Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week, we have some big developments from Raw and Smackdown, a preview of the huge Evolution show on Sunday and more. However, there is nowhere else we could start things off this week than the devastating news involving one Roman Reigns.
No story this week compares in scale to the news that Roman Reigns has had to relinquish his WWE title and take a leave of absence due to being diagnosed with leukaemia. It was not a well-known fact that Reigns had previously battled the condition over a decade ago, forcing it into remission in 2009. However, its return has forced him to walk away from the squared circle for the time being. While we’ll deal with Raw in more detail in a moment, I wanted to single out Reigns for his candour, honesty and composure during what must have been a very difficult moment for him. Whether you love Reigns, or you’d rather boo him, you cannot dispute his in-ring ability and his star status, and this must be a huge blow for Reigns on a personal level. The videos that have emerged since the announcement from backstage, and the outpouring of support from the wrestling world goes to show the regard with which Reigns is held, and I honestly hope he comes back better than ever and gets the deserved mega babyface push that will befit such a triumphant return. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with Roman as he faces this huge battle.
Although it is, of course, secondary to the health and well-being of Reigns, this does leave WWE in an interesting position. With the Universal Title vacant, and Braun Strowman vs Brock Lesnar now set for the vacant title at Crown Jewel (more on that later) there is still a big hole in the main event scene, although perhaps the booking of the end of Raw was designed to help push towards a new, big main event feud.
While the Reigns news was the big talking point from this week’s show, the main event had a great storyline twist that few saw coming. The match pitting Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler vs Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins seemed like a foregone conclusion, given the emotions that were running high with Reigns, seeing his Shield brothers win the tag titles seemed like a slam dunk, and it very much was. However, seeing Ambrose turn on Rollins just moments after the two won the tag titles, and on the one night it seemed impossible they would pull the trigger on the expected Ambrose turn, was just masterful. No-one saw it coming, and while it capitalised on the mood on the night, it walked a tightrope of successfully avoiding being tasteless. The turn was so well handled that it couldn’t have gone much better. Ambrose as a lunatic, badass heel with Rollins chasing is a great hook for the coming months. However, I believe that Rollins/Ambrose could be the Wrestlemania main event if handled properly given how personal it is. Do WWE have the patience to wait that long, with Rollins chasing and having to win the rumble to get his hands on Ambrose? That remains to be seen, but it certainly feels like WWE made the most of the situation they are in, without going as far as exploiting it, and that’s good creative booking. It does beg the question of what happens with the tag titles now, but hopefully, WWE has a plan in place for the belts in the coming weeks.
Honestly, the rest of the show was a bit of a blur in the circumstances. The Elias face turn was a bit unexpected but given the reactions he’s been getting it’s hardly surprising, he really is that good. However, his match with Apollo Crews was less good, but it’s hard to put that on Elias. The segment with Paul Heyman and Braun Strowman was effective, especially given it was presumably re-written at short notice and helped set up the revised title match between Strowman and Lesnar for Crown Jewel.
The Nikki Bella-Ronda Rousey contract signing was a nice segment and definitely increased my interest in the match between the two on Sunday. Speaking of Evolution, the four-way match and the Bayley vs Ruby Riott bout were clearly put in to push the show, but I’m not sure how much interest these throwaway matches will have added to things. Finn Balor vs Bobby Lashley was a decent TV match, but it definitely suffered from having to follow the Reigns announcement. Finally, the Degeneration X promo was nothing particularly noteworthy until the pre-recorded interruption by The Undertaker and Kane. This is by far the best use of these two, and while it hasn’t lit the world on fire, this feud almost doesn’t need much promotion, given the stature of the competitors involved and the big angle they set off at Super Showdown.
A very good episode of Raw all in all, although the very real struggle ahead for Roman Reigns, as well as the scripted conflict between his Shield brethren dominated proceedings this week, despite this ostensibly being the go-home show for Evolution. However, in the circumstances, I can’t fault WWE for their approach here.
Perhaps it was all in the emotions, but for this week Smackdown was definitely the number 2 show out of WWE’s TV properties. It's not that it was a bad show, far from it, but it didn’t pack quite the same punch as Raw. The main event of Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton was very good, but it lacked the context and heat of the bouts a few months back. It was a nice advert for the “world cup”, as was Shane McMahon’s promo to give it the big push, although his response to the “CM Punk” chants was very amusing. The Miz and Rey Mysterio (after the obligatory Miz TV segment) had a more than serviceable match, which again showcased both ahead of the tournament in Saudi Arabia (providing it goes ahead there), a tournament I can very much see Miz winning.
