WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: Kevin Owens and the meaning of being a champion

Leave a comment

So let’s get this straight; Finn Balor becomes the first WWE Universal champion, but he’s forced to relinquish the title due to a torn labrum. A tournament is held to determine the next champion. Seth Rollins, the company’s silver boy Roman Reigns, Vince’s new favorite toy Big Cass and one of the indy darlings HHH brought to the biggest company in the land, Kevin Owens, all won matches on Raw last week in order to qualify for a Fatal-Four Way title match.

Before we dive into the fallout from Raw, let’s take a moment to appreciate the guys who are currently in the main event picture because it’s quite the unique group:

Dean Ambrose the current WWE Champion; established himself on the independent scene before signing a developmental deal in 2011.

AJ Styles was Mr. TNA for the better part of 2002-2013. Two-time IWGP champion, leader of the Bullet Club. Signed in January of this year.

Seth Rollins was better known as Tyler Black during his run on the independents, which included a stint as the ROH world champion. Rollins was the first NXT champion.

Finn Balor or Prince Devitt. He’s a three-time IWGP junior heavyweight champion, first leader of the Bullet Club and longest reigning NXT champion in history. Balor was an instrumental part in getting NXT over as more than just WWE’s developmental brand.

John Cena aka John Cena Sucks.

Brock Lesnar. Dude is just a freak.

– Randy Orton. Mr. RKO was in the same developmental class as Brock Lesnar.

– Roman Reigns, better known as pet project of Vince McMahon. Reigns had no prior experience before signing a deal with WWE in 2010.

And after the finish to Monday night’s final segment, Kevin Owens can officially join this exclusive list.

Or maybe not…

Franci

These Crossroads Are Painted Red

There are two ways to view Owens’ surprising title win. You’re either OK with HHH’s involvement, or you’re annoyed with Super Suit Hunter for killing Reigns and Rollins with pedigrees.

Let’s examine the latter first:

It’s easy to frame the conclusion to Monday’s main event as Hunter thrusting himself into the spotlight for the first time since WrestleMania season, while immediately placing Owens and the Universal title in the background. HHH’s reputation for getting himself over at the expense of others is notorious. Sure he’s calmed down since putting on the suit and transforming into the Godfather of NXT, but if you’re a long-time fan, you’ve witnessed Hunter exterminate someone’s momentum.

When Hunter snuck into the ringside area during the main event and hit a pedigree on Reigns, the crowd roared with approval because it indicated the end of Roman’s chances to walk out of Houston with the title.

Hunter then “turned” on his golden boy, which is something that had been speculated on for months (HHH’s original WrestleMania opponent was heavily rumored to be Rollins), but instead of turning Rollins babyface in the moment, the crowd roared with approval when Hunter crushed him with his finishing move. In fairness, the crowd immediately realized Owens was about to win the title and based off of the reaction KO received when his entrance music hit, it’s exactly what the crowd in Houston wanted to see.

It was easy to leave the show thinking HHH had ascended to the top babyface role on Raw. The post-match stare down between Hunter-Foley/Stephanie sure made it seem like we’re getting an angle where face Hunter challenges the authority of a tweener authority figure in Foley and heel Stephanie. It pains me to say this, but we could very well witness an angle where the McMahon’s will once again play chess with the full-time members of the roster acting as their pawns.

Yes, let out a collective sigh because you know this is a very realistic scenario.

Feeny

If you’re OK with HHH’s assistance, here’s the other way you can look at the finish to Monday night, which I promise is a lot more satisfying.

Someone with the appearance of Kevin Owens isn’t exactly Vince’s prototypical champion. He has a heavy build; he’s barely six feet tall and has the look of a stereotypical pro wrestler. The list of recent world champions look nothing like Owens (Ambrose, Rollins, Reigns, HHH, Sheamus, Lesnar, Cena, Orton, Punk, Del Rio). In fact, the last world champion to have a similar build to Owens was Mankind, whose last title reign ended before the turn of the century. So right off of the bat, we should be thrilled that someone who looks like Owens is walking around with the most important prop in the company.

According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, Owens was rumored to face Balor for the Universal title at Hell in the Cell in October, which would then lead to a triple threat at Survivor Series between Balor, Owens and Jericho. The odds of those matches closing the show are about as good as Amin Elhassan apologizing for his ridiculous comment about Kevin Owens’ son.

Let’s imagine a world where Balor’s right labrum is still intact. He’d probably face Rollins in a rematch at Clash of Champions. HHH could easily interfere in a similar way to what he did on Monday night and help Finn retain the title. Balor would then spin off to face Owens at HIAC, while Rollins would headline the show against HHH in a cell match. Owens would be a formidable opponent for Balor, but it’s highly unlikely that he was going to walk out of HIAC or Survivor Series with the title.

In this scenario, Owens would stay in his spot in the upper mid-card with no sign of upward trajectory. It’s a fine spot to be in, but there would be serious risk of Owens becoming stale, until he eventually had a breakthrough moment similar to Punk’s pipebomb, which is always what I thought would happen because he’s just too talented to stay out of the main event picture.

Due to Balor’s injury, Reigns’ mistake outside of the ring and the lack of main event depth on the Raw roster, Owens was given the big red ball made of leather. The company hasn’t been afraid to give Owens extended time with the microphone and he’s one of the best in-ring performers in the world, which is the recipe needed for success in 2016. He can cut a compelling 15-minute promo to open the show and close it with an exciting 20-minute match.

K.O. also recently stated that he wouldn’t be in the WWE without Hunter, which is a perfect apple for the creative team to bite on. The line between reality and fantasy is so blurred at this point that it’s impossible to see. Owens can easily cut a promo next Monday and give credit to Hunter, while thanking himself for being in the position to capitalize on Balor’s injury, which is a legitimate claim. Hell, Hunter can even come out, cut a short promo (I know it’s a pipedream) and then introduce Owens as his protégé. Maybe this angle will evolve into an NXT stable led by Hunter.

TB

I listened to Bryan Alvarez complain this week that Owens couldn’t have possibly dreamed of winning the title this way. Honestly does it matter? Owens didn’t appear to be on his way to the main event picture anytime soon and felt like he was quickly becoming the most underutilized guy on the roster. Now he’s the champion of the company’s flagship show.

Time to “Go Home”

-So according to Daniel Bryan, he and The Miz are no longer allowed to have interaction on WWE programming because their “Talking Smack” segment became a major talking point. We should all be worried that “Talking Smack” might be toned down to avoid a situation like this from happening in the future.

– If you can properly explain the point of Stephanie-Heyman’s segment, I’ll send you a box of Booty O’s.

– I never considered how awesome the New Day and Bayley would be as unit until I saw them together. Now I want to see them together every week.

– Does Apollo Crews now have a spelling gimmick?

– Outside of AJ Styles, Heath Slater has been the best booked character on WWE programming. He hit another home run on Tuesday night with the trailer segment.

– Rhyno should carry a package of crackers and a can of cheese to the ring.

– Before Rhyno Gored one of the Head Bangers he said “come on you son of a bitch,” which was probably due to the giant cut he received above his left eye when he was waffled by a stiff elbow.

– The jobber who faced Nia Jax on Monday was very audible when she told Nia “that hurt” after taking a shoulder in the corner.

– “The face that runs the place” has already gotten old.

– AJ Styles wearing Cena’s headband has not.

– Carmella’s beat down on Nikki Bella looked excellent.

– The rest of the Smackdown women’s division though…..

– I love these new ring posts. Cesaro and Sheamus came up with a creative spot that should play into their best of seven series and Styles found a way to use it in his match vs. Crews. I expect the cruiserweights to use the platform on top of the posts when they debut on Raw.

– Hey, that was a pretty good promo from Randy Orton!

– Braun Strowman screaming at the beginning of his entrance always cracks me up.

– Will this Titus vs. Darren Young feud ever end?

– When Charlotte and Dana Brooke finally split up, I hope she ends up paired with Anderson and Gallows. Really liked what I saw from those three.

– I couldn’t believe Mike Cole actually called the Liontamer by its proper name.

– Jericho vs. Owens for the title would be glorious.

