WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: It’s Time for the Women to Make History + No Mercy Preview

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Spoiler alert: For the first time in weeks Raw was actually a better show than SmackDown, which is saying something considering how enjoyable SmackDown has been lately.

As I wrote last week, Raw largely just felt like a bleh show with nothing of importance. It made sense for creative to save their better material for a show that wasn’t going up against the hottest feud in the country right now (Trump vs. Hillary) and that’s exactly what we got on Monday night.

The attention to detail was noticeable. There were video packages used to hype up guys before their match. The cruiserweights were featured in the first hour (!!!) and there was a well planned continuation in the Sheamus-Cesaro storyline.

Most importantly the main event for the women’s title match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte was the most significant match on the show, which yes, is a novel concept for the final match of the show, but this is 2016 WWE we’re talking about here.

And boy did two of the four horsewomen deliver.

It was the first time in ages that the crowd actually responded to the final segment of a three hour show. When there are moves like this taking place, you have no choice but to get up out of your seat:

Was this match better than the Raw match they had back on July 25th when Sasha won the title for the first time? IMO no, but that match was on a stacked card that featured Finn Balor’s main roster debut and his main event match with Roman Reigns. Viewers left the show talking about Balor’s shocking defeat of Reigns. Sasha’s win was sadly an afterthought.

This time around, Sasha’s title win was easily the most outstanding part of the show, which was only emphasized by the build for the match throughout.

For the first time in 12 years, a women’s match closed an episode of Raw. Now it’s time to give Sasha and Charlotte the opportunity to make history by becoming the first women to main event a Pay-Per-View event, inside Hell in a Cell.

With their consistent work, these two have shown that they truly deserve to headline a PPV. While their work has been sloppy at times (Sasha seriously needs to stop doing suicide dives), the work rate between the two is high enough to warrant a 25-30 minute encounter inside the cell.

Imagine the boost the women’s division across both brands will receive if Charlotte and Sasha go out in the main event and kill it. Right now it feels like core of women on Raw (Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley) are on the verge of becoming one of the must-see acts on the show.

Charlotte and Sasha need this main event and they’ve earned the right to have it.

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No Mercy Preview

WWE World Championship Match: AJ Styles (C) vs. Dean Ambrose vs. John Cena

The face-off segment between these three on SmackDown was so damn good. I loved the idea of having Styles and Ambrose cut off Cena’s predictable dialogue, which eventually led to Cena attacking Ambrose.

Styles’ promo to Cena especially stuck out to me. Idk what it is about Styles’ delivery when he’s talking to Cena, perhaps it’s the intensity, but his words always seem so much more powerful. It was also interesting to hear Styles bring up Ric Flair considering their connection in TNA.

(Flair was Styles’ mentor/manager for a period of time. Their run together was highlighted by Styles walking out to the ring in a Flairesque robe with a hood on it.)

Ambrose delivered another one of his rambling promos, which are totally fine with me. The guy has found his voice with this promo style and the crowd is responding to it.

There’s no reason to take the title off of Styles at this point. With Cena leaving for roughly two months to film the second season of “American Grit,” it would make sense for Ambrose to lay him out with a brutal spot during or after the match in order to set up a program between the two when Cena returns.

Intercontinental Championship vs. Career Match: The Miz (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler

Whenever a match has a title vs. career stipulation, it’s usually a giveaway that a title change is going to take place, but it’s not the time to take the title away from the Miz. Outside of the three guys in the main event, Miz has been the most entertaining guy week-to-week on SmackDown.

If Dolph were to lose it opens the door for creative to do a total overhaul with his character, which is desperately needed at this point. This version of Ziggler has run its course. If Ziggler does win the match, I hope it’s by nefarious means that are sparked by desperation.

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Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt

I might be the only person on this island, but I liked the story that was told Tuesday between Orton and Wyatt. Sure it was a bit silly, but it worked with Wyatt’s supernatural character.

Having said that, I can’t wait for this feud to end. It’s done nothing for either guy and it’s time to move Orton up to the main event to face Styles at Survivor Series for the title. Bray does desperately need a win, but man this just isn’t the time to put him over Orton.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match: Heath Slater and Rhyno (C) vs. The Usos

As entertaining as Slater and Rhyno have been, the Usos need the titles to set up a title match down the road against American Alpha. A win for Jimmy and Jay will only help justify their heel turns in storyline because their new attitude “led” them to a championship.

