WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: The Welcomed Return of Selling + Backlash Preview

Leave a comment

The first brand specific Pay-Per-View since the draft will take place this Sunday, but before I preview the glorified episode of SmackDown that’s entitled Backlash, let’s dive into a recent trend that’s been taking the WWE by storm.

giphy

The concept of selling an injury seemed non-existent in WWE’s world of professional wrestling. Let’s travel back to April, when Rusev beat the crap out of Kalisto on the final set of TV tapings before their U.S. title match at Extreme Rules.

Instead of selling the “rib injury” he suffered at the hands of Mr. Lana, Kalisto did his lucha entrance thing and acted as though he was 100 percent. It wasn’t until midway through the match when Kalisto finally sold an injury that played into the finish.

As a fan, Kalisto’s entrance infuriated me. Why should I care about the buildup for any match when I know the participants are going to act like they’re in perfect condition? Also, Kalisto sold a back injury during the match instead of a rib injury.

According to Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer, Vince wanted to make sure that everyone who paid for a ticket would see everyone at “full health,” which meant that Kalisto had to do his entrance so the 15 kids in the crowd who cared about him would get excited.

It’s a ridiculous line of thinking considering WWE is supposed to be in the storytelling business, but this is Vince McMahon we’re talking about.

Well I don’t know what has gotten into the company over the past couple of weeks, but we’ve seen a total 180 in terms of injuries being sold before, during, and after matches. Perhaps the recent string of legit injuries made the creative team push the line between reality and fantasy.

Likely considering the amount of “shoot” style promos we’ve seen recently.

Or maybe someone bought Vince a subscription to New Japan World. Unlikely, but it really makes me want a YouTube series of Mr.McMahon watching matches like this:

giphy-2

Whatever the case, the in-ring product now has a much more realistic feel. Raw’s main event between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn used an “injury” that was sustained by Zayn as the climax. As Zayn tried to run across the ring to deliver his Helluva Kick finisher, his ankle “gave out” and it left him vulnerable for a superkick-powerbomb combination finish.

This wasn’t the first time Zayn has shown his world-class selling ability recently. Two weeks ago he worked most of his match against Seth Rollins on a “bum” ankle after “injuring” it during a springboard spot. He modified his move set and made every step that he took on the ankle look painful.

(Zayn should probably watch out, because Dolph Ziggler was once known as the king of selling.)

Hell, Cesaro and Sheamus are using an injury angle to drive the main story in their best out of seven series. In the second match between the two, Sheamus back body dropped Cesaro into the new ring post.

The Uppercut Man sold the injury like a million bucks and then came out on Monday with Kinesio-tape all over his lower back. Sheamus “targeted” the injured area and then laid Ceasro out with a Brogue Kick to take a 3-0 lead.

The best example of this new philosophy, IMO, comes to us from the world of NXT-CWC. Johnny Gargano’s knee was “ravaged” in his loss to The Revival at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II and then three days later he faced T.J. Perkins in the second round of the Cruiserweight Classic.

Gargano’s injury from Takeover played into the finish as Perkins forced Gargano to tapout due to a kneebar (this was a tremendous match). Here’s the real beauty to this scenario, the CWC match between Perkins and Gargano was taped weeks before the Takeover special, so the writers came up with this idea well in advance and executed it to perfection.

On SmackDown this week the Usos turned heel after their 45 second loss to American Alpha in the tag team tournament. They beat down Gable and Jordan after the match and targeted Gable’s leg. The crowd responded nicely and it set up a grudge match for the titles at No Mercy.

Pro wrestling 101 everybody.

We’ll see how long this new attitude towards selling lasts because ish like this changes after Vince sneezes the wrong way.

giphy-3

Backlash Preview

Intercontinental Championship match: The Miz (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler

So in a month Dolph Ziggler goes from wrestling Dean Ambrose for the WWE World title at SummerSlam to defending Daniel Bryan’s honor against The Miz. A dirty win by Miz makes the most sense for everyone involved. There’s no reason to take the IC title off of Miz at this point and another loss for Ziggler will push him towards a potential heel turn.

