WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: Drinking in the Evolution of Chris Jericho

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If you were one of the few people who tuned into Raw on Monday night instead of Monday Night Football, you witnessed another mediocre edition of the WWE’s flagship show.

The three hours didn’t drag as badly as last week, but at times the show’s cringe-worthy writing made it easy to flip over and watch Antonio Brown twerk his way to another incredible night in fantasy football.

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Now, not every segment was as bad as David Otunga’s commentary though. Some of the show was actually very good. The main event between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens is worth seeking out if you decided to take your eyeballs to a different channel. While you’re searching for that match, you should also find the Highlight Reel segment between Sami Zayn and the subject of my main story this week, Chris Jericho.

Drinking It In

When Jericho returned on the first Raw of 2016, he rehashed his infamous promo with The Rock from his initial WWE debut in 1999, which was the beginning of a theme.

Over the next couple of weeks, Y2J seemingly felt out of place on the roster. Some wondered if he was intentionally playing an old wrestler who was out of touch because week after week Jericho would talk about himself as though he was one of the top guys on the roster, even though he had fallen from that pedestal due to the number of pedestrian runs he had in the last four years.

Remember his lackluster feud with Bray Wyatt?

His tussle with Ziggler for the MITB briefcase?

What about his loss to Fandango at WrestleMania 29?

Or his feud with Ryback? (I totally forgot that this is how Jericho was written off of TV in 2013.)

When Jericho would come back after a hiatus, it would be cool for one week or two and then he would fade away to the mid-card. The guy still worked his ass off, but his shtick felt dated.

After an impressive showing in this year’s Royal Rumble, Jericho tagged and then feuded with the vanilla babyface version of AJ Styles. It was the first time since 2012 that Jericho worked as a heel, but his impact still felt minimal. The Lite-Brite jacket certainly didn’t help, nor did his lack of in-ring chemistry with Styles. Y2J looked a step slow, which is perfectly acceptable for a 26-year veteran of the business, but it’s not acceptable when he’s working in a coveted WrestleMania spot.

After his feud with Styles finally ended, Jericho moved on to a wacky series of matches with Dean Ambrose that culminated with the forgettable Asylum match. Besides Mitch the plant, this feud appeared to help no one, but it was actually the turning point for Jericho. Ambrose “destroyed” the G.O.A.T’s light-up jacket, so Jericho started wearing a ridiculous scarf to the ring. It seemed so stupid at first, but it was actually a sign that Y2J was evolving.

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Not only did Jericho end up getting the scarf over, he has somehow managed to:

Produce a “stupid idiot” chant.

Give Tom Phillips 698126 different names.

Get the word “it” over to a point where the crowd pops heavily for it every week.

Once again become one of the best performers on the roster.

Instead of groaning when his music hits, I now can’t wait for Jericho to come onto my TV every Monday night. His facial expressions were absolutely hilarious this week and his promo with Zayn were the best 5-8 minutes of the entire episode. (Zayn should be commended here as well; he bounced back-and-forth with Jericho perfectly.)

This version of Jericho is essentially a fusion of his two best characters: The longhaired goofball from WCW and the serious heel from his 2008 run. You could see a change begin to take place with Jericho when he started interacting with Kevin Owens. It was in those segments that Jericho found his new voice and slowly started turning it up to an 11.

Jericho also has total control of the live crowd. He understands the little tricks needed to get someone cheered, which can be very difficult to do in 2016. The seed that he’s planting by calling Owens “my best friend” is pure brilliance. When Owens eventually turns on him, he’s going to be a white hot babyface and Owens is going to be a mega heel.

The guy is a wrestling genius. I shouldn’t have doubted him. Now excuse me while I drink the gift of Jericho.

CWC Preview

If you haven’t watched the Cruiserweight Classic, you should stop reading this column and quickly binge all of the episodes on the WWE Network. You know how much the network costs.

This genius creation by HHH is down to the final four. The semifinals, Gran Metalik vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi vs. T.J.Perkins and final match will air during a live two-hour special on the network. If these three matches follow the pattern that the rest of the tournament has set, we’re in store for a tremendous night of professional wrestling.

Metalik vs. Sabre Jr. is a really interesting match. Sabre Jr. is a mat-based wizard, while Metalik works a high-flying luchador style. Ibushi and Perkins could easily put on the best match of the entire tournament.

So who’s going to win the tournament? It’s not going to be Sabre Jr. because he has no intention to sign with WWE. Metalik and Perkins have signed with the company and will appear in the cruiserweight division on Raw.

That leaves Ibushi, who would be a lock to win the tournament if he signed a deal with the WWE, but he’s remained coy about his immediate future. Unlike Sabre Jr. who has flat out said that he won’t be signing, Ibushi has teased that he doesn’t plan on signing, but seemed to purposefully leave the door open.

It doesn’t seem like a good idea to introduce the cruiserweights on Raw without the inaugural CWC champion in the mix, so unless Ibushi signs a deal, or has already signed a deal, either Metalik or Perkins is going to leave Wednesday night with the gigantic trophy.

My pick is Perkins. He is a clean cut kid with a nice backstory and a unique move set that will easily get over in front of bigger crowds.

The live special could very well be the best live in-ring matches we see all year from the WWE.

Which show was better this week?

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This question was answered during the opening promo on Tuesday night.

Time to “Go Home”

– I really enjoyed Backlash. All of the matches were given time to breathe and even Kane vs. Bray Wyatt was enjoyable.

– Congrats to AJ Styles for becoming the first man to ever win the NWA, IWGP and WWE championships.

– Is there any doubt that he’s the best wrestler on the planet right now?

– You could really feel the passion from John Cena and Dean Ambrose in their promos this week.

– I love this new look for the Usos. They feel like a fresh tag team, especially with their new vicious move set.

– WTF is going on with Randy Orton? Does he have a concussion or not? I can’t imagine the company would let him physically perform with a concussion, but Dave Meltzer reported that he didn’t work with Wyatt at Backlash due to lingering concussion symptoms.

– This is the best Nia Jax has looked. I loved her aggression and the hair-swinging spot into the barricade looked wicked. The spear through the dasher wall got a nice reaction from the crowd.

– Best sign from this week “The eater of pinfalls”

– I’m really happy for Becky Lynch. The company booked her like crap for months and she’s finally going to get a chance to shine with the title, which btw looks much better than Raw’s.

– For the love of God, Clash of Champions better be the end of The New Day vs. Gallows and Anderson.

– If Gallows and Anderson don’t win the tag titles at COC, can they please be shipped over to SmackDown in a trade for the Usos?

– I think Jack Swagger’s promo on SmackDown was worse than Titus’ from a few weeks back.

– This is my reaction to The Miz’s current run:

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– If Foley and Rollins are going to have a talk, does that mean Rollins is out of the main event at COC? Maybe the winner of Zayn-Jericho should get the opportunity to face Owens for the title.

– I was shocked at how well the crowd reacted to Dana Brooke slapping Charlotte. The current Raw women’s champion has been playing the dick mentor role to a T, but is anyone really clamoring to see a Dana Brooke face turn? Charlotte can’t exactly carry someone through a match at this point.

– So the foreigner Rusev returns, costs Reigns a chance to wrestle for the championship, beats him up after the match and gets cheered? I think it’s time to turn Reigns heel.

– When will Rhyno turn on Slater?

– Roderick Strong in NXT? SIGN ME UP

– Yes, this graphic really aired during SmackDown:

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What a time to be alive.

Follow me on Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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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

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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