Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It has been quite the week, especially over the weekend with several massive, high-profile wrestling shows, and then two very busy episodes of WWE TV. So, without further adieu lets get stuck in by looking back at the Evolve 10th Anniversary show from Saturday.
Evolve 10th Anniversary
The first event in a pretty packed weekend was the Evolve 10th Anniversary show. I won’t spend too much time on it, simply because it mostly involves names that many won’t necessarily be familiar with. However, I very much enjoyed the show despite having little prior knowledge of the company beyond a couple of matches here and there. The whole presentation was interesting as it seemed to have a far more serious, sports-orientated feel to it, with video packages and matches rather than much in the way of storylines. That’s not to say it was a dry or lifeless offering, it just felt different which was nice. Josh Briggs vs Anthony Greene was a solid opener, and although he’s still a bit green, you can absolutely see Briggs making the jump to NXT/WWE given his size, look and ability, and the fact he was a big focus later on shows Evolve have big plans for him. Stephen Wolf vs Sean Maluta (who has improved massively since his initial run in the Cruiserweight Classic) vs Curt Stallion vs Harlem Bravado (who looks quite different from his classic Bravado Brothers look) was an enjoyable clusterfuck, Babatunde vs Colby Corino merged into AR Fox and Leon Ruff vs Eddie Kingston and Joe Gacy but both were good additions to this show. Fox’s offence is a little spot-heavy for my taste, but Eddie Kingston is always a welcome sight. Babatunde also seems like someone who could be a big deal for WWE down the line once he’s a bit more seasoned. Brandi Lauren vs Shotzi Blackheart was very physical. Arturo Ruas vs Anthony Henry was nothing special, Adam Cole vs Akira Tozawa was lots of fun and a nice reminder of just how good Tozawa is in the ring. Austin Theory vs JD Drake was excellent, and Theory is definitely one to watch for the future. Finally, in the match of the night Matt Riddle and Drew Gulak had an absolute blinder which if you watch nothing else, you should absolutely check out.
A very solid debut on the WWE Network for Evolve, with some excellent matches and a really great look at the future of the industry. Josh Briggs, Austin Theory, Babatunde, Matt Riddle and many others on this show are likely to be among the biggest names within wrestling in the next five years.
AEW Fight for the Fallen
Going up against Evolve was AEW’s third show, Fight for the Fallen from Jacksonville, Florida. The fact that WWE appeared to be counter-programming AEW was somewhat controversial given AEW’s offering was a charity show. That said, they did schedule it for the same weekend as WWE’s Extreme Rules PPV, and Evolve and WWE have a working arrangement and were running a show in the same city. It feels like an excuse for AEW to push a narrative as the underdogs fighting the evil empire, while WWE probably also are far from innocent in their scheduling here. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of things. Beyond the politics of the situation, AEW were going into this show off the back of mixed reviews for their Fitter Fest show a couple of weeks ago. For me, Fight for the Fallen was a big improvement, even if they still have some teething problems they seem to be failing to address show after show.
The pre-show was a marked improvement on previous efforts, actually attempting to hype the main show rather than having rubbish comedy segments and BTE jokes. The main card kicked off with a hot 6-man tag match with Darby Allin, Joey Janela and Jimmy Havoc against MJF, Sammy Guevara and Shawn Spears. I thought this was pretty well booked and they managed to juggle the various stories with Allin, Spears and MJF especially while creating new ones as well. Having Spears take the win helps continue to build him up for his match with Cody at All Out (assuming that is the direction they are going), while also teasing a feud between Jimmy Havoc and Darby Allin, which could be excellent. Brandi vs Allie was inoffensive, but not massively memorable, although Brandi's character with the pre-match videos is completely incongruous with how she was presented when she came out, which is odd. The post-match face-off with Aja Kong and Awesome Kong was very well done as well and sets up some intrigue for a possible match down the line. The Dark Order vs Angelico and Jack Evans vs A Boy and His Dinosaur was one of my favourite matches on the night. Despite so many moving parts, it was really fun, and the right team went over. However, it became clear from this that Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus could potentially be a hugely popular act for AEW once they get on television week-to-week.
The build for the first-ever AEW World Championship match at All Out kicked into gear on this show. Kip Sabian vs Adam Page was a solid affair that would have benefited from being 5-10 minutes shorter. However, after the match, Chris Jericho appearing in a mask and jumping Hangman Page was very effective, although his rambling promo later in the night was less so. Thankfully Page is a brilliant, fiery old-school babyface and him attacking Jericho and the pull-apart brawl got everything back on track and I’m not more excited about the title match than I was previously.
