WWE

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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?

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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

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