Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week there has been a bit of hype and build for WWE and their Money in the Bank show on Sunday night, which we'll preview, while AEW looked forward to Double or Nothing. Meanwhile New Japan Pro Wrestling have been taking a different approach. So with plenty to discuss, although also almost nothing to discuss (such is the paradox of the time we are living through), lets dive right in to WWE's TV from this week.
Smackdown & Raw
I won’t dwell on last Raw and Smackdown too much, because quite frankly neither were particularly eventful shows. Both operated as go-home shows (or thereabouts) for Money in the Bank, but the lack of audience, the sterile nature of the shows and the general lack of hype and momentum for these episodes make it a hard watch.
On the blue brand, Daniel Bryan and Baron Corbin had a fine TV match, Sheamus squashed Leon Ruff and they teased a feud between the “Celtic Warrior” and the soon-to-be-returning Jeff Hardy. The Forgotten Sons vs The New Day was pretty unremarkable, and I’m still not sure I really see the potential in Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler. Carmella getting a spot in MITB over Mandy Rose as a result of Sonya Deville interfering was a surprise, even more so with Otis beating Dolph Ziggler for a spot in the match. I was sure we would get the two in Sunday's insane match together, but apparently not, unless they do something last minute on Smackdown this week or on the show itself. Finally, Bray Wyatt cut a promo from the Firefly Funhouse where he continued to play “mind games” with Braun Strowman. I have to admit I’m not really feeling this programme, and I’m not massively invested. Nothing has been bad per se, but it just seems a bit lacklustre.
On Monday night, much of the show was taken over with filling the empty spot in the Money in the Bank match on the men’s side of things. WWE have really overdone the gauntlet gimmick over the past few years and without the crowd present it really loses something. The match was fine, with Bobby Lashley getting over as a monster before getting himself DQ’d and leaving Humberto Carrillo to battle Austin Theory and Angel Garza, only to end up as a sitting duck for the returning AJ Styles. “The Phenomenal One” was buried at Wrestlemania in the boneyard by The Undertaker and many wondered how long it would be before he returned. WWE needs the star power for definite and AJ certainly makes things slightly more interesting.
The rest of the show was OK, but not particularly memorable. Buddy Murphy vs Drew McIntyre was a passable main event that could have done with a bit more time, although in combination with Seth Rollins’ promo earlier in the night, it did enough to build some interest in Rollins vs Drew for the WWE title at Money in the Bank. Charlotte Flair vs Liv Morgan provided a nice spotlight for Morgan while also putting over Flair ahead of her big match with Io Shirai on NXT (more on that in a bit). The show opening segment with MVP, Nia Jax, Asuka and Shayna Baszler was a tiny bit disappointing as it failed to really tell any larger stories beyond the three women being involved on Sunday. Cedric Alexander and Ricochet looked to be building up some steam as a tag team in recent weeks, but that came to an abrupt halt here as Shane Thorne and Brandon Vink picked up the upset win. Although he’s Raw, Vink has something about him that could yield big results in future years. Finally, The Viking Raiders beat The Street Profits in a non-title match as the story of Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins having never beaten their larger opponents, on Raw or in NXT.
Another decent show, but like Smackdown, the lack of an audience makes WWE shows borderline unwatchable as the life has been completely sucked from them. The in-ring action is great, but without that connection between the fans and the performers it feels meaningless.
While Raw and Smackdown may have been immediately forgettable this week, NXT actually featured a few exciting moments. None more than the debut of Karrion Kross and Scarlett Bordeaux. The former Killer Kross made quite the impact (pun intended) after weeks of hype videos and teases, as well as an apparent attack on Tomasso Ciampa backstage, and what a way to debut. The highly produced, apocalyptic-style entrance made for a great visual, and Kross dominated in his in-ring appearance defeating Leon Ruff (who is having a bad week) almost instantly and looking incredible in the process, with Scarlett providing a great contrast to Kross’ brutality. I’m not sure about the lip-syncing, or whether this act would translate to the main roster in front of a big crowd, but for now they are the hottest thing in WWE, at least this week. Let’s hope they continue as they’ve started.
Elsewhere on this week’s show, Adam Cole bested Velveteen Dream to retain his NXT Championship in a really enjoyable bout. Whether Dream was intended to originally win the big one in Tampa or not, or whether the allegations against him (Google it if you so wish) had an impact, we’ll never know. However, Dream’s alliance with Dexter Lumis, who got involved here, is an intriguing odd-couple pairing, and Cole getting the win feels like the right result for the time being.