The top three matches on this show were a bit of a mixed bag for me. The Lucha Bros vs SCU was frenetic and chaotic but in all the best ways. Kenny Omega vs Cima could have been a classic, but again it suffered from being a slight bit too long. Finally, the main event “dream match” between The Young Bucks and The Rhodes Brothers. For me, this match lacked the structure it required to make the whole thing work. For a long match with two teams telling multiple stories, there needs to be an effective framework built in the way the match is booked. Unfortunately, this match lacked that scaffolding, and especially towards the end, it felt disjointed and badly produced. The post-match also seemed unnecessarily self-congratulatory, which when combined with both The Bucks and Cody taking shots at WWE left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. AEW should be above that sort of behaviour, and I hope this is the last time they do that for a while because it cheapens the brilliant show they could potentially put on.
On the whole, Fight for the Fallen was very good. None of the matches were bad, most were very good, in fact. Production issues were minimal, and although the timing at the end of the show was a bit rushed it didn’t impact anyone’s enjoyment of what the company offered. This definitely felt like a step in the right direction, and hopefully, they can build on this for All Out.
WWE Extreme Rules
Although there were NJPW G1 shows over the weekend, with so much wrestling we’ll have a look at those next week in a bit more detail as the gruelling tournament takes shape. With that in mind, the final big show of the weekend came in the form of WWE’s Extreme Rules, and despite one big booking decision that the company caught some flack for, it might have been the best show of the weekend.
The main event itself was better than it probably had any right to be. Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch may be irritating together (as witnessed by their cringe-inducing backstage interview earlier in the night) but in the ring, they put on a surprisingly solid outing with Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans. The result was predictable, but that wasn’t a bad thing and in all honesty, no-one was talking about this match after Brock Lesnar came out after the match and cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and beat Rollins for the Universal Title. It’s not the most inspired booking, but with a shortage of top-level heels hampering Seth Rollins as the babyface champion putting the belt back on Lesnar made plenty of sense, and although I can see why it was viewed negatively by many I doubt this will be a long term situation with this title.
The decision to open the show (if you don’t include the pre-show which you should definitely go back and watch as Shinsuke Nakamura vs Finn Balor and Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese are both superb and really should have been on the main card) with The Undertaker and Roman Reigns vs Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre was unexpected but it certainly paid dividends as the four men offered up arguably the match of the night. Taker looked the best he has in some time, and even in defeat, this did plenty to build up McIntyre.
The rest of the show was thoroughly enjoyable. Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman had a cracking Last Man Standing match which really helped to rehab Strowman, especially with a very creative finish. The Revival vs The Usos was short but solid. Bayley vs Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss was decent, although the finish was pretty surprising and I’m curious to see where the Bliss/Cross story goes from here. The New Day vs Rowan and Daniel Bryan vs Heavy Machinery might be one of my favourite matches in recent memory and made Big E look like a future headline superstar, in no small part thanks to Daniel Bryan. Kofi Kingston vs Samoa Joe was a bit short for my liking, and the finish seemed to come out of nowhere. Kevin Owens vs Dolph Ziggler was more of an angle than a match but made Owens look like a Stone Cold Steve Austin-esque badass. Aleister Black vs Cesaro was intensely physical and just the thing to re-introduce Black. Finally, AJ Styles and Ricochet had a brilliant contest with Styles playing the heel to perfection and Ricochet every inch the underdog babyface undone by insurmountable odds.
Extreme Rules was a long show, but it really didn’t feel like it. Pretty much everything delivered big, most of the booking made sense, and nothing dragged. It goes to show, the in-ring product is not the issue with the product, but when the booking matches the standard of the physical side, WWE can still produce some phenomenal wrestling television.
There was plenty of news to digest coming out of Raw, especially with all the fallout from Extreme Rules. However, no story was bigger from my perspective than the return of one Bray Wyatt. After months and months of Firefly Funhouse segments and then weeks of cameos from the puppets in the backstage area, finally “The Fiend” arrived. After Finn Balor and Samoa Joe had a pretty decent TV match (although obviously not a patch on their NXT outings a few years back), and a post-match scuffle having Finn’s music slow down and the lights gradually go off was a masterful stroke. For Wyatt’s part, he looks incredible in his Fiend gear, and that mask is legitimately terrifying. Everything in terms of the camera angles, the lighting and the production was stunning here and a genuine home run. It’ll be interesting to see how this works alongside Bray’s children’s TV host persona, or if that was just a way to get to this, but either way, this was easily the best part of Raw.
The show was bookended by the repercussions of Brock Lesnar’s cash-in the night before at Extreme Rules. The opening was pretty standard stuff from Lesnar and Paul Heyman. The main event battle royal was pretty decent, although if you were just going straight to the Seth Rollins rematch, I’m not sure this was the most logical way to get there. However, it does quickly put the pieces into place for Summerslam and I can’t complain about a decisive set up for a big event.
The rest of the show was a bit hit and miss. The women’s four-way went far too long and I’m not sure I see the value in Natalya as Becky Lynch’s opponent unless there is more to this story going forward. The Usos and Ricochet vs The Revival and Bobby Roode was an odd set of teams, and although the match was fine (barring being hampered by the continuing 2-out-of-three falls nonsense) it seemed mostly to be a set up for AJ Styles to attack Ricochet, who sold the Phenomenal forearm in spectacular style. Similarly, The Club vs The Lucha House Party was a setup for Ricochet’s revenge and little more. Cedric Alexander beating Drew McIntyre was a nice surprise, although I can only assume McIntyre and The Undertaker is now off the table for Summerslam if this is the direction they are going. The Miz TV segment with Dolph Ziggler was just there, and no-one cared. Zack Ryder vs Mike Kannellis was over before it began it was clearly just set up to forward the story with Mike and Maria Kannellis. The Viking Raiders squashed some more local talent, presumably as they prepare for their first actual main roster feud. Finally, R Truth and Drake Maverick had probably their best segment to date (and hopefully the conclusion of this story before it jumps the shark) on Maverick’s honeymoon.
A decent show overall, but certainly one that could have used some more fresh ideas and maybe some fresh feuds. However, Bray returning, the continued feud with AJ Styles and Ricochet and a decent main event make it an at least passable episode of Raw.
On the blue brand (not that there really is much of a brand split anymore) things got very, town hall heavy? Yes, that’s right, Shane McMahon hosted a town hall meeting with the babyfaces echoing the recent thoughts of Kevin Owens, while the heels cosied up to Shane. It sounds terrible on paper, but it actually worked quite well in setting up various matches across the night. From the segment, we got Liv Morgan vs Charlotte, which was better than I expected and set up a potential character change for Morgan, Andrade vs Apollo Crews which I feel like I’ve seen at least ten times before this week. Kevin Owens stunning Shane after he cut off the microphones of people complaining about him was also a fitting ending to the segment and set up Owens vs Ziggler for the main event. That match went longer than their match at Extreme Rules and Owens not only won in decisive fashion but again got the upper hand on Shane to close the show. Great work all round.
The rest of the show was very busy. The segment with The New Day, Samoa Joe, Elias and Randy Orton seemed designed for Daniel Bryan to make his supposed “big announcement” which he refused to do (as he would again later). However, it did give us a six-man tag and helped position Randy Orton as the potential number one contender for the WWE title after he pinned Kingston. Given these two have buckets of history over the years there is definitely a story to tell in terms of Kingston’s title reign. Aleister Black vs Cesaro was another very hard-hitting affair and that Black Mass to finish the bout was a thing of beauty. The Kabuki Warriors and The IIconics had a good TV match while it lasted, and although the count-out finish was necessary it didn’t hurt Asuka and Kairi Sane particularly, and presumably leads to a rematch at Summerslam. Finally, Ember Moon and Bayley had a very exciting back-and-forth affair with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville with Moon especially shining here (pun intended), with her and Bayley being set up after the match as a Summerslam programme. It’s a smart move to make, given it’s a fresh match and an exciting pairing who should deliver big on the second biggest show of the year.
Overall, this was a very good show. Perhaps even one that had too much on it. There was lots to unpack, but it felt urgent and exciting from start to finish.
I’m not saying it’s a quick fix, but it looks like next week’s Raw will be a “Raw Reunion” special with a pretty incredible line-up. Currently slated to appear are Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Kurt Angle, Ted DiBiase, Christian, Jimmy Hart, Jerry Lawler, Santino Marella, The Boogeyman, Shawn Michaels, D-Von Dudley, and Eric Bischoff. Hopefully, WWE has plans for all of these stars and it won’t be just backstage tedious segments for everyone like at the Raw 25th anniversary. With Austin involved, and Kevin Owens using the stunner as a finisher I could definitely see those two having an interaction, but beyond that who knows. It’s certainly a statement of intent to announce it over a week out, and it should be very interesting indeed.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at Raw and Smackdown, as well as 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.
Photos: WWE.COM & @AEWRESTLING