WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: The “new era” of Raw and SmackDown begins

Leave a comment

Battleground feels like it took place about five years ago doesn’t it?

Sure, there were some excellent moments on Sunday’s Pay-Per-View: Bayley’s debut, a Match of the Year candidate from Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, Bob Backlund vs. his shirt, an incredible promo from Enzo and a triple threat title match with the former members of The Shield, but Monday’s Raw and Tuesday’s SmackDown were more important shows because we finally got to see the post-draft changes that have been rumored for months.

Well there is a leader in the clubhouse after week one and second place isn’t close at all. Raw was easily the superior show.

Some angry person just said out loud “well of course you stupid idiot, just look at the rosters.” Yes, the balance of talent is unfairly tilted towards Raw, but it was the new presentation elements that really made the show feel fresh.

Fresh

The opening shot of Mike Cole, Corey Graves and Coach II at the new announce position (on the left hand side of the stage) set the tone for the night. There were new camera shots (Balor’s entrance looked beautiful as well as the overhead shot that was used before the second Fatal-Four Way), live interviews before and after matches, a new set that looked like the SummerSlam set from 2012/13, a new graphics package, fresh matchups and the return of squash matches!

From the short opening promo from Stephanie and Foley to the final three-count, Monday’s Raw was paced incredibly well. Not every week is going to be this smooth, but there’s so much talent on the roster that there really shouldn’t be any down time, unless The New Day’s promos continue to run too long.

I didn’t get the same feeling of excitement when the entire SmackDown locker room was standing on the ring apron during Shane and Daniel Bryan’s opening promo. The lack of talent on the roster was quickly exposed after the first five names were announced for the six-pack challenge later in the night.

After AJ Styles, John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin walked to the back, the rest of the roster stayed in the ring for a battle royal to determine the final participant in the main event. The cat’s reaction below is an accurate depiction of my reaction when the battle royal started.

Cat

The final four participants battle royal were: Mr. Lucha Thing, Zack Ryder (without his Sting ’92 gear), Apollo Crews and Kane…

It became quickly apparent that SmackDown needs one or two more mid to upper-mid card guys. While it’s nice to have Shelton Benjamin back in the fold, Kevin Owens and Cesaro would be a perfect fit for Tuesday nights.

The roster wasn’t the only problem though. The new camera shots Shane McMahon “promised” on television turned out to be the old camera angle that was used for the original version of NXT. I found the “new” set to be very underwhelming and the commentary team of Mauro, JBL and Otunga is a major work in progress.

There are kinks that have to be worked out, but if SmackDown doesn’t improve quickly, fans may gravitate towards Raw and pick and choose what they watch from SmackDown.Let’s face it, watching another two hour show after seven hours of combined content on Sunday and Monday is a daunting task.

Morgan

The Arrival

Six hundred and thirty-one days ago, Finn Balor made debut in NXT by coming to the aid of Hideo Itami. Balor went on to become the face of the WWE’s developmental brand.  He broke Neville’s record as the longest-reigning NXT champion by holding the title for 292 days before dropping it to Samoa Joe.

For those 631 days, the Internet Wrestling Community has tried to predict when Balor would make his main roster debut. Below are some samples of what was said on the Interwebs during that time:

“He’s going to drop the title to Joe at NXT Takeover: London and then come up.”

Nope.

“Just wait until Balor shows up in the Royal Rumble.”

Hi AJ Styles.

“The Demon vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 32. #BookIt.”

Pieces of Shane McMahon are still on the 45 yard line.

“Gallows and Anderson have arrived. It’s time for the Balor Club.”

Instead we have this

When Joe became the first guy to defeat Balor’s Demon persona, it was apparent that his time in NXT was coming to an end. All that was left was a dream match with Shinsuke Nakamura, who went over Balor clean in the middle of the ring. There was nothing left for Balor to do in NXT.

He was positioned as the leader of the next wave of talent by HHH, but many wondered how Vince would treat Balor on the main roster. After all, he’s billed at 190 pounds and we all know the affection Mr. McMahon has for gigantic dudes.

Balor was “selected” ahead of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns (exhibit A and B of giant guys Vince loves), but there were still plenty of reasons to be skeptical about how he would be presented on the flagship show.

After the first Raw of the post-draft era, the IWC can be rest assured that Balor is going to be treated just fine. Not only did he pin Rusev clean in the middle to qualify for the main event, he later pinned Roman CLEAN IN THE EFFING MIDDLE.

No ref bumps, no distractions from Anderson and Gallows and certainly no Pokemon Go antics from R-Truth. Just a slingblade, a drop kick of death and a Coup de Grace.

Typically Pittsburgh is one of the worst wrestling crowds in the country due to their noise level, but on Monday night they made Finn Balor feel like a superstar, which is exactly what needed to happen.

Stealing the spotlight

There have been plenty of times when Dolph Ziggler was extremely over. His Money in the Bank cash-in on the 2013 post-WrestleMania edition of Raw is a legendary moment. He scored the winning pinfall in the huge main event of the 2014 Survivor Series PPV. He’s one of the best in-ring performers in the company, but it feels like his time as a main event player, at least with this current character, has passed.

Every time that Ziggler was given a push, it was immediately countered with a negative force. He either lost momentum due to injury (concussion that cost him the title in 2013) or bad booking by creative (remember his the Kiss me Arse match vs. Sheamus? Or the awful stretch of television he had with Lana that ultimately went nowhere?).

After his win at Survivor Series in 2014, Ziggler has slowly tumbled down the mid-card.

giphy

So on Tuesday night when he hit Styles with a superkick, it seemed like a transitional spot for Styles to kick out of, but instead the ref’s hand slapped three. It was more shocking, IMO, than Balor pinning Reigns clean on Raw. Ziggler has no momentum at all. He’s coming off of a cold feud against Baron Corbin that lasted forever and he just admitted on the Draft Central show that he “hasn’t been stealing the show lately.”

I’m sure Ambrose and Ziggler will put on a fine match at SS, but Corbin or Crews would have been a better choice than Ziggler unless we’re about to see a big makeover for the “Show Off.”

Which show was better this week?

Rollins

Time to “Go Home”

– What an incredible match by Sasha Banks and Charlotte. This was the match that the division needed last year to really get the Women’s Revolution’s off of the ground. The action was solid throughout and there were spots that really grabbed the audience’s attention (Sasha’s suicide dive, Charlotte’s moonsault from the top rope to the floor, the Eddie Guerrero tribute from Sasha and the final sequence). While it was a bit shocking to see Sasha win the title before SummerSlam, it was still a special moment and gets my pick for Match of the Week.

– At first I cringed when Foley announced that the name of the new title on Raw is going to be the WWE Universal championship, but by the end of the show I actually found myself liking it. It has a nice ring to it.

– Roman Reigns has been pinned clean in three out of his last four matches. Don’t do drugs kids.

– I couldn’t tell if Randy Orton was legit hurt or just selling his shoulder after Miz threw him to the outside. Well done Mr. Orton.

– Neville has officially entered bathroom break territory. Please just put him against some cruiserweights ASAP.

– Curtis Axel’s face was crushed by Neville’s Red Arrow.

– Nia Jax really should be using the jackknife powerbomb as her finisher. It looks way more devastating than her leg drop.

– Ryder was a botch machine this week.

– The Pokemon Go angle with the Golden Truth was pretty damn funny. The conclusion to the night long angle was pretty satisfying and it sets up a program with the Shining Stars.

– That was a nice reaction for Heath Slater, he’s starting to get over.

– Why the hell is Rhyno on SmackDown?

– Eva Marie’s new entrance is awesome, such a smart decision to send her out there without a live mic and it generated some serious heat.

– Fandango responds to Orton’s comment from Battleground:

– The jobber who faced Braun Strowman is my hero.

– Alexa Bliss has improved so much, her reaction to Eva Marie’s ridiculous entrance made me laugh out loud.

– Styles’ live reaction to Anderson and Gallows being drafted was similar to everyone else who was watching live:

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE: Let’s analyze that odd LaVar Ball segment from Raw

Leave a comment

We finally got to see what LaVar Ball’s gigantic personality would look and sound like in a professional wrestling ring and it was … something. The phrase train wreck comes to mind, but I’m not sure that accurately describes what took place at the Staples Center.

