Hello grappling fans and welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. It's been another busy week with a PPV featuring a big title change, a huge heel turn in NXT, two action packed TV shows, and the announcement of more details of the WWE women's tournament coming this summer. Lets not waste a second, and we'll dive right in with a look at the weekend's action from Chicago, starting with NXT Takeover.
NXT Takeover: Chicago
Despite it looking on paper in the run up to NXT Takeover: Chicago as if this might be a bit of a damp squib of a show, NXT have done it again producing one of the best cards of the year. In the opener Roderick Strong got probably the best reaction of his career so far (which goes to show what a difference those video profiles on his life have made to getting him over) and his win over Eric Young and Sanity certainly seems to be setting him on the right path to get to the NXT main event picture. Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate had probably one of the best matches you'll see this year on WWE TV, and a definite contender for WWE match of the year so far this year. Dunne is an amazing heel, and it surely won’t be long before he's a full time NXT performer but I think the move to put the belt on him (as I predicted they would) allowing the babyfaces like Bate, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews and Wolfgang to chase him makes all the sense in the world. Asuka vs Ruby Riot vs Nikki Cross was very good for what it was, although it certainly felt like losing Ember Moon hurt the dynamic here. Bobby Roode vs Hideo Itami was excellent, and although the result was never in doubt the match being built around the GTS was really well done, and certainly doesn’t hurt Itami in defeat. I suspect we're getting a heel turn from Hideo, which makes sense and could certainly refresh his character. Finally we got the big ladder match pitting DIY against The Authors of Pain for the NXT tag titles, which was incredible from start to finish. This was a real credit to both teams and a match that definitely deserved to headline this card. The result was definitely the right one and sets up AOP to feud with Heavy Machinery, and the post-match was really well executed with the turn by Tomaso Ciampa. To his credit Johnny Gargano made a great go of being the sympathetic babyface in peril having been turned on by his partner and best friend. It was certainly a heavy duty angle, but it was definitely the right way to go and I'm really intrigued to see where this feud goes coming out of takeover. A really good show which really sets up NXT moving forward.
Jinder Mahal, WWE Champion. Yes that is a real thing. As I predicted last week. WWE's expansion into India is to be spearheaded by the first Indian WWE Champion. The match itself was probably far better than it had any right to be, and while Jinder may not be a super worker, he certainly looked good here. Randy Orton did his level best to make Mahal seem a credible threat, and The Singh Brothers took some gnarly bumps from Orton (who had some great facial expressions at the ready) before Mahal got the surprise win. It is a bold move by WWE, but hope they follow through with it and let Mahal have a decent run on top.
Shinsuke Nakamura's debut match was a decent outing with Dolph Ziggler. I'm glad Nakamura got the decisive win, although I certainly wouldn’t have given Ziggler quite as much offence as he got had I been booking this match. Still it was a decent effort, and builds momentum for Nakamura being seen as a big deal, which should help moving forward.
The rest of the card was a fairly enjoyable affair. Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles was a fun bout that lived up to its potential with a finish that certainly left this open for more between these two in the coming weeks. It’s definitely a feud I want to see continue, so I'm happy to see them motoring along with this feud. The Welcoming Committee vs Naomi, Charlotte and Becky Lynch was surprisingly pedestrian, and I really expected a bit more of a tease of dissention on the babyface side, but nothing of note really. Charlotte was barely in the match and Becky Lynch tapped out clean, which was very surprising. I assume we're eventually building to a women’s Money in the Bank match at the PPV of the same name, so I suppose there is a need to build everyone up to make it feasible that anyone can win the briefcase. Finally, we had Breezango vs The Usos, which was a silly but fun match, with Tyler Breeze doing lots of comedy spots with disguises, but it was very enjoyable and it's nice to see something different on the show to break things up.
All things taken into consideration, this was a decent show with no particularly bad matches and seemingly a strand of some sort of reasoning behind all the booking decisions, as well as a memorable end to the show. Can't ask for much more really.
The main event picture on Raw is an odd situation currently. With an absentee champion, the top contenders are battling for the right to face Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire (still sounds ridiculous). However, having five guys involved means there is always someone left out when you pair off the wrestlers into singles matches. This week's predictable pairings had Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns having the same math they always do, which is not necessarily bad but certainly doesn’t bring much freshness to the table. Wyatt's opening promo was strange, and although it led to this match I'm not sure it was all that effective. The interference by Samoa Joe and the save by Seth Rollins made sense, although I liked that Rollins and Reigns were not just happy, smiley friends here and Reigns feeling that Rollins was getting involved where not needed was a nice touch. The resulting main event tag match was enjoyable, although it mostly made me feel like I want to see Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe in a big, well-built PPV match down the line. Again the tease of dissention between the faces was well done, and I am vaguely interested in seeing Rollins and Reigns face off next week, as it has been a good while since they last wrestled so it should be something different especially with the dynamic of both men ostensibly being babyfaces. I enjoyed that Wyatt and Joe were both kept strong as well, which certainly makes them both seem like credible winners of the five way match at Extreme Rules, even if it's unlikely either gets the nod.
Obviously the missing piece of the puzzle from this picture was Finn Balor, who had a fine match on this show with his former Bullet Club cohort Karl Anderson, but it was perhaps his segment with Paul Heyman before the match that was of most interest, as it really set up Balor as the top of the queue for Lesnar, and the probably winner of the match at Extreme Rules. It may be a red herring, but it certainly legitimised Balor in a way few other segments could have done, and made Balor seem like a really big deal. Heyman is just brilliant, and it really shows here why he is so special, and how much he brings to the table. We also learned that Balor will take on Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt in a three way dance next week, which could be a really fun match if booked correctly.
Outside of the main event picture, it was slim pickings in terms of highlights on Raw this week. The debut of "The Drifter" Elias Sampson was handled well, and I thought he looked good as well as helping to move advance the feud between The Miz and Dean Ambrose of the IC title. Matt Hardy beat Sheamus in an average match, which means Hardy was able to pick the stipulation for their match at Extreme Rules, he chose a cage math as the blow off for the longest feud in wrestling history. We got two fine cruiserweight matches, with Akira Tozawa defeating Ariya Daivari and Austin Aries beating Tony Nese. Kalisto and Apollo Crews faced off, as Crews slow burn turn continues to pure apathy from the crowd. It's a shame for Crews because he is clearly very talented, but there is still something missing from the overall presentation, which is hampering him somewhat. Finally, Sasha Banks beat Alicia Fox although it seems the feud is to continue for some reason, while Alexa Bliss dominated Mickie James before attempting to send a message with the kendo stick, until Bayley made the save. It's an odd time for the women's division currently as it feels as though Sasha vs Bayley is the long term programme, but there's indication how they plan to get there.
Not the best show all in all, some bright spots, but that three hours really did drag for me. Some decent build for Extreme Rules, but far too much filler to be considered a good show.
The big angle on Smackdown this week was focused around putting the pieces in place for the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV. The opening segment with Shane McMahon announcing the participants was well done, and they have definitely set it up for a big main event and a great ladder match potentially. Any one of AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens could win match and be a credible MitB case holder. If I had to put my money anywhere I'd suggest we're getting Baron Corbin taking home the case, and he definitely deserves it and fits the mould of someone being groomed as a top star, but not quite at that level just yet. All six made a good case here, and it certainly set things in motion very quickly. The resulting matches, were two very different affairs. Sami Zayn getting the fluke win over Corbin was a nice move, but the beat down certainly favoured Corbin who came out of this looking really strong. Zayn is a great underdog babyface when properly used and I hope WWE are starting to see that rather than using him as the butt of a running joke. The main event with Nakamura and Styles vs Owens and Ziggler was excellent, and a really enjoyable TV main event. This is exactly how you book a Nakamura TV match and the tease going off the air of a dream match between Nakamura and Styles was a great move. Good work all round, and certainly a good move forward form Backlash.
Speaking of Backlash, in more ways than one, we got the "traditional" Punjabi celebration of Jinder Mahal's title win on this show. In fairness it was pretty spectacular, and made Mahal look like a really big deal. I'm not sure where this leaves Rusev, who was angling for a title match at the PPV, but we are getting the Orton rematch, so we'll have to see how that pans out. I'm certainly glad they decided not to immediately flip the belt off Mahal, as while he may not be the best performer ever this is certainly a hot angle in terms of generating interest, be that for better or worse.
The rest of the show flew by, with The Usos and Breezango having two singles matches and a tag title match, which was very much more of the same as Backlash, but very enjoyable stuff all round. Becky Lynch also got her heat back on this show, tapping out Carmella in a tag match alongside Charlotte and against Natalya. It was a good match, but more interestingly it set up a big number one contenders match next week, from which presumably we'll get the building blocks for a women's ladder match and briefcase, as well as a challenger for Naomi at the show itself.
A far superior show to Raw, and a genuinely enjoyable show. I know it seems obvious, but Raw is so hampered by having a third hour to fill that the show feels bloated and overly long, while Smackdown feels fast paced and fresh.
Mae Young Classic
Finally this week, we got an update on the WWE Women's tournament, as announced during Wrestlemania week, and slated for this summer. The tournament has been given the name Mae Young Classic, as a tribute to the WWE Hall of Famer and women's wrestling pioneer. It might have been the Moolah classic, but for the rumours of taking advantage of female wrestlers, and other scandalous activities that there are stories floating around about, and WWE want none of that. It will be a 32 woman tournament taped at Full Sail, where NXT is filmed and will be broadcast on the network much like the Cruiserweight Classic last year, No word on what the winner gets as a prize, or who will be competing but we will bring you more information as and when it is announced.
Well that is it from me, I'll be back next week with a preview of Extreme Rules, plus of all the happenings from Raw and 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.