WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: The Pros and Cons of Raw and SmackDown

Leave a comment

With the first presidential debate and Monday Night Football to contend with, Raw had quite a bit of competition to contend with. Even though WWE’s “flagship show” was coming off of its first brand specific Pay-Per- View since the draft (a PPV usually gives Raw a bit of a boost), this episode felt, well like a mediocre episode of Raw.

There was some good action from the cruiserweights, a great promo by Mick Foley (and a true SMH promo from Stephanie) and just the right amount of Chris Jericho to make the final two segments entertaining.

Please don’t put me on the list of Jericho.

SmackDown on the other hand was a show that I was actually looking forward to. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose actually felt integral to the build of the No Mercy main event triple threat match between the two and John Cena. Plus, two hours are just so much easier to digest.

Did SmackDown deliver? Not really. The main event wasn’t as good as I expected it to be and the Randy Orton-Bray Wyatt stuff was just odd to say the least. Having said that, the show moved quickly considering there were only three matches on the card.

OK, the review aspect of this week’s recap is done, I can now move on to the main topic of this column. Now that both Raw and SmackDown have held their first brand specific PPV since the WWE draft, I think it’s a good time to weigh the pros and cons of each show.

giphy

If you’re a fan of Raw, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say about the red brand because it’s been mediocre af since SummerSlam.

Raw pro: Quality of in-ring work. We all know the Raw roster is stacked to the gills, but Clash of Champions really showed just how many solid hands are working on Monday nights.

Every match on the PPV featured compelling wrestling, even if most of them ended with questionable finishes. The in-ring quality of the show never dipped. Maybe that’s why Nia Jax’s match was scheduled for the pre-show.

Raw pro: The cruiserweights. Even though the crowd in Cincinnati felt the need to take control of the T.J. Perkins vs. Tony Nese match by chanting for a guy that’s never going to appear on WWE television again and a legend that died in 2011, the cruiserweights are an incredible asset for Raw.

The action isn’t quite the same as it was during the CWC, but we shouldn’t have expected it to be. This is going to be a WWE version of the CWC (as weird as that is to say, it’s the truth. We’re not in Full Sail anymore).

Still, most of the guys are going to get over with the general audience due to their athleticism and the stiff shots they’re using. Every big kick from Cedric Alexander or Rich Swann gets a reaction. Just wait until Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa get called up.

Quick rant: Can we please see the cruiserweights get a segment in the first hour of the show when the crowd still has at least 85% of their energy? Putting out two guys to wrestle a match with no build in the third hour of a long show is going to equal death.

SmackDown pro: The length. Two hours is the perfect length.

Raw con: The length. Three hours is not the perfect length.

SmackDown pro: Old faces feel fresh. I spilled almost 1,000 words on the importance of keeping John Cena strong last week, but I will say that he feels like he has a new coat of paint on since the draft due to those losses. Crowds aren’t booing him like they used to.

The Miz’s renaissance has been a joy to watch. He’s firing at all cylinders, especially in the ring. Ever since his spirited exchange with Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack, Miz has stepped his game up inside the ropes. His promo work has been top notch.

While some may disagree here, I like the direction of the Dolph Ziggler character. The passion he showed on Tuesday night during his promo wouldn’t have felt the same if he was following the 50/50 booking plan. It really feels like the character is at a crossroads, which is exciting.

Raw con: The roster has zero depth. This is the tag division on Raw: The New Day, Gallows and Anderson, The Shining Stars, Enzo and Cass, and now Cesaro and Sheamus. You’re telling me Sami Zayn and Neville can’t be added to the mix here?

This is the women’s division: Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Dana Brooke, Nia Jax, and Alicia Fox.

SmackDown con: The roster has zero depth. This past Tuesday, The Ascension won their first match since December of 2014.

Viktor and Konnor celebrated like it was 1999.

Raw pro: Squash matches! Who doesn’t love a good Braun Strowman scream?

Raw con: A Squash match…When Bo Dallas is involved.

SmackDown pro: The titles feel important. The central issues on SmackDown don’t revolve around the GMs and their “talent.” Becoming champion, or holding onto a title is the motivating factor for almost everyone on the roster.

Yes, Daniel Bryan and The Miz have had their on-screen issues, but that story eventually led us to a title vs. career match at No Mercy between Miz and Ziggler.

Becky Lynch deserves credit for making the ultra-thin women’s division feel like they’re fighting for a big prize. Heath Slater and Rhyno also don’t have a lot of guys to work with in the tag division, but they’re the most over tag team in the entire division. When they drop the titles, it’s going to feel like a big deal.

