Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. WWE has been busy in Saudi Arabia, and then unable to leave after Crown Jewel. NXT invaded Raw and Smackdown, NJPW held their Power Struggle show and firmed up Wrestle Kingdom 14, while AEW geared up (pun intended), for Full Gear this Saturday. We'll start off with a look back at WWE's ever controversial Crown Jewel show and the aftermath that caused chaos for this week's Smackdown.
WWE Crown Jewel + plane issues
WWE had another visit to Saudi Arabia this past week which yielded one of the better shows they’ve put on in the region. However, the bigger story came after the show.
The card itself actually delivered pretty well overall in wrestling terms. The main event with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins was better than their Hell in a Cell encounter, although the red light gimmick continues to annoy and baffle all who see it. Wyatt getting the win and the Universal championship was a genuine surprise, but clearly the best outcome for everyone involved and it allows Seth Rollins to move on to other things and hopefully rehabilitate from this pretty disastrous second run with the red belt.
Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar had a rapid faux-MMA style match that was over pretty quickly, and in truth it was more of a set up for Rey Mysterio vs Brock to continue than anything substantial with Cain. Braun Strowman and Tyson Fury was better than it probably had any right to be, although the post-match suggested that maybe there is more to come from this pairing in the future. The tag team turmoil match was long, but overall pretty entertaining. AJ Styles vs Humberto Carrillo, and Cesaro vs Mansoor both told strong underdog stories although with very different outcomes. Team Hogan vs Team Flair was fun if not pretty inconsequential overall. Finally Lacey Evans and Natalya had a historic, if not necessarily very good match. They did more than I expected, but they were still limited by the full body gear and lack of story going into the match. Still, a pretty exciting development and one that makes things very interesting moving forward.
While the Crown Jewel show was fun, the bigger story erupted after the show went off air. WWE personnel, with the exception of some of the very biggest stars who left on private flights, remained in Saudi Arabia due to “mechanical problems” with their plane. The delay caused them to be unavailable to make the Smackdown show due to happen the following night, on Friday in Buffalo, New York. This was a hugely chaotic situation and it led to some reports that suggested that the WWE performers were being held hostage due to some sort of disagreement between WWE higher ups and the KSA authorities. The official line is an issue with the plane, and that is the only thing that definitively confirmed by anyone, but the level speculation and the fact that various superstars were sent back to their hotels certainly suggests that something went on. Unfortunately, it may be some time before we know exactly what. That said, WWE have confirmed their partnership with KSA until 2027 for two events a year and I guess that means that this does not signal an end to the series of shows in Saudi Arabia, so the twice-yearly controversy will continue.
Smackdown + Raw
With much of the Smackdown crew, ahem, otherwise engaged, WWE went big and bold with a show chocked full of surprises on the blue brand. NXT invading ahead of their involvement with the battle for brand supremacy at Survivor Series was a genius move, from Shayna Baszler laying out Bayley, who had just had a decent TV match with Nikki Cross, to Keith Lee and Matt Riddle dropping Sami Zayn, there was an immediate impact. Tommaso Ciampa vs The Miz was a great showcase for Ciampa and made the “Blackheart” look like a proper star, while Tegan Nox and Rhea Ripley did likewise against Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. However, no-one benefitted more from this than Adam Cole, who put in a star-making performance against Daniel Bryan (who more than held up his end, obviously) in a terrific main event. Even the post-match with Triple H endorsing his troops was superb. WWE frequently knock out of the park when their collective backs are up against the wall and this was no different. Brock Lesnar also switched to Raw, but that felt almost incongruous with what was on the rest of this show, which was all about NXT.
Unfortunately with the full complement of writers and staff available, WWE seemed to overthink things on Raw, and perhaps could have done better following up on a hot Smackdown. Teasing Seth Rollins jumping to the NXT brand was a nice touch and certainly made the most of his lack of direction following his loss to Wyatt at Crown Jewel, and Brock and Bray effectively switching brands as a result. This set up a corking main event with Adam Cole for the NXT Championship, although The Undisputed Era’s involvement would once lead to a non-finish. The brand vs brand stuff afterwards was a bit overcooked for my liking, but seeing Keith Lee do a dive to the floor as the show went off the air was a great advert for NXT on Wednesday.
Having Shayna Baszler interrupt Becky Lynch’s sit-down interview made a nice change of pace, and the stare down between these two was electric. Baszler isn’t the most polished performer in the verbal stakes, but there is a raw, intense energy about her that makes her a perfect adversary for Lynch, and that’s before you include all the back story with Ronda Rousey. There’s definitely something there with these two, and it’s almost a shame that Bayley has to be involved in the Survivor Series match as Lynch vs Baszler is THE money match. Excellent stuff from the respective women’s champions.
