Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week we have a ridiculous amount to cover with the usual weekly TV, a major NXT Takeover show, huge developments in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the sad passing of an AJPW star. Plus we have the much-maligned WWE Super Showdown event in Saudi Arabia on Friday. It is jam packed this week, so we'll crack on by looking back at NXT Takeover XXV.
NXT Takeover XXV
This past Saturday NXT celebrated its 25th Takeover event from the glamorous, historic surroundings of...Bridgeport, Connecticut. Ok, so it’s not Brooklyn or Dallas or Toronto, but it certainly was a historic event. If anything, it felt a bit like the early Takeover shows where it was a bit less flashy than the brand has become. The build for the show was admittedly lacklustre and I know many weren’t mega excited for the show, but as NXT tends to do, it delivered.
Takeover XXV opened with Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong arguably stealing the show with a hard hitting, back-and-forth battle that looked snug and stiff. Riddle is beginning to look like the real deal, but Strong had a really good showing here and hopefully that opens a few more eyes to how good he really can be. Velveteen Dream is a joy to watch, and his match against Tyler Breeze was really quite good. I can see why they’ve been put together and Breeze looked better here than he has since going up to the main roster. Io Shirai had her best WWE outing to date against Shayna Baszler, who really needs to go up to the main roster soon. Not sure how I feel about the post-match given Baszler won the match cleanly, but I also appreciate they need to build to a return bout. The tag team ladder match was better than the average match of that type with some huge spots, but not so many contrived ones. It was well structured and had plenty of big moments for everyone. The Street Profits are a good choice for champions and they are massively over with the NXT crowd. For now it’s a great fit for Montez Ford who is still pretty green but could be a major player in the future, and it hides how average Angelo Dawkins is even after years at the PC.
Finally, we had the main event pitting Johnny Gargano against Adam Cole. This match was either brilliant, or unwatchable for many. It really depends how you feel about the overuse of false finishes and an alleged lack of psychology. It was the epitome of the modern indie style, with lots of no-selling big moves. However, although I absolutely appreciate the criticisms I genuinely enjoyed this match. Cole and Gargano have excellent chemistry and this was a worthy main event for such a major show. Plus this only leaves the North American Championship out of the grips of Undisputed Era.
NXT XXV was a fine show, and while it probably won’t be the most well-remembered Takeover event ever it certainly had some excellent matches and sets up the major programmes for NXT over the summer.
August 31st log jam
August 31st looks like it may well be a rather busy day in the calendar now for UK wrestling fans. At NXT Takeover XXV it was announced that NXT UK will be hosting its second Takeover event, which is great news for the brand and UK fans. The catch? It’s on August 31st in Cardiff. Now if that date rings a bell it’s because that is the same day as NJPW run their Royal Quest show at the Copper Box in London. Of course, much later in the day AEW will be running their All Out show in Chicago. So you potentially have fans who have already bought tickets to NJPW who likely would have gone to Takeover, as well as those who might decide to fly out to the states for All Out/Starrcast. In addition there are various indie shows taking place including Rev Pro in London on the Friday night.
It seems like poor planning from WWE, even if they booked the venue months ago it is still in Cardiff the same weekend as the Wales rugby team will be playing Ireland making hotel availability scarce. The whole thing is either very short-sighted, or shows how well WWE regard the NXT UK brand. Regardless, this will force many fans to choose between shows when arguably they would likely have gone to both. It’s an unnecessary log jam which as a UK-based wrestling fan is very disappointing in terms of fan service. It’s not like WWE don’t have a history of moving events to avoid clashes, just see the most recent NXT Takeover which was left as an isolated event because WWE moved (and the scrapped) Backlash to avoid clashing with the Saudi Arabia show on Friday. They also moved the NXT show on Wrestlemania weekend to avoid clashing with NJPW/ROH at Madison Square Garden, so there is precedent, but with the venue announced and tickets on sale it looks to be full steam ahead, and possibly a lower turnout, which is a shame for the talent involved.
