Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week, at least for WWE it has pretty much all been about Crown Jewel happening this Thursday in Saudi Arabia, which is not without controversy. As such WWE had two big episodes of TV focused on hyping that upcoming show, while NWA continued their stellar run on Youtube with Powerrr. There was also some major controversy that erupted around NXT superstar Jordan Myles and a highly offensive T-shirt design. Due to time constraints, this week there will not be coverage of AEW Dynamite, but next week we'll double up with Dynamite coverage and a preview of Full Gear. Let's kick off this week with a look at this past week's Smackdown from Friday night.
With Crown Jewel less than a week away, Smackdown put in their final big push for the event taking place in Riyadh on October 31st. Much of the attention was on Team Hogan vs Team Flair with members of both teams getting physical on the show-opening episode of Miz TV. There was nothing to write home about, but it did lead to a really quite good television main event as Roman Reigns, Ali, and Shorty G (who against all odds might actually make this ludicrous gimmick work for him based on this) took on Shinsuke Nakamura, King Corbin and Cesaro (who was subbing in for the “injured” Sami Zayn). This was really excellent work from all six and made Ali and Gable seem like they were on the same level as Reigns in the process. Roman giving Ali the nod to finish the match and take the win was a nice rub, and again did lots for Ali who continues to impress whenever he is given the ball to run with. A nice top and tail for the show with some decent build for Crown Jewel.
Much of the rest of the show was just there really, with a lack of truly memorable moments. Lacey Evans squashed a local competitor through some devious actions. Kalisto vs Drew Gulak was nothing more than a backdrop for Braun Strowman to once again get involved and build his match with Tyson Fury. The New Day vs Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode was solid, but the match (and what happened afterwards) again just existed to give a preview of the tag team turmoil match happening on Thursday night. Nikki Cross vs Mandy Rose was a nice way to continue to consolidate Cross as the main female babyface on Smackdown given the lack of other options. Brock Lesnar's segment with Rey Mysterio, Dominick and Cain Velasquez that ended with him giving an F5 to Cain was pretty effective. Finally, Daniel Bryan had a very intriguing segment with Michael Cole, which was interrupted by Nakamura and Zayn who essentially offered to join forces. Bryan didn’t indicate what he planned to do, but this is clearly leading to a big return of the “Yes” movement although hopefully incorporating some of Bryan’s more recent character development when we get the full babyface turn in the coming weeks.
A decent, but instantly forgettable Smackdown. This show was fine for the Crown Jewel hype, but didn’t offer much else. This was of course reflected in the ratings which plummeted this week, although some of that can be attributed to the show being moved to FS1, but it is still alarming for WWE and Fox and I would expect once Crown Jewel is out of the way there will be a renewed focus on making this the “A” show.
Much like the blue brand, the big focus for Raw this week was on Crown Jewel, but in a somewhat different way in the main event segment. Rusev and Lana in a special “Divorce Court” segment was utter silliness, and although I wouldn’t say it was good, I also enjoyed it far more than I expected to. It was pure soap opera punctuated by violence. Obviously, Bobby Lashley got involved and things got physical with Lashley and Lana standing tall to close the show, which sets up Rusev for wanting revenge as part of the Team Hogan vs Team Flair bout. It won’t have been for everyone, but I thought given how this angle has been progressing, this wasn’t all that terrible.
There were some very interesting developments this week with the women’s division, which is probably for the best given that at the time the show was broadcast we were all under the impression that there would be no female performers on the show in Saudi Arabia (more on that in a bit). The Kabuki Warriors opened the show with a memorable segment with their former manager Paige, which ended in her getting mist in the face. With the status of Paige’s neck that is about as much as they can do with her in terms of a physical angle, although her selling could have been better. Becky Lynch making the save set up a most enjoyable encounter with Kairi Sane, and although Lynch getting the win is not what I would have gone with, it certainly gave Sane and Asuka a big boost. Becky’s new T-shirt is bloody awful though. Elsewhere, Charlotte Flair and Natalya looked like a very solid tag team unit against The IIconics.
