Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It has been a particularly busy week, with huge shows from New Japan Pro Wrestling, a big Raw and Smackdown from WWE, as well as some news about VR technology, and a big show being organised by the members of BUllet Club. There is absolutely nothing we could start this week with other then Wrestle Kingdom 12.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom and New Year’s Dash
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, chances are you have seen or at least heard about New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 12, which took place on January 4th in front of a massive 30000 fans in the Tokyo Dome. Arguably this was one of the most anticipated shows of the past number of years, and NJPW did not disappoint. The main event between IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito was excellent, with both men putting great performances. I'm not sure I agree with the outcome, but given the way things worked out the following night at New Year's Dash, it's safe to say Naito is not facing a demotion from the main event scene, more on that later. Of course, the other talking point from the main event was Okada's new ring gear, which was...interesting. I can't say I was a fan if I'm honest.
Of course the other half of the double main event, was perhaps just as anticipated, featuring Chris Jericho taking on Kenny Omega. This match was an epic for the ages, and although it was more of a WWE style match than a traditional NJPW bout, it really did have the intensity expected from the Japanese "Strong Style". Jericho once again reinvented himself here with a more aggressive, realistic style which saw him rolling back the years to match Omega move-for-move. A cracking bout, which made for an excellent semi-main event, elevating Omega and putting Jericho over in defeat.
The rest of the Wrestle Kingdom card had plenty of superb action. The four way match between Will Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi, KUSHIDA, and "The Villain" Marty Scurll was a fantastic junior heavyweight contest, with some huge spots, and a fantastic finish. The Young Bucks vs Roppongi 3k was a well-paced, surprisingly psychology heavy junior heavyweight tag match; Killer Elite Squad vs Sanada and EVIL was a high impact affair with KES almost killing the LIJ contingent out of the gates, only for LIJ to make the underdog comeback. Hirooki Goto vs Minoru Suzuki was a really heated, hard-hitting affair. Suzuki had a brief moment as a near babyface by doing the honourable thing and taking his lumps as the loser of the bout. Kota Ibushi vs Cody Rhodes was a sublime match, with both putting in attempted show-stealing performances (and on other night it would have been match of the night). The six man tag gauntlet match was a fast-paced bout, but really acted as a filler match more than anything, but even then allowed Zack Sabre Jr, Trent Baretta and Tomohiro Ishii all to shine individually. Finally, "Switchblade" Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi had an OK match, which was fine for what it was, but perhaps exposed Jay White as not being quite ready for this level. That said, given Tanahashi's many injuries and White's relative inexperience at this level perhaps it can be forgiven. Even then, the match was more than passable, such was the quality on this show. Wrestle Kingdom 12 was a genuine blow away show, and a potential game changer for NJPW. You'll be hard pressed to see a better show this year.
However, NJPW were not done, and much like the traditional Raw after Wrestlemania, they used New Year’s Dash on January 5th to set up a host of new feuds. The Kenny Omega run-in to stop Cody Rhodes beating down his former partner was an interesting twist, and I liked that it gave Bullet Club an opportunity for simmering tensions to boil over, as well as reminding everyone of the underlying relationship between Omega and Ibushi. Omega's segment with Jay White was really good too, setting up Omega vs White and keeping Omega's many other programmes on the backburner. Minoru Suzuki's attack on Hiroshi Tanahashi sets up a programme there, and with Suzuki dropping the Never Openweight title at Wrestle Kingdom it would appear he is likely in line to take the Intercontinental title from the injured Tanahashi. The main event multi man match was followed by LIJ taking out several members of Chaos, which set up Hiromu Takahasi vs Ospreay for the junior heavyweight title, Sanada challenging Okada, EVIL taking on Goto, and of course, Chris Jericho and Naito. While Naito may have lost to Okada at WK 12, this is arguably as big a prize and shows the NJPW have not lost faith in him, meaning that in all likelihood we are still getting a Naito run on top, with LIJ positioned as the top group in NJPW. Another thrilling show, with great action and so many big programmes set up. NJPW is on fire, and everyone else should consider themselves on notice.
