Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. It has been a marquee week in wrestling with WWE presenting four nights back-to-back with Smackdown, NXT Takeover: War Games, Survivor Series and Raw, while AEW also had their weekly Dynamite show. I shouldn't complain, because we live in an age where the standard of wrestling is higher than ever, but there was a lot to catch up on this week. Let's get started with Smackdown from last Friday.
Before all the main madness started across the weekend, WWE had one last opportunity to give the NXT Takeover: War Games/Survivor Series double header the big push on Friday night’s Smackdown. And push they did, chiefly with NXT again making their presence known. Rhea Ripley looked every inch the superstar up against Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks, and getting the win, especially with a really inventive finish made her look very strong. The post-match brawl between the Raw and Smackdown squads gave a nice taster for what was to come at Survivor Series. Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn unveiling the new Intercontinental title belt was intriguing, even if the reaction to the new design was somewhat mixed. The ensuing multi-man tag match with The Undisputed Era taking on The New Day and Heavy Machinery was a clever way to intertwine both the match with Roderick Strong, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura as well as The New Day vs The Viking Raiders vs The Undisputed Era planned for Sunday.
Daniel Bryan vs The Miz was nothing we’ve not seen before, although "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt attacking Bryan set the table for the Universal title match at Survivor Series. Bayley and Shayna Baszler put together a strong segment which helped even out the focus for the triple threat that also features Becky Lynch, as the potential rivalry between “The Man” and Baszler had perhaps overshadowed the former “Hugger”. Finally, Mustafa Ali, Roman Reigns and Shorty G defeated King Corbin, Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode in a match that continued the tease of dissension within Team Smackdown. Raw invading and then NXT following suit in something resembling a tank led to the inevitable melee kicking off. This was far from original, but as a closing visual it was more than adequate going into the weekend. A strong go-home show.
Night two of four was NXT’s time to shine as they presented Takeover: War Games. The show kicked off arguably with the best match of the whole event as NXT presented the first ever women’s War Games match. This was incredibly well booked, with Rhea Ripley’s team losing Mia Yim to a mysterious backstage assault, and replaced by Dakota Kai. Things progressed as the match started, but the true high point of this bout came as Kai assaulted her best friend and tag team partner Tegan Nox, in a fantastic heel turn that left the babyface team at a two person disadvantage. Ripley and Candace LeRae were great babyfaces here battling the odds, while Io Shirai, Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair and Kay Lee Ray all got time to shine within the confines of the cage. However, after a lengthy and engrossing battle, having Ripley pin Baszler sets up Rhea as the number one challenger to the NXT Women’s title. This was superb, booked perfectly and everyone came out of it with a strong direction moving forward.
The men’s War Games match was exactly what you would have expected and it certainly demonstrated the strengths of the male roster on WWE’s third brand. However, in all honesty, this was a tiny bit disappointing, and paled in comparison to the earlier War Games match. Perhaps it was fatigue from seeing a similar match on the same show, but this didn’t really click for me. Kevin Owens coming in as the final member of Team Ciampa was a novel surprise, but a logical one as he had existing beef with Undisputed Era. There was quite a bit of debate about the final spot of this match with Tomasso Ciampa hitting an Air Raid Crash from the top of the cage on Adam Cole through a table. It was a dangerous spot, and although Ciampa did everything in his power to make it as sae as he could, some argued it was unnecessarily risky. It was certainly spectacular, but I do wonder if maybe it should have been replaced with something less likely to end in injury. Luckily, Cole seemed to be ok, and it looked amazing, but it also seemed like a huge risk to take.
Sandwiched between the War Games matches were two contrasting mid-card matches. Matt Riddle vs Finn Balor was everything you’d expect it to be, and although Balor won, Riddle gained plenty in defeat against the former Prince Devitt. I also enjoyed that Balor in his new heel persona finished the match with the 1916 DDT (the move formerly known as Bloody Sunday in NJPW) rather than the very flashy, babyface manoeuvre, the Coup de Gras. It’s a small thing, but it does help separate his new persona from his previous incarnation. The second match featured Pete Dunne vs Damien Priest vs Killian Dane. Somethings about this bout didn’t quite work, and it felt overbooked and overly long. I quite like all three competitors involved, but I’m not sure this combination gelled as well as it could have. Dunne winning set up a huge NXT Title match for the night after, but I can’t say I enjoyed this match enormously.
Overall, Takeover: War Games was a decent event, with one very good match, but certainly a few notches below the ridiculously high bar set by earlier Takeover events. It wasn’t bad per se, and the women’s war games match was superb, but everything else was pretty forgettable aside from maybe Riddle vs Balor.
With Takeover in the rear-view mirror NXT, Smackdown and Raw did battle for brand supremacy and for the most part that yielded some fun moments. The big elimination matches both delivered in spades, with the women’s match early doors and the men’s match a bit later into the show. I’m not 100% sure the ruse involving Candace LeRae and Io Shirai for Team NXT completely made sense, but the match was very entertaining and again Rhea Ripley came out of this looking like a star. The company are obviously huge on her, and you can see why.
In the men’s match it was a similar story for Matt Riddle, who eliminated Randy Orton and set up a potential future programme, Keith Lee took Roman Reigns to the limit and even eliminated Seth Rollins. However, you have to feel for WALTER who was eliminated almost immediately, and unless WWE have a plan for something between him and Drew McIntyre, this was a huge waste of the big Austrian. Two very creditable, well-constructed elimination matches, even if the three team dynamic made things pretty chaotic.
The other tri-brand contests were very enjoyable. It was a shame to see The Viking Raiders vs The New Day vs The Undisputed Era on the pre-show rather than the main show, but I understand why that happened. Speaking of the pre-show Lio Rush, Kalisto and Akira Tozawa put on a very entertaining cruiserweight contest, while Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode won a pretty forgettable battle royal. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Roderick Strong vs AJ Styles was great, with Nakamura looking motivated and in the groove, while Strong and Styles brought their “A” game. Strong winning was unexpected, but it’s a huge rub for the former ROH star. Finally, on the brand vs brand vs brand matches, Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch and Bayley put on a decent main event that didn’t quite meet the expected standards for whatever reason, and a burnt-out crowd didn’t help. Still, I feel Baszler vs Lynch still has legs somewhere down the road.
The remaining matches on this card all delivered really big. Adam Cole vs Pete Dunne was a mini classic, with a beautiful finish, which is especially miraculous when you consider both had very physical encounters the prior night, Cole especially. Bray Wyatt vs Daniel Bryan was probably the best encounter Wyatt has had in the “Fiend” era, although the red lighting is still very irritating. Finally, Brock Lesnar and Rey Mysterio stole the show with an incredible match. Lesnar had his working boots on, and the spots with the returning Dominic were far better than anyone could have imagined. Yes, Mysterio lost the match, but this was a great showcase for how good Rey still is, even now.
A very strong show, and at just over three hours it didn’t feel overly long. The multi-brand concept and the way it was presented on the screen was very sports-like and brought a certain level of legitimacy to proceedings. NXT were portrayed as the winners and the strongest brand, in what was essentially a massive advert for their weekly show on Wednesday nights. A good show overall.
WWE rounded out their four consecutive nights with Raw, and it was certainly eventful. After being booed pretty heavily for a few weeks, Seth Rollins appeared to turn heel, or at least begin to turn on this show. The “Town Hall Meeting” was a clear nod to the real-life meeting that happened the latest Saudi Arabia trip. Here, Rollins castigated the entire Raw roster for their failure at Survivor Series, picking out specific performers who then walked away, as Rollins essentially morphed into a whining corporate puppet, with Kevin Owens positioned as the voice of the fans giving Rollins a stunner to close the segment. This set up a main event between the two which resulted in a match that was very enjoyable, but more intriguing was the interference by AoP, who it would appear are possibly aligned with Rollins? Having Seth as the whiny top heel flanked by Akam and Razar could be something very special. Either way, having Seth steer into the skid of his recent loss of popularity was a stroke of genius and may give new life to his career.