Perhaps Rhyno turns on Slater after the match?

SmackDown Women’s Championship Match: Becky Lynch (C) vs. Alexa Bliss

This is a nice spot for Alexa who has proven that she belongs on the main roster, but it’s way too soon for Becky to drop the title.

I’m expecting a pretty good match between these two considering their time together in NXT. Hopefully Alexa works on what she’s going to taunt Becky with during the heat spots because I’m expecting her to get plenty of time to beat down on the Lass Kicker before Lynch makes her comeback.

Carmella vs. Nikki Bella

Hmm… Carmella has been getting the best of Nikki lately, so you would expect Nikki to come out on top here, but it seems like Nikki is being built to have a bounce back year in 2017 (a la Cena in 2012), so it’s certainly possible that she’ll lose to the Princess of Staten Island again.

Jack Swagger vs. Baron Corbin

Swagger beat Corbin on SmackDown, so Corbin is getting his win back here.

Curt Hawkins vs. ???

Really hoping for a James Ellsworth appearance here.

Was Raw better than SmackDown this week?

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Time to “Go Home”

– In 2016 Chris Jericho has gotten the word it and a list over, is there anything he can’t do?

– Did Tony Nese replace Neville?

– Luke Harper seems like a good pick to face Braun Strowman next week.

– Can Gallows and Anderson go on vacation until the New Day break Demolition’s record?

– I don’t know what was worse this week, David Otunga on commentary or Ashton Kutcher’s promo for his Netflix show “The Ranch.”

– So the term WWE Universe might be getting put away for good? I can get behind that.

– If Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg meet at Survivor Series, I wonder if it’ll be the first match in a set.

– Why did The Ascension come out during the Hype Bros vs. The Vaudevillians?

– It might not be a bad idea to sign the Spirit Squad given the state of SmackDown’s tag division. Kenny looked like he could still go.

– It seems like someone ends up bleeding after a stiff shot on every show. Jericho on Monday, Kane on Tuesday.

– I can’t remember the last time I laughed at a segment as much as I did during the New Day-JeriKO segment. Xavier Woods’ reaction to his burn on Owens was so great.

– The ending to Corbin-Swagger was very strange, but I liked that it was different. Gives Swagger a win and a reason for Corbin to get a rematch. #Logic

– Either Corbin hurt his leg while kicking the steps or he remembered to sell the ankle lock.

– Congrats to Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan!

– Instead of the Titus brand, shouldn’t he have the Titus touch? #MakeitaWin

– I know I’m not the only one who though Sami Zayn was going to lose to Titus on Monday.

– I didn’t mind T.J. Perkins tapping out to Brian Kendrick. It gives the two a reason to have a blow off match at Hell in a Cell.

– I can’t wait to see Austin Aries and Roderick Strong tag together in NXT.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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Before Adam Cole heads to the Smoothie King Center for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on WWE Network, I chatted with him about how much he’s learned during his time in NXT, what makes the NXT crowds special and what it was like to meet Shawn Michaels. 

About a year ago you said that if you made the jump to WWE that you would want to start off in NXT as opposed to going right to the main roster, flash forward to now and you’re an established star in NXT. Is this part of your journey everything you thought it would be?

“Yeah for sure. When I come into a situation, especially like this one in NXT, my goal is to get to perform in front of these fans, to get to wrestle with these guys, who are in my opinion, some of the best wrestlers in the entire world. I felt like I could fit really well in this environment and I think I have. To get the chance to do what I’ve done here so far has been a total blast and so much fun.

But at the same time it’s exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’ve gotten to do things in NXT, and even WWE, that I didn’t imagine I would get the chance to do. Very happy with the journey so far.”

In what ways have you grown as a performer since coming to WWE?

“There’s just such a better understanding of who I am actually as a performer. You fall kind of into … I don’t want to say a routine because you’re always trying to improve and get better, but when you wrestle for certain organizations time-and-time again, you kind of fall into this routine of performing a certain way and having matches a certain way. Also, after a while you’ve wrestled everyone over-and-over again.

Getting to come here and getting to wrestle a bunch of new talent, some guys I’ve met before and some guys that I’ve never met before. It puts you in a situation where you learn to adapt and change, whether it be character wise, things that you do in the ring. It just gives you new challenges.

I’m teaming a lot more with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, so that throws me into a different situation as far as learning to wrestle as part of a team as opposed to working solo most of the time.