Normally, I would be critical of WWE for booking the same match two weeks in row, but the match last week, and the return bout this week between The Usos and the unlikely pairing of AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan have both been excellent and a great platform for the WWE title feud going into Crown Jewel. While the two babyfaces have yet to come to full-on blows it’s simmering away nicely with the miscommunications in the matches with The Usos and I imagine next week we’ll get the big blow-up between the two on the go-home show.
The rest of the show was fine, but maybe not quite as recent episodes of Smackdown. The opener with Big Show vs Kofi Kingston was a nice follow up to last week’s heel turn, but I’m not sure how much I am enjoying the new faction of Show and The Bar, but it's their first week together so let’s give them some time to gel as a unit. The big angle for the women’s division ahead of Evolution was well handled and made Asuka look strong, and relevant for the first time in weeks. However, that presumably means she’s not winning the battle royal on Sunday, and frankly she deserves better than even being lumped into that match. Finally, we saw the footage from the incident between Becky Lynch and Charlotte from the performance centre, as reported by the NXT Twitter account earlier in the week, which was brilliant. Given their careers became entwined during their time in NXT, it makes so much sense for that to be a part of the build to their huge last woman standing match at Evolution.
A very functional episode of Smackdown that was very much business as usual. It will rightly be overshadowed by this week’s episode of Raw, but there was lots of good stuff on this show, even if it was not necessarily the most spectacular wrestling show ever.
Crown Jewel to go ahead
After much speculation on WWE’s card in Saudi Arabia and whether it will go ahead on November 2nd, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has reiterated this week that the company plans to go ahead with the show. It’s been plagued by controversy, from the cynical scheduling so close to the all-women’s PPV to the show taking place given the current major spotlight on KSA, but for better or worse it’s going ahead and WWE will have to take the flack that goes along with that decision.
For a few years now WWE has been championing the women's revolution that they have been pursuing, with multiple firsts including an all-women’s Royal Rumble, a women’s Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber and much more. However, this Sunday brings about WWE’s first attempt at an all-female PPV, with Evolution. The card itself feels like a mixed bag on paper. The two big main event matches feature two pretty personal feuds. First, the match that likely will headline the show, Ronda Rousey vs Nikki Bella. Honestly, I’m really not overly excited about this match. Bella seems like a throwback to an older time before the level of women’s talent was raised massively, and Rousey has gone from really special to slightly underwhelming. It’s not on her that is very much down to the booking rather than Rousey herself. I can only see Rousey retaining, simply because any other outcome makes no sense.
The match that absolutely should main event this show but probably won’t is Becky Lynch vs Charlotte. This feud, despite some booking snafus, has built brilliantly, chiefly due to the huge performances of the two women involved. Becky, in particular, has shone in her new badass role and deserves all the credit in the world for grabbing the opportunity given to her with both hands. That said, Charlotte has been really underrated in the nuanced performances she has given during this feud. I hope that Becky retains because I would love to see where she can go as champion, but I suspect Charlotte will be taking the victory.
For me, the match most likely to steal the show is the finals of the Mae Young Classic, with Toni Storm vs Io Shirai. Honestly, these are two of the most exciting wrestlers of any gender, in the world right now and this would be the main event pretty much anywhere in the world. I fully expect the two to tear the house down before Storm takes the win and WWE strap the rocket to her.
The rest of the show should be very good, but ultimately not that memorable. Bayley, Sasha Banks and Natalya vs The Riott Squad will be a fine bit of mid-card fodder, but probably nothing more notable than a longer version of the TV matches these six women have been having for months now. Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship should be very good, but I suspect Sane retains, possibly with Baszler having some involvement in the main event given her history with Rousey. Trish Stratus and Lita vs Alexa Bliss and Mickie James will have some nice nostalgia but I can’t see it delivering anything too memorable. Plus Lita’s moonsault always worries me, and both she and Stratus have been out of the ring for some time now. Plus, Bliss might not even be competing if the rumours of her concussion are to be believed. Finally, we have the battle royal, which I hope WWE use an opportunity to make a new star rather than just have Asuka or Naomi get the win.
So that’s Evolution, and whether it will be a good show or not? Well, that’s a mystery for now. Whether this is the line in the sand of not for the division, remains to be seen, but I hope this show is a massive success given the talented roster involved.
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.