Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things pro wrestling. As always it has been a busy week with the WWE Fastlane PPV, the fallout on the following night's Raw, Smackdown putting the pieces in place for Wrestlemania, a simply ravishing entry into the WWE Hall of Fame and much more. Lets get started with Fastlane, and a new WWE Universal Champion.
This past Sunday we had the final stop on the road to Wrestlemania with the last Raw-only PPV before the big event, in the form of Fastlane. Overall the show was a bit lacklustre, and much of what happened served as a placeholder for now. However, we did get a few notable moments, most importantly with the crowning of the third ever WWE Universal Champion Bill Goldberg. The whole match was a squash and although it seems harsh on Kevin Owens, it was definitely the right move all round. This sets up Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar for Wrestlemania with even more at stake. Also, the likely scenario of Goldberg-Lesnar headlining on April 2nd gives the title some much needed credibility which it has been sorely missing since its creation last summer. In fact, there has as yet not been a clean title defences made of the Universal championship, something we should get in the main event of the biggest show of the year. I also totally appreciate the argument against having two part timers work the main event of Wrestlemania but realistically it is the biggest drawing match available and will generate the most interest among the casual and lapsed fans of the product, while those hardcores who complain will almost certainly be watching anyway. Smart business. This finish also furthers the Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho feud, which should start ramping up nicely towards Mania now.
The other big match for me on this show was the Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman bout. I had high hopes for this one with two big hosses going at it ion an out and out brawl. It was a fairly average match, and goes to show that Strowman still has some way to go in his development. However, I feel the finish seemed a bit too clean for my liking. Strowman won’t be overly hurt by losing here, and arguably Reigns needs the momentum for his match with The Undertaker at Wrestlemania (more on that shortly), but Strowman probably could have been better protected here.
The situation with the Women's championship as it pertains to Wrestlemania is no clearer after this event. Charlotte vs Bayley was a good match, but Sasha Banks interfering tainted the win for Bayley and makes me wonder exactly where they are going with this story having blown several opportunities to build to a big Wrestlemania moment with Bayley. If anything this made Charlotte seem like the babyface here, which I'm guessing was not the intention. Sasha had a match herself with Nia Jax, which was a surprisingly good affair, but again I'm not sure I would have had Banks go over Jax who really is far more in need of the win to continue her push, if that is the plan.
The rest of Fastlane wasn't great really. Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn was a fine opener if not a slight too long, while the Rusev-Jinder Mahal split was out of nowhere, and the subsequent matches with Big Show and Cesaro respectively did nothing for either man. It reeked of time filler for me. Gallows & Anderson vs Enzo & Big Cass seemed like a waste of another potential bib moment for Enzo and Cass, but I imagine they get the belts at Wrestlemania. The match itself was ok, but certainly nothing special. However, one bright spark on the undercard was the bout between Neville and Jack Gallagher which was excellent, and easily the match of the night. Slowly but surely it looks like the audience is getting into the division, and matches like this plus the stellar work of Neville are a big part of the change in fortune for the cruisers.
A definite thumbs in the middle show for me, it seemed like everything was on pause till this event was out of the way, as Raw demonstrated, and it hurt this show. However, as always the match quality ranged from fine to excellent, and it was worth having the 20 second main event to watch certain corners of the internet explode in futile rage.
If Fastlane was an event that ironically had the handbrake on, this week's Raw certainly got things moving. IN the main event segment, we had a cracking confrontation between Roman Reigns and The Undertaker to build (as expected) to their match at Wrestlemania. Reigns looked great here, oozing confidence and charisma as he came out to meet Taker, who as far I can see looked better than he did at the Royal Rumble. I like the idea of Reigns claiming that the ring is now his yard and Taker coming back to defend his turf. It is very simple storytelling and creates a believable issue which is more than enough for an Undertaker match in the post-streak era. One small gripe with this segment was Strowman backing down from Taker, but this will almost certainly be forgotten in the coming weeks and Strowman will be re-habbed to face whoever the champion is after Wrestlemania, or make the jump to Smackdown as one of the top stars on the blue brand. A good segment which did exactly what it needed to.
Elsewhere, we had the first confrontation between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar since the Royal Rumble. Paul Heyman was on top form here, and his promo built up both men to seem like unstoppable monsters ahead of their match on April 2nd. I also liked Lesnar getting the physical advantage against Goldberg for the first time, hitting an F5. This made Goldberg look vulnerable for the first time during this run and it was encouraging that Goldberg was happy to take a big bump which hopefully bodes well for their match.
