WWE

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

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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

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