Welcome to Slammer Jabber your one-stop shop for all things pro wrestling. This week we have a packed edition looking at Raw, Smackdown, Backlash, NXT Takeover: Chicago, news from New Japan Pro Wrestling, Progress Wrestling, and much more. As always, we start with this week's Raw, where a Braun shaped hole has caused a number of changes to future plans.
With the news of Braun Strowman's elbow injury being worse than originally feared and that he is facing 6 months on the side-lines (although this seems to be form a storyline perspective, and it's more like 6-8 weeks in reality), WWE had to put something in place to replace the Strowman vs Roman Reigns match at Extreme Rules which was presumably designed to crown a number 1 contender for Brock Lesnar and the Universal Championship at Great Balls of Fire (still feels so cringe worthy as a name for an event). To WWE's credit I felt like they handled this really well with the opening segment, setting up Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt as the chief contenders for the title, and putting the pieces in place for their Fatal Five-Way at Extreme Rules. All five looked really strong in the opening segment, and this set up the two big matches for later in the night. One thing that was both brilliant, and slightly cruel about this segment was the mocked up match graphics, which teased all five taking on Lesnar, and the sad knowledge that the idea of Joe vs Lesnar would likely be amazing, but also is probably the least likely scenario of the available options. Sad times. The subsequent two matches were well done for what they were, although the Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt match didn't quite click in the main event for me, although Wyatt being left standing tall after taking out Rollins and Samoa Joe was a good call and makes him look a real credible threat. However, for me the Roman Reigns vs Finn Balor match was easily the better of the two, with both men clicking really well. I liked that Reigns won clean-ish but still had to crotch Balor to get the advantage in order to hit the spear. It's not cheating as such, but it does feel like a heel move. Equally, I'm happy Reigns got the win here because it means they are one win a piece, which should lead to a nice build to the rubber match down the line somewhere. Realistically, Balor seems like the leading candidate to get the shot against Lesnar, but we shall have to see how that works out.
There were lots of eventful happenings on this show, although few were as a result of matches, and more the end result of confrontations or post-match antics. The confrontation between Alexa Bliss and Bayley was well done (Alexa being amazing as usual), although the single kendo stick shot seemed a bit tame, and the stipulation for the Extreme Rules match between the two, a kendo stick on a pole match, is a pretty disappointing option. Pole matches are invariably terrible, and I have not got high hopes for this. The Goldust/R-Truth split was somewhat out of nowhere, and while I appreciate they have three hours to fill it is not a programme I have any real interest in at this stage, given both are essentially there as enhancement talent. I'm open to the feud being good, and Goldust has always been a character capable of reinvention, but I'm certainly not super invested at this point. Big Cass and Enzo's issues with Titus O'Neill and his reluctant partner Apollo Crews culminated in a match between Cass and Titus, with Crews again backing up Titus grudgingly. There are certainly flaws with this story, as I don’t know why Crews wouldn’t just leave Titus to it, but the post-match where Apollo stopped Enzo taking a selfie with the downed O'Neill because it was disrespectful suggests we are getting a slow burn turn from Crews, which means this is the most genuinely interesting this he's done in over a year on the main roster.
Elsewhere, we got the usual cruiserweight tag team match with TJP and Neville vs Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher, which was predictable enough. I like that there is heat being put on TJP but this is still a match I could do with never seeing again. The Miz and Dean Ambrose had another match which ended in a DQ, leading to a stipulation being added to their next match that Ambrose can lose the IC Title on a DQ, in a segment that seemed to solely exist to forward the idea Sami Zayn (not on this show, or brand) is a bit annoying. The Hardys continued to feud with Sheamus and Cesaro for some reason long forgotten, and finally Sasha Banks taking a bafflingly clean loss to Alicia Fox, presumably signalling the start of a losing streak gimmick for Banks, or that she is currently in the dog house.