Styles has made the WWE World title feel like the focal point of the show, which is exactly what a professional wrestling show should focus on.

For example, when Styles was looking for a tag partner to face Ambrose and Cena two weeks ago, Baron Corbin declined AJ’s offer, but made it a point to say that he’ll be coming for his championship. Little touches like that make the title important.

Raw con: The Universal title is just a prop for Stephanie and Foley to play with, while the other titles are just there. Kevin Owens is the WWE Universal champion, but he’s feuding with Seth Rollins about HHH, not the title.

Foley makes a best out of seven series between Sheamus and Cesaro that ends in a tie (which was supposed to be a mathematical impossibility!), so his solution is to form a tag team between the two and give them a future shot at the tag titles.

giphy-1

Reminder: Demolition’s tag team title record is 478 days. Monday night’s show marked the 400th day of the New Day’s title reign, so yeah, they’re not dropping the straps anytime soon.

Charlotte feels like the most well booked champion on Raw, but she’s probably going to lose the title to Sasha at Hell in a Cell because it’s in Banks’ hometown of Boston.

(That match really should be in the cell. It’s time to give the women a chance to work inside the “demonic” structure.)

Hopefully Roman Reigns can give the U.S. title some of the steam back that it had when Cena held it last year. This feud with Rusev is running out of gas very quickly.

The cruiserweight title is still too new to get worked up about, but as I said above, it would be really beneficial to have a T.J. Perkins match open an episode of Raw.

SmackDown pro: McMahon appearances are kept to a minimum. Shane O’ Mac feels like an afterthought, which is a good thing. He only appears when he has to and doesn’t dominate the screen when he’s sharing it with talent. Let’s revisit this paragraph when his feud with Brock Lesnar heats back up.

Raw con: McMahon appearances dominate the show. Dude…Stephanie did it again. She just had to be scripted in a way that emasculated Foley to a point where he seemed worthless. This was designed to build sympathy for Foley and give Stephanie heat for treating him like poop, but instead he came off like a (expletive deleted) moron, while she engulfed the TV with turn-the-channel heat.

giphy-2

SmackDown con: Trying to get too cute with storytelling. On paper, I’m sure the Orton-Wyatt segments from this past Tuesday looked great, but the final product was just too wacky to take seriously.

Orton is a veteran, which means in storyline he should have just stayed in the ring until Wyatt showed his face. Instead we got segments like this all night:

American Alpha is another example. The Usos “took out” Chad Gable by injuring his knee, which knocked AA out of the tag team title tournament and put Gable “on the shelf” for weeks. In the Usos next two encounters with AA, Gable’s leg was once again attacked and they ended up losing both of the contests.

Now, wins and losses aren’t supposed to matter, but these losses are killing Alpha’s momentum. Why not save AA’s return until after the tag title match at No Mercy when they can beat down the Usos?

Was Raw better than SmackDown this week?

(Hell nah GIF)

Time to “Go Home”

– Line of the week: “Go redesign, rebuild, and reclaim your couch,” Kevin Owens to Seth Rollins.

– I freaked out when I saw T.J. Perkins’ entrance for the first time at Clash of the Champions. The music is awesome and the graphics on the stage are unique (even though a heath bar should appear instead of the words “Max Health,” The Roommate though that was his name).

– Sometimes you don’t need words to be funny:

– Mick Foley is on my TV way too much, he’s been doing a fine job (which is impressive considering the amount of material he has to remember on Mondays), but he doesn’t need to be involved in every backstage segment.

– Why was Sheamus wearing a WrestleMania 32 hoodie on Monday?

– Why was he using the thumb holes?

– Dean Ambrose and Dana Brooke both need some practice on banging their head off of the top turnbuckle.

– Who has a better move set: Kevin Owens or AJ Styles?

– One SmackDown pro that I failed to mention above is “Talking Smack.” It’s a great avenue for guys or gals to elevate their characters in a free flowing environment. Just look at the boost The Miz got from being on there. Cena’s promo on this week’s episode was simply fantastic.

– Watching Luke Gallows “run” cracks me up on a weekly basis.

– Can we go back in time when the Curt Hawkins promos were just text?

– Did the Usos hit up H&M before their match on SmackDown?

– If WWE buys the TNA tape library, I can’t wait to binge watch on X-Division matches from 2003-07.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque’s quest to change WWE as we know it

WWE
Leave a comment

Paul Levesque, aka “Triple H”, has evolved from one of the top performers of his generation, to a prominent role behind the scenes as the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative for WWE. I had the chance to chat with “HHH” about what he specifically looks for when he’s recruiting new talent, why this past year has been so challenging for NXT and how he presents new talent to Vince McMahon. 

(Don’t miss NXT Takeover: Orlando on Saturday, April 1 at 8 p.m. ET Live on WWE Network)

Me: You’ve had an incredible in-ring career; a 14-time world champion. As I look up and down the WrestleMania 33 card I see so many NXT alums and I wonder, what did you learn from your time as a performer that has helped you as an evaluator of talent?

Paul “HHH” Levesque: “Oh man … everything that I’ve learned since I’ve walked through the door. The funny thing for me is that I’ve been in a unique position during my career. I was fascinated early with the behind the scenes and production aspects of the business.

So, shortly after I came to WWE I was in creative conversations with Vince that led to me to being offered to come to production meetings, which I didn’t have to go to. I would get up early on TV days and go to these production meetings that I didn’t need to be a part of. People thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t trying to do anything more than learn. I wanted to learn what they were looking for.

The vision of what the talent thinks they want and what the office thinks they want are sometimes two different things.

I have the unique perspective of having both sides and that allows me to I think look at talent a different way, but to also to be able to say here’s what you need to be able to do. Here’s the way you need to be able to work at it. Here’s the way you need to perceive cameras and how cameras see you. How you put your character out there and how you put your brand out there.

At the end of the day for us, characters are all about charisma. So that’s the thing you’re looking for the most. I see a lot of unbelievable athletes come through the Performance Center; sometimes they have charisma, sometimes they don’t.

I’ve hired a lot [of people] that have charisma, but aren’t necessarily the greatest athletes we saw that week because you just can’t take your eyes off of them.

For example, there’s a guy that I hired in China that everybody on the team who was over there didn’t put this kid on the list and when we went through the list at the end of the day of who we’re going to offer an opportunity to come and train with the WWE I was like, ‘Where’s this kid?’ and everyone was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’

I was like, ‘No, where is he?’ He was heavy and a Mongolian wrestler, so he’s athletic but he’s heavier and in some ways he’s not anything we would look for, but he worked his butt off. He was always last, but he never quit man. He just went. Some guys would pull up with an injury and they’d go sit out. You could clearly tell that they were just gasping for air and needed to sit for a second. They’d be back ten minutes later.

He gutted through everything and you couldn’t take your eyes off of this guy. He did stuff that was funny, even though he didn’t mean for it to be that way. He was always the center of attention, even when he wasn’t doing anything!

Everyone was against him and I said ‘Is there anybody in this room who didn’t watch this guy the entire day? I’ve heard everyone talk about this guy. Why? He’s the sleeper money in this group.’

So we brought him [to the Performance Center] and there’s not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t send me a clip or a photo of him doing something where there’s 10 or 15 people around him watching. He’s just one of those naturally charismatic people that you can’t put your finger on why.

I look for that more than I look for anything else.

Is he ever going to do a moonsault? Probably not. Is he ever going to be a Shawn Michaels in the ring? I guarantee you he won’t. But, if he loves it, if he works hard and keeps himself straight, he’s probably going to make it and he’s probably going to be good.

That’s the biggest thing to me, the charisma factor.”

You kind of answered my next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. When you’re scouting someone, what do you specifically look for?

“Look, I mean there are other factors as well. I don’t want to make it sound like ‘Oh, look at this guy he has a big personality and forget all of the rest of it.’ Obviously athleticism, the willingness to do this, the desire to work hard, but then there’s leadership qualities that we really look for.

When guys go to a camp, sometimes people watch them and go, ‘You’re just making these people throw-up in garbage can because you’re working them so hard.’ I want to push them to where they’re really outside of their comfort range and then see what they do with it.

It’s really easy to be nice and be the perfect professional when you feel great, but when you’re on the verge of puking in barrel and you’re exhausted and there’s someone barking at you to do more and the guy next to you just fell on you because he’s at the same place you are, do you help pick him up or do you curse at him and go about your own business?

There are differences in how people react to things. I’m looking for leaders. I’m looking for someone that can be a professional. I’m looking for the consummate athlete on all aspects.

It’s not just one thing, but if you ask me the one thing I look for, charisma is king.”

Going back for a second to the guy that you were talking about in China; it seemed as though there was and still is a certain look that a talent needs in order to reach a certain level of success in WWE. Now, obviously there have been exceptions to the rule, but it seems like over the past few years you’ve bucked that trend. How did that transition happen?

“So, I’m a big believer in talent is talent. It comes in all shapes, sizes, looks, feels, everything. I think sometimes there’s been a bad rap of like take this as the thing that’s most successful, so that’s what we’re going to give.

I think that’s happen here in the past. People can say whatever about WWE and look, is there a particular style of athlete [we look for]? Sure, it’s like that in anything.

If you’re shown steak all of the time, it’s no surprise that you’re going to eat steak. So when everybody coming to you with the same look and feel, a certain pattern begins to develop because that’s what being put in front of you and that’s what you have to select from.

My selection process is different. Yes, I understand what Vince likes and what Vince sees in an ideal archetype performer, but I also know him well enough to know that he likes a lot of different archetypes, so I’m not going to give him one; I’m going to give him a little bit of everything.

He’s going to see a Bray Wyatt and go (Vince voice) ‘That’s great!’ He’s going to see a Braun Strowman and go ‘Ah yeah, that’s my wheelhouse right there. I love that.’ He’s going to see Finn Balor and hear the girls going nuts and then see the paint and go ‘Geez look at that, I love that!’ That’s something that I don’t think would have been put in front of him eight years ago.

I sometimes wonder if Bray Wyatt would have been put in front of him 10 years ago. I don’t know that he would of. That doesn’t mean that Vince wouldn’t have loved him back then.

I want there to be so much diversity on every level. I want it to be international diversity. I want there to be something for everybody within WWE so you can gravitate towards characters that you can relate to. That’s still a work in progress.

It’s a work in progress when you look at the Performance Center and you look at the talent there and see that 40 percent of the talent is international now, there’s 17 countries represented. A quarter of the talent there is women. The diversity level is at an all-time high and that’s on purpose. We’ve done that for desired effect.

Is it showing right now on the main roster? Nah, not necessarily because it’s going to take a little bit of time to percolate up, but it’s there.

I want that diversity. When you talk about the women, I want there to be a Sasha Banks; the smaller, run her mouth, cocky, arrogant, little athlete. I want there to be a bigger, dominant athlete like a Charlotte. I want there to be a Nia Jax that brings a whole different danger component. I want there to be a Bayley that is this naïve, fan-friendly, little girl centric character that everybody loves.

Then you still want there to be the Bellas, who are like the Kardashians of the women’s division. You want that variety.

It’s the same with the guys. I want there to be a Cena, I want there to be a Randy Orton. But I also want there to be a Bray Wyatt. I want there to be a Braun Strowman. I want there to be a Finn Balor. I want there to be a Samoa Joe or a Kevin Owens. Big Cass and then a little guy like Enzo that can run his mouth nonstop.

I want that diversity.”

As I looked at the WrestleMania card and noticed all of the former NXT stars, I thought about how much the roster has changed over the last year. There have been so many guys and girls that have gotten the call-up to the main roster, how challenging has it been to deal with such a major transition to NXT?

“So that’s been the most challenging thing for me in the last year. When we had the draft, 16 talents got called up. I started over with the women’s division. Thank God I kept Asuka because she’s been the anchor. My male division was pretty much stripped down. I lost a lot of it.

Behind the scenes, the same thing happened. My executive producer that works with me on the show got called up. I got a new one; he made it two weeks before he got called up.

I lost my edit team that helped me get the feel and the look of the brand because they got called up. I was thrilled for them. They were so good that the office said, ‘Look we’re expanding, we’re going to do 205, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. We need these people.’

I’m very hands on with the writing of NXT and the team that was writing NXT with me got called up. When we split the brands, we needed a different writing team and they got called up.

So I started over with this whole new team and they needed to get their feet on the ground. It was really a brand new start over point for us. That’s challenging, but that’s also to me part of the strength of NXT. It’ll change, but it’ll be fresh and it’ll be different than it was a year ago. I’m not saying it’s always going to be better, but it’ll be different.

I just got a whole new behind the scenes team and it’s taken me since SummerSlam to get them, but I just got them and I’m really excited about it. I feel like for the first time since the draft, NXT is back in business and we’re going to rock and roll.

I’m looking forward to NXT constantly keeping us on our toes and the demand for more and more on the main roster, the demand for more and more shows, whether that is localized content in the UK, or the cruiserweight division or the women’s tournament that we’ll have coming up sometime this year.

All of those things are exciting opportunities and make NXT an exciting opportunity.”

Can you describe what it feels like to see a talent that has had success in NXT, but struggles to find their footing on the main roster?

“It’s hard for me. It’s hard for them. It’s a difficult situation. I say this to talent all of the time, careers are marathons, they are not sprints.

Even though we say it’s a third brand, it really is and you might never make it out of NXT and you’ll do really well in your career, but if you do get the chance to go to Raw or SmackDown, it’s like starting over. You’re starting over with new management and new everything. The job is the same, but you’re starting over and you have to re-earn your stripes. It’s a slightly different product.

