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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what talent has stood out to you down there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis