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Raw Recap: The road to Money in the Bank concludes with a pair of “Chef Currys”

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The four week build to Money in the Bank is officially over and apparently we’re getting Wrestlemania 33 this weekend!

Mike Cole, JBL and Byron “Coach” Saxton have been promoting MITB as a PPV that’s equivalent to the company’s biggest show of the year and there’s a good chance that the show this Sunday in Las Vegas will be a better show than the six plus hour mess that took place in Dallas.

Just look at these top four matches:

Money in the Bank ladder match: Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio, Dean Ambrose.

WWE world title match: Roman Reigns (C) vs. Seth Rollins

The “Wrestlemania” worthy dream match: AJ Styles vs. John Cena

Fatal 4-Way tag team title match: The New Day (C) vs. The Vaudevillians vs. Enzo and Big Cass vs. Gallows and Anderson

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But sadly like most things said by the Raw commentary team every week, this point has been driven into the ground.

We get it. We’re lucky to be getting these matches in June, but what about the fact that this is going to be the last WWE Network special before the brand extension and draft?

It’s a key point that has been barely discussed on WWE programming that hasn’t been discussed outside of the cringe worthy segments between Shane and Stephanie.

Would it have been so bad to have Reigns or Rollins drop a line about wanting to lead either Raw or Smackdown into the future as the champion?

Same goes for the tag titles.

Why couldn’t Styles tell Cena that he was going to beat the best and prove why he should be the first overall pick?

What about the MITB bank winner? Can he show up on either show and create chaos whenever he wants?

I’m not complaining about the excellent card that’s going to be presented on Sunday, but there’s a huge event that’s going to change the direction of the entire company in a month that needs to be addressed on television outside of comedy skits with former authority figures.

In fairness, Corporate Glenn was hilarious on Monday night. the talent needs to get his brand extension over, so plant some seeds now that blossom when the draft takes place (Heavily rumored for July 18th).

Now it’s time to review the “go home” episode of Raw from New Orleans.

Let’s have a talk

Since Wrestlemania 32, the amount of wrestling time on Raw was much higher than it was during The Authority’s run, but this episode of Raw was full of one segment matches, which meant extended promo time for quite a few guys.

And you know what; it was actually pretty good.

The show opened with The New Day ripping on the new “Chef Curry” shoes that Kofi was wearing.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world of NBA or sneakers; a new pair of Stephen Curry’s shoes released last week and they were absolutely crushed on social media:

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Even though New Day go off on random tangents that maybe 10-15% of the crowd knows about, it’s awesome because it’s relevant to what’s happening in the actual world and not the WWE Universe.

When Enzo and Cass interrupted New Day things things got weird. Cass insinuated that Enzo spent the night with Francesca 2 and did some things that are too explicit for me to write about on this website.

Listening to this very odd exchange got me thinking, I wonder how much of this opening bit between the two teams was scripted. The New Day appear to have the blessing of Vince to go out there and talk about whatever they want during their allotted time and Enzo is obviously coming up with his own material.

It was strange to hear dialog like this on the PG version of Raw, which is probably why the crowd got really into this bit.

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If you were to take Dean Ambrose out of the Ambrose Asylum segment at the top of the second hour, it would have been the best 15 minutes on the show.

All week the WWE has been promoting the three members of The Shield being back together in the ring, but man this was just not a time for Ambrose to keep on with his bad late night talk show host gimmick, especially when Rollins cuts a wonderful promo about not needing anyone but himself to win back the title and Roman actually delivers a solid comeback line.

Rollins came off like a major tweener here (somewhere Randy Orton is jealous). His speech about not needing anyone to get the title and eventually get it back just oozed babyface and the crowd responded appropriately. The roster is very thin on heels at the moment, but the crowd desperately wants to cheer for Rollins, so creative needs to be careful about what Rollins is going to say if he’s going to continue to bring passion like this on the stick.

But seriously though, Ambrose almost killed this segment and not in a good way.

His line at the end about winning the briefcase and potentially cashing it in after the title match was solid, but it felt like he just kept getting in the way of Rollins and Reigns and stopped the natural momentum they were building in the ring. We didn’t need a narrator here to further the conversation.

The physicality to end the segment did come across very well and it was nice to see Ambrose foreshadow what could happen on Sunday by hitting a Dirty Deeds to Reigns.