Johnny Gargano (minus his Rebel Heart theme) vs Dominick Dijakovic was a fun opener, and further solidified Gargano and Candace LeRae as one of the bigger heel acts on the brand. Akira Tozawa vs Jack Gallagher and Kushida vs Jake Atlas were both strong entries in the continued saga of the Interim Cruiserweight championship tournament. Finn Balor cut a promo addressing whoever attacked him, while Cameron Grimes picked a fight with Balor after beating Denzel Dejournette in impressing fashion. This sets up a very exciting match for next week, although I can’t help but feel the idea of Grimes as Balor’s attacker is a red herring. Xia Li vs Chelsea Green was a nothing match, but it set up a potential alliance between Green and Aaliyah, who has a pre-existing grudge against Li. Finally, Charlotte and Io Shirai put together a belter of a match before Flair got herself disqualified. Although I’m not a huge fan of non-finishes this did keep Shirai strong without having to do a title change. Rhea Ripley returning afterwards was a nice touch, and the ensuing friction with Shirai nicely lays the groundwork for a three-way down the road.
A very strong episode of NXT, it still suffers from the lack of an audience, but it fared far better creatively than Raw or Smackdown.
With Double or Nothing approaching, AEW have had to get their act together and start putting some programmes together for their PPV, while still keeping things ticking over in the feuds that are somewhat on hold until the company can put on their planned “Blood and Guts” match. The main event of the show certainly fell into the latter category with Matt Hardy, in his form of Damascus teaming with Kenny Omega to face off against Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara. This match was all kinds of wild, making use of the whole arena including the area that apparently goes out to the football field that the Jacksonville Jaguars play on. Sammy and Jericho sold being hit by golf carts like troopers, while Matt Hardy changed outfits frequently during the match as though he were regenerating. I do think the “Broken” shtick is a bit old hat now, but this was tremendous fun overall.
The rest of the show was enjoyable, and AEW continued to counteract the lack of a crowd by using wrestlers at ringside. Jon Moxley vs Frankie Kazarian was excellent, and the post-match with Brodie Lee and The Dark Order perfectly sets up Lee as Moxley’s next challenger for Double or Nothing. Cody vs Joey Janela was instantly forgettable. I’m not sure I “get” Janela, if I’m honest. Nyla Rose vs Kenzie Page was a squash to get Rose over further with her various possible challengers at ringside. Finally, Lance Archer obliterating QT Marshall was logical booking, especially after he decimated Dustin Rhodes a couple of weeks ago, but the stuff with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the actual snake all over Brandi Rhodes was a bit off-putting really.
A strong show, lots of fun stuff to enjoy, and a better use of the empty arena than the average WWE show at the moment.
NJPW cancels BOSJ
Covid-19 has had a huge effect on the whole world, especially in Asia. While in some countries things are beginning to go back to normal, in Japan wrestling is way down the list of things that are deemed important and rightly so. As such, sadly New Japan Pro Wrestling has taken the decision to cancel their annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament. From a fan perspective, it’s a shame because it was going to be very interesting to see how the tournament unfolded given Will Ospreay has now moved up to heavyweight and that definitely leaves a vacuum in terms of challengers for Hiromu Takahashi. However, safety of the wrestlers, fans and NJPW personnel has to be paramount and you have to applaud New Japan for taking such steps while still looking after their staff. When NJPW comes back they will have so much good will from fans, and their absence will have only made the product seem fresher and more vibrant.
Finally this week, we have the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV which takes place on Sunday night. Rather than doing a ladder match in front of no fans at the performance centre, WWE have opted for what sounds like a cinematic style “match” akin to the boneyard match at Wrestlemania. Both the men’s and women’s matches will happen simultaneously in what will undoubtedly be the most ambitious things the company have ever attempted in creative terms. The whole thing, with the match starting on the ground floor of the empty WWE headquarters and finishing on the roof is absolutely insane, and I have no idea what to expect. In terms of possible winners, on the men’s side Aleister Black or AJ Styles would be strong picks, while Asuka and Shayna Baszler feel like logical choices on the women’s side. However, with both matches happening at the same time it could be that logic goes out the window. One thing is for sure, this is going to memorable and there hopefully won’t be a monster truck in sight.
The rest of the show is likely to pale in comparison to the main event. Seth Rollins vs Drew McIntyre and Bray Wyatt vs Braun Strowman will likely both be very strong matches, but I can only see both respective champions retaining their titles. Likewise with Bayley vs Tamina, although presumably Sasha Banks will be involved somehow as they sow the seeds of further dissension between the pair. Finally, there is a tag team fatal four-way for the Smackdown tag titles, which I have so little interest in, it’s not worth talking about. I also expect The Street Profits vs The Viking Raiders, and a few other matches to be added before Sunday.
Money in the Bank is a show that will hinge entirely on how well the main event is handled. If done properly and with the correct tone, this could be phenomenal, but without due care and attention it could just as easily be a total mess and shoe-in for worst of the year. Let’s hope it’s more Boneyard than House of Horrors.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with any big news from Money in the Bank, Raw and Smackdown, NXT, AEW Dynamite, and probably some more general thoughts, 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.
All images courtesy of WWE/AEW/ANJPW