The rest of the show was pretty jam-packed. Humberto Carrillo got another showcase against AJ Styles, following his Universal title match seven days earlier. He looks like a real prospect, but he is definitely in need of some work on his personality in front of the camera. The Street Profits making the save after the match was a good use of Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford after they did basically nothing else on this show. Seth Rollins and Rowan had a falls-count-anywhere match that was a passable brawl using the old Mankind-The Rock-Halftime Heat finish with the forklift to preview Rollins vs Bray Wyatt at Crown Jewel. Buddy Murphy vs R-Truth was solid, and although the focus during the match was diverted to the 24/7 title. It did end with Murphy victorious. Andrade vs Sin Cara was superb, and these two have great chemistry. It was interesting to see Sin Cara add a manager in the form of Carolina (recent NXT signee Catalina Garcia under a mask), to his presentation to neutralise Zelina Vega although it is difficult to know whether that was a one-off of she will be part of his act going forward. Still, it added an extra layer to this bout and it was one of the better things on this show overall. The Viking Raiders squashing some enhancement talent dressed up as the Chicago Cubs is some sort of baseball reference that was lost on me, but the match was pretty brief. Finally, Drew McIntyre and Ricochet had a rematch from last week that was very creditable, and both men again shone here. However, the ridiculous RKO and even more ridiculous sell from Ricochet to end the match in a DQ will be the abiding memory of this match, it was incredible and I recommend you seek it out.
Not a bad Raw per se, Everything moved at a rapid pace, the in-ring action was good for the most part, excellent at points and nothing dragged. Yet, this all felt like it was bogged down in the mire of Crown Jewel, and the sooner that show is out of the way, the sooner we can focus on the separate brands building their individual identity and moving forward with the brand extension.
Crown Jewel preview
When WWE goes to Saudi Arabia (as they will continue to do for the next eight years as part of the Vision 2030 deal they signed with the General Sports Authority of KSA) it’s seldom without controversy. Much of that stems from Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, their stance on LGBT rights, women’s rights and of course the more recent scandal involving journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, if you view these shows in isolation, they’ve still been less than stellar due to a largely unenthused audience even with many big-name stars on the shows they have presented. Let’s not even get into the whole Undertaker-Bill Goldberg fiasco from earlier this year. However, these shows are hugely financially beneficial to WWE and with that in mind they tend to stack them with pretty big cards, and Crown Jewel is no exception.
The two biggest matches on the show involve perceived outsiders to the WWE Universe taking on established WWE superstars. Brock Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez for the WWE Championship is certainly one of the more intriguing elements of the event. With their history, it feels like this has been built largely as a semi-faux-MMA match and that might be what we get. Equally, with Velasquez having done some Lucha libre for AAA prior to signing a three-year deal with WWE I could see the big spot in this match being Lesnar taking a hurricanrana or Velasquez doing some sort unexpected move. I certainly don’t see the WWE title on Velasquez, although it would be a hell of a statement. Perhaps Cain loses here in some screwy fashion and they build to a rematch at Wrestlemania.
Similarly, I’m very interested to see how Tyson Fury and Braun Strowman get on, given Fury is a non-wrestler and Strowman, while excellent, is untested in carrying lesser opponents. I imagine it will be a highly structured contest, with some sort of mutual respect deal after the bout. Still, both matches should provide something of a spectacle and that is pretty much what this show is all about.
The rest of the show is a so-so affair. Seth Rollins vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a falls-count-anywhere match that “cannot be stopped for any reason” is intriguing but I still feel WWE have booked themselves into a corner here. Either they beat Wyatt and stunt his momentum, or they put the belt on Wyatt but since he has been drafted to Smackdown that creates another problem. I smell another non-finish here, or at least Rollins beating Wyatt and then the former “Eater of Worlds” getting his heat back almost immediately. However, that paints Wyatt as the babyface and Rollins, once again as the heel even though he is ostensibly a good guy. It’s a mess, and hopefully, they move on past this and can rehab both men once this show is out of the way.
The tag team turmoil match should be enjoyable, but the stakes are pretty low with a mere trophy on offer, while Mansoor vs Cesaro will likely be fine, but unspectacular with Mansoor presumably winning for the home country-pop. The battle royal and subsequent US title match against AJ Styles for the winner is hard to call, but given the field, I can only really see Buddy Murphy, Humberto Carrillo or maybe Cedric Alexander getting the nod, but whoever wins Styles likely gets a decent match out of them before he retains. Team Hogan vs Team Flair should be fun, but ultimately nothing memorable really and I’m just happy we’re not getting Flair vs Hogan in an actual match (although keep an eye out for the inevitable face-off and punch spot between the two).
