Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week the biggest news came out of NXT's nostlagia-themed Takeover event, as well as the usual efforts on Raw and Smackdown, while New Japan Pro Wrestling finally announced details of their long-awaited return. Plus, we take a look ahead to WWE's Backlash show on Sunday. Please note, this week there will be no coverage of the weekly NXT and AEW TV as it is my daughter's birthday, so real life is the priority over wrestling just this once. Apologies, normal service will resume next week. There's plenty to cover, so let's get underway looking back at NXT Takeover: In Your House.
NXT Takeover: In Your House
Probably the biggest televised wrestling event this week was NXT Takeover: In your House, which featured a huge slice of nostalgia for those of us who grew up watching the “New Generation” era of WWE (then WWF). From the Todd Pentengill intro with the music from the old IYH shows, to the style of graphics and the house set, this show was full of little touches that made it massively fun, even with the sparse audience comprised of the PC talent.
In addition to the nostalgia elements, the show itself delivered with lots of fun matches and plenty of variety. The main event was the match of the night with Io Shirai, Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair all working incredibly hard to put together a stunning main event. Shirai in particular shone, and demonstrated again how well she has adapted to the WWE style over the past two years. Her win here was a big moment, and treated as such, which was lovely to see and made for a great end to the show.
Further down the card, Velveteen Dream vs Adam Cole in a Backlot Brawl was an attempt to do some sort cinematic match, but it didn’t really come off as planned. This was partly down to the production and the way it was shot/lit, but also because it was in the middle of the card it felt like the result was never in doubt. The opener with Tegan Nox, Shotzi Blackheart and Mia Yim taking on Dakota Kai, Raquel Gonzalez, and Candace LeRae was fast-paced and never outstayed its welcome. Keith Lee vs Johnny Gargano was good, but I felt like the psychology of the match was somewhat lacking in places towards the end. Damien Priest had easily his best showing in NXT so far against Finn Balor in another example of Balor being wasted in this role in NXT. Finally, in a very encouraging moment, Karrion Kross dominated Tomasso Ciampa getting a huge first Takeover win over the former NXT Champion. Kross looked fantastic in a star-making performance that sets him up as an instant main eventer.
This was a very strong show, and had it taken place in front of a crowd it might have been one of the hotter Takeover shows in recent memory, but it’s hard to judge because of the weird atmosphere these shows continue to have.
Outside of NXT, WWE TV continues to be a bit of a slog at the moment and I don’t mean that in terms of the match quality, it’s just the weird sterile atmosphere of the PC makes for a hard watch week-after-week. On Smackdown, the big news was Sasha Banks and Bayley winning the women’s tag titles in a fun match against Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, further adding layers to an already slow burning story. Jeff Hardy and Sheamus had another divisive segment focused around Hardy’s sobriety, which still feels pretty uncomfortable overall. The segments with Braun Strowman being “pranked” by The Miz and John Morrison were pretty tiresome. I don’t know why Otis wasn’t given the clean win over Baron Corbin, but the match was pretty forgettable. Sonya Deville and Lacey Evans had a surprisingly excellent match, and I think there might be something there between the two of them in terms of the sort of chemistry that might help in a future rivalry. Deville has improved dramatically in the last year, and I hope she gets more spotlight in the near future beyond being a foil for Mandy Rose. The segment with Drew Gulak (who apparently did indeed sign a new contract in the end), Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles was fine, but the match between Gulak and Styles was superb, and provided a major reminder of what sort of talent both men have, and it sets up Bryan vs AJ for the IC title, which is almost guaranteed to be phenomenal (pun intended)
Over on the red brand, it was a bit more of a mixed bag. Having Asuka and Charlotte bookend the show, first as a team against The Iiconics and Bayley and Sasha Banks, and then later against each other in a brilliant TV match main event worked really well. Seth Rollins segment with Rey Mysterio wasn’t anything special, but I enjoyed Aleister Black’s impromptu attack, but the resultant tag match seemed pretty rushed. Bobby Lashley continued to be positioned as a big threat to Drew McIntyre via the VIP Lounge segment, and the tag match between Lashley and MVP and The Viking Raiders. Speaking of the Viking Raiders, we got another segment between Erik and Ivar and The Street Profits doing a decathlon. What I wouldn’t give to just see them wrestle after all these skits. Andrade vs Kevin Owens vs Angel Garza was a fine triple threat, but Andrade vs Apollo Crews is the least exciting of the possible outcomes. Finally, Edge, Christian and Randy Orton did a great job of selling the importance of the match between Edge and Orton, and perhaps making the stupid branding of the match a bit more realistic.
In good news, New Japan Pro Wrestling announced this week that they will be resuming operations now that Tokyo’s state of emergency has been declared over. The first shows will be in an empty arena, before having a reduced capacity, socially distanced audience for shows after that. NJPW has been out of action since February, so this will be a massive boost to professional wrestling, especially as the line-up for these early shows will include a New Year’s Dash-esque surprise show, and then a tantalising line-up for the New Japan Cup with some major fresh match-ups and lots of intriguing possibilities. I am delighted to see them return, and although they have been sorely missed, the absence feels like it has revitalised and rejuvenated interest in the product and New Japan might just have the hottest property in wrestling now, as well as the goodwill from pausing operations and putting their fans and talent first.
This Sunday, WWE presents Backlash, another PPV from the WWE Performance Centre. Unfortunately, this show doesn’t quite have the hook that Wrestlemania and Money in the Bank had, so I’m a bit worried about whether this show will hold the attention in the same way. The branding of Edge vs Randy Orton as the “Greatest Wrestling Match of All Time” creates quite a lofty expectation, and I’m not sure this match will be able to live up to it. The match will probably be very good, but perhaps not quite THAT good.
Drew McIntyre vs Bobby Lashley will be physical, and based on matches they had in TNA, should be very good although Drew is surely getting the win. Braun Strowman will surely squash Miz and Morrison leading to a return from Bray Wyatt in full “Fiend” mode. Asuka is surely retaining against Nia Jax, given she only recently won the belt, but their matches in the past have always been at least passable. Jeff Hardy and Sheamus should be as good as their recent match on Smackdown, if not better. Likewise for Apollo Crews and Andrade, but for both matches I have minimal enthusiasm. Finally, The Iiconics vs Sasha Banks/Bayley vs Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross will surely be used to move the belts on the Australian duo, while creating more friction between Banks and Bayley.
On paper, this card looks pretty lacklustre. None of the matches feel fresh, and nothing seems “can’t miss”, but sometimes WWE pulls out a surprise and I wonder if this might be a show where they do just that. Or it might be a bit of a non-event. We shall see on Sunday.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with a look at Backlash, as well as all the WWE and AEW TV and anything big that 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//NJPW