Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week, we look back at superb TLC show, an interesting episode of Raw, and a very decent Smackdown. We also take a look at the card for the upcoming NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 show set for January 4th. Let's get started with Tables, Ladder and Chairs from Sunday night.
Well, that was quite the show. WWE couldn’t really have done more to end off their year with a bang, and for the most part, it worked a treat. The main event of TLC, as I had hoped but not expected, was the Smackdown Women’s title three-way TLC match featuring Becky Lynch, Asuka and Charlotte. The bout was contested at a frenetic pace and all three women took some brutal punishment as well as dishing out some. Although all three women apparently came through the match without injury, they were lucky as it felt like all three went absolutely all out to steal the show. Asuka getting the win wasn’t necessarily a huge surprise and it sets the plate nicely for Becky to win the Royal Rumble and challenge Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania, or Charlotte to also find her way into that match and do a three-way dance. Either way, taking the belt off Becky makes sense and frees herself and Charlotte up, while also giving a renewed push to Asuka, and about time too. Rousey getting involved also sets things up nicely, and continues to stir the pot for whoever ends up facing her. A cracking main event, and a late shout for match of the year in 2018.
The other big matches on the show mostly delivered, but there was one exception with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose having a surprisingly dull outing. Pretty much everything since the Ambrose turn has been badly booked and try as they might, this match suffered for it. It wasn’t technically bad, but it lacked the fire and fury of their previous encounters and the booking just wasn’t up to scratch. Not so with the Daniel Bryan vs AJ Styles match that was laid out perfectly. Both men were superb, and although it wasn’t a five star (or seven stars I suppose now?) classic it showed great character work from both men and some innovative counters. I enjoyed very much that Bryan has new attire and is no longer calling his submission the “Yes Lock”. He probably needs new music, but you have to imagine that’ll come soon enough. Bryan getting the win seemed inevitable, but this was a very good bout between two of the very best.
Ronda Rousey vs Nia Jax was a match that on paper I had my concerns about, but as she always seems to do Rousey confounded my expectations and put on a really very good match with Nia Jax, who is not always the safest or most accomplished hand. Everything looked great, and Rousey even managed an unusual finish that made for a great conclusion to an unexpectedly fun encounter. Natalya vs Ruby Riott was another match that exceeded expectations, and despite the tacky nature of the build, the payoff was more than worthwhile. Also kudos to Liv Morgan for taking a nasty looking bump, she sold it like a trooper. Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre was fine, although the tainted win for Balor, given the push they have been giving McIntyre and the idea of saddling Balor with Dolph Ziggler is all pretty baffling to me. The Bar vs The Usos vs The New Day was a nice tag sprint, but nothing overly eventful. Finally, Baron Corbin vs Braun Strowman was more of an angle than a match, but it was nice to see Corbin get his comeuppance and having the wronged babyfaces take revenge was an easy out to prevent Strowman having to do anything physical.
Overall, TLC felt like a home run for WWE. The vast majority of the matches on this stacked show delivered, and those that didn’t were still more than passable. Rollins vs Ambrose was by far the biggest disappointment, but I suspect they’ll be motivated to rectify that misstep very quickly. This show really does prove how good WWE can be when they really want to be, even in the slump months between Survivor Series and the Rumble.
With the announcement before the show that Vince McMahon was to return to Raw to “shake things up”, many expected sea changes from the red brand. However, what we got was, essentially not very much. The opening segment (all 40 minutes of it) with Vince, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H appearing and promising to listen to the fans and run the show based on what the audience wants was interesting, but in effect it seems like there was zero that actually changed other than the McMahon family being portrayed as babyfaces. The Baron Corbin interaction and subsequent “match” was a rehash of the previous night’s angle. Even the news of NXT call-ups was met with apathy, probably because they chose to bring up some of the less inspiring choices from the roster. EC3 should do well on the main roster, arguably better than in NXT as it’s a better fit for his style. Lacey Evans similarly should be a good addition, while Lars Sullivan, Heavy Machinery and Nikki Cross will certainly bring depth and fresh faces to divisions that could use the boost. They are all solid, Sensible choices, but no-one from that group exactly whets the appetite or creates a potential “must-see” debut in the way an Undisputed Era or Aleister Black might have done. I can only hope those debuts are being held off until they can make a bigger splash when they appear on the main roster. We also got return videos for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who will provide a much-needed lift to proceedings when they do make their return, but again it’s not exactly headline news. I appreciate what the opening segment and all the announcements aimed to achieve, but on first look, it fell very flat. I find it hard to believe anyone came out of this show hyped for next week’s show, and if that was the aim, the booking team failed hard.
