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WWE Weekly Wrap-Up: The SmackDown women’s division appreciation thread

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While Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks continue to run the gauntlet of stipulation matches on Raw, the SmackDown women’s division continues to feel a bit overlooked.

Even though the tables match between Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch didn’t steal the show this past Sunday at the Tables, Ladders and Chair Pay-Per-View, both girls worked hard and set the table (puns!) for a fiery feud that will continue for the next couple of weeks.

The storyline is simple. Becky doesn’t like Alexa and can’t stand the fact that she’s walking around with her title. This isn’t about family legacies and tributes to Eddie Guerrero. It’s professional wrestling 101.

You see, the storylines on SmackDown are simple and easy to follow, especially in the women’s division. Take the bloodfeud between Carmella and Nikki Bella for example. They’ve been paired together for roughly the same amount of time as Charlotte/Sasha and yet, the combination doesn’t feel stale.

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The root of Carmella’s issues with Nikki are simple. At first, the “Princess of Staten Island” wanted to make an impact on the main roster by attacking Nikki and then eventually explained that she was sickened by the opportunities that the last of the Bella Twins has received due to her sister and her real-life relationship with John Cena.

Pro wrestling always feels more intense when real-life issues are presented in a way that fits correctly into a storyline. That crutch has been used with Cena more than any other superstar in WWE, but it always works. By bringing up Cena’s name, Carmella instantly felt like an important act on the show.

Now that the two have had their “blowoff” match, the Carmella-Nikki storyline is now morphing into a “Who attacked Nikki at Survivor Series?” mystery that will be resolved soon. Carmella has “insisted” that Natalya attacked Nikki, but Nattie has “denied” these claims. There are four possible outcomes here:

  • Carmella is trying to swerve all of us
  • Natalya really did “attack” Nikki
  • Eva Marie is coming back
  • A returning Mickie James is the culprit

Let’s just peel back for a minute and appreciate that in 2016, the creative team has successfully taken a story that could have easily been done in a month and instead, laid out a road map for a long-term feud that is still evolving.

The key to the feud’s longevity has been Carmella, who has continued to throw down slam dunks on the microphone every week during her heel turn. She’s clearly confident on the microphone, so much so that pockets of the crowd have actually cheered her because she’s too entertaining to ignore.

A similar sentiment is applicable to the new SmackDown women’s champion Alexa Bliss. Between her incredible facial reactions (she has the best in the company, period) and her b****y persona, she was able to quickly establish herself on the main roster. Essentially, Bliss has taken the character she portrayed on NXT and has cranked up the intensity just a bit.

(Sidenote: This feud is in the process of helping Becky Lynch as well. Instead of doing her normal entrance and slapping hands with fans, she was serious on Tuesday. “The Lass Kicker” walked to the ring with a purpose and I suspect that we’ll see a very aggressive side of Lynch in the title rematch. Frankly, Lynch needed some depth. The smiling, joking babyface character can only go so far and it’s time that she showed some aggression.)

Back to the new faces on SD; when Bliss and Carmella shared the ring for a promo at the episode of SmackDown that I attended live last month, the two came off as incredibly entertaining because they are comfortable with the characters they’re portraying on television. They’ve been booked to shine and have delivered.

The same can’t be said for the new women that have debuted on Raw since the draft. The booking of Nia Jax and Bayley has been atrocious.

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All of the momentum Bayley had after her debut on the main roster is gone. She doesn’t feel special at all and is now floating around the card without any direction, much like Sami Zayn. Nia Jax wasn’t ready to be called up, but the brand split forced creative’s hand and now Jax has already been overexposed. (Tapping out to Becky’s armbar at Survivor Series did not help.)

The beauty of SmackDown’s women division is that new stars have been created, while the established names have been given a fresh twist. Nikki has looked revitalized as a kick-ass babyface who is tired of Carmella’s nonsense. Naomi now has one of the coolest entrances in the business and Natalya might really be a crazy person. (Editor’s Note: Natalya is legit crazy, even if just for her cats.)

Is this the new SmackDown Six? Only time well tell, but for now, let’s just appreciate the simplicity and execution of the women’s division on Tuesday nights.

Was Raw better than SmackDown this week?

 seinfeld

By my count, that’s three straight entertaining episodes of Raw. You know we’re in for a dud next Monday.

Earl Hebner is yelling at me to “Go Home”

– Who else bought the final false-finish in the Jericho-Reigns match? I really thought Jericho was walking out with the U.S. title.

– I enjoyed all of the Enzo-Lana/Rusev show-long story arc on Monday. Enzo was entertaining in every segment, got a bit of a rub from Ric Flair and showed some character depth when he was trying to leave Lana’s hotel room because he felt uncomfortable.

– Rusev’s beatdown of Enzo was pretty epic. I imagine the little guy was hurting quite a bit because his head slammed back against the wall twice and it looked like a black eye was forming around his right eye when Rusev dragged his lifeless body into the hallway.

– Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens was solid, but what else would you expect?

– Am I the only one who didn’t enjoy the Miz-Dolph Ziggler ladder match on Sunday? Sure the storytelling was good and made logical sense, but the first 10 minutes dragged on for what felt like forever.

– The Big Show’s body looked so different on Monday, it freaked me out.

– The hometown hero (Mark Henry) was actually booked to win and guess what? The crowd popped huge for it. Hopefully this trend continues.

– This Seth Rollins “face” turn just ain’t working.

– If you want to hear something funny that Dean Ambrose said in the ring during the TLC match with AJ Styles, put your headphones in and head to the spot where Styles suplexes Ambrose through the table in the corner.

-For the lazy folks out there you can hear Ambrose say to Styles “You might want to put some shorts on haha.”

– On SmackDown, Styles came off as a legit babyface in the opening segment when he was talking to James Ellsworth. Is a turn coming?

– Once again, AJ Styles is the best performer in the world right now, even when his left butt cheek is exposed.

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– I know I kind of buried the Raw women’s division in the opening section of this column, so let me show some love. Charlotte was wonderful in the closing segment on Monday night. She seemed legitimately upset about the mistake she made back in May when she disowned her father and then came off like such an a**hole when she slapped Ric in the face.

– Baron Corbin’s new entrance video is pretty sweet.

– As is the new beginning for the Wyatt Family entrance. When “Burn in My Light” played for three seconds at TLC I legit popped.

– So all of that time went into Heath Slater and Rhyno for them to be fed to the Wyatt Family like they were jobbers. Makes sense. I guess Slater will have to downgrade his trailer now.

– So, T.J. Perkins is a heel now? Certainly feels that way, which makes sense. His character is pretty unlikable.

– Jack Gallagher might just save the cruiserweight division.

The Twitter Machine: @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