Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week, we look at the build to TLC with a pretty lacklustre episode of Raw, a decent Smackdown, a big announcement for NXT UK, and one literal and figurative big signing for WWE. Let's start with this week's Raw.
It’s official, we are now in the pre-Royal Rumble slump that has become a yearly tradition for WWE, and boy did Raw feel like a chore to get through as a result. Having Baron Corbin use Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley as his heavies against Finn Balor and Elias didn’t exactly scream creative booking, nor did it do anything to pique my interest in whatever they’re building to with these guys. Honestly, booking Elias vs Lashley and Balor vs Corbin for the 764th time respectively smacked of the annual malaise we’ve all come to expect from the late autumn in WWE-land. I get that having a makeshift heel unit run roughshod is a good way to build to Braun Strowman returning and getting revenge (and a big babyface pop to boot) but it was so, so incredibly dull and painful a route to take to get to that destination. Corbin’s abuse of power storyline is like something out of the season mode in WWE’s 2k games, and not in a good way.
The rest of this week’s Raw was almost as painful to watch. Dean Ambrose did his best with a segment that was really poorly thought out. The immunisation thing was a very odd choice, and although you know the matches between Ambrose and Seth Rollins will be superb, it’s hard to see how they recover the heat of the original turn from here with this direction. I suppose at least it wasn’t using Roman Reigns’ leukaemia for heat this time. The segment with Ronda Rousey, Tamina, Nia Jax, and later Natalya and The Riott Squad was fine, if not particularly memorable. The mentions of Becky Lynch and Charlotte kept them both in the back of everyone’s minds, but I’m still sceptical this ends how it should with Ronda vs Becky at Wrestlemania, but we shall see.
Speaking of the women’s division, Alexa Bliss was appointed GM of the female part of the roster by Baron Corbin, and then set up a hugely nonsensical Q&A segment with Sasha Banks and Bayley, which ended in a failed sneak attack by various heels after they avoided her attempts to drive a wedge between them. It didn’t seem like the best use of her newfound power, although I do like Alexa for this role. I hope this isn’t indicative that her in-ring career is over because she was superb over the past few years, but the fact she’s on the sidelines and it is concussion related may mean we don’t see her in the ring for a while. Still, this is the next best thing. The weird Ember Moon vs Alicia Fox/Jinder Mahal vs No Way Jose segment-running-into-matches thing was an odd choice, and what a bum deal for Ember, going from Braun Strowman to Curt Hawkins as her partner in the Mixed Match Challenge. Seth Rollins vs Dolph Ziggler was fine, but I could live without ever seeing these two face off again after this year. The Lucha House Party vs The Revival was more squash than anything, which was a disappointment. Finally, Bobby Roode and Chad Gable lost to AoP after Drake Maverick went backstage and urinated on Bobby Roode’s robe, causing a distraction. What can you really say about that, welcome to the autumnal slump.
Not a good night for Raw, in fact, this might have been the worst Raw of 2018. There is precious little positive to say and a pretty overwhelming list of negatives. The worst crime though is the continual rematches given the dynamic roster available to them, and yet we get the same bouts week after week.
The Man is back! Yes after an unfortunate injury-enforced absence Becky Lynch has returned to television, and as you would expect she was in red-hot form. The promo she cut was exactly what it needed to be, and although I have issues with the booking of going right back to the Charlotte feud, there is a certain logic to it. Having Charlotte tackle the idea she was emulating Becky was a nice touch and the idea of the two of them in a TLC match makes sense in the circumstances. However, the blue brand once again bucked the trend of opting for the laziest option by having the rest of the women's roster quite rightly stake their claim for a title shot. Why shouldn't they? Asuka once again getting a big reaction made me hope WWE might listen, and in the resulting battle royal, they actually did for once. Having Asuka win the match breathes fresh life into the proposed women's title match at TLC and makes for a very intriguing scenario. Ronda Rousey wants revenge on Charlotte, and she's on the show facing Nia Jax and presumably, you want to build to Charlotte vs Ronda at the Royal Rumble, and Becky wants revenge on Nia Jax and they will want to build to Becky vs Ronda at Wrestlemania (hopefully). The TLC PPV is a great opportunity to get those pieces into place, with Lynch perhaps dropping the title to Asuka here freeing Charlotte to face Rousey at the Rumble (losing and potentially going on to face Asuka again at Wrestlemania), and Becky to win the women's rumble, possibly last eliminating Nia Jax in the process. There are so many directions they could go with this group of women, and it's hugely exciting to see how things unfold, but TLC certainly could be pivotal in setting up the next few months for this division.
The rest of Smackdown was very enjoyable for the most part. AJ Styles promo on Daniel Bryan was excellent and really conveyed the emotion of the situation. Styles' promo ability has sometimes been knocked, but he was excellent here. The Bar vs The Usos was very good and presumably sets up a title rematch at TLC. The "20 years of Jeff Hardy" segment was a bit odd given he was not in the company for a big chunk of that time, but as soon as it started getting going you felt there was something more coming and Samoa Joe did a great job of using this moment to get personal with Hardy and set up a feud there. Kofi Kingston vs The Miz wasn't bad, but certainly, nothing particularly fresh or new, while Rusev vs Shinsuke Nakamura never really started with Nakamura beating down his opponent for some reason, and similarly Randy Orton's assault on Rey Mysterio was again brutal and appropriately unhinged given the story they are trying to tell.
Another functional episode of Smackdown. Nothing was bad, and certainly, everything had a purpose, but aside from promos from the two top singles champions this show was pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of things. That said, it was light years ahead of the efforts of the Raw brand on Monday night and given the time of year they deserve credit for keeping the momentum going.
NXT UK Takeover + restrictions
There has been some big news from the NXT UK brand this week. Firstly, it was announced at the recent tapings that there will be a huge NXT UK Takeover special being aired live on the WWE network on January 12th, from the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. The venue is, of course, a very memorable one which hosted the first WWE UK shows in January 2017 and it makes sense for them to revisit this venue for the brand’s first live special. Having this show will be a huge coup for NXT UK, and given the way their TV show has been going, it should be a superb night of wrestling.
The other big bit of news coming out this week, is that there have been new deals reportedly offered to certain members of the NXT UK roster, although these new deals will apparently prevent those performers from appearing for promotions that WWE does not have a relationship with (so indies who are not Progress, WXW, ICW and select other few) and NXT UK contracted performers will not be able to wrestle on indie shows against ROH, NJPW or WOS contracted wrestlers. Now, of course, there have been major concerns among fans of the Indies due to worries about this gutting shows for likes of Rev Pro or Riptide, but I think it unlikely that will actually be the case. There is so much talent in the UK currently, that there are more than enough brilliant competitors to fill out every card, and this will mean that those who have signed with WWE will be getting bigger paycheques and will still be performing in the UK. With any luck, this will end up being great news for all involved, and even better news for the indie scene rather than the impending destruction that many fear it could be.
Speaking of NXT UK, news broke this week that Progress champion Walter had signed with WWE. The company have been purportedly looking at Walter for some time now, but the “Ring General” had been reluctant to leave his commitments in the UK and as the head trainer at the WXW academy in Germany. However, it would seem WWE have managed to create a deal that was too good to turn down, with reports suggesting Walter will be the centrepiece of NXT UK, allowing him to continue with his existing roles and to avoid touring full time. You have to imagine he’ll end up in NXT proper, and maybe even on the main roster eventually but for now he is certain to be a big part of the NXT UK roster.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Raw and Smackdown, 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.