Also the fans, I’ve noticed in each and every promotion, even though there are a lot of similarities in many different ways, NXT is a totally different animal.

Overall, adapting has been the biggest growing point for me.”

Interesting, in what ways are the NXT crowds different from the other promotions you’ve worked for.

“The NXT fans to me are in love and so infatuated with the characters. So to me when you see a guy like Velveteen Dream or No Way Jose and the way that they’re so invested in them as performers, not even necessarily with what they’re doing between the ropes, but in their entrances.

I feel the connection with the audience is just so much greater than anything I’ve felt before. It’s pretty incredible, especially when you’re at TakeOver events.”

When I watch the backstage segments with you, Kyle, and Bobby, they come off like old school nWo style promos. Obviously the music playing in the background, which sounds like a new age nWo theme, and the camera angles help, but it’s the natural chemistry you guys have on camera because it seems like you’re just having fun and being yourselves on camera. I would imagine it has to be awesome to just bounce off of each other while filming those.

“Oh man yeah, it’s so much fun. I think that’s exactly why it comes off that way. Me, Bobby, and Kyle are as close as it gets. That’s not just a performance. I’ve known Kyle O’Reilly since 2009 and I was in his wedding. I’ve known Bobby Fish for years and years, we used to travel together all of the time. We talk every single day.

So when we’re there and we’re talking in front of the camera, that’s just us having a good time and I think that’s a big reason why the group works so well. It’s very natural because it’s very real. So I think in turn how we project ourselves comes off as fun because we are genuinely having a great time together.”

Speaking of coming off natural, you come off so natural on the microphone. I talked with Ronda [Rousey] this week about where she’s at in terms of speed while talking in front of the live audience and then I asked Roman [Reigns] about it and he talked about how he was able to process the idea of taking his time to make sure he stopped rushing through his material.

Is the speaking part of the business something that you were able to gravitate towards and get comfortable with quickly?

“I think so. There is a constant growth process. I think that’s why I love this job so much. There’s no such thing as completely perfecting every area of it, you’re always trying to get better at it.

For me, I picked up the promo aspect of pro wrestling much faster than the actual wrestling part of it. I was always fairly athletic and I could do things even from the beginning of my career, when I was 18 and 19 years old. I was always the guy who could always string words together and found what I was saying to be actually believable however I was trying to come across, whether that be somewhat likeable or somewhat of a jerk.

I don’t know why that is, but I remember as a kid just being so fascinated by guys who were good talkers. Even in movies. I used to love the way James Bond villains would act and how cool they came across and how awful they seemed, but what they were saying was so believable.

I’ve always been fascinated by guys, especially bad guys, who were able to talk a certain way, tell stories with their words and just paint this beautiful picture for that you just completely rode along with. I’ve focused a fair amount of time on making sure that promos were something I really focused on.”

Your in-ring style is very interesting to me. You’re a smaller guy, but you work a style that is similar to a lot of bigger guys and it’s because of this slower pace that the spots actually mean something, especially when you build up to the climax of a match. Is that a pace that you’ve always had, or was there a certain point where you were like, OK I need to slow down now and figure out what works for me?

“That was something I developed over time. When I first started, I was definitely a guy that was doing every move under the sun and I was going a million miles an hour and just trying to wow the fans as much as I could. I thought that was the way to get them invested in me. Don’t get me wrong, that style is very impressive, but I on purpose work a certain style. It’s very important for me to do that.

It’s obvious that I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I want to have the biggest personality in the room and part of that personality isn’t just on the microphone. That’s the way I have to project myself in the ring as well.

All of my favorites in this business really took their time. They made everything they did mean something. Every movement they made had a purpose and that’s the type of performer I’m most comfortable being and that’s the type of performer I want to be too.”

There are so many performers doing unbelievable things we’ve never seen before on what feels like a weekly basis now, but after 20, 30 minutes go by and the match ends, I’ve seen so many big spots that it just feels like a blur, where as your matches build up to a few big spots that are easy to remember.

For instance, I watched your match with AJ [Styles] in Ring of Honor recently and you guys worked such a slower pace, but it built up to a huge finishing spot that is going to stick with the viewer. When I come across a match like that one it just feels so different in comparison to a lot of the matches we’re seeing nowadays.

