Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week we focus on New Japan Pro Wrestling and all the big stories coming out of the huge Wrestle Kingdom 13 show, the big launch of All Elite Wrestling, as well as Raw, Smackdown and more. We'll get started with the biggest event of the week, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13.
NJPW - Wrestle Kingdom and beyond
It’s fair to say it’s been an eventful week for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Last Friday the company held their annual Tokyo Dome spectacular, Wrestle Kingdom. It pretty much goes without saying that this show was superb, which it tends to be every year. The main event pitted IWGP Heavyweight champion Kenny Omega against the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi, and it did not disappoint. While it became clear during the match that Omega was leaving NJPW (his entrance was quite the giveaway, but still) both men gave a stellar performance, putting on a top drawer main event worthy of the massive stage that is the Tokyo Dome. Omega proved a great foil for Tanahashi, who rolled back the years. It may not quite have been at the level of Omega vs Kazuchika Okada two years ago, but it was also probably slightly above Okada vs Tetsuya Naito last year (although arguably that was due to the way the match finished, and the sort of story it was telling, which should still payoff somewhere down the line when Naito wins the big one at Wrestle Kingdom eventually). A worthy main event, which positions Tanahashi for one last big run on top, and sends Kenny Omega off to new pastures in grand style.
The rest of the card had some excellent matches. Tetsuya Naito vs Chris Jericho was a wild brawl, but it made the most of both men’s biggest assets and put Naito over massively after a year-long storyline with Jericho. "Switchblade" Jay White vs Okada was far better than expected and White getting the win is a huge statement victory. White should be in for a very big year in NJPW in 2019, and this could well be the big jumping off point for him. Taiji Ishimori vs Kushida, Cody Rhodes vs Juice Robinson, and The Young Bucks vs G.O.D vs Evil and Sanada were all very solid contests, but there were no major surprises given a number of those competitors are leaving the company (more on that shortly). Shingo Takagi shone massively in winning the Junior Heavyweight tag titles alongside Bushi and looked like an absolute superstar in the process. If he is not either the kingpin of the junior division or moved up to heavyweight by this time next year I would be stunned. Zack Sabre Jr vs Tomohiro Ishii for the Rev Pro British Heavyweight title was a nice novelty, and the match itself was very hard hitting. Also, well done to Kevin Kelly for getting the whole name of Sabre’s finishing move out before Ishii gave up (Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than the Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All To Happiness - which is the name of a YouthMovies album), as ZSJ continues to have some of the best-named finishing holds in wrestling today. Finally, Will Ospreay vs Kota Ibushi was a white-hot opener which was everything we all hoped it could be. Ospreay looked great and I enjoyed that he seemed to have tempered his style slightly with the move up to heavyweight. Unfortunately, Ibushi suffered a concussion in the process, which will keep him out for a while, provided he doesn't head off to AEW if that is where Kenny Omega is off to after January 31st.
All in all, Wrestle Kingdom 13 was a great show top to bottom. There were no particularly weak matches, and having every title change hands prevented to show from getting stale or predictable. NJPW is in a state of flux following on from this show, but the quality of the in-ring work has arguably never been higher. The night after Wrestle Kingdom, New Year's Dash took place from Korakuen Hall, and while it was mostly just multi-man tag matches, it did set up a few things going forward for the New Beginning shows in February. Firstly, Jay White has been positioned as the new number 1 contender for Tanahashi, which makes sense. I wouldn’t even be shocked to see White get the big win, given how strongly he has been pushed and the lack of top heels in NJPW at the moment. Taichi was set up as Naito’s first challenger for his newly won Intercontinental championship, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi re-aligned with the Bullet Club. There was also a brilliant six man tag featuring Will Ospreay, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii taking on Jeff Cobb, Yuji Nagata and Kushida that is well worth going out of your way to catch.
Speaking of Kushida, he has arguably been one of the cornerstones of the junior heavyweight division in New Japan for a number of years. However, NJPW announced after Wrestle Kingdom that Kushida would be leaving the company. Although there is no news on where he might go, rumours suggest he is NXT-bound, which could be an interesting move that may or may not work out for him. Of course, he could be on his way to AEW or even ROH (where he is a former TV Champion), but WWE seems most likely. Kushida leaving, Ospreay moving up to heavyweight (for now at least as the Never Openweight champion), and the injury to Hiromu Takahashi certainly leaves the junior division looking a little anaemic in terms of top stars, so it'll be interesting to see who comes in moving forward. Regardless, Kushida is off to his next adventure, but in a nice gesture by NJPW he will get his wish of a dream match send off - a non-title match with Hiroshi Tanahashi, a bout that has the makings of something very special indeed.
Finally, New Japan laid out their plans for the future this week, with a slew of show announcements for 2019. This includes running a second night at the Tokyo Dome next January 5th, a G1 show in Dallas, and most excitingly a full NJPW show in the UK, at the Copper Box in London on August 31st. Although NJPW had co-promoted arena shows with Rev Pro last year in Milton Keynes and Manchester, this will be the first NJPW promoted show on these shores, which is incredibly exciting. Despite losing The Young Bucks, Cody, and Chris Jericho to AEW (more on that shortly), and with Kenny Omega taking some time away and possibly not returning to NJPW when his contract expires on January 31st, the company appears to be forging on with their international expansion, which hopefully will not be hampered by their relationship with ROH or AEW.
On Tuesday, All Elite Wrestling hosted a rally to herald their official launch, Jacksonville, Florida. The location is, of course, important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the base for the Jacksonville Jaguars who are also owned by the Khan family, and it’s also mere miles from the arena that WWE were running their weekly Smackdown show. The rally was very eventful with the first big roster reveal from AEW featuring Cody, The Young Bucks, SoCal Uncensored, Adam Page, MJF, Joey Janela, Brandi Rhodes and various others. Interestingly, AEW also announced they would be pairing up with Dragon Gate and OWE, a major promotion in China, which should allow for some very interesting talent exchanges. However, the two most notable additions come in the form of two former WWE stars, with PAC and Chris Jericho both appearing as signed up AEW talent. With a reputable roster, and presumably more additions to come, plus a rumoured TV deal it could be very interesting to see what happens with AEW over the coming weeks. One thing we do know for sure is that there will be a PPV, Double or Nothing on May 25th in Las Vegas, and we will certainly have more on the build to that show over the next five months.
Monday Night Raw may not have been the most exciting show in the world over the past few months, but the first show of the New Year certainly raised expectations that this would change, and it did to an extent. One thing that became abundantly clear this week is that WWE has plenty invested in Seth Rollins. His opening of the show, brawling with Bobby Lashley felt chaotic and fresh. Their interruption of John Cena and Drew McIntyre by Lashley and Rollins, who both cut very good promos regarding the Royal Rumble, was a nice touch with Dean Ambrose and Finn Balor joining the fray. The resulting six man was about as fun a TV match as you’ll see on Raw in the current climate. It’s amazing what John Cena brings to proceedings even in his limited part-time role. Rollins backstage interaction with Triple H was well produced and further positioned Rollins as the big babyface on Raw. The main event between Rollins and Ambrose was far superior to their match at TLC, although I would have gone for the feel-good ending to the show of Rollins winning the belt back, rather than Bobby Lashley costing him the belt if nothing else because it means this feud will continue. Presumably, as they were the two odd men out Ambrose and Balor will be spun off for an Intercontinental title feud, which has potential.
Alexa Bliss’ “Moment of Bliss” was a nice change of pace for Raw. Ronda Rousey came across really well during the segment and although her praise of Sasha Banks seemed completely out of left field. That said, Banks was excellent on the microphone here which was nice considering she has been bogged down in tags with Bayley for months. Nia Jax was less good, but her presence was mostly to facilitate a number one contender’s match between the two, a match that was actually pretty good. Banks and Rousey could be insanely good, but if nothing else this was the most relevant Banks has been in what feels like years.
The rest of the show moved at a fairly brisk pace. Hulk Hogan appearing on WWE television felt a bit weird, but thankfully the context of paying tribute to "Mean" Gene Okerlund kept it on track. Speaking of which, the tribute video for Okerlund was a thing of beauty. Bobby Roode and Chad Gable vs The Revival was really fun, although the continuing theme of The Revival being cheated seems odd considering they are ostensibly the heels. Baron Corbin vs Elias was the snoozefest you would expect. Ember Moon and Apollo Crews vs Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox was nothing special, but Alicia did sell Moon’s finisher like a trooper. Finally, Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman did a whole lot of nothing, presumably because Braun is not actually cleared for anything physical, but this seemed like a waste of a Lesnar date.
A decent Raw overall, not the best but far from the worst episode in recent memory. There’s still a few weeks until the Royal Rumble, so plenty of time for everything to fall into place but the writers have started shuffling those pieces here, something I expect to continue next week.
