Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling over the past seven days. Unless you've been living under a rock you'll know that this week marked the first stop on the "Road to Wrestlemania" with the Royal Rumble, and what an event it was! In addition to WWE, NWA also put on a big show this weekend and NXT and AEW had very eventful episodes of TV. There is an enormous amount to cover, so we'll jump straight on in with the NWA Hard Times show from Friday night.
It seems like only a few weeks ago that NWA presented Into the Fire, and what a show that was. Such a high standard was set that I’m not sure Hard Times was ever going to be able to live up to, but the NWA gave it their best shot. The big hook for this show was the Television Title Tournament that dominated this event, and it was a mixed bag overall. Dan Maff doesn’t do a whole lot for me, so seeing him go to the semi-finals was less than ideal, especially at the expense of Zicky Dice who has slowly earned the adulation of the NWA audience. Likewise, I would have liked to see more from The Question Mark, but I appreciate that Trevor Murdoch got more of a spotlight here as a result. Tim Storm getting a buy, and then going out in the semis was an odd bit of booking for the most over babyface on the NWA roster, but if the lack of Ken Anderson forced a reshuffle of booking plans, you can see why that might have been necessary. Ricky Starks and Trevor Murdoch had very different stories to get to the final, but they put on a really entertaining back-and-forth battle. Murdoch got a lot from his path here while putting the title on the young, up-and-coming Starks is a great choice to showcase him week-to-week.
Outside of the TV title tournament, Nick Aldis vs Flip Gordon was serviceable but lacked something for me. I’m not sure I “get” Flip Gordon, there’s nothing about him that stands out for me as particularly special, even in his Villain Enterprises gimmick. As per the appearance of “The Villain” Marty Scurll, by winning here Aldis has control of their “future dealings” so that will have a storyline knock-on effect for sure. The tag team title three-way was very solid, and this felt like the right time to move the belts off the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, and James Storm and Eli Drake are solid choices for babyface champions. Scott Steiner defeated Aaron Stevens by disqualification in what was mostly a comedy match, but that also featured a few flashes of the Steiner of old. Lastly, Thunder Rosa and Allysin Kay had the match of the night as they battled for the NWA World Women’s title. It was intense, not perfect in places, but it felt heated and competitive throughout. Kay has been a great flag bearer for the division, but Thunder Rosa is something very special indeed and putting the belt on her was a very logical decision,
Hard Times’ greatest strength may also have been it’s biggest weakness. The TV title tournament dominated this show, and it was very well booked (mostly) and the 6.05-time limits meant the matches moved along at a good pace. However, that meant everything else on this PPV was mostly secondary and seemed like something of an afterthought. It doesn’t take away from the quality of the event, but it does make for a less “must-see” show in retrospect.
I won’t dwell too long on this week’s Smackdown, simply because it was mostly a last-minute push for the Royal Rumble. The contract signing with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan achieved what it needed to, predictably ending in violence. Roman Reigns and The Usos vs Baron Corbin, Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler was a nice preview for Cobin vs Reigns, Lacey Evans cut a promo on Bayley before she was jumped by the Smackdown women’s champion, but Evans would get her own back in a backstage brawl, later on, even derailing Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs Fire and Desire. John Morrison vs Kofi Kingston was fun, but I felt like I was having flashbacks to 2010. Elias and Braun Strowman almost performed a duet, but Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro thwarted that plan and as a result, we got a reasonable TV match, but not anything significant.
On to Saturday, and what on paper looked like one of the best shows of the weekend. Worlds Collide is an event that in the past was filmed at WWE Axxess, and it was a bit of an afterthought. However, with no Takeover show planned for Rumble weekend, this filled a slot and it was subsequently taken a bit more seriously. It wasn’t perfect, but largely this event made a positive impression. The main event featuring Imperium vs Undisputed Era did not go to plan entirely with Alexander Wolfe having to be removed after suffering an injury, but in general, was very enjoyable and having Undisputed Era lose, despite the numbers advantage, forwards the storyline that they are going through a rough patch as a group. DIY vs Moustache Mountain was as excellent as you might have hoped with some lovely sequences and a nice ending that kept everyone in the arena happy. Ilja Draganov and Finn Balor put on an adequate opener that never really moved into the higher gears in the way it seemed it should have. The Cruiserweight four-way featured some breathtaking aerial moves, but it also felt very disjointed. That said, Jordan Devlin winning the title certainly surprised everyone and it’s a great call to elevate the “Irish Ace”. Finally, despite the highly competitive nature of their previous encounters, Rhea Ripley demolished Toni Storm in relatively short order after a few minutes of Storm on the offensive. It wasn’t even necessarily that one-sided, it was just short compared to some of the other matches on this show. This is a great win for Ripley who looked incredible, but equally, Storm might need some rebuilding after this.
A very solid show from an in-ring perspective, although it’s still not a terribly significant show, which was reflected in the general lack of storyline development coming out of the event, obviously with the exception of the cruiserweight title match. Still, very enjoyable overall.
The main event of the weekend came from WWE’s huge Royal Rumble event from Minute Maid Park on Sunday. Of course, the event is synonymous with the rumble match itself, and although both the men and women's matches were enjoyable, they delivered wildly differing results. The men's match was quite brilliantly put together with the bout divided into two halves. First of all, Brock Lesnar dominated absolutely everyone and did a damn fine job of entertaining in the process. There is a reason he is the most bankable star the company has, and he proved his worth again here. It’s a shame that Kofi Kingston didn’t get more from his face-off with Lesnar, and John Morrison’s rumble return was pretty wasteful. However, Keith Lee gained a huge amount by being presented as every inch Lesnar’s equal and it all built perfectly to Drew McIntyre eventually eliminating Brock, which gives him a huge rub. I also liked that even though it was a fairly minor thing, having Ricochet provide the assist pays off that angle from last Monday where he was made to look like a complete loser by Lesnar and Paul Heyman. With two PPVs in between now and Wrestlemania, I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see Ricochet get a match with Lesnar as an interim opponent. McIntyre would go on to win the whole thing looking like a megastar in the process, and I couldn’t be more delighted. He’s fresh, he has momentum and he’s getting over with the audience.
The second half of the match was more traditional rumble fayre, although Edge returning was a huge story in this match. Edge looked to be in the shape of his life, coming back nine years after a career-ending possibly life-threatening neck injury having defied the odds and made it back. His return was emotional for him, for the audience in the stadium, and of those watching at home and it looked like Edge had not missed a step. A great feel-good moment (more on that when we discuss Raw). A well-booked rumble, with some exciting, unexpected returns, a good dash of NXT, and a worthy winner who sent the crowd home happy.
The women’s rumble was less exciting. Having filled out the roster for the 30-woman match the past two years with a number of veterans and surprises, there weren’t many available surprises for this match which meant it felt flat at points. Bianca Belair had a superb showing which upped her stock significantly, Alexa Bliss reminded everyone what she is capable of, while Beth Pheonix, Shotzi Blackheart, and Naomi all had strong outings before Shayna Baszler made her presence known dominating absolutely everyone en route to, perplexingly losing the match to Charlotte. Shayna vs Becky Lynch feels like the money match, so I’m not sure Charlotte winning was the right call unless she is going to do something unorthodox like challenge Rhea Ripley (providing she gets by Bianca Belair). It took the wind out of the sails of the crowd for a bit and it felt like a flat ending to a very enjoyable match.
The rest of the show was mostly pretty good. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs Daniel Bryan was a largely very enjoyable affair which thankfully did not take place under the red lights and was far better as a result. Bryan is almost superhuman in how good he can be in these situations and Wyatt held his end up too. The result was predictable, but the match was worth sitting through to get there. Roman Reigns vs Baron Corbin was a surprisingly hot opener, helped by the falls-count-anywhere stipulation which gave this an unpredictable, unorthodox feel. Becky Lynch vs Asuka was also very good, especially in the final few minutes. Finally, the only really poor match on the card was Bayley vs Lacey Evans. The chemistry isn’t there, Bayley seems to struggle as a heel, and there were a few pretty rough spots in the match. Honestly, Evans doesn’t feel like a babyface and her in-ring work needs a bit of polishing. There’s something there, and as a heel, she has a fantastic character, but a bit of seasoning might be required before she is back in title contention again any time soon.
Royal Rumble 2020 was one of the better WWE PPVs in recent memory. The baseball field gave the show a unique aesthetic, and almost everything delivered big. The crowd seemed invested, and they were rewarded by some big surprises and a popular winner of the main event.
With everyone on a high from the previous night, Raw was pretty much guaranteed to be eventful, and it certainly had some big moments. None were bigger than the closing segment as Edge addressed his return and his future, only to be interrupted by Randy Orton who teased a reunion of his alliance with Edge, before returning on him and brutalising Edge’s neck and head with a chair. This was actually pretty uncomfortable to watch knowing the history with Edge’s neck, but I mean that in the most complimentary way. Orton put on a masterclass in heel work while making Edge into an even more sympathetic figure. I hope he stays off TV for a while, and they hold off on him returning to the ring again for Wrestlemania as this really does have the potential to be a huge, huge match on the biggest show of the year. A very strong, effective segment.
Elsewhere on the show, Drew McIntyre confirmed his challenge to Brock Lesnar for Wrestlemania before singlehandedly squashing Gallows and Anderson. Lesnar making his presence felt after the match was predictable, but helps continue this story moving forward, especially as you have to imagine Lesnar will now be absent for a few weeks. Charlotte teased revealing her target for Wrestlemania before trolling the audience, and she would go on to have a decent TV match with Asuka although the DQ finish made this a less memorable affair than their previous clashes.