One big focus on this show was the Raw women’s division, with Ronda Rousey roving a focal point. The Women’s gauntlet match to set up a number one contender for the title was easily the best in-ring moment on this show. Natalya winning was a surprise, but not an unpleasant one given there have been loads of subtle teases of a potential turn on Rousey at some stage, although the moment between the two friends that closed the show was a lot less subtle. That said I don’t expect a full turn from Natalya just yet, but this makes for a decent TV programme for Rousey until Mania rolls around should they go that direction.
The rest of the show felt like a real drop-off from the highs of TLC, but it was fairly solid in places. Dean Ambrose cut a much better promo than in recent weeks, and I’m starting to enjoy the whole faux-Bane gas mask aesthetic. The match with Tyler Breeze was really very entertaining, and hopefully raised Breeze’s stock with management, especially after his recent surprise NXT return with Ricochet garnered rave reviews. The aftermath with Seth Rollins being revealed as one of the goons was a bit silly, but it served a purpose and this was still far better than anything these two have done together since the Ambrose turn.
I’d really like someone to explain to me why Elias and Bobby Lashley are still feuding. It seems like some sort of cruel ongoing joke, and yet again on Raw, they shared a segment. The Revival vs AoP vs Lucha House Party vs The B Team was fun, and I liked that it put The Revival over really strongly. Dolph Ziggler vs Finn Balor was fine, if not particularly spectacular, but the post-match was good in terms of rehabbing Drew McIntyre.
This was not a memorable Raw. It was also not necessarily a bad Raw. However, it wasn’t a good Raw either. This week’s show promised a lot and delivered a little. Hopefully, this is just the first night of a big change to Raw coming in the next few weeks, although on the face of it doesn’t exactly feel fresh and new, but I’m willing to give them a few weeks to implement the changes they alluded to.
Much like Raw, Smackdown was attempting a fresh start this week, although in my mind it really didn’t need much of an overhaul. The presence of the McMahon family wasn’t as rampant as it might have been, but they were certainly present. Shane McMahon addressing the roster to open the show was an unusual segment, and the removal of Paige as the GM seems like a bad move. I did enjoy Big E eating chicken while giving knowing looks to Daniel Bryan, which was very amusing. Becky Lynch heading out to the ring and not being with the rest of the roster just shows how far above the rest of Smackdown she is, and it had a bit of a feel of the way they would treat Stone Cold Steve Austin at his peak. Lynch cut a great promo on Ronda Rousey, with some pretty scathing remarks. If they do a face-to-face down the road I do worry Becky will absolutely smoke Rousey in the verbal stakes. Charlotte was also very good with her interruption, as was Asuka. It all worked as a nice postscript to the TLC match, and Vince McMahon coming out to move things along actually worked to move proceedings on without it feeling forced. The resulting bout with Asuka taking on Naomi was very good, and once again put over Asuka really strongly. The show opening, the in-ring promo segment and the match all flowed together really nicely. However, much like Raw this didn’t feel like a particularly big shake-up of the brand and it remains to be seen once we get past Christmas how much this new approach will impact the blue brand.
The main event of this week’s Smackdown was a surprising, but not unwelcome tag bout pitting Mustafa Ali (who is now apparently part of the Smackdown roster, which is a great move) and AJ Styles vs Daniel Bryan and Andrade “Cien” Almas. The action was energetic and hard-hitting and I loved seeing Ali get a chance to mix it up with Bryan (who again had a great heel performance here) and Almas. This really gave him the rub, especially as he shockingly pinned the WWE champion on his first night as an official roster member. This is a match well worth going out of your way to check out and a great way to get Mustafa Ali over to a whole new audience.