It used to be that way in the territory days. You might be over in one territory and take the gamble to go to another territory and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

It can be frustrating for them. They ask a lot of questions and we try to give them as much guidance as we can.

The other thing though that everybody has to remember is that in today’s world if you’re not “The Guy or The Girl” at the very top, the number one draw, you can still be a talent on Raw or SmackDown and working all of the time and be doing very, very well for yourself.

Do you always want more? Yes. Will that come over time? Maybe.

You reinvent yourself, you work hard. You continue to do the things you’re doing.

Back to the career being a marathon and not a sprint; when you’re a few years in, being on Raw or SmackDown and you’ve only been in the business for four years or whatever, it’s not a bad place to be.

If two years down the line you get that ride up to a much higher level, it’s a pretty good run.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE’s Bayley: Facing Stephanie McMahon would be a ‘dream’ match

WWE
Leave a comment

Even though Bayley made her main roster debut back in late-August, she’s quickly become one of the biggest fan-favorites on the main roster. Before she defends her Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania, Sunday, April 2 at 7pm ET live on WWE Network, I had the chance to chat with Ms. Hug Life about her extra time in NXT, if she asked for any advice from The Rock and her dream opponent. 

Me: While three of the “Four Horsewomen” were called up to the main roster, you stayed down in NXT. Do you think you needed the extra time in developmental?

Bayley: “Yeah, now looking back I definitely did. At the time obviously I was like what about me? I’m ready, let’s go! I wanted to do everything that they did. Now looking back, I think that has been the most important year of my career. I look back and think I wasn’t ready. I was so dependent on them throughout my years in NXT. If something went wrong, I always had them, but the year without them was all on me.

The whole division relied on me, everybody came to me for advice. If something went wrong, it was my fault. I really needed that leadership to build confidence in myself. In the future if I’m the leader for the locker room in WWE, I know that I can handle it. I was able to work with girls that have never been in a wrestling ring with before, girls who were just getting started, and girls who have been doing it forever like Asuka.

It was the most important year and maybe one of the most fun years I’ve had.”

You’ve been on the road with the main roster for seven months now; do you find yourself still adjusting to what life is like on the main roster?

“A little bit … the actual backstage and being in WWE was easy because in NXT the coaches and Triple H had prepared us for what to expect. That’s what the Performance Center is for, from doing promo class, to being in the ring for hours, to watching your matches back.

It’s the traveling and not being able to see my dog every day when I get home (laughs) that’s a little bit harder to deal with. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, but it’s all worth it though.

The brands are split right now; I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do two TV [tapings] every week.”

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about winning the Raw Women’s Championship?

“Oh man … just unbelievable. I just didn’t expect all of that to happen so fast.”

Obviously you’re a lifelong fan and I’m sure you envisioned that moment happening, so what went through your mind as you stood there with the title, in the ring, in front of thousands of people?

“I wish my family was there. That was the first thing that I thought about. My mom always says, you have a title match, should I be there? She was at every single NXT title match because she never knew if that was going to be the night. I just knew that she was going to be so mad that she wasn’t there.I knew they were watching.

I was in the Cow Palace when Eddie Guerrero won his first [world] title. I felt like I knew him and was so happy for him. I remember him jumping into the crowd and the crowd being so happy and then I did that and I just had that vision in my mind. It was weird! The crowd just made it more special considering my family wasn’t there. It was just amazing.

Did The Rock give you any advice when you met him?

“He told me that he watches and said you’re the champion so you must be doing something right. I was like, yeah I guess so. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. He said that he really enjoys watching. I hope he wasn’t just saying that to be nice though.”

Recently you’ve been paired on television with Stephanie McMahon quite a bit and she plays a character that rarely gets one-upped by a babyface. Have you thought about Bayley-Steph in the same way that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had Vince McMahon?

“I’ve thought about that so many times. Even when I was a kid (laughs). When she was having matches with Lita, I was like I want to have matches with Stephanie one day. That’s one of my dream matches to be honest.

If it could continue on, like you said with Austin and Vince, that would be so much fun, but I’m sure it’s a little much to ask for right now.”

Do you find yourself putting extra pressure on your shoulders because you’re the champ going into WrestleMania?

“Yeah totally. I’m probably doing way too much. Leading up to it I’m just stressing myself out. Do I need to get into the gym three times a day and try to still make everyone happy by doing all of these things that I need to do? I don’t even really know how to prepare for Mania, so I’m just doing what I think I need to do and I might be doing too much.

I think once I get to Orlando and I can digest what’s actually happening and appreciate it and know like holy crap dude, you’re here, then I’ll be able to calm down a bit. Right now, I have to be over-prepared.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis