WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: Why John Cena needs to be protected

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Just when it looked like we were headed for another week of ho-hum WWE programming, a bit of history was made on Tuesday night when Dean Ambrose pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring.

It marked the first time in 11 years that John Cena had been defeated on SmackDown. The last time Cena looked up at the bright lights for a three count was the night the Doctor of Thuganomics dropped the U.S. title to Orlando Jordan.

Some will read the paragraph above and think: “Well he rarely appeared on SmackDown after he was drafted to Raw in 2005.” So for those people, here’s another stat to sip on; It was the first time in seven years that he was pinned clean on television (HHH did the honors on the Sept. 19th 2009 edition of Raw).

At first, Ambrose’s win over Cena seemed like no big deal to me. With the triple threat coming up at No Mercy between Styles-Cena-Ambrose, it makes sense for creative to make Deano feel like he’s at the same level with Cena by beating him.

But then I continued the thought and realized that the shock value of Cena eating a clean pin wasn’t nearly the same as it usually is. I wondered why that was and then it hit me, AJ Styles just beat Cena at SummerSlam without any nefarious means.

In less than a month, the WWE’s most protected superstar of the last decade has been pinned clean twice. I’m sure there are many “Cena sucks” people out there who are thrilled with the result on Tuesday night, but here’s the problem with booking Cena like this:

If John Cena becomes a part-timer that puts guys over more frequently than he has in the past, the WWE will lose one of their two chips that can be played to boost guys to a superstar level. The other chip is this crazy guy:

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Cena’s status as the face of the WWE brand won’t take a hit if he gets continues to lose at this rate, because the company doesn’t value wins and losses, which means the fans shouldn’t care when a fresh face on the rise beats him clean in the middle of the ring.

It’s a gigantic flaw in logic that I’ll explore at a later date because I don’t want to get too sidetracked.

A triumph over Cena without outside help should signal the elevation of a character from the upper mid-card to the main event. In the case of Ambrose this past Tuesday, it might help him gain some of the momentum he lost during his title run, but I get the sense that the crowd started to turn on Ambrose due to the quality of his in-ring performances. They severely dipped after he won the title in June.

Back to Cena. As frustrating as it is for people who are sick of #SuperCena’s reign as the face of the company, he’s vital to boosting this “new era” of talent. The only way that’s going to happen is if the aura of beating John Cena still exists when it’s time to bump Baron Corbin up to the top of the card, or when guys like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode make their way up to the main roster from NXT,

Cena will be away from WWE from mid-October until mid-December (he’s filming the second season of American Grit), which means he ain’t winning the title at No Mercy, but it also means the SmackDown main event scene is going to be a combination of Styles, Ambrose, Orton, Wyatt (hahaha just kidding, dude is destined to cut aimless promos on the upper mid-card forever).

Orton-Styles for the WWE world title at Survivor Series should be a fine match, but after that, SmackDown’s matches for SS don’t exactly look appealing. Baron Corbin vs. Ambrose? Ambrose vs. Miz for the IC title? American Alpha vs. Slyno? Ambrose vs. Wyatt (ugh, again). Jack Swagger vs. a microphone? Curt Hawkins vs. a fact checker?

SmackDown has been much better (this is a drastic understatement) than Raw lately due to the superior writing, but it’s only a matter of time before the lack of depth dominates the conversation about WWE’s Tuesday night show.

The only way for this problem to be remedied is good writing, strong booking and protecting John Cena, so he can help everyone else on the roster.

The WWE is such a warped world man.

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Cruising for a problem

The cruiserweight division made its debut on Monday night and well, it was lackluster to say the least. I didn’t have a problem with Mick Foley’s introductions, even if he did hop on a struggle bus during his rendition of a Mark Twain quote.

The match itself between Gran Metalik, Brian Kendrick, Rich Swann and Cedric Alexander was very good, even though it did feel like a choreographed spot fest at times. The action was stiff and different than the other matches we saw on Monday night.

Last positive note here: I liked the effort to change the graphics and colors on the stage to make the division feel like it was separate from the rest of the show. Going forward the cruiserweights shouldn’t interact with anyone else on the show, unless they’re in the same weight class.

OK, now let’s get the negative stuff out of the way.

Where the hell was T.J. Perkins? Why didn’t creative have TJP come out after Kendrick won the match? He didn’t even have to cut a promo! Just have a good ol’ fashion stare down.

Why did this segment air in the middle of the third hour? The enthusiasm of the live crowd usually dies somewhere between the end of the second hour and the beginning of the third hour (can be earlier depending on how bad the show is), so why not open the show with the Fatal Four Way? The crowd would have been so much more into the match and it would have made the division feel more important.

But nooooo, we had to have another talking segment between Roman Reigns, Stephanie, Foley and Kevin Owens.

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Where were the handshakes and cool individual profile pieces? Two aspects of the Cruiserweight Classic that made the show feel drastically different were the handshakes prior to the match and the profile style video packages. Instead of showing in-ring highlights, run the damn video packages again so people can actually get a little backstory on these guys.

I know it’s a Fatal Four Way, but you can still do the handshake bit. Maybe Kendrick doesn’t want to shake anyone’s hand, which makes him an instant heel. There are potential programs that could have been set up with this device.

There’s plenty of tweaking that needs to be done to the presentation of the division, so I won’t totally bury it, but man this was really disappointing considering how great the CWC was.

Was Raw finally better than SmackDown?

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Time to “Go Home”

– The SmackDown tag team division has been ripped by quite a few people, but the pathetic tag division on Raw was exposed big time on Monday night. The New Day, Gallows and Anderson, The Shining Stars and Enzo & Cass were all in the ring for a segment and it hit me that this is the entire tag division on Raw.

– Can Raw please trade Gallows and Anderson to SmackDown for the Usos. If you think about it, the Usos heel turn could have easily been done on Raw. Just replace American Alpha with Enzo and Cass.

– Gallows and Anderson would be such a better fit on SmackDown. #TheClub4Life

– Same goes for the women’s division. Give me SmackDown’s six over the six women on Raw. Which seems ridiculous considering Bayley-Sasha-Charlotte are all on Raw, but not so ridiculous when you consider how (profanity deleted) terrible the writing has been on WWE’s flagship show.

– Cage matches are supposed to keep interference out, but I wish Rusev and Rollins would have interrupted the main event on Monday, but hey, wins and losses don’t matter, so why should I care that the Universal champion lost?

– Stephanie’s performance in the backstage segment with Rollins was porn star level bad.

– Remind me again why Apollo Crews was brought up from NXT.

– Orton vs. Rowan literally put me to sleep.

– So the WWE is considering a “shooters” style stable for SmackDown. Ziggler, Swagger and Shelton Benjamin would be in the group. I’ll believe it when I see it.

– I hope The Miz holds onto the IC title for the rest of the year, guy is on a roll right now.

– Will Stephanie turn on Foley before Owens turns on Jericho?

– WHAT DID RIKISHI TELL DAVID OTUNGA?

– THAT HE’S AWFUL ON COMMENTARY?

Follow me on Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.