The Usos vs. Hype Bros (Winner faces Heath Slater/Rhyno, or Slyno, in the SmackDown Tag Team Tournament finals)

I was a big fan of the Usos heel turn on Tuesday night. The beat down on American Alpha looked great and you could feel the passion in their promo with Renee. The Hype Bros have proven that they belong on the main roster, but they shouldn’t go over here.

The Usos vs. Slater/Rhyno

Note: If Heath Slater and Rhyno win the titles, Slater will “become” a member of the SmackDown roster.

Time for me to give credit where credit is due, the booking of Heath Slater has been wonderful. The crowd has taken to The One Man Band and has made him feel like a star, which has rubbed off on Rhyno. Seriously, go back and listen to the reaction Rhyno got this week when he set up for the Gore.

Having said all of that, Slater and Rhyno should not win the titles. The Usos heel turn was pushed as the biggest storyline on Tuesday night and in order to accelerate their new attitude, they should steal a victory over one of the biggest fan favorites in the company right now. Plus, there’s a future match against Alpha down the road that will have a little extra punch.

Six Pack Challenge to crown the first SmackDown Women’s Champion

I seriously have no idea who to pick in this match. Becky Lynch appears to be the favorite, which is exactly why she won’t win it. Carmella and Nikki should spin off into their own program after the match. Perhaps Carmella gets eliminated and then costs Bella Twin 1…

That leaves Naomi, Alexa Bliss (or like on Tuesday Alexa Miss) and Natalya. I like Alexa, but she isn’t quite ready to be the face of the SD women’s division. Naomi’s entrance and new move set is impressive, but she can’t feel the glow when a microphone is in her hands.

By process of elimination, Natalya is the only person left. She hasn’t been lighting the world on fire by during this heel run, but is still capable of putting on good matches with greener talent. If this new women’s title is going to get over, it has to happen in the ring.

With just six matches announced for the card, I’m expecting this to get a ton of time.

Kane will destroy some random local talent or jobber

Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt

The promos leading up to this match have ranged from very good (Orton last week, Bray this week) to wtf (Orton this week), but I’m expecting the physicality to be off of the charts. Wyatt has some of the best looking offense in the company and we all know how smooth Mr. RKO is.

Bray could really use a win here, maybe Luke Harper returns to lend him a hand? Whatever the case, the finish shouldn’t be clean, because this feud should carry over to No Mercy in October. Thinking Wyatt wins here.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship match: Dean Ambrose (C) vs. AJ Styles

Ambrose has been on a cold streak lately with his in-ring performances. Idk if he’s trying to be extra cautious to avoid an injury because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his spot by missing time, or if he’s just burned out and going through the motions, but it’s hard to remember the last time Ambrose looked impressive in a singles match that didn’t have Rollins in it.

That pattern should change on Sunday against Styles, who is the best performer in the world at this current moment in time. Styles should walk out of Richmond, Virginia as the only man to ever win the IWGP, NWA, and WWE world title, but we could be in for a screwy finish that leads to a stipulation match between the two for the title at No Mercy.

In Ambrose’s promo this week, he dropped a line about taking his opponents to places they’ve never been before, which makes me wonder if we’ll get another Asylum match.

Which show was better this week?

giphy-4

SD Live wasn’t even that good this week and it was still easily better than the bizzaro Raw from Monday. Everything on the show that didn’t involve Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, or Seth Rollins was atrocious.

Time to “Go Home”

– People are going to be upset with me about this, but it’s time to break up The New Day. Their segments have been way more miss than hit lately and there’s nowhere for the act to go from here.

– Which segment was worse? Sasha’s announcement or the Old Day?

– It’s closer than you think.

– Seth Rollins is going to be a white-hot babyface. His up-tempo style is easy for the crowd to get behind and his offense is just so crisp. I’m a bit surprised he’s going to continue using the pedigree. It would be awesome if he put his own spin on the move a la The Angel’s Wings.

– It’s a shame this isn’t Rollins’ new theme because it’s so damn good.

– It was not exactly the best seven days for Big Cass. Guy went from the Universal title picture to a loss at the hands of The Shining Stars.

– Am I the only one who prefers the SmackDown set over Raw’s?

– I can’t believe Bo Dallas had the best squash match on Monday.

– Can anyone explain to me why Sin Cara needed to be protected via countout finish against Braun Strowman?

– Remember when Vince wanted Strowman to be the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania opponent?

– I don’t want to totally crap on the guy because his look could take him far in the industry, but he needs to be able to sell much, much better at this point. I’m still laughing at the head scissors spot from Monday.

– So Bayley beats Charlotte, but Sasha gets the title match at Clash of Champions? Makes sense.

– I LOVED the quick finish to the Alpha-Usos match. Surprise finishes like that will keep the crowd on their toes. It’s so easy to just sit back and not care about a good chunk of matches due to the amount of near falls.

– David Otunga needs to drink some of Dean Ambrose’s coffee, maybe then he’d actually be worth listening to.

– This Darren Young-Titus O’Neil feud is never going to end is it?

– The cruiserweight division can’t get to Raw quick enough. If you’re not watching the CWC for some reason, please change that and watch it right now. It’s easily my favorite show every week.

– Ambrose’s promo in the final segment of SD was amaaaaazzzzzinggg.

– Almost as ammmaaaaazzzinnngggg as Kevin Owens’ new shirt.

Follow me on Twitter: @ScottDargis

Adam Cole: I want to have the biggest personality in the room and not just on the microphone

Leave a comment

Before Adam Cole heads to the Smoothie King Center for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on WWE Network, I chatted with him about how much he’s learned during his time in NXT, what makes the NXT crowds special and what it was like to meet Shawn Michaels. 

About a year ago you said that if you made the jump to WWE that you would want to start off in NXT as opposed to going right to the main roster, flash forward to now and you’re an established star in NXT. Is this part of your journey everything you thought it would be?

“Yeah for sure. When I come into a situation, especially like this one in NXT, my goal is to get to perform in front of these fans, to get to wrestle with these guys, who are in my opinion, some of the best wrestlers in the entire world. I felt like I could fit really well in this environment and I think I have. To get the chance to do what I’ve done here so far has been a total blast and so much fun.

But at the same time it’s exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’ve gotten to do things in NXT, and even WWE, that I didn’t imagine I would get the chance to do. Very happy with the journey so far.”

In what ways have you grown as a performer since coming to WWE?

“There’s just such a better understanding of who I am actually as a performer. You fall kind of into … I don’t want to say a routine because you’re always trying to improve and get better, but when you wrestle for certain organizations time-and-time again, you kind of fall into this routine of performing a certain way and having matches a certain way. Also, after a while you’ve wrestled everyone over-and-over again.

Getting to come here and getting to wrestle a bunch of new talent, some guys I’ve met before and some guys that I’ve never met before. It puts you in a situation where you learn to adapt and change, whether it be character wise, things that you do in the ring. It just gives you new challenges.

I’m teaming a lot more with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, so that throws me into a different situation as far as learning to wrestle as part of a team as opposed to working solo most of the time.

Also the fans, I’ve noticed in each and every promotion, even though there are a lot of similarities in many different ways, NXT is a totally different animal.

Overall, adapting has been the biggest growing point for me.”

Interesting, in what ways are the NXT crowds different from the other promotions you’ve worked for.

“The NXT fans to me are in love and so infatuated with the characters. So to me when you see a guy like Velveteen Dream or No Way Jose and the way that they’re so invested in them as performers, not even necessarily with what they’re doing between the ropes, but in their entrances.

I feel the connection with the audience is just so much greater than anything I’ve felt before. It’s pretty incredible, especially when you’re at TakeOver events.”

When I watch the backstage segments with you, Kyle, and Bobby, they come off like old school nWo style promos. Obviously the music playing in the background, which sounds like a new age nWo theme, and the camera angles help, but it’s the natural chemistry you guys have on camera because it seems like you’re just having fun and being yourselves on camera. I would imagine it has to be awesome to just bounce off of each other while filming those.

“Oh man yeah, it’s so much fun. I think that’s exactly why it comes off that way. Me, Bobby, and Kyle are as close as it gets. That’s not just a performance. I’ve known Kyle O’Reilly since 2009 and I was in his wedding. I’ve known Bobby Fish for years and years, we used to travel together all of the time. We talk every single day.

So when we’re there and we’re talking in front of the camera, that’s just us having a good time and I think that’s a big reason why the group works so well. It’s very natural because it’s very real. So I think in turn how we project ourselves comes off as fun because we are genuinely having a great time together.”

Speaking of coming off natural, you come off so natural on the microphone. I talked with Ronda [Rousey] this week about where she’s at in terms of speed while talking in front of the live audience and then I asked Roman [Reigns] about it and he talked about how he was able to process the idea of taking his time to make sure he stopped rushing through his material.

Is the speaking part of the business something that you were able to gravitate towards and get comfortable with quickly?

“I think so. There is a constant growth process. I think that’s why I love this job so much. There’s no such thing as completely perfecting every area of it, you’re always trying to get better at it.

For me, I picked up the promo aspect of pro wrestling much faster than the actual wrestling part of it. I was always fairly athletic and I could do things even from the beginning of my career, when I was 18 and 19 years old. I was always the guy who could always string words together and found what I was saying to be actually believable however I was trying to come across, whether that be somewhat likeable or somewhat of a jerk.

I don’t know why that is, but I remember as a kid just being so fascinated by guys who were good talkers. Even in movies. I used to love the way James Bond villains would act and how cool they came across and how awful they seemed, but what they were saying was so believable.

I’ve always been fascinated by guys, especially bad guys, who were able to talk a certain way, tell stories with their words and just paint this beautiful picture for that you just completely rode along with. I’ve focused a fair amount of time on making sure that promos were something I really focused on.”

Your in-ring style is very interesting to me. You’re a smaller guy, but you work a style that is similar to a lot of bigger guys and it’s because of this slower pace that the spots actually mean something, especially when you build up to the climax of a match. Is that a pace that you’ve always had, or was there a certain point where you were like, OK I need to slow down now and figure out what works for me?

“That was something I developed over time. When I first started, I was definitely a guy that was doing every move under the sun and I was going a million miles an hour and just trying to wow the fans as much as I could. I thought that was the way to get them invested in me. Don’t get me wrong, that style is very impressive, but I on purpose work a certain style. It’s very important for me to do that.

It’s obvious that I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I want to have the biggest personality in the room and part of that personality isn’t just on the microphone. That’s the way I have to project myself in the ring as well.

All of my favorites in this business really took their time. They made everything they did mean something. Every movement they made had a purpose and that’s the type of performer I’m most comfortable being and that’s the type of performer I want to be too.”

There are so many performers doing unbelievable things we’ve never seen before on what feels like a weekly basis now, but after 20, 30 minutes go by and the match ends, I’ve seen so many big spots that it just feels like a blur, where as your matches build up to a few big spots that are easy to remember.

For instance, I watched your match with AJ [Styles] in Ring of Honor recently and you guys worked such a slower pace, but it built up to a huge finishing spot that is going to stick with the viewer. When I come across a match like that one it just feels so different in comparison to a lot of the matches we’re seeing nowadays.

“Sure, sure. You bring up AJ and he’s the king of that. AJ is a guy that can do anything under the sun. He’s one of the most athletically gifted guys there is, but AJ is able to place his stuff and put it in situations where he has the fans completely in the palm of his hand.

He knows he can do anything, but he knows that the biggest reaction he’s going to get from the audience is working a certain style and taking them on this ride by building a story within the match.

Doing a million things is very impressive, but if you forget 90 percent of it, it’s kind of a shame.”

How many times has someone come up to you at the Performance Center and said you look like Shawn Michaels?

“(Laughs) More times than I can count. Whether that be at the Performance Center, whether that be fans. I think I get at least five or six tweets a week about how I look like Shawn Michaels. To me it’s just a giant compliment.”

Has he said that to you?

“Yeah! When we first met he said, ‘A lot of people tell me that you and I look alike and now that I met ya I see what they mean.”

Who is somebody in NXT that you haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet that you’re looking forward to getting in the ring with?

“I’ll tell you what, I would love the chance to have any sort of a program with Velveteen Dream. I think that guy has so much potential. He’s so good now. His understanding of the industry for his age is unbelievable. His natural talent is the same. I watch him, I’m captivated by what he does, so to get the chance to be in there with him in some capacity would be great.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis 

Ronda Rousey Now Has the Chance to be Herself

Leave a comment

Even though there are certain aspects of the professional wrestling business that feel natural to her, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she’s a former Olympian and was one of, if not the most dominant female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey knows she still has a lot to learn about the second act of her professional career.

The “Rowdy” one grew up as a huge wrestling fan, but then learned at a later age that the action was choreographed. It was a discovery that drove her away from paying attention to the business.

Fast forward to her time on top of the UFC and there she was sitting on the couch, with her friends, watching Monday Night Raw as a fan again. Thanks to Shayna Baszler’s insistence, wrestling once more became a part of Rousey’s life, but this time it acted as an escape from the rigorous world of MMA. It was a window into another world that gave her the ability to just kick back and relax.

Fast forward again to today and now pro wrestling is no longer a way for Rousey to relax, it’s the main focus of her life.

You can watch WrestleMania live around the world April 8 on the WWE Network at a special start time of 7 p.m ET. 

She’s all in, which means she now must adjust to a world that isn’t exactly the easiest to become comfortable in considering her entire athletic career has been focused around the idea of finishing her opponent to find success. Now she must work with an opponent to make the music that will gain a response from the crowd.

It’s that major change that Rousey called her “biggest adjustment” when I chatted with her last week. “I’ve learned a lot about teamwork. That’s basically the main thing. Being in a team environment and working with everyone to make it great. It’s actually been a real joy to learn and to feel less lonely in my endeavors.”

But playing nice with others isn’t as easy as it looks. There are major alterations that had to be made in order for Ronda’s physical work to be fit for television.

“I mean things that I’ve already done in the past a million times feel natural, but how and where we’re applying them is still unnatural. Like the timing things are a little weird and have been been hard for me to pick up. I’m used to being as compact as possible. I’m used to trying to hide my face,” Rousey said.

“There are just a bunch of little things like being aware of where the cameras are and stuff like that. Stuff that I’ve never thought of once in my life are things that I now have to keep in mind. I think the pace and timing are the biggest adjustment. The actual techniques are there, but they also have to be adjusted as well. Every throw I’ve done has been with the intention to inflict as much harm as possible and not to look good, so I need to change things to make everything look more grand and be more safe. To work with somebody else and to learn to take cues when my whole life I’ve kept things very secret and sudden has been a huge adjustment.”

During her training for fights, Rousey would focus on figuring out ways to submit her opponent while she rolled or performed judo with her training partner. Her coaches would watch her technique to figure out what she could potentially apply in her next fight.

She’s still rolling and doing judo techniques with a training partner now, mostly Shayna, but instead of figuring out ways to put her opponent away, she and the trainers down at WWE’s Performance Center are figuring out which techniques can be applied to a live match.

“It’s not really like I need to get more reps with judo. I’ve done enough judo stuff for several lifetimes. There’s so much that both of us do that we really don’t think about and so I like to have someone like Sara Amato watch Shayna and I or anyone else, roll around and see if she could spot something that might be applicable in the ring,” Rousey said.

“I can’t be like, ‘Hey this is what I did’ because there are so many times when I’m in a grappling exchange or sparring and I’ll just do something that I know is brilliant and the other person doesn’t even know how they ended up getting caught, but I know it was great and then I end up moving on and forgetting about it.”

Ronda continued, “It’s not like I’m walking in there and I’m going to do some grappling that looks cool, but doesn’t work for wrestling. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go work over here, tell us if anything is useful.’ Sara will step in from time to time and ask us to do something again or change it around so we do it like this. It’s been a big help.”

The concept of maximizing “spots,” which is wrestling lingo for a big move or moment in a match or segment, is something that Rousey has studied feverishly over the past few months. It’s easy for someone new to the business to feel like they have to get all of their stuff in during a short amount of time, but this can actually be a detriment because it means none of the moments that are supposed to leave a lasting impact will be felt by the audience.

In order to help her understand just how important small movements are to building up to a big spot, WWE wrestler and well-respected trainer Brian Kendrick gave Rousey a key homework assignment that helped her unlock the concept of how to put together a match.

“He had me watch Hulk Hogan vs. The Undertaker [from Survivor Series 1991] just to teach me how much it really is all about the story and how little physically I really need to do. I don’t need to be a spotty person,” Rousey explained. “The Undertaker going down on one knee is all that needed to happen in order to get a reaction from the crowd. They really didn’t do that much physically to each other. That was a really good learning session for me. I can have this tendency where I go, ‘I know so, I know so, I know so,’ and I’ll do all of these things, but that match really taught me where to apply things intelligently instead of just throwing them out there.”

But it can be hard to avoid throwing everything you have when you get nervous and start moving fast, which is something that Rousey is self-aware of, especially when the microphone is in her hand.

“My sentences are chopped up into little pieces, so what seems to me like three seconds is probably more like one second. That’s one thing I’m learning. Once I think it’s been too long, to wait even more. I need to triple how patient I am,” she said.

It was evident to see just how different the speed was for someone who is still clearly getting adjusted to the nuances of the business and someone like Paige, who has grown up in the wrestling business and very clearly understands who her character is and more importantly, how her character should sound.

Rousey knows she has a long way to go in order to gain the confidence she needs to cut a badass promo, but she’s determined to find her voice and to not sound like anyone else who has come before her.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to walk out there and cut a promo like Paige because she has been in this business since she was a little kid. She doesn’t talk like I do and if I walked out there and started talking like that, nobody would buy it because I know that I don’t talk like that,” Rousey said.

“It’s a fine line to walk,” she continued, “I have to be myself, but mold myself to fit into that environment because there is a risk of trying to do too much that will make people roll their eyes at me. I don’t want people to look at me and go, ‘Oh look at Ronda trying to be a pro wrestler.’ I want to go out there and speak as myself. That’s it. That’s what I’m good at. I can speak to large crowds of people and I’ve done that for years and now I need to find my own way instead of copying other people’s way.”

But having someone like Paige backstage is only going to assist her in her goal to become the best she possibly can be in this business and it’s something that she’s very conscious of.

“Having all of the examples around me really help like Paige, who is conquered a style and really made it work for her. She’s molded it through years of practice. I’m just surrounded by amazing examples.”

One of those amazing examples is Goldust, who is the eldest son of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Goldust is a true veteran of the industry and is someone that Rousey was absolutely thrilled to meet.

“Goldust took me aside the other day and gave me some advice and I was like, ‘Oh my God it’s Goldust and he’s giving me advice.’ I was geeking out so hard while still trying to receive information (laughs).”

In the previous act of her life, Rousey was forced to talk in a reactionary style interview. A microphone would be put in her face after a fight and she would have to respond to questions about how she forced her opponent to submit and then call out someone for her next fight.

In this act, Rousey must use her microphone time to drive along a story line with specific pieces of dialogue. It’s a totally different style, but one that she finds liberating.

“I think it’s more of a release than anything. I was always on the defensive, on guard. They were asking me questions with a certain answer in mind, they were trying to get a reaction out of me.” Rousey said of her MMA interviews.

“I think this is like a cool discovery process,” she continued. “People say, ‘Well who is your character?’ But I’m really thinking like, who am I because I’m me out there. I have to be much more introspective than I would in a reactionary environment.”

As Rousey continues to figure out how to apply her voice and her physical gifts to achieve greatness in this stage of her career, she is also going through a journey on a personal level to find herself, to find happiness outside of a world that made her name famous across the globe.

“I’ve never been allowed to just be myself,” she said.

Well now is her chance.

Twitter: @ScottDargis