Hello, and welcome to this weeks edition of Slammer Jabber, looking back at the biggest happenings in pro wrestling in the past seven days, and what a seven days it has been. We've had big shows from NXT, Raw and Smackdown, as well as NJPW. Of course, there was the Royal Rumble, and the appearance of one former UFC champion. PLus a couple of new hires for WWE and much more. Let's start with one of the best shows WWE have put on in some time, the 2018 edition of the Royal Rumble.
The weekend's festivities kicked off with NXT: Takeover Philadelphia, as has become tradition. While this particular show looked like one of the weaker NXT events on paper, it more than made up for it with the execution. The main event between NXT Champion Andrade "Cien" Almas and Johnny Gargano was great fun. Gargano might be the best babyface in wrestling right now, and Almas has really grown into the role of cocky heel. There are some interesting similarities with the way Tetsuya Naito conducts himself, which should come as no surprise given Almas' previous gimmick as La Sombra in AAA saw him in the original Los Ingonerables alongside Naito. The match was great, and it was a fun swerve not to have Tomasso Ciampa cost Gargano the match, but then to attack him afterwards. It still got everything to where it needs to be for that angle, but in a less predictable way. This may even be an early contender for match of the year, such is the chemistry between Almas and Gargano.
Elsewhere, we had a cracking tag team three-way match with AOP, Sanity and reDRagon, a decent if somewhat slightly flawed MMA-influenced match between Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler which was fun and at least made Baszler look strong in defeat. Aleister Black vs Adam Cole was a wild, weapon-filled violent brawl, and again made Cole look really good in defeat. Finally, Velveteen Dream shone once again in victory over Kassius Ohno, who looked solid, but still far too out of shape to honestly take seriously.
A very decent show from NXT, and had it not been for the excellent show the following night it might have been the best show of the weekend.
There are so many talking points coming out of this year's Royal Rumble, but despite a very busy night for WWE everyone was left talking about one Ronda Rousey. The former UFC bantamweight champion appeared at the tail end of the show, confronting Asuka, Charlotte and Alexa Bliss. She didn't say anything, but her pointing at the Wrestlemania sig made her intentions very clear. It wasn’t the most substantive debut, but it was certainly impactful. Rousey, wearing the late great "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's leather jacket in tribute, looked very much the part, and got the star reaction that WWE were surely hoping for. The preceding Women's Royal Rumble match was a great spectacle, and every bit as memorable as any recent men's match. The surprises were well executed, and the likes of Trish Stratus, Molly Holly, Michelle McCool and Lita were great additions to the match. Asuka getting the win was predictable, especially since Rousey wasn’t the expected number 30 entrant, but it does go to show that predictable isn't always bad. The women's rumble felt like a big deal, and I do worry that it might be hard to recapture that spectacle in future years. For now at least, this should be viewed as monumental success, and a great move by WWE, especially putting this on last.
The men's rumble was one of the better ones in recent years, and told some great stories. Shinsuke Nakamura getting the win was a great moment, and they did well to tease what felt like the inevitable Roman Reigns victory. Nakamura looked great, especially in the closing stretch and, even if only briefly, felt like the star they had always hyped him to be, and the star he was in NXT. The fact he has already identified AJ Styles as his Wrestlemania opponent sets up a dream match that will hopefully be given time to match the bout they had at Wrestle Kingdom a couple of years ago for NJPW. The old guard vs new guard showdown with John Cena, Randy Orton, and the returning Rey Mysterio (who looked amazing, and was a great surprise for the night) and Roman Reigns, Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor was a great touch. Speaking of Balor, he had a fantastic showing in the match, and while he didn't win, he did get the "marathon match" spot which put him over strongly in defeat. The Hurricane was a fun entrant, even if it was brief, we got some storyline development with Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, the stuff with Heath Slater was a fun little side-story, while Rusev also had a good showing in the match. Andrade "Cien" Almas and Adam Cole got good reactions as the token NXT entrants, while Kofi Kingston did what he normally does in the rumble. There were so many great spots, including some I'm probably forgetting, but it was a great match.
The undercard was really strong too. AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was really fun if not slightly short, and sets up some good stuff going forward. Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs The Bar was mostly a filler match, but it pushes the dissention between Rollins and Jordan; The Usos vs Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin was a decent match but it was quite short and perhaps could have given Benjamin and Gable a bit more, given they went 2-0 down, but it keeps The Usos strong. Finally, we had the absolutely batshit crazy brawl between Kane, Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. My expectations were low, as was my excitement level but this delivered in a huge way with all three men taking some massive shots and going through some pretty spectacular spots, with Lesnar looking like a beast, Strowman staying strong in defeat, and Kane losing nothing by taking the fall.
This might have been one of the best Royal Rumble shows, top to bottom, ever. There wasn’t a bad show, or a particularly down moment on the card, everything delivered and WWE set up plenty going forward. Superb work all round.
Given the way the previous night's show ended, it was only right that Raw opened with the women's division, and the winner of the previous night's rumble, Asuka. The announcement of a women's elimination chamber was intriguing, and keeps things a bit more interesting going forward. The interruption by Sasha Banks was interesting, and made her seem far more of a heel than she has recently. The match between the two later in the night was superb, and everything it should have been. That said, Sasha really needs to think about modifying her style of she wants have a long career. That suicide dive spot could have been far worse. The lack of Ronda Rousey on this show perhaps hurt the intrigue stakes, but hopefully they can build to her next appearance effectively in order to spike a rating at some stage.
With the rumble in the rear-view it is time to look towards Elimination Chamber, and we got three qualifying matches on this show. Elias vs Matt Hardy was more of a vehicle to continue the feud between Hardy and Bray Wyatt. John Cena vs Finn Balor was a very good match, but I'm not 100% sure the right person went over. That said Balor looked great in defeat for the second night in a row. Braun Strowman demolished (quite literally) Kane, which was fun to watch, and did plenty to rehab Strowman. Presumably we'll get the other three competitors next week. Decent start though.
The rest of the show was a mixed bag. The Miz vs Roman Reigns was one of the best matches of the night, The Bar vs Titus Worldwide was fine, if unspectacular, and The Revival vs Rhyno and Heath Slater was fine, but the post-match promo from Dash and Dawson was better.
A fine show, although it was never going to live up to the hype of the previous night.
Coming off the Royal Rumble there was plenty to clear up on this week’s episode of Smackdown. The opening segment with Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn was very well done and did plenty to forward the stories involving all four men, as was the main event tag match. I do feel like it’s a bit soon to do Owens and Zayn splitting up, but with the two facing off against each other to determine the number one contender to AJ Styles at Fast Lane, it looks like that is the direction we are going in, especially with the shenanigans in the match between the two. Hopefully there is more to this than a simple break up and match at Wrestlemania. I liked that there were no tangible teases of tension between Nakamura and Styles just yet. With over two months to go, it makes sense to pace that story out rather than rushing it and having nothing to do in the final build to the biggest show of the year.
The rest of the show was very good, with plenty of storyline development. The Usos vs Bludgeon Brothers was set up with The Usos cutting a promo on the roster and Harper and Rowan having a brief stare down with them before destroying two local enhancement talent. The segment with The Riott Squad and Charlotte was well-executed, but I’m not totally sold on the booking of Carmella with the briefcase here. The idea she cat cash-in successfully seems a bit too comedic for the first ever women’s MITB cash-in. We’ll have to see where that goes. WWE look o finally be listening to the fans and giving Rusev a bit of a push coming off all the Rusev Day excitement, as he won a multi-man match over Jinder Mahal, Kofi Kingston, and Zack Ryder to get a shot at Bobby Roode and the US Title next week. Finally, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin vs Breezango and Baron Corbin vs Tye Dillinger happened, but neither with much in the way of consequence happening.
A decent show, and a nice start to a slow build for Wrestlemania. Smackdown seems to be getting back on track after a slightly stale few months, and I hope we get more of the same in the coming weeks.
NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo
While WWE were busy with the Royal Rumble and the various satellite events, NJPW had their own big shows this past week, which included some pretty big developments.
The big news coming out of the first night was of course Minoru Suzuki defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title. The match itself was great, and built a great story around Suzuki outsmarting Tanahashi, and eventually forcing him to submit to the knee-bar. Given the state of Tanahashi’s body currently, it is definitely time to give him a break to get healed up ready to come back for a run later in the year (maybe even another crack at Kazuchika Okada to fill in the gaps before Naito or Kenny Omega face him next January if that’s even the road they are going down). Suzuki should be fun as champion here, and if booked correctly could give a big rub to whoever eventually beats him for the belt.
The second night was no less eventful than the first. On the undercard Roppongi 3K regained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag titles from The Young Bucks in a cracking bout, which is well worth checking out. I’ve had my quarrels with the Bucks over the years in terms of the psychology of their work, but it’s hard to argue with the streak of amazing matches they have had recently. Consider me converted.
In the main event of Night 2 was a pretty big deal. “Switchblade” Jay White defeated Kenny Omega in a very heated affair to take the IWGP US Title. This was significantly better than White’s outing with Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 12, and definitely showcased more of what White is capable of. The post-match was just as memorable with Adam Page coming down to challenge White, Omega intervening to do the “mutual respect” angle with White, Cody Rhodes coming out to argue with Omega, only to turn on him as tensions boiled over, and the Kota Ibushi making the save before embracing Omega, his former partner. It was a big moment, and while that sounds like loads of things happening at once it felt really organic, and yet really chaotic, topped off with a lovely moment at the end. It will be very interesting to see where this goes, but it was very well executed.
The rest of the two cards were filled with lots of the usual six-man matches and take matches, which continued the build to Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada, Yoshi-Hashi vs Tetsuya Naito and Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi. Lots of great action, far too much to recap from two nights of stellar matches that are well worth checking out.
Johnathan Coachman/Jeremy Borash
There were two non-wrestling hires for WWE this week that were both somewhat surprising. The return of Jonathan Coachman, as you may have noticed on Raw, was a bit out of the blue, but he has experience and was let go from ESPN with a series of cutbacks a few months ago. I’m not saying it’s a bad move, but Coachman wasn’t great in his first run with WWE, so I do wonder what has spurred his return on (other than unemployment).
The second signing, although it is still just being “reported” currently, rather than having been confirmed, is one Jeremy Borash, formerly of TNA/Impact Wrestling/GFW. Borash has done just about everything within TNA over the years from being a ring announcer to a commentator to a backstage producer, and even writing some of the Broken Hardy goodness of 2016. Borash has been with TNA since day one, and this will come as a huge blow to the company, but given his creativity and unadulterated passion for wrestling, Borash should be a huge asset for WWE.
Rockstar Spud 205 Live/Tyler Bate
Speaking of TNA, 205 Live this week brought in a former TNA star to be the brand’s new GM, in the form of Rockstar Spud, who will now be going by the excellent name of Drake Maverick. This seems like a great move, as Spud is a super charismatic, fleshed out character and can work in the ring as necessary. This also led to both the announcement of a huge tournament to crown a new cruiserweight champion, as well as Tyler Bate as a regular on the 205 Live roster. Bate is more than deserving of this role, and should breathe some new life into the division. Enzo who?
Well that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Raw and Smackdown, as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. 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.