– But not as glorious as the CWC has been.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Shawn Michaels Q&A: Legendary Raw match with John Cena, the nWo, working with WWE’s future stars

WWE
Leave a comment

WWE will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Raw with a unique show on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA. The show will emanate from both the Manhattan Center and the Barclays Center.

I had the chance to chat with Shawn Michaels about some of the memorable matches and moments he had on Raw throughout his career, his role in developing the next wave of WWE talent and one moment when he knew he was going to venture off script during a promo. 

I’m sitting here watching the match you had with Max Moon on the first episode of Raw and I’m wondering how it must feel to know that you’re going to walk back into the Manhattan Center and participate on the 25th anniversary edition of the show.  

“Well I gotta tell you, I hope that’s where I get to go. No one has made any decisions yet as far as I know. As much as I love the Barclays Center, I would rather get to go back to the Manhattan Center.

I don’t know that at the time I was mature enough to appreciate how unbelievably cool and awesome that building was.

It’s sort of like a rock band. They start out in those places and then you want to get to play in stadiums. As phenomenal as it is to be in front of 80 or 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s really hard to beat going back to those intimate places, filling them up, and feeling that electricity, that passion, that excitement in that environment.

For me if I were to get to pick, that’s where I would want to go back to, especially on that night.”

I imagine you had a similar feeling when you appeared in San Antonio as a special guest referee in an NXT show

“Yeah! The old Aztec is a great environment as well. It’s one of the things that NXT does that I really enjoy. They play a lot of similar venues to that. It was a great deal of fun. That is one of the many things about helping out with NXT and the folks down at the [Performance Center].”

So last night as I was prepping for this interview I went on a YouTube deep dive into some of your memorable matches and moments on Raw. The first one I want to ask about is your hour-long match with John Cena in London. I’m curious to know how that came together because it’s so rare to have a WWE match that pushes the hour long mark, especially one that’s on free television.

“So that turned out at the very end of our European tour that year. We had already been on the road there for over a week.

I found out what we were doing when I got to the building and was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’

When you hear that the match is going an hour, it seems like a long time, but when you’re working with someone like John so much … I’ve had the opportunity to go back and watch that match and it just flows right by. That’s obviously a testament to John and heck I’ll even pat myself on the back a little for that one (laughs).

It’s amazing how trying to do that hour-long match didn’t seem like such a big mountain to climb. It really helps when you have a history with someone. John and I were coming off of the WrestleMania [23] match and because of that, we had a decent amount of story points to work around, so it was easy.

It obviously doesn’t hurt when you’re in a phenomenal environment as well. Let’s face it, the folks in the U.K. are pretty easy to wrestle in front of. They are a very passionate group.

I gotta say that’s one of my favorite matches.”

Another one of my favorites was the match you had with Shelton Benjamin in the Gold Rush tournament. You guys made unexpected magic in the ring that night. Had you worked with him before that match, or was it something that just organically came together as you were talking it out in the ring?

“I don’t think Shelton and I worked together before that and we barely worked together after that. It was just something that came together. Shelton is a phenomenal athlete. There isn’t anything that he can’t do and he also makes everything look flawless.

One of the strengths that I bring to the table is that I can work to other people’s strengths. If you have a lot of them, that makes it easier for me (laughs).

It’s one of those situations where you have someone who can do anything under the sun and you’re not too shabby yourself and then it becomes just a matter of putting things together that makes sense.

It certainly helps when you’re building to a certain point in the match and the timing comes off perfectly and that’s exactly how that match ended.

I know there are a fair amount of times that I’ve tried to capture that lightning in a bottle again and I don’t think it’s ever turned out as well as that did.”

Agreed. The only spot like that I can think of that came close was the superkick on Rey Mysterio, but it just didn’t have the punctuation because that was during a Survivor Series match, so it was just an elimination, which is much different than the finish of a high-energy match.

“Yes and that’s the thing. You know it is just special and when somebody asks to do it again you go, ‘Uhhhhhh we can try it ….’ I certainly knew that when it happened that it’s something you don’t mess with. You shouldn’t try to go back and do it again.”

I stumbled across the promo you cut at the beginning of Raw in Montreal in the summer of 2005. You were working with [Hulk] Hogan at that point, but obviously the only thing the crowd cared about was Bret Hart. It had to be an unbelievable feeling to know that you had everyone in the building eating out of the palm of your hand.

