Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your look back at all the biggest news from the past seven days in the world of professional wrestling. It has been a very busy week with two eventful episodes of WWE TV, some big news about the controversial WWE shows in Saudi Arabia, an exciting video from the former Dean Ambrose and much more. We'll get started this week, as usual, with a look back at Raw from Monday night.
The chief focus on this week’s Raw surrounded Money in the Bank and the first announcement of the competitors in both the male and female matches. The two “Moment of Bliss” segments with Alexa Bliss were pretty standard in terms of booking the competitors. On the male side of things Drew McIntyre shone brightest, and rightly so as the likely favourite to grab the briefcase. Baron Corbin was the butt of the joke having failed in cashing in his briefcase successfully in 2017, although less was made of Braun Strowman also failing last year. Ricochet did fine with the limited amount of microphone time, which is probably for the best as he continues to grow in confidence where his promos are concerned. The tag match that came about from this segment was well put together giving all four some moments to shine, but also provided an opportunity for Drew McIntyre to do a quasi-face turn by lamping Baron Corbin. McIntyre seems like the frontrunner from this bunch based on this show.
On the female side, the segment was lazy and pretty similar to the men in terms of structure, only with Natalya, Naomi and Dana Brooke joining Alexa Bliss in the match. Again, a “preview” was called for, and Naomi vs Alexa was a decent TV match aside from the weirdness with the shoes, but the bookers appear to be on autopilot. The Raw side has certainly thrown up some lacklustre entries into the Money in the Bank ladder match, and although Smackdown would offer some more interesting potential briefcase winners, it certainly isn’t the fresh, star-making line-up for either match that perhaps I had hoped for. There are plenty of possible options that could have made for an exciting bout. Ruby Riott immediately springs to mind. Bobby Roode on the male side. There are countless others.
The big segment featuring Seth Rollins and AJ Styles signing their contract for the Universal Title match at Money in the Bank was pretty well done for the most part. In many ways the amount of time they have to build this match is almost hampering the anticipation levels for it, simply because everyone knows exactly how good a match these two are likely to put on, but the premise of a feud is pretty flimsy. That said, I thought AJ Styles did a very good job of showing some slightly heel-ish traits, and Seth Rollins continues to shine as the top babyface on Raw. Without Roman and Dean he feels like he’s being given the time and space to try and become a top star so here’s hoping that happens. Although, that velcro strapped title is pretty irksome.
The rest of Raw was so-so. The Miz-Shane McMahon-Bobby Lashley stuff was fine, but I am increasingly bored of bland old Lashley, while Miz doesn’t quite seem to have clicked as the fiery babyface. The Viking Raiders vs The Lucha House Party was a dominant squash, and while the former War Machine may have had some name issues, they are certainly being booked strongly. The Usos vs Anderson & Gallows was another match clearly aimed at showcasing The Usos (surprisingly enough, given Anderson & Gallows have refused to sign new contracts). Although the less said about the appalling segment with The Revival and The Usos backstage, the better. No wonder The Revival want out of WWE. Speaking of which, I have no idea why they are losing to Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins, but that happened. Sami Zayn cut another strong promo on the audience, although I do feel they need to progress this character somewhere soon or risk it falling it flat. Rey Mysterio vs Samoa Joe was a fun midcard bout, although it definitely feels like they are foreshadowing Dominick getting involved physically. Becky Lynch cut a terrific promo in the ring, again outlaying the challenge in front of her having to face Lacey Evans and Charlotte in one night at Money in the Bank, while Evans responded with physicality and the two had another heated brawl that did plenty to stoke interest in the Raw side of Lynch doing double duty.
Finally, Bray Wyatt had another cracking “Firefly Funhouse” segment that definitely reinforced the darker elements of this new character Wyatt has brought forward and some interesting hints on where it might go. To his credit, Wyatt is all in on this gimmick and playing it perfectly, and after a second week I am very intrigued to see where it’s all going and if WWE can effectively pay this off in a satisfying manner. There is a bit of the evil version of Doink the Clown about it, and that can never be seen as a negative, so I am definitely optimistic about it so far.
