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

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.