After my confusion over the women's title situation coming out of Fastlane, we got more clarification here. Bayley will be going to Wrestlemania despite (unwittingly) winning with Sasha's help at Fastlane, but Charlotte will be facing her, and after this so will Sasha Banks. The Banks-Bayley match was ok, certainly not up there with the better efforts the two have put on in this past, bur certainly passable. I'm not sure I agree with giving away a potential PPV headlining match for free here but the Raw women's division is so shallow in terms of talent that there probably wasn’t much else they could do. Nia Jax was nowhere to be seen here, which certainly suggests she is not in the match as it stands although who knows what happens in the next three weeks.
The other big segment on this show featured the return of Chris Jericho, in full face mode. It was good to see them follow up on the situation form Fastlane rapidly and Owens answering Jericho's call-out in full anger mode was a smart move, as was addressing why he turned on Jericho. The other notable thing here was the continued mentions of Owens getting advice, bordering on mentoring from Triple H, as well as further suggestion of a loose association with Samoa Joe which was reinforced by Joe getting involved here and the making of his match with Jericho later on. That match was also very good as you would expect (and possibly may be the first ever meeting between these two?), and Joe continues to be booked like an absolute beast, which certainly bodes well for him in the coming months although I'm still not sure where he fits in at Wrestlemania. The other match that came about from the opening segment, Owens vs Sami Zayn, was just another edition of the never-ending series between these two. WWE have really screwed up when a feud that was super-hot one year ago is now so burnt out and overdone that match between two men who supposedly had a blood-hatred of each other is just a throwaway filler Raw squash. Sad times.
I very much enjoyed the Neville vs Rich Swann match here, which was well done, and served to set up the post-match with Austin Aries who has somehow transformed an injury and stint on commentary into a cruiserweight title shot at Wrestlemania and one of the biggest reactions on Raw. Perhaps he really is the greatest man who ever lived.
The rest of the show was also very good, with a tip-top Seth Rollins rehab video which did more for his stock as a babyface than much of the booking in the past 6 months, the tag title match between Enzo & Big Cass and Gallows and Anderson did more to further that programme and introduce Sheamus & Cesaro as a third team, leading to a likely three-way at Wrestlemania. Quietly the Raw tag division has started to flower again now that The New Day have been moved onto other things, which works well for everyone. In fact, even The New Day were fun on this show, squashing The Shining Stars. Finally, we got a fine match between Akira Tozawa and Ariya Daivari which helped make Tozawa look great, as evidenced by the fact he is slowly getting over with the audience, and further his feud with The Brian Kendrick.
This show felt like it was well structured with little-to-no filler and a purpose to every minute of airtime. Good work Raw, let's hope it continues
Thankfully after last week's debacle featuring Randy Orton turning to arson in his quest to get revenge on Bray Wyatt (an act surely not commensurate with the offence Wyatt committed), Smackdown got back down to business this week and recovered somewhat. The main event between AJ Styles and Randy Orton was excellent, and felt like a genuine main event. Both men really put a shift in here, and this was very enjoyable as a result. Special praise should be reserved for these two for the RKO fake-out spot, which if you’ve not seen it, you really should do. The win here means we go back to Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt as the WWE Championship match, which is fine although I feel they will need Bray to do some major work to get this thing back on track over the coming 3 weeks or so. Logically, surely AJ Styles is now the biggest babyface on Smackdown having been screwed out of his WWE Championship rematch, having (at least from his perspective) won a battle royal to win a shot after Orton forfeited his match, and then won a further match to gain an undisputed match with the WWE Champion, only to have Orton swan back in claiming the shot he forfeited, and Styles having to then wrestle him for a match he had already rightfully won. Now having lost that opportunity it is hard not to feel sorry for him. I appreciate this is designed to put him in line to face Shane McMahon, but from what I can see that simply makes Shane the heel in this equation, which is clearly not what the company intended. The booking is all backwards for me.
The continued build for the Nikki Bella & John Cena vs Maryse & The Miz mixed tag match at Wrestlemania hit something of a rut this week. The Miz who is usually excellent cut a fairly poor promo lambasting Cena on his personal brand and logic. It was fine for what it was, but I'm so used to The Miz nailing it that this felt a bit sub-par by his standards. Maryse was very good here though, and her berating Nikki got a good reaction from the crowd so that at least continues the build here. The match between Cena/Nikki and James Ellsworth & Carmella was little more than a squash really, although the stereo AAs (well sort of) were a bit cringe worthy for me. I think this angle and match are going to be a bit of a marmite affair for most involved if I'm honest, simply due to the way this has been booked and the relatively predictable outcome that looks to be on the horizon, with Cena proposing after a hard fought victory.
