WWE

Raw Recap: Seth Rollins addresses the suspension in the room

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Instead of leading with a joke, a clever line or a gif, I figured I’d let Lance Storm set the tone for the opening paragraphs of this week’s review:

A week ago Roman Reigns was officially suspended 30 days by the WWE for violating their Wellness Policy. Reigns addressed the suspension on Twitter by apologizing for his mistake, but the question going into Monday Night Raw was, would the WWE make it a point to discuss his absence from the show?

In the past the WWE would avoid mentioning a suspension at all costs. If a talent got popped for failing a drug test, they would drop whatever title they were holding at the time and then would be written off of TV for the length of their suspension, usually in some sort of injury angle.

The situation with Reigns was similar to the one Rob Van Dam faced in 2006 and the one Jeff Hardy faced in 2008 (even thought Hardy was suspended 60 days for his second offense) in that Reigns would be booked to drop the title via a clean pin. The major difference between RVD, Hardy, and Reigns is that the latter has been groomed to become the next face of the company.

And to make things even more complicated, Reigns was slotted into the main event of the next Pay-Per-View even though the WWE knew about the suspension two weeks before Money in the Bank. It felt like Roman’s absence needed to be discussed on television because he was going to be absent during the entire build for Battleground.

So instead of avoiding the suspension on TV, Vince decided to have Rollins openly address Reigns’ suspension in the opening minutes of Raw. It was surprising to hear Rollins “rip” Roman and even felt CM Punkish because of the tone Rollins used during his promo. Stephanie even got in a shot at Reigns (which felt like a shoot) saying that what happened to Reigns is an “embarrassment” to the company.

So now that Roman’s vest of invincibility has been torn to shreds, what will happen at the draft and Battleground?

Reigns was rumored to become the head of Raw, while John Cena would take the same position on Smackdown, but now it’s safe to assume that scenario is up in the air because it’s going to be damn near impossible for him to come back and continue the quasi babyface character he was playing. The boos are going to pour down even harder than before and he might even face the dreaded steroid chant.

Reigns needs to be placed as the number one heel on whatever brand he winds up on in order to escalate the healing process, but there’s only one man who can make that call and we know how stubborn Vince can be.

With the company strategically placing Reigns’ suspension in between last week’s Raw and Battleground, it is fair to wonder if Reigns will just get by with a slap on the wrist and quickly go back to his spot on the top of the card. Only time will tell.

Whew, got that out of my system. Now let’s have some fun.

Pratt

A Fatal-Five Way?

The main story on Monday’s episode of Raw revolved around the possibility of AJ Styles and Cena joining the main event of Battleground. All they would have to do is beat their opponents. Cena and Rollins faced off in a Summerslam rematch, while Styles took on WWE champion Dean Ambrose.

After The Club interfered and cost Cena his match, you could see the finish for the main event coming from two hours away.

Rollins and Cena got another opportunity to show off their incredible in-ring chemistry as they put on a hell of a free TV match. In the opening segment, Cena informed everyone that Monday night was the 14th anniversary of his debut with the company and after being on the main roster for 14 years, I think we’ve found the guy who brings the best out of Cena.

There have been plenty of guys who have put on a series of very good to great matches with Cena, but every time Rollins and Cena set foot in the ring together, they click perfectly. In the overexposure era, we’ve seen this match numerous times, but it still feels fresh.

Styles-Ambrose wasn’t as good, but the two picked up the pace in the closing moments. Even though there was an awkward spot in the corner where Ambrose jumped from the middle rope at Styles and AJ dove at his legs.

The beatdown angle to close the show was decent, even though it came off awkward on TV because two angles were going on at once, which meant constant cuts to the stage (where Cena was being beaten down by Styles, Anderson, and Gallows) and back the ring (where Rollins laid out Ambrose with a pair of pedigrees).

I think Luke Gallows will veto the idea of using the Magic Killer on the stage again. It looked like he ate it worse than Cena.

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Stealing the show

The best segment of the show was the surprisingly short Highlight Reel segment featuring Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.

The intensity between Zayn and Owens just jumped off of the screen. Zayn cut an excellent promo about Owens being jealous of Zayn’s success and then did a masterful job of selling Owens’ promo with his facial reactions. KO seemed much more focused than usual, which really helped set the tone of the segment.

It was nice to see them team up and knockout Jericho, but it does make me a bit worried that Y2J’s presence in this feud isn’t over. For some reason it seems like he’s going to wind up as the special guest referee for their match at Battleground. Hopefully I’m wrong and creative lets Zayn and Owens use their television time wisely heading into Battleground.

This match could very easily steal the show on July 24th and if they’re given a proper build to what should be the blow off match of their feud, it could wind up being a MOTY contender.

Samberg

The New Wyatts

Kudos to whoever put together the little Wyatt like cut in video for The New Day. It got a laugh from myself and The Roommate, who isn’t easy to please when it comes to the world of Sports Entertainment.

The ensuing promo from Big E and Kofi was pretty damn funny, but whatever creative is doing with Xavier Woods needs to stop immediately. Mesmerizing/hypnotic gimmicks just don’t work, especially in 2016. Just over two years ago they tried a similar gimmick with The Wyatts and Daniel Bryan and now it feels like we’re heading down a similar road.

I am curious to see where this storyline goes because the style between the two groups is so different, but there’s no reason to be optimistic about the resolution, which is a shame because Bray’s promos finally feel like they have a focus.

 

Match Results

Paige & Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte & Dana Brooke by submission. Banks made Brooke tap out to the Banks’ Statement.

Titus O’Neil beat Rusev by count out. The physicality from Titus was a nice way to start the match, but he has to be careful with how much energy he uses in the opening minutes because he could easily blow himself up.

Seth Rollins pinned John Cena with a pedigree after The Club distracted Cena.

Enzo Amore & Big Cass squashed a cup a jobbers.

Becky Lynch vs. Summer Rae never started because Becky attacked Natalya who was on commentary.

Kane defeated The Miz by count out. Miz retained the Intercontinental Title after Maryse faked an ankle injury and had to be carried to the back.

Apollo Crews & Cesaro defeated Alberto Del Rio & Sheamus. Del Rio turned on Sheamus, which allowed Crews to hit his spinning sit-out powerbomb for the win.

Dean Ambrose pinned AJ Styles with the Dirty Deeds after Styles was distracted by Cena.

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When Stephanie made the announcement that we were getting Cena-Rollins and Ambrose-Styles, I didn’t think the show would drag, but Simba and I were dead wrong.

Time to “go home”

– I thought the tag team match between Paige-Sasha vs. Charlotte and Dana Brooke was very good. The crowd was really into Sasha’s hot tag and that’s saying something because this crowd sucked for a good amount of the show. Hopefully Charlotte-Sasha don’t have their time cut at Battleground or SummerSlam.

– Paige LAID this kick into Charlotte.

Now Enzo is cutting promos at Champs, someone get this guy a sponsorship:

– I think Big Cass has the best big boot I’ve ever seen.

– I legit got fooled by the Social Outcasts’ theme music for a split second. Thought Jeff Hardy was coming out.

– Was shocked to hear Natayla drop an Owen Hart line when Mike Cole asked about her heel turn: “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change.”

– Jameis Winston and Donovan Smith from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed out jerseys backstage after the show. Listen to Styles tell Jameis about uploading rosters from NCAA ’14 to Madden:

This Iceland goal call was better than anything that happened on Raw.

– “Grow a set” chant at KO = thumbs up emoji

– Pretty impressive that Apollo Crews can hit his spinning sit out powerbomb on a guy the size of Sheamus.

– LOVE that they let Styles use a brainbuster. He busted this out at WrestleMania, but it hasn’t been seen since. Dude has the best offense in the business.

– When is The Club going to get actual merchandise? It’s very interesting that they haven’t released a T-shirt for the group now that they have a logo.

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