WWE

WWE weekly recap: Is this real life?

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Did you miss me?

WHAT

Wondering where this column has been?

WHAT

Where was I for the SummerSlam build?

WHAT

You probably didn’t even notice I was gone.

Oh c’mon, that’s all I had to do to stop the what chants?

Stone

Well for those who are actually wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, it has something to do with five colored rings and sports such as handball, badminton, and equestrian. Not going to lie, it was nice to not have to stress out about writing this column because the pair of Raw and Smackdown episodes leading into SummerSlam were satisfactory at best, but thanks to the amount of news coming out of the 13 hours of WWE programming this week (and a special bonus segment from Talking Smack), talking about professional wrestling is going to be super easy. It also means that this column is going to be long af, but not nearly as long as the six hour monster that aired this past Sunday.

There is absolutely no reason for a wrestling show to go more than three hours. If built correctly, a WrestleMania card might have the juice to go four hours, but odds are the crowd is going to be really tired by the main event. The 18,000 at the Barclays Center on Sunday didn’t have enough fuel to reach 9:30 due in part to the questionable match order, but mostly it was thanks to the monstrous length.

If the show would have ended after Styles-Cena, the crowd would have walked out happy and wouldn’t have seen the incredibly boring match between Ziggler and Ambrose for the WWE World title. Balor’s right labrum would still be intact and Randy Orton’s head wouldn’t have a Harry Potteresque lightning bolt on it.

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Sure it’s nice that the added time gives everyone an extended chance to tell their stories, but there was plenty of nonsense that could have been cut out of the show (Hi Jon Stewart!) in order to keep the crowd engaged.

In order to keep you engaged, let’s move on to more important topics.

What is Even Real?

Between Samoa Joe’s Slammy nominee for best sell of the year, Brock Lesnar’s brutal elbow to the head of Randy Orton (I dare you to look at the photo again), Sami Zayn’s “ankle injury” on Monday and the best promo of Miz’s life, the line between what’s real and what is fake is getting incredibly blurry, which means we’re all winning right now as wrestling fans.

It’s so much easier to be intrigued by the product as a whole when you can’t tell if something was scripted to happen. Take that promo by Miz for instance, the way Bryan pushes the issue about Miz’s style and Renee’s reaction is effing perfect. Renee may not have been cued in about what was going to be said, which is why her reactions were so great, but we don’t know for sure and that’s the beauty of it!

According to Dave Melzer of the Wrestling Observer, the conclusion to Orton-Lesnar went as planned. I doubt they anticipated a pool of Orton’s blood to form in the center of the ring, but a ref stoppage and a TKO victory was exactly what they were going for. This is the second straight year Lesnar has closed SummerSlam with a BS finish.

Bonus question: Who did Brock Lesnar face last year in the main event of SummerSlam?

I thought the finishing sequence was actually very well done! Sure it didn’t go as planned, but it looked brutal and got people talking and it gives Orton a match with Lesnar down the road. I’ve gotten into disagreements with people who cannot believe that Vince would send a legit MMA fighter out in the ring to bust someone open with his fists and elbows. “Just let them blade.” This is a guaranteed way to get a bit of color and add drama to the final shot of the company’s second biggest PPV.

Was this the right way to end SummerSlam IMO? No, but booking Brock Lesnar appears to be similar to solving a 10,000 piece puzzle.

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Even the Demon King Can be Injured

We should have known the rocket that was strapped on Finn Balor’s back was going to have a complication when Vince lit the fuse. The Demon King’s (I promise that’s the last time I’ll use his nickname in this column) performance at SummerSlam is even more impressive now that we know about the injury he suffered midway through the match.

The injury occurred when Rollins powerbombed Balor into the ringside barricade. Balor looked like he was about to land just short of the barricade and reached back to hook the top of the padding. His right arm landed at an awkward angle, which caused his right shoulder to pop out of its socket. Here’s the video:

If you’re squeamish, look away from the photo below:

Balor

The camera quickly cut away from Balor as he popped his shoulder back into place so he could finish the match. Balor pinned Rollins clean in the middle to become the first Universal champion, but his reign would quickly come to an end as Balor was forced to relinquish the title on Raw after x-rays revealed that he suffered a torn labrum. It’s roughly a six-month recovery window, which would put him back in the middle of WrestleMania season.  The ideal scenario would be for Finn to be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and win the match to get his rematch at WrestleMania, but he might not be ready to go in time.

With a stacked deck against them, the creative team designed a series of matches on Raw to determine participants in a Fatal Four Way match for the title next week. Either Rollins, Kevin Owens, Big Cass, or Roman Reigns will walk out of Houston with the big red strap. Rollins is the favorite to win the match, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Owens left with the title because this is a perfect opportunity to bump Owens up as a top heel on Monday nights. It’s a nice spot for Cass, but he’s still too green to win the title and this doesn’t feel like the right time to give Reigns the title again.

 

The New Face of Tuesday Nights

We now know why AJ Styles ate a clean pin at Battleground and in the six-pack challenge on the inaugural SmackDown Live. Sometimes WWE’s booking makes no sense, but you can see the pattern. They didn’t want to give Styles too much momentum heading in SummerSlam and by making him seem beatable, it made his CLEAN win over Cena that much more surprising.

I mean seriously, when is the last time a heel “won” a feud against Cena and did it by pinning him without cheating?

Harry

With Cena off to film another season of American Grit, Styles is now the top star on SmackDown, especially after the debacle that was Ambrose and Ziggler. The Ambrose train was flying down the tracks, but after his borderline heel performance on Sunday, the awkward build to his match with Ziggler and the goofy backstage segment on Tuesday, you can hear the engine starting to sputter. He and Styles had a decent match a few months ago on Raw and I would expect the two to have a better showing at Backlash, but the crowd could be dead by the time the two make their way through the curtain, especially if we have to witness American Alpha vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno for the nickel tag titles.

This feels like the right time to give Styles a run with the title. He’s been nothing but exceptional since turning heel back in May, especially on the microphone, and deserves to hold the title for the rest of the year.

Which Show was Better this Week?

I’ve had this song stuck in my head for days thanks to the fans at the Barclays Center for belting it out in unison during Bobby Roode’s incredible entrance.

In all seriousness, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II was the best show of the past week and it really wasn’t close. Outside of Ember Moon’s debut (which wasn’t terrible by any means), the show moved at a great pace and featured a match of the year contender between Tommaso Ciampa-Johnny Gargano and The Revival. There was also a damn fine match between Asuka and Bayley and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Samoa Joe for the NXT title, so yeah this is worth your time if you haven’t watched it yet.

Time to “Go Home”

Ah I thought we were finally going to get the Bubba Ray heel turn, but instead we got a legitimate going away promo from the Dudleys. Maybe Velvet Sky is right. I’m not sure if a PG version of Bully Ray would work.

– Kudos to the crowd on Monday night for chanting “delete” after D’von mentioned the Hardys.

– Styles needs to keep wearing John Cena’s armband until Cena comes back for revenge.

– I just about lost my mind when Seth Rollins busted out the GOD’S LAST GIFT against Balor:

– With guys using multiple finishers now, I hope Rollins gets a few wins with this move to help get it over with the crowd.

– I agree with Rollins’ tweet about the crowd’s negative reaction to the look of the Universal title. The crowd essentially hijacked the beginning of the match by chanting about their displeasure for the new belt. Sure it isn’t the best looking title, but there’s no reason to lose focus on a match between two of the best guys in the business today.

– Bayley is finally on the main roster! Now she gets to face Dana Brooke every other Monday night.

– Titus’ promo had to be a rib right? There’s no way he was scheduled to have that much time. I thought he started off OK, but man by the end I just felt bad for the guy.

– Can this feud between The Club and New Day please come to an end? These segments aren’t funny and just come off as a waste of time

– Was Monday the beginning of the wrestler-to-manager transition for Enzo?

– Jericho, Owens and (insert name here) Phillips are just money together.

– I think Arn Anderson would be a better tag team partner for Heath Slater than Rhyno.

– Breezango and American Alpha had quite the little match on Tuesday night.

– The new stage that was used on SummerSlam, Raw , and SmackDown is fricking beautiful. LOVE the LED ramp.

– At least they’ve found something for Carmella, but my god she should never throw ground and pound punches ever again.

– Naomi should also never be a guest commentator again.

– I can get down with Orton vs. Bray.

– Shane McMahon said on SmackDown that the six women on SmackDown would face off in the first ever women’s six-pack challenge match…

– Guess he’s didn’t pay attention to the second to last match at the 2001 Survivor Series.

– SmackDown’s version of the tag and women’s title look so much better than Raw’s.

– I wonder if Shane is going to find someone besides Orton to try and get revenge for Brock’s attack on him at the end of SummerSlam. Perhaps someone who is Samoan? Perhaps someone who has a name that rhymes with toe?

– I’d pay $9.99 to watch Lesnar vs. Jericho in a Lion’s Den match.

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Follow me on 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