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AJ Styles and John Cena had themselves a contract segment for their “WrestleMania-worthy dream match”, but this time two contracts were on the table. One read John Cena vs. AJ Styles and the other read John Cena vs. AJ Styles (w/ The Club).

Cena “baited” Styles into signing the contract without The Club’s help all because Cena wanted to give the fans a fair fight that is 15-years in the making.

Cena also made sure to get as many bullet jokes in as he possibly could. Apparently he’s going to send Styles “back on a bullet train to Japan” after he beats him on Sunday.

Styles has been using Cena’s catchphrases throughout this feud and his last line about Cena’s time being up and his time being now was solid as was his line about “not just being some other indy guy.”

Even though The Club isn’t supposed to show up on Sunday, you know they’ll interfere at some point, the question is, will we see a fourth member join the group on Sunday?

Zayn and Cesaro get cut short

Sami Zayn and Cesaro’s battles in NXT are legendary, so when the two faced off on Raw, we were all in for a treat, but like most snacks, it left you wanting more.

It felt like Zayn and Cesaro were just kicking it into fourth gear when all of a sudden Sami hit a sunset flip Code Red and pinned Cesaro clean in the middle.

(Fast Forward to 1:50)

The move is simply incredible to watch, but man, if Cesaro would have kicked out the crowd would have been hotter than the Chef Currys.

OK I’m done.

Hopefully these two spin off into a program coming out of MITB, which is totally possible considering the heelish way Cesaro treated Zayn during their backstage interview.

Match results

Gallows, Anderson & The Vaudevillains beat The New Day and Enzo & Big Cass after The Club hit the Magic Killer on Kofi Kingston and pinned him clean.

Paige defeated Charlotte with the Rampage after Dana Brooke tossed Charlotte back into the ring…

Sheamus defeated Zack Ryder clean in two minutes. #Poorbroski

Alberto Del Rio and Kevin Owens beat Lucha Dragons after Owens hit Sin Cara with the pop-up powerbomb. ADR and KO kept their spot in the MITB match with the win.

Dean Ambrose pinned Chris Jericho clean in the middle after hitting the Dirty Deeds.

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Time to “go home”

Why did Charlotte need to eat a pin to Paige? Why not reverse roles and have Dana Brooke take the fall after Charlotte throws her back into the ring? The backstage promo afterwards between Dana and Charlotte would have still made perfect sense if it would have been booked this way.

– Crazy Rusev is the best kind of Rusev:

Rusev

– When Glenn presented Shane with a letter of recommendation from The Undertaker, I actually laughed out loud.

– I would imagine Sheamus said something to Ryder about the Broski boot that caught Sheamus right in the head.

– Jericho finally got the briefcase, you know this means he isn’t winning on Sunday.

– Cesaro should become the next ring announcer of Smackdown.

– Kudos to Xavier Woods for the deep cut Mean Street Posse reference.

– Who will wrestle next: Darren Young or the Shining Stars?

– New Orleans has an underrated wrestling crowd.

– Kevin Owens on commentary = gold, Jerry, gold.

– Ambrose and Jericho actually had a pretty good match to close the show.

– Shame that the actual main event segment just doesn’t mean anything anymore.

– Del Rio has been booked pretty strong lately, so don’t be surprised if he walks out with the briefcase on Sunday. Owens deserves to win MITB and would benefit the most, but it feels like we could be in for a swerve.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque’s quest to change WWE as we know it

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Paul Levesque, aka “Triple H”, has evolved from one of the top performers of his generation, to a prominent role behind the scenes as the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative for WWE. I had the chance to chat with “HHH” about what he specifically looks for when he’s recruiting new talent, why this past year has been so challenging for NXT and how he presents new talent to Vince McMahon. 

(Don’t miss NXT Takeover: Orlando on Saturday, April 1 at 8 p.m. ET Live on WWE Network)

Me: You’ve had an incredible in-ring career; a 14-time world champion. As I look up and down the WrestleMania 33 card I see so many NXT alums and I wonder, what did you learn from your time as a performer that has helped you as an evaluator of talent?

Paul “HHH” Levesque: “Oh man … everything that I’ve learned since I’ve walked through the door. The funny thing for me is that I’ve been in a unique position during my career. I was fascinated early with the behind the scenes and production aspects of the business.

So, shortly after I came to WWE I was in creative conversations with Vince that led to me to being offered to come to production meetings, which I didn’t have to go to. I would get up early on TV days and go to these production meetings that I didn’t need to be a part of. People thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t trying to do anything more than learn. I wanted to learn what they were looking for.

The vision of what the talent thinks they want and what the office thinks they want are sometimes two different things.

I have the unique perspective of having both sides and that allows me to I think look at talent a different way, but to also to be able to say here’s what you need to be able to do. Here’s the way you need to be able to work at it. Here’s the way you need to perceive cameras and how cameras see you. How you put your character out there and how you put your brand out there.

At the end of the day for us, characters are all about charisma. So that’s the thing you’re looking for the most. I see a lot of unbelievable athletes come through the Performance Center; sometimes they have charisma, sometimes they don’t.

I’ve hired a lot [of people] that have charisma, but aren’t necessarily the greatest athletes we saw that week because you just can’t take your eyes off of them.

For example, there’s a guy that I hired in China that everybody on the team who was over there didn’t put this kid on the list and when we went through the list at the end of the day of who we’re going to offer an opportunity to come and train with the WWE I was like, ‘Where’s this kid?’ and everyone was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’

I was like, ‘No, where is he?’ He was heavy and a Mongolian wrestler, so he’s athletic but he’s heavier and in some ways he’s not anything we would look for, but he worked his butt off. He was always last, but he never quit man. He just went. Some guys would pull up with an injury and they’d go sit out. You could clearly tell that they were just gasping for air and needed to sit for a second. They’d be back ten minutes later.

He gutted through everything and you couldn’t take your eyes off of this guy. He did stuff that was funny, even though he didn’t mean for it to be that way. He was always the center of attention, even when he wasn’t doing anything!

Everyone was against him and I said ‘Is there anybody in this room who didn’t watch this guy the entire day? I’ve heard everyone talk about this guy. Why? He’s the sleeper money in this group.’

So we brought him [to the Performance Center] and there’s not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t send me a clip or a photo of him doing something where there’s 10 or 15 people around him watching. He’s just one of those naturally charismatic people that you can’t put your finger on why.

I look for that more than I look for anything else.

Is he ever going to do a moonsault? Probably not. Is he ever going to be a Shawn Michaels in the ring? I guarantee you he won’t. But, if he loves it, if he works hard and keeps himself straight, he’s probably going to make it and he’s probably going to be good.

That’s the biggest thing to me, the charisma factor.”

You kind of answered my next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. When you’re scouting someone, what do you specifically look for?

“Look, I mean there are other factors as well. I don’t want to make it sound like ‘Oh, look at this guy he has a big personality and forget all of the rest of it.’ Obviously athleticism, the willingness to do this, the desire to work hard, but then there’s leadership qualities that we really look for.

When guys go to a camp, sometimes people watch them and go, ‘You’re just making these people throw-up in garbage can because you’re working them so hard.’ I want to push them to where they’re really outside of their comfort range and then see what they do with it.

It’s really easy to be nice and be the perfect professional when you feel great, but when you’re on the verge of puking in barrel and you’re exhausted and there’s someone barking at you to do more and the guy next to you just fell on you because he’s at the same place you are, do you help pick him up or do you curse at him and go about your own business?

There are differences in how people react to things. I’m looking for leaders. I’m looking for someone that can be a professional. I’m looking for the consummate athlete on all aspects.

It’s not just one thing, but if you ask me the one thing I look for, charisma is king.”

Going back for a second to the guy that you were talking about in China; it seemed as though there was and still is a certain look that a talent needs in order to reach a certain level of success in WWE. Now, obviously there have been exceptions to the rule, but it seems like over the past few years you’ve bucked that trend. How did that transition happen?

“So, I’m a big believer in talent is talent. It comes in all shapes, sizes, looks, feels, everything. I think sometimes there’s been a bad rap of like take this as the thing that’s most successful, so that’s what we’re going to give.

I think that’s happen here in the past. People can say whatever about WWE and look, is there a particular style of athlete [we look for]? Sure, it’s like that in anything.

If you’re shown steak all of the time, it’s no surprise that you’re going to eat steak. So when everybody coming to you with the same look and feel, a certain pattern begins to develop because that’s what being put in front of you and that’s what you have to select from.

My selection process is different. Yes, I understand what Vince likes and what Vince sees in an ideal archetype performer, but I also know him well enough to know that he likes a lot of different archetypes, so I’m not going to give him one; I’m going to give him a little bit of everything.

