Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling in the past seven days. This week, we take a quick look back at the Greatest Royal Rumble, see how this week's episodes of Raw and Smackdown prepared everyone for the big Backlash show on Sunday, as well as a look at what NJPW have been up to in the past few weeks. Let's start with the somewhat controversial event that took place on Friday in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia.
Greatest Royal Rumble
I covered the Greatest Royal Rumble for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the podcast this week, which you can listen to here. However, we’ll touch on a few of the big talking points, outside of the well-trodden controversy of the lack of involvement for the female talent. The big 50-man rumble itself was pretty fun, and it feels like an. Interesting dry run for Braun Strowman, especially given the visual of him holding a belt aloft in a stadium as the pyro display went off. I know plenty of people were sad to see Daniel Bryan eliminated by Big Cass right at the end, but frankly given he got the record for most time spent in a Rumble match, this was a good use of Big Cass and helps build their feud. Strowman, Bryan, and Cass all gained from this, so you can’t really be too upset about it (some people still will be, but so be it). However, the biggest moment in this rumble came from Titus O’Neill, and whatever happens in the rest of his career, he’s not escaping this any time soon. Genuinely one of the funniest things in wrestling in recent years. Now watch that dead horse get flogged for the foreseeable future.
The undercard had some really good action, including a cracker between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending, likewise, Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar was very enjoyable till the finish. Both matches were, however, superior to their Wrestlemania counterparts, so that is something here. Both tag title matches were very enjoyable, the Intercontinental title ladder match was brutal and fun, with a pretty innovative finish; the US tag title match with Jinder Mahal and Jeff Hardy wasn’t great and featured a pretty horrendous botch; Cedric Alexander vs Kalisto for the Cruiserweight title was very enjoyable, if not a bit predictable. Finally, we had the two big exhibition style bouts, with John Cena vs Triple H opening the show to great fanfare with a decent bout, and The Undertaker and Rusev having an entertaining casket match.
A very decent show overall, it’s just a shame it was marred by the controversy of where it was held and the local laws. That said apparently WWE is heading back in November, but whether that is a simple event or something on this scale remains to be seen.
With Saudi Arabia in the rearview mirror, WWE was able to look forward towards Backlash this week, something which started on Raw. That said, several feuds have suffered somewhat with having one of the key players on a different brand (something which should work itself out after Backlash and we get over the fallout from the Superstar Shake-up). The Seth Rollins vs The Miz match for Backlash is one such programme, but WWE did a great job of diverting Rollins and pushing the programme Rollins also has developing with Finn Balor, on this week’s show. The in-ring segment with Rollins demonstrated something that has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks, that Seth Rollins is probably one of the next big babyface stars in WWE. The crowd love him, both in the ring, and on the microphone, and his babyface routine is finally starting to click. Even that silly “Burn it down” thing is getting over. The idea of a hard-working, fighting champion might be as old as the hills, but it clearly still works, and it definitely seems a good way to elevate both Rollins and the Intercontinental title. The back and forth with Balor was very good (notably back in his rainbow T-shirt, which was missing in Jeddah, unsurprisingly), and the segment with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel was good fun. I enjoyed Finn showing a quasi-heel side attacking Seth afterwards too, and really got me thinking about the idea of Balor turning heel in the near future and the possibilities with him as a heel. The match between the two was, of course, amazing. It was a worthy main event, with some big spots and an insane closing sequence. Both men gained plenty from this, and you have to expect this programme continues after Backlash.
The opening segment to the show with Roman Reigns was pretty interesting. Reigns is still hugely unlikeable and continues to bemoan his situation. That said, the interaction with the Samoa Joe video, and then the arrival of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was superb. Owens and Zayn may have been the most over act (on this one occasion) that WWE has had anywhere in about five years, with the two hometown talents absolutely getting over as the biggest thing on this show. The beatdown, alongside Jinder Mahal, was well executed, and although Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman making the save made little sense (especially given Roman tried to literally murder Strowman less than a year ago with an ambulance), the fact that Strowman still got a huge reaction, even though it was alongside Reigns, speaks volumes. The six-man tag team match was a fun preview of the Owens/Zayn vs Strowman/Lashley bout on Sunday, although you have to imagine it ends in similar fashion. A decent build for this disjointed Backlash card, and a couple of big matches on that show.
The rest of the show was not so great. Baron Corbin vs No Way Jose was dull, and even the Titus O’Neill interference (which was admittedly entertaining) mocking his own misfortunes from Friday, wasn’t enough to save this match. Natalya vs Mickie James seemed to exist mostly to forward the Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss programme, tease Ronda Rousey getting involved in the women’s division, and presumably facilitate the groundwork for Natalya’s inevitable turn on Rousey. Ruby Riott vs Sasha Banks was a good match, but again acted as more a way of advancing the Sasha/Bayley feud. That said a win for Riott here was a nice way to give her a bit of momentum, which is no harm. Finally, Elias and Bobby Roode had a match. It was not great, nor was the finish.
An up-and-down sort of show, hampered by the position between two big shows, having to recap one and build the other, this week’s Raw was a struggle to get through. That said, it had a few good moments, and once we get through Sunday’s Backlash show, things should definitely settle down a bit.
I’m not saying this week’s Smackdown was short of things happening, it was quite eventful. However, much of it I found difficult to get too excited about. The main event featuring The IIconics and Carmella vs Asuka, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch was a fairly average bout, but with a few high points. The IIconics (silly name and all) are proving to be a great addition to the main roster, and teaming them with Carmella seems like a great shout. I had hoped Asuka vs Becky Lynch was in the offing, but there was no real evidence this week that we should expect that feud, sadly. Charlotte vs Carmella is obviously the key programme here, and they did a good job making it clear that Charlotte is the favourite going in, and Carmella is rightfully worried about losing her title.
The segment with AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Samoa Joe was really well executed here. Nakamura feels so much more natural in this heel role than he ever did as a face, but I do like they are dealing with the rubbish finish at GRR by adding the NoDQ stipulation at Backlash for the WWE title match. Inserting Joe here is an interesting move, but not an unwelcome one. Joe has been superb since returning, and he should be at the top of the card. I suspect whoever wins the title match at Backlash, we are bound for a three-way between the three of them at the next PPV, which should be absolutely scorching if they go down that road. A good segment setting up the title match stipulation on Sunday, as well as a tease of what is waiting after Backlash.
The rest of the show was fine, but a bit lacklustre for me. The opening Miz TV section with The Miz, Jeff Hardy, and Randy Orton didn't really do it for me, but the match between Hardy and Orton on Sunday should be good. The tag match with Orton and Hardy vs The Miz and Shelton Benjamin was fine for what it was but didn’t exactly yield a classic. Still, this sets up plenty for the US title scene in the coming months and it’s a world away from where it was before Wrestlemania. Xavier Woods vs Sheamus was a fine TV match, but nothing special. Finally, we had Big Cass, who's clearly been watching his early 2000s Raw replays on the WWE Network, as he brought out a diminutive impersonator of Daniel Bryan. These sorts of segments were a bit crass twenty years ago, and if I’m honest this was just rubbish.
A decent, if unspectacular go-home show, with some decent in-ring stuff but also some utter dross elsewhere dragging it down overall.
NJPW Dontaku/Hi No Kunia
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been on quite the run in the past year, and this week they presented their annual Wrestling Dontaku cards. We are currently, at time of writing gearing up for the last two nights of the tour. The highlights so far have included a brutal match between Juice Robinson and Hirooki Goto, with Goto retaining his Never Openweight title, as well as Tetsuya Naito capturing the IC championship for Minoru Suzuki. However, on the final two nights, we have some huge bouts with massive storyline implications. Alongside the normal multi-man matches on night one, there is the Never Openweight Six-man tag title match, featuring the Tongan sub-faction of Bullet Club, Tonga Loa, Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale against fellow BC members, The Young Bucks and “The Villain” Marty Scurll. This should be very interesting, and I have no idea how it pans out, especially with the tensions within the Bullet Club at an all-time high. Related to that, later on the card Cody Rhodes faces off with Kota Ibushi in a rematch of their superb Wrestle Kingdom 12 bout, and Ibushi’s partner Kenny Omega takes on Adam “Hangman” Page. These two bouts will almost certainly intertwine, and I do wonder if there will be a major angle shot to set up things for Dominion here. Also on this show, Kushida and Hiroshi Tanahashi take on their respective opponents for the final night, Kazuchika Okada, and Will Ospreay, which should be excellent.
The second and final night, on paper, looks superb. Bullet Club (the Cody faction) vs former Bullet Club (Kenny, Kota, and the Tongans) should be excellent. LIJ vs Suzuki-Gun should be an interesting battle. I do wonder if this is where one Chris Jericho makes his return and sets up a match with Naito at Dominion. I know Jericho has publicly said he is done with NJPW for now, but he has form for such false denials, so I wonder if he emerges here. Given he is WWE’s most decorated Intercontinental champion, it would be fitting he face Naito for the NJPW equivalent.
Finally, we have the two big matches on this card. First Will Ospreay vs Kushida. Given the recent booking I have to assume Ospreay gets the win here, maybe even giving Kushida the impetus to move up to the heavyweight division, given there is little left for him to do at the junior level. Either way the match should be superb, given the past clashes between these two. The other big match, of course, is Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada. It’s hard to believe they haven’t had a one-on-one match for over two years, but it should be a belter. Okada winning is the obvious, and likely outcome, but Tanahashi will run him closer than many think and they will tease Tana getting the win I reckon. Let’s see how this pans out, but this is a great way to cement Okada as the best ever before he eventually drops the title.
Both of the final nights of Dontaku look great, and I expect we will see some top-drawer action from both. With Backlash on Sunday, wrestling fans are absolutely spoiled for good quality action this week, so go on and enjoy!
Although Sunday’s Backlash show might suffer somewhat from a lack of build-up time after the focus was on the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, the card itself is actually pretty stacked! The main event, or certainly the match being promoted as the main, is Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns, and although it’s not a totally fresh match it should be excellent based on their previous encounters. Joe and Reigns have superb chemistry, and I expect this to be another superb bout between the two, in the absence of a Universal Championship match from the Raw side of things. Not sure who wins, but given their respective programmes I’ll go for Joe winning, maybe even with a decisive choke out.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura should be excellent. I know their Wrestlemania “dream match” left plenty of people cold, but with a shifted and defined heel/face dynamic their bout last Friday was much better, even if it seemed to end just as it was getting going. That gives me faith that given some time and the no disqualification stipulation they could have a proper barnburner here. I do think it’s Nakamura’s time with the belt, and if the plan is to go to the three-way programme with Joe there is no better time to put the belt on the “King of Strong Style”.
The rest of the card looks very solid. I suspect Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass will be better than expected, and I see Bryan winning only to fall to a post-match beatdown from Cass, keeping both strong. Carmella vs Charlotte will be interesting, as I’m not sure Carmella is quite at the level of her opponent but we shall see. I fully expect Carmella to retain via some sort of nefarious actions. As for their counterparts on the Raw side, I imagine Nia Jax retains in dominant fashion over Bliss and both move on after this, at least for the short term. Seth Rollins vs The Miz should be a fine midcard match, presumably with Rollins retaining the IC belt, while Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton could be a surprisingly fun affair, if their matches a decade ago are anything to go by, although again I imagine Hardy retains the US Title. Finally, Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn should be a really fun match, although barring a Lashley heel turn, or some sort of miscommunication between the two, I can only see the two big lads getting the win.
Overall, Backlash looks like a really solid, perhaps undervalued card. There are big matches for both brands, and although I expect the vast majority of titles to be successfully defended there is certainly room for some surprises here.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news Raw and Smackdown, the fallout from Backlash, 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.