Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It has been a hugely historic week in the wrestling world with the first head-to-head between AEW and NXT, WWE had their season premiere of Raw (which acted as a go-home for the Smackdown on Fox show, although we'll be covering that next week), and news broke about the sad passing of a former WWF superstar. Let's get started by taking a look at the Wednesday nigh war. Spoilers ahead, you have been warned!
Well, the Wednesday night wars got off to a hot start this week with both AEW and NXT putting on cracking shows. For AEW this was a huge show and they hit it out of the park for me. As a product it looked different from WWE, it felt fresh and vibrant and it had plenty of top quality in-ring action. The opener with Sammy Guevara and Cody Rhodes was fast-paced and really set the tempo from the off. MJF vs Brandon Cutler was more of a showcase for MJF as a future top heel than anything else. Riho vs Nyla Rose was an excellent David vs Goliath contest, and the post-match got Rose her heat back while also teasing the possibility of some intergender matches in the future after Kenny Omega made the save. PAC vs Hangman Page was pretty solid although it didn't quite work for a stretch in the middle. It was interesting to see PAC go over, as he is clearly being positioned for bigger things and Page is presumably back off to the mid-card for a while till they can build him back up for a future main event run. Finally, the main event was frenetic, and it felt like a big deal. Having Jon Moxley take Kenny Omega out with a brutal spot with a glass table was memorable (should probably have been a DQ, really), although I felt it distracted from what was an excellent bout. The Young Bucks had some nice moments with Santana and Ortiz, as well as Chris Jericho but the real story was what happened after the match. after things got a bit crazy, and we got a big debut with Jake Hagar AKA Jack Swagger joining forces with Chris Jericho, the former LAX and Sammy Guevera. Having the heels stand tall at the end made all the sense in the world and it was a strong ending to a hot show. For Hagar, he will look huge and it might be a real grab for AEW as he should be able to blend in well with an athletically strong roster.
Overall, this was a strong start for AEW. The show had a little something for everyone, it felt distinctive, the commentary felt fresh but reassuringly familiar with Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Excalibur meshing really well. It wasn't the, ahem, explosive start that many hoped for. However, it was sensibly paced, set up plenty moving forward and it felt like something that I want to watch net week. Job done for AEW.
For those wanting to watch AEW in the UK, there has been an update on the TV deal. ITV have now amended their schedule so that the full two-hour show will be available on ITV Hub from 7pm on Thursday evenings, with a replay at 11.20pm on Fridays, plus their 8.20am Sunday morning showing. There will also be an additional highlights show on Monday nights on ITV at 11.45pm. This is huge news for the UK, and while it is still not quite as good as what AEW had initially promised it is far better than what had been offered only a week ago, so this is massive progress for AEW on ITV.
On the flip side, NXT put on a very strong show to go up against AEW for the first time. Opening the show ith the NXT Championship was surprising, and a real statement of intent. Adam Cole and Matt Riddle had a tremendous back-and-forth contest and although I suspected we might get a title change it would become clear later on why we didn't have that. Still, this was excellent and Riddle lost nothing in defeat. Having the re-debut of Finn Balor after the match was a huge moment and it's a major boost to NXT as a whole. There are so many options for major matches for Balor, and it got a huge reaction from Full Sail. However, Balor would not be the only surprise. After The Undisputed Era retain their belts in a really enjoyable tag title match against The Street Profits (in what was presumably their NXT swan song), Cole came out to celebrate only to be confronted by the returning Tomasso Ciampa. This is huge for NXT and Ciampa is a very welcome addition to the roster. He looked in great shape as well. Johnny Gargano vs Shane Thorne was an entertaining TV match, while Candace LeRae vs Shayna Baszler was fantastic, even if the result surprised me somewhat. Pete Dunne vs Danny Burch was short and seemed to exist to introduce Dunne's programme with Damian Priest. Finally, Io Shirai and Mia Yim had a decent match, but if anything this was designed as a showcase for Shirai.
This week's episode felt like a Takeover-level show and NXT definitely showed that they mean business as they go up against the new kids on the block in the form of AEW. In the end, the real winners here are the fans who get two brilliant shows every week. Competition is great for everyone, and this week certainly proved that.
In a week with so much else happening it would be easy to forget that Raw had its big season premiere on Monday. With the flashy new set and the return of big pyrotechnic displays, this marked a major shift in the way Raw was presented. Everything felt bigger and more important. The show opening angle with Brock Lesnar, Rey Mysterio and Dominick was electric and a fantastic bit of booking to get a chaotic show-long storyline underway while also putting Lesnar over as a wildman ready to bring the war to Kofi Kingston on Friday’s big Smackdown show on Fox. The upshot, of course, was that Mysterio was unavailable for his scheduled Universal title match with Seth Rollins in the main event. We would get an answer to who would replace him in a roundabout fashion in the form of Rusev. After Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair got into a verbal scuffle it was announced that they would be acting as coaches for two 5-man teams that are facing off at Crown Jewel on October 31st, with Rollins acting as Hogan’s captain and Randy Orton as Flair’s. Of course, this ended in violence with Orton revealing Baron Corbin as his first pick for his team only for Rusev to make the save as Rollins suffered a 2-on-1 beat down, leading to the posedown with Hogan and Rollins alongside the newly certified US Citizen, Rusev. As we would find out, Rusev had a motive for getting involved, leading to him being slotted into the main event. The match between the two wasn’t really a factor because Lana returned with Bobby Lashley of all people, kissing on the ramp while Rusev looked on dejected. This led to Rollins being attacked by The Fiend, with Bray Wyatt putting an exclamation mark on the build-up to their Hell in a Cell. If that all sounds manic, it’s because it felt that way. Lots happened on this show and it all fell into one big, urgent story with many branches. I’m not a huge fan of Rusev-Lana-Lashley angle, but hopefully, Rusev will move on to bigger and better things quickly. A big storyline, a major return, an effective go-home for Smackdown and Hell in a Cell, as well as the start of the build for Crown Jewel II.