Finally, and most unexpectedly we are getting a women’s match, which is pretty historic and unprecedented. So of course, WWE having the option of using Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss and many others, have gone for the stellar combination of Lacey Evans and Natalya. Sigh. It’ll be solid enough, and it should be given how many matches they’ve had but I certainly have not got much in the way of interest in this bout. Still, it is history, and it’ll make a good pub quiz question in the future.
That’s Crown Jewel 2019, a show that will probably look very good, not necessarily deliver a lot, and anger a lot of people. Hopefully, I’m wrong and this is excellent, and we can then move on to focus on Survivor Series.
ACH/Jordan Myles controversy
One of the bigger stories of the week, and possibly something that is likely to run and run over the coming months involved Jordan Myles AKA Albert Hardie, who some fans will know as ACH from his time in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Myles tweeted out a picture of a T-shirt design that WWE had made for him a month ago, which either by ignorance or design was incredibly offensive as it featured Myles’ ring name in white in the style of teeth inside a bright red semi-circle on a black T-shirt, which to anyone with an ounce of common sense was an immediate red flag as it conjured an image of the racist minstrel/blackface characters of years gone by. Myles, understandably angry, also posted a series of messages from WWE execs who signed off the shirt and implicated that he was told Triple H had signed off on the design, while Triple H told him that he was told that Myles had requested the design. In addition, WWE confirmed that they had removed the shirt design at Myles’ request a month ago and redesigned it after the situation was brought to their attention. Myles would go on to take shots at ROH for alleged racism, even pointing a particularly offensive slur towards Jay Lethal, before taking further shots at the alleged prejudice of WWE’s entire structure.
There’s a lot to unpack there, and if I’m honest I suspect there is more going on here than we know. The T-shirt is incredibly offensive and not ok in any way. Those depictions of African Americans were hugely damaging and it feels unlikely that no one in WWE spotted the obvious issue with the design, unless it was possibly approved on a different colour shirt initially. We can speculate, but only those involved know what happened. For Myles, he is clearly, and understandably frustrated and I don’t think you can blame him for feeling that way and there are definitely things within the company, or even the industry that needs to be addressed to prevent BAME performers feeling marginalised, stereotyped or ridiculed by companies who should know better. It is 2019.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Myles, there have been suggestions in some quarters that perhaps he is going through some personal problems which is why it took him a month to bring up the shirt (which WWE believe was an issue they had already resolved, not that this is any kind of excuse). However, WWE is not unlikely to want the bad press of parting ways with Myles, nor is it easy to see how they can work together from here. Jordan has offered some semblance of an apology for his comments, although more for the form they took than the content, which again seems completely fair on his part. I imagine this story will continue to run and there will be more to come from this in the next few weeks, but for now, I’m not sure what to expect from WWE and Jordan Myles and whether there is a way back for that relationship.
Finally, I wanted to just discuss briefly the first four episodes of NWA Powerrr. At first glance and after week one, arguably this show looked like it was based on a throwback gimmick with studio wrestling operating as a way to present something different but without having any new ideas. However, after four episodes, I think we can safely say this is not a gimmick. Billy Corgan and the NWA have created something refreshingly unique. The matches and feuds feel organic and simple to follow. The match quality is often better than you would think considering the roster. Characters like Colt Cabana, James Storm, Eli Drake and Nick Aldis feel fresh in this environment. Aron Stevens (the former Damien Sandow) has reinvented himself, while young performers like Ricky Starks and Thunder Rosa have already made an impression.
There is just something about this, and perhaps it’s the one-hour runtime, or the presentation, but it has quickly become the most essential and most engrossing hour of wrestling that anyone is creating anywhere at the moment. I also enjoy that the audience isn’t trying to get over, or be “smart”; they cheer the babyfaces and jeer the heels. There are no “Fight Forever” or “Both these guys” or “This is Awesome/Wrestling/insert company name/delete as appropriate” chants. This really does help and makes this feel so much more earnest and, frankly, entertaining. If you aren’t watching Powerrr every week, you are missing out. Things are taking shape, and now is a great time to get on board with the best hour of wrestling week in, week out.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown, the go-home for AEW Full Gear and whatever else breaks in the meantime. Until then, 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/NWA