You see, professional wrestling isn’t easy. Whether it’s with worked punches or words, you have to be able to bounce off of the other person you’re in the ring with and that’s something Ball proved he could not do despite being in the ring with one of WWE’s best talkers.

Here’s the full segment:

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m going to do my best.

Let’s start with LaVar’s entrance. He’s being accompanied by his youngest son LaMelo, who will play a much bigger role later on, but for now, let’s just focus on how LaVar “runs” to the ring.

LaVar is immediately booed by a majority of the crowd, but as soon as he mentions the Lakers and Lonzo Ball, the crowd roars with approval.

Lonzo gets his own entrance, as he should, but for some reason he’s rocking a sock-sandle combo that doesn’t translate well to WWE programming.

The Miz is a true pro and proved it after he gave Lonzo the opportunity to speak to the Staples Center crowd for the first time. Ball’s eldest son is a very quiet person, so he was understandably brief, but Miz wasn’t going to let this moment pass. He hyped up Lonzo and the crowd did respond positively.

After the Miz declared that he and LaVar should be business partners (I want a triple Bs and M shirt), the segment began to crumble. When LaVar told Miz that he wasn’t on the same level as himself, the Staples Center immediately began to cheer The Miz as a babyface who fired up and asked LaVar and Lonzo how many championships they’ve won.

After Lonzo said three, Miz delivered the line of the segment:

“Did UCLA win this year?”

Here are LaVar’s next set of lines:

“Now we know what The Miz stands for! Misinterpreted Zone” (Which doesn’t make sense it’s only two words.)

“Or it stands for A Million Zippers!” (That’s even worse!)

When Miz refers to LaVar’s comments about how he would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, the crowd has had enough of Ball. He got booed louder than Roman Reigns, which is an achievement.

Ball’s retort: “Like I said before, there’s only two dudes better than me and I’m both of them!”

Miz then refers to himself as the Michael Jordan of WWE (……) and then LaVar tells LaMelo to “handle his lightweight.”

Miz responds with another great line: “Oh what you’re going to unleash all of the balls on me?”

When Miz tells LaVar he wants him to backup his mouth, Ball responds with his signature catchphrase “stay in yo lane,” which is just mind-numbing if you know where the phrase originated.

(Yes LaMelo wore a “Stay in yo lane” shirt that LaVar’s brand is selling.)

When the Miz gets “serious” and says “or what LaVar,” Ball responds “or the hunt is on and you’re the prey.” But instead of delivering it in a serious tone, Ball has a huge grin on his face and is about to start cracking up.

I can’t even describe what happened next:

Then Dean Ambrose’s music hits and then the segment somehow managed to get even weirder.

As Ambrose walked out onto the stage, LaMelo suddenly realized he had a live microphone with the opportunity to say whatever he wanted and this happened (NSFW, NSFW):

I would pay 10 dollars to see what Vince McMahon’s reaction was backstage. If you know anything about how strict Vince is with segments, you know that he had to be absolutely fuming and what happened next probably made him break something.

After Ambrose stops smiling because he heard what LaMelo said and begins his promo, Ball CUTS HIM OFF. But what LaVar didn’t realize was, he actually stopped Ambrose right as he was about to talk up Big Baller Brand for giving him a free shirt.

However, because Ambrose does this for a living he was able to get through his promo and the segment quickly ended after that.

We’ve seen LaVar Ball cut promo after promo leading up to and during the 2017 NBA Draft, but when he was placed in world of pro wrestling, we found out that he was out of his league.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE: One-on-One with Daniel Bryan

WWE
Leave a comment

Before Daniel Bryan makes his return to SmackDown Live this Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA, I had the chance to chat with him about #DadLife, why WWE needs to change how they’re presenting their stars, the independent guys who have the best chance of making it and the one guy he’d love to wrestle in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Hey Daniel, so everyone who I told about this interview wanted me to wish you a happy Father’s Day …

“Oh, well thank you!”

… So let’s start there. Is there one word that you can use to describe how yesterday felt?

