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WWE Raw Recap: Roman Reigns’ time is up and Dean Ambrose’s time is now

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If you like wrestling, the last two days have been pretty freaking exciting.

First we had Money in the Bank, which was an incredibly eventful show:

– Dean Ambrose not only won the MITB briefcase, but he also cashed in to win the WWE title from…

– Seth Rollins! Who became the first man to pin Roman Reigns clean in almost four years.

– AJ Styles pinned John Cena.

– Natty turned heel!

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– But more importantly this happened:

After Kevin Love finished his celebration, the official word on the 2016 WWE Draft dropped.

The draft will take place Tuesday, July 19th on a live edition of Smackdown, which is just five days before the Battleground PPV.

So with the draft just four weeks away, there isn’t much time to conclude programs, which is why the fast forward button was pressed at MITB and on this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

Farley

Straight cash in homie

Even though some of the best in the business believed that he was going to be the next great star, Dean Ambrose’s momentum had been halted to a point that it was seriously time to consider if he would ever be given the ball.

He didn’t get an opportunity to shine against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.

He drifted from the main event as AJ Styles faced Roman Reigns.

He feuded with Chris Jericho about potted plants and interview segments.

The Asylum match happened….

He entered the MITB match as just another guy, certainly not the guy.

And then out of nowhere he gets a rocket push and leaves WrestleMania 33 Money in the Bank with the title!

Now Ambrose could very easily lose the belt in a month at Battleground, but at least he was given the opportunity to have a lasting moment, even if it doesn’t make any sense after the questionable booking he’s been through over the last three months and the way #SuperRoman has been kicking out of finishers.

Even if you don’t like the fact that Ambrose is the champion, you should be happy that Vince and Co. actually did something that was completely unexpected. I personally thought Reigns was going to surpass CM Punk’s 434-day title reign and set the record for the modern era. I mean this is Vince’s pet project we’re talking about here. He was so dead set on getting Reigns over that he returned to television in order to help the process.

Maybe the reported house show numbers (the shows headlined by Roman were drawing the same amount as the shows that were headlined by Dean) were the final straw, or perhaps the Powers that Be believe that Reigns can grow more as a character if he’s chasing the title.

Whatever the case, it’s nice to have someone as the champion who doesn’t seem unbeatable. If Ambrose can carry the title through the Battleground show, there are plenty of combinations that will feel fresh again and there are brand new opponents for him to feud with.

With the roster being split up into two distinct brands, it makes sense to have a triple threat match involving all three members of The Shield before they get broken up. The crowd in Washington D.C. is going to POP when the bell rings for the main event on July 24th because this actually has the feel of an era ending match.

Just drink in the unpredictability man…

thedude

#FightForever

Another program that has been affected by the fast forward button Vince hit on his VHS player is Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn.

Way back in May, Owens picked up a clean win over Zayn at the Payback PPV, but Zayn leveled the score with a surprisingly clean win over KO on Monday. The two then battled after the match and had to be separated by Fit Finley and Road Dogg.

The more Kevin Owens is on our screen, the better off we are as a society, so it was nice to see him and Zayn get some extra TV time to help their program, but it sure feels like this is getting rushed so the two can go their separate ways after the draft and PPV.

It’s probably the right move because if upper management is serious about keeping both shows separate, the feud between Zayn-Owens will be able to quietly gain steam even if they’re not on the same program. They can drop lines about how the other person is doing here and there and when they actually get in the ring to face each other, it’ll really mean something.

For now let’s just focus on the present. It looks like we’re getting a rubber match between the two at Battleground and it’s going to be an excellent match, but I’m hoping there’s a no DQ stipulation attached so these two can brawl around the arena.

OwensZayn

Get the shovels ready

Let me do what JBL failed to do on Sunday. AJ STYLES BEAT JOHN CENA IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RING. It wasn’t clean, but who cares, it’s still a pin over Cena.

JBL made sure to tell everyone that he was disappointed that The Club interfered and helped Styles beat Cena, even though that’s what heels are supposed to do.

Duh

Thankfully Styles made his win over Cena feel important on Raw. I’m not sure when Styles became so confident on the microphone, but holy cow he’s improved. A LOT. He’s oozing confidence as a heel, so much so that Cena actually got a “Let’s go Cena” chant last night that wasn’t followed by “Cena sucks.”

Cena got a one-on-one match with Karl Anderson on Monday, and “Machine Gun” got in zero offense. He seriously didn’t get a punch or a kick in on Cena on camera because by the time we got back from commercial break, the match was almost over.

The Club’s beat down of Cena got a nice reaction, but almost everyone in the crowd knows that Cena is going to run through Anderson and Gallows before facing Styles at Battleground.

Hopefully I’m wrong and they actually book Cena in a storyline where he struggles to defeat the members of The Club, which would lead the announcers to wonder if Cena can actually hang in this “new era,” but it’s doubtful.

For some reason, Cena still has to be protected in situations where it would be better if he was vulnerable. Hopefully the unpredictability continues and Styles pins Cena again at BG, but the smell of a #SuperCena run is like rain, you just know when it’s coming.

Match Results

Sami Zayn defeats Kevin Owens clean

Enzo and Big Cass squash The Vaudevillians

John Cena defeats Karl Anderson by DQ

Baron Corbin pinned Zack Ryder clean in the middle

Charlotte successfully defends WWE women’s title vs. Paige after help from Dana Brooke

Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins’ number one contender match ends in double countout

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Let’s go home

Another feud that’s getting squeezed in before the draft: Wyatt’s vs. New Day. Boy was it weird to hear Bray Wyatt play up to the crowd like a straight babyface. Curious to see where this goes.

– Also this Wyatt family vignette was just plain creepy.

– Every time I see John Laurinaitis, I hear Living Colour.

Scott Dawson speaks the truth:

– Seriously though, that’s a ridiculous chant for the crowd to spew at Roman. He shouldn’t be associated the Eva Marie. Surely the crowd can come up with something better than this.

– Stop what you’re doing and watch this Kevin Owens promo from after MITB:

– I know Dana Brooke is still new to the business, but you can’t blow a key spot in a title match. That was also a poor job by the referee to not cover up the mistake by immediately throwing Dana out instead of pointing at Charlotte’s foot under the rope.

– Even Styles was jealous of the forearm Sasha Banks hit Dana with on her walk to the ring.

– Question: Why was Konnor in the commercial for the WWE Draft???

– Titus O’Neil’s promo to Rusev about disrespecting his family was fantastic and Rusev’s line about not caring about Titus’ family was well delivered. There is some fire to this feud that other mid-card feuds just don’t have.

– Kudos to Ambrose for making the most out of his time on commentary during the main event. His rant before the match started was wonderful.

– I don’t want to bash the commentary team, but Mike Cole has been really bad lately about calling moves incorrectly. His latest gaffe came at the end of Raw when he got the Pedigree and Dirty Deeds mixed up.

– When Rollins told Amrbose that “he showed something” last night, it made me flashback to this segment between Amrbose and Stephanie. Perhaps this was just a throwaway segment, but maybe there is more to this little bit between these two.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.