Welcome to this week's Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. Wow, what a week we have had. WWE put on a huge show in Saudi Arabia, as well as their normal television to set up Wrestlemania. AEW also had a massive PPV on Saturday as well as their weekly TV offering. In addition, there was some big possible news coming out of Japan, and an update on Matt Hardy's status. Let's jump in with WWE Super Showdown from last Thursday.
WWE Super Showdown
When WWE go to Canada, Jerry “The King” Lawler routinely describes it as "Bizarro World". Perhaps that term would be best applied to the weird, almost “non-canon” shows that happen twice a year when WWE goes to Saudi Arabia. The atmosphere is odd, the shows are different to anything else WWE puts out and the whole thing feels really surreal. Super Showdown 2020 was no different, with a main event that divided fans massively. Goldberg vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt was short, and although it took multiple spears from Goldberg and a less-than-stellar-looking Jackhammer to finish off Wyatt, you could certainly argue that this cut the legs off the unstoppable, otherworldly character. There’s a larger issue at play here, with WWE sacrificing the star they had invested months of build and resources into in order to put the Universal Title on a man in his 50s. The outrage was significant and understandable. That said, in terms of a Wrestlemania match, is Goldberg vs Roman Reigns (more on that in a bit) more enticing than Wyatt vs Reigns? I would say it’s a more intriguing match and feels less predictable. Wyatt would transition into something new the following night, but it’s certainly understandable why a lot of WWE fans were upset about the way this played out. A weird main event.
Speaking of weird matches on this show, Brock Lesnar demolishing Ricochet was not unexpected, but the 90-second duration of the bout and the destruction seemed hugely wasteful. The hype video for Ricochet suggested they had bigger plans for him here, but he got almost no offence in and Lesnar basically swatted him like a fly. Given how talented he is, and how much they could do with him, this felt like a misstep, especially given Lesnar’s history with having matches against smaller guys.
The rest of the show was largely uneventful for the most part. The Undertaker’s appearance was far from a surprise, but having him squash AJ Styles with a single chokeslam felt like a baffling booking decision, but perhaps Styles was still struggling with the shoulder injury he suffered at Royal Rumble. The gauntlet was largely pointless until that point and did nothing for Andrade, Bobby Lashley, R-Truth or Erick Rowan. Angel Garza vs Humberto Carrillo was excellent, and another great entry in that rivalry. Seth Rollins and Murphy vs The Street Profits was fine, but the lack of a title change was predictable. Likewise, The Miz and John Morrison vs The New Day was fun, but the result was never in doubt. Roman Reigns vs King Corbin was fine, but a combination I never want to see again. Mansoor getting booed in Saudi Arabia was inevitable, and although his match with Dolph Ziggler was passable, they are just re-doing the same segment on every show over there, wheeling him out to be the “hometown hero” with no character development. Of course the fans there are turning on him. You can only coast along on the “he’s one of our own” rhetoric for so long before it gets tiresome. Finally, Bayley and Naomi had a better than expected match, slightly encumbered by the big t-shirts they have to wear in order to compete in KSA, but I loved that Bayley worked it into the finish in a really innovative way. Quietly one of the best matches on this card, despite the enforced limitations.
It’s hard to rate the quality of these shows because they are so anomalous. However, in isolation, this was enjoyable enough providing you can ignore the spectre of the controversy that surrounds the event, both in the ring and behind the scenes. Super Showdown 2020 was probably the best show WWE has put on since signing the ten year deal with KSA a few years back with some enjoyable work between the ropes and some good or at least noteworthy storyline development as we move towards Elimination Chamber and Wrestlemania.
Despite the controversy the previous night, it didn’t take long to find out where all the pieces would land for Wrestlemania, as the blue brand set out its stall on this week’s show. The segment with Goldberg and Roman Reigns was a strong start for building up that match for Tampa, and I enjoyed it more than the crowd who were clearly unhappy with Goldberg beating “The Fiend”. Speaking of Bray Wyatt, he had an interesting night. As John Cena made his return and teased not having a Wrestlemania match, Wyatt would interrupt him and set up a bout between the two. While I didn’t enjoy Wyatt doing the whole “pointing at the sign” action, it did what was necessary and pivots “The Fiend” into a very strong programme, ready to face arguably the biggest star in WWE over the last twenty years.
Almost everything else on this show was pretty forgettable. Sasha Banks returning and interfering in the Bayley-Naomi rematch was well handled and it’s great to see Sasha back on TV. The predictable resulting tag match wasn’t brilliant, and Lacey Evans may have achieved the auspicious accolade of performing the worst looking plancha in wrestling history. You have to applaud her for effort, but she definitely could do with practising that move in future. Robert Roode vs Kofi Kingston happened and fed into the Dolph Ziggler/Mandy Rose/Otis love triangle. Braun Strowman was made to look like a right idiot in the contract signing as he now has to go against Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn in a three-on-one match at Elimination Chamber. I wonder if this ends with Zayn somehow getting the win on his return to the ring? The Usos vs Miz/Morrison was a fine set up for the tag team elimination chamber match on Sunday. Finally, Daniel Bryan vs Curtis Axel was fine, and another nice chapter in the fun mini-feud between Bryan and Drew Gulak before whatever Bryan is doing at Wrestlemania is firmed up.
A so-so show, with strong work in the big angles but lots of filler which has been a bigger problem on Smackdown for a while now. Hopefully, it picks up, across the board, in the coming weeks.
Moving away from WWE for a moment, AEW put on one hell of a show last weekend with their Revolution PPV. No match felt bigger on this show than Jon Moxley challenging Chris Jericho for the AEW World Championship. The build has been superb, with Moxley putting in the best work of his career and the match between the two delivered massively. It was heated, fun and generally very well put together and although the eye patch swerve was a bit silly, it worked in setting up the finish. I am sad to see Jericho’s reign come to an end as he has seen superb in that role, but Moxley is white-hot at the moment and it definitely makes sense to capitalise on that momentum while they have it. A very good main event.
The other two big matches on this show were quite the contrast. MJF and Cody Rhodes had arguably built up to the most heated, personal intense clash, and somehow it didn’t quite click when they got in the ring which is a shame. I also found Cody’s new neck tattoo very distracting. On the other end of the spectrum, Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs The Young Bucks was absolutely bonkers but in the best possible way. Everything here was gold, with lots of big spots, but all working into a very strong story and all four men put in a great shift here. The tension was still teased after the match with Page, and I think this story has still got some legs to it and we’ll see how that all pans out. However, on the night this was excellent. Great work from all involved.
The remainder of Revolution ranged from average to very good. Darby Allin vs Sammy Guevara was superb and this pairing offered some excellent chemistry. Nyla Rose vs Kris Statlander wasn’t anything to write home about, nor was Dustin Rhodes vs Jake Hagar. Neither match was bad per se, but nor did either bout do much to raise my enthusiasm. Finally, in probably my favourite match on the show, Orange Cassidy and PAC put together a masterpiece, mixing comedy spots with good storytelling. The result was never in doubt, but the journey was one of pure joy.
Revolution was probably the most complete, most well-rounded PPV the company have put out so far. Nothing was bad, all the matches offered something interesting and where they may not have lived up to expectations those matches have at least forwarded ongoing stories and given you a reason to want to see the follow-up on Dynamite. Cracking work from AEW.
A little over a month ago Ricochet and Drew McIntyre combined to eliminate WWE Champion Brock Lesnar from the Royal Rumble. This week’s episode of Raw certainly highlighted their contrasting roles within WWE as we move towards Wrestlemania. Drew McIntyre was presented like a badass, and a total star on this show. Laying out Lesnar with multiple claymore kicks and standing tall over the prone champion made him seem every inch the equal of Lesnar and for the first time, he looked like someone who should be main eventing the biggest show of the year. Ricochet lost cleanly to Riddick Moss on this show. Wowsers.
