Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week's column is a little late, chiefly due to a rather painful wisdom tooth extraction, but normal service should be resumed next week. WWE had a busy week, especially in the UK with NXT UK and the launch of the UK Performance Centre, but Raw and Smackdown were also pretty eventful. Let's start with a look at the big happenings in and around the Takeover event from Blackpool last Saturday.
NXT Takeover UK + WWE UK Performance Centre
It’s not hyperbole to say this week was a huge one for NXT UK. Firstly, WWE announced the opening of a UK Performance centre, the first outside of the USA. Naturally, this is huge for the development of NXT UK as a brand and provides a great opportunity for UK talent as it appears to be a state of the art facility with more resources than UK talent will have had access to previously. This can certainly only be a good thing for NXT UK, and hopefully the British scene as a whole.
Moving on to Saturday night, NXT UK had their biggest show yet, with NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool live on the WWE Network from the stunning Empress Ballroom. The show was something else, with a really strong line-up of matches and a few surprises along the way. The main event between WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne and Joe Coffey was mostly very good, although Coffey doesn’t feel quite on the level of main eventing for a brand with such a strong roster. The match was also hampered by being a tad too long, and a couple of obvious botches that dragged it down a little. That said, it was still very good and a fine showcase for Dunne. The post-match angle with the debut of Walter was superbly executed and made the big Austrian seem like a major superstar, perfectly setting the table for the eventual clash between the two. Whereas a number of matches that could headline an NXT UK show have already happened in Progress, or other UK Indie shows, Walter vs Pete Dunne genuinely feels like a fresh, new match up (they have wrestled on opposing sides in a six-man tag in Progress, and had a one-on-one bout in WXW) that could be absolutely huge. Built properly it should be the first truly big time main event that NXT UK promotes, and a marquee event for the company.
The rest of the show was very good. I was looking forward to seeing Travis Banks vs Jordan Devlin on this show, so the bait and switch taking Banks out of things was a slight disappointment, but the surprise of Finn Balor was well received and made the former Prince Devitt look like an absolute star (something we’d continue to see moving into Raw on Monday night, more on that shortly), while he, in turn, made Devlin look great. Provided they move forward with Devlin and Banks and give their match a proper build, it will have been very worthwhile for all involved. Eddie Dennis vs Dave Mastiff was physical and violent, although as good as Dennis is, I do wonder if he needs a bit of an overhaul on his gear to progress beyond his current level. Still, it was a very solid effort from two of the bigger guys on the roster. Toni Storm vs Rhea Ripley had a very enjoyable back and forth, and although I would have preferred to see Ripley keep the belt, we now have a big trilogy match on the cards. Finally, Moustache Mountain and Grizzled Young Veterans had easily the match of the night, far exceeding expectations. Tyler Bate and Trent Seven had some great gear in tribute to the British Bulldogs, which gave this a big event feel, and they did a great job of giving Zack Gibson and James Drake the rub here. Drake especially looked very good in this match, including pulling off a superb 450 splash, and an innovative counter to a suicide dive at the end of the bout, really putting a shift in and taking the opportunity afforded to him.
A very enjoyable show top-to-bottom and a great statement from NXT UK. The weekly television shows have been ticking over nicely, but not offering anything must-see and this show did a great job of giving the product a showcase that it sorely needed.
Going into Raw this week it looked like most of the matches for the Royal Rumble were pretty much set, but all that changed thanks to Vince McMahon and his limousine. Braun Strowman opening the show in a segment with Baron Corbin didn’t exactly scream excitement, but it was surprisingly well set up to give Vince McMahon a reason to kick Braun out of the Universal title match at Royal Rumble. Braun looked (literally) strong in knocking over the limo and ripping the door off, and while I suppose this means his tedious programme with Corbin continues, it does prevent him having to take another loss from Brock Lesnar at the rumble (providing that was the plan). Of course, this left a spot free, and the segment later in the night with John Cena, Drew McIntyre, Corbin, and Finn Balor all putting themselves forward for a shot was well done, and for a moment it seemed that Drew would be going after Lesnar, given he was standing tall. That said, having Vince tell Balor he wasn’t on the level of the others positioning him as the underdog was a stroke of genius. This was compounded by Balor having to go through a match with Jinder Mahal before getting to the four-way main event. That match was itself very enjoyable, and it felt like a really effective use of John Cena to put Balor over clean, as well as verbally doing the same after the match. Balor looked like an absolute star on this show, and following on from his performance at NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool, it was a great demonstration of how to put him over as someone the fans can truly get behind. Balor defeating Lesnar feels like a stretch, but this is the most WWE have done with Balor since his Universal title win, and he’s certainly in a stronger position now than a month ago.
The rest of the show was an improvement on recent weeks. Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose vs Bobby Lashley was a serviceable triple threat that effectively ended Ambrose’s push for now, which is fair given he’s not been exactly setting the world alight as IC champ. Ashley as champion is unexpected, but it makes sense and presumably, Rollins can now move on to bigger and better things, maybe even a rumble win. Ronda Rousey and Sasha Banks vs Tamina and Nia Jax was mostly very good and Banks’ character work was on point, although Rousey did not come across well in the post-match segment. The Revival beat The Lucha House Party in the continuation of the odd storyline playing out with Dash and Dawson (although if reports are to be believed they asked for their release immediately after the match, so who knows what is going on), while Nikki Cross had a memorable debut alongside Bayley and Natalya against The Riott Squad. Finally, Alexa Bliss had an interesting evening, firstly being shown in a state of undress for reasons that I can’t really fathom. It was an odd, pointless and honestly unnecessary moment that added nothing to the show. She also had another “Moment of Bliss” which featured a run-of-the-mill Paul Heyman promo in support of Brock Lesnar, but more interestingly revealed the new women’s tag team belts, as well as the news that the inaugural champions will be crowned at Elimination Chamber, which is exciting and provides a nice boost for that show.
All in all a very decent episode of Raw. Lots of storyline development, one big angle and plenty of decent in-ring action. Things are shaping up really nicely from the Raw side of things in terms of the Rumble, and I expect we’ll see more of the same on next week's go-home show.
One match stood head and shoulders above everything else on this week's Smackdown as Andrade (nor just going by that name with the "Cien" Almas dropped apparently) took on Rey Mysterio in a match I had been hoping for after last week's tag match, and boy did it deliver. Andrade has quite the background in lucha libre under the name of La Sombra and the chemistry he has with Mysterio is off the charts. Honestly, this is my favourite match of 2019 so far as both men did everything to deliver on this show. With Andrade getting the clean win you have to imagine this is the first in a series of matches, and hopefully, it culminates in a hair vs mask match at Wrestlemania. Even if it doesn't, this was superb and well worth going out of your way to watch, showcasing just how good Andrade is when given a chance, but also how capable Mysterio still is despite his age.
Outside of that terrific match, I actually think this week’s Raw was better than its blue brand counterpart. The opening segment with Asuka and Becky Lynch felt like it was just heating up before The IIconics interrupted, leading to a pair of matches between the babyfaces and heels. None of it was bad, neither in terms of the matches nor the promo aspect, but it felt a bit jarring. I appreciate they have another week to build this match, but this just seemed like a misstep in building the most intriguing match on what should be a stacked show.
The rest of the show was enjoyable, without being overly memorable. The closing segment with The Bar, The Miz and Shane McMahon felt like a retread of numerous other similar segments from other the years, but the match with Sheamus and Miz was above average and the closing coast-to-coast with the cake was a fun visual. AJ Styles retort to Daniel Bryan was effective, and the brawl was intense enough to continue garnering interest in the more personal nature of this feud going into their title match at Royal Rumble. Jimmy Uso, Naomi, and Mandy Rose took part in a segment that felt like it was right out of the Attitude Era, and not in a good way. Finally, Samoa Joe absolutely victimised Mustafa Ali prior to their match in a brutal beat down. With Ali being the smaller guy it allowed Joe to look as dominant and imposing as he ever has, and presumably, eventually, Ali gets the upset win. Ali makes for a great underdog babyface and I’m delighted to see him moved away from the limitations of the cruiserweight division.
This felt like a one-match show, and while everything else was more than serviceable it was far from top-notch. Everything chugged along nicely, but it lacked the spark of Monday’s show, although I suspect things will return to normal for the go-home shows next week.
Worlds Collide tournament
Late last week WWE announced that there would be a tournament held at Axxess over Royal Rumble weekend featuring talent from NXT, NXT UK and 205 Live with the winner getting a title shot of their choice at a later date. Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Keith Lee, Tyler Bate, Mark Andrews, Drew Gulak, TJP and many others will be competing. I’m a big fan of this concept as it means the matches at Axxess actually have some significance and this makes for a really exciting potential opportunity. It also helps promote potential low-level dream matches that fans won’t get to see elsewhere which can only be a good thing.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at the go-home editions of Raw and Smackdown ahead of the Royal Rumble, as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. 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.