Slammer Jabber May 31

Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week has been less WWE focused than most with All Elite Wrestling taking the spotlight (and the plaudits) for their Double or Nothing show. WWE did have Raw and Smackdown, as usual, this week, but one name has been the most newsworthy or all this week. Jon Moxley.  

AEW Double or Nothing

For so many years WWE has been the only game in town, so with All Elite Wrestling making waves it was always going to be an interesting time for wrestling fans as AEW promoted their first PPV offering, Double or Nothing (All In of course was before the actual launch of the company) this past Saturday, available on ITV Box Office in this country. In the run-up to the show, there was plenty of speculation as to who might show up, what surprises might be in store and what this could mean for the future of the company, especially as the most viable competitor to WWE since WCW closed its doors 18 years ago. As someone who loved WCW, I was certainly excited to see what these guys to put together, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Slammer jabber may 31 2Up and down the card, this show delivered and provided something for everyone. The pre-show was a bit ropey in places in production terms, and it didn’t bode particularly well for the main show, but the battle royal was fun and established Hangman Page and MJF as the two big prospects for the future in AEW, and I imagine the two the company will build around. Kip Sabian vs Sammy Guevara was fine, although nothing too memorable, but served as a nice showcase for two guys who weren’t on the main show. There were perhaps a few too many in-jokes from Being the Elite on the pre-show, but luckily they knocked that on the head once the main show started.

The opening with SCU vs Strong Hearts was a fast-paced hot opener and served as a great showcase for the OWE guys. The women’s four-way was pretty good too, and the surprise addition of Awesome Kong got a great reaction. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about Brandi Rhodes seemingly playing the Stephanie McMahon-style heel figure, it seems played out and at odds with a lot of the things this show did well. The Best Friends vs Angelico and Jack Evans had some lovely spots in it, but the post-match was pretty disastrous. The trope of the “lights out debut” can be a fantastic way to get a huge pop from the live crowd, but it only works if the audience know who the surprise competitors actually are, and no-one seemed to have a clue who the Super Smash Brothers were, meaning this whole thing played out to confusion for both those in the arena and those watching at home. Luckily, this was followed up by a very enjoyable Joshi six-woman tag match, featuring the legendary Aja Kong among others.

On paper, the top three matches of the night (coincidentally the matches featuring The Elite) looked to be the bouts that everyone paid to see, and I can’t imagine many were let down. Cody Rhodes vs his brother Dustin Rhodes was probably the match of the night, with so much backstory even beyond the obvious brother vs brother story. It really delivered for me, with both men telling a tremendous story in the ring, and although I thought Dustin’s blade job was a bit excessive there was certainly merit to it in this particular match. The post-match gave us all a lovely moment between the brothers too and sets up a tag run for Dustin before he finally retires, which is a nice touch. However, one thing I didn’t like was Cody’s entrance, specifically the throne stunt. I get that AEW is meant to be a competitor to WWE, but they’ve made such a song-and-dance about being different, and an alternative, that smashing a throne with a sledgehammer )apt given the subtlety involved) as a shot at Triple H and WWE felt really cheap, and really low rent. This company could be a breath of fresh air, and often on this show it was, but that particular moment seemed like a major outlier on a show that was so positive.

Before the top two matches, Jack Whitehall (yes, the comedian) introduced Bret “The Hitman” Hart who was there to unveil the AEW World Title. Seeing Hart there was definitely a surprise, but given he’s not an active performer for WWE it probably shouldn’t be, and he was a fairly big part of Starrcast, so it made sense. This segment was again an opportunity to establish Adam Page (who is giving off a bit of Curt Hennig vibe, which can only be seen as a good thing) and MJF, but also position Jimmy Havoc and Jungle Boy as significant players. Job done. MJF, in particular, shone here and I definitely see him as the company’s top heel eventually.

While I like the teams involved, I was sceptical about The Lucha Bros vs The Young Bucks. Both have a tendency on occasion to sacrifice psychology for high spots, and while both have improved on that front in recent years I did wonder if I would enjoy them clashing in a lengthy match. It wasn’t as bad as I feared and the early going was really good. I felt the pacing went massively off course during the middle section and it did feel like a bit of disconnected spot fest, but they saved it in the final minutes, and I did enjoy seeing The Bucks hark back to previous feuds and use moves of the likes of the Motor City Machine Guns, Kevin Steen (now Kevin Owens) and Sami Zayn as they told the story of having to pull everything out of the bag in order to beat their opponents. It was far from perfect, and not entirely the sort of thing I necessarily enjoy but there are plenty of other fans who will and that is what is important here, AEW are providing something for everyone.