The big show-closing angle featured Beth Phoenix making her return to Raw to give a medical update on her husband, Edge, only to be interrupted by Randy Orton. Orton’s promo here running through why he did what he did to Edge and their backstory and everything else was masterful. Orton’s logic is twisted, but it justifies his actions to himself in what might be the best promo of his career. When Orton is motivated there are few who can match him. The RKO to Beth was inevitable, as soon as Orton walked out we all knew this was happening, but it was handled well and felt like a heavy-duty angle that sets up Edge making his return next week, presumably to formally challenge Orton for Wrestlemania. A brilliant segment, just stunning work.
Much like it has been in recent weeks; most of the rest of Raw was very solid. Most, but not all. The reveal of Erick Rowan’s cage being populated with a toy mechanical spider was about as disappointing as expected, and I imagine it will be dropped now. So stupid. Rollins and Murphy vs The Street Profits was incredible fun, and although a tad overbooked it worked well. The Street Profits getting the big title win was great, and sets up the rubber match at Elimination Chamber. Liv Morgan vs Ruby Riott with Sarah Logan as the referee made the most of the former Riott Squad members all being on the same brand and presumably segues into a three-way dance. Rey Mysterio and Humberto Carrillo combined well to beat Angel Garza and Andrade who I think are working incredibly well as a duo. Lots of strong chemistry.
Shana Baszler vs Kairi Sane wasn’t a patch on their previous encounters, but with both now heels that certainly played a part. Finally, Aleister Black, through some contract nonsense had to beat both Karl Anderson and then Luke Gallows in order to get his planned match with AJ Styles, and he lost that last match while looking strong in defeat. AJ is clearly still setting up for the Undertaker match at Mania, but I wonder whether we might get Black and Taker teaming up to face The OC given these programmes are crossing over somewhat and both men have dark mysterious characters. That would also help hide Taker’s limitations and give Black the rub, which would be a huge deal for the former-Tommy End.
The difference between Raw and Smackdown is night and day now. Despite it being an hour longer, Raw feels fresher, and easier watch and like it actually matters. Everything (the spider being an exception) delivered strongly and moved things forward for Sunday Elimination Chamber show, and beyond.
With Revolution out of the way, this week’s Dynamite was focused on what happens next. The show opened and closed with Jon Moxley faced down by The Inner Circle. The promo from Moxley was a big statement, and Jericho did well in getting his heat back after losing the title on Saturday. The main event was frenetic thanks to Sammy Guevara and Darby Allin, although Allin taking the Judas Effect while in mid-air was something else.
The rest of the show was largely pretty good. Cody’s promo on losing to MJF was forgotten almost instantly as Jake “The Snake” Roberts cut him off with a scathing rant and teased bringing in a client to challenge Cody, who I would expect is the former Luke Harper AKA Brodie Lee. Roberts was scintillating and he is as good a promo now as he ever was. The Dark Order vs SCU and Colt Cabana was a fine opener as the tease of the “Exalted One” continues. Chuck Taylor vs PAC was nothing overly memorable, but the shenanigans afterwards continued the feud between The Best Friends/Orange Cassidy and PAC/The Lucha Bros who are now known as Death Triangle. Not sure about the name, but what a group! Big Swole vs Leva Bates was a squash in Swole’s favour, while QT Marshall vs Jake Hagar did absolutely nothing for me. The brawl afterwards was more about the continued tension between Hangman Page and The Elite, but presumably, this plays into The Elite vs The Inner Circle in the “Blood and Guts” (AKA War Games) match in a few weeks.
Another cracking show from AEW, with lots of intrigue, big hooks to watch next week and some of the best in-ring action anywhere in the world right now.
