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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what talent has stood out to you down there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis