Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. What a week it has been with two huge shows on these shores and a massive event from AEW in the US. In addition, we had two very eventful episodes of WWE TV, and a belt being stolen. Let's get cracking with NJPW's big show in London from Saturday night.
NJPW Royal Quest
Well, that was quite something. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s first full foray into the UK market was an unqualified success. As an attendee, I had high hopes and NJPW vastly exceeded those expectations. The Copper Box feels almost like the perfect venue for wrestling. The sightlines are great and there are few if any poor seats in terms of getting a good view of the ring. We were sat in the upper bowl but had a perfect view of the ring and the entrance ramp. The venue was big enough to ensure this show looked like a legitimate landmark event without ever seeming too large. A great choice and a venue I have to imagine New Japan will try to run again in the future.
The show itself, from an in-ring perspective, was excellent. The main event with Minoru Suzuki challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title was superb, with a red-hot crowd who hung on every near fall. I loved the story of Suzuki’s insistence on trying to hit the gotch-style piledriver, which would eventually cost him the match. It’s an oft used narrative device in Suzuki matches, but it worked perfectly here. Okada was on top form and these two have strong chemistry which made for a really hot main event. In hindsight, it might have been prudent to do a title change here for the shock value (and have Okada win it back at Destruction) especially given this was a largely pro-Suzuki audience. Still, I appreciate why it didn’t happen and no-one went home dissatisfied. The post-match with Sanada set up his challenge for the title (presumably) at Destruction.
The rest of the show was very good and moved at a swift pace. Hiroshi Tanahashi taking the British Heavyweight title off Zack Sabre Jr was not a surprise, but the two had a very good match. KENTA vs Tomohiro Ishii for the Never Openweight title was appropriately physical, but it did seem like KENTA might have injured himself or become concussed at some point in the match. G.O.D vs Aussie Open was exactly what I expected (I will confess I went to the bar during this match so saw much less of it, but I have since seen the match via the FITE broadcast), LIJ vs Bullet Club (Jay White and Chase Owens) was very good and Tetsuya Naito especially shined brightly here. Even from our modest seats, you could see the charisma pouring out of him. Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles vs El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori was probably my favourite match on this show with some lovely high spots. Eagles especially impressed and I look forward to seeing this combination again. Kota Ibushi and Juice Robinson vs Bullet Club (Hikuleo and Yujiro Takahashi) was a fine undercard match with Robinson and Ibushi the big crowd favourites, while Roppongi 3k vs Shota Umino, Ren Narita and Ryusuke Taguchi was a strong, if not somewhat short opener.
Royal Quest feels like an unmitigated success for New Japan, and I’m certain they will have made a fortune on merchandise sales alone on the night. The card was really strong, with everyone pulling off at least decent matches, if not brilliant bouts (in the case of the main event especially). This was a major home run from NJPW and I’m delighted I was able to attend. If you weren’t there and you opted not to buy the show via FITE, this is definitely pone to check out when it lands on New Japan World later this year.
NXT UK Takeover: Cardiff
Just over one hundred and fifty miles away from Stratford, NXT UK hosted their own big UK show in Cardiff. As I mentioned last week, on paper this wasn’t an event I had a whole heap of enthusiasm for. The weekly TV show has been passable at best and few angles and matches really felt like they had been significant in the build-up to this show. However, Takeover: Cardiff massively over delivered on the night, aided by a very responsive, excited audience.
WALTER vs Tyler Bate was possibly my match of the year so far. It was 40 minutes of intense action, telling a wonderful story. Bate looked phenomenal in defeat and despite the smart money being on WALTER retaining, I genuinely bought into Bate winning at various points which has to be seen as a success. It was exhausting, exhilarating and brilliant in all the best ways.
The rest of the show was mostly very good. Noam Dar vs Travis Banks was a pretty throwaway opener, not bad by any stretch but instantly forgettable. The three-way tag match was far better than it had any right to be, with a fantastic finishing sequence. Putting the belts on Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster for the big hometown pop was absolutely the right call and made for a really lovely moment in front of a very grateful crowd. Joe Coffey vs Dave Mastiff was also far better than I had expected, with some innovative and fun spots that you don’t often see in a last man standing match. I would still question the logic of having two Gallus matches back-to-back but that’s a very minor gripe.
Ilja Dragunov answering Cesaro’s open challenge was very satisfying and the two had a very serviceable encounter, which did plenty for Dragunov even in defeat., I would be happy to see Cesaro stick around NXT UK for a while, given he’s not doing a huge amount on the main roster at the moment. Plus, with Kassius Ohno knocking around they could have some fun tag matches, maybe even a run at Andrews and Webster. Finally Kay Lee Ray and Toni Storm had a match that would probably be match of the night on pretty much any other show, with some great sequences and real fire between the two. KLR is very underrated in this heel role and she brings a freshness to the division after a lengthy reign from Storm.
This show as far from perfect, but everything was fun and felt urgent and vibrant in a way NXT UK rarely does. The in-ring action was strong; there was plenty of storyline developments, a big feel-good moment and possibly the best WWE match of the year thus far. Well done to NXT UK for pulling out all the stops for a genuinely very enjoyable show.
Perhaps the most unpredictable show of the weekend, All Out was quite the spectacle, with plenty to talk about heading into their TV debut on TNT in just under a month. Of course, the big news coming out of the show was Chris Jericho establishing himself as the centrepiece of AEW as their inaugural world champion. His match with Hangman Page was very good, and although Page lost I think it was handled and he actually gains quite a lot in defeat, giving him time to rebuild and make his eventual title win a big deal. There’s no doubt that Page is a future top star for AEW, but his ascent needs to be given more time, space and build to make it truly mean something. For his part, Jericho has now established the Judas effect as a deadly finishing move, and no matter how you feel about his current look/condition there is no doubt that he is doing some sterling character work in this role. A fine main event and a logical step forward for the company.
Kenny Omega vs PAC was pretty much exactly what I had hoped for. PAC’s style is a perfect counterbalance to Omega and these two tore the house down. Aside from a couple of scary-looking dives, everything was spot on. I was surprised to see PAC get the win, but I have to assume that one of the big storylines is Omega doing the losing streak gimmick (at least in big matches) before turning things around. This result also suggests PAC is sticking around, so we’ll have to see how he is positioned moving forward. A cracking match and one that really perked up the crowd by having it so early in the show.
The rest of the show was mostly very enjoyable, but it was perhaps a little on the long side. The three-way hardcore match with Joey Janela, Jimmy Havoc and Darby Allin was predictably crazy, but riotous fun. SoCal Uncensored vs The Jungle Express was a decent opener although I could do without Marko Stunt sullying the very promising combination of Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus. Cody vs Shawn Spears was nowhere near the level of Cody vs Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing, but it had its moments including a wonderful spinebuster from Arn Anderson. Riho vs Hikaru Shida was fine, but not as stand out as I had hoped for. The Dark Order vs The Best Friends was passable, but not overly memorable. I’m not sure the gimmick for Dark Order really works as such. However, a gimmick that absolutely does work is Orange Cassidy, who debuted after the match and hit a perfect suicide dive with his hand in his pockets. A thing of beauty. Finally, The Lucha Bros and The Young Bucks tore the house down in a chaotic spot fest ladder match that went down exactly as you would imagine. A solid effort from all four men.
All Out was very good. There are still major issues to resolve, not least on commentary. The lack of Alex Marvez was a plus, but Jim Ross sounds so unenthused by the vast majority of the action on these shows and it really hurts the product. The pre-show was a mess, again, and there were some minor production snafus, but these can all be improved as things move forward. They’re not the finished article, nor does this come close to the quality of Royal Quest, but this was definitely an enjoyable show, and one very much worth watching.
There’s only one place to start in terms of discussing Raw, and that with the show’s conclusion and some major character development from Bayley. Earlier in the night, Becky Lynch challenged Sasha Banks to a match at Clash of Champions, which “The Boss” duly accepted. The Women’s showcase match featuring Becky Lynch and Bayley vs Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross was a worthy main event with some good moments while it lasted, but the real story came from the post-match. Sasha Banks causing the DQ by attacking Lynch was expected, but even after her interview earlier in the night when she admitted to still being friends with Banks, seeing Bayley attack Lynch with a chair was shocking. The Bayley character has been edgier in recent months and the whole “hugger” shtick never fully translated from her brilliant run in NXT to the main roster, so this makes sense and gives her a fresh set of programmes. We’ll deal with the fallout more when we talk about Smackdown, but the execution of the turn was perfect, and majorly unexpected, s kudos to all involved.
The Seth Rollins-Braun Strowman contract signing did not entirely go to plan, but it made for a very entertaining opening segment. The OC getting involved was logical and AJ Styles tearing up the contract felt novel (even if it’s just a ploy so they can have Stone Cold Steve Austin come in to “moderate” the new signing on next week’s show). The inevitable tag match between the two teams was enjoyable, and the “inadvertent” shoulder tackle from Strowman on Rollins adds a layer of dissension between the tag champions going into Clash of Champions as both do double duty. I don’t think we’ll get a turn from either, but this makes things a little spicier between the two and creates some friction. Related to this, was a brilliant Firefly Funhouse segment with Bray Wyatt later on that sets him up as the challenger for the winner of Rollins-Strowman, facing the champion at Hell in a Cell. Wyatt was again phenomenal here, and although hot-shotting him into the title picture feels slightly premature, he has made such an impact and has so much momentum that I understand why they are going with him. In addition, he has a history with both Rollins and Strowman meaning this doesn’t totally telegraph the finish at Clash of Champions.
The rest of the show was very good for the most part. Having Ricochet and Samoa Joe end in a double pin was an interesting decision, but with Baron Corbin advancing over Cedric Alexander in the other quarter final, the three-way means that potentially Ricochet can shine in a major match without having to advance, if they want a heel from the Raw side in the finals. Corbin had a great showing with Alexander in a match that elevated both men, and it goes without saying that Joe and Ricochet had a fun TV match. The Miz beating Cesaro only a couple of days after Cesaro made such an impression at NXT UK was bizarre, even if they are warming Miz up to face Shinsuke Nakamura. Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode had a good showing against Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins, actually showing some chemistry and looking like a good team together. Lacey Evans vs Natalya was better than I expected it to be. Finally, The Viking Raiders triumphed in a very entertaining squash against some local talent, which I would recommend going out or your way to see. I think they might have turned babyface in this match too, but it’s hard to say for sure.
Overall, this was a very entertaining episode of Raw. Clash of Champions feels like it is starting to become a show worth seeing, and the build this week was very good. Bayley’s heel turn was brilliantly handled and it made for a major hook to watch Smackdown and find out why she turned to the dark side.
I’m not sure what WWE originally had in mind going into the angle with Roman Reigns and the mystery attacker. However, things took another crazy turn this week. Daniel Bryan wanting an apology from Reigns for spearing him last week was understandable; however, Rowan attacking first Reigns and then Bryan himself before revelling in his actions was very unexpected. Rowan certainly looked like the top heel here, and I don’t know if this will lead to some sort of ruse involving Bryan but it certainly seems like for now at least Rowan vs Reigns is the outcome of this angle. Weird.
Bayley explaining her actions on Raw was handled better than I expected. The idea that Bayley still believes that she is a hero to kids and doing the right thing is a strong motivation for her actions, and the best heels are the ones who believe they are in the right. The interaction with and attack on Charlotte was effective, even if it made Charlotte seem like the babyface in this scenario. However, Bayley and Banks standing tall made this segment work and it sets up some intriguing possibilities as we move towards Clash of Champions. This turn and the follow up has elevated Bayley massively, and her and Banks make a very solid top heel pairing for the division.
The rest of the show was pretty decent. Samoa Joe showing up to “scout” the competition for the King of the Ring was odd, but having him berate Chad Gable continues the story that they’re telling with Gable as the ultimate underdog. Gable beating Andrade was surprising to some, but I still feel we’ll be getting Gable vs either Samoa Joe or Baron Corbin in the finals. The match was excellent, as you’d expect, if not a bit short. Elias beating Ali was also a surprise, but again if you are having Gable go to the final he needs another heel to beat along the way, ideally one who is much larger than him. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross vs Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville was a fine TV match. Aleister Black vs Shelton Benjamin was another very solid match but I’m not sure it did much for either man in the bigger picture. Shinsuke Nakamura squashed a local talent and again proved the decision to put him with Sami Zayn to be a wise one. They were fantastic here. Some 24/7 title changes happened, but it’s hard to care too much really. Finally, Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton squared up, with The Revival helping Orton brutalize Orton with that great Super RKO. Honestly, Orton might be doing some of his career-best work here, so much so that I think Orton might turn himself babyface if he’s not careful. Still a very impactful segment.
A very good Smackdown this week, with lots of fun matches especially from the King of the Ring, more great work from Bayley and Sasha Banks, and further build for Clash of Champions in a couple of weeks. Another strong showing from WWE after this week’s equally impressive Raw.
AEW Title belt stolen
One late-breaking story this week came in the form of AEW World Champion Chris Jericho filing a police report after his brand new championship belt went walkabout. The details are sketchy but essentially it seems the title was left in the back of a limo, which returned to the airport due to a luggage mishap, while Jericho went and had a steak. However, when it returned the belt was missing. While AEW and Jericho were quick to turn it into a storyline and information bega to release that the company had a second belt, it was definitely an embarrassing moment for AEW. Luckily, it appears the belt was retrieved by the local police department, but let's hope Jericho and AEW learn from this incident.
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/AEW/NJPW