With just shy of a month left until Wrestlemania weekend, it didn’t really feel prior to this week that NXT had started putting the pieces in place for the Takeover show in Tampa just yet. However, the black and yellow brand rectified that on Wednesday, finally putting some of the big hitters in play ahead of arguably their biggest event of 2020. This week’s episode was book-ended with cage matches as Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai opened the show in a very heated affair, with Raquel Gonzalez proving the difference-maker for Kai once again. However, the big story was the main event as Roderick Strong and Velveteen Dream put together a pretty fun cage match to finish up their feud that featured Dream throwing Strong out the door and costing himself the match in order to get NXT Champion Adam Cole alone in the locked cage. It was a smart twist and sets up what looks like the NXT title programme for Tampa.
Johnny Gargano’s interview with Mauro Ranallo was bizarre, and although Mauro was great I am struggling to buy into this character evolution for Gargano. Chelsea Green looked very good against Shotzi Blackheart in advancing to the no.1 contenders match for Takeover, and the pairing with Robert Stone seems to be working and getting over. Undisputed Era vs Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch was another physical encounter but it was the post-match with Grizzled Young Veterans and The Bro-serweights that was important here as they look to build to, presumably a three-way between these teams for the tag titles. Austin Theory put in a very promising performance against Isiah “Swerve” Scott. Theory looks like he could definitely be a big hitter for NXT in the future. Finally, Keith Lee and Cameron Grimes had a confrontation that ended with Lee standing tall and set up a title match next week. It seems that Damian Priest is the likely challenger for Lee in Tampa, but Grimes made a strong case here.
A decent NXT, especially in building next week’s special show from the Performance Centre, which should make for a very fun, unusual aesthetic.
Matt Hardy - Free Agent
Despite appearing on Raw only a few weeks ago as part of the Edge-Randy Orton programme, Matt Hardy revealed this week that he was officially a free agent with his WWE contract having expired, something that WWE has since confirmed. It has been speculated upon for weeks that Hardy might be AEW-bound and teases have begun to appear in his YouTube show, Free the Delete. This week, The Young Bucks started teasing Hardy on BTE, which was confirmed on Hardy’s show this week when Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson made a shocking appearance. Hardy is one the names that have been rumoured for the role of the “Exalted One” for The Dark Order on AEW programming, but with the way this has been set up, it seems unlikely this reveal would have taken place here. Regardless of where he lands on AEW, or even if it’s in a reduced physical role Hardy has so much to offer creatively that he should be a huge asset to the company. A story that is still unfolding and we will likely be talking more about in the coming weeks.
Wrestle-1 shuts down/AJPW and WWE
With a high number of Japanese wrestling shows being cancelled at the moment due to the coronavirus outbreak, much of the news coming out of the industry within that region is from outside the ring. Wrestle-1 announced earlier this week that they would be ceasing operations and releasing all their talent. In truth, since Wrestle-1 was created in 2012 by Keiji Muto (AKA The Great Muta) after he was ousted from All Japan Pro Wrestling, it never really took hold in the way I’m sure they had hoped despite strong working relationships with various other promotions including TNA. Wrestle-1 is a promotion that had been rumoured as one of the possible options for WWE to purchase to start NXT Japan, but that failed to materialise and as it stands Wrestle-1 is no longer operational.
The other big news story surrounds a possible alliance between AJPW and WWE. The legendary Jun Akiyama, who is currently working at the General Manager of AJPW has been confirmed as a future guest coach for the WWE Performance Centre which has sparked a lot of conversation about alleged talks between the two companies, especially amid the WWE’s “Global Localisation” project and the apparent attempts to get a foothold in the Japanese market. Whether that comes to anything, or WWE buys All Japan, or they have a working relationship all remains to be seen. However, what is undeniable is that WWE is definitely looking for a way into the Japanese scene and that is something that could be an enormous news story in 2020 if they are successful in doing so.
That is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Elimination Chamber, Raw, Smackdown, NXT and AEW Dynamite, plus anything else that breaks in the next seven days. Until then, 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/AEW/AJPW