With a little under three weeks to go until the Royal Rumble, WWE have started to get the ball rolling on one of the more anticipated shows of the yearly WWE calendar. However much of that build is seemingly focused on multiple intersecting storylines entering around The Shield. Jason Jordan was excellent this week as the over-exuberant partner to Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. He was great in the opening segment, channelling his kayfabe father, Kurt Angle. The “champions club” line got a laugh out of me, especially thanks to Rollins and Reigns reactions, which are what is making this odd threesome such a fun act to watch. Sure, it’s not The Shield, but it is surprising fun, so I shouldn’t complain. In that same segment we saw what might be the first bit of proper character work from a non-Demon Finn Balor. When he came out alongside his former Bullet Club cohorts, Gallows & Anderson, Balor looked relaxed and even like he was enjoying himself. I know the Demon character is a big merchandise shifter, but after watching this I would shelve it for a bit and go full cocky heel with Balor, because he is clearly capable. Obviously, the match itself between the Champions Club (I refuse to call them anything else, The Shield is dead to me) and Not Bullet Club was excellent, and the idea that Jordan inadvertently cost them the match really plays into the ongoing storyline here.
The post-match angle with The Miz and The Miz-tourage was well executed and made Miz, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel actually seem like threats, which was great. Speaking of The Miz, his segment earlier in the evening putting Roman Reigns on notice was superb, and shows Miz has not missed a beat in his time off. He is very welcome back on the red brand.
The other big Rumble-based build came in the form of a stunt-laden segment with Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, and Kane. I have made no secret of my apathy towards this match, and unless we get an unexpected title change (maybe Strowman or Kane win here and drop the title to Reigns at Elimination Chamber, with Lesnar coming back and winning the rumble). Paul Heyman’s promo was very good, as per usual, and the attacks by Kane, and subsequent Strowman looked fine. The stunt backstage would have been much more effective had it not seemed quite so contrived (the grappling hook especially), but it does show the faith they have in Strowman that he is seemingly constantly involved in these expensive high-profile stunts.
Samoa Joe had a notable moment on Raw this week, squashing Rhyno and then announcing his entry into the Royal Rumble, as well as teasing a feud with John Cena. The two do have some history from breaking into the business around the same sort of time as part of UPW under the tutelage of the legendary Rick Bassman, and a feud between the two would be a huge programme for Joe. However, that is also now slightly in danger, as Joe picked up a legitimate injury in his foot in the match on Raw. He is currently slated to be out between two and eight weeks, so keep your fingers crossed he is cleared in time for the Rumble because I definitely want to see him mix it up with Cena.
The rest of the show was quite the mixed bag (I feel like I say this every week). The Alexa Bliss/Nia Jax/Asuka storyline was a silly one, given the whole thing hung on the notion Asuka doesn’t speak or understand English, except we have seen and heard her speaking the language. On Raw. The attack from Jax did look pretty good though, and I imagine this leads to Asuka vs Jax next week, and then possibly Asuka vs Bliss on Raw 25, with Asuka taking the belt, depending on who they have lined up to win the women’s Rumble. Sasha Banks and Bayley vs Absolution wasn’t anything spectacular but it was solid enough and helped build momentum for Banks and Bayley ahead of the Rumble. “Woken”Matt Hardy vs Curt Hawkins was a solid TV match, really just to set up the post-match with Bray Wyatt, and the weird laughing angle between himself and Hardy. Finally, in a fun match Titus Worldwide beating The Bar, was a strange decision. It puts over Titus O ‘Neill and Apollo Crews, but does nothing for The Bar ahead of their tag title re-match in three weeks. Unless we are getting a three-way, I assume this is just to keep Sheamus and Cesaro busy while Rollins and Jordan have other stuff going on.
A decent show, far better than last week, and a good set-up show for Royal Rumble. It will be interesting to see the booking over the next few weeks, but this was a good start.