Rey Mysterio vs MVP was more fun than expected, Aleister Black destroyed Cruiserweight Classic alumni Kenneth Johnson pretty rapidly before putting the roster on notice. Humberto Carrillo vs Andrade was more of the same from these two, but the post-match was a good way to write off Andrae as he deals with a 30-day wellness violation suspension. There’s not much to say about Liv Morgan vs Lana, or Erick Rowan beating an enhancement talent. Mojo Rawley beating No Way Jose was nothing to write home about, although Rawley introducing Riddick Moss from NXT as his “offensive lineman” is a nice twist on the 24/7 formula. Finally, Buddy Murphy and Seth Rollins defended their tag titles against Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, although this may as well have been a handicap match as Joe was taken out with what looked like a legitimate concussion after a dive to the floor. A fun match, and it keeps the odds stacked against the babyfaces.
In general terms, Raw was pretty good this week. The first two hours flowed brilliantly, although hour three wasn’t so easy to sit through until that show-closing segment.
Wednesday night was the final stop in this mammoth week of live wrestling, as AEW and NXT both put out their weekly live shows, and there was plenty to enjoy from the respective organisations. However, wrestling fatigue had begun to kick in for me by this stage of the week, so we’ll keep this brief.
On Dynamite, Jon Moxley came across as the biggest star in the company. The eye-patch gives him a real Solid Snake vibe, but mixed with peak Stone Cold Steve Austin. While he was guaranteed to be a huge star in his hometown, it really did translate on television. The opening segment with The Inner Circle was excellent, as was the angle after the main event (a very enjoyable six man tag pitting Chris Jericho, Santana and Ortiz against Darby Allin and Private Party) that featured Moxley doing his best Sting-circa 1997 impression. Book-ended the show with the build for the main event of Revolution was clever and definitely raised anticipation for that big world title match.
The Young Bucks vs The Butcher and The Blade was well put together, but I’m not hugely in favour of TBAB losing again. The stuff with Kenny Omega, and Hangman Page getting involved was intriguing and sets up more tension for the announced 8-man tag next week. SCU vs TH2 was fine, but failed to make much of an impression on me, although I enjoyed the Dark Order video after the match. Nyla Rose vs Big Swole was a nice way to build up Rose to take on Riho in the near future, while also showcasing Swole. Cody vs Kip Sabian outperformed my expectations, and the involvement of Joey Janela was really well done. I liked that this also teased difficulties between Cody and Arn Anderson. Finally, in possibly the best segment of the night Britt Baker did another heel interview with Tony Schiavone, this time also targeting Jim Ross. She is so much better in this role than as a babyface, and she excelled here. A strong show overall.
Over on NXT, we got the fallout from Worlds Collide and the beginning of the build to NXT Takeover: Portland. The main event featured the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic pitting Grizzled Young Veterans against The Broserwieghts in a tremendous main event, with Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne picking up the win, and also setting up a shot against Undisputed Era for Portland. James Drake and Zack Gibson gained plenty in defeat here and hopefully they will have further adventures on the NXT mothership in the future.
Tomasso Ciampa looked like a megastar to the Full Sail crowd by taking out Undisputed Era and putting Adam Cole through a table before confirming their showdown for Takeover by signing the contract in blood, although this felt a bit too close to The Fiend doing the same thing less than a week ago. Finn Balor vs Trent Severn was enjoyable, while Shotzi Blackheart continued to look strong against Deonna Purrazzo. Chelsea Green (with Robert Stone) vs Kayden Carter set up a nice rivalry between the two, and I enjoyed the trash talk incorporated here. The angle with Keith Lee, Damien Priest and Dominik Dijakovic was well executed and the subsequent match between Dijakovic and Priest was excellent. I appreciate Lee and Dijakovic have had several big matches on TV, but given the quality of those bouts it’s hard to complain that they are revisiting that programme.
Finally, Tegan Nox vs Dakota Kai felt appropriately personal and it was the best either woman has looked in the ring since their respective returns from injury. Candace LeRae getting involved was an interesting development, and perhaps that is where Kai goes next with Nox getting a definitive win here. Another strong show from the black-and-gold brand.
DDT buys Noah
Finally this week, some news from Japan. Pro Wrestling Noah, the company that was born two decades ago after the late-Mitsuhara Misawa led an exodus from All Japan Pro Wrestling, has new owners. CyberAgent, the parent company of DDT have purchased 100% of Noah from LIDET, making them the new parent company of Noah. The timing of this is interesting with Noah having struggled financially in recent years, and rumours doing the rounds that WWE were hoping to purchase a Japanese company as the base for launching NXT Japan. Noah will now be available on the DDT Universe service, which should open up their shows to a wider audience, and that can only be a good thing. It also appears that the companies will still be run as very much separate entities which should allay fears of Noah fans due to the drastically different style of wrestling that can be found on DDT. Good news for wrestling fans, and hopefully this gives Noah a brighter future to grow and expand their audience going forward.
That is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at this week's Raw, Smackdown, NXT, AEW and anything else that breaks in the next seven days. 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/NWA/AEW/Pro Wrestling NOAH