“Sure, sure. You bring up AJ and he’s the king of that. AJ is a guy that can do anything under the sun. He’s one of the most athletically gifted guys there is, but AJ is able to place his stuff and put it in situations where he has the fans completely in the palm of his hand.

He knows he can do anything, but he knows that the biggest reaction he’s going to get from the audience is working a certain style and taking them on this ride by building a story within the match.

Doing a million things is very impressive, but if you forget 90 percent of it, it’s kind of a shame.”

How many times has someone come up to you at the Performance Center and said you look like Shawn Michaels?

“(Laughs) More times than I can count. Whether that be at the Performance Center, whether that be fans. I think I get at least five or six tweets a week about how I look like Shawn Michaels. To me it’s just a giant compliment.”

Has he said that to you?

“Yeah! When we first met he said, ‘A lot of people tell me that you and I look alike and now that I met ya I see what they mean.”

Who is somebody in NXT that you haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet that you’re looking forward to getting in the ring with?

“I’ll tell you what, I would love the chance to have any sort of a program with Velveteen Dream. I think that guy has so much potential. He’s so good now. His understanding of the industry for his age is unbelievable. His natural talent is the same. I watch him, I’m captivated by what he does, so to get the chance to be in there with him in some capacity would be great.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis 

Ronda Rousey Now Has the Chance to be Herself

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Even though there are certain aspects of the professional wrestling business that feel natural to her, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she’s a former Olympian and was one of, if not the most dominant female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey knows she still has a lot to learn about the second act of her professional career.

The “Rowdy” one grew up as a huge wrestling fan, but then learned at a later age that the action was choreographed. It was a discovery that drove her away from paying attention to the business.

Fast forward to her time on top of the UFC and there she was sitting on the couch, with her friends, watching Monday Night Raw as a fan again. Thanks to Shayna Baszler’s insistence, wrestling once more became a part of Rousey’s life, but this time it acted as an escape from the rigorous world of MMA. It was a window into another world that gave her the ability to just kick back and relax.

Fast forward again to today and now pro wrestling is no longer a way for Rousey to relax, it’s the main focus of her life.

You can watch WrestleMania live around the world April 8 on the WWE Network at a special start time of 7 p.m ET. 

She’s all in, which means she now must adjust to a world that isn’t exactly the easiest to become comfortable in considering her entire athletic career has been focused around the idea of finishing her opponent to find success. Now she must work with an opponent to make the music that will gain a response from the crowd.

It’s that major change that Rousey called her “biggest adjustment” when I chatted with her last week. “I’ve learned a lot about teamwork. That’s basically the main thing. Being in a team environment and working with everyone to make it great. It’s actually been a real joy to learn and to feel less lonely in my endeavors.”

But playing nice with others isn’t as easy as it looks. There are major alterations that had to be made in order for Ronda’s physical work to be fit for television.

“I mean things that I’ve already done in the past a million times feel natural, but how and where we’re applying them is still unnatural. Like the timing things are a little weird and have been been hard for me to pick up. I’m used to being as compact as possible. I’m used to trying to hide my face,” Rousey said.

“There are just a bunch of little things like being aware of where the cameras are and stuff like that. Stuff that I’ve never thought of once in my life are things that I now have to keep in mind. I think the pace and timing are the biggest adjustment. The actual techniques are there, but they also have to be adjusted as well. Every throw I’ve done has been with the intention to inflict as much harm as possible and not to look good, so I need to change things to make everything look more grand and be more safe. To work with somebody else and to learn to take cues when my whole life I’ve kept things very secret and sudden has been a huge adjustment.”

During her training for fights, Rousey would focus on figuring out ways to submit her opponent while she rolled or performed judo with her training partner. Her coaches would watch her technique to figure out what she could potentially apply in her next fight.

She’s still rolling and doing judo techniques with a training partner now, mostly Shayna, but instead of figuring out ways to put her opponent away, she and the trainers down at WWE’s Performance Center are figuring out which techniques can be applied to a live match.

“It’s not really like I need to get more reps with judo. I’ve done enough judo stuff for several lifetimes. There’s so much that both of us do that we really don’t think about and so I like to have someone like Sara Amato watch Shayna and I or anyone else, roll around and see if she could spot something that might be applicable in the ring,” Rousey said.

“I can’t be like, ‘Hey this is what I did’ because there are so many times when I’m in a grappling exchange or sparring and I’ll just do something that I know is brilliant and the other person doesn’t even know how they ended up getting caught, but I know it was great and then I end up moving on and forgetting about it.”