I quite enjoyed the development of the storyline with Alexa Bliss this week, as it pertains to the women's championship. This is a nice comeuppance for the heel here who has cheated her way through facing everyone on the roster, and having her face off against all the women on the roster should be a good feature at Wrestlemania, as well as something a bit different to the Raw women's match. Part of me sees this as some sort of subterfuge to have a surprise entry in whatever type of match this is on the night (I'm assuming a gauntlet?), perhaps a returning Naomi to win the title in her home state, or a returning legend? This certainly opens up the scope for a fun match, or a big babyface win at Mania. I also enjoyed Mickie James turning on Alexa, which certainly reinforces the idea that Bliss has her hands full here. I’m certainly intrigued as to where they go with this.
The rest of the show was pretty good. I enjoyed Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin having another verbal exchange here, and I'm hopeful their match at Wrestlemania could be one of the sleeper matches of the night if they both go out to steal the show, which given Ambrose’s disappointing showing with Brock Lesnar last year could well be what they have planned. The ongoing joke with Curt Hawkins getting levelled by Ambrose is also quite amusing, and the forklifts spot with Corbin was very well done, if not a little drawn out. In addition, Mojo Rawley had a segment where he wasn't the most annoying person in the universe for once, although the idea of him facing Dolph Ziggler in an actual feud fills me with dread if I'm honest.
A decent show, but a bit lacklustre compared to Raw. Equally this was a big step up from last week's silliness.
Rick Rude HOF
Earlier this week WWE announced that Ravishing Rick Rude would be entering the Hall of Fame this year. Rude was one of the stand outs in the midcard in 1980s WWF working top line programmes with Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and many others including a stint as Intercontinental Champion. He would later have successful run in WCW as part of The Dangerous Alliance feuding with Sting and many others. After a career ending back injury Rude would resurface in non-wrestling roles in ECW, WWF (as one of the original members of DX and Shawn Michaels' "insurance policy") and later WCW WAS before his untimely death in 1999. Perhaps Rude's most enduring legacy from this time will be as the first (and only prior to the buyout) performer to appear on Raw and Nitro on the same night in late 1997. Rude certainly had an eventful career and is a very deserving inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame.
Hardys/Bully Ray arrive in ROH
After leaving TNA last week speculation was rife that The Hardys would be on the way I to WWE but in a surprising turn of events they made a shock appearance in Ring of Honor this week, capturing the tag titles in the process. Details are sketchy but it appears both have signed a deal for a while at least in ROH, which for now at least ends speculation of an impending run in WWE. It's probably a smart move as I imagine they will have far more creative control and far more flexibility in ROH than in WWE. However, I for one am saddened by this as I am still intrigued as to what a Hardys run in WWE in 2017 would even look like. I still think it will happen, but perhaps not for a while now. Interestingly, The Hardys were not the only surprise ROH signing as Bully Ray also made his ROH debut on his show. In some ways his showing up is more of a surprise as with all the changes in TNA and return of former stars happening he would be a shoe-in for a high profile TNA gig, but again apparently that is not the case. Either way, this is a huge boost for ROH with some big recognisable names coming in to work with the already stellar existing roster.
TNA spikes down a new TV Deal
Finally this week, we have the news that TNA (or Impact Wrestling as they would now like to be known) have signed a new TV deal in the UK with Spike. If you're not familiar Spike is a Freeview channel available widely throughout the UK, and is owned by Viacom who also have Channel 5 in their stable of channels. There are multiple reasons that this is big news, firstly because it marks an upturn in fortune for TNA since they hit near rock bottom under the previous ownership. Spike has a similar availability to Challenge, making them available to almost every home in the UK. Equally, Spike's sister US channel of the same name previously carried TNA in the USA. With Jeff Jarrett back in power, the backing of new owners Anthem, and friends within Viacom this could well be a precursor to Impact Wrestling appearing back on a major US platform. I won’t spoil anything of the upcoming tapings, but there are plenty of changes and returns to keep viewers interested and while some of it doesn’t sound great it is a marked improvement on what had been happening and a big upswing in perceived star power. It could be a very interesting few months for the artist formerly known as TNA, and I for one genuinely hope they succeed. IT might be too late for them to be considered genuine competition for WWE, but it would be good to have a profitable and successful number 2 in the industry.
Well that's it from me for this week, keep yourself tuned to Screenjabber for all the best in reviews of the latest movies, DVDs, Blu-rays, and games as well as the best interviews, blogs, competitions, podcasts and more. Until next week, so long folks.