Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling in the past seven days. It's been a hugely busy week, with episodes of Raw and Smackdown that continued the build to Money in the Bank, a big announcement for WWE UK, and more. However, we'll start off this week with the biggest story of possibly the whole year, the rights fee for Smackdown and the deal with Fox.
Smackdown TV rights
Of course the biggest story this week is the news of Fox picking up the rights to Smackdown, in a deal reportedly worth $1 billion over 5 years. Yes, you read that correctly. This, of course, follows on from the news that NBC Universal would be retaining the rights to Raw, albeit at a significantly increased fee, and as such would be allowing other networks to bid for the rights to WWE’s blue brand. However, no-one would have guessed that Fox would offer such an enormous amount, working out to roughly $4million dollars per episode. The result of this is that WWE experienced a huge spike in their share price, as well as putting them on track for one of, if not the most financially successful year in WWE history. I would highly recommend you check out Chris Harrington’s Twitter feed and his Wrestlenomics podcast, as he goes through this deal and the specifics of it in far more detail than I would ever even begin to be able to, as well as the ramifications of this huge deal for WWE in immediate terms and the knock on to their international expansion in the coming years. Whatever way you look at it, this is an enormous deal for WWE, and a huge coup in terms of stature and mainstream exposure, with the company now sharing a network with huge hitters like the NFL, NBA and countless other highly respected entertainment and sports broadcasts. For WWE, this is arguably what they have always wanted, and when you combine this with the Vision 2030 deal with the KSA, WWE has perhaps never been in a better position.
This week’s episode of Raw was perhaps not the most inspiring edition of WWE’s flagship show (while it still is, given the Fox deal that might change in the coming months). The opening segment with Stephanie McMahon, Kurt Angle, and Roman Reigns was another misstep in the booking of Reigns who is not the right person to be booked as the underdog babyface, undermined by the authority. The impromptu match with Kevin Owens was fine, although this is a combination I could do without seeing again for a while. The interference from Jinder Mahal made sense in the context of his feud with Reigns, but having Seth Rollins make the save was something I was not entirely pleased to see. It’s not that Rollins isn’t a logical babyface to put in this scenario, he very much fits the bill, but he is so over with the crowd that it seems a dangerous move to try and use him to get Reigns over rather than letting Rollins shine on his own. The tag match was fine, with Reigns working as the babyface in peril and Rollins getting the hot tag for the win, so pretty standard stuff. The post-match with Mahal also pretty much confirmed this was not a one-off, but hopefully, it’s a move towards Rollins moving up to the main event scene rather than Reigns piggybacking Rollins’ hard-earned respect and adoration from the audience. Still, that was almost a third of this show to try and get Reigns some momentum leading into his bout with Mahal at Money in the Bank, which will undoubtedly be poorly received by a rabid Chicago crowd.
The contract signing between Ronda Rousey and Nia Jax may have marked one of the few examples on record where such a segment did not end in violence. However, you could argue that perhaps some physicality might not have been the worst idea as this segment had less heat than it perhaps should have and far too much involvement from Stephanie McMahon. I appreciate Stephanie’s role here was to stir the pot and eventually get Jax to display some more heel-ish mannerisms, but it was far from ideal. That said, both Rousey and Jax did enough to garner some interest and some heat for the match at Money in the Bank, so this did what it needed. It will be interesting to see how they build this in the next few weeks, and whether Jax flops back to full-on heel rather than her recent inspirational babyface character, or if they will opt for babyface vs babyface.
The rest of Raw ranged from woeful to forgettable. Braun Strowman vs Finn Balor was a strong main event, but it felt a bit cold given the lack of build, but it didn’t harm either man in the grand scheme of things. The Sami Zayn- Bobby Lashley segment was abysmal and may well have been one of the worst segments in Raw history, played out in front of a near-silent crowd, despite Zayn’s best efforts to save it. If I were Bobby Lashley I would certainly wonder if I should have stayed in TNA. Ember Moon vs Alexa Bliss was a very enjoyable TV match, even if in a few weeks it will likely be a distant memory, likewise Dolph Ziggler vs Chad Gable was very enjoyable, although I wonder if this might lead to a returning Jason Jordan making the save for Gable, given the post-match attack by Drew McIntyre. Both Baron Corbin vs No Way Jose and Elias vs Bobby Roode felt like filler encounters in feuds that are destined to continue endlessly, and needlessly. Natalya’s win in the Money in the Bank qualifier was well executed and certainly positioned her as a strong babyface, even if the post-match interview possibly foreshadowed a future heel turn. Finally, The B Team got another win, beating Breezango and their post-match celebration may have been the best thing on this week’s show. Honestly, if WWE isn’t careful they might have an accidentally huge babyface team if they keep this up.
Not the most creatively satisfying episode of Raw, the post-Wrestlemania lull has very much come into full force. There are some fairly big issues that WWE need to address creatively, especially where Roman Reigns is concerned. Hopefully, the plans for the summer should start to firm up after Money in the Bank, but until then we look to be in for more of the same.
In the same week where Smackdown was optioned for the largest rights fees in WWE history, the blue brand put on a very enjoyable effort that blew its Monday night rival out of the water. With Big Cass injured, we were treated to an unexpected dream match between Daniel Bryan and Jeff Hardy. I hadn't even considered that this was an option when Bryan returned, but it was very exciting. Bryan winning was certainly the right call, but I would definitely recommend going out of your way to see Hardy vs Bryan. The post-match with Bryan and Samoa Joe, as well as the backstage interview Joe did with Renee Young, did a great job to build the match between the two for next week, and the stakes for the match in terms of Money in the Bank.
The rest of the show was very fast paced and made the most of every segment, which makes a nice change. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles had a decent segment, and hopefully, the reveal of the last man standing stipulation for Money in the Bank means we are getting a definitive winner. This was a nice brawl and helped heat up a feud that really is overdue a final blow-off. Gallows & Anderson vs The Usos was a very enjoyable tag match and did a good job of rehabbing the former Bullet Club members to face the Bludgeon Brothers. Lana vs Billie Kay was a fairly average affair, and it feels like a bit of a waste to have Lana take the spot in the ladder match. Naomi vs Sonya Deville was a fairly enjoyable affair from two very capable performers, while Andrade "Cien" Almas had another impressive squash over a local competitor. Finally, The Miz had a very fun segment with The New Day, which teased the reveal of which member of the group would be competing at the PPV, without actually doing so, and leading to a nice showcase match for Big E, even if it ended in a loss for him. Something that should stand him in good stead for when the group does actually break up.
A very enjoyable show, and with the stacked roster you can see why it attracted so much interest in terms of TV rights. As a television prospect, Smackdown is very much the "A" show at the moment, and this week was no exception.
If you’ve been wondering where Randy Orton has been for a week or two, it was revealed this week that he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. While it is a fairly minor injury, Orton is far from crucial on Smackdown at the moment and his return, likely around July/early August should provide a nice boost to the roster, as well as keeping Orton healthy, which seems like a win-win.
PPV lengths increasing
In the past week, Sky Italia revealed they will be moving the timeslot in Italy for Money in the Bank an hour earlier, fuelling speculation that WWE will be elongating the duration of their PPV shows going forward. While WWE has not commented on these rumours it seems likely that they will be doing just that, if nothing else because they still have to get all the key programmes from each brand onto their now co-branded monthly shows, rather than having two single-brand shows. My fear is that this means that monthly shows go to four hours, and the big shows then end up at Wrestlemania length, which is often somewhat too long. We shall see.
WWE UK Tournament - new competitors announced
On Friday WWE announced the final eight competitors to join the line-up for the upcoming WWE UK tournament. The participants added include Progress Champion Travis Banks, Flash Morgan Webster, Jordan Devlin, Tucker, Drew Gulak, Ashton Smith, and James Drake. While Drake, Devlin and Tucker have appeared previously for WWE UK in the inaugural tournament, and Webster has appeared on 205 Live recently, this will mark the first appearances for Banks and Smith for WWE UK, and Gulak outside of the 205 Live brand. As additions, these men really add something excellent to the field, and while I can't see any of them unseating Pete Dunne as WWE UK Champion, Banks, Webster, and Drake all seem good choices to go far in the tournament.
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.