The rest of the show was mostly very good. Sasha Banks vs Alexa Bliss was enjoyable, but the finish didn’t make Bliss look great. Becky Lynch, who was on commentary, getting involved afterwards was a nice tease for Sunday without giving too much away. AJ Styles vs Cedric Alexander and Gallows & Anderson vs The Viking Raiders were both fine matches but felt a bit cold on a mostly very hot show. Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode vs Heavy Machinery was a nice showcase for the champions and the challengers respectively. Lacey Evans vs Natalya was fine but unspectacular and sadly I think that rivalry will be rumbling on. Finally, Ricochet and Cesaro had the match of the night, although it felt a bit meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Plus Cesaro’s new gear is really odd.
Overall, a very strong show. Lots of good in-ring action, plenty of last-minute hype for Hell in a Cell and Smackdown on Friday, and in general a fresh look and feel to the show that has been missing for a while. It’s only week one, and the season concept doesn’t really fit but this show has benefitted massively from a fresh coat of paint and some strong ideas, even if I didn’t love all of them.
Rick Bognar RIP
In sad news this week, Rick Bognar passed away aged just 49. Bognar, originally from Canada, had a lengthy run in Japan for FMW and WAR as Big Titan, before stopping into ECW briefly. However, perhaps his most infamous run came in WWF in late 1996 when he was introduced as the Fake Razor Ramon following the departure of Scott Hall to WCW. Bognar would team with the Fake Diesel, Glenn Jacobs AKA Kane, in a largely unremarkable run in a gimmick that was always doomed to fail. Following that disastrous stint, he would have a reasonably exciting run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, even taking part in a G1 Climax tournament (although it is worth pointing out it is not quite the same gruelling format as the modern-day version). However, Bognar would suffer a career-ending neck injury leading him to retire in his early 30s. Bognar was a very capable worker with a very solid in-ring acumen and he definitely deserved better than he got in his relatively short career, and by all accounts he was a very good man, even getting into motivational speaking after his wrestling career. The cause of death has not been announced, but regardless it is very sad to hear him passing away so suddenly. RIP “Big Titan” Rick Bognar.
CM Punk to WWE?
With WWE moving Smackdown to Fox, they are also adding a panel-type show slated for Tuesday nights, hosted by Renee Young. Apparently, WWE and Fox were having a number of ex-WWE personalities screen test, and mostly it was the usual suspects. However, one name that set the cat among the pigeons was a certain Philip Brooks, AKA CM Punk. Obviously, this was something of a surprise, but it certainly seems as though the ice between Punk and WWE is thawing somewhat. Punk has a unique perspective on the company and the industry as a whole and he seems to no longer really have an axe to grind with WWE, and they would gladly have him in any capacity. Could this lead to an in-ring return? Who knows? It might not even lead to a role with WWE, but the fact he would even test for it certainly suggests that a return is no longer off the cards. Perhaps hell is getting a bit chilly.
Rush/Dragon Lee finished with CMLL controversy
In a weird story this week, Rush, fresh off winning the ROH World Championship was announced to have cut ties with CMLL in Mexico, a company he has worked for now for several years. CMLL has been in something of a transition period since the passing of Paco Alonso, but clearly something has stopped working for Rush. However, shortly after he announced he was leaving, CMLL announced they had fired him, and his brother Dragon Lee. This may have major ramifications for CMLL in the longer term, as Dragon Lee is a regular for NJPW, and Rush works for ROH who are also in a working agreement with NJPW. For CMLL, this could well spell curtains for their working relationship with New Japan and honestly, it seems like a terrible move for CMLL. For Rush and Dragon Lee, this is a huge moment as both will be able to freelance around the US and Mexico and essentially name their price. An odd situation that I suspect might not be completely tied up, so we might see this unfold further in the coming weeks.
Hell in a Cell preview
Finally this week there is the small business of Hell in a Cell. At time of press, there’s not a lot to say because only three matches have been announced. The main event between Seth Rollins and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt is hugely intriguing. WWE have booked themselves into a corner with Wyatt, as beating him here is a huge risk while he doesn’t really need the title and may be best served as a special attraction. I have no idea how they book the match, what it looks like or what the best outcome would be, but it certainly will be interesting to see how it turns out.
The other two matches on this show, as it stands, are Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch in a Hell in a Cell match, and Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns vs Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. Becky and Sasha will undoubtedly put on a very heated, very fiercely contested contest, and the tag match will likely be a fast-paced affair. I still wonder if the Daniel Bryan face turn is a ruse and he’ll be aligned with Harper and Rowan, but if it’s a straight tag match this should be a very strong offering.
It’s hard to say much about a show when so little has been announced. What has been announced is all very exciting, but I imagine more matches will be booked on this week’s big Smackdown show.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown and 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/ROH/AEW