Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things pro wrestling from the past seven days. This week has been chiefly focused on WWE's Superstar Shake-up as competitors from Raw and Smackdown move around to their new homes for the next twelve months. While some were moving brands, others seem to be moving on, and outside WWE one performer is having to hang up his boots. However, we'll start this week with the eventful episode of Raw from Monday night.
The Superstar Shake-up began with some big hitters from Smackdown making the move over to the Raw brand. The biggest name, of course, was AJ Styles who has been on the blue brand for about three years now. While he may describe Smackdown as the house that he built, there are certainly a limited number of fresh matches for him on Smackdown so I totally see the reasoning behind moving him over. The main event (which was designed chiefly to reveal Styles as the big signing on the show) featuring Styles teaming with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns against Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Baron Corbin was a fine TV match, but apart from showcasing Styles it didn’t amount to much beyond a standard Raw final segment. The other big signing opened the show with an odd segment featuring Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon and then The Miz jumping Shane and attacking him, presumably ending their feud as Miz moves to Raw. It feels like a running joke that Miz gets moved every time there is a draft, but this time in his new babyface guise I can see Miz having a bit more luck on Raw than on the blue brand which is very babyface heavy at the moment.
There were plenty of other moves on this show. War Raiders, now known as The Viking Experience (a decision which didn’t go down very well with anyone) came up from NXT and had an enjoyable multi-team tag match getting a non-title victory over the Raw Tag Champions Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins. The former War Machine looked really impressive, but I fear that name is going to hamper them massively. Plus, what happens now with the NXT tag team titles? Speaking of tag teams, having The Usos move over should breathe fresh life into the division on Raw creating some really fresh match-ups with the likes of The Revival and co.
Andrade moving to Raw and having a fine outing with Finn Balor was a great move, and himself and Zelina Vega should be a nice addition to the roster. In fact, Andrade could easily be one of the breakout stars on Raw this year if handled correctly. The Elias segment with Rey Mysterio was just there, although the post-match attack by Lars Sullivan on Rey continued to help build momentum for Sullivan. Eric Young and Cedric Alexander were both announced to have joined Raw too, but if I were either I would be concerned how things might pan out. Braun Strowman murdered EC3. With neither seemingly moving brand, this was an odd burial for the former Derek Bateman. We got another promo for Bray Wyatt here too, with a creepy puppet. I’m still intrigued, and I am not a huge fan of where they went with Bray Wyatt last year, so that’s a great job from the creative team.
The women’s division probably had the most compelling moments on this show. Becky Lynch vs Ruby Riott was very good and a nice showcase for both women. The segment with Lynch, Lacey Evans and Natalya was effective, and Natalya managed to get a solid outing from Evans. Lacey is green, but she has her character down, is athletic and has come on leaps and bounds in the last year, so I can absolutely understand why she is in this role. That moonsault looked great too. Naomi moving over to Raw is logical step with Sasha Banks currently MIA, inserting her into a match with Bayley and The IIconics made sense.
Finally, in the segment of the night, maybe the segment of the year Sami Zayn gave a tremendous performance on Alexa Bliss’ Moment of Bliss. He took the crowd, in his hometown in the palm of his hand. He danced, he sang, and then he took them to task. This new gimmick from Zayn is pure brilliance and might be the best thing WWE has done with him since he got called up from NXT.
A mixed bag of a Raw. There was a lot of new faces, and lots to convey to the crowd. Unfortunately, that meant that no significant programmes for the future outside of Becky/Lacey could really get off the ground. Still, it certainly freshens up Raw and provides some new possibilities on what had become a very stale show, so we shall see where it all falls next week.
On social media, after Monday WWE were teasing that WWE had acquired a massive new star from Raw in middle of the Superstar Shake-up, and on this week’s show we got exactly that. The tease and bait-and-switch of Elias being revealed as the big signing was a nice touch and one that ensured that Roman Reigns interrupting him got a great reaction. Reigns decking Vince McMahon was also a great moment (especially given the significance of the location in Montreal), even if the evil authority figure is massively overdone as a concept. With Smackdown due to move to Fox in the autumn and a need for star power, given Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are now both on hiatus, it’s a switch that massively bolsters the main event scene on the blue brand. It does make me fear for Kofi Kingston getting a long run as champion.
Kevin Owens and The New Day had some of the best segments on the show this week. With Big E injured and out for a few weeks having Owens join the group as an honorary member, essentially combining the most over group on the brand with (at least for one night only in his home town of Montreal) the biggest babyface on this week’s show. It won’t lead to much, but it certainly provided a fun match for the live crowd and some hilarious segments backstage which was a nice change of pace.
In terms of the shake-up, we got a few nice additions to Smackdown. Finn Balor moving over is a great lift to this show and to Finn himself I suspect. Balor has been exclusive to Raw since he was called up from NXT so it’s a nice change of scenery for him. This change yielded immediate results in the form of an excellent match with Ali, who I’m glad to see is staying put on Smackdown.
Ember Moon and Bayley are good value replacements for the superstars going the other way and the segment with Becky Lynch. The Man took a backseat pretty quickly, after some interaction with The IIconics, and then to the introduction of Paige’s new tag team (after a brief interruption by Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose, her former Absolution stablemates) in the form of Asuka and the debuting Kairi Sane. It’s an odd combination, and I’m not sure whether it works. It depends how you look at it, because this is either great news for Asuka and she is getting a new focus, or she is being marginalised into the tag division. That said, it’s great as a way to introduce Sane, who hopefully gets a slow build to the Smackdown Women’s title match at Wrestlemania 36, given the stadium has a pirate ship in it. The ensuing eight woman tag (Asuka/Sane/Bayley/Moon vs Deville/Rose/The IIconics) was a nice snapshot of the division as it stands and where it might be heading once Becky inevitably drops the Smackdown title. Of course, we also had Charlotte vs Carmella on this show, but that had no real impact on anything. It was a fine match, but it didn’t serve much of a purpose other than a reminder that Charlotte is still around, and always a threat to the title. In the post-match, we did see Lars Sullivan destroy R Truth (who was consoling Carmella), and it looks like he is now on Smackdown.
This week’s Smackdown, like Raw, was in a sense a slightly throwaway show. There were debuts, sure, but there wasn’t much in the way of substance for future big programmes. However, Smackdown does look refreshed and the influx of new faces definitely makes a big difference. There are two superstars over whom big question marks still linger on the blue brand. Daniel Bryan has been nowhere to be seen since Wrestlemania, and there are rumours abound that he suffered an injury and the company are keeping quiet as it stands. Given Bryan’s history that is very worrying, but it could be more a question of WWE being overly cautious with Bryan given his past issues. There is also the big question over Samoa Joe, who was also missing from Raw and Smackdown. With Balor moving over to Smackdown, you would assume that Joe is moving to Raw, otherwise the distribution of mid-card titles is miles off. Presumably, there will be a few more supplemental moves over the next week or so as the dust settles, on top of the moves announced on WWE.com. Those announced include Apollo Crews and Liv Morgan to Smackdown, the latter sadly breaking up The Riott Squad, although presumably freeing up Sarah Logan to join the Viking Experience. Mickie James, Heavy Machinery and Chad Gable all move to Smackdown too, which are all very positive moves.
Departures and unhappy talent - Harper, Wolfe, Banks
WWE has the biggest roster it has ever assembled as it stands. In previous years there would have been a post Wrestlemania roster cut, with the company happy to let talent go who have outlived their usefulness at least in the short term. However, with AEW launching, and NJPW and ROH both snapping up talent, plus the sheer number of hours of TV WWE produce they are less inclined to let talent go. Inevitably, this leads to unhappy members of the roster. Alongside Sasha Banks’ well-documented displeasure with her current situation, Luke Harper has revealed he asked for his release earlier this week. Harper made a very clear statement on Twitter explaining his reasoning, and at 39 and massively underutilised it is clear to see why he would like to try pastures new. Harper has been wasted in WWE in recent years, despite getting in the best shape of his career, a talented big man who can fly, who can do power moves who can do it all really. He seemed poised to break through a few times, most notably during the Bray Wyatt-Randy Orton feud in 2017, but for various reasons, it never quite happened and WWE always seemed to fall back on him being paired with Rowan. In the current climate, for AEW, NJPW, and ROH or as a freelancer Harper certainly has a plethora of options and will not be short of work.
With Eric Young being moved to Raw, it seems Sanity have disbanded, but that appears to have left Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain with seemingly no direction. Wolfe also released a statement on Twitter saying goodbye to WWE, although it is unclear if he has been released, or if he’s back off to NXT, or if he will be heading to NXT UK, which would allow him to work for WXW in his native Germany too. We’ll certainly see in the near future I’m sure.
These issues with the roster will surely not be something that are going to go away anytime soon. There will always be more bodies than top spots, but with the competition to WWE growing in strength, there are actually alternatives now, which gives performers more options than since the days of WCW. This is definitely a developing story to watch in the coming months.
Kid Lykos retirement
Sadly this week, UK wrestler star Kid Lykos announced that he has been forced to retire from in-ring competition aged just 22. For Lykos, as part of CCK alongside Chris Brookes, he has been incredibly successful on the UK and wider global independent scene with memorable matches in Progress, Rev Pro, WXW and countless others. However, Lykos has also suffered from persistent and recurring shoulder injuries that have ruled him out for large portions of the past few years and sadly have culminated in his now retirement. For me, the biggest moment in Lykos’ career was the tag team ladder match at Alexandra Palace with CCK taking on Moustache Mountain, which was very special. At 22, Kid Lykos has still got an amazing future ahead of himself and whether it is in wrestling or elsewhere, we certainly wish him the best.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a special edition of Slammer Jabber. 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.