If you were in any doubt going into this week’s show to which programme is the Smackdown main event for Royal Rumble, that confusion should have been erased by the time this episode reached its conclusion. The pre-taped promos for Carmella, Charlotte and Becky Lynch gave the main event triple threat a big fight feel, with all three making a really strong case as to why they will be winning. This was especially beneficial to Carmella, preventing her from feeling like an afterthought. The match itself was excellent, and all three women were given plenty of opportunities to shine without it ever feeling unbalanced. Becky getting the clean win made sense, and while having her take on Asuka rather than taking a spot in the rumble has been a source of concern, that doesn’t necessarily preclude her entering the match. That said, it’s perfectly feasible to have Ronda Rousey win the Rumble match after losing to Sasha Banks should they wish to go down that route. There are many possibilities, but I have to believe that we are getting some combination of Becky, Ronda and maybe Charlotte. The post-match face-off with Asuka and Becky Lynch was also very nicely done, and I’m excited to see the two of them battle it out in a few weeks.
Daniel Bryan had a fun segment to open the show. I liked that it wasn’t your average in-ring promo, but a more interactive affair with Bryan out by the concession stand. His persona is sanctimonious, preachy and a genuine heel. He’s honestly doing some of the best work of his career so far. The match with R Truth that followed was little more than a squash, but this was effective as a whole in continuing to build the Daniel Bryan-AJ Styles title match at the Rumble. This was especially fruitful in the aftermath of the match with Styles attacking Bryan, again pushing the more aggressive attitude of Styles that has developed in recent weeks. Bryan would even cut another shouty, angry promo later in the show to build to some sort of retribution next week. It really has been a great programme between these two, and I’m a big fan of the character development both are showcasing as the programme evolves.
The rest of the show had plenty of exciting, and enjoyable action. The Usos vs The Bar was a very good TV match, and the finish with Mandy Rose continues to tease the story between Rose and Naomi, as well as Jimmy Uso. The Miz and Shane McMahon had a variety of interactions throughout the night, and the culmination of that was Miz challenging The Bar for a tag title match at the Rumble, which is odd, but I’m still intrigued as to where this angle is heading. Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura had another good back and forth, making use of the “injury” to Lana last week, with Nakamura eventually getting the upper hand. Nakamura looks refreshed and more motivated than he has for a while, and Rusev has been great so I’m looking forward to these two having their rematch. Finally, Andrade “Cien” Almas and Samoa Joe vs Rey Mysterio and Mustafa Ali was a really stellar outing for all involved, and it was encouraging that Almas got the clean win over Mysterio. There feels like there is some magic to be had between Almas and Mysterio, with both showing great chemistry, so hopefully, this is the start of something between the two.
Another very good episode of Smackdown, with some cracking in-ring action, as well as some excellent storyline developments centred around the top two singles titles on the blue brand. Despite Raw having a much stronger showing this week, Smackdown continues to blow it out of the water week-in-week-out and this was no exception.
NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool
This Saturday NXT UK will host their first live Takeover special from the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, the venue for the original WWE UK Title Tournament in January 2017. The TV shows have been slowly building to this event, and it'll be very interesting to see how the show goes down with WWE Network subscribers. One thing the show will not be lacking is sterling in-ring action, as the five-match card looks absolutely stacked. The main event featuring WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne and Joe Coffey should be a very physical, very intense encounter, but I have to assume Dunne is retaining for now, as I don't believe Coffey is a strong enough draw to carry the brand just yet. Rhea Ripley vs Toni Storm will almost certainly be one of the better matches on the night, and as with their previous encounters, both will be looking to steal the show. Moustache Mountain vs GYV is a banker for a very solid tag bout, while Eddie Dennis vs Dave Mastiff has the potential to be the most aggressive match of the night just based on both men's strengths. Finally, we have Travis Banks vs Jordan Devlin which is my prediction for match of the night. Both Devlin and Banks are more than capable of providing something very special, and I predict that this match if they are given the time, might overshadow the other matches on the show, such is the talent of both men.
The Takeover name is associated with some very memorable cards, and it is a legacy that will be very difficult for the NXT UK brand to live up to. That said, this card looks very solid if not massively spectacular, but there will definitely be some excellent matches, such is the talent available to the brand. Hopefully, this show is used as a kick-off point for some big feuds and angles moving forward and creates a more dynamic product moving forward. The weekly TV show has been good, but not great, but perhaps a show like this is what is needed to kick things into gear for the next set of tapings.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Raw and Smackdown as well as whatever major stories break in the next seven days. 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.
Photos: WWE.COM/NJPW1972.COM/ALL ELITE WRESTLING