He’s going to see a Bray Wyatt and go (Vince voice) ‘That’s great!’ He’s going to see a Braun Strowman and go ‘Ah yeah, that’s my wheelhouse right there. I love that.’ He’s going to see Finn Balor and hear the girls going nuts and then see the paint and go ‘Geez look at that, I love that!’ That’s something that I don’t think would have been put in front of him eight years ago.

I sometimes wonder if Bray Wyatt would have been put in front of him 10 years ago. I don’t know that he would of. That doesn’t mean that Vince wouldn’t have loved him back then.

I want there to be so much diversity on every level. I want it to be international diversity. I want there to be something for everybody within WWE so you can gravitate towards characters that you can relate to. That’s still a work in progress.

It’s a work in progress when you look at the Performance Center and you look at the talent there and see that 40 percent of the talent is international now, there’s 17 countries represented. A quarter of the talent there is women. The diversity level is at an all-time high and that’s on purpose. We’ve done that for desired effect.

Is it showing right now on the main roster? Nah, not necessarily because it’s going to take a little bit of time to percolate up, but it’s there.

I want that diversity. When you talk about the women, I want there to be a Sasha Banks; the smaller, run her mouth, cocky, arrogant, little athlete. I want there to be a bigger, dominant athlete like a Charlotte. I want there to be a Nia Jax that brings a whole different danger component. I want there to be a Bayley that is this naïve, fan-friendly, little girl centric character that everybody loves.

Then you still want there to be the Bellas, who are like the Kardashians of the women’s division. You want that variety.

It’s the same with the guys. I want there to be a Cena, I want there to be a Randy Orton. But I also want there to be a Bray Wyatt. I want there to be a Braun Strowman. I want there to be a Finn Balor. I want there to be a Samoa Joe or a Kevin Owens. Big Cass and then a little guy like Enzo that can run his mouth nonstop.

I want that diversity.”

As I looked at the WrestleMania card and noticed all of the former NXT stars, I thought about how much the roster has changed over the last year. There have been so many guys and girls that have gotten the call-up to the main roster, how challenging has it been to deal with such a major transition to NXT?

“So that’s been the most challenging thing for me in the last year. When we had the draft, 16 talents got called up. I started over with the women’s division. Thank God I kept Asuka because she’s been the anchor. My male division was pretty much stripped down. I lost a lot of it.

Behind the scenes, the same thing happened. My executive producer that works with me on the show got called up. I got a new one; he made it two weeks before he got called up.

I lost my edit team that helped me get the feel and the look of the brand because they got called up. I was thrilled for them. They were so good that the office said, ‘Look we’re expanding, we’re going to do 205, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. We need these people.’

I’m very hands on with the writing of NXT and the team that was writing NXT with me got called up. When we split the brands, we needed a different writing team and they got called up.

So I started over with this whole new team and they needed to get their feet on the ground. It was really a brand new start over point for us. That’s challenging, but that’s also to me part of the strength of NXT. It’ll change, but it’ll be fresh and it’ll be different than it was a year ago. I’m not saying it’s always going to be better, but it’ll be different.

I just got a whole new behind the scenes team and it’s taken me since SummerSlam to get them, but I just got them and I’m really excited about it. I feel like for the first time since the draft, NXT is back in business and we’re going to rock and roll.

I’m looking forward to NXT constantly keeping us on our toes and the demand for more and more on the main roster, the demand for more and more shows, whether that is localized content in the UK, or the cruiserweight division or the women’s tournament that we’ll have coming up sometime this year.

All of those things are exciting opportunities and make NXT an exciting opportunity.”

Can you describe what it feels like to see a talent that has had success in NXT, but struggles to find their footing on the main roster?

“It’s hard for me. It’s hard for them. It’s a difficult situation. I say this to talent all of the time, careers are marathons, they are not sprints.

Even though we say it’s a third brand, it really is and you might never make it out of NXT and you’ll do really well in your career, but if you do get the chance to go to Raw or SmackDown, it’s like starting over. You’re starting over with new management and new everything. The job is the same, but you’re starting over and you have to re-earn your stripes. It’s a slightly different product.

It used to be that way in the territory days. You might be over in one territory and take the gamble to go to another territory and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

It can be frustrating for them. They ask a lot of questions and we try to give them as much guidance as we can.

