Hello wrestling fans and welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. After some time off with my newborn daughter, I am back to have a look at an incredibly busy seven days including two big shows from WWE, news on the NJPW G1, Raw, Smackdown, the launch of the NXT UK brand, the sad passing of Vader and more. We'll start this week by taking a look back at NXT Takeover: Chicago.
In some respects, WWE might be better off separating the NXT and WWE shows they tend to do over a single weekend. While I’m sure it’s a great money maker, I do believe that invariably the Takeover specials are more memorable, and of a higher quality overall, and this weekend was no exception. The main event between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa might not have been the best technically executed bout in WWE history, and there were definitely some major logic holes, the emotion from both men and the story they told made for a blisteringly hot main event. Even the finish was set up massively in advance, telling a beautiful story. Ciampa winning was definitely the right call, and this sets them up perfectly for some sort of high stakes rubber match at NXT Brooklyn in August.
The rest of the show was exactly what you expect from the average Takeover show. Ricochet and Velveteen Dream absolutely tore the house down in a superb match, Undisputed Era vs Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan was a sound opener which showcased the chemistry between Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly, while Shayna Baszler and Nikki Cross had a decent women’s match, with an intriguing finish. The only down note of the show was the NXT Championship match between Aleister Black and Lars Sullivan, which was perfectly serviceable except for a couple of pretty horrendous blown spots. Sullivan certainly needs a bit more seasoning before going up to the main roster, but Black feels pretty ready.
A very enjoyable show, with a fantastic main event supporting by a very decent undercard.
Money in the Bank
Money in the Bank is normally the first genuinely important show after the post-Wrestlemania slump, and this year’s edition fit that mould perfectly. There was lots of set-up here for both Extreme Rules in July, but also looking further ahead to Summerslam. Braun Strowman winning the briefcase in the main event may seem like a predictable choice, but that doesn’t make it the wrong one. Strowman is primed and ready, and probably should be the one to beat Brock Lesnar at this stage. However, we’ll have to see how they unfold that, and whether we have to sit through Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar to get to that. It was a well worked, entertaining main event, with some lovely high spots (hats off to Kevin Owens especially), and excellent work all around.
This show did a great job of shaking up the women’s division. Alexa Bliss winning was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, although I felt Becky Lynch, Charlotte, and even Lana all looked really good in this match. Bliss’ involvement in the title match, later on, was also inspired, and while Ronda Rousey and Nia Jax had a really exciting match, especially for Rousey’s first televised singles bout, Bliss cashing in is a perfect solution to a difficult situation. Jax vs Bliss provides a reason to keep Rousey out of the loop for a month (more on that shortly) and fresh for Summerslam. This meant neither Rousey nor Jax having to take a clean loss, and it resets the programme for Rouse chasing the title and lays out a path to having her win it on a bigger stage against a proper heel. The Smackdown women’s title match was also very entertaining until the finish. Carmella is definitely improving and Asuka looked great. Having James Ellsworth return was a great call, but why Asuka was so mesmerised, twice, by someone wearing her coat I do not know. A badly executed finish to a decent match.
The rest of the show ticked along with lots of enjoyable action. Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles had their best WWE bout to date in a fun, but brutal affair that finally brings this rivalry to a close. Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass was a short, but bout but it felt almost exclusively like a showcase for Bryan (probably for reasons that we’ll cover shortly). Elias and Seth Rollins had a superb Intercontinental title match, with Elias unexpectedly matching the breakneck pace of Rollins to great effect, while Bobby Lashley squashed Sami Zayn, hopefully bringing an end to that programme. Finally, we had the poorly received contest between Jinder Mahal and Roman Reigns. Not a great match, but far from awful. However, the crowd in Chicago were never going to give it a chance, which hampered it from the start.
Money in the Bank was a show that had no shortage of engaging in-ring action, but also had developments in storylines and stakes, something sorely missing over the past few shows. There should always be something at stake on a PPV, and this show used those stakes to begin lining up the summer programmes for WWE’s top talent.
With so much happening this week, I’ll keep the look back at Raw short and sweet. This was a huge improvement with better creative than anything since Wrestlemania. Ronda Rousey was booked like a megastar, and the suspension storyline keeps her off TV and special, while Nia Jax and Alexa finish up their storyline. There was a distinct whiff of classic Stone Cold Steve Austin to the booking, and that is no bad thing.
The main event with Braun Strowman and Finn Balor taking on Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin (wrestling in his dress shirt, which is a nice touch) was fun and made for a good main event. Dolph Ziggler vs Seth Rollins was one of my favourite TV matches of the year and hopefully signals that they are spinning Rollins off and into the Universal title picture. Ziggler looked great, and I am more than up for seeing these two rematch next week. Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns had a decent segment to build to the number one contender match at Extreme Rules, although having them team up to beat The Revival seemed a bit unnecessary to me.
The Riott Squad vs Bayley and Sasha Banks was a fine bout, but the backstage stuff with the two former best friends felt a bit familiar, as if they had already done this angle just before Wrestlemania and then dropped the ball on the follow-up? Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy vs Rhyno and Heath Slater, Bobby Roode vs Curt Hawkins, Chad Gable vs Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley vs No Way Jose were all fine TV matches, but utterly forgettable. That’s the problem with a three-hour show, it’s always going to need some filler.
The main focus of this week’s Smackdown was finding a new challenger for AJ Styles and the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules, which was solved by having a gauntlet match. This was another really well-booked gauntlet from WWE, with plenty of twists and turns. Daniel Bryan got some great shine, as did Big E, and the finish of the fall with Samoa Joe protected both men, which was nice. The interference by the Bludgeon Brothers was odd, but as long as they explain it, could provide a nice diversion for Bryan. Having The Miz out next was a stroke of genius and helps continue the quiet build to the two having a proper match at Summerslam (which we all assume they will). Rusev then beating Miz was a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. Of course, Rusev is unlikely to dethrone Styles, but for a B show PPV moving towards Summerslam it makes sense as an opportunity to give Rusev some shine. I look forward to seeing where this goes in the coming weeks.
The rest of the show had plenty of high points. Jeff Hardy’s weird promo suggests Nakamura vs Hardy for the US title is next, which should be a good programme for both men; Becky Lynch vs Billie Kay was very good and keeps up the momentum Lynch had going into MITB. The Bludgeon Brothers vs Gallows & Anderson was decent, but nothing special, while Asuka’s segment with Carmella and James Ellsworth was really well handled and helped Asuka get her heat back from the loss on Sunday. Finally, Sanity made an instant impact in the long-awaited debut laying out The Usos in impressive fashion.
A more-than-passable episode that did plenty to move things forward after Money in the Bank, creating new challengers and fresh feuds as we move into the build for Extreme Rules, Good work from the blue brand.
NJPW G1 Climax
Following on from Dominion (which was amazing by the way), NJPW has started to look forward to the big G1 Climax tournament, which is one of the tent poles of the New Japan calendar. The blocks have thrown up some really interesting matchups, in the A block we have Jay White and Kazuchika Okada as the Chaos teammates are forced to face off. With Hiroshi Tanahashi, EVIL and Michael Elgin in that block as well (among others) there should be some great matches. In the B block, things get really interesting, with IWGP Champion Kenny Omega and his partner Kota Ibushi having to wrestle, Tetsuya Naito having to face his LIJ stablemate Sanada, and Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr both ready and willing to have classic matches with the rest of the field. This might be one of the most stacked G1 lineups in years, but even more so it is one that provides so many possibilities for the lead in to Wrestle Kingdom in January. This could set up Naito to challenge Omega, Naito vs Okada, Okada vs Omega, Ibushi and Omega to face off for the title, or something else completely out of left field. There are so many possibilities, which makes this G1 incredibly exciting. Roll on July.
WWE-Pro Wrestling Noah relationship?
In a small, but potentially significant story it appears that WWE might be doing a bit of co-promotion with a Japanese company, but rather than NJPW, they appear to be dipping their toes in the water with Pro Wrestling Noah. The extent of this relationship is as yet unknown, but Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer is reporting that Hideo Itami, the former Kenta, will be returning to Noah this summer for a show. This might be the extent of things, but with WWE’s recent moved in the UK market (and similar arrangements with the likes of Progress and ICW) this could be an important developing story to keep an eye on.
Big Cass released
Despite wrestling Daniel Bryan on Sunday night, WWE announced on Tuesday that Big Cass had been released. This was, of course, a shocking development given his recent push, but reports have surfaced since that Cass apparently had some attitude issues, including going into business for himself a few weeks back with a vertically challenged impersonator on Smackdown, as well as certain backstage problems. If I’m honest, I’ve never really seen much in Cass, and it doesn’t feel like a huge loss to the roster. As part of a duo with Enzo Amore, Cass had something to offer but as a big man, singles wrestler? Not so much. You can be as tall as you like, but you have to improve your character and your presentation (you definitely can teach that), and Cass really hasn’t kicked on in the ring, so frankly this is probably for the best all around.
NXT UK announced
Earlier this week WWE ran two nights at the Royal Albert Hall (don’t worry, no spoilers here) with the shows due to air on the WWE Network next week. While there were plenty of eventful moments, one thing we can discuss without spoilers is the announcement that WWE will be launching a full UK territory under the banner of NXT UK, with WOS legend Johnny Saint acting as GM for the brand. Tapings are due to begin in a month or so, with multiple nights being taped in various cities around the UK. This is a huge step for WWE, with this presumably being the first example of their global localisation strategy, and it will be very interesting to see how this works out, and whether it is successful. More on this story in the coming weeks.
In sad news, we lost one of the all-time great big men this week with the death of Leon “Big Van Vader” White, aged 63. White had been suffering from all manner of health issues over the past few years, but this was still unexpected, and very sad. Vader had quite the career, starting in the AWA in the 80s after a successful gridiron stint with the LA Rams. In Minnesota, he would hook up with Stan Hansen and have some brutal contests, before going to NJPW where he would squash the legendary Antonio Inoki in a memorable match/angle, and within mere months become the first ever non-Japanese IWGP Heavyweight champion. Vader would make a splash stateside with WCW, having classic encounters with Sting, Ron Simmons, Cactus Jack, Ric Flair and many others, picking up multiple world title reigns and main eventing for five years. However, he may be best remembered for his WWE stint from 1996 to 1998 where he had memorable matches with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Sid among others, often headlining PPVs during the early part of what would become the “Attitude Era”. After leaving WWE, Vader would have stints in AJPW, winning the Triple Crown, as well a few brief returns to WWE, and a couple of short stints in TNA towards the end of his career.
Vader was undoubtedly one of the most agile, capable and utterly believable monsters of the modern era, putting in physical, if not genuinely stiff performances. While his reputation with other workers may have been slightly mixed due to his style, for fans he was always an exciting and unique proposition, especially given his ability to pull out a moonsault or a Vader bomb, or his incredibly brutal looking striking against a variety of opponents. The Mastodon was one of my all-time favourites, and this marks a really sad day for wrestling. RIP Vader.
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.