Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This past week has been a sombre one, with the sad passing of a former WWE performer, as well as the sudden loss of a respected wrestling journalist. In addition, we had the usual episodes of Raw, Smackdown, NXT and AEW Dynamite, with the latter two building to their next big supershows, in AEW's case this weekend. Let's get started with the immeasurably sad news regarding Shad Gaspard.
RIP Shad Gaspard
The most heart-breaking news broke earlier this week as former-WWE superstar Shad Gaspard lost his life in tragic circumstances. Gaspard had been swimming on a recently re-opened California beach with his 10 year-old son and according to reports they were caught in an unexpected riptide and while Gaspard heroically managed to push his son towards safety, he himself was swept away. It is truly shocking, and Gaspard deserves all the praise in the world for saving his son, but it is impossible not to feel devastated by Gaspard’s tragic death.
Shad Gaspard’s WWE career was probably not quite the memorable success it should have been. After a stint on Tough Enough, and then a turn in Ohio Valley Wrestling, Gaspard alongside JTG was a part of the Cryme Tyme tag team on and off for a large part of the 2000s. His eventual heel turn on partner JTG never really took, and Gaspard would disappear from WWE television in 2010. However, he would go to be a success in his own right outside of pro wrestling, writing his own graphic novel, working as a screenwriter and taking on various well-received acting roles.
Inevitably Shad Gaspard’s legacy will mostly be from his final moments on this planet. He sacrificed himself to save his son from death and that should absolutely be celebrated. The outpouring of love and sadness from the wrestling community shows how respected and well-liked Shad was, and what an unbelievable tragedy his death was, aged just 39. RIP Shad Gaspard.
RIP Larry Csonka
In further sad news this week, noted wrestling journalist Larry Csonka passed away suddenly. Csonka might not initially be a name you are familiar with, but chances are if you’ve read a wrestling review online in the past two decades Csonka wrote it. He consumed wrestling and wrote about it in a way that no-one I have ever seen has managed to do, and he seemed to be a really good person to boot. Csonka had some health issues in recent years that led to part of his leg being amputated, but he dealt with all of his challenges with such positivity it was hard not to root for him, even though I never met the man. Csonka is survived by his wife and two children and I would urge you to consider helping them, and reading his story here. RIP Larry.
Smackdown + Raw
This week’s WWE main roster TV was mostly pretty uneventful. But we’ll cover the broad strokes. On Smackdown it was all about the Intercontinental title tournament. Elias and Baron Corbin had a better than expected bout with Elias advancing to the next round, while Daniel Bryan beat Drew Gulak in a fine match before they two embraced (more on that shortly). Dana Brooke had a decent match with the criminally under-utilised Naomi, while Charlotte Flair confronted Bayley and Sasha Banks ahead of the champion vs champion match next week, further stirring the pot between Sasha and Bayley. Finally Otis and Braun Strowman took on The Miz and John Morrison in a fun match, with a post-match tease of Otis cashing in his briefcase, although not anything substantial just yet. This could be a fun story leading up to Otis’ eventual cash-in if WWE have patience enough to play the long game with it.
Over on Raw, Seth Rollins had a busy night. Following his attack on Rey Mysterio last week, Rollins explained his actions only to be interrupted by Humberto Carrillo, leading to a match between Murphy and Carrillo which was so-so. Aleister Black would make the save after the match, and he would also face Murphy later in the show. After Kevin Owens returned with the KO Show, and reintroduced Apollo Crews, they would have a very short match with Andrade and Angel Garza. When Crews and Owens got the win, this set up Crews vs Andrade for next week, and led to Zelina Vega, Andrade and Garza blaming Austin Theory and kicking him out of their group. Theory would remain at ringside during Black vs Murphy, which led to Seth Rollins recruiting him for his group, and again teasing friction with Murphy. Theory is a much better fit with Rollins and co and adds some much needed reinforcements while AoP are MIA (not Misfits in Action). I enjoyed the way these two stories played into each other, and it all interlinked nicely.
The opening segment with Randy Orton and Edge felt like it picked up straight were last week went off the air. I’m not sure labelling this possibly “the greatest match of all time” is wise though. Charlotte Flair vs Ruby Riott was fine, but unspectacular. The use of Bobby Lashley and cementing his affiliation with MVP was well handled, and he looked great destroying R-Truth (that Pretty Ricky shtick needs to be binned off immediately, although his continued call outs of Tom Brady are amusing).
Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross vs The Iiconics was about as good as you could expect until the DQ, and seeing a harder, more aggressive edge to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay was very welcome. Not sure about the slap backstage afterwards though. King Corbin and Drew McIntyre put together a satisfactory main event, but the real story was Lashley watching on, presumably setting up that match for Backlash. Shayna Baszler and Natalya in a submission match was something different, which these shows are crying out for. It made Shayna look strong and the post-match with Natalya having a strop hinted that there may be a character change in the offing. Finally, The Street Profits and The Viking Raiders took part in a series of axe throwing segments, which while silly were a nice change of pace from the rest of the show.
Drew Gulak no longer with WWE
Despite appearing on Smackdown this past week, it appears that Drew Gulak is no longer with WWE. Reports suggest that Gulak was working without a contract for a while now and when it came to renegotiation he asked for a raise and in the current circumstances they were unwilling to grant it. Gulak has raised his stock significantly in recent months with his programme, and then alliance with Daniel Bryan, and their embrace on Friday suggests that this was two friends saying goodbye. Gulak will not be short of work, and I’m sure the likes of NJPW, AEW, NWA and countless others will be interested in his services, especially as he has no limitations on when he can appear. For Gulak he might choose to return to WWE once there is more money on the table, but for now he is in a very strong position as a free agent, arguably coming off the best run of his career.
This week’s AEW Dynamite was all about the last-minute push for Double or Nothing on Saturday. The show-opening match with Jon Moxley taking on Number 10 from The Dark Order was a hot way to start the show, and although Moxley won, you could see 10 is a higher level than the other Dark Order creepers, perhaps on the same level as a Stu Grayson or Evil Uno. The post-match was well executed and showed that Moxley is willing to do whatever he needs to, but that Brodie Lee is just as ruthless.
Darby Allin and PAC both had very strong videos on this show. The latter fed nicely into the Orange Cassidy vs Fenix match. That bout was fine, but OC’s gimmick is not suited to an empty arena. The segment with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Arn Anderson did more to build up Cody Rhodes vs Lance Archer for DoN than any face-off between those two would have done. Kris Statlander and Hikaru Shida vs Nyla Rose and Britt Baker was OK, but the injury to Baker hampered things and there were too many sloppy spots for my liking. Shawn Spears challenging Dustin Rhodes helps fill out the card for Saturday. MJF berated and belittled Marko Stunt en-route to a win, further hyping his match with Jungle Boy on Saturday night. Finally, the Sammy Guevara and Matt Hardy put together an entertaining main event, but the real story was the brawl with The Inner Circle and The Elite as the show went off air to set up their Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing.
A decent go-home show given the continued circumstances.
Over on NXT, it was a busy night all around with so much happening. The show opened with Karrion Kross and Scarlett Bordeaux squashing an enhancement talent before Tomasso Ciampa returned and revealed he would face Kross at the next Takeover. This was not unexpected, but it’s a very strong first programme for Kross and a win over Ciampa would absolutely establish him as a main eventer in NXT.
The interim cruiserweight title tournament continued, with El Hijo Del Fantasma and Akira Tozawa having a very solid outing. Weirder was perhaps Tozawa being beaten up by some masked men in the parking lot later in the night while Fantasma watched on. Presumably this is linked to the abductions by other masked men a few months ago that still remain unexplained. Drake Maverick upsetting the odds and beating Kushida later in the night also set him up to take part in the three-way with Jake Atlas and Kushida to determine the winner of Group A.
Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher set up a rematch in a cage, presumably at Takeover, via pre-recorded videos. Mia Yim vs Santana Garrett was a squash in Yim’s favour but the interruption after the match by Johnny Gargano and Candace LeRae, with Keith Lee making the save continued to build towards a mixed tag match between these four. On paper it could be a really electric encounter with all four working really well in their roles at the moment. Shotzi Blackheart’s video with her tank was weird. Good weird though. Roderick Strong vs Dexter Lumis was too long for my liking, but Lumis continues to come across well and the aftermath with Undisputed Era and Velveteen Dream suggests the Cole/Dream programme is not necessarily over.
Finally, Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley tore the house down with a cracking main event that did plenty for both women, only spoiled by the lack of a definitive winner. Charlotte Flair causing the DQ was logical and continues the set-up for the three-way at Takeover, but I would have liked to see a winner between these two as it is far more interesting than anything involving Charlotte who is somewhat overexposed at the moment.
A busy show, maybe too busy, but with plenty of things to get excited about and lots of hooks to tune in next week.
Double or Nothing Preview
Finally this week, we look ahead to AEW’s Double or Nothing PPV on Saturday. It’s hard to get excited about a PPV under the circumstances and I’m sure this was a big blow to AEW given DoN was one of their biggest events in 2019. As far as the card itself goes, they have done everything they could to make it feel like a big deal, and there a various programmes that have piqued my interest, and I’m genuinely unsure what match will go on last. If I was a betting man I might suggest Cody Rhodes vs Lance Archer will fill that spot. It is easily the most anticipated match on this show, has high stakes attached, and Mike Tyson will be presenting the winner with the TNT Championship. Archer has been superb since he came in, while Cody has been well presented in the babyface role, although there are definitely hints being dropped about a Cody heel turn in the near future. The match should be hard-hitting and Cody has proved that for the most part he can deliver on the big stage in AEW, although I think Archer takes that title.
Jon Moxley vs Brodie Lee for the AEW title feels somewhat rushed, although the build over the past two weeks has been good. I can’t see Lee winning the belt so soon, but I could see this programme being extended beyond this first match. Equally, the Stadium Stampede match feels a bit out of nowhere, but the whole Elite vs Inner Circle feud has been in a holding pattern for a while now and I suppose this could operate as a blow-off with the planned Blood and Guts match seemingly off the table for now. That said, I imagine it’ll be a wild brawl with lots of unusual, fun spots and plenty of bizarre moments as they work their way around a football stadium.
The Casino Ladder match should be fun, and Darby Allin feels nailed on for the win unless the TBA in the match is someone completely unexpected. MJF beating Jungle Boy seems like a foregone conclusion and any other result would squander the momentum MJF has accrued since beating Cody at Revolution. Likewise for Nyla Rose and Hikaru Shida. If they are building Rose as a monster, I don’t see her losing here. Kris Statlander vs Britt Baker could be fun, but I wonder if it’s still happening if Baker injured her knee on Dynamite. Private Party vs The Best Friends will certainly be fast-paced, and with a few comedy spots I’m sure, while Dustin Rhodes vs Shawn Spears feels like it’s been thrown together, even with the personal jabs from Spears this week.
A mixed bag of a card overall, with some super anticipated matches on the top end of the card, but quite a bit of filler on the lower end of the show. Hopefully AEW have a few surprises lined up because this is currently somewhat overwhelming on paper. We shall see what they put together on Saturday night.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with any big news from Double or Nothing, Raw and Smackdown, NXT, AEW Dynamite, and probably some more general thoughts, 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.
All images courtesy of WWE/AEW