The rest of the show was fine, busy but far from “can’t miss”. Brock Lesnar going into full war mode looking for Rey Mysterio and taking out Dio Madden in the process was a fun way to kick thins off. Rey got lots of offence with the lead pipe and I’m more excited to see these two at Survivor Series than I was to see Brock vs Cain. Charlotte and Natalya vs The Kabuki Warriors was a solid TV match, with the exception of a very poorly timed missed-hot-tag spot. Buddy Murphy vs Cedric Alexander and The OC vs Humberto Carrillo and The Street Profits were more filler than anything. Andrade and Zelina Vega vs Sin Cara and Carolina was actually quite fun as the former La Sombra continues to grow his momentum. The Viking Raiders squashed some more local talent. Finally, Rusev and Drew McIntyre showed some very solid chemistry before Randy Orton and Ricochet got involved, although in truth this was mostly done to set up more story development for Rusev and Bobby Lashley. I quite like the idea of Orton and McIntyre as a unit though, that could be something very special indeed.
Two solid shows this week. Smackdown had a more unpredictable feel, while Raw seemed a little more produced than their counterparts on the blue brand. Nothing was bad per se, but I would certainly like to see more of the sort of show that we got on Smackdown vs the lengthier, less frenetic pace of Raw.
With the "invasion" from NXT onto Raw and Smackdown, it was only logical to expect a response from someone on the “main” roster on this week’s NXT. Having The OC invade was logical given they have a certain cache with the typical NXT audience and seeing AJ Styles in this environment was a nice visual. The beatdown out Undisputed Era to open the show as excellent, and Bobby Fish in particular sold it like a real trooper. The verbal sparring with The OC and Tomasso Ciampa was enjoyable, and set up a cracking main event with Ciampa bringing in Matt Riddle and Keith Lee as backup. I like that these three have featured prominently, and if they are going to team as unit for War Games, it makes sense they interact more often in these scenarios. Finn Balor getting involved more than made up for the lack of a definitive finish, and his brief interaction with AJ Styles given their past history was very cool and made for a brilliant visual before Adam Cole made his return and stood tall to end the show. This intertwined various angles, but nothing was confusing and it never seemed overbooked, teasing several possible future matches for Cole, Balor, Styles and more.
The rest of the show was pretty enjoyable although the lack of any other “invasion segments” was a bit jarring. Dominic Dijakovic and Isiah “Swerve” Scott had a very strong match, as did Damien Priest and Pete Dunne, although the involvement of Kilian Dain suggests a three-way at Takeover. Angel Garza and Tony Nese was very entertaining and Garza vs Lio Rush feels like a really fresh, exciting match-up. Taynara Conti vs Santana Garrett was fine, but little more than a spotlight for Taynara. Finally, Shayna Baszler and Dakota Kai had an absolute belter that I would highly recommend checking out. Baszler has arguably been WWE’s MVP this week, and this was no exception, but I thought this was also Dakota Kai’s best NXT match since her return. The post-match with the various women involved in the War Games match was well done, and I enjoyed the idea of Kai being dejected as a result of not getting the nod for the team. I wonder if we’ll get a Kai heel turn down the road as a result of this.
A strong show with an excellent main event. The sudden jolt of getting involved with Raw and Smackdown and being presented as equals has massively helped in the presentation of NXT, and the wrestlers put on a show to match that presentation this week.
Ahead of Full Gear on Saturday, AEW were in full hype mode on this week’s episode of Dynamite and no-one did more to push that show than Cody Rhodes. His in-ring promo explaining that he would not challenge for the AEW title again if he fails to beat Chris Jericho on Saturday was excellent, perhaps the best of 2019, and easily the best of Cody’s career, and after this I am hyped for a Cody match, and as a result Full Gear in a way I hadn’t expected to be. For Jericho’s part, he put up one of the funniest parody videos you will see in 2019. The main event pitting Jericho and Sammy Guevara vs Hangman Page and Kenny Omega was excellent, but inevitably this was more about what happened afterwards with Cody, Jon Moxley, Jake Hager, MJF, Santana and Ortiz and The Young Bucks. This really put over the biggest matches for Saturday and although it was a little overbooked, it was also chaotic and really sold the importance of Saturday. Sterling work all around.
The rest of the show varied between fine and very good. Private Party vs The Dark Order was decent, but not quite on the standard of other recent tag matches. Emi Sakura and Jamie Hayter vs Riho and Shanna was another decent match that sets up Sakura to take on Riho at Full Gear. Shawn Spears and Brandon Cutler was nothing special in all honesty. Finally, PAC and Trent Baretta had a very creditable match with some fun spots involving Orange Cassidy, although the finish was clearly botched with some sort of miscommunication, but PAC did great to recover almost immediately
A solid show with some major moments on the road to Full Gear, but not everything was quite a home run for me. Having said that, the job of a go-home show is to build last minute interest for the big PPV and after watching this I was very much looking forward to Full Gear, so that is mission accomplished form my perspective by AEW.
NJPW Power Struggle news and card for Wrestle Kingdom 14
Moving away from WWE/AEW for now, there were a few interesting bits of news that came out of New Japan Pro Wrestling this week, largely stemming from their Power Struggle show. After Will Ospreay retained his IWGP Junior Heavyweight title against Bushi, Hiromu Takahashi would make his long awaited return to NJPW. Hiromu had ruled out of action since July 2018 with a very serious neck injury, but he came back with the sort insane return promo/video that would associate with Takahashi (and Daryl, of course) which has nicely set up Hiromu vs Ospreay for the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, and that should be a wonderful match.
Chris Jericho also made his presence felt on this show with a video aimed at Hiroshi Tanahashi, and it would appear the AEW Champion will be taking on “The Ace” at Wrestle Kingdom Night 2, which again has the potential to be something very special. KENTA retained the Never Openweight title over Tomohiro Ishii, but the shenanigans involved again pointed to the possibility of a wrestling return from Katsuyori Shibata in the near future. Finally, “Switchblade” Jay White would also retain his IWGP Intercontinental championship over Hirooki Goto in the main event, which set up a post-match four-way debate between White, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada which all but confirmed the much speculated upon four man “tournament” to create a double champion over the two nights of Wrestle Kingdom
So as it stands Night 1 will have Naito vs White, Ibushi vs Okada, Hiromu vs Ospreay and the first of two Jushin Thunder Liger matches in a big tag match pitting Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, Great Sasuke, and Tiger Mask against Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Ryusuke Taguchi. Night 2 will feature the winners of the IC and IWGP Heavyweight title matches in a winner-take-all affair, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chris Jericho, El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori vs. Roppongi 3K for the IWGP junior heavyweight tag titles, and most likely a second Liger retirement bout. There will obviously be more added, but as it stands those are the foundation of two particularly killer matches. Wrestle Kingdom is certainly looking like a very promising set of shows based on these announcements.
AEW Full Gear preview
This Saturday All Elite Wrestling presents its third PPV offering with Full Gear, and it should be an excellent show based on the weekly TV the company has presented so far. Perhaps the most anticipated match on the show is the AEW Championship match between Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes. The build for this match has epitomised "slow and steady" with Jericho doing some of the best work of his career as the hell champion protected by The Inner Circle, and Cody evoking some of the best traits of his father’s work as the common man fighting against the obnoxious, big mouthed champion. In the ring, Cody has done stellar work on the big AEW shows this far and I would expect no less on this event, although you have to imagine that given Cody’s position in the company and also the relatively short tenure of Jericho’s reign, “Le Champion” will be taking the gold home (and hopefully not leaving it in a steakhouse this time).
The rest of the show should deliver big, with several high profile matches slated. Jon Moxley vs Kenny Omega in an unsanctioned match could be spectacular, and you imagine will be the culmination of their feud that has run since Double or Nothing in May. Adam Page vs PAC, based on their last contest, should be a stellar affair. PAC has done brilliantly thus far, and Page has started to rebuild since his All Out loss to Jericho. Santana and Ortiz vs The Young Bucks is likely an instant classic if you enjoy that particular style of tag wrestling, and I can only imagine that both will be looking to steal the show.
Riho vs Emi Sakura will surely be another excellent outing, although personally I would have preferred to Hakura Shida in this match, I wonder if she is being groomed for bigger things than an unsuccessful challenge with minimal build. SoCal Uncensored vs Private Party vs The Lucha Bros will likely be a massive spotfest and I’m not sure I like the insertion of Private Party here, I think they could do without being shoehorned into this match after the issue between The Lucha Bros and SCU felt genuinely personal. Shawn Spears vs Joey Janela is a nothing undercard match that doesn't really pique my interest, but I’m they’ll put something at least watchable together. Finally Bea Priestley vs Britt Baker has been announced for the pre-show, which is probably for the best. Hopefully we’ll see more from these two because so far both have failed to show quite what they are capable of at this level.
The card is stacked, especially coming off this week’s TV and I can’t wait to see what AEW put together. I would be stunned if there wasn’t a few surprises along the way. Whether that means debuts, returns, heel turns or what I have no idea but I can only imagine there will be some major talking points coming out of Full Gear.
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, the big news coming out of AEW Full Gear 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/NJPW/AEW