Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week was mostly about Fastlane, the final stop for WWE on the "Road to Wrestlemania". Both Raw and Smackdown were chiefly concerned with building up to Sunday's big event, while we also got the news of a sad passing in the wrestling world as well as the upcoming end to another legendary career. However, we'll kick off this week with a very eventful episode of Monday Night Raw.
If last week was all about celebrating Roman Reigns return from his battle with leukaemia, this week was all about getting him right back in the thick of things. The opening segment on the show with Reigns and Seth Rollins was well executed, including a nice tease for a future Rollins-Reigns babyface programme if Rollins beats Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania, as well as laying the table for a reunion of The Shield. The show-long (ish) storyline with the tease of Dean Ambrose re-joining his Shield brothers for one last reunion before he leaves (which curiously they mentioned on-air something that stuck out like a sore thumb) was booking 101, but it was very effective. The guitar shot from Elias looked brutal and having Ambrose sell that later opened the doors for not only an Elias win but the post-match shenanigans with Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin, leading to Ambrose finally coming around to team with Rollins and Reigns. The fist bump made for a very happy moment, something I hope they don’t throw away by having Ambrose turn on Reigns to set up a Mania programme. Simple, but great work nonetheless.
The booking of the Ronda Rousey-Becky Lynch-Charlotte storyline became massively convoluted on this show, with Stephanie McMahon first reinstating Becky Lynch, then making a match between her and Charlotte at Fastlane for the title, only to then back down to Rousey in the main event segment when she claimed not to have vacated the title last week (she clearly did), and to then make the Fastlane match an opportunity for Becky Lynch to get back into the Wrestlemania main event. Confusing, right? However, if you can look past all that, we finally got what this programme needs; a Ronda Rousey heel turn. Her promo ripping the fans was excellent, as was her assault on Lynch, and while the timing of the segment was a bit off and necessitated a backstage interview with Stephanie (as well as a producer accidentally relaying that Rousey needed to hold up her title) I actually think the chaotic nature of this made for a much more interesting segment. It’s far from perfect, but we are slowly getting back to the meat of this story, and hopefully, things can really start pushing forward now that Lynch has the deck properly stacked against her.
Triple H’s promo in response to Batista’s shocking return last week was interesting, if not somewhat unusual. I’m not a massive fan of the worked-shoot concept it feels very Russo-riffic and it doesn’t do it for me. So Triple H referring to Ric Flair by his real name, and calling out Batista as if this was a real beef felt like a misstep. If Batista turns up next week I suppose we’ll be able to see if they continue down this road or if they choose a different tack to build the big match between these two for Wrestlemania. Here’s hoping.
The rest of the show was functional, but ultimately pretty forgettable. The Revival vs Aleister Black and Ricochet was excellent while it lasted, but the cheap finish with Bobby Roode and Chad Gable getting involved soured things somewhat. Natalya vs Ruby Riott happened again. Tamina Snuka vs Sasha Banks was a nice taster for their tag match on Sunday, while Heavy Machinery running the table on a gauntlet of other mid-card tag duos was a nice showcase for Tucker and Otis. The stuff with Michael Che and Colin Jost was pretty insufferable, and I can only assume we have more of this to come between now and April 7th. Finally, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin beat Finn Balor, Kurt Angle and Braun Strowman in a lengthy match that built the heel trio for their match with The Shield on Sunday. The spot with Strowman and Lio Rush was pretty brutal, especially given the size disparity, while the post-match suggests Kurt Angle will be continuing to feud with the heels well past this week’s episode.
A very good episode of Raw as far as the main programmes for Wrestlemania are concerned, and for better or for worse the ball is rolling for the big matches on the red side of things. Further down the card, there was too much fluff on this show for my liking, but none of it was particularly bad, which is always nice.
If you needed further confirmation after Raw that the Becky Lynch,-Charlotte-Ronda Rousey triangle was the main focus going into Wrestlemania, the main event segment on Smackdown should have assuaged any potential doubts. The verbal and the physical confrontation between Lynch and Flair was fantastic, with Lynch cutting a great promo and both women providing a physical aspect to the go-home angle for Fastlane. It was very well done, and although it is nothing new, it helped with putting Rousey on the backburner and refocusing the audience on Lynch and Charlotte.
Perhaps the other biggest development on Smackdown was the shocking change in the US title scene. After R-Truth once again offered out an open challenge for his US Title, Andrade and Rey Mysterio would get involved, but so too would Samoa Joe, who would go on to win the match, in what was a fantastic match between four guys who really deserve credit for all putting in a massive shift here. What’s even more interesting is that Joe made comments backstage vaguely targeted towards John Cena, which hopefully is a signpost for a Wrestlemania programme between the two. Cena and Joe actually started out together in UPW, so there is a great story to tell between these two men and the match would likely be incredible. After missing the past two years, it looks like Joe will finally be getting something significant on the biggest show of the year, which is fantastic.
The rest of the show ticked along nicely. The promo from Daniel Bryan, targeting The New Day, who were in India on a promotional tour, was a nice way to continue that programme for after Fastlane. Bryan would also target Kevin Owens, who did a great job on this show even in his match with Rowan, of getting over as a main event babyface. He hit all of the necessary cues and looked a natural in that role. His response to Bryan got him over as a sort of everyman, and that is a great role for him in this programme. The match with Rowan was exactly what it needed to be, although the interference of Mustafa Ali was an odd addition. Regardless, given the limited time they had to build it, they’ve done a reasonable job of establishing Bryan vs Owens for Sunday.
Ricochet and Aleister Black vs The Bar was another excellent outing for the NXT call-ups, and another big statement win for the pairing. The post-match with Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev, and then The Hardy Boyz getting involved (including Matt Hardy’s vintage shirt) suggested that maybe we’ll get a multi-team tag match in the coming weeks, perhaps to establish a clear number one contender to the champions for Wrestlemania. Randy Orton and AJ Styles had another backstage conversation; presumably just to keep their feud bubbling before it properly starts to build. The Usos promo on Shane McMahon and The Miz wasn’t their finest work, but the resultant match with Miz and Jey Uso was a nice preview of the tag match for Sunday. Finally, Mandy Rose squashed Naomi, only for Asuka to appear setting up their showdown at Fastlane.
A decent episode of Smackdown, with plenty of cogs turning for Fastlane as well as for Mania. The match quality was sensational this week, especially for the US Title, and nothing felt like a chore to sit through.
RIP King Kong Bundy
As has been all too often the case in recent years, this week we got the news that another WWE legend had passed away. King Kong Bundy (real name Christopher Pallies) was a major superstar in the early years of the Hulkamania era of expansion for WWE (then “F”) in the 1980s. Bundy would be treated as a monster, even headlining Wrestlemania 2 alongside Hulk Hogan in a steel cage match, in what was easily the peak moment of his career. Bundy would fall down the card after the Hogan match, working a memorable match with the diminutive performers Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo against Hillbilly Jim and his partners (who were also vertically challenged) Haiti Kid and Little Beaver. It was a very, very different time. Bundy would leave not long after, going into semi-retirement until 1995 when he returned as part of the Million Dollar Corporation, going on to have a match with The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 11, in what was a fairly memorable run, before disappearing back into relative obscurity in late 1995.
King Kong Bundy was an incredibly agile big man, with a distinctive look and a huge personality. While Hogan vs Bundy might be eclipsed by the Hogan vs Andre The Giant match the following year, you could argue that this provided the blueprint for that feud with Hogan working as the underdog who will not quit against the vastly bigger man (although there was, of course, a very personal element to that feud also). One of the big mysteries for me with Bundy is why he never resurfaced in WCW. Given his star power and that WCW were snapping up his contemporaries at the time, and that he was active in 1995 it is stunning that he never made the jump. Perhaps there was more to it, or Bundy was done with the business, but he certainly could have been used by Turner, you would think. Regardless, Bundy was seemingly well regarded within the industry and will certainly be missed by fans and performers alike. RIP King Kong Bundy.
Earlier this week, WWE.com announced that NXT Champion Tomasso Ciampa was going to be forced to undergo serious neck surgery due to an injury, which is a huge blow for both NXT and the main roster. Ciampa looked great on his call up a few weeks back and has been on fire in NXT this year. Tapings have already taken place for NXT for the next few weeks, but presumably with only one set of tapings left before Mania weekend, there will be a scramble to find a “plan b” for the NXT Championship ahead of the big Takeover show in New York on April 5th. It’s a big blow for Ciampa who always seems to have the worst luck, getting injured just when it looks like he is about to ascend to the next level. We certainly wish him well, and look forward to both his return and seeing how the writing team in NXT untangle this issue. They certainly have form for making the best of a bad situation with the Aleister Black injury last summer, and I hope they have something good in mind to reshuffle the pack for Takeover.
This Sunday WWE hosts its final big show before Wrestlemania, with Fastlane. It feels like a slightly disjointed card on paper and I’m not 100% sure what match is likely to main event, but it should give us a much clearer picture of the Mania card once the show is done. From the Raw side, the biggest match on this show takes place between two Smackdown talents, as Becky Lynch and Charlotte face off with Becky needing a win to get into a triple threat at Mania. It will undoubtedly be a fantastic main event, but I wish there was something more at stake for Charlotte, especially as Ronda vs Becky really still feels like the money match. In terms of actual Raw wrestlers, The Shield reuniting against Corbin, Lashley and McIntyre should provide a fun match as well as a better idea of what sort of condition Reigns is in, and what his Wrestlemania programme is likely to be. Kevin Owens vs Daniel Bryan for the WWE title should be an absolute barnburner, but it does feel as though the result is a foregone conclusion. If this ends with Sami Zayn returning and costing Owens the match there will be much eye-rolling.
Further down the card, Asuka vs Mandy Rose should be a decent affair, but again it should be a straightforward win for Asuka. You have to imagine Sasha Banks and Bayley are not losing those belts on the first defence, especially to Nia Jax and Tamina. The Revival vs Black/Ricochet vs Roode/Gable could easily be the match of the night if given some time, while The Usos vs Shane McMahon and The Miz feels like it could, and probably will be the start of the breakup and feud between Miz and Shane.
Fastlane looks like a very good, if not a slightly unbalances, mish-mash of a show. As is so often the case, the in-ring product will be sublime I am sure, but I have my doubts about the booking of this card. Done rightly, this could be a great set up for the next month of TV and eventually Wrestlemania. Done badly, it could create more problems that WWE have to solve in the coming weeks.
Finally this week, a Japanese wrestling legend announced that he would be winding down his career and calling time on his illustrious in-ring legacy. Jushin “Thunder” Liger is one of the most influential junior heavyweights of all time, with a career that is unrivalled within his weight class, primarily in NJPW (even wrestling for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship earlier this week), but also in WAR, CMLL and other international promotions. His series with Brian Pillman in the early 90s in WCW arguably put in place the foundations for the eventual rise of the cruiserweight division within the company, and even the eventual 205 division in WWE now. Liger arguably introduced a whole generation of wrestlers, fans and promoters to a whole new style, and he has become a legend within the industry. As per his press conference earlier this week, Liger will hang up his boots on January 4th 2020 at the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom, which seems a very fitting location and time for such a huge name. He will be sadly missed, although I suspect he will continue to commentate for NJPW, so we probably won’t have seen the last of him yet.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at the continued build to Wrestlemania via Fastlane, Raw and Smackdown, as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. 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.