other Cruiserweight match was a contrast with The Brian Kendrick and TJ Perkins facing off for the 794th time since the summer. Kendrick's promo about Akira Tozawa’s passport afterwards was also bizarre, which just bored me to tears. I feel really sorry for Perkins, as he is a genuinely talented wrestler with some great moves but he desperately needs a heel turn. His mannerisms are so unlikeable, and you get the sense he would be an excellent cocky heel given the opportunity. Finally, we got a pre-taped promo from The New Day (for obvious reasons they were not in front of the live crowd given the other news with Xavier Woods this week), and a nice promo to hype Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg at Wrestlemania.
This was far from the strongest Raw of recent times, but everything was at least functional and had a purpose. There was very little in the way of wastage on this show, and while I didn't enjoy everything I saw, it has set up for a very strong final pre-Mania Raw next week.
This week's offering from Smackdown Live! was most heavily focused on the continuing development of last week's explosive confrontations between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon. Styles was once again very good here, from his interaction with Daniel Bryan in the opening segment to his promo heeling it up as best as possible to try and get heat on Shane, and then successfully selling McMahon's weak punches and taking the elbow from the top rope to the outside through the announce table. Styles is doing his level best to try and get this over and despite his weak offense I am actually starting to have some interest in this match for Wrestlemania.
The other big focus was on The Miz and Maryse, who took part in some of the most stinging and hilarious parody sketches on WWE television in recent memory. Miz's impression of John Cena in particular was excellent, and had me in fits of laughter, so much so that I feel they need to be careful not to accidentally turn Miz babyface if they keep this up. Maryse did a scathing impression of Nikki Bella that also raised a chuckle, and hopefully this isn’t taken as anything more than that and doesn’t end up getting her any heat backstage. For John Cena and Nikki Bella's part they looked good as Cena took on Fandango, with Tyler Breeze weirdly dressed as Nikki Bella. It was an odd segment, but pushed things forward, so I suppose that is the main thing (I feel like a broken record this week, but that is the nature of the second to last shows before Wrestlemania). It doesn’t say much about the standing of Breezango though, as they were basically squashed, and subbed in for a lack of mixed tag teams here, because there was no-one else available.
Randy Orton had a bit of an up-and-down week. His match with Baron Corbin was excellent (and a match I would definitely like to see more of in the future). While on that subject, I know it was another distraction finish that gave Orton the upper hand as Dean Ambrose came out on a forklift, but it was very good. I also liked that we now have a Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin match confirmed for Wrestlemania, something Corbin definitely deserves after a stellar year on the main roster. However, Orton had a very different segment later in the evening where he was ambushed by Bray Wyatt and a number of people in sheep masks as goofy horror movie style-music played, and Bray cut another spooky promo. This is a return to a more hokey style of segment they were doing months ago with Orton and Wyatt, and it works to a degree but I think perhaps they need to reign it in just a tad. I am looking forward to Bray vs Luke Harper next week, however.
American Alpha vs The Usos was a real highlight this week, with all four men putting in a great shift here. It's a real shame that Alpha weren't really given the time to get their personalities over during their tag title reign, despite a number of stellar in-ring bouts. However, The Usos have been great in recent weeks and definitely deserve a run with the belts. however, it really is a shame that this was on Smackdown rather than on Wrestlemania, but unfortunately these teams have been victims of the sheer number of performers that need to be accommodated on the biggest show of the year, Hopefully all four at least get into the battle royal if nothing else.
Finally, we had some build towards the Smackdown women's match with Becky Lynch taking on Carmella in a so-so match. Carmella still needs a lot of work, but this was certainly passable. The post-match with Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, and Natalya was a good brawl and certainly made Alexa look strong ahead of Mania. I fully expect her to drop the belt, although to whom, and in what sort of match is anyone's guess at this stage.
This was a good show overall, again pushing everything forward for Wrestlemania, or in the case of the tag titles blowing off the feud because there is no space on the Mania card.
Earlier this week, news emerged that Jim Ross' wife Jan had been involved in a serious traffic collision, being knocked off her scooter and suffering multiple serious skull fractures. From the updates posted by JR, it sounded like a very grave situation and sadly, Jan passed away late on Wednesday night. From everyone here at Screenjabber we send our most sincere condolences to Ross and his family and we wish them all the best during this incredibly sad and dark time. RIP.
Interesting HOF inductions
A few weeks back I reported that WWE were inducting The Rock'n'Roll Express into the Hall of Fame over Wrestlemania weekend. There was much speculation as to who might induct them, with plenty of names from their historic past bandied around. However, this week it was announced that hell had indeed frozen over and none other than Jim Cornette would be inducting them into the HOF. All joking aside, Cornette is a great choice and his history with the Rock'n'Roll Express goes back years as he was the guiding force behind their most hated rivals, The Midnight Express. Cornette has been vocally anti-WWE in recent years so this was something of a surprise, and I for one am certainly intrigued to hear his induction speech. In other induction news, it was announced that headline entrant Kurt Angle will be inducted into the HOF by John Cena. Angle wrestled Cena in his first televised match and had a number of bouts with him during his ascension to the main event scene, which I think makes this a solid choice. I appreciate there are other names that many others may have clamoured for, but Cena is a solid choice and will no doubt be great in this role. Finally, we also got the news that Eric Bischoff will be returning to WWE to induct DDP into the HOF. Bischoff has been on better terms with the company in recent years, so this is less surprising, but the idea of Cornette, Bischoff and Paul Heyman all in the same building alongside plenty of people they have some colourful history with should make for a very interesting night at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Well that's it from me for this week. I'll be back next week with a full rundown of the Wrestlemania card, as well as the go home shows for Raw and Smackdown, plus whatever breaks in the next seven days. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled to Screenjabber for all our coverage of Wrestlemania week, as well as all the biggest movie, Blu-ray and DVD reviews, as well as blogs, podcasts, competitions and more. Until next week, so long folks.