WWE

WWE Raw and SmackDown recap: A heel turn #OuttaNowhere?

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After last week’s thunderous start to the brand extension, Raw and SmackDown settled down a bit this week, which is perfectly acceptable. It’s not every week that you can have four excellent matches, including a title change and a shocking upset on Monday night…we just won’t talk about last week’s show on Tuesday night.

I don’t want to waste your time with a pointless intro because there’s 1,700 words about professional wrestling underneath this paragraph, so I’ll give you a pointless gif instead:

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Heelbrose

When Dolph Ziggler won the six-pack challenge last week to become the number one contender for the WWE world title, I wondered how creative was going to build the babyface vs. babyface program. This moment seemed like an ideal time to give Ziggler’s character a makeover and begin a slow burn heel turn because Ambrose is the number three babyface on SmackDown (behind Mr. Cena and Mr. RKO).

So when the show opened with a promo segment between the blue brand’s main event at SummerSlam, it was time to see if one of the two would begin to slide into a heel role and IMO that’s exactly what happened, but it wasn’t Ziggler who came off like a bad guy.

In those few minutes, Ambrose showed why he could become the best heel in the entire company.  He was smug, he was confident, but not comically confident like AJ Styles. He was a dick because he told Ziggler the truth and made the Show Off look like a fool for all of the mistakes he’s made throughout his career. Ambrose also dropped the ultimate heel line: “I don’t give a damn what people think.”

Ziggler countered with the classic babyface line “I went to my first WWE live event when I was ____” but then followed up with a fiery face promo about how he was going to finally rise up and take the title from Ambrose, but then Heelbrose shut him down with his final line.

Then ish got confusing. Later on in the night when Ziggler faced Bray Wyatt in the main event for Ziggler’s spot against Ambrose at SummerSlam, the champ sat at the commentary desk and put over Ziggler. Ambrose avoided being critical of Ziggler’s decision to put his spot in the title match on the line and tried to make it seem like there wasn’t any beef between them, even though he verbally crushed Dolph earlier in the night. Maybe someone in the back told him that he needed to come off like more of a respectful face towards Ziggler? Whatever the case, Ambrose’s tone in the final segment was very different than what it was in the opening segment.

Ambrose is never going to be the top babyface on the show as long as Cena and Orton are around, so in order to differentiate himself from those two, it makes sense for him to show some heelish tendencies, especially with Orton playing a goofball face as opposed to his normal anti-hero tweener character.

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The Highway to Viperville

When Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton was announced for SummerSlam, Orton felt like nothing more than just another throw toy for the mayor of Suplex City, but then Lesnar’s bubble of invincibility was popped when he failed two drug tests for taking clomiphene, an anti-estrogen blocker, before his fight at UFC 200.

Due to Lesnar’s failure, the WWE could no longer promote The Beast’s victory over Mark Hunt, so when Lesnar made his return from one of his patented hiatuses, it was fair to wonder if he or Paul Heyman would address the controversy.

Well that didn’t happen. In fact, the only mention of the UFC was Heyman’s reference to the “Brocktagon.” Instead Heyman did his usual shtick while Lesnar bounced around in the ring, which has to be one of the easiest paydays in the history of the business. Heyman’s promo focused on the fact that Orton isn’t man enough to hit an RKO on his “client,” so you could probably guess what happened next.

Some people are going to be annoyed by the fact it only took two weeks for a SmackDown guy to show up on Raw, but this surprise attack was done beautifully. Foley and Stephanie rushing out from the back without entrance music or a spotlight made the moment feel genuine. The “security” guards rushing out from the back also added some depth to the segment. The little things get skipped over way too often, but on when they’re executed correctly, a good segment becomes an excellent segment.

The biggest takeaway from the closing angle on Raw for me was this: It finally feels like Orton is being booked correctly as a babyface. Even though he’s been very cheesy, bordering on a smiley babyface at times, Orton is as over as he’s ever been. When Lesnar showed up at SmackDown and hit the F5 on The Viper, you could hear a scattering of boos.

With the momentum that Orton has right now and the negativity that’s surrounding Lesnar in the real world, it might be best for business if The Viper hits an RKO #OuttaNowhere and becomes the first man to pin Lesnar since he beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30.

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John Cena gets the shovel

In the build to the first match between AJ Styles and John Cena, Styles said that he brought The Club along with him so he “wouldn’t get buried by Cena.” Well without The Club on SmackDown, that’s sort of what happened to Styles on Tuesday night.

Styles went on a heel rant that ended with a great line about being a winner:

But then Cena came back with one of his better promos in recent memory and made Styles look like a fool for all of the things he just said. Cena hit Styles in the gut with the proverbial shovel when he told him that Styles was in the WWE to “be a really good wrestler,” while putting over all of the extracurricular activities that he’s been participating in lately.

Even though it felt like Cena created a gap on the card between himself and Styles with his verbiage, Styles held his own here and came off like a slimy bad guy who knows how to always get his way. The crowd responded very positively towards Cena, which is easy to do when you make a four-year old kid in the front row part of your promo.

Sometimes wins and losses actually matter in professional wrestling and at SummerSlam, Styles could really use a clean win over John Cena. Cena won’t be hurt by the loss and if anything, it’ll help these positive reactions continue because if Tuesday night proved anything it’s that SuperCena gets booed and John Cena gets cheered.

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Roman Reigns: The True American Hero

When Finn Balor pinned Roman Reigns clean in the middle of the ring last week, Roman’s SummerSlam plans became a bit murky, but on Monday night they became crystal clear.

After Rusev beat Mark Henry clean (for the 13051 time), Rusev began to cut a promo on the Olympics and Reigns just couldn’t take it anymore (lol), so he confronted Rusev and put him down with a Superman Punch.

This is a PERFECT program for Reigns. Even though Rusev gets positive reactions when the WWE goes to smarky towns, the person who has played the American foil to Rusev’s foreign character has almost always gotten a very positive reaction. When Roman’s music hit on Monday, he wasn’t booed out of the building, so we’re making progress.

Listen, he’s still going to get lit up by the Brooklyn crowd, but this is a massive step in the right direction. Vince and Co. are stuck on the idea of keeping Reigns as a babyface and a nice run with the U.S. title might just do the trick especially if creative follows the John Cena formula and has Reigns do a series of open challenges with the title (which should culminate with Braun Strowman answering the challenge).

Which show was better this week:

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SmackDown was paced nicely this week, while Raw felt like a slow three hour show, which is never a good thing.

Time to “Go Home”

– I was a bit surprised with the small amount of time Balor got to speak before Rollins interrupted him. The promo between the two was above average and crowd responded positively to Balor’s fire on the mic, but it would have been nice for him to get a minute or two by himself in the ring.

– Ziggler’s Spirit Squad throwback gives me an excuse to put this in:

– In kayfabe, Ziggler is the biggest idiot in the locker room. Keep your title match bro.

– Even though the opening promo on Monday between Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Enzo Amore and Chris Jericho went for 21 minutes, I really enjoyed some of the one-liners that were dropped. Charlotte’s line about Enzo’s love life was a legit LMAO moment that almost caused me to choke on the nachos I just made.

– Another LMAO moment from Monday: Stephanie yelling at the security guards to get Orton out of the building: “He’s taking his shirt off, get him outta here!”

– American Alpha felt like an afterthought when SmackDown ended. The crowd seemed to get into their offense, but why didn’t they have an interview segment backstage before or after their match? Baffling.

– I can’t believe Chad Gable’s actual height (5’8”) was listed in his bio graphic.

– The new entrance graphics on SmackDown are fire af.

– I have no idea where they’re going with this Eva Marie “injury” angle, but color me intrigued.

– Glad to see that JeriKO might be coming together for an actual run as tag team partners. Kevin Owens is quickly becoming the most underutilized guy on the entire roster and a tag run with Jericho (who has been doing some of his best work in years) would be great for him.

– How much money would it take for you to get beat in a squash match by Brawn Strowman?

– What about Nia Jax?

– Styles saying “you don’t get desert before dinner” doesn’t help his soccer mom gimmick.

– I agree with all of the people on r/SquaredCircle (shout out!) about the diminishing impact of the suicide dive/spear through the ropes spot. It’s a very dangerous spot. Enzo, Big E and Sasha have flirted with disaster way too many times. It’s time to bench the move and only bust it out once or maybe twice a year. If you take the spot away from the crowd, they’ll respond better when it actually happens.

– The kid who held a fist up to support Cena deserves an Emmy.

– I may have to start watching Talking Smack (which btw is smart programming for the network):

– Too bad Bryan didn’t talk about the new member of the SmackDown roster: Apollo Creed.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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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

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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