The other thing though that everybody has to remember is that in today’s world if you’re not “The Guy or The Girl” at the very top, the number one draw, you can still be a talent on Raw or SmackDown and working all of the time and be doing very, very well for yourself.

Do you always want more? Yes. Will that come over time? Maybe.

You reinvent yourself, you work hard. You continue to do the things you’re doing.

Back to the career being a marathon and not a sprint; when you’re a few years in, being on Raw or SmackDown and you’ve only been in the business for four years or whatever, it’s not a bad place to be.

If two years down the line you get that ride up to a much higher level, it’s a pretty good run.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE’s Bayley: Facing Stephanie McMahon would be a ‘dream’ match

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Even though Bayley made her main roster debut back in late-August, she’s quickly become one of the biggest fan-favorites on the main roster. Before she defends her Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania, Sunday, April 2 at 7pm ET live on WWE Network, I had the chance to chat with Ms. Hug Life about her extra time in NXT, if she asked for any advice from The Rock and her dream opponent. 

Me: While three of the “Four Horsewomen” were called up to the main roster, you stayed down in NXT. Do you think you needed the extra time in developmental?

Bayley: “Yeah, now looking back I definitely did. At the time obviously I was like what about me? I’m ready, let’s go! I wanted to do everything that they did. Now looking back, I think that has been the most important year of my career. I look back and think I wasn’t ready. I was so dependent on them throughout my years in NXT. If something went wrong, I always had them, but the year without them was all on me.

The whole division relied on me, everybody came to me for advice. If something went wrong, it was my fault. I really needed that leadership to build confidence in myself. In the future if I’m the leader for the locker room in WWE, I know that I can handle it. I was able to work with girls that have never been in a wrestling ring with before, girls who were just getting started, and girls who have been doing it forever like Asuka.

It was the most important year and maybe one of the most fun years I’ve had.”

You’ve been on the road with the main roster for seven months now; do you find yourself still adjusting to what life is like on the main roster?

“A little bit … the actual backstage and being in WWE was easy because in NXT the coaches and Triple H had prepared us for what to expect. That’s what the Performance Center is for, from doing promo class, to being in the ring for hours, to watching your matches back.

It’s the traveling and not being able to see my dog every day when I get home (laughs) that’s a little bit harder to deal with. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, but it’s all worth it though.

The brands are split right now; I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do two TV [tapings] every week.”

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about winning the Raw Women’s Championship?

“Oh man … just unbelievable. I just didn’t expect all of that to happen so fast.”

Obviously you’re a lifelong fan and I’m sure you envisioned that moment happening, so what went through your mind as you stood there with the title, in the ring, in front of thousands of people?

“I wish my family was there. That was the first thing that I thought about. My mom always says, you have a title match, should I be there? She was at every single NXT title match because she never knew if that was going to be the night. I just knew that she was going to be so mad that she wasn’t there.I knew they were watching.

I was in the Cow Palace when Eddie Guerrero won his first [world] title. I felt like I knew him and was so happy for him. I remember him jumping into the crowd and the crowd being so happy and then I did that and I just had that vision in my mind. It was weird! The crowd just made it more special considering my family wasn’t there. It was just amazing.

Did The Rock give you any advice when you met him?

“He told me that he watches and said you’re the champion so you must be doing something right. I was like, yeah I guess so. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. He said that he really enjoys watching. I hope he wasn’t just saying that to be nice though.”

Recently you’ve been paired on television with Stephanie McMahon quite a bit and she plays a character that rarely gets one-upped by a babyface. Have you thought about Bayley-Steph in the same way that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had Vince McMahon?

“I’ve thought about that so many times. Even when I was a kid (laughs). When she was having matches with Lita, I was like I want to have matches with Stephanie one day. That’s one of my dream matches to be honest.

If it could continue on, like you said with Austin and Vince, that would be so much fun, but I’m sure it’s a little much to ask for right now.”

Do you find yourself putting extra pressure on your shoulders because you’re the champ going into WrestleMania?

“Yeah totally. I’m probably doing way too much. Leading up to it I’m just stressing myself out. Do I need to get into the gym three times a day and try to still make everyone happy by doing all of these things that I need to do? I don’t even really know how to prepare for Mania, so I’m just doing what I think I need to do and I might be doing too much.

I think once I get to Orlando and I can digest what’s actually happening and appreciate it and know like holy crap dude, you’re here, then I’ll be able to calm down a bit. Right now, I have to be over-prepared.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis