Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. As you might have realised things were quite busy for wrestling fans over the past week with WWE putting on shows four nights in a row in Toronto, while New Japan Pro Wrestling was also pretty busy crowning a winner of the G1 Climax tournament. Let's start the ball rolling by looking back at NXT Takeover: Toronto.
The first big show of WWE’s four-night residency in Toronto featured the NXT crew doing what they do best and putting on a show with something for everyone as they presented their latest Takeover effort. The main event was exactly what you would have expected from a two-out-of-three-falls match featuring Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole. Although the stipulations for the first fall (regular wrestling match) and the second fall (street fight) provided both an interesting story with Gargano getting intentionally disqualified in the first instance in order to triumph in the second, and both men working over specific body parts, it was in the third fall that things really kicked into gear. Technically the third fall wasn’t necessarily guaranteed, but when the cage inevitably lowered covered in a variety of weapons it definitely turned the violence levels up a notch and while Cole’s win was more by luck than judgement this very much felt like the blow-off to this feud and Gargano’s swansong. A good main event, but I can absolutely see why this was overkill for some viewers and the excitement and intensity of Mauro Ranallo in calling this bout may have been too much for some. Personally, I thought it was a decisive and suitably upscaled finish to a major rivalry in NXT in 2019.
The rest of the show ranged from quite good to excellent. Shayna Baszler and Mia Yim was a bit disappointing for me. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly didn’t light the world on fire and the two didn’t gel well enough for a match on this level. Conversely, Io Shirai and Candace LeRae had one of the best women’s matches in WWE this year. LeRae is a great underdog babyface, while Shirai has been a revelation as a heel and certainly feels poised to take over the top female heel role from Baszler should she be called up to the main roster. This was exciting, well-constructed and made Shirai look like an absolute killer.
The Street Profits vs The Undisputed Era was a hot opener with all four men putting in a very solid performance. I was surprised to see Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins retain the titles but I guess they’ll be continuing to split their time between NXT and the main roster for a little while longer. The segment with Matt Riddle and Killian Dain was suitably wild and a great way to get both on the show without rushing to the match just yet. Finally, Velveteen Dream defended his North American Title against Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne in a very good three-way. Dream’s entrance was fantastic, and Dunne and Strong both shone during the match alongside the champ. Dream retaining made sense, although I do wonder what a Dunne vs Dream match might have to offer after seeing this match.
Overall, Takeover: Toronto was a largely enjoyable show, with only Baszler and Yim disappointing slightly. It was not quite on the level of the legendary Brooklyn shows, or some of the other revered Takeover events, but in fairness that is quite a high bar. For me, I would hope that the main event scene will get something of a refresh with the likes of Dain, Riddle and even Keith Lee or Donovan Dijakovic given a chance to challenge for the main titles, as well as the continued development of Dunne, Dream and various others. Still, a very good show and a great way to start this run of shows.
The biggest party of the summer (as with last week I don’t think they use that tagline much now, but I like it) took place from the Scotiabank Center in Toronto, Canada as WWE presented Summerslam 2019. On paper, this looked like a very good show but also one that might end up going long into the night as WWE shows have tended to do in recent months. However, I was pleasantly surprised as this show clocked in at a svelte three and a half hours, which I think helped a lot with this show seeming both fresh and as though it moved along at a reasonable pace. The main event of the show was not one of the matches I was most looking forward to with Brock Lesnar defending the Universal title against Seth Rollins, but the build had been so poor that I couldn’t see a way that Rollins could get a win in a way that rehabilitated him properly. I was mistaken, and this was almost certainly the match of the night from an in-ring perspective. Rollins sold his ribs pretty consistently (barring a big frog splash spot through a table, but by his standards that is pretty good) and Lesnar dominating for the most part. The near falls from the various stomps and F5s were well put together and provided nice call-backs to their previous encounters, especially the Wrestlemania match in April. Spinning Rollins about using his rib tape was a moment of genius, and it was clear throughout the match that Lesnar had his working boots on as he made Rollins look fantastic. Although Seth Rollins still needs to be booked better going forward this definitely went some way to fixing the way he has been treated in recent months, and hopefully gives him a springboard to build more momentum with his second run as Universal champion.
The other big matches on this show mostly delivered for me. Becky Lynch vs Natalya was a hot opener with the submission stipulation that did plenty to differentiate this match from the other two women’s matches. I enjoyed the back and forth submission attempts and both women looked strong as a result. Dolph Ziggler vs Goldberg was exactly what it needed to be, with Goldberg getting the big squash win and Ziggler goading him to come back twice only to further obliterate him. Trish Stratus vs Charlotte Flair was nothing too memorable, but Charlotte made Stratus look great while Trish rolled back the years to do her signature spots. Flair going over was 100% the right call, and if this truly is Stratus’ last match what a great way to go out on her shield. Kofi Kingston vs Randy Orton was excellent right up until the unnecessarily cheap finish, which I felt robbed Kofi of a big statement win on one of the biggest shows of the year. I get that they want to keep this feud going, and the post-match conveyed that Kofi Kingston is able to up his intensity and aggression when things get personal, but there was no reason this couldn’t have a better conclusion. AJ Styles vs Ricochet was a tad disappointing, but only because expectations were overly high, and it was far from a bad match. Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens was short, entertaining and the audience loved it. Bayley vs Ember Moon was fine, but aside from the finish with the Bayley-to-Belly off the middle rope, there isn’t a huge amount to discuss.