A weird show overall, although a functional one. Everything certainly seemed designed to start moving the pieces on the board to set up Extreme Rules, but it did leave this show feeling a bit rushed and hastily thrown together to get things moving.
With less than one week to go until Backlash, the blue brand was in full promotional mode ahead of the PPV on Sunday. The two main feuds on the show, Jinder Mahal vs Randy Orton and AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens were given further build here, with the opening segment setting up Mahal vs Styles and putting both heels over huge here. The ensuing match was enjoyable, if not spectacular but it was far from the worst match on Smackdown in recent memory, plus the finish with Owens interference and the distraction from The Singh Brothers means Styles loses nothing in defeat here, and Mahal looks like a genuine threat. This was further reinforced by the beat down by Mahal/The Singh Brothers on Orton after his excellent main event against Baron Corbin. The match is well worth seeking out, and I thought Corbin looked really good here, and the image of Mahal standing tall at the end of the show certainly made him seem like a dangerous obstacle for Orton on Sunday. Corbin, who it was confirmed will be facing Sami Zayn at Backlash, also got a lot from this match, which when added to his beat down of Zayn earlier in the night did a lot for him. With the Money in the Bank PPV coming up, I'd certainly have Corbin as one of the favourites to pick up the briefcase in June.
Once again this week, Breezango were a huge highlight of the show. Their skit backstage, with the Corbin T shirts, and then trying to decipher the message on The Usos shirt was excellent, and really quite entertaining. Their match with The Colons was another good encounter, and although it was mostly a Breezango showcase, it came across well. The Usos promo after the match was confusing in its content but the intensity and delivery was very good, and they got the message across in the end. I for one am certainly looking forward to this match, even if I'm still not sure who is supposed to be the heels, and who are supposed to be the faces.
I enjoyed Dolph Ziggler’s promo backstage as a final bit of hype for his match with Shinsuke Nakamura. Ziggler was always going to have to carry the lion's share of the talking for this feud, but he's done really well, especially here without resorting to type with his normal shouty promos. He has a smug sense of entitlement that I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing Nakamura knock off his face, which is a credit to Ziggler for making that the case.
Finally, we got the contract signing (and inevitable match) featuring the Welcoming Committee (such a terrible name) and Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Naomi. I like that we got more teases for Charlotte wanting to take on Naomi for the title, but they are united against the WC for now. I can definitely see a turn happening from one of these three to join/align with the WC, but I'm not sure who. I could be way off, but I can definitely see a Charlotte turn back heel, considering she never officially turned face and is operating as a tweener for now. Still a very good segment, while the Naomi vs Carmella match was fine for what it was, and gives Carmella a claim to a future shot against Naomi for the title given she has now beaten the champion.
Much like Raw, this was a show really homing in on getting things built for the PPV, and as a go-home show I think it did enough to get me interested in Sunday’s card, so I can't complain even if it did seem like there was something missing in terms of energy, be it the crowd or something less tangible. Equally, Backlash with a Chicago crowd should happily remedy that.
WWE UK TV Show launches this week
In the past few months I've written a reasonable amount about the burgeoning launch of WWE UK, and it looks like that is finally happening with the first 90 minute special on the WWE Network happening this Friday. This show will feature the matches recorded a few weeks back in Norwich and will feature Trent Seven vs Pete Dunne from that taping for a shot at Tyler Bate and the WWE UK Championship at NXT Takeover: Chicago on Saturday. It was said to be a fantastic bout based on live reports, so this is certainly not one to be missed. In addition we'll also get another look at all the WWE UK superstars, many of whom appeared in the inaugural tournament in January, which hopefully means we should get a better idea of the potential future challengers for the winner of the title match outside of the three men in British Strong Style.
