Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the last seven days. This has been a very busy week in the world of WWE as we had two very eventful TV shows, as well as some big Wrestlemania related news. New Japan also had a big week, as they gear up for their first show at Madison Square Garden. However, we’ll start off this week with a look at this week’s Raw from Monday night.
In the wake of the announcement that the women’s title match (there will only be one, more on that later) will headline Wrestlemania this year, Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte were front and centre on this week’s Raw. The beat-the-clock challenge was an odd choice for the segment with each facing off against members of The Riott Squad. Not because the format isn’t good, but normally it is used to determine something whether there are stakes attached. This did allow Becky to one-up her opponents which was a good use of the segment, while Rousey looked dominant. Charlotte fared less well, but again she made up for that the following night. The pre-match promos were again used for each woman to show off their position within the match and their angle for the contest, with Lynch predictably providing the strongest offering. She really is over huge as babyface, and anything other than a Becky win will likely leave a bad taste in fans mouth on April 7th. Still, while the concept was an odd choice, I can’t argue that it didn’t work in the scenario.
Drew McIntyre made quite a splash on this week’s Raw, booked very strongly. The promo and confrontation with Roman Reigns set up a clear rivalry between the two going into Wrestlemania, and while I don’t like the use of McIntyre bringing up Reigns’ real-life health problems, and his family, it did lend a certain edge to this feud. The last man standing match with Dean Ambrose was a wild brawl, and although I thought Ambrose had already been written off the TV, this appears to be his swansong barring a cameo at Wrestlemania. It wasn’t reinventing the wheel, in fact, it was very close to the booking of a few weeks back but it certainly heated McIntyre up further, which is great to see ahead of arguably the biggest match of his career to date.
The rest of the show was fine, with a few standout moments. Seth Rollins continued a slightly disappointing build to his big Wrestlemania match, and if I didn’t know better I’d say they were going to have Brock Lesnar retain against Rollins in order to put Roman Reigns back in that top babyface role come Summerslam. Finn Balor vs Jinder Mahal and Bobby Lashley was short and fine for what it was. Presumably, Balor will be breaking out “The Demon” at Mania for his IC title shot at Lashley. Aleister Black and Ricochet vs The Revival was very good, and with the NXT call-ups getting the non-title win you would imagine that they will be the challengers, or at least one of them, at Mania (which would, in theory, mean they could win the NXT belts and the Raw titles all in one weekend). Sasha Banks vs Natalya was more about the post-match shenanigans than anything, but it continues to lay the table for the multi-team tag match with Pin-Up Strong, The Samoan Slaughterhouse (that name is awful) and The IIconics challenging the, sigh, Boss 'n'Hug Connection. Triple H’s promo on Batista was surprisingly fun, although the career stipulation does nothing for me. The SNL stuff was again awful, poor Braun Strowman. Baron Corbin vs Apollo Crews, in a rematch of one of the worst NXT Takeover matches ever, was passable at best. Those two really struggle for chemistry. Finally, speaking of Corbin, his Wrestlemania opponent Kurt Angle continued his retirement tour by rolling back the years to have a very good (by Angle standards) match with Samoa Joe. I loved that they included a call-back to their TNA feud with the head-butt, and the fluke loss does nothing to hurt Joe. Great work, but a timely reminder of yet another person who would have been a better choice to face Angle of his retirement match than Baron Corbin.
This show was one of the better Raw episodes in a while. Everything felt like it was there for a reason, there was urgency and reason, and nothing seemed to be included as a time filler. I’m not saying everything was necessarily good, but nothing stood out as terrible, and at worst it was lazy booking rather than bad.
As the Spice Girls so famously sang, two became one on this week’s Smackdown as we were treated to a surprise title switch. Charlotte, fresh off seeming like the weakest of the three competitors in the Wrestlemania main event, something Becky Lynch openly questioned on this show before Charlotte went out and beat Asuka for the Smackdown women’s title. The match itself was sensational, with some huge spots including a cracking moonsault counter that was countered, and it was close to being the same sort of quality as their Wrestlemania 34 match. The result was a major shock and has two big knock-on effects. Firstly, it presumably wipes out the Smackdown women’s title match at Wrestlemania (which was likely going on the pre-show), which is a shame for the women involved but with a packed card already I understand the logic. Secondly, it adds a second title to the main event. I suspect they won’t unify the titles, and Charlotte’s belt will not be on the line, although that seems to be the route that makes the most sense. I am slightly concerned that this will be used to set up a Four Horsewomen pose at the end of the show, possibly to set in motion that big Four Horsewomen vs MMA Four Horsewomen with Rousey’s cohorts, Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir all in NXT at the moment. It’s a very interesting development and just goes to show that WWE is still capable of taking an unexpected turn when needed.
Kofi Kingston is going to Wrestlemania. It took a long convoluted route, but the match is now official. This was a great payoff to a lengthy angle over the past few weeks, but it worked really well. The opening segment with The New Day was very well handled and it was great babyface work from Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods, while Daniel Bryan excelled in his heel role. The notion of Mr McMahon giving Woods and E the chance to claim Kofi’s big spot was a nice touch, although truth be told I could do without seeing another gauntlet match anytime soon. While the duo had good back and forth matches with Gallows & Anderson, Rusev and Shinksuke Nakamura and The Bar, perhaps the most notable moment came from The Usos who cut a lovely promo that put a cap on their multi-year rivalry with The New Day only for them to forfeit the match out of respect, leading to one of the best reactions backstage you could hope for from Daniel Bryan. Bryan and Rowan vs Big E and Woods was fine, and although the count out was a cheap way to do it, this did not dampen the celebratory feeling as Kingston celebrated with his friends after the match. Great work from everyone involved and made the bait and switch of last week all the more worthwhile.
As for the rest of the show, well there wasn’t much time left, but what did happen was very enjoyable. AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle was another nice throwback to an iconic TNA feud, and it was nice to see Angle have one final appearance on Smackdown, even if it was short and fairly average in the ring. The finish was what was necessary, as a loss would have hurt both men either way, and this helps build the feud between Styles and Randy Orton, and the post-match gave Angle and Styles a nice moment. Finally, the promo between The Miz and Shane McMahon was excellent, with McMahon playing this now-weirdly deranged character, and while the roster pull-apart is overdone, it did the job here ahead of the two facing off at Wrestlemania.
A very good show overall, with another very long match, but a brilliant ending; a shocking title change which helped change the shape of Wrestlemania, and some great storyline progression for some big Mania matches via some top-notch in-ring action.
Hart Foundation HOF
With the untimely passing of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart last year, it seemed a lock that he would be going into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, however the company has decided to put him in alongside his former tag team partner (and HoF member in his own right) Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Arguably, “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart should be going in as part of the Hart Foundation unit, but it’s a minor quibble. The Hart Foundation was one of the biggest tag team acts of the 1980s, having memorable feuds with The British Bulldogs, Demolition, The Nasty Boys and countless others, first as a heel unit and later as a popular babyface tandem. The two-time tag team champions would also innovate the “Hart Attack” finisher which has been co-opted by numerous teams since, which goes to show their sphere of influence is extensive. This seems like a really great, and timely induction and one that certainly seems worthy of inclusion in any wrestling. Hall of Fame
NJ Cup - MSG card
The New Japan cup concluded this week after two weeks of superb cards all over Japan, with the extremely enticing prize of a shot at IWGP Champion Jay “Switchblade” White on offer to the winner. Highlights of the tournament included Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito, as well as Zack Sabre Jr vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, both of which have set up rematches for the big Madison Square Garden G1 super show the night before Wrestlemania (the former for the Intercontinental title, and the latter for ZSJ’s Rev Pro Heavyweight strap). Kazuchika Okada has a couple of absolute classics on the way, with Tomohiro Ishii and then Sanada in the finals, which managed to elevate Sanada massively in defeat. I expect Sanada might have a big year in the G1 in the summer, based on this. Okada winning makes all the sense in the world, he is without a doubt the biggest draw New Japan have, and their biggest star so it is only logical he would headline MSG. The big question is whether he walks away with the belt. Some might argue it’s too soon to take it off White, but equally, if you want a statement of intent having an IWGP title change at the Garden is a pretty strong start. It should make fascinating viewing. Elsewhere on the card, Taiji Ishimori vs Bandido vs Dragon Lee should be something very spectacular to behold, while Jay Lethal vs Marty Scurll vs Matt Taven in a ladder match has potential to be very exciting. The rest of the show has lots of so-so mid-card bouts, and the ROH side of things certainly drags down the quality level - not because ROH doesn’t have a great roster, just because the NJPW guys seem a level above them (and almost everyone else) in terms of quality. Regardless, it should be a fantastic show and a highlight of Wrestlemania weekend.
Women’s title match to headline Mania - Joan Jett to perform
Finally, this week we heard that the Women’s title match will headline Wrestlemania, and while this was covered on Raw, I do feel it is worth further attention. Having a women’s match headline Wrestlemania even five years ago would have been laughed out of the room at the suggestion stage, such is the strides that the division has made in terms of star power. While some would prefer a straight singles match between Lynch and Rousey I can absolutely see why the company have chosen this route and all three are there on merit. Rousey has elevated the star power of the division, bringing legitimacy and aura that no-one else can match. Becky has brought the most compelling babyface in WWE, and one of the strongest characters the company have which has rocketed her stock in the process. Finally, Charlotte has been the most consistent performer of any gender that WWE has, and arguably has carried much of the revolution over the hard yards since she arrived on the main roster. She has also been a fantastic heel in the past few months and her presence adds assurance of quality. This match should be excellent and the buzz around it is palpable. While WWE may use the “women’s revolution” as a buzzword and an exercise in PR, that should not take away from the achievement of these three women, and the division as a whole. This is the biggest match in WWE right now, and I personally can’t wait to see it.
Also announced this week, was the appearance of one Joan Jett at Wrestlemania to perform Ronda Rousey’s theme live. The former Runaways star is a household name, so securing her to be part of the event is a great move by WWE, but I also like that it adds an extra layer to the match. Rousey is being presented in some quarters as WWE’s biggest star, and having her given a special entrance of her own is indicative of this, further adding to the idea the company don’t want Lynch to win and become the face of the company. It’s a subtle thing, but the more layers of storytelling the better for such a huge main event. Also, Joan Jett is ace, so this should be superb.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at the final build to Wrestlemania on Raw and Smackdown, as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. 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.