Finally, we have the single biggest highlight on this show. I think everyone had high expectations for Bray Wyatt’s return as “The Fiend” and a huge amount of curiosity surrounding whether the Wyatt character could translate to an in-ring presentation. Well, that curiosity was more than sated here as WWE hit a home run with pretty much every aspect of Wyatt’s re-debut. The entrance, from the music to the lighting to Wyatt himself carrying a lantern that resembled the severed head of his former character. It was spot on and felt really special. Handled correctly (which I appreciate is a big caveat for WWE) Wyatt could take on the sort of role The Undertaker has played for the company for the last three decades. In-ring, Wyatt looked great and it helped that Finn Balor sold everything including massive degrees of fear with seriousness and a lack of selfishness that made Wyatt look incredible. Honestly, this could not have gotten off to a better start, and seeing Wyatt not overexposed by being on Raw or Smackdown this week made me more confident they have a solid understanding and a genuine idea of what they have on their hands with The Fiend.
Summerslam was a very solid show, maybe even better than Takeover the night before. All the matches were at least good, if not excellent. The show was kept to a very reasonable length, and nothing dragged. There were surprises, big moments, and one very memorable re-debut. As WWE PPVs go this year, this has to be in the top 5, if not top 2 or 3.
Following on from Summerslam WWE presented Raw on Monday night, and with a very well-received PPV on Sunday, they followed it up with a pretty eventful Raw. No story was bigger than the return of one Sasha Banks. “The Boss” had been MIA since Wrestlemania, allegedly having walked out on the company. However, as Natalya made a heartfelt speech about her late father and her loss to Becky Lynch the night before some familiar music played and Banks appeared. The immediate heel turn on Nattie, as well as getting the better of Lynch, who made the save was excellent and signalled a return to the character that made Banks so popular in NXT. She makes a far better heel than a smiley babyface and Lynch could absolutely benefit from a strong heel challenger on Raw. Oh, and she has blue hair now. This was very well executed, a major surprise and sets up fresh programmes moving forward. Welcome back, Boss.
Seth Rollins had an interesting night. Fresh off his glorious victory over Brock Lesnar the previous night he was interrupted by The OC to set up a match with AJ Styles in the main event. The match itself wasn’t a patch on some of the matches these two have had in the past but Ricochet and Braun Strowman making the save after the DQ was very intriguing. I’m not sure where they plan to go with this, but the interaction between Rollins and Strowman with the belt handover definitely teased something that could provide a fascinating feud if they choose to opt for that as the title programme for Clash of Champions.
The rest of the show was pretty good, if not overly spectacular. The Miz and Dolph Ziggler had their scheduled match, with Miz playing a similar role to Goldberg the night before, in the post-match. I’m enjoying this deluded version of Ziggler more than anything he’s done in a number of years. Ricochet vs Elias, and Drew McIntyre vs Cedric Alexander were both very good TV matches, while Elias would also get involved in all the 24/7 nonsense later in the night with R-Truth, The Revival et al. The Viking Raiders squashed some more local talent as they continue to do so every week. Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn was pretty forgettable, but not a bad match. Bobby Roode vs No Way Jose happened. Nothing more to add there. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross vs The Kabuki Warriors was better than the tag title match on the pre-show at Summerslam, but I’m not sure the pairing of Asuka and Kairi Sane is really working, especially without Paige.
Finally, it was announced that next week we will see the return of the King of the Ring tournament, which is fantastic news. I’m a huge fan of the tournament and it offers a great opportunity to elevate a superstar on the roster to new heights. The competitors are Baron Corbin, Cesaro, Cedric Alexander, Drew McIntyre, Ricochet, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, The Miz, Ali, Andrade, Apollo Crews, Buddy Murphy, Chad Gable, WWE 24/7 Champion Elias, Kevin Owens and Shelton Benjamin. For me, Murphy, Gable, Owens or Ricochet would be the best bet, but I also expect Baron Corbin will win the whole thing. Let’s hope not. Either way, it should be a fun ride getting to the finals, and hopefully, there is something at stake for the winner.
A decent show overall, with plenty of good matches, one massive angle and a good rotation of talent to avoid anyone being overexposed. Everything major on this show landed pretty well and nothing was terrible, which is better than a bit big chunk of episodes of Raw this year.
As expected, a big focus on this week’s Smackdown was the continuing mystery over who attacked Roman Reigns. While Buddy Murphy had revealed last week that Rowan was responsible it appears that things are not so clear cut. Daniel Bryan and Rowan cut a scathing promo in which they explained their innocence and vowed to find the culprit. This, of course, led later on to their physical intimidation of Buddy Murphy until he said he was lying last week, and their eventual confrontation with Roman Reigns where they asked for an apology as well as promising to reveal the real culprit next week. That last part is especially important, as it gives the audience a hook to come back next week, something WWE is often guilty of forgetting to do. For his part, Bryan was phenomenal in all this, and while it feels obvious that he will be outed as the mastermind behind the attacks he is doing an incredible job of pulling the strings here and manipulating the situation in the style of some sort of master villain. It really is a great bit of character work and another layer to the already very well defined “New” Daniel Bryan character.
As part of all this, we also got Roman Reigns vs Buddy Murphy, which was a fantastic showcase for Murphy who has long been underappreciated with the company and has star power written all over him. Going toe-to-toe with Reigns and dominating at points puts him over massively even in defeat, elevating him and making Murphy seem like a real player on the blue brand for the near future. All in all, this show long angle and match was gripping stuff and I’m glad it was left off Summerslam rather than rushing it.
The rest of the show was fine, but I was beginning to feel a bit burnt out at points after 4 nights of WWE in a row. The New Day vs The Revival and Randy Orton was a solid TV match, and Randy Orton’s promo beforehand helped continue the feud between himself and Kofi Kingston moving forward. The post-match RKO-fest bordered on the comedic but Orton is so good that it somehow worked. Although Kingston is the clear babyface, WWE has to be careful not to accidentally turn Orton while building this feud. Charlotte Flair vs Ember Moon was entertaining although it seemed as though it wasn’t part of any specific programme currently. I imagine Charlotte challenges Bayley next given her win over Trish Stratus at Summerslam, but whether that manifests itself immediately or further down the line is hard to say. Finally, Kevin Owens, who is clearly the lead babyface on this show now, came out to a rapturous reaction and cut a promo hyping the King of the Ring tournament before he was interrupted by Shane signalling their feud will be continuing. With the deck stacked against him and forced to face Samoa Joe with Elias again involved in an official capacity, Owens was defeated. However, this sets up the programme to continue and with the KOTR happening, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Owens vs Shane take place at Hell in a Cell in October given their history at that event.
This week’s Smackdown was enjoyable but perhaps suffered from the WWE overkill of the weekend. All the in-ring action was at least good, especially the six-man tag and the Murphy/Reigns bout, while there was no lack of storyline development.
While WWE may have dominated the wrestling headlines this week, New Japan Pro Wrestling was also very busy with three nights at Budokan Hall in Tokyo to finish up the fantastic month of shows they have put on for the G1 Climax tournament. In A Block Kota Ibushi would go over Kazuchika Okada to win the block in an excellent match, while in B Block it would be Jay White who surprisingly went to the finals to face Ibushi after beating Tetsuya Naito, which was a major surprise given everyone expected Naito to reach the final. It may not have been the pairing we expected but White and Ibushi put on a fantastic contest and at several points, I genuinely believed that Switchblade was going to take the win.
Ibushi getting the victory after losing in the finals last year was a logical move, but where he goes from here is interesting. There is a long time until Wrestle Kingdom, but Okada vs Ibushi has already been announced for January 4th, and Ibushi has clamoured for a shot at Naito’s IC title on January 5th. I’m not sure how this is all going to shake out in the coming months with KENTA and EVIL both in line to try and win the title shot from Ibushi, although I can’t see either being successful. There is also the question of Naito and how he fits into this, but I imagine it’ll be somewhat clearer in a few weeks.
The other big news on these shows came from KENTA, who turned on his teammates in a tag match and joined Bullet Club. This is a very sensible move by NJPW, and the former-Hideo Itami is a great fit as a heel with this group who are still recovering from losing The Elite. However, even bigger is the story that KENTA’s (now-former) friend Katsuyori Shibata had a very physical altercation with KENTA after the match executing a couple of signature moves and setting tongues wagging that he will be returning to action. Shibata has been out of action since 2017 after suffering a horrific brain injury following a match with Kazuchika Okada. It was believed he would never return to the ring and he might still not, but this certainly hinted at a potential return and if that is the case then things just got very, very interesting indeed.
Finally, New Japan also announced the card for their Royal Quest show in London on August 31st. The event will feature Kazuchika Okada defending his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Minoru Suzuki, as well as Zack Sabre Jr vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the Rev Pro British Heavyweight title and Tomohiro Ishii vs KENTA for the Never Openweight strap. The rest of the card is made up of tag matches and multi-man affairs, but the majority of the roster will be in action including Tetsuya Naito, Will Ospreay, SANADA, Kota Ibushi, Bullet Club, Jay White and many others. One name who us not apparently making the trip is Jushin Thunder Liger which is very disappointing. Liger is retiring in January, and although he is appearing in Cheltenham for Rev pro before this, it is mind-boggling that he won’t be on the first full NJPW show on these shores. Unless of course, he makes a surprise appearance, but we’ll only know on the day if so. Still, this is a very strong card akin to something you might see on a mid-level PPV or a Sumo Hall show which shows how seriously NJPW are taking this show. We will be live in attendance and hopefully, we’ll have full coverage of the event on August 31st.
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.
Photos: WWE.COM and NJPW1972.COM