ROH War of the Worlds - Villainy in action
It's not only in WWE UK that British stars are making waves this week, as at Ring of Honor's War of the Worlds PPV this past weekend "The Villain" Marty Scurll rose to another echelon by joining the infamous Bullet Club alongside Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Bad Luck Fale, Cody Rhodes, and Guerrillas of Destiny among others. This is a pretty big deal for Scurll and should skyrocket him to even greater prominence in ROH, and possibly beyond given the Bullet Club's prominence in NJPW. If you haven't seen the angle that took place with the Bullet Club (which also culminated in Adam Cole being kicked out) then it is very much worth tracking down, as ROH have made it available on the usual streaming platforms. The rest of the show was very good for the most part, although the ROH product does feel a bit stagnant at the moment, but still a show worth checking out if you enjoy ROH. They are going to sell a whole heap of those Bullet Club umbrellas.
NJPW to launch a US Championship
Speaking of Bullet Club, NJPW announced this week that they will be launching a United States Championship at the G1 Climax shows in California in July. ROH competitors "Hangman" Page and Jay Lethal have already been announced as entering the tournament, although it's not currently clear as to who will be eligible to compete or whether this will only be defended in the US. I'm sure more details will be forthcoming, but it does seem like an odd move given the sheer number of belts NJPW already have and given the Intercontinental Championship was launched a few years ago for this very purpose, I'm not sure I follow the logic. However, NJPW are obviously very serious about their expansion globally, especially in America and this seems like a move to further that cause. It also seems that ROH competitors are going to be involved, but that itself begs the question as to whether ROH will be working alongside NJPW, or they will be rivals given NJPW will be essentially competition with them for audience share in the same country. More to follow on this on I'm sure as the story develops.
NXT Takeover predictions
Despite the last Takeover special only happening 6 or so weeks ago, it's now time for another Takeover special, emanating from Chicago. So aside from those pesky CM Punk chants, what can we expect? Well, in the main event we have Bobby Roode vs Hideo Itami for the NXT Title. I for one am expecting an excellent match, as both guys are more than capable of putting on an phenomenal main event and have done allover the world in numerous organisations, and the build-up has been really well done. However, I cannot see any way that Roode drops the belt here, not with Drew McIntyre and Aleister Black both on the horizon as babyface challengers for Roode. I am predicting a "Glorious" win for Roode, followed up by a confrontation with whoever his next challenger is set to be.
Further down the card we have Asuka defending her NXT Women's Title against Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross. This could easily go either way, and could be brilliant, or possibly a bit of a mess if I'm honest. I imagine Cross and Riot will continue to feud coming out of this, so expect Asuka to sneak in and pick one of them off after the other two have destroyed each other. The ladder match for the NXT Tag Titles featuring The Authors of Pain and DIY should be a really good match, with the ladder stipulation providing a good base for DIY to do some innovative things, while AOP inflict violence using the ladders. Again, I can't see AOP dropping the belts here unless they are moving up to the main roster, which seems unlikely just yet. Finally, the last announced match is the much anticipated rematch between Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate, which based on their bout in the finals of the WWE UK Tournament should be a corker, and I'm predicting the match of the night. I would be very surprised to see no titles change hands on this show, so I am going to stick my neck out and predict Dunne wins the belt in some sort of sneaky fashion to build interest in the new UK show. Presumably we will have a fifth match added, possibly including Aleister Black, Drew McIntyre, Sanity, or possibly the returning Wesley Blake. On paper this looks a really good show, and hopefully it delivers as I do feel NXT could do with a bit more buzz about it at the moment.
RIP Doug Somers
In sad news this week, we found out that former AWA superstar "Pretty Boy" Doug Somers passed away from undisclosed causes. Somers was probably most famous for his stint alongside "Playboy" Buddy Rose, capturing the AWA Tag Team Championship on two occasions, and managed by the late great Sherri Martel. Perhaps the most famous feud the two had was alongside The Midnight Rockers, Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels (no, me neither, doesn't seem like either went on to do much) over the AWA Tag titles, with one bloodbath being featured on a couple of Michaels' DVD releases in more recent years. Somers was a truly charismatic performer, and is a sad loss at only 65 years old. RIP Pretty Boy.
WWE get on the gas...for Rocket League
In late breaking news on Wednesday, it was announced that WWE have agreed a deal with Psyonix, the makers of the fantastic video game Rocket League in terms of a strategic marketing partnership which will see Rocket League sponsoring WWE Backlash, Great Balls of Fire and other shows beyond that, and Rocket League being made available to fans to play at arenas hosting WWE events. Psyonix Vice President of Publishing Jeff Dunham accompanied the announcement by saying;"WWE has proven time and again that they know how to execute fantastic integrated programming, and with an audience that has similar interests to our own, it was only natural that we team up to see what we could do together”. It's a smart move for both companies with Rocket League a very popular game and WWE always benefiting from partnering up with companies who have a strong footing in popular culture, and I certainly look forward to seeing what future developments this partnership might bring. Perhaps a WWE themed edition of Rocket League? Here's hoping.
Now That is Progress
Progress Wrestling are probably the most high profile and ardently followed independent wrestling companies in the UK, and the spiritual home to many of the WWE UK competitors among other top stars on the UK scene, and many an international star to boot. However, today they announced possibly the biggest show in the history of the company, as they host a show at the historic Alexandra Palace in North London in September. This is a huge deal, and very much a deserved success for Progress who are a fantastic company, run the right way as shown by the way their fanbase sells out every show within minutes. I for one, hope to be there and we will certainly be covering the show as part of Slammer Jabber come September.
Finally, we have a PPV this Sunday from the blue brand, Backlash which will be taking place just 24 hours removed from Takeover, in the same arena. The main event, presuming it goes on last, pits WWE Champion Randy Orton against Jinder Mahal. Many have scoffed at Jinder Mahal as a challenger for the belt, but given WWE's expansion into India and the need to make fresh stars in WWE, I could actually see Mahal getting the win and taking home the belt. It may not be a popular option, but it makes sense logically and it would provide an enormous shock result. The match itself will likely be pretty average, but I imagine there will be shenanigans aplenty to keep this one interesting.
Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles for the US Championship will likely be the match of the night. We have two guys who are very much at the top of their induvial games, and I expect both will be looking to steal the show. Equally, I cannot see Owens dropping the belt here, especially with his "Face of America" gimmick continuing, and with having only just regained the belt from Chris Jericho a few weeks back. Still, it should be a great match.
The other huge match here is the bout featuring the debut in-ring appearance of Shinsuke Nakamura, as he faces off with Dolph Ziggler. Given the whole vet has been promoted around him, you have to assume Nakamura is going over, and going over strong in the process. Chicago should be pretty wild for Nakamura, and I am looking forward to seeing Ziggler eat a Kinshasa knee strike. It should be a thing of beauty, and they have built it up to the point where it should be a very special moment when he hits it.
Further down the card, we have The Usos vs Breezango which should be a matter of The Usos retaining, but I can’t say I'd be shocked if Breezango do get the nod. Poor American Alpha are nowhere to be seen. Also we have The Welcoming Committee taking on the uneasy alliance of Naomi, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte. I'm not sure if Charlotte has gone full blown babyface, so it will be interesting to see if they are teasing that Lynch and Naomi can’t trust her, or even to see Charlotte possibly turn and align herself with the heels somehow. I suppose it all depends on the long-term plan for her, but I can certainly see a tease of her intentions being a big factor here. Finally we have Sami Zayn vs Baron Corbin, which I have to expect Corbin to win given he took the loss to Orton on Smackdown this week, but either way this should be good match.
It's not the strongest card ever on paper, but I've see Smackdown do a lot with a lot less, so I suspect we will get a decent show out of this, and hopefully a couple of big surprises along the way.
Well that is it from me, I'll be back next week with a breakdown of all the happenings from Backlash, Takeover, Raw, Smackdown and much more. 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.