Ronda continued, “It’s not like I’m walking in there and I’m going to do some grappling that looks cool, but doesn’t work for wrestling. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go work over here, tell us if anything is useful.’ Sara will step in from time to time and ask us to do something again or change it around so we do it like this. It’s been a big help.”

The concept of maximizing “spots,” which is wrestling lingo for a big move or moment in a match or segment, is something that Rousey has studied feverishly over the past few months. It’s easy for someone new to the business to feel like they have to get all of their stuff in during a short amount of time, but this can actually be a detriment because it means none of the moments that are supposed to leave a lasting impact will be felt by the audience.

In order to help her understand just how important small movements are to building up to a big spot, WWE wrestler and well-respected trainer Brian Kendrick gave Rousey a key homework assignment that helped her unlock the concept of how to put together a match.

“He had me watch Hulk Hogan vs. The Undertaker [from Survivor Series 1991] just to teach me how much it really is all about the story and how little physically I really need to do. I don’t need to be a spotty person,” Rousey explained. “The Undertaker going down on one knee is all that needed to happen in order to get a reaction from the crowd. They really didn’t do that much physically to each other. That was a really good learning session for me. I can have this tendency where I go, ‘I know so, I know so, I know so,’ and I’ll do all of these things, but that match really taught me where to apply things intelligently instead of just throwing them out there.”

But it can be hard to avoid throwing everything you have when you get nervous and start moving fast, which is something that Rousey is self-aware of, especially when the microphone is in her hand.

“My sentences are chopped up into little pieces, so what seems to me like three seconds is probably more like one second. That’s one thing I’m learning. Once I think it’s been too long, to wait even more. I need to triple how patient I am,” she said.

It was evident to see just how different the speed was for someone who is still clearly getting adjusted to the nuances of the business and someone like Paige, who has grown up in the wrestling business and very clearly understands who her character is and more importantly, how her character should sound.

Rousey knows she has a long way to go in order to gain the confidence she needs to cut a badass promo, but she’s determined to find her voice and to not sound like anyone else who has come before her.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to walk out there and cut a promo like Paige because she has been in this business since she was a little kid. She doesn’t talk like I do and if I walked out there and started talking like that, nobody would buy it because I know that I don’t talk like that,” Rousey said.

“It’s a fine line to walk,” she continued, “I have to be myself, but mold myself to fit into that environment because there is a risk of trying to do too much that will make people roll their eyes at me. I don’t want people to look at me and go, ‘Oh look at Ronda trying to be a pro wrestler.’ I want to go out there and speak as myself. That’s it. That’s what I’m good at. I can speak to large crowds of people and I’ve done that for years and now I need to find my own way instead of copying other people’s way.”

But having someone like Paige backstage is only going to assist her in her goal to become the best she possibly can be in this business and it’s something that she’s very conscious of.

“Having all of the examples around me really help like Paige, who is conquered a style and really made it work for her. She’s molded it through years of practice. I’m just surrounded by amazing examples.”

One of those amazing examples is Goldust, who is the eldest son of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Goldust is a true veteran of the industry and is someone that Rousey was absolutely thrilled to meet.

“Goldust took me aside the other day and gave me some advice and I was like, ‘Oh my God it’s Goldust and he’s giving me advice.’ I was geeking out so hard while still trying to receive information (laughs).”

In the previous act of her life, Rousey was forced to talk in a reactionary style interview. A microphone would be put in her face after a fight and she would have to respond to questions about how she forced her opponent to submit and then call out someone for her next fight.

In this act, Rousey must use her microphone time to drive along a story line with specific pieces of dialogue. It’s a totally different style, but one that she finds liberating.

“I think it’s more of a release than anything. I was always on the defensive, on guard. They were asking me questions with a certain answer in mind, they were trying to get a reaction out of me.” Rousey said of her MMA interviews.

“I think this is like a cool discovery process,” she continued. “People say, ‘Well who is your character?’ But I’m really thinking like, who am I because I’m me out there. I have to be much more introspective than I would in a reactionary environment.”

As Rousey continues to figure out how to apply her voice and her physical gifts to achieve greatness in this stage of her career, she is also going through a journey on a personal level to find herself, to find happiness outside of a world that made her name famous across the globe.

“I’ve never been allowed to just be myself,” she said.

Well now is her chance.

Twitter: @ScottDargis