Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week, it's all about New Japan Pro Wrestling and the build to Wrestle Kingdom 12 live form the Tokyo Dome. However, before we get to that lets have a look at this week's editions of Raw and Smackdown.
It's difficult to summarise this week's Raw, as in some respects it was a fairly uneventful show. There was some build for the Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble, with Kane and Brock Lesnar having a confrontation in the ring, followed by the roster attempting to separate the two. I enjoyed the Brock "sit up" spot with Kane, but all in all it seemed like a rehash of previous angles, which is very lazy. Unless this was by design, given it evokes some nice call-backs to Kane's brother The Undertaker and his feud with Lesnar in 2015. Braun Strowman is also of course involved two, but his leaving Kane high and dry in the main event clearly shows he declined Kane's earlier offer. It's fine, but unspectacular. It's not uncommon for a title match at the rumble to be a bit underwhelming or to offer up a risky or unusual challenger simply because the rumble match sells the PPV on its own. Which is just as well, as this match is unlikely to be a highlight of the show on January 28th. Speaking of Strowman, I very much enjoyed his squashing of Rhyno and Heath Slater, and so did the audience given it earned him the biggest pop of the night. I genuinely hope WWE have big Mania plans for Strowman, because with the right push he could be their top guy on Raw.
With Dean Ambrose injured The Shield have now been reduced to a mere two members, but with Jason Jordan getting a surprise tag title win alongside Seth Rollins last week, it was interesting to see him interact with Rollins and Roman Reigns this week. The opening match/segment (after Kurt Angle announced the rules to the women's Royal Rumble) with Rollins giving Jordan a lecture, and Jordan surprising him by beating Cesaro cleanly. It's an interesting angle and it keeps Rollins busy, but I'm not sure I can see where this goes when we get past January and into Wrestlemania season. Reigns vs Samoa Joe was probably the best match on Raw this week, with the two having a tremendous back and forth encounter. Samoa Joe is absolutely brilliant (especially his pre-match promo with Renee Young, Dean Ambrose's real life wife, which Joe subtly referenced) and his chemistry with Reigns is great. Speaking of The Shield, now that the reunion is over, apparently there is room for other groups to get back together, which was evidenced this week with Finn Balor teaming up with Gallows and Anderson to take on The Miz-tourage and Elias. If I'm honest, this is the best all three men have looked in ages, with Balor looking like he was having a whale of a time with his friends. I know the "Demon" is a marketing dream, but I would love to see Balor have a heel run with Gallows and Anderson, maybe even leading to a face-off with AJ Styles for the WWE title, only with the twist of Gallows and Anderson having to pick a side. Anyway, I certainly hope this was not a simple one time deal, as it could be hugely beneficial for all three men given they’ve been doing little-to-nothing otherwise.
The rest of the show was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Asuka vs Alexa Bliss was a really fun match, but it seemed a waste to give it away on free TV. Cedric Alexander & Goldust vs Drew Gulak and Ariya Davairi felt thrown together, because it basically was due to Enzo Amore being struck down with flu. Finally, Bray Wyatt beat Apollo Crews in a nothing match, which seemingly only existed to push the Wyatt-Matt Hardy feud. Poor Apollo Crews. A decent show, but not a particularly memorable one.
If you had told me ten years ago that AJ Styles would be the WWE Champion, and he would be facing the man under the mask of El Generico (AKA Sami Zayn) in the main event of Smackdown, I would have laughed at you. However, this week that is exactly what happened and these two predictably tore the house down. The overbooked shenanigans with Daniel Bryan, Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens was a distraction, but this was a stellar main event. As much as there is a tease of Bryan turning heel I do think this is all going to be part of a swerve of some sort, either with Shane turning heel, or more likely Bryan aiding Styles somehow in his newly booked handicap WWE Title defence against Owens and Sami Zayn at Royal Rumble. If Bryan is somehow cleared by WWE to compete, then this is the obvious way for things to go, but who knows whether that is even a possibility. Still, a cracking main event, and some good story development overall.
The rest of the show was very enjoyable, and had far more happenings of consequence than on Raw. Xavier Woods vs Aiden English was a fun match (as was Rusev's pre-match song), The Riott Squad vs Natalya, Carmella and Tamina was a fine bout, although the post-match made Carmella, Natalya and Tamina feel like the second string compared to the real stars in Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Naomi. The Bludgeon Brothers vs Breezango was more of an angle than a match, but it made little difference as Harper and Rowan again quashed Breezango, as well as The Ascension. Finally, Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin vs The Usos was a really fun match, and although I'm not a huge fan of the "Dusty finish", it worked really well here to give Gable and Benjamin a genuine reason to get another shot at the titles, while still keeping The Usos strong. A cracking match though.
A very decent show, building some good momentum towards the Royal Rumble and setting up some very interesting possibilities for the coming weeks.
NJPW WK 12
By the time you are reading this, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom will be either underway or over. But I thought I would run through it anyway, in case like me you have to wait until you get home to see the show. Undoubtedly, the most anticipated match from my point of view is the main event between Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Championship. Okada was the best wrestler outside of WWE last year and looks to start 2018 in style, but Tetsuya Naito is arguably the hottest act in NJPW. It's an interesting story, especially with Okada having previously beaten Naito in an IWGP title match at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th a few years back, which was arguably the catalyst for Naito's transformation into what he is now, as the leader of LIJ. The match itself should be superb, and might well top the standards set by Okada and Kenny Omega last year. I have very high hopes for this main event, and while it's possible Okada retains, I think NJPW might roll the dice on Naito and give him the belt. Elsewhere on this show, we have the huge Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho match which I'm sure will be one of the best bouts of the night. Jericho will have certain limitations and will be unlikely to rival Omega in athletic terms, but given the two have a certain level of storyline animosity I do wonder if they will surprise everyone and go for a bloody, physical brawl rather than an out-and-out technical masterpiece. Either way, this should be a huge match for both men, as well as for NJPW in terms of their global expansion. I suspect Omega wins, but it wouldn't surprise me if Jericho gets the victory, and if he does that presumably it means he is sticking around for a while.
The undercard for Wrestle Kingdom 12 should have some crackers too. Roppongi 3k vs The Young Bucks should be a high energy spot fest, Minoru Suzuki vs Hirooki Goto should be very, very physical and with the intriguing title vs hair stipulation there are some very big stakes attached. Hopefully Goto loses his silly mullet, but I imagine he gets the belt. The four way between “The Villain" Marty Scurll, Will Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi and KUSHIDA should be phenomenal, although I think KUSHIDA regains his title at the end. Los Ingonerables de Japon (EVIL and Sanada) vs Killer Elite Squad will probably be very violent, and super hard-hitting. I think LIJ will get the win, although if Hiromu also wins the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title that could be a signpost that Naito is losing the main event. Cody vs Kota Ibushi should be a very good mid-card match, but it seems a bit thrown together for my liking. Finally Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Switchblade (AKA Jay White) for the Intercontinental title, is the one match I fear could be a dud due to White's involvement. He's a not a bad worker for me, but I'm not sure he is good enough for this level and when you combine that with Tanahashi's multiple injuries I could see this match suffering as a result. Everyone else is basically involved in the multi-team gauntlet for the Never Openweight Six man titles or the New Japan rumble, both of which should be good fun. Only four days into the year and this has all the potential of being the best show of 2018, and given New Japan's recent track record I would not bet against it. We'll have a full look at this show next week.
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 a full breakdown of Wrestle Kingdom 12, and 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.