Raw and Smackdown
For the sake of brevity I’ll keep it short this week when it comes to Raw and Smackdown. On Monday WWE presented a mostly very enjoyable episode of Raw. The threat of cash-in and the fake out from Brock Lesnar was well done, although no-one bought it as being an actual cash-in. I like Lesnar as the shadow to Rollins, psychologically torturing him with the constant threat of taking the title, but on his terms. The Undertaker cut his usual spooky promo (more on him in a minute). Ricochet vs Cesaro, Charlotte vs Lacey Evans (including the stuff with Becky Lynch), and Drew McIntyre and The Revival vs Roman Reigns and The Usos were all entertaining in-ring matches that forwarded programmes for either Super Showdown or Stomping Grounds. The arm wrestling match between Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley was a nice throwback to the sort of angle you’d expect in the 80s. Lars Sullivan brawling with The Lucha House Party was what it was, while Randy Orton and Triple H did a fine job of reminding everyone of their storied past ahead of Friday. Rey Mysterio relinquishing his title to Samoa Joe was making the best of a bad situation. Finally, Bray Wyatt put on possibly the most creative Firefly Funhouse yet. Wyatt is brilliant in these and while I had previously hoped they would pay this off soon, at this point I almost hope they hold off till Summerslam.
Smackdown also presented a very strong show this week. Bill Goldberg’s return was absolutely electric and he came across as an proper mega-star. While The Undertaker appeared only briefly, the showdown between the two was some of the best TV that WWE have produced all year. Absolute home run there. The opening with Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods vs Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was very good, although Owens and Zayn were more background players to the verbal sparring between Kingston and Dolph Ziggler. The chaotic “Moment of Bliss” segment was effective in setting up the triple threat match for later on, and Alexa Bliss getting the win makes sense. I also enjoyed the more aggressive side to Bayley’s character in all this. Andrade vs Apollo never really got started and was again more of backdrop for the go-home angle for Andrade vs Finn Balor. The segment with Shane, The Revival and Drew McIntyre beating down Roman Reigns was an interesting hook for Friday. I very much enjoyed the 24/7 shenanigans, which after a rocky start have really become fun parts of WWE television and social media. Finally, both Lars Sullivan and Aleister Black cut very different, but both quite eerie promos. I preferred Black’s, but Sullivan’s felt less cryptic and more designed for the immediate future.
Overall, WWE put together some pretty good TV this week, and although Super Showdown is at the forefront, they set up plenty of Stomping Grounds in two weeks time.
NJPW Best of the Super Junior finals + Dominion preview
While many eyes are on WWE’s jaunt to Saudi Arabia, New Japan Pro Wrestling are also having a pretty busy week, with the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, which in effect has operated as a go-home show for Sunday’s Dominion event. The tournament itself has been incredible, with a freshly stacked junior division providing multiple stellar matches. I would recommend some, but frankly I would urge you to go back and watch as much as you can to avoid missing out. The finalists Will Ospreay, who previously won the tournament in 2016 and Shingo Takagi, who went undefeated until the final were both stand outs from the grueling series of shows, but put on a classic in the final. I genuinely believed Shingo would get the win, but having run roughshod over the division the loss here does him no harm, while also not sticking him with the albatross of an undefeated streak. Ospreay will go on to challenge Dragon Lee for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Dominion in what should be another cracking encounter, although I expect Lee to get the win. Ospreay looks set to take part in the G1 this year as he moves back up to heavyweight and I wouldn’t even be shocked to see him win it. As for Lee, with the soon-to-return Hiromu Takahashi waiting in the wings I would imagine he will be kept strong to face his nemesis, and presumably drop the title. As for Shingo, there’s plenty of time to rebuild him for a title match at the Tokyo Dome in January, or as one of the larger juniors a move up to the heavyweight division. Lots of possibilities, and a fantastic cap on a brilliant tournament.
The other big news coming out of this show was the debut and IWGP US Title win for one Jon Moxley. The former Dean Ambrose came out in trunks, surprisingly, and beat the now-dreadlock-free Juice Robinson in a surprisingly even battle. Moxley is employing a new, more chaotic style and an adapted version of the dirty deeds (now the "death rider"). It is certainly a memorable way to debut in NJPW for arguably the biggest name outside of WWE at the moment, and certainly the man whose name is one everyone’s lips. A great start for Moxley.
Sunday’s Dominion card is on paper a very exciting show, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it has been built as well as previous Dominion shows. I do always feel it suffers for being so close to the BOSJ finals, but that is how the company have operated for a while now. The main event between Chris Jericho and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada has the potential to be something very special, but I do worry it could just as equally be a massive clash of styles. I certainly wouldn’t expect the classic Okada-type match that have been a hallmark of his previous main events or an hour long classic like his bouts with Kenny Omega in the past couple of years at this event. Conventional wisdom suggests that Okada retains, but when Jericho is involved it’s impossible to say what might happen and I wouldn’t put it beyond Gedo to give Jericho a short run as champion.
Despite it being only a few days away much of the card has only just been announced, but aside from the main heavyweight and junior heavyweight titles, two other singles championships are on the line. Taichi will defend his Never Openweight title against Tomohiro Ishii in what could be a far better match that I’m sure many would predict. Taichi is vastly underrated, and Ishii is always at least solid. The other match we know will almost certainly deliver as we get the rematch between Kota Ibushi and Testsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental title. These two have had many wars in the past, including the big G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden and I would be stunned if they didn’t add another classic to their storied rivalry here.
The rest of the card is the usual mix of tags and six-man tags that are a staple of NJPW undercards, with a couple of stand out matches that have tremendous potential. Jon Moxley defends his newly won US title against Shota Umino, in what wlll almost certainly be a showcase squash for Moxley, but probably putting some shine on Umino too. However, the match that really caught my eye was Shingo vs Satoshi Kojima. I would expect big lariats, and stiff strikes, but also the first step towards Shingo possibly getting himself involved in the heavyweight mix which could b very intriguing indeed. Having seen him for Dragon Gate in the past I can confirm he can do the heavyweight style very well. We’ll have more details on what goes down, right here next week.
RIP Atsushi Aoki
In sad news coming out of Japan this week All Japan star Atsushi Aoki was tragically killed in a motorbike accident in Tokyo after colliding with the wall of a tunnel. Aoki had previously wrestled in NJPW competing in the BOSJ and the Super J Cup, but is perhaps best known for his stints in Pro Wrestling Noah (he came up in their dojo and his debut match featured Mitsuhara Misawa and Akira Taue), as well as his later run in AJPW where he was the current Junior Heavyweight champion at the time of his death. While far from a household name Aoki was very well respected within the industry as well as among fans of Japanese professional wrestling, and he had a very unique in-ring style. Passing away at only 41, Aoki will be sorely missed. RIP.
WWE Super Showdown preview
This Friday night WWE will return to Saudi Arabia for Super Showdown. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how controversial these shows are with no women allowed to perform and the company tied into a ten year deal with a government who have a number of dubious policies and a pretty shady track record on human rights among other things. Let’s not even get started on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, journalists allegedly being murdered or any number of other reasons to be sour on WWE going to KSA. This show is happening, and there is little we can do to prevent it, as given WWE weathered the backlash when the Jamal Khashoggi scandal happened in Saudi Arabia they will likely be undeterred by much else. As such, I will cover it and we’ll try to steer clear of the political elements, although I will say these shows are best thought of as almost “non-canon” and isolated because the atmosphere has so far been a bit bizarre at the first two shows.
Onto the wrestling side of the event the one match that I am looking forward to more than any other is Goldberg vs The Undertaker. On one hand it is absolutely a dream match that would have been incredible twenty years ago. However, it could be an absolute disaster in 2019 and in part I am looking forward to that outcome if that’s the way it goes, but if booked correctly this could be a brilliant sprint of a match between two old pros in the style of Goldberg vs Lesnar from Wrestlemania 33. It is quite the curiosity and I can’t wait.
Triple H vs Randy Orton will likely be fine but nothing memorable, Braun Strowman vs Bobby Lashley should be a short but very physical, while I expect Lars Sullivan to prevail over The Lucha House Party in pretty dominant fashion. In terms of the two major singles titles matches I don’t have high hopes for Seth Rollins vs Baron Corbin or Kofi Kingston vs Dolph Ziggler. I feel like both matches are combinations I’ve seen far too many times to get excited about. The only thing to potentially get excited about is the possibility of Brock Lesnar cashing in his briefcase, but even that I suspect will be a damp squib if it happens.
Roman Reigns vs Shane McMahon will likely be full of shenanigans, maybe with The Revival and/or Drew McIntyre getting involved. Regardless I imagine this will not be the end of the feud between Shane and Reigns. Finn Balor vs Andrade will almost certainly be the match of the night given both men have been on top form as of late. Finally, there is a 50-man-over-the-top-rope battle royal that will almost certainly be a nostalgia-fest with padded out with the rest of the roster. I do love a battle royal though, so I am quite looking forward to that.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look back at Super Showdown and Dominion, as well as Raw, Smackdown, and whatever else breaks in the meantime. 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.