The rest of the show moved at a fairly smooth pace, with some entertaining moments. The backstage segment with The Miz and Vince McMahon was entertaining, although the mixed tag match pitting himself and Mandy Rose against R-Truth and Carmella was pure filler. The Usos segment and match with Gallows & Anderson, plus the chaotic end to the bout with Sanity returning and The Bar getting involved was a nice boost for a tag division that really needed an injection of vibrancy. Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe’s back-and-forth was well executed and helps that feud move forward. Finally, Rusev and Shinsuske Nakamura both got a chance to speak about the US Title, with Rusev pulling out some great lines, and Nakamura showing clips of Rusev on Total Divas. To me the clips intended to embarrass Rusev actually just added another layer to his character. I have to assume Rusev is taking the US title off Nakamura in the near future, either on TV or at the Royal Rumble.
A very good show from the blue brand, with some nice TLC follow up and a phenomenal main event. It’s hard to say where the show is given the Christmas schedule but I suspect we’ll know more once we hit the New Year on the direction for the brand going forward.
Wrestle Kingdom 13 preview
With next week focusing on our year-end awards, I thought we’d take a quick look this week at the final announced card for NJPW’s big Wrestle Kingdom show on January 4th. This huge show is essentially the New Japan equivalent of Wrestlemania and it’ll emanate as always from the massive Tokyo Dome baseball stadium in the Japanese capital. I have to admit, in the past few months I’ve felt a little less invested in NJPW than previously and it does seem like some of the big programmes for this show seem a little more lazily built than in previous years, or even downright underdeveloped. However, none of that will matter on January 4th as the card itself looks predictably phenomenal on paper.
At the very top of the card, Kenny Omega will defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi. The match itself should be great, although I’ve found Omega quite underwhelming as champion. However, with Tana, he has an opponent who will provide a perfect foil for his offence and this is sure to be a classic. Conventional wisdom suggests Tanahashi wins, with Omega’s contract due to expire early next year, but it’s not beyond Gedo to pull out a surprise or two, and if The Elite are planning to launch their own promotion (and there’s nothing to say that they aren’t just off to WWE and are double-bluffing everyone to make it a genuine surprise when they turn up) they may still end working with NJPW. Something tells me Omega retains, but it’s a very difficult call.
It seems weird seeing Kazuchika Okada not main eventing Wrestle Kingdom, but his feud with “Switchblade “Jay White has been an interesting diversion and I suspect they will have a very good outing, I just hope it’s not marred with interference from Bullet Club. Chris Jericho vs Tetsuya Naito will almost certainly be a wild brawl, but with Jericho not a regular fixture in NJPW presumably, Naito will take the strap back.
The rest of the card has lots of potential show stealing matches. I’m looking forward to the junior heavyweight tag title match with Roppongi 3k, Suzuki-Gun and LIJ. Shingo Takagi is a breath of fresh air in the tag division and hopefully, he and Bushi get the nod here. Speaking of Junior Heavyweights, Taiji Ishimori vs Kushida will undoubtedly be very good although it’s not a match I’m overly excited about, it should feel fresh but I’m not really feeling it currently. Cody vs Juice Robinson for the US Title and Zack Sabre Jr vs Tomohiro Ishii for the Rev Pro British title should both be absolute belters. The tag three-way between Guerrillas of Destiny, The Young Bucks and LIJ is another match that will likely be very enjoyable and hard-hitting although it does seem that we’ve seen every combination of this match over the past year so hopefully, there are fresh feuds on the horizon. Finally, in what may be the most anticipated contest on this card, Will Ospreay will challenge Kota Ibushi for the Never Openweight title in what could be the blow away match on the show, with both men operating at the very top of their game and if they get a decent amount of time they could produce something truly special.
Wrestle Kingdom will surely be one of the best cards of 2019 only four days into the New Year. However, it also feels like an end-point to a number of ongoing programmes and might, hopefully, be the start of a whole new chapter in the evolution of NJPW.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a year-end awards special edition of Slammer Jabber. 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 & NJPW1972.COM