Onwards to the blue brand, and much like Raw, Smackdown was mostly focused on the upcoming Royal Rumble. The big match from the Smackdown side of things is certainly the handicap match for the WWE title pitting AJ Styles against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. The opening promo with Styles certainly reinforced that, with Styles subtly questioning Daniel Bryan’s motivations in making the match for the Rumble. The interruption of Zayn and Owens was very good, and the back and forth with the duo and Styles helped position Zayn and Owens back in focus, even if briefly until Shane McMahon came out and made the handicap main event, with Styles, Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura vs Zayn and Owens. This was a fun segment and certainly helped get everyone on the sea page for the build to the Rumble.
The main event itself was a fun, if not slightly convoluted affair. The action was good, which is no surprise given the guys involved, but the restart and "Dusty Finish" was a bit overkill for me, especially as one was booked only last week. I liked that Nakamura and Orton were kept strong, given they are the two leading Smackdown contenders for the Rumble, or they are certainly being positioned that way (the earlier backstage segment with the three babyfaces was sledgehammer subtle, but seeing Nakamura “too sweet” the title was fun). It helped stoke the fires of the McMahon/Bryan tension while still kept the focus on the guys in the ring, so mission accomplished for now I suppose.
Elsewhere, Ruby Riott and Becky Lynch had a really fun match, which is well worth going out of your way to see. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin showed some good heel work in a promo with Daniel Bryan leading to the announcement of a 2/3 falls match with The Usos as Royal Rumble (presumably on the pre-show given the sheer number of matches on the card), while The Bludgeon Brothers obliterated The Ascension in short order. I have to assume Harper and Rowan are the big challengers for whoever the tag champions are come Wrestlemania weekend, given the build for them so far. Mojo Rawley was surprisingly good in is match with Zack Ryder, which was a pleasant surprise and the stare down with Bobby Roode ahead of their match next week was actually quite intriguing. Finally Rusev and Aiden English lost to Breezango in a short TV match, not much to say there.
An enjoyable show, although unlike Raw where there are multiple interconnected storylines, I feel Smackdown is being smothered by the ongoing Bryan/Shane feud without it really going anywhere, presumably with things coming to a head, or at least moving forward on January 28th. The sooner the better, as it is causing all other storylines to stagnate somewhat.
In interesting news this week, WWE announced a partnership deal with a company called NextVR and they will begin producing WWE VR content this year. This doesn't sound like it will be full events, more like 10 minutes designed experiences, but it really is an exciting possible new realm for wrestling. Imagine eventually being able to attend a Wrestlemania, or Wrestle Kingdom virtually. It could potentially revolutionise the way we watch wrestling. Obviously it remains to be seen how this actually works and what the content is, but the fact WWE is experimenting with this technology is certainly an exciting development.
The go-home Raw for the Royal Rumble also coincides with the 25th anniversary show of Monday Night Raw, and given the huge milestone WWE are pulling out all the stops for the occasion. A plethora of big names from Raw's past and present are scheduled to appear, however the most notable name scheduled is The Undertaker. With his retirement at the end Wrestlemania 33, or at least him appearing to retire, this will either mark the first out of character appearance of The Undertaker, or the possibility of one last match at this year's Mania. It's hard to say, but his presence on the list has certainly piqued the interest of many. Another notable name on the list is Eric Bischoff, who hasn't been on WWE television in almost a decade, as well as many other superstars past and present, with more likely to be announced. Other names scheduled indlude Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Dudley Boyz, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, The New Age Outlaws, Booker T., JBL and Ron Simmons, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, Brother Love, The Boogeyman, Teddy Long, John Laurinaitis, Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler. It should be a huge show, and I fully expect something very memorable to occur that night, along with plenty of nostalgia and a really fun episode of Raw.
Bullet Club: All In
Finally this week, we have some development in the much mooted Bullet Club, self-financed "All In" show, which The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, and actor Stephen Amell have apparently been trying to get off the ground for a while now. Well, we now have a date, September 1st, and the guys involved have all adopted new twitter profile pictures, and launched a mysterious twitter account for the @ALL_IN_2018. Obviously details are thin on the ground currently, but if the talk from Bullet Club is true, this will be held at a 10,000 seat arena, which will be quite the feat for an independent venture. We will of course update as more information becomes available in the coming weeks and months.
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.