A decent Raw, perhaps with a bit too much going on. There was certainly nothing bad on this show outside of maybe the shaving segment with The Revival. However, it also wasn’t quite the vibrant, exciting build you might hope for going into the first post-Wrestlemania PPV.
Fresh off his heel turn on Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston last week, Kevin Owens was heavily involved on this week’s show, book-ending the episode. The opening promo from Kingston underlined the effect of Owens attacking last week while injuring Woods was a nice way to give Owens some extra heel heat. Kingston turning the tables in the main event segment and putting a beating on Owens (after Owens pretended to interview the action figure of Woods) gave Kofi back some of his heat and continued to stoke the flames of what should be a very exciting rivalry.
The tag division on Smackdown has had something of a rough few weeks, with many of the top teams on the show either being split up in the Superstar Shake-up, or suffering injuries. In another blow this week The Hardys officially relinquished the Smackdown tag titles on this show, as Jeff Hardy has suffered a knee injury that will require surgery. I’m not sure there are even enough teams on the blue roster to make up a tournament, but this certainly provides a headache for the WWE writing team who will need to build a new team worthy of championship gold. It’s also a blow for Matt Hardy who has got himself into phenomenal shape, but I’m not sure he is able for the rigours of a full time singles run given the punishment he has put his body through during his career. The attack by Lars Sullivan, taking out Matt as well as R-Truth who tried to make the save, was another solid piece of booking for Sullivan, although it still remains to be seen when he’ll get a programme of any substance.
The rest of the show was very entertaining, with plenty of exciting in-ring action and decent amount of storyline development. With Finn Balor, Ali, Randy Orton and Andrade announced as the Smackdown entries to the Money in the Bank ladder match, it was less than shocking to see them paired up in a tag match. The booking might be lazy, but the match was a nice showcase for all four men. I’m also glad to see these selections from the blue brand, making it far less predictable who might actually grab the case at the end of the match. Bayley vs Becky Lynch was another very solid TV match, and although it was another loss for Bayley she looked very good in defeat, and still feels like a very plausible potential winner of the women’s briefcase. The post-match with Charlotte attacking both demonstrated how dangerous Flair is and the threat she poses to Lynch at Money in the Bank, but also presumably shows she sees Bayley as a threat. Kairi Sane and Asuka squashed some enhancement talent, and no complaints from me on that. I think squash matches can be a major asset on these shows when used correctly. Finally, Roman Reigns continued to be positioned as the anti-authority figure on Smackdown, which is borderline hilarious. However, Reigns is doing surprisingly well in this position, and much of that is done to Shane McMahon who feels oddly fresh in the evil authority role after a couple of decades as a babyface (mostly). The 2-on-1 handicap match against Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel with Elias as the referee was only going to end one way, but it was well put together and forwarded the feud between Reigns and Shane.
Overall, a fun episode of Smackdown with some solid ring work, big announcements for Money in the Bank, and plenty of storyline development. Unlike the three hours of Raw, Smackdown feels like an easy watch and has even breathed new life into the likes of Roman Reigns and Elias, so long may it continue.
New PPV - Stomping Grounds - NXT Takeover: Nowhere?
With the moving of WWE’s dates in Saudi Arabia (more on that shortly) and a bit of reshuffling, it appears that the company has elected to remove Backlash from its PPV schedule (presumably to avoid the inevitable connection to the ongoing very real backlash against their shows in KSA) and replace it with a new event called Stomping Grounds, in Tacoma, Washington. It’s interesting, given Backlash has been a long running event for WWE, but Stomping Grounds I’m sure will be very much the same show. A rose by any other name, eh?
One knock on from this, as WWE announced earlier this week, is that the next NXT Takeover show originally scheduled for the night before Backlash will still be taking place on June 1st, although no location has been revealed as yet. Could WWE be returning to Full Sail for a Takeover for the first time in many years? Or could Takeover be a standalone event this time? Certainly, we should know more in the coming weeks, but this very much shows how lucrative the Saudi shows are for WWE that they are willing to move around their whole schedule to accommodate them.
We all wondered where Dean Ambrose was off to now he has departed WWE, but it looks like we might have answers sooner rather than later. Now going by his pre-WWE name Jon Moxley, the former Shield-member released a very slick video showing him escaping a prison (sledgehammer subtle imagery there) and embracing some rather hardcore tropes. Moxley has a history of working for CZW and other deathmatch orientated organisations, so the barbed wire may suggest a return there, while some have read into what could be considered clues to Moxley joining AEW for Double or Nothing. These are all possibilities, with a lack of a no-compete clause due to the contract expiring, so the former Ambrose has plenty of options. One thing that is clear is that Moxley has no plans to take a lengthy sabbatical, and whether AEW is his destination or he is planning a tour of the indies, there will certainly be no shortage of suitors for Mr Moxley’s services.
The WWE-Saudi Arabia deal as part of the Vision 2030 programme has been very lucrative for the company, but it hasn’t exactly been a popular decision for all the reasons that have been well documented here, on the news, and even by John Oliver. However, the deal runs for many years, and WWE have shown no signs of wavering, so we better get used to it. This year the company have announced a show for June 7th, back in Jeddah which was the site of the, ahem, Greatest Royal Rumble last year. However, this (as yet unnamed) show will also feature the return of one Bill Goldberg, who hasn’t been seen in a WWE ring since Wrestlemania 33. These shows tend to be chocked full of nostalgia, although in a somewhat cynical way, and with that in mind I’m not shocked to see Goldberg being tapped up, and paid handsomely to attend/squash someone. Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and others are all being advertised, although it will be interesting to see if the likes of Daniel Bryan and John Cena make the trip having previously refused on moral grounds. This is a story that is definitely going to divide opinion, and we will be following closely in the coming weeks.
Brock to retire?
Despite months, and truth be told what is getting on for years of speculation, Brock Lesnar was this week “confirmed” by UFC President Dana White to be retired from MMA. There are a few reasons this is a notable story, with this seemingly removing the possibility of Lesnar leaving WWE for a UFC return, and presumably greatly diminishing his leverage in negotiations with Vince McMahon. However, rumours have since been circulating that Lesnar also plans to retire from WWE within the next twelve months, possibly even at Wrestlemania 36. If so, that will likely prove to be both a huge blow to WWE in terms of star power, but also a massive promotional tentpole for the Wrestlemania card next year. Lesnar is part time, and arguably his effect on ratings and buyrates has diminished somewhat. However, he is still a big part of the mainstream appeal of WWE and I would imagine his farewell from the industry would be a very big deal.
Finally, his weekend Progress Wrestling host their annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament from the beautiful Alexandra Palace in London. Over three days, sixteen men will be whittled down to one who will win a Progress championship shot at a future date, likely back at Ally Pally in September. The field this year is perhaps a bit more import heavy than previous years, but it also makes for a diverse and unpredictable field. Former winner Travis Banks, WWE contracted wrestlers Kyle O'Reilly, DJZ and Trevor Lee, international superstars Daga, Lucky Kid, Darby Allin, Aerostar, Ilja Dragunov and Artemis Spencer, as well as Progress regulars David Starr, Jordan Devlin, Chris Brookes, Chris Ridgeway, Paul Robinson, Kyle Fletcher and Jordan Devlin make up a packed line up with some mouthwatering clashes. It's really tough to pick a winner, although Starr and Devlin have to be considered favourites, but this tournament has historically thrown up plenty of surprises. In addition to the tournament Jimmy Havoc will say goodbye to Progress as he leaves to join AEW, while Walter and Trent Seven clash in a unification match for the Progress World and Atlas titles. Plus much more in what is sure to be three days of fantastic wrestling action.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week as we take a look at Raw, Smackdown, the build to Money in the Bank and whatever else breaks 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.