WWE

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

1 Comment

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:

pointless

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.

giphy

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.

Brock-Lesnar-Wink

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.

giphy (1)

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:

 giphy (2)

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

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

WWE
Leave a comment

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

WWE
Leave a comment

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