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 some huge developments from Raw, a big main-event-dominated episode of Smackdown building to Fastlane, and more. Let's start as we so often do with a look back at Raw from Monday night.
Following on from Roman Reigns’ pseudo shoot promo last week, the expectation was that Brock Lesnar might turn up this week for a confrontation, but instead Paul Heyman showed up and had a one-on-one verbal battle with Reigns. If I’m honest, this segment felt a bit too “inside” and snarky for my liking, and I’m not sure if Heyman was truly at the top of his game here, but it worked well enough. Lesnar being announced for next week, and a reaction of boos shows that the booking has achieved what the company wanted, but it’s a real risk that they’ll end up with both men being booed out of the building on April 7th rather Reigns being the babyface to Lesnar’s super heel. It’s really hard to call, and I do think WWE are playing a dangerous game, but let’s see what happens when Lesnar turns up next week.
The opening segment of this week’s show with Ronda Rousey, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Stephanie McMahon was functional, if not without its flaws. Rousey still has a way to go before she is the polished, finished article in the ring (judging by that samoan drop) or on the microphone, but her facial expressions as physical presence are excellent. Kurt Angle was much better here too, with less stumbles and more logical character behaviour that made him seem like less of a joke, while Stephanie is still the best heel in the company, and is finally involved in a storyline where she can actually get her comeuppance. The mixed tag match should be excellent, although it will fall to Triple H, and to a lesser extent Angle to do the lion’s share of the work with the ultra-green Rousey and the non-worker in McMahon.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable. John Cena’s segment with Goldust was odd, and the match was a bit of a let-down, though this was more because it could have done with a bit more time. Braun Strowman vs Elias in a Symphony of Destruction match was really good fun, although you have to imagine this is the blow-off to this feud, and next week we’ll get a bit more of a real on who Strowman will be facing at Wrestlemania. Asuka vs Nia Jax was a good match, and did plenty to keep both strong. Asuka winning never felt like it was in doubt, but the post-match definitely hinted that Asuka is going to challenge Charlotte and Alexa Bliss will be defending against Jax. The Miz was excellent in his “Mizzies” segment, and the resultant match with his teaming with The Miz-tourage against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor was very good, and the three-way while unspectacular in storyline terms, should be excellent in-ring. I do wonder whether a ladder might end up being involved. Bayley vs Mandy Rose was fine, but seemingly only existed to forward the post-match tension between Sasha Banks and Bayley. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy having a weird promo battle (after Wyatt battered Rhyno) was a vehicle to get to the fact we are getting the “Ultimate Deletion” from the Hardy compound, which should be suitably crazy, and may explain the recent hiring of Jeremy Borash. Finally, The Bar beat The Revival in a nothing match. As it stands, I can only see these four in the battle royal.
A very decent show, with lots of action, some real bright spots, some great storyline development and plenty to get excited about. Thus far Raw is doing a really very good job of building up the many wrestling
While Raw was ramping up its preparations for Wrestlemania, the blue brand still had the small matter of getting ready for Fastlane on Sunday to deal with, and the main thrust of this show was very much aimed at that. The AJ Styles segment was very effective in sowing further seeds of doubt into proceedings on Sunday (although I think we all know that Styles is walking out with the title, barring some screwy swerve, but he is certainly getting it back before Mania if that does happen). Dolph Ziggler continued to be a colossal bore on the microphone, but the match between the two could have been something interesting. However, instead, we got the 5-way match which was basically Sunday’s main event without Cena. It was a fun match, don’t get me wrong, but it seems a waste to give this away for free. I also would have loved for Shane McMahon to make a bit more reference to the expected tag match announcement, ala Teddy Long when he came out. The finish was well executed, and the idea of Sami Zayn screwing over Kevin Owens rather than the other way round certainly makes for an interesting dynamic going Ito what could be a feud between the two, and a match at Wrestlemania. You’d assume we’ll know more after Sunday.
Elsewhere, Ruby Riott and Charlotte had an excellent verbal confrontation which built nicely to their title match on Sunday, while Becky Lynch and Carmella had a fine match later in the night, ahead of the now confirmed tag match pitting Lynch and Naomi against Carmella and Natalya. Carmella has been keeping a very low profile as of late, and not really doing much, which does make me wonder if they have big plans for her at Wrestlemania, possibly in the form of a cash-in? It would be a huge stage to do it on, and although it wouldn’t necessarily be the right move, the idea of Carmella swooping in on an injured Asuka after she beats Charlotte and ending the streak would lead to mega heat, and a way to end said streak without it hurting Asuka. We shall see. Finally, Jinder Mahal beat Randy Orton in a decent, but forgettable match including the obligatory spot with Orton throwing one of the Singh brothers recklessly, and the unintentional distraction from Bobby Roode, who was on commentary.
A decent show from the blue brand this week, and plenty of build to Fastlane, although for me I am just looking to get past the show on Sunday so Smackdown can actually start building properly to Wrestlemania and getting things back on track.
WWE rights fees
One of the biggest stories doing the rounds at the moment is the rumour that WWE has been negotiating with Fox Sports for when their TV rights deal is up next year, and potentially looking to migrate and maybe cut Raw down to a two-hour show if so. This is really quite interesting, simply because it could lead to a massive shake-up of the way WWE do things and a move to a massive network. Much of this hinges on what happens with UFC and their TV rights deal with Fox, but this story is definitely going to run and run this year. Personally, I would be very happy for Raw to return to two hours, simply for quality control. They could keep the third hour as a pre-show on the network, or even use it for 205 Live. We’ll almost certainly be revisiting this over the coming months.
On Monday, the news broke that Jonathan Coachman had been named in conjunction, but not directly within, a lawsuit against ESPN regarding alleged sexual harassment. While no official charges or reprimand has, or will likely be levied at Coachman, he has vehemently denied the allegations and we’ll have to see whether WWE take any action against him in the coming weeks, or whether he is removed from commentary next week.
NJPW Anniversary show
New Japan Pro Wrestling had their anniversary show this week, and it was great. There’s plenty to enjoy on the undercard, including Tetsuya Naito vs Taichi, and Sanada vs Yoshi-Hashi. However, for me the one thing you need to go out of your way to see is Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay in a non-title match. You don’t see many junior vs heavyweight bouts in New Japan, but this shows how good both men are, and is well worth seeking it as it’s a lot of fun.
All in - venue confirmed
We’ve heard plenty over the past few months about the All In event happening on September 1st organised by Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll and the other various Bullet Club/The Elite affiliates. However, now they have a venue. The 11.000 seater Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (just outside Chicago) is the place, and it looks like this show is a go. Now if only there was a performer not contracted to WWE who might be familiar with the Chicago area, and who could attract a crowd that big. Hmm.
Saudi Arabia - Royal Rumble
Today WWE made an unusual announcement, regarding their expansion into the Middle East as they plan to hold "The Greatest Royal Rumble" in Saudi Arabia in April, featuring a massive fifty competitors. This is really interesting, considering this is the first time WWE have done a Royal Rumble in the modern era outside of the January PPV each year, so it'll be interesting to see whether this gets shown on the WWE network or whether it's just a simple house show. There have also been rumours abound this week that WWE plan to run a 100,000 seater stadium in Australia later this year, which was eventually confirmed, although whether they will configure the stadium for a crowd of that size remains to be seen. Either way it seems WWE will be taking their expansion plans very seriously this year.
Hillbilly Jim for the HOF
In a surprising bit of news this week, Hillbilly Jim was announced as being the newest addition to the 2018 WWE Hall of Fame. It's certainly well deserved, and if I'm honest, I was under the impression he was already in the HOF, but apparently not. Given he was a staple of the early days of the Rock 'n' Wrestling era, it's certainly deserved even if he was awful a pretty poor in-ring worker.
Smackdown has a PPV on Sunday, so I suppose we should touch on it briefly, even if it is one of the more predictable PPV line-ups of the year. In the main event, there is no doubt AJ Styles is walking out with the title, probably by pinning John Cena who will then go on to feud with The Undertaker at Mania, while Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn spin off into a programme together and Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin head to the battle royal. Charlotte will likely retain against Ruby Riott, and I could see Asuka making an appearance in the post-match to challenge Charlotte. The Usos vs The New Day should be a fine match with The Usos likely retaining. Becky Lynch and Naomi vs Carmella and Natalya should be decent, but I can't imagine it being too eventful. Finally, Bobby Roode vs Randy Orton should be intriguing, but I suspect it ends with a non-finish involving Jinder Mahal to build o the inevitable three-way match. It should be a decent show, but it's unlikely to be the most surprising show ever.
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Fastlane, 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.