“Gosh … I suppose just blessed? I feel like I live a very blessed life right now.”

Has there been anything in the month since your daughter has been born that has caught you off guard, or have you been pretty much prepared for everything that’s come?

“I mean I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for parenthood when your first child comes. I mean, maybe some people can. I had never changed a diaper before our baby was born [laughs]. I’m really learning on the job you know?

I thought I was the world’s most patient man. Brie sometimes gets frustrated with my patience [laughs], but what I’ve realized through having a child is, man I really need to work on my patience. I’d be changing a diaper and I have a real aversion to poop and pee, so I’m slow in doing just about everything. I take it off, I clean her and I’m like OK I’m doing really good. Then she pees and I’m like oh no, now I have to clean her again. Then she starts pooping again and now I have poop all over me. So now I start to get frustrated [laughs].

You have to constantly work on yourself and understand the things that you need to get better at.”

And this is the stage where all they do is poop or pee, just wait until she starts moving around.

“[Laughs] It was really hard for me because every time I would hold her or interact with her, in the first few weeks especially, she was crying. She was either sleeping, which was awesome because I would be holding her and she looked so peaceful and happy, but when she was awake, she looks at me and the only thing she wants from me is to change her diaper, but when I’m changing her diaper, she’s very unhappy. When I’m changing her clothes, she’s very unhappy and the only time she stops being unhappy is when I hand her to Brie and Brie starts feeding her [laughs]. When do I get to do the stuff that makes her happy!?”

Switching gears a bit, now that you’ve been in the role of SmackDown GM for almost a year, how would you assess your performance on-screen?

“Um … I don’t know. I would say a solid B-plus [laughs]. I always feel like there’s things that I can do better. I always strive to be the best that I can in any given role that I’m given. I always think that I can do better on things like Talking Smack and when I’m doing interviews and that sort of thing. How do we best make our fans excited for SmackDown Live? What is the best things that we can do to help the fans relate to the superstars?

We’ve had our hits and our misses, but I’d like to think over the last year that we’ve had more hits than misses.”

It seems like it didn’t take you long to get comfortable in the role. Was it easy to pick it up and run with it?

“Yeah … it’s just a natural extension of wrestling in the WWE. If you would have had me do this when I started with WWE seven years ago, I would have been horrible at it. But during my time with WWE I got more and more talking experience and now all I do is talk, so I’ve been able to get more comfortable with it.”

Scale of 1-10, how much fun is it to let loose on Talking Smack?

“I don’t really view it in a scale of 1-10. Sometimes when I’m talking about things that I know I shouldn’t be talking about [laughs] it raises those parts in your brain that excites you and makes you happy. For example, when I refer to James Ellsworth as “The Big Hog” I don’t think anyone really appreciates that other than me and some of the viewers. It makes me chuckle.

I consider a 10 as the happiest or the most fun that I have. A 10 would be doing something really fun with my wife and daughter. Just yesterday we went to a place to eat and Birdie was cooing and smiling and Brie and I were having a great time. That’s just the best. Talking Smack on its best day can get to like a six or a seven. Once you have this idea of where your true happiness lies, it changes your perspective.”

So as I got ready for this year’s Money in the Bank I went back and watched some of the older shows and the level of talent that is on the entire roster now in comparison to five to seven years ago is pretty astounding, but I feel like the product as a whole in its current state is very stale. What tweaks do you think need to be made in order to give the WWE a spark of excitement?

“I think a change of presentation is absolutely necessary. I think the way that we present our superstars probably needs to change. Years ago, [WWE] went through with this idea of having as much live stuff as possible on the shows, but I think when you watch say UFC for example, some of the things that are the most endearing, that make you care the most about the fighters are these backstage vignettes that show their real personality. You’ll see great fights that people will cheer maybe because they’re great fights, but the fights that have the most impact are the ones with fighters who people actually care about.

I think one of the things that really endeared me to people was that people got to view more aspects of my personality than most because of the different things that I did within WWE. Seeing performers frustrated and being able to show that on TV and being able to show their experiences, their reactions to what’s happening to them on the show and doing backstage vignettes. There was a great one on NXT about Roderick Strong recently about being a new dad and all of that kind of stuff.

Since I’ve been gone, they’ve been doing some really fun stuff with the Fashion Police. Not that there needs to be more of that exact kind of stuff, but it helps people get to know their personalities.

I think one of our failings on SmackDown Live was American Alpha. They’re great and on NXT they did all of these fun little interview segments with the two of them that got to show the people behind American Alpha. (They saw) who Chad Gable is, who Jason Jordan is. I’d like to do more of that kind of stuff.

In combat sports, personalities are what draw. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was one of the worst boxing matches I’ve ever seen, but millions of people watched it because of the personalities involved.

I think changing that dynamic and highlighting the personalities is something we really need to do. Now, I don’t know how we do it. I think if anybody has a magic answer of what the best way is to present personalities in this modern day of television, they’d make millions of dollars, so I may not have the answer.”

Time for the speed round

Best WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“Oh gosh that’s hard … so I was watching the NXT Takeover from Chicago and I really loved the Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne match. That’s my style of wrestling. Pete Dunne working over the wrists and manipulating finger joints is kind of attention to detail I really enjoy.

It’s hard because we get so many matches all of the time that are awesome. I really liked the AJ Styles-John Cena match from the Royal Rumble. Watching AJ Styles on a weekly basis is a constant pleasure.”

Best non-WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“There was a Minoru Suzuki-Kazuchika Okada match from New Japan (Pro Wrestling) that was my style of wrestling. Forty minutes, lots of submission stuff, it was really cool. I think a lot of modern fans in the United States would have a hard time with it, especially if you’re used to WWE style, but I really enjoyed it.

Even though the matches are totally different I would put it right there in terms of match quality with Will Ospreay-KUSHIDA match from the Best of the Super Juniors final.

“So that was really good. I really enjoy KUSHIDA’s work. He’s one of the guys that I would love to have a chance to wrestle because he does so many awesome technical things.”

Who is the one “indie” guy who has the best chance of becoming a star in WWE?

“It’s hard to define any of these guys as ‘indie’ guys anymore because they all have contracts [laughs].

I have really enjoyed watching Matt Riddle. I think he has a ton of personality and a ton of charisma and he’s got that look that WWE really likes and the has history in UFC. I think if he were to get an opportunity in WWE, he would do really well.

I also think Kenny Omega if he were given an opportunity would absolutely kill it.”

Coolest move you’ve ever seen?

“So I define cool as different than most people [laughs]. My favorite thing in wrestling that I’ve tried to do a million times and can’t do it, is when Jerry Lawler punches somebody in the face. It’s the best! He does it better than just about anybody. He punches dudes right in the nose and I don’t know how he does it without breaking them. It’s magic!

How you view wrestling evolves as you become a bigger fan. When I was in high school, I saw Juventud Guerrera do a 450 splash and I was like that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen! And then now it’s like watching Jerry Lawler punching someone in the face is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Is there one bump* you wish you could take off of your bump card? 

“There’s not a specific one. I feel like there wasn’t one big bump that caused any of my major problems. My neck problems came from years of wrestling a very hard style and my concussion stuff came from, hey I have a lot of concussions [laughs].

I think the one … actually I will say one. OK, in 2000 I did this ladder match and at this point I’d been wrestling for about six months. There was a 12-foot ladder and I jumped off of the top of the ladder that was in the ring and did a flip dive onto a guy that was on the floor, but I didn’t realize that I needed someone to hold the ladder, so the guy tried to catch me, but I just fell shoulder first onto my right shoulder and I’ve had right shoulder problems off and on since then. I also got a concussion in that match as well, so that match might have been the start of shoulder problems, which would then lead to other issues. If I could take that one away I would.

I honestly did a lot of stuff because for my size you have to do different stuff to get recognized. It’s different for someone like Randy Orton. When you’re tall and you’re good looking and your dad is a former WWE superstar, it’s a lot easier to get in the door. When you’re five-foot eight, don’t have really any natural charisma and you look like a normal guy who works out at the gym, you have to do some things to get noticed.”

*A bump is when a wrestler takes a move or does a big … dive, during a match.

Twitter: @ScottDargis