Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week has been a slightly quieter one after all the excitement of Royal Rumble weekend, but we still had two episodes of WWE TV, a bit of company scheduling that has mostly gone under the radar and some news from All Elite Wrestling. We'll start this week as we so often do with a look at this week's episode of Raw, featuring a white-hot opening segment.
Last week WWE created two excellent episodes of television, and I had high hopes that we were about to get a run of good creative as we moved towards Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, those hopes were mostly dashed this week as we were treated to an episode of Raw that, outside the opening segment, really didn’t deliver a great deal. The aforementioned opening, of course, featured one Becky Lynch. Having Stephanie McMahon take on the authority role, suspending Lynch for not seeing a doctor was a great use of McMahon and with Lynch physically attacking her afterwards this sets up “The Man” as WWE’s resident rebel. This may feel like a re-run of the Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon feud, but the parallels between those two programmes actually make sense here, and if you’re going to follow a blueprint for an anti-authority figure taking on their boss, there is no better example to use. Lynch’s face-to-face with Ronda Rousey as she was being escorted from the arena was a nice touch, although Rousey was almost incomprehensible at points during the promo, but her legitimate-feeling intensity goes someway to cover where she falls short in that area. This show had a truly memorable opening, and although the rest of the show did not reach the heights of this segment. With Lynch gone, Rousey would end up squashing Liv Morgan and then Sarah Logan in back-to-back singles bouts, showing anger, fire and general emotion. With Ruby Riott choosing not to follow her tag partners into the ring unless it was for a title match, it looks like that will be the short term programme for Rousey while Lynch is dealing with Charlotte on Smackdown, as well as her bubbling issues with the McMahon family.
The rest of the show was pretty disappointing overall. Kurt Angle’s segment teasing retirement is presumably going to lead to one last big match at Wrestlemania, although the run-ins from Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin and then Braun Strowman were not what I had hoped for. The “main event”, if you can even call it that, was a plodding affair with a non-finish and a far cry from the majorly heated opening of the show. EC3’s debut on the main roster threatened to be a complete train wreck, with his appearance on Alexa Bliss’ Moments of Bliss hijacked by Nia Jax and Tamina, and then Dean Ambrose. The interaction between Jax and Ambrose was awkward, but not as awkward as the lines directed at EC3 by the former Shield member. The match between the two was a decent showcase for EC3, but the lack of character development for the audience means they have yet to invest in the former NXT and TNA star, and even a win over a former world champion (who is on his way out of the company) was not enough to get the crowd into EC3. Finn Balor vs Lio Rush was nothing to write home about but did help progress the feud between Balor and Bobby Lashley. The Revival vs Heavy Machinery vs The Lucha House Party was a fun tag bout, and we saw plenty of spotlight on Otis and Tucker (who seem to have lost their surnames) but it also put The Revival back at the forefront of things again, and hopefully finally in line for a sustained push. Bayley and Sasha Banks vs Nikki Cross and Alicia Fox (who apparently were teamed up because they are both unhinged heels, only in different ways) was a glorified handicap match with Bayley basically getting the win for her team, which was actually quite satisfying. I forget sometimes that Bayley is an incredible underdog babyface when booked correctly, and this gave me hope they could still rehab her character in the future. Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins had a pretty abysmal backstage segment but it’s good to at least see more investment in these two outside of a cheap pop when the company visits Long Island. Dana Brooke and Natalya’s segment wasn’t much better really. Finally, Jeff Jarrett had his first match on Raw in twenty years against Elias, and while it’s a silly nostalgia angle, I’m quite enjoying this mini-run from himself and Road Dogg.
This was by no means a good show, but frankly, they nailed the most important note with the opening segment. With Elimination Chamber in less than two weeks I can see that being the focus next week, but keeping Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey at the forefront of things is a great way to build that money main event at Wrestlemania.
Much like Raw, the biggest thing to happen on Smackdown not only involved the opening segment, but also one Becky Lynch. With Charlotte goading her about the suspension, “The Man” appeared out of the crowd and made it to the ring despite the best efforts of WWE officials. With Triple H coming out to confront her, this added further fuel to the fire started on Monday night, with Becky firing back at Triple H with some superb lines, and a solid slap before leaving the way she came. It had more than a whiff of Austin-McMahon about it, and it was another good step in painting Becky as the anti-authority babyface going up against the company golden chosen one Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania. Presumably, this also sets up Charlotte as a considerable roadblock, or at a further obstacle within the Wrestlemania match that Becky has to overcome.
The other big focus on this show involved the build to the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship. Daniel Bryan cut another good promo, but he was also joined on the microphone by Rowan who also did well cutting a promo. The backstage response from Jeff Hardy was nicely handled and having AJ Styles interrupt was a good way to further build tension between the competitors ahead of the PPV. The match between Bryan and Hardy in the main event was fine, if not a little underwhelming, but the post-match with Bryan applying the LeBell lock after Rowan caused the DQ, and then Samoa Joe, Mustafa Ali and Randy Orton all getting involved continued to push the chaotic nature of the upcoming title match, and the unpredictable nature of the outcome of that bout. I like the idea that anyone could win the match, and everyone is being built up as a realistic contender. Even Mustafa Ali, after he had a very competitive match earlier in the show with Randy Orton, almost securing the upset victory. Again, the post-match of that contest brought out Samoa Joe who not only attacked Orton, but also cut a fantastic promo afterwards. Joe really has been in the form of his life recently, and I could absolutely see WWE taking a punt on him as champion based on how he has raised his game recently.
The rest of the show was pretty storyline-heavy, but there were some good matches in there too. The three-way tag match between The IIconics, Naomi & Carmella and Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville was short and sweet but it again served to hype the women’s tag team title match at Elimination Chamber and continue the feud between Naomi and Rose. Speaking of the women’s division, a video segment for Asuka left me with more questions than answers on who she is going to defend against at Elimination Chamber or beyond. Andrade and Zelina Vega cut a good promo backstage on Rey Mysterio, continuing to make this feud personal, while The Usos also had a backstage segment hyping their upcoming title match with The Miz and Shane McMahon. Finally, Gallows & Anderson had a tag match with Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev, who in victory cemented their alliance. This is a great example of misuse by WWE, as looking at all four men in this match they all seem utterly wasted on Smackdown at the moment.
Another very good show from Smackdown, with more of a focus on Elimination Chamber than anything. A cracking opening segment, with a good mixture of in-ring action (I especially enjoyed Ali/Orton) and storyline development.
WWE to return to KSA
Despite all the furore over WWE’s visits to Saudi Arabia, and the huge backlash to their Crown Jewel event in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, reports this week confirmed that WWE will continue its partnership with KSA and there will be two more shows this year, one in May and one in November. It’s difficult to see how the company will be able to defend hosting these events, given the prior bad press and it will be hugely intriguing to see how it unfolds. John Cena and Daniel Bryan both refused to travel to Crown Jewel and I can’t see either man budging on that stance any time soon. Currently, there are no confirmed details on how this all will work, but you have to imagine, given WWE had to essentially ignore the location of the show in November, they will have to be very careful how they handle the PR for any future shows in 2019.
Jimmy Havoc to AEW, rumoured big name from WWE interested in talks
While they may not have a TV show as yet, and they have yet to put on their first show, it looks like this week could be a big one for All Elite Wrestling. By the time you are reading this, there may already have been major developments, given AEW are hosting a ticket event in Las Vegas on Thursday, and it is expected they will be announcing Kenny Omega as a member of the roster now his NJPW contract has expired. However, it is more than possible that there will be more news announced, possibly even including new roster members or a TV deal. However, in the meantime, it was announced via Twitter that UK wrestler Jimmy Havoc will be joining the company. Havoc will be well known to Progress fans as their former heavyweight champion, top heel and one of the guys most associated with the brand. Havoc has also wrestled extensively on the independent scene, for ROH, and is a former Tournament of Death winner. I can think of no-one on the UK scene who deserves this more than Havoc and while he may not fit the WWE mould, he could be a great fit for AEW. Hopefully, he will continue to work for Progress (although with the rules around WWE UK, NJPW, ROH and presumably AEW talent facing each other on indie shows that may restrict his role somewhat), but whatever he does, we wish him the best as he has more than earned this opportunity.
There have been plenty of rumours doing the rounds about WWE performers who are unhappy and would be interested in working for AEW, and for most this could represent uncharted territory. Should AEW reach the level they are aiming for they could have top guys in WWE switching sides in a way we’ve not seen since the Monday Night Wars. Brock Lesnar was rumoured to be a name being targeted, but who knows whether that is even a possibility, while it has been widely reported that AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are both coming to the end of their WWE contracts in 2019. One name that has come up, rather unexpectedly, is Randy Orton, and in some ways, I’d be very interested to see what he would be able to do outside a WWE ring. This is all speculation for now, and it may come to nothing, but should AEW announce a big TV deal as expected, this could be the start of a whole new era for wrestling. Or it could be TNA 2.0. A very interesting time to be a wrestling fan, but an even more interesting time to be a wrestler.
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 Elimination Chamber and Fastlane on 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.
Photos: WWE.COM & @AEWRESTLING