The rest of the show was genuinely very entertaining, even if the audience were suffering from WWE-fatigue after four straight days of wrestling. The US title stuff was all very well put together, with a fun fatal four-way followed by Rey Mysterio picking up the win and the belt against AJ Styles. If nothing else it’s great for Mysterio coming off his performance at Survivor Series. Rusev doing his best Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonation in breaking up Bobby Lashley’s match with Titus O’Neill was really quite good. AoP vs Hawkins and Ryder, and Andrade vs Akira Tozawa were both showcases for the victors. Erick Rowan vs an enhancement talent was designed to continue the weird storyline with whatever is in Rowan’s cage. Buddy Murphy vs Matt Hardy was fine, but it was clear from the outset this was a set up for Aleister Black to confront Murphy. Finally, Charlotte and Asuka had a superb match with one of the best looking green mist spots you’ll see. Really good work from both women, and Kairi Sane running interference,
A very strong episode of Raw and a great way to round off a very intense long weekend of wrestling from WWE.
With the big Survivor Series weekend out of the way there was barely time to catch your breath before we returned to the battleground that is Wednesday nights. AEW presented a stacked episode of Dynamite this week, that on paper looked very strong. In executon, it was a mixed bag of sorts. Chris Jericho book-ended the show, first with an uproarious opening "Le Champion Appreciation Night" segment, which was tremendous fun. Then the former-Y2J would defend his title in an excellent main event against Scorpio Sky which really shone a light on how good Sky is between the ropes. Jericho might be doing the best work of his career and if he can keep giving the rub to up-and-coming guys (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter) while still remaining the dominant champion, it will cement his AEW run as perhaps his most successful. Jon Moxley appearing after the bout to set up a programme with Jericho was a natural move, and the prospect of the polar opposite Jericho and Moxley working together is certainly tantalising. Plus, not a potted plant in sight.
The rest of the show did not entirely live up to the standards of the opening and closing moments of Dynamite this week. PAC vs Kenny Omega was very good, although not quite on par with their efforts at All Out. Bea Priestley and Emi Sakura vs Hikaru Shida and Kris Statlander was instantly forgettable. Dustin Rhodes' segment with The Inner Circle and The Young Bucks seemed really quite rushed. MJF vs Hangman Page was excellent, and Wardlow getting into it with DDP afterwards made for interesting TV. The Best Friends beating The Lucha Bros seems like a misstep, and another poor use of two guys in Pentagon and Fenix who could, and should be doing more. Finally, Cody squashed Matt Knicks (nope,me neither) but his call out of MJF after the bout was interrupted by the debut of The Butcher and The Blade (who are apparently a big deal on the indie circuit, but I am unfamiliar with) alongside Allie, now known as The Bunny. Not sure where this goes, possibly a detour for Cody before his feud with MJF, but the commentary was conflicting and confusing. Should we know who these guys are? Or should we not? JR and Excalibur seemed to be working from different hymn sheets and it came off really badly.
After a very well-received week of WWE programming I expected AEW to hit it out of the park here, and they did not. This was a fine show, and very solid from an in-ring perspective, but the other stuff let it down.
As for NXT, after their big victory at Survivor Series it felt inevitable that this would be "business as usual", and it very much was. Predictably, Undisputed Era were all over this show, interrupting the show opening celebration, before Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish (later replaced by Roderick Strong after what appeared to be a legitimate injury) completed a very enjoyable title defence against Dominic Dijakovic and Keith Lee. The highlight came from Lee barging Adam Cole into the front row in a spot that will be replayed for months. Cole would be back as he got involved in the Tomasso Cimapa/Finn Balor main event. The match featured sterling work from both, and Cole interfering, as well as the aftermath with Balor laying out the NXT Champion sets the tone for a three-way which is surely coming at their next Takeover show in February.
Everything else on the show was very good, and nothing seemed to drag. Mansoor vs Shane Thorne was better than expected. Dakota Kai vs Candace LeRae highlighted the new heel Kai and I enjoyed the stuff with Tegan Nox's knee brace that Kai has seemingly taken as a trophy. Good aggression from Kai here, and Rhea Ripley making the save cemented her as a babyface. Xia Li vs Vanessa Borne was nothing special, but it served as a backdrop for Shayna Baszler and her cronies to come out and Ripley to stake her claim to Basz;er's title. Finally Lio Rush and Akira Tozawa tore the house down with a brilliant cruiserweight title match. Rush has been much improved since returning and the crowd are slowly getting behind him.
In a week where so much attention has been on NXT, they have come up with the goods time and again. I have no idea whether this will translate to a growth in audience, but the brand has momentum, there are big programmes afoot and there are new stars breaking hrough. A very solid offering.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw, Smackdown, AEW, NXT 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.
Images courtesy of WWE/AEW