WWE

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

WWE: Let’s analyze that odd LaVar Ball segment from Raw

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We finally got to see what LaVar Ball’s gigantic personality would look and sound like in a professional wrestling ring and it was … something. The phrase train wreck comes to mind, but I’m not sure that accurately describes what took place at the Staples Center.

You see, professional wrestling isn’t easy. Whether it’s with worked punches or words, you have to be able to bounce off of the other person you’re in the ring with and that’s something Ball proved he could not do despite being in the ring with one of WWE’s best talkers.

Here’s the full segment:

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m going to do my best.

Let’s start with LaVar’s entrance. He’s being accompanied by his youngest son LaMelo, who will play a much bigger role later on, but for now, let’s just focus on how LaVar “runs” to the ring.

LaVar is immediately booed by a majority of the crowd, but as soon as he mentions the Lakers and Lonzo Ball, the crowd roars with approval.

Lonzo gets his own entrance, as he should, but for some reason he’s rocking a sock-sandle combo that doesn’t translate well to WWE programming.

The Miz is a true pro and proved it after he gave Lonzo the opportunity to speak to the Staples Center crowd for the first time. Ball’s eldest son is a very quiet person, so he was understandably brief, but Miz wasn’t going to let this moment pass. He hyped up Lonzo and the crowd did respond positively.

After the Miz declared that he and LaVar should be business partners (I want a triple Bs and M shirt), the segment began to crumble. When LaVar told Miz that he wasn’t on the same level as himself, the Staples Center immediately began to cheer The Miz as a babyface who fired up and asked LaVar and Lonzo how many championships they’ve won.

After Lonzo said three, Miz delivered the line of the segment:

“Did UCLA win this year?”

Here are LaVar’s next set of lines:

“Now we know what The Miz stands for! Misinterpreted Zone” (Which doesn’t make sense it’s only two words.)

“Or it stands for A Million Zippers!” (That’s even worse!)

When Miz refers to LaVar’s comments about how he would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, the crowd has had enough of Ball. He got booed louder than Roman Reigns, which is an achievement.

Ball’s retort: “Like I said before, there’s only two dudes better than me and I’m both of them!”

Miz then refers to himself as the Michael Jordan of WWE (……) and then LaVar tells LaMelo to “handle his lightweight.”

Miz responds with another great line: “Oh what you’re going to unleash all of the balls on me?”

When Miz tells LaVar he wants him to backup his mouth, Ball responds with his signature catchphrase “stay in yo lane,” which is just mind-numbing if you know where the phrase originated.

(Yes LaMelo wore a “Stay in yo lane” shirt that LaVar’s brand is selling.)

When the Miz gets “serious” and says “or what LaVar,” Ball responds “or the hunt is on and you’re the prey.” But instead of delivering it in a serious tone, Ball has a huge grin on his face and is about to start cracking up.

I can’t even describe what happened next:

Then Dean Ambrose’s music hits and then the segment somehow managed to get even weirder.

As Ambrose walked out onto the stage, LaMelo suddenly realized he had a live microphone with the opportunity to say whatever he wanted and this happened (NSFW, NSFW):

I would pay 10 dollars to see what Vince McMahon’s reaction was backstage. If you know anything about how strict Vince is with segments, you know that he had to be absolutely fuming and what happened next probably made him break something.

After Ambrose stops smiling because he heard what LaMelo said and begins his promo, Ball CUTS HIM OFF. But what LaVar didn’t realize was, he actually stopped Ambrose right as he was about to talk up Big Baller Brand for giving him a free shirt.

However, because Ambrose does this for a living he was able to get through his promo and the segment quickly ended after that.

We’ve seen LaVar Ball cut promo after promo leading up to and during the 2017 NBA Draft, but when he was placed in world of pro wrestling, we found out that he was out of his league.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE: One-on-One with Daniel Bryan

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Before Daniel Bryan makes his return to SmackDown Live this Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA, I had the chance to chat with him about #DadLife, why WWE needs to change how they’re presenting their stars, the independent guys who have the best chance of making it and the one guy he’d love to wrestle in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Hey Daniel, so everyone who I told about this interview wanted me to wish you a happy Father’s Day …

“Oh, well thank you!”

… So let’s start there. Is there one word that you can use to describe how yesterday felt?

“Gosh … I suppose just blessed? I feel like I live a very blessed life right now.”

Has there been anything in the month since your daughter has been born that has caught you off guard, or have you been pretty much prepared for everything that’s come?

“I mean I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for parenthood when your first child comes. I mean, maybe some people can. I had never changed a diaper before our baby was born [laughs]. I’m really learning on the job you know?

I thought I was the world’s most patient man. Brie sometimes gets frustrated with my patience [laughs], but what I’ve realized through having a child is, man I really need to work on my patience. I’d be changing a diaper and I have a real aversion to poop and pee, so I’m slow in doing just about everything. I take it off, I clean her and I’m like OK I’m doing really good. Then she pees and I’m like oh no, now I have to clean her again. Then she starts pooping again and now I have poop all over me. So now I start to get frustrated [laughs].

You have to constantly work on yourself and understand the things that you need to get better at.”

And this is the stage where all they do is poop or pee, just wait until she starts moving around.

“[Laughs] It was really hard for me because every time I would hold her or interact with her, in the first few weeks especially, she was crying. She was either sleeping, which was awesome because I would be holding her and she looked so peaceful and happy, but when she was awake, she looks at me and the only thing she wants from me is to change her diaper, but when I’m changing her diaper, she’s very unhappy. When I’m changing her clothes, she’s very unhappy and the only time she stops being unhappy is when I hand her to Brie and Brie starts feeding her [laughs]. When do I get to do the stuff that makes her happy!?”

Switching gears a bit, now that you’ve been in the role of SmackDown GM for almost a year, how would you assess your performance on-screen?

“Um … I don’t know. I would say a solid B-plus [laughs]. I always feel like there’s things that I can do better. I always strive to be the best that I can in any given role that I’m given. I always think that I can do better on things like Talking Smack and when I’m doing interviews and that sort of thing. How do we best make our fans excited for SmackDown Live? What is the best things that we can do to help the fans relate to the superstars?

We’ve had our hits and our misses, but I’d like to think over the last year that we’ve had more hits than misses.”

It seems like it didn’t take you long to get comfortable in the role. Was it easy to pick it up and run with it?

“Yeah … it’s just a natural extension of wrestling in the WWE. If you would have had me do this when I started with WWE seven years ago, I would have been horrible at it. But during my time with WWE I got more and more talking experience and now all I do is talk, so I’ve been able to get more comfortable with it.”

Scale of 1-10, how much fun is it to let loose on Talking Smack?

“I don’t really view it in a scale of 1-10. Sometimes when I’m talking about things that I know I shouldn’t be talking about [laughs] it raises those parts in your brain that excites you and makes you happy. For example, when I refer to James Ellsworth as “The Big Hog” I don’t think anyone really appreciates that other than me and some of the viewers. It makes me chuckle.

I consider a 10 as the happiest or the most fun that I have. A 10 would be doing something really fun with my wife and daughter. Just yesterday we went to a place to eat and Birdie was cooing and smiling and Brie and I were having a great time. That’s just the best. Talking Smack on its best day can get to like a six or a seven. Once you have this idea of where your true happiness lies, it changes your perspective.”

So as I got ready for this year’s Money in the Bank I went back and watched some of the older shows and the level of talent that is on the entire roster now in comparison to five to seven years ago is pretty astounding, but I feel like the product as a whole in its current state is very stale. What tweaks do you think need to be made in order to give the WWE a spark of excitement?

“I think a change of presentation is absolutely necessary. I think the way that we present our superstars probably needs to change. Years ago, [WWE] went through with this idea of having as much live stuff as possible on the shows, but I think when you watch say UFC for example, some of the things that are the most endearing, that make you care the most about the fighters are these backstage vignettes that show their real personality. You’ll see great fights that people will cheer maybe because they’re great fights, but the fights that have the most impact are the ones with fighters who people actually care about.

I think one of the things that really endeared me to people was that people got to view more aspects of my personality than most because of the different things that I did within WWE. Seeing performers frustrated and being able to show that on TV and being able to show their experiences, their reactions to what’s happening to them on the show and doing backstage vignettes. There was a great one on NXT about Roderick Strong recently about being a new dad and all of that kind of stuff.

Since I’ve been gone, they’ve been doing some really fun stuff with the Fashion Police. Not that there needs to be more of that exact kind of stuff, but it helps people get to know their personalities.

I think one of our failings on SmackDown Live was American Alpha. They’re great and on NXT they did all of these fun little interview segments with the two of them that got to show the people behind American Alpha. (They saw) who Chad Gable is, who Jason Jordan is. I’d like to do more of that kind of stuff.

In combat sports, personalities are what draw. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was one of the worst boxing matches I’ve ever seen, but millions of people watched it because of the personalities involved.

I think changing that dynamic and highlighting the personalities is something we really need to do. Now, I don’t know how we do it. I think if anybody has a magic answer of what the best way is to present personalities in this modern day of television, they’d make millions of dollars, so I may not have the answer.”

Time for the speed round

Best WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“Oh gosh that’s hard … so I was watching the NXT Takeover from Chicago and I really loved the Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne match. That’s my style of wrestling. Pete Dunne working over the wrists and manipulating finger joints is kind of attention to detail I really enjoy.

It’s hard because we get so many matches all of the time that are awesome. I really liked the AJ Styles-John Cena match from the Royal Rumble. Watching AJ Styles on a weekly basis is a constant pleasure.”

Best non-WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“There was a Minoru Suzuki-Kazuchika Okada match from New Japan (Pro Wrestling) that was my style of wrestling. Forty minutes, lots of submission stuff, it was really cool. I think a lot of modern fans in the United States would have a hard time with it, especially if you’re used to WWE style, but I really enjoyed it.

Even though the matches are totally different I would put it right there in terms of match quality with Will Ospreay-KUSHIDA match from the Best of the Super Juniors final.

“So that was really good. I really enjoy KUSHIDA’s work. He’s one of the guys that I would love to have a chance to wrestle because he does so many awesome technical things.”

Who is the one “indie” guy who has the best chance of becoming a star in WWE?

“It’s hard to define any of these guys as ‘indie’ guys anymore because they all have contracts [laughs].

I have really enjoyed watching Matt Riddle. I think he has a ton of personality and a ton of charisma and he’s got that look that WWE really likes and the has history in UFC. I think if he were to get an opportunity in WWE, he would do really well.

I also think Kenny Omega if he were given an opportunity would absolutely kill it.”

Coolest move you’ve ever seen?

“So I define cool as different than most people [laughs]. My favorite thing in wrestling that I’ve tried to do a million times and can’t do it, is when Jerry Lawler punches somebody in the face. It’s the best! He does it better than just about anybody. He punches dudes right in the nose and I don’t know how he does it without breaking them. It’s magic!

How you view wrestling evolves as you become a bigger fan. When I was in high school, I saw Juventud Guerrera do a 450 splash and I was like that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen! And then now it’s like watching Jerry Lawler punching someone in the face is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Is there one bump* you wish you could take off of your bump card? 

“There’s not a specific one. I feel like there wasn’t one big bump that caused any of my major problems. My neck problems came from years of wrestling a very hard style and my concussion stuff came from, hey I have a lot of concussions [laughs].

I think the one … actually I will say one. OK, in 2000 I did this ladder match and at this point I’d been wrestling for about six months. There was a 12-foot ladder and I jumped off of the top of the ladder that was in the ring and did a flip dive onto a guy that was on the floor, but I didn’t realize that I needed someone to hold the ladder, so the guy tried to catch me, but I just fell shoulder first onto my right shoulder and I’ve had right shoulder problems off and on since then. I also got a concussion in that match as well, so that match might have been the start of shoulder problems, which would then lead to other issues. If I could take that one away I would.

I honestly did a lot of stuff because for my size you have to do different stuff to get recognized. It’s different for someone like Randy Orton. When you’re tall and you’re good looking and your dad is a former WWE superstar, it’s a lot easier to get in the door. When you’re five-foot eight, don’t have really any natural charisma and you look like a normal guy who works out at the gym, you have to do some things to get noticed.”

*A bump is when a wrestler takes a move or does a big … dive, during a match.

Twitter: @ScottDargis