Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. What a week it has been with WWE hosting their big draft over Raw and Smackdown, New Japan Pro Wrestling held their King of Pro Wrestling show while their parent company made a big move in the puroresu landscape. In addition, NXT and AEW were busy, and Eric Bischoff is looking for a new job. Let's get started with WWE's TV from the past week.
Smackdown and Raw - The Draft
This week’s WWE shows were chiefly built around the brand split and the big draft, and while WWE was clearly aiming for a more sports-oriented approach, it really was pretty uneventful. Although the brand split wasn’t exactly adhered to over the past few months, very few superstars have ended up on different brands from the "home" brands they were already on to some extent. The “war room” segments were a nice idea, but poorly executed and having Stephanie McMahon just read out the picks was pretty anticlimactic. Charlotte Flair, Andrade, Aleister Black and Rowan moving to Raw, and The Miz, King Corbin and Bray Wyatt going the other way were the major headlines that came out of this, but it still leaves both rosters pretty much as they were. Hopefully, this signals a proper division of the two shows and everyone is kept away from their opposite numbers for a while, so when they do eventually do inter-promotional matches it might actually mean something. You’ll have to excuse my scepticism. I feel like we’ve been here before.
The rest of Raw and Smackdown’s respective focuses were on building Crown Jewel for October 31st, which still has inter-promotional matches on it, but presumably, after that, the split is in full effect. On both shows "The Fiend", Bray Wyatt made himself known, first dragging Seth Rollins through the ring to end the fairly decent match Seth was having with Roman Reigns, and this felt like a decent attempt to move forward from the Hell in a Cell debacle. However, on Raw they had a far worse segment with Rollins somehow finding the Firefly Funhouse and after beating up non-Fiend Bray, burning down the set (and presumably the house). This feels eerily familiar to the whole Randy Orton-arson nonsense from a few years back, and Rollins seems to be the heel in all of this somehow. It's dreadful booking and Rollins feels dead in the water as a babyface champion. The fact they’ve moved Wyatt to Smackdown AND he is facing Rollins at Crown Jewel suggests that we are not getting a conclusive finish to their falls-count-anywhere feud, or worse it’s a non-title match and Rollins loses anyway. At least it won’t get booed in Saudi Arabia I suppose.
The remainder of Smackdown was fine but unspectacular. The New Day vs The OC was ok, but instantly forgettable. “Shorty” Gable vs Baron Corbin was good, but as they keep wrestling each other their matches are suffering from the law of diminishing returns. The segment with Rey Mysterio, Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar was a decent way to build Crown Jewel, but it felt a bit cold coming off last week’s hot angle, truth be told. Finally, Bayley went full heel on this show, deflating her wacky-wavy-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-men with an axe and she got new music and new attitude, as well as a win over Charlotte for the Smackdown Women’s championship. Bayley is definitely ready for this change, and it should be interesting to see how she does in this top female heel role going forward.
On Raw, outside of the horrendous closing segment, there were a few fun moments. Becky Lynch vs Charlotte was a great way to kick off the show, Andrade vs Ali, and Ricochet vs Shelton Benjamin were both very TV matches. For Andrade especially I expect this move to be the start of a big push for the former-La Sombra. Buddy Murphy vs Cedric Alexander was also pretty decent and a nice showcase for both men. The Kabuki Warriors vs Natalya and Lacey Evans (who is now inexplicably a babyface? or at least agreed to team with Natalya only a week after she powerbombed her off a stage) was not brilliant, and should probably have been in a less high-profile spot. The Viking Raiders taking the tag belts off Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode is a logical move, and despite a rocky start, they have gotten over huge as a big babyface act. For me, I hope we can see them take on AOP in the near future, as I love to see two big badass teams face off. Aleister Black continues to be built up as an absolute killer, this week squashing Eric Young. Finally, Braun Strowman and Tyson Fury had a somewhat flat contract signing, but given the people involved and the recent press conference, which was surprisingly engrossing, I think they’re doing enough to hold my interest,
A decent week of TV, but nothing spectacular or particularly memorable, at least not in a good way. That Firefly Funhouse segment was the worst.
In unsurprising news this week, Eric Bischoff has exited WWE as showrunner on Smackdown, and will be replaced by Bruce Prichard. Bischoff always struck me as an odd choice for this role having been either out of the business or ineffectual in creative terms within it since WCW booted him from his main role in 1999. There was some discussion over whether he was being positioned to act as a go-between Fox and WWE, given his experience with executives at Turner and Spike. However, that theory doesn’t hold much water when you consider that WWE managed to get the biggest rights deal in the history of wrestling without him. It sounds like they’ve done just fine without him. Inevitably, that leaves the suggestion that Bischoff was only ever a figurehead and a convenient scapegoat for the drop in ratings on Smackdown. Is that the case? I’m not entirely convinced. What we do know is that Bischoff is gone, and someone who felt like a weird fit for WWE, turned out to be just that. However, no-one expected it so soon.
What a turnaround for Bruce Prichard. The artist formerly known as Brother Love was a major part of the creative team in WWE for many years, but he left in 2009 under a major cloud, and by his own admission was seen as persona-non-grata for the longest time. Yet, here he is back in the fold in his old position. Good luck, he might well need it.
NJPW KOPW and news for WK
On Sunday New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted their annual October spectacular, King of Pro Wrestling. With the typhoon (not Fred Ottman) that has been laying waste to Japan, at one stage this show was in doubt but they forged on with the event, although the weather issues meant that Zack Sabre Jr and Jon Moxley were unable to make the event. While ZSJ was just scheduled to be part of a six-man tag, Moxley was supposed to defending his IWGP US Title against Juice Robinson in what was presumably his NJPW swansong for now. As such New Japan stripped him of the title and put Lance Archer in his place. The match between Archer and Juice was excellent, and Lance taking the title seemed like a just reward for his excellent performance in the G1. The return of David Finlay was a nice moment too and gives Juice his tag partner back.
Outside of the weather-related issues, the rest of the show pretty much went as expected. The mid-card tag matches were standard NJPW fare, while Kota Ibushi predictably put away EVIL. Kazuchika Okada and Sanada put on a scintillating main event, and although the result was never in question, it was a fantastic bout. The post-match with Okada and Ibushi was a tantalising set up for Wrestle Kingdom Night 1 on January 4th and we have our main event set. Of course, it has been hinted that we will get a winner-take-all match between the winner of this and the winner of the Intercontinental title match, the following night on January 5th, but that remains to be seen. Finally, Minoru Suzuki took on Jushin Thunder Liger, although he was not in his "Kishin Liger" character, but we actually got a return of the “Battle Liger” guise, which was a fantastic nod to the fact that Liger actually lost to Suzuki in a shoot fight years ago in Pancrase under the very same persona. The match was nothing short of sensational, with two old pros telling a great story. With Suzuki and Liger both exiting NJPW in the near future, it goes to show just how much both will be missed.
AEW Dynamite/NXT/NWA Powerrr
AEW and NXT both continued on this week. NXT was mostly a pretty so-so show. Donovan Dijakovic vs Keith Lee was another belter, but the non-finish seemed a bit cheap even if it does set up next week’s main event. Matt Riddle and Bronson Reed was very physical, Tegan Nox and Tomasso Ciampa both made returns and won glorified squash matches. Imperium vs Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan had a very old-school tag match feel which was a nice change of pace on this show. Killian Dain vs Boa was almost a literal squash, while Io Shirai looked strong against Kayden James. The post-match with Shirai and Rhea Ripley sets up something very intriguing too. Damien Priest getting the win over Pete Dunne was very unexpected, but both men put in a great shift for the main event and I look forward to seeing these two go at it again. Not a bad show by any stretch, but a bit bland and predictable compared to AEW.
Speaking of Dynamite, AEW continued their hot streak so far with a fantastic main event. This could be a star-making moment for Darby Allin, as while he may have lost to Chris Jericho he looked fantastic in doing so. Jericho might not be what he was, but he is phenomenal in this role and made Allin look like a genuine threat. Kenny Omega and Hangman Page vs PAC and Jon Moxley was intense. I liked that it forwarded the Moxley/Omega/PAC triangle and sets up PAC vs Moxley next week, which should be (pardon the pun) explosive. This was also the best Omega has come across since AEW started, he feels serious and legitimate in a way he hasn’t managed to do so far up to this point.
Santana and Ortiz vs John Silvers and Alex Reynolds was a showcase for the former-LAX, who looked great and positions them nicely to face The Young Bucks at Full Gear. Riho beat Britt Baker with a clever finish that papered over the cracks of a less then terrific performance from Baker who still seems to be finding her feet on this stage. SCU vs The Best Friends was very fast-paced and the involvement of The Lucha Bros presumably sets up something for down the line with SCU. Speaking of Pentagon and Rey Fenix, they faced off with Marko Stunt (replacing an injured Luchasaurus) and Jungle Boy. With their dinosaur missing this was a bit of a let-down, but still a very creditable effort from all four men as the tag title tournament continues to provide lots of top quality action.
Another very good episode of Dynamite. Nothing feels rushed, the production is slick, and everyone is working their behinds off to make a great show, and so far it’s working. I do feel the “Wednesday Night War” idea has died off a bit as both NXT and AEW are showing they aiming at different audience segments, and producing vastly different products. I’m not suggesting they aren’t still competing, but it’s less of a case of like-for-like programming and more to do with each show being their own independent entity now, which can only be a good thing if the focus is on quality and not popping a rating.
However, while NXT and AEW were duking it out on Wednesday night, the best wrestling show of the week was once again produced by NWA on Tuesday and is available on Youtube. The ongoing angle with Nick Aldis and Camilla was handled brilliantly; Colt Cabana, Ken Anderson and Aron Stevens all had eventful debuts while The Wild Cards and Outlaw Inc had a very enjoyable tag match. There's just something about this setting that makes everything seem so immediate and important, no matter how small the detail. I'm loving this show and I can't recommend it highly enough.
WWE has got the biggest roster under contract that they have had in almost two decades. Not since the close of WCW and the absorption of various parts of that roster has the company had such an embarrassment of riches available to them. However, that means some will end up not quite being used as they might have hoped and one such disgruntled talent is Mike Bennett. The former ROH star announced this week that he has requested his release from WWE in a bid to be able to go off and work overseas and have lengthy matches and work more than one night a week.
There are two things to consider with this particular request. Firstly, Mike (alongside his pregnant wife Maria Kannelis) signed a five-year contract extension in the summer, which WWE presumably offered to ward off interest from AEW, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for Mike. For WWE’s part, they have offered a generous contract and job security for both Mike and his wife. The second factor is AEW, which means WWE is unlikely to let anyone out of their contract early. The second factor is important because you would assume Bennett is aware of that, which makes it seem all the more likely that this is a power-play from Bennett to try and increase his stock with WWE, knowing they will not let him leave. It might work, or he might end up sitting out four-and-a-half years of his career, but given his recent booking in the so-called “cuck” storyline, I can understand why he’s unhappy.
NJPW parent company buys Stardom
In some late-breaking news, Bushiroad the parent company of New Japan Pro Wrestling has announced the purchase of Stardom, arguably the leading Joshi (Japanese women’s wrestling) promotion in Japan. With New Japan stringently against the idea of having a women’s division, this suggests that Bushiroad is expanding and looking to promote this as a separate entity to NJPW, but who knows? Could we see women on the NJPW shows at the Tokyo Dome? It’s certainly more possible now than it was before. With WWE reportedly interested in buying Stardom, or in face possibly NOAH or Sendai Girls, there has been some rumbling about an NXT Japan promotion. For now, we don’t know much, but this is definitely a story to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.
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/NWA/AEW (Lee South)/Stardom/NJPW