Slammer jabber may 31 1The main event between Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, although perhaps a few minutes too long, was a heated and very physical affair. It probably wasn’t quite on the level of their Tokyo Dome match last year, and Jericho is nowhere near the in-ring performer he used to be, although he has adapted his in-ring style to counteract that. As much as Omega is a huge draw for the company, Jericho winning and going on to face Adam Page for the vacant title makes plenty of sense, as you either have the star with the biggest name value as your first champion or the guy who you arguably want to have as the future of the company. Besides, Omega has a first feud nicely lined up, as the post-match with the debuting Jon Moxley (the former Dean Ambrose) demonstrated. Moxley was hardly a surprise, but it was a fantastic way to go off air, and perfectly sets up the next major event for the company. No-one was craving a Jericho-Moxley feud, but Omega and Moxley feels fresh, and a big deal.

For the most part Double or Nothing was a very good show. The production felt very different to WWE, maybe even reminiscent of WCW, which is a major positive for the company. The camera angles, the shooting style, the replays after the matches, it all felt like a welcome change. That said, there were plenty of production snafus with pivotal moments in matches being missed, but these are things that can be ironed out over time. The announcers were pretty interesting too, with Alex Marvez offering very little, but conversely, Jim Ross and Excalibur were excellent. JR sounded the most excited and motivated he has in years, while Excalibur came across like Mike Tenay in his WCW prime, knowing all the moves, the history and getting the enthusiasm levels just right. All things told, this was a major statement for AEW, and while it is not the revolutionary product that some would have you believe, it is certainly felt fresh and different enough to be a genuine alternative to the WWE monopoly. Will it be enough to genuinely challenge WWE’s dominance? I’m not sure, but could it provide a very healthy number two promotion? Based on this, absolutely.

Raw

Slammer jabber may 31 4Fresh off AEW making headlines on Saturday night, everyone was curious as to how WWE might respond on Raw, what they might change and what might come out of the emergence of what many consider to be genuine competition for them. The answer? Nothing, really. In fact, the only mention of AEW, or even moment out of the ordinary came during that dreadful Sami Zayn segment with the electric chair. It was played off as if the whole segment would be a weekly thing with fans asking questions, but I have no idea what that would achieve. In fact, this show mostly felt like it had been phoned in by the writing team.

Slammer jabber may 31 3In terms of the good things on this show, Brock Lesnar has to be top of that list. The boom box was back, now with added dancing, and Brock was an absolute riot here, even if he doesn’t seem to fully understand how the Money in the Bank briefcase works. The segment with Kofi Kingston and Seth Rollins and the later segment with just Rollins were fine and built Lesnar as a threat for the Saudi show (and beyond possibly), but using the opening bit to essentially re-run the Dolph Ziggler angle from Smackdown was really quite lazy. As for Rollins, he fought Sami Zayn in the main event in a match that was very good but no-one seemed to have any idea why they were wrestling. So that was somewhat annoying.

The rest of the show was a bit of a chore to get through. Shane McMahon vs Lance Anoa’i was designed to further Shane’s feud with Roman Reigns, and I suppose it did that to an extent. Becky Lynch and Nikki Cross vs The IIconics was an odd one, and I can only assume they will build to Cross vs Lynch via Alexa Bliss based on this. That said, it was nice to see the Women’s tag champs on TV, even if it was in another losing effort. The 24/7 stuff with R-Truth was actually quite fun for what it was, although I think they could and should still do more with the gimmick. Bray Wyatt had another excellent week with the Firefly Fun House, although I do think they need to consider paying this off soon. There were hints that they are moving towards something with “The Fiend” and some of the dialogue from Abbie the witch, so maybe that’s on the way. While it’s sad to see that Rey Mysterio is injured and has to relinquish the US Title, I am interested to see where this all goes next week. The number one contender match for the Universal title was better than it looked on paper, and I’m actually weirdly up for Corbin taking on Rollins for the belt. Finally, Cesaro and Ricochet gave us easily the best match of the night, and while it won’t have meant much in the grand scheme of things it was certainly a reminder of what both men are capable of.

Slammer jabber may 31 5A lacklustre show, but that’s been going on for a few weeks now. Hopefully next week’s show, as a go-home for Super Showdown, will be better.

Smackdown

Slammer jabber may 31 6It’s fair to say that the 24/7 title has been a mixed affair so far. It has provided a few fun moments, but it hasn’t been a hugely focused upon part of the shows so far. However, on Smackdown it had a far more central role and that really helped the flow of the show this week, as well as highlighting the title. Elias winning the title from R-Truth was a nice moment for the former Drifter, but his match alongside Drew McIntyre (acting as Shane McMahon’s goons) against Roman Reigns and R-Truth was a really fun main event. However, the best thing was the post-match with Reigns helping Truth regain the title, which gave the fans something extra to cheer about even if it shows that this is very much a lower midcard belt and it is beneath the likes of Reigns. It’s true, but this was maybe more blatant than necessary. Still, a fun angle, even if it was just filler to build towards Reigns vs Shane in Saudi Arabia.

Slammer jabber may 31 7Kevin Owens and Kofi Kingston looked to be done after the attack on Kofi by Dolph Ziggler last week, but lo and behold we got a show opening promo battle and then a match between the two. I’m not complaining, given both are excellent, but I do wonder if this was originally intended to take place in Saudi Arabia given Owens is reportedly not making the trip. Either way, this felt like the blow-off to the feud with Kingston getting the decisive win.

The rest of the show was eventful if not a little below par compared to recent weeks. Carmella vs Mandy Rose was nothing special, while Bayley and Lacey Evans put on a very creditable TV match. I am baffled by the decision to split up the growing partnership between Lacey and Charlotte with the finish and the post-match angle as these two looked like they could be very good together. Finally, Heavy Machinery interrupted Daniel Bryan and Rowan to challenge them for a future tag title shot. I’m not super high on Heavy Machinery, but there are so few tag teams on the blue brand that it makes all the sense in the world to go to this programme.

Slammer jabber may 31 8A better show than Raw (not a massive achievement), but it still felt a bit sluggish. On a side note, where on earth is Shinsuke Nakamura? He seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth in recent weeks. Such a waste of an incredible talent.

Moxley to NJPW - Jericho podcast

While Jon Moxley was making waves in AEW, he also started making waves internationally over the weekend. A few weeks back New Japan Pro Wrestling began running promos for a debuting superstar who would be targeting Juice Robinson and showed a mystery man carving a symbol on a bar, wearing a leather jacket and generally being a badass. Many were thrown by the appearance of a union jack on the sleeve of the jacket and thought Chris Brookes or Chris Ridgeway might be the person in question, or even a returning David Finlay. However, NJPW this weekend announced that the man in question was Moxley, and he will be at the Best of the Super Juniors Final. In previous similar scenarios, NJPW has had mystery performers show up on the event they are teased for, but given Moxley has gotten so much traction and so much buzz by turning up at the conclusion of Double of Nothing it would make sense for NJPW to capitalise on that momentum. Apparently, Moxley is signed to AEW full time but allowed to take outside dates and NJPW happens to be one such commitment, but this has understandably fuelled the rumours that New Japan and AEW have some sort of working agreement. For now, NJPW still appears to be working with ROH, but you have to imagine that in time NJPW will want to pair up with AEW, and it would be a logical move for both companies, much like the relationship with NJPW and WCW in the 1990s. Interesting times, and it will certainly be interesting to see how Moxley does in Japan.

Slammer jabber may 31 9In other Moxley-related news, he made quite the statement on Chris Jericho’s podcast this week as he went into detail on his experiences and frustrations with WWE and the creative process within the company. It’s certainly an engrossing listen, and Moxley definitely appears to have had his struggles within the WWE system. His struggles also seem to track with what others have said after leaving the company. That said, I would caution anyone listening to consider the context of the interview. Moxley, playing an anti-authority babyface loose cannon and arguably AEW’s hottest star talking about the competition on the podcast of fellow AEW top star Chris Jericho. AEW is very much positioning themselves as the good guys fighting against the evil empire, and this context is important when you consider Moxley’s remarks. I don’t think it devalues what he says in the slightest, but I am always sceptical of wrestlers because they are so often “on”. Regardless, its enthralling stuff, and I recommend everyone has a listen.

Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at NXT Takeover XXV, Raw, Smackdown, a look ahead to Super Showdown, plus whatever else breaks in the meantime. Until then, 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.

Photos: WWE.COM/@AEWRESTLING

 

Tom Mimnagh is Screenjabber's Wrestling Editor and a Contributing Writer to the site. He's a lover not a fighter (unless you’re having a pop at John Carpenter), a geek extraordinaire, raconteur and purveyor of fine silks. He also enjoyed Terminator Genisys more than the average person (as in, a bit), but don’t hold that against him.

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