“That was one of the few times after I came back in 2002, where I went out there and there was absolutely no way that I was one, going to hit any of my time cues and two, that I was going to stay anywhere remotely close to the script.

That was a situation where everyone who knows anything about this line of work felt the same way as the crowd, so no one was going to be angry about it because the moment was perfect.”

Another little random moment in time is when you returned in 2002 as a member of the nWo. The group’s run was cut short due to Kevin Nash’s injury, but do you know how the storyline was supposed to play out? It seemed like we were going to get to a point where the group consisted of you, Nash, Hunter and X-Pac.

“That is a phenomenal question and I honestly don’t know where it was supposed to go because I had just gotten back to WWE. The extent of it, that I knew, was that Kevin was supposed to work with Hunter at the next Pay-Per-View.

(Writer’s note: Triple H appeared on the next PPV, Vengeance, in a segment backstage where, in storyline, SmackDown commissioner Stephanie McMahon and Raw commissioner Eric Bischoff tried to convince Triple H to sign with their brand, but Shawn Michaels persuaded Triple H to sign with Raw and then Hunter turned on him the next night when they appeared as D-Generation X.)

I know that we had turned on Booker and then we turned on [Big] Show, but I honestly don’t know where it was going because I was just finding my footing and didn’t know enough to be asking someone, ‘Where is this going?’

I had no intention of wrestling at that point and then of course so many things changed after Kevin went down. I need to hunt someone down and find the answer.”

In an interview you talked about fading into the background, but now here you are working at the Performance Center and helping out with NXT. What was it about being down there that made you want to get involved?

“It’s honestly the environment at the PC. Matt Bloom, Sara Amato, Terry Taylor, Robbie [Brookside], Norman [Smiley], Steve [Corino]. There are just so many great people who are there to do one thing.

Everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction. Absolutely nobody is trying to prove anything to anyone. Nobody is looking to do anything but help these young men and women have an opportunity to go out there and do what we had a chance to do.

It doesn’t work if all of those men and women you work with are all pains in the backside, but they’re not. If there was something that stuck in my craw I’d tell ya, but that’s what drew me to it.

For me, it was a situation where I looked at it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, all of the stuff that I absolutely love about this business is here and all of the stuff that I don’t care for and that I don’t feel like doing again are also here.’ It was just an absolutely perfect situation. It’s infectious and you feed off of the desire and the passion.

And then of course the direction and the vision of the people who are running that place. I’m not even talking about Hunter. He’s my buddy, obviously, and I can hang around him no matter what, but it’s what Matt and Sara and everyone else brings to that place.

It’s just a fun thing to be a part of and it’s fun be a part of the wrestling business.”

I have to imagine it’s great for someone like you who has so much experience in the business to help people when they’re struggling to find the answer with something and you can call back on an experience that will help them understand how to solve the issue.

“For sure and also getting them to think in ways that they might not know, or even more importantly, letting them know that what they were thinking about was right.

It also helps them because I was a risk-taker during my career. I’m certainly less structured than almost everybody else there (laughs). There’s a little bit of a rebellious gunslinger in me and that’s something that might be a part of some of them and I think those are the people who can be put with me and we can see where it goes.

I think they understand that if I say it’s too much, then it’s probably too much because let’s face it, there isn’t much that I think is too much.”

So what talent has stood out to you down there?

I love my guys. That’s [Johnny] Gargano, Roddy (Roderick Strong), Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole, Drew McIntyre, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe, [Tommaso] Ciampa, Authors of Pain, they’re doing great.

But as I’m learning now, there’s so much talent worldwide that I think the wrestling business is in great shape for the future.

What makes NXT standout to me in this clustered landscape of professional wrestling is the way it blends old school storyline building blocks, but with a new school twist in terms of in-ring style.

“I 100 percent agree with ya. It’s all of the sort of stuff that you like about the old school wrestling, but it’s done in today’s style. I think it’s a perfect dose of both.

Again one of the things that really helps down at the PC is, I’m not the bitter old timer (laughs). I encourage the change, I encourage the evolution, but it’s important for them to hear when they need to slow down. I tell them, you won’t slow down as much as they probably want you to, but neither did I. It’s all a learning curve.

I think it’s important for them to know that people said the same things to me when I was that age.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Q&A: Natalya on WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge, Nakamura, and why she didn’t want Sami Zayn as her partner

WWE
Leave a comment

WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge debuts tonight and will stream live in the U.S. exclusively on Facebook Watch at 10 p.m. ET.

The first match of the inaugural Mixed Match Challenge will be Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya vs. Finn Balor and Sasha Banks. I had the chance to chat with Natalya about why she’s so excited to team with Nakamura, the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble and why she was thrilled that Sami Zayn wasn’t her teammate.

How is your relationship with Shinsuke Nakamura? This is someone who you haven’t worked with on television before, so I imagine you have to be excited to have the opportunity to share some on-screen time with him.

“I’m so excited to be working with him. When we first found out that there was a group of girls and a group of guys who were going to be competing in the Mixed Match Challenge concept, he was one of the first people I wanted to team with because he’s very quirky, he’s very unusual, he’s very different.

It’s hard to explain exactly what Nakamura is like. His persona on TV is kind of like how he is backstage. He has this mystique about him. He’s very, very charismatic. He leaves people talking and guessing and wondering.

He’ll walk through an airport and grab attention in a different way than say somebody like Braun Strowman. Obviously their proportions are different (laughs).

He’s really cool. He’ll wear like really weird shoes, or a really cool hat, or a really big scarf and you’re like he’s so cool.

Nakamura embraces his own unique eccentricities and that’s what we, at WWE, want to express, especially when we’re talking to kids about bullying and having goals and being different in this crazy thing called life.

We talk to kids about being different and embracing it and Nakamura totally embraces that. It’s very important to be different. I don’t want to be like the person next to me and nor should anyone. When I see Nakamura, he loves to be unique. He is proud of it.

It’s so funny, we’ve been filming a lot of these backstage vignettes on my phone and yesterday I showed him a gift I got for Finn [Balor] and Sasha [Banks] when they lose to us because I don’t want them to feel sad.

So I was explaining this to Nakamura and he’s like ‘a present? Why did you get them a present?’ And I was like, when they lose, they’re going to be sad, and we don’t want that. So I showed him the present was and it was magnets with cats’ bottoms. I saw them at the dollar store and thought they were so stupid and funny at the same time.

I showed them to Nakamura and he was like ‘I want them!’ And I was like no you can’t have them, they’re for Finn and Sasha when they lose. He was fighting with me about wanting to keep the magnets for himself. We got it on tape and I was like Nakamura these are presents for them! And he was like ‘oh yes, yes, yes, yes, we will give them presents.’ He just cracks me up. That’s why I think partnering with him will be so great.

The charity aspect of the Mixed Match Challenge is the cherry on top of this whole thing. Yeah we’re doing this for fun and it’s a great thing for the superstars, a great dynamic for us backstage, and a great way for us to perform. It’s a great way for the WWE Universe to see a different concept because you don’t always see girl and guy tag teams and it’s so cool to see inter-branded tag teams matches.

But then you throw in the charity aspect and there are so many charities the WWE is working with from Connor’s Cure, to Make-A-Wish [Foundation], to Rescue Dogs Rock and so many more. It’s really cool.

Make-A-Wish is the charity that Nakamura and I are representing and it’s one that is really close to my heart because I have granted wishes. And when you can change a kid’s perspective or change their quality of life, even if it’s for a few moments, you realize what the worth of your actual career is. I want to make people happy and lift kids up who don’t have that much time left.”

The use of cats in the promos you’ve done with Nakamura has been hilarious. Was there any thought of having 2pawz as the manager for your team?

“I thought about it and then I thought well, I don’t want PETA coming after me because 10,000 people are yelling as I walk down to the ring with my cat (laughs).

You know, 2pawz doesn’t get out of bed for just anyone or anything. I truly had thought about it because that would be so cool if he came down with us. My mom actually made him a costume that matches Nakamura’s ring costume.

We will reign victorious in the first ever #WWE #mixedmatchchallenge! #NAKAMEOWA

A post shared by 2pawz (@2pawz) on

We filmed some videos and posted them on my account. 2pawz has posted them on his Instagram account. He’s very into Nakamura’s music, his costume and Japanese culture. He’s very ready to do this!

But like I said, I thought about him, but I just think it might be too much for him. I don’t want to traumatize the cat.”

Nakamura does strike me as someone who would have a cat.

“Yes. Now I know he has a dog, but he definitely has cat-owner-like qualities because cats are … Cesaro is a cat owner and he’s kind of like a cat. My husband, TJ, is kind of snippy. They’re like cats. Everything is on their terms.

Whereas dog people … dog people are like Mojo Rawley and Bayley and Becky Lynch. They’re happy. They want to hug you. They want to play and jump. They want attention (laughs). But us cat people, we make you work for it.

Your reaction to Nakamura being revealed as your teammate for the Mixed Match Challenge was noteworthy because of how excited you were that Sami Zayn wasn’t your partner. Why were you so excited that Sami wasn’t standing behind you in the selfie?

“What’s so funny about this is that I actually forgot I said that because I have such spontaneous reactions. The WWE producers were like we need to film a video for you because soon you’re going to find out who your partner is, but it’s not today. So I was doing this interview and then all of a sudden they were like do you want to take a selfie because you’re going to need a selfie for the Mixed Match Challenge and all of a sudden I see these red teeth behind me and it was Nakamura wearing a mouthguard and I was like oh my God, Nakamura is my partner! Like it just clicked to me that this was the reveal.

 

I was so excited, but I had this feeling that I was going to get Sami because he and I were both bad guys on TV. I was like I’m going to get Sami and I don’t know if I have chemistry with Sami, I don’t know if it’s there. It wasn’t that I don’t like Sami, I just couldn’t see us gelling together in the ring. In order to have really compelling and great matches, you need to be able to gel with your partner.

So my first reaction was to jump up and down and yell ‘I didn’t get Sami!’ And then later on that day Sami walks up to me and goes ‘are you and I OK?’ And I go yeah, why? And he goes, ‘because you jumped up and down and said you were so happy that I wasn’t your partner and WWE aired that on Twitter to like 12 million people.’ I was like, ‘I don’t recall doing that (laughs).’ Of course it was like the first thing I did (laughs).

It was so funny because Sami thought I was mad at him. He was like I love you and TJ so much that I didn’t know if I ticked you off and I was like, ‘No!’ I just wanted Nakamura.”

With the first women’s Royal Rumble coming up quickly, I was wondering how much you’ve thought about the potential impact of the match on the division as a whole.

“The WWE is really putting their money where their mouth is. They’re really pulling out all of the stops for this. It’s not just 20 girls in this Royal Rumble. They’re trying to, as much as humanly possible, make it as equal to the guys as they can.

We can try to be as equal to the men as we possibly can, but there are some things that … look you’re not going to have girl who is the same height as Braun (6’8”). There are reasons why different is good. There are a lot of things that the women bring to the table that the men can’t do and there’s a lot of things the men bring to the table that the girls can’t do.

WWE has gone above and beyond in every way, shape, and form to make this first-ever women’s Royal Rumble feel equal and that to me is huge. We have 30 women competing and it’s over-the-top-rope.

It’s all about us girls standing out and showing that we’re equal and WWE has been awesome about embracing that.

I have thought a lot about what I’m going to do in the Royal Rumble. I’ve thought a lot about who could possibly be in the match. There has been a lot of speculation and that’s really the fun part. Who is going to be a part of this? Am I going to see Trish Stratus? Am I going to see Michelle McCool? Is there going to be someone who isn’t even a female superstar come and be a part of it?

I was thinking about the girls from G.L.O.W. like what a shock that would be to see one of the girls from the show because it’s so popular. Anything and everything can happen and there’s this huge element of surprise.

The crowd in Philadelphia will let you know … they’re one of those renegade, rowdy, wild, awesome, amazing powerhouse of a crowd. They’re going to let us know what they love and they’re going to let us know what they hate and they’re going to put the pressure on us more than ever.

I think you’re going to see some magic for sure.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis