Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week we look at the continuing build to Wrestlemania from Raw and Smackdown, some touring news for NXT, a huge week for NJPW, including news of a UK tour, and much more. First up, let's look at the penultimate episode of Raw before Wrestlemania.
After a couple of hot weeks, Raw cooled down somewhat this week, although there was still plenty here building towards Wrestlemania. The main event, in 2018, was John Cena vs Kane in a NoDQ match. The bout itself was exactly what you would expect and Cena doing The Undertaker’s mannerisms throughout (and after the match) did what it was designed to do. Cena is treading a fine line between babyface and heel here and doing fine with it. It was a bit over-the-top but I understand the reasoning. That said, with only one Raw left before Wrestlemania it seems crazy that this match hasn’t yet been officially confirmed. That said, I full expect Taker to turn up, or at least respond next week. I’m still hoping we get a hybrid Undertaker, less mystical deadman and more real person, but still with some of the trappings of the gimmick. I’d love him to come out without the dyed hair, or the mortal combat style gear, as a Big Boss-like old man Taker, taking one last challenge as the old gunslinger on the way out. We’ll see next week I suppose, but it does feel like they should have already got to that point by now.
WWE did plenty to build Ronda Rousey up as an absolute star on this show. The pre-recorded segment with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon being interviewed and heeling it up was well done and certainly made Rousey seem like a massive babyface. Her own segment later on with Kurt Angle, and then the physicality with Absolution looked brilliant and portrayed Rousey as an absolute badass. I also appreciate that WWE have not felt the need to have Ronda break out the armbar yet, but you have to imagine that comes out at Wrestlemania. I do fear WWE will be pulling a bait and switch and Stephanie will weasel out of the match with an “injury” on the night and they’ll feign someone coming in to replace her (I wondered about McMahon buying off Shayna Baszler), but hopefully, they resist that temptation. More good build, for what feels like the main event on the Raw side of things.
The rest of the show was fun but somewhat inconsistent. The segment with The Miz-tourage pretending to turn on The Miz only for them to team up on Seth Rollins and Finn Balor was fine and achieved what it needed to, while Gallows & Anderson vs Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas seemed designed solely to get some shine on the good brothers. Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar in the opening segment seemed an odd retread of last week’s show that achieved very little. Their feud is probably one of the least intriguing bouts on this year's show and I definitely feel they need to do something big with these two on the go-home show. However, I suspect we'll get a big pull apart, and not much more.
Asuka vs Jamie Frost was a squash and nothing more, while Nia Jax vs Mickie James (along with the post-match) did a good job of getting Jax over as a babyface, and made her look very strong going into her title match next Sunday against Alexa Bliss. Braun Strowman vs Sheamus was a decent TV match, although perhaps the most interesting thing was Jonathan Coachman on commentary mentioning Elias as the most likely partner for Braun at Wrestlemania, presumably ruling him out. Speaking of Elias, his bout with Rhyno was a glorified squash. I do wonder if we’re getting a segment with Kid Rock or Jeff Jarrett blasting Elias with a guitar at Wrestlemania. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali vs TJP and Drew Gulak was a nice showcase for 205 Live and did plenty to build the cruiserweight title match at Wrestlemania; Matt Hardy’s announcement that he will be in the battle royal at Mania makes sense and gets him on the show, given he has nothing going on currently. Finally, Sasha Banks and Bayley got into a backstage brawl after a heated conversation, but disappointingly it looks as though these two are in the women’s battle royal, rather than a match. It’s a shame, but hopefully they pay off this situation with one of them winning the thing.
A decent Raw, not quite on par with the standard of the last few weeks, but with next week’s episode being the go-home show, that is probably a sensible move. Gives everyone a bit of breathing room, and a little lull before building up to the big sell next week.
The big question going into this week’s Smackdown, was how would Daniel Bryan’s in-ring return at Wrestlemania be booked, and with Shane McMahon suffering from diverticulitis (more on that shortly), would Bryan be announcing a different partner for Wrestlemania to face off against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The answer? Not sure. Following their assault on Bryan last week after being fired, Zayn and Owens were challenged to a tag match against McMahon and Bryan here, which seems the logical match to make, although McMahon's injury/illness complicates that. I'm glad Bryan mentioned it, but it looks like they will continue to advertise Shane for now. It was a good promo from Bryan, and it certainly set the wheels in motion, but I certainly sense this will not be as cut and dried as it seems immediately.
The main event of the show finally got the build for AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura moving, as Nakamura beat Shelton Benjamin in a very enjoyable TV match, only for Styles to be attacked post-match by Benjamin and Chad Gable, with Nakamura making the save, only to tease hitting the Kinshasa. It was a nice bit of mind games from Nakamura, and his promo was very effective. I expect the physicality to kick off between these two next week, but this was the first sign of a more effective build to the match, and hopefully, they will build on this next week.
The remainder of the show was very enjoyable. The Bludgeon Brothers vs The Usos was very good, and did a nice job of building to the (now confirmed) three-way match also including The New Day; Becky Lynch vs Ruby Riott provided some much-needed build for the women’s battle royal on the Smackdown side of things; while Dolph Ziggler vs Tyler Breeze was an inconsequential snore fest. Finally, Jinder Mahal and Rusev vs Bobby Roode and Randy Orton was a surprisingly fun affair. With Rusev getting the win and being added to the US Title match at Wrestlemania, this match now has an intriguing element added to it and guarantees a crowd reaction for a bout that previously was in danger of drowning on the pre-show.
A decent show this week, and definitely one that had a much wider focus on getting things built and ready for Wrestlemania. Which is a good thing, given next week is the go-home show. That said, I am more excited for pretty much every programme on the blue side after watching this show, so that bodes well for next week and Mania.
Shane McMahon Illness
As mentioned during this week's Smackdown, Shane McMahon has been diagnosed with acute diverticulitis, which in layman's terms is an inflammation of the lining of the intestine (Dammit Jim, I'm a writer, not a doctor). NOw if that condition sounds familiar it's because it was also the condition that afflicted Brock Lesnar causing him to have a chunk of his intestine removed and arguably shortening his full-time career as a UFC fighter. If this is legitimate, which it certainly sounds like it is, then that would explain Shane's absence from this week’s Smackdown, but the booking on Tuesday had him still involved, which seems odd. Either way, I suspect something is going to change, either with a Shane McMahon swerve heel turn or a replacement partner. Regardless, if this is a real medical issue, we wish Shane a speedy and full recovery.
NJPW SSE/SSE UK/Sakura Genesis preview
New Japan Pro Wrestling has had quite the eventful week. The Strong Style Evolved event in Long Beach on Saturday was a pretty big hit, yielding some excellent matches. I especially enjoyed the stellar main event between The Golden Lovers and The Young Bucks, as well as all the post-match stuff with Cody Rhodes and the rest of Bullet Club. The tag bout pitting Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii against Zack Sabre Jr and Minoru Suzuki was excellent and did a great job of building the match between Okada and Sabre for Sakura Genesis (more on that in a moment). Los Ingobernables de Japon looked great and might have been the most over act on the roster against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Dragon Lee and Ryusuke Taguchi. This was a really fun show with Adam Page vs Jay White possibly the only down moment, although it seemed as though White might be carrying an injury so that might explain that. NJPW also announced that they would be returning to California later in the year to the Cow Palace, which is a far bigger arena and shows the growth the company is making in America.
However, we got more news on Monday, as it was announced that NJPW would be bringing Strong Style Evolved to the UK, with shows in Milton Keynes and Manchester in late June/early July. This is huge, as although RPW has been hosting NJPW athletes at their London shows, this is the first full NJPW branded show on these shores, especially in an arena setting. Here's hoping it's the first of many.
Finally, on the NJPW front, the full card for Sunday's Sakura Genesis show was announced. The highlights of the undercard include Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi vs The Young Bucks in a Bullet Club civil war, The Golden Lovers vs Cody and Adam Page, and Will Ospreay vs "The Villain" Marty Scurll (which is always a fun match). However, the main event is probably the biggest draw on this show featuring Okada and Zack Sabre Jr. The company have done an incredible job with Sabre Jr, and much like last month with Sanada, there is an element of believability about him beating Okada. In fact, perhaps even more so than with Sanada, it feels possible an upset could happen. It probably won't, but what a star-making turn it would be for Zack to dethrone Okada. Either way I am expecting a phenomenal match, and like Sanada before him, it should do plenty for Sabre Jr in defeat, if he does in fact lose.
What a week, and as NJPW goes from strength to strength it's easy to see how they doing it, and the sky really does feel like the limit for this company.
Earlier this week, the new broke that the legendary Leon "Vader" White went under the knife for open heart surgery. The former WCW World champion had been scheduled for the surgery and has had a number of health problems over the past few years. An update from his son, former NXT performer Jake Carter, on Twitter informed everyone that White was recovering after a successful surgery but the road to recovery is a long one as things were worse than first feared. Vader had previously claimed he only had a few years to live after a previous diagnosis, so I’m not 100% sure where that fits in, but hopefully, he’s on the road back to being in good health.
Updates on Greatest Royal Rumble Triple H/Cena - No women
The build to the Greatest Royal Rumble, in Saudi Arabia in April continues as WWE this week announced some of the matches for the Network special. John Cena and Triple H will face off, which should be a nice blasé form the past; The Bar vs The Hardy Boyz (presumably indicating Jeff Hardy will not be punished for his recent DUI and is on the way back shortly) although I imagine this may change should The Bar lose the titles at Wrestlemania; and The Miz vs Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins vs Samoa Joe (again presumably meaning he is nearing a return) in a later match for the Intercontinental championship. These are three great matches, but one thing clearly missing is the presence of the WWE women’s division, which was always going to be a hot button topic given the laws in Saudi Arabia. WWE seems to have clarified this week that there will be no female performers on the show, although women will be able to attend. I appreciate WWE are in a difficult position, and their hands are somewhat tied by the law but it certainly serves to undercut the big PR push they have made in acquiring Ronda Rousey as a performer, and the whole Women’s Revolution.
NXT at Download
Finally this week, WWE announced that the NXT brand would be returning to the Download Festival in June, with shows on site all three days of the festival. NXT has been a big hit at festivals over the past few years and it certainly makes sense for the festival and the WWE. In addition, NXT will also be doing some dates in mainland Europe around the festival, although there has been no further announcement of whether any further UK shows are imminent.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from the go-home editions of Raw and Smackdown as we continue the build to Wrestlemania, the big Mania preview, a look back at NJPW's Sakura Genesis show, 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.