Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at the crazy world of professional wrestling. This week has been a very busy one (when isn't it?) with a wild card being played to try and refresh WWE TV, a major tournament in Alexandra Palace, some big news out of New Japan Pro Wrestling and a huge announcement on where UK viewers will be able to watch AEW's Double or Nothing PPV. We'll kick off with a look back at an eventful, but not necessarily good episode of Monday Night Raw.
As quick fixes go, especially in the face of dropping ratings and stiff competition, I’m not sure making the company owner seems like a deluded old man and creating a “Wild Card” rule that doesn’t even seem to have clearly defined rules is perhaps not the way to go. However, that and a couple of Wrestlemania rematches seemed to be the route Raw was taking, and although the in-ring delivered everything else The segment with Vince McMahon, Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan and Drew McIntyre was convoluted and messy, with McMahon introducing the seemingly made-up-on-the spot wild card rule meaning that three (later changed to four after Lars Sullivan made a menacing appearance in Vince’s office) superstars could temporarily jump to the other brand at will at any one kind as a way to explain what was happening. It was badly handled and the attempt to breathe life into the product was more miss than hit. On the plus side it did yield two very good matches, with McIntyre vs Reigns producing a far better outing than at Wrestlemania even if the post-match was more concerned with Shane McMahon/Elias feuding with Reigns, and also Shane vs The Miz (who did have a very entertaining brawl, which for once utlised a bit of innovative, logical camerawork). Bryan vs Kofi provided an excellent main event. It wasn’t on the same scale as the Mania match but it was still very good, and it was brilliant to see Bryan back after his mystery Wrestlemania injury.
Although it still had some problems, one of the better segments on the show featured Lacey Evans. After she beat a local competitor with the Raw-based Money in the Bank competitors at ringside as per her request (which amusingly she sent out on cards scented with the smell of peach cobbler, a great detail), Evans cut a scathing promo on those who might want to cash in on her if she beats Becky Lynch at the PPV, which did wonders for continuing to get her over as a fantastic heel. Her in-ring skills may still be subject to question (the arm slap during her finisher is particularly galling) but she has a strong character and is clearly growing in confidence week on week. The brawl with Lynch, who came out to shut up Evans was nothing to write home about, but it continued to evolve this rivalry, and it has become a match I’m actually quite looking forward to seeing at Money in the Bank.
In all honesty, the rest of the show was a chore to sit through for the most part. The Usos had another dreadful segment with The Revival who, in fairness sold the “Ucey Hot” gag like troopers. Imagine what they could do with them if they actually had decent material to work with. Lars Sullivan attacking No Way Jose continued the endless monster booking of Sullivan, even if it doesn’t seem to be leading to anything substantial as it stands. Sami Zayn getting thrown in a dumpster by Braun Strowman was an odd move, given it seemed like a write-off for a character who then appeared on Smackdown the following night. AJ Styles and Seth Rollins being forced to team up against Bobby Lashley and Baron Corbin was lazy booking, and the match was far too long. I know the "reluctant partners who can't get along" bit is a well-trodden trope of the babyface vs babyface title build, but they really should be trying to subvert those tropes at points because this was dull, and wholly predictable. For Rollins and Styles Money in the Bank cannot come fast enough.
I am intrigued by the backstage segment with Samoa Joe, Dominic and Rey Mysterio and where this story is planned to go, maybe even hinting at a heel turn for the younger Mysterio. The Viking Raiders squashing Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder was odd, because if the plan is to put the belts on the former War Machine, they could have just done the switch here. Ricochet vs Robert Roode was a nice way to close the logic gap of Ricochet getting the spot in the MITB ladder match despite losing to Roode the prior week, and I’m glad WWE addressed that, and the match was at least passable if not exactly memorable. Finally, Bray Wyatt hosted another Firefly Funhouse that ramped up the creepy factor, with Mercy the Buzzard ripping Rambling Rabbit to pieces, and Bray having a picnic with some genuinely terrifying, dead-behind-the-eyes children. This is sterling work from Bray, and I wonder if we get the payoff to this next week, or even at Money in the Bank. It will be very interesting to see not only where this is going, but how they can translate this gimmick, whatever it actually is, to an arena setting.
Not a great Raw, truth be told. On the plus side, WWE are making attempts to fix the issues that are affecting their ratings and the quality of their product. However, the wild card stipulation basically makes a mockery of the brand split and it doesn’t really address some of the bigger issues on Raw. Let’s hope next week, and the go-home show for Money in the Bank is better than this week’s offering.
After Raw’s introduction of the wild card rule, things continued on Smackdown in a similar vein. The opening segment with Kofi Kingston, AJ Styles and Sami Zayn was entertaining and Zayn continues to be a highlight. I like the idea of Kofi being positioned as a fighting champion ala Bret “The Hitman” Hart in 1992/93, and the three-way dance against Zayn and Styles reinforced that. Kevin Owens getting involved to attack Xavier Woods made sense, but Kingston retaining in what was a very enjoyable main event was definitely the right move, especially with Kofi vs Owens presumably lined up for MITB.
The highlight of Smackdown for me was Daniel Bryan and Rowan vs The Usos for the vacant tag team titles. Although Shane McMahon was going to just hand the belts to Bryan and Rowan, The Usos (presented as a far more serious act than on Raw) interrupting made sense, and the match for the belts was stunning. The tag division on the blue brand is in dire need of fresh blood and Bryan and Rowan are a great unit. Additionally, this allows Rowan to take some of the wear and tear and saves Bryan somewhat, which can only be a good thing.
The rest of the show was, for the most part, very enjoyable. Ali vs Andrade could have been the match of the night and it was nice to see the chemistry between the two, although Randy Orton got involved and ruined it, albeit with two jaw-dropping RKOs. This certainly creates more of an issue for these men, and it does bode well for the involvement of all three in the Money in the Bank ladder match. The Miz and Shane McMahon brawling added another layer of animosity to their feud, with the chair once again coming into play and Shane getting the upper hand again (thanks to The B Team) after Miz took control on Monday. Lars Sullivan attacked Matt Hardy and R-Truth backstage again, so I wonder if that is where his first programme is heading. Finally, Ember Moon and Carmella lost to Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville in a match that was nothing special, but one that once again put over Deville’s willingness to sacrifice herself to help Rose, something I wonder if they will pay off during the ladder match. The promo after the match from Paige nicely set up Deville and Rose vs Asuka and Kairi Sane for next week, which on paper could be a cracker.
If you compare Raw and Smackdown, it’s a no contest in favour of the blue brand. They have the better matches, more engrossing writing and frankly, more insightful booking. This was a fun show, and despite the wild card rule, everything seemed to make sense and nothing seemed forced.
Last weekend Progress held their annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament over three days in the beautiful surroundings of London’s Alexandra Palace. I was not in attendance unfortunately, but from all accounts it was a tremendous success with highlights including the final appearance (for now at least) from Progress legend Jimmy Havoc who went out in typically violent style, the tournament itself (no spoilers here don’t worry) which is said to have included a number of superb bouts including what sounded like a phenomenal final between two of the best in the world at the moment. I am very much looking forward to catching the shows on demand once they are uploaded and I look forward to seeing what Progress put together next as they build to their return to Alexandra Palace in September, a show I will be attending.
Wrestling Dontaku - Dominion - BOSJ
New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted their yearly Wrestling Dontaku this past week, and although the shows weren’t necessarily spectacular on the level you might have come to expect from NJPW, they were certainly some eventful moments as the company builds to the big Dominion show in June. Sanada had a very good match as he unsuccessfully challenged Kazuchika Okada. Sanada continues to shine in these matches, and although he also comes up short each time, I do feel they are slowly building him up so he can have a main event run. While I don’t see him winning it, it definitely feels like Sanada could have a big role to play in the G1 this year. The post-match probably garnered more headlines, with Chris Jericho making his NJPW return (via video) and challenging Okada to a title match at Dominion, which is now the main event for that show. Jericho is still a draw and it wouldn’t be beyond the company to put the belt on him, but I think Gedo will likely continue to build Okada for someone to take the belt off him further down the line following three title changes in quick succession this year. Still, a solid main event and great build for Dominion.
Hiroshi Tanahashi also made his return on this show, having had successful elbow surgery. However, seeing him placed back in a programme with “Switchblade” Jay White does very little for me. The rest of the bouts over multiple nights didn’t really add a huge amount, but there were some bright spots. Tetsuya Naito continuing to be matched up against Kota Ibushi in six man tags continued their rivalry ahead of the contest between the two at Dominion. El Phantasmo had a great debut alongside Taiji Ishimori against Dragon Lee and Will Ospreay. ELP getting the win over the former IWGP Jr Heavyweight champion gives him a massive rub on his debut and presented him as a star and a major threat to the junior title right out of the gates. Speaking of debuts, this show also hyped the debut of a new superstar, with a possible biker gimmick and Juice Robinson firmly in their sights. There was also the words “Death Riders” and a black and white Union Jack on the mystery man’s leather jacket. Speculation has been rampant in the since time on who it could be, with Chris Brookes, Mark Haskins, Chris Ridgeway and even The Great O-Kharn mooted. Brookes seems the most likely of that bunch, given his longstanding significant Rev Pro connections, but there is also the possibility that it could be the returning David Finlay who does have a substantial past with Juice Robinson. The leather jacket and the tone of the promo would also fit as a tribute to his father’s “Belfast Bruiser” gimmick of the 1990s. However, we will have to wait until June 5th to see how this plays out and whether NJPW throws a curveball with someone completely different.
Finally, although not entirely Dontaku related, NJPW announced the brackets for the Best of the Super Juniors round robin tournament. Block A consists of Dragon Lee, Taiji Ishimori, Marty Scurll, Shingo Takagi, SHO, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Jonathan Gresham, Titan, Tiger Mask and Taka Michinoku. Block B is made up of Will Ospreay, Bandido, El Phantasmo, Flip Gordon, Ryusuke Taguchi, YOH, El Desperado, Robbie Eagles, Rocky Romero and Bushi. It’s a packed field, and should yield some incredible matches, but looking at the brackets I can definitely see Shingo taking Block A, while Block B feels way more open with Eagles, ELP, Ospreay, Bandido and even Gordon all seeming like viable potential winners. Regardless it should be a great set of shows over the next few weeks.
AEW on ITV Box Office
Perhaps the biggest story of the week, at least from a UK perspective, comes from All Elite Wrestling. On Wednesday it was announced that the ITV Box Office channel would be carrying the company’s first PPV offering Double or Nothing on May 25th, and it will be available to purchase for £14.99. IN addition, ITV4 will broadcast the pre-show live on the night. This is massive for AEW in terms of getting a foothold in the UK, as while WWE have a long term deal with Sky, ITV have a far larger potential audience given they are available in every home in the country. This is no guarantee that AEW will thrive on ITV, or that they will indeed get more than this one off shot at it, but seeing ITV strike a deal with them, even as a one-off is very encouraging. AEW are obviously paying attention to recent history, given TNA only a few short years ago had a great deal with Challenge that saw them doing very respectable ratings, and led to a number of major shows at Wembley Arena. In fact, the UK was once TNA’s biggest market, and with WOS having failed to strike quite the chord ITV had hoped for it is very possible that AEW have put themselves in a position to claim a regular slot on ITV for their weekly TV show when it launches.
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 the go-home editions of Raw and Smackdown before 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.