Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week has been pretty eventful as WWE begin gearing up for Crown Jewel, AEW and NXT continue to duke it out on Wednesday night and New Japan Pro Wrestling made a huge leap into the international market place. We'll start this week with a look back at Smackdown from this past Friday night.
Two weeks after the re-launch of Smackdown on its new home on Fox, you would imagine that the company would be pulling out all the stops in order to create an increased level of momentum and excitement. Yet this week’s show felt a little lifeless and lacklustre. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Roman Reigns was fun while it lasted, but with the match opening the show it was hardly surprising that King Corbin and Daniel Bryan would get involved to set up the main event. The tag match was a very solid bout between four guys who excel in this atmosphere. However, it felt like the whole story was completely wrapped up here with no over-arching story or any real hook for next week.
The rest of the show was all perfectly serviceable with plenty of enjoyable stuff, but it was a very forgettable episode. The Miz TV segment with Bayley and Sasha Banks gave a bit more insight into Bayley’s attitude adjustment, but it was all that you would have expected to hear from her with no major surprises. The six-pack challenge set Nikki Cross up nicely as Bayley’s next challenger and it provides a fresh match-up for the near future. The New Day and Heavy Machinery vs The Revival, Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler was a fine mid-card match with no real stakes attached. I’m not sure if Kofi Kingston’s nonchalance to losing the WWE title is a storyline, or if they’ve just shoved him back to the mid-card. I hope it’s the former and we get some character development from Kingston in the coming weeks. The pairing of Braun Strowman and Drew Gulak was purely designed to get Strowman over as a monster ahead of his match with Tyson Fury at Crown Jewel. Finally, Shorty Gable (sigh) beat Curtis Axel before deciding his name will now be Shorty G (bigger sigh). Poor Chad Gable.
An instant forgettable Smackdown, with nothing of real note that made this a must-watch show. Perhaps the change of management with Bruce Prichard coming in to replace Eric Bischoff had an impact, or this was simply a filler week, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of your way to see this episode of Smackdown on Fox.
While things have been a bit up and down as of late on the red brand, this first post-draft show was a look into how things might settle down over the coming months and for the most part, this was a vastly improved show compared to recent weeks. With the tease last week of a mystery partner teaming up with The Street Profits to take on The OC, I had imagined someone a bit more inspiring than Kevin Owens, but that is who we got. I’m not suggesting Owens isn’t an excellent performer, it’s more that a mystery partner with a week’s build suggests a debut or return. As it was, it wasn’t really a six-man tag with AJ Styles essentially on the floor for most of the match until Owens made himself known. However, it didn't really matter because the stars of the show were The Street Profits. After months of backstage segments, Angelo Dawkins and and Montez Ford shone incredibly brightly in their first match on Raw and made a huge impression. From their entrance through the crowd to the finish of the match everything they did was a home run. Even the post-match with Ford celebrating with the crowd, including interacting with a baby, was amazing and this felt like a big deal and a huge arrival for Ford and Dawkins. Great work all round.
One of the biggest focuses on this show was Crown Jewel, which makes sense given that show is next Thursday. Drew McIntyre looked good on his return and his insertion into Team Flair makes for a solid addition to round out that unit. McIntyre's match with Ricochet was excellent and this is a pairing I would certainly be happy to see more from in the future. Also playing into that big tag match was the whole Rusev-Bobby Lashley-Lana angle, and although I’ve not been a big fan of this booking the restaurant scene was well done, and somehow against all odds I think Rusev and Lashley are making this horrendous angle work as something vaguely tolerable. Outside of that main event, there was build for two of the other big Raw matches in Saudi Arabia, as Seth Rollins took on Humberto Carillo in what was a nice showcase for Carillo, and was set up based on Carillo making a quip about Rollins backstage. Carillo looked very good here, although his promo backstage wasn’t the best. Speaking of guys who need some work on their promos, there was more hype here for Cain Valasquez’s match with Brock Lesnar as WWE finally connected Shelton Benjamin’s real-life connection to Lesnar after the better part of two decades, and although Valasquez was the one standing tall alongside Rey Mysterio I thought this segment did plenty to highlight what Benjamin still has to offer. Andrade vs Sin Cara was a very strong TV match and again highlighted how good Andrade could be, while Aleister Black continued his streak of squashes against a local talent. Finally, The Viking Raiders had a very good showing against Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder as they continued to cement their status as the top team on Raw, although it certainly seems like they are building to a match with AOP when they reappear.
A decent enough episode of Raw with lots of of excellent matches, some shine on the new additions to the Raw roster and plenty of hype for Crown Jewel. Big improvement.
NJPW US launch
While New Japan Pro Wrestling has been expanding their business into the US market and beyond (see Royal Quest), it has always been somewhat tentative and alongside Ring of Honor as part of their continued partnership. They have had success in that endeavour with plenty of big shows on foreign soil, but it always seemed as though it would be a slow and steady approach from the Japanese juggernaut. However, this week, almost out of nowhere NJPW announced the launch of New Japan Pro Wrestling of America. The sister brand will ve opening an office in the states, with dedicated staff and will run shows in between Japanese tours. Of course, the details have not been fully fleshed out in this initial press statement but it certainly sounds as though this is not intended as a separate entity to NJPW, with much the same roster for both “brands”. I would imagine there will be a bit of a hiring drive from New Japan for US-based performers in order to facilitate this endeavour which only adds more fuel to the fire of the talent recruitment war that has been going on between AEW, WWE and Ring of Honor. With New Japan entering the fray it is likely a great time to be a free agent wrestler, and you have to imagine those in-demand will be the subject of major bidding wars. But what of NJPW’s arrangement with ROH? Or indeed the potential for a partnership with AEW? I can only imagine that this puts paid to any such talent exchange with either brand, which is a shame and will definitely hurt Ring of Honor, especially as both seem to have dissolved their arrangement with CMLL. The other question, is have NJPW waited too long and is the market saturated to the point they will struggle to make a big splash with so much other wrestling available? Time will tell, but this is definitely a statement of intent from New Japan.
Another week, another head-to-head for NXT and AEW. On the NXT side of things, it was a very enjoyable show with a shocking end. Cameron Grimes vs Matt Riddle and Rhea Ripley vs Bianca Belair were both strong matches that set up exciting future programmes (Grimes vs Tyler Bate and Ripley, Io Shirai and Belair and Candace LeRae in a four-way number one contender match I suspect) while Angel Garza vs Jack Gallagher and Isiah “Swerve” Scott and Breezango vs The Forgotten Sons were fun TV matches without any real consequences. Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai vs Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke was the best match the former MMA fighters have had so far and made Kai and Nox look like a major threat to the women's tag team titles and sets up a mouthwatering clash with The Kabuki Warriors. Finally, Roderick Strong, Donovan Dijakovic and Keith Lee had probably the best match on WWE television this year so far with a phenomenal performance from all three. Unfortunately, it will be overshadowed by Finn Balor’s post-match heel turn and the tease of joining Undisputed Era. This is exactly what Finn has needed for some time and I am delighted to see some character development and edge from Balor. A very solid show with an extraordinary main event.
On the All Elite side of things, this week’s Dynamite was a bit of a drop compared to the past few weeks. It wasn’t a bad show per se, but it had a lot to live up to. The segment with Cody Rhodes and Family and The Inner Circle was excellent and great way to do something slightly outside of the (luxury sky) box. Both tag team tournament semifinals were good but not great, although it sets up an enticing final. Britt Baker vs Jamie Hayter was a marked improvement from Baker and Hayter looked excellent here, I look forward to seeing more from her. The Young Bucks vs The Best Friends was a bit all over the place with the exception of Orange Cassidy again stealing the show. Kenny Omega vs Joey Janela was tons of fun even without any plunder. The main event with PAC and Jon Moxley was exactly what you would expect and I liked the use of the time limit draw to protect both men but also to reinforce it is something that can actually happen rather than an empty gimmick for television. I think the main thing here is this show alost had too much wrestling without enough to break it up with made for a more difficult watch than perhaps it needed to be. Still some work needed.
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 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/NJPW