Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling in the past seven days. This week, we take a look back at the underwhelming Backlash show from Sunday, see how this week's episodes of Raw and Smackdown started the build for Money in the Bank, as well as a look at what NJPW and Progress have been up to in the past week. Let's start with Backlash.
Traditionally, the post Wrestlemania PPV has been one of the better shows of the year, with a mixture of fledgeling programmes and rematches from the programmes that spill over from Wrestlemania. This year, this natural flow was disrupted by both the superstar shake-up (meaning everyone was all over the place, facing people on other brands who they couldn't necessarily interact with), compounded by the impact of having a short build for this show, with everyone's attention diverted for much of the last few weeks to the Greatest Royal Rumble. On paper, Backlash looked great, and I don't know whether it was creative burnout or a lack of ideas, but this show was pretty average. The opener with The Miz vs Seth Rollins set the card off on a promising note, with both men on top form. Seth Rollins seems primed to be the top babyface on Raw in the very near future, and it's well deserved. He is in the form of his life, having great matches consistently and he really does deserve a big push. The Miz was, of course, excellent as always, and again showed why he is so underrated as an in-ring talent as well as a personality.
However, after that red-hot opener, everything else was less than stellar. Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss was a clumsy affair, with Jax especially having an off night; Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton was a fine match, but the ending was somewhat abrupt for my liking. The Elias-Bobby Roode-New Day-Rusev Day-No Way Jose segment was fun, but didn't achieve much. Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass was pretty average, despite Bryan's best efforts, and the post-match was effective in getting more heat on Cass and I guess that was the main point of this programme. Charlotte vs Carmella was sloppy, and although Carmella retaining vis shenanigans was predictable, Charlotte suffers a bit from losing this in my opinion, especially so soon after ending Asuka's streak. AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura was actually a very enjoyable bout, maybe the best one they've had under the WWE umbrella, until the finish. The low blow thing, was fun for a while, but now it's the crux of the story and I feel like WWE are undervaluing the ability of both men by having this be about ball shots. Also, why won't AJ Styles wear a cup? After this many low blows, he really should have learnt by now. Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley vs Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was pure filler, as clearly all four men are without proper feuds at the moment. Finally, we had Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, in a match where the in-ring was actually very good, but the booking decisions were very odd with Joe throwing everything at Reigns only to lose to a single spear. If the rapidly emptying crowd didn't tell you how much the Reigns experiment is not working. Having Reigns operate as the all-conquering babyface is not working.
A very average show, with a few high points, some odd booking decisions and a lack of any real storyline progress or really anything of consequence happening. You could easily skip this show and really miss very little, and outside of the opener and possibly the WWE title match, I might be inclined to suggest you do skip it.
Coming off Backlash the night before, I had hopes that Raw might provide a bit more of a spark, but sadly WWE continued to plod along creatively. The main focus was the qualifying matches for the Money in the Bank matches taking place on the show of the same name on June 17th. Kevin Owens vs Braun Strowman was a decent mop up from the prior night's tag match, while the main event was excellent. Finn Balor taking the win over Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns was a nice touch, and both Balor and Strowman being in the match make it already seem like a stacked contest in terms of potential winners. The main event match itself was very enjoyable, and I liked the idea of Reigns being sidelined by the other two, because it logically makes sense. I also think keeping Reigns out of the briefcase match is a sensible move, simply because they surely have other plans for him as he clamors for another shot at Brock Lesnar and the universal title. Coming off Backlash, Reigns is continuing in the role of top babyface, even if the fanbase clearly has rejected him for that position, first with booing which WWE could spin, but now with apathy, which is far harder to ignore. The idea of them putting him with Jinder Mahal, which looks likely here, fills me with utter dread. Mahal vs Reigns in Chicago? Oh dear.
The final MitB qualifier on this show was Ember Moon beating Ruby Riott and Sasha Banks, in a fun match and a sensible move given how fresh Moon feels as a character on the main roster compared to most of the rest of the division.
The rest of the show was a fairly pedestrian affair. Baron Corbin and The Revival vs No Way Jose and Titus O'Neill was fine, but nothing spectacular; Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre vs Rhyno and Heath Slater was basically a squash to showcase Ziggler and McIntyre, who look pretty good, but they desperately need new music and maybe some better, less contrasting gear. Bobby Roode vs Elias happened, and that's all I can really say. I imagine both will be making up the numbers in the ladder match in June. Jinder Mahal vs Chad Gable was a decent affair but did little to give Gable any momentum following his win over Mahal last week. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy vs Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel was a fine TV match of no real consequence, while the super-over Seth Rollins showed again why he's on such a hot streak at the moment in dragging Mojo Rawley to a pretty decent outing. Finally, we had the oddest segment of the week, maybe even the year with Bobby Lashley. Who knows what they are trying to do with him, with all the stuff about him loving his sisters, but it was very, very odd. Hopefully, they just got the tone slightly wrong, rather than this being a deliberate choice, because if not this is bad news for Lashley.
A pretty dull show overall. Raw really feels like it needs some big angles or fresh matches to beef things up, because there is precious little to get excited about here, and this week's show could really have used at least a hint of something more meaningful.
This week's offering from the blue brand was certainly eventful, whether you believe that is a good thing or a bad thing is a question of perspective. In the main event, Rusev and Daniel Bryan had a very enjoyable TV match, but I was very surprised to see Rusev get the clean win. I know there will be plenty of people who are against this, but I like the story they are trying to tell with Bryan accumulating injuries, and those catching up with him, and Big Cass having a hand in eliminating him from the Money in the Bank match because of the beating he delivered at Backlash. Bryan doesn't strictly need the briefcase, so I can understand not putting him in the match if I'm honest, and this provides a great shine for Rusev, who actually could genuinely benefit from a MitB win. Bryan will get back to the top of the card eventually, but it strikes me that WWE may be playing the long game, getting to Bryan vs Miz at Summerslam and then getting Bryan into the title picture at Wrestlemania. Still, a very good main event.
The other qualifiers on this week's show dominated proceedings somewhat, with Jeff Hardy vs The Miz opening the show with a very enjoyable encounter. I would happily see either man in that match, but keeping miz busy seems like a very shrewd move, and Hardy has the US title to defend anyway. Charlotte vs Peyton Royce was a decent, if not throwaway match which was only ever going to have one outcome really. Royce has looked good so far and a loss to Charlotte doesn't really hurt her in this role.
The rest of the show was enjoyable, if not super memorable. Becky Lynch vs Mandy Rose was very enjoyable, and it's good to see Lynch picking up some momentum. I really hope they use the ladder match as a way to give her some shine because Lynch is sorely wasted in the mid-card of the division. With regards to Rose, I do like that they have completely divorced Paige from the other members of the former Absolution group, and while it doesn't make the most sense for her sudden change of attitude, I'm glad they've at least addressed it. The backstage promos with Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles were very good, Nakamura especially but I'm not sure how they string this out all the way to Money in the Bank. Cesaro vs Xavier Woods was really quite good, and that finish looked brutal, although the announcement that the teams will face off next week with the winners picking one from their ranks to enter the ladder match is odd, unless one of these teams is facing a break up on the horizon (please let it be New Day, and Big E getting a singles run). Finally, we had some interesting vignettes, with The Bludgeon Brothers playing with some toys, and more interestingly a video pushing the debut of Andrade "Cien" Almas on next week's show from London, which should be excellent.
A better show than Raw, and definitely a more creatively thought-out show, but still not quite at that pre-Wrestlemania level.
NJPW Dontaku and Dominion news
Another month, and another sterling effort from New Japan Pro Wrestling. This time the two-night Wrestling Dontaku cards from this past week. I won't go through every result, but there were definitely some worthwhile occurrences and matches that I would recommend seeking out. Firstly we had the main event of night 2, featuring Kazuchika Okada renewing hostilities with longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight title. This match was superb, with Tanahashi rolling back the years to show he can still go, and the chemistry, the story and the action were all on point. This might genuinely have been one of my matches of the year thus far, and I highly recommend checking it out. Going in, I suspected NJPW must have a plan for Dominion because arguably this match could have headlined the big show in June, but in the post-match, we got our answer as Okada challenged Kenny Omega, in what eventually became a 2/3 falls match with no time limit. Obviously, this is very exciting given the ridiculously amazing bouts these two have had already, but it also offers perhaps the first really solid possibility of Okada losing the title. It is huge and should be an amazing main event to the Dominion show.
The other big happening on these shows (which admittedly was more heavily stacked towards Night 2) was the return of Chris Jericho, appearing from the crowd dressed as Bushi and assaulting Tetsuya Naito, as predicted in last week's column. Jericho is always playing the game, and that's why it's wise to take anything he says in interviews with a pinch of salt. The assault itself was brutal, and set their match at Dominion up nicely, which should be a huge deal for both men and potentially a bloody brawl much like Jericho vs Omega at Wrestle Kingdom.
The Bullet Club was very active on this show, on the first night with "The Villain" Marty Scurll and The Young Bucks taking the Never Openweight Six-man titles from Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, and Bad Luck Fale, and then a huge 10-man tag pitting the warring factions of Bullet Club against each other, only for the club to seemingly kick out both Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes after the match, presumably, based on the way it was laid out, It'll be interesting to see how that affects both Cody and Kenny moving forward.
Finally, Will Ospreay and Kushida put on an absolute masterclass for the Junior Heavyweight title, with Ospreay finally showing he is the new "ace" of the division by beating Kushida decisively with his insane new finisher, the Stormbreaker. However, equally interestingly, after the match we got the return of Bone Soldier, only not as the evil Captain New Japan, but a returning (and quickly unmasking) Taiji Ishimori. This is a great move for the junior division and immediately adds a new challenger to Ospreay just in time for the Best of the Super Junior tournament in a few weeks. That said, I still favour Hiromu Takahashi to pick up the win in the tournament.
Overall, a very good set of shows, with some major developments and some superb in-ring action, especially on night two. Well worth seeking out ahead of Dominion next month.
WWE may have had Backlash, but one of the more anticipated shows of this weekend was Progress Wrestling's three-day tournament at Alexandra Palace, featuring a 16 man tournament for a shot at the Progress championship. While I was unable to attend, from the reports I've read it seems as though this may have been one of the best weekender shows in recent British wrestling history, and one of the best Progress events ever. I very much look forward to seeing this on demand in the coming days, but there was no shortage of happenings. Slammer Jabber favourite Eddie Dennis had a confrontation with former best friend Mark Andrews, further building the momentum for their eventual showdown, and Dennis would even strike during a performance by Andrews' band Junior at the Tufnell Park Dome hours after the Saturday show. We had a deathmatch, and the set up for Will Ospreay vs Jimmy Havoc at Wembley, and some huge developments with Walter, Travis Banks and big ramifications for the Atlas and World championships. From all reports, the tournament itself was superb, with some ridiculously good matches, and a final that apparently delivered huge. Setting up Zack Sabre Jr to compete for the title on the biggest show in Progress history only seems right, and whether it's against Walter, Travis Banks or someone else, this should be amazing. I will be in attendance at Wembley, and I for one am very excited about that how that card is shaping up so far.
RIP Bully Busick
In sad news this week, the news broke that Nick "Big Bully" Busick had passed away. Now that name may not be familiar to everyone, but Busick was an undercard talent in the WWWF and Atlanta territory in the 80s, before having a run in the WWF in the early 90s as the Bully character. He was never the most spectacular worker, but he had a great look and although it wasn't one of the more long-lasting, iconic gimmicks it sticks in my mind to this day from my childhood. I recall seeing Busick in the WWF sticker book I had as a child when I first getting into wrestling and he looked so striking even as a child. Busick sadly struggled with health issues, especially various forms of cancer in recent years and sadly passed away in a hospice earlier this week aged 63. RIP Bully.
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, as WWE continues to build to Money in the Bank, 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.