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WWE Weekly Recap: 2017 Royal Rumble Odds

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For the first time in many years, the favorite to win the Royal Rumble isn’t obvious. In fact, this feels like one of the more unpredictable Rumble matches in WWE history.

Five guys who would be considered a favorite to win the match (Seth Rollins, The Undertaker, Braun Strowman, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar) are rumored to have their WrestleMania programs locked in and none are scheduled to be for either of the company’s main championships.

Instead of being a device that’s used to give an established star a main event spot at Mania, the Rumble might actually be used as a launching pad for a future world champion.

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With that in mind, here’s how I would rank the field:

Baron Corbin 6/1 (+600)

The odds may surprise you, but Corbin has been booked very strong ever since his better-than-expected chairs match with Kalisto at the TLC Pay-Per-View. He was given a lot of offense in the triple threat match for the WWE title on the “Wild Card Finals” episode of SmackDown and “controlled” 80 percent of his match against John Cena this past Tuesday.

Corbin is ascending into the world title picture and it’s totally logical to picture “The Lone Wolf” ending the first PPV of WrestleMania season by pointing at the giant WM sign.

With Goldberg-Lesnar, Undertaker-Strowman, and HHH-Rollins penciled in for Mania, Corbin vs. Styles, Cena or both, is a perfectly fine match (with entrances) to fill 20-25 minutes of the show. Corbin has shown enough in the ring lately for me to buy that he’s ready for a high level match.

Finn Balor 8/1 (+800)

If either Owens or Reigns walk out of the Universal Championship match in San Antonio with the red strap, Balor has a built-in story with either guy.

Balor beat Reigns clean in the middle of the ring during his first night on Raw and after the match Roman said he would love another crack at Balor.

Owens was handed the championship by Triple H, but HHH also has a connection with Balor that could easily be worked up with one or two backstage interactions if creative wanted to go that route.

If not, Balor and Owens could hearken back to their feud in NXT, which produced a set of extremely good matches in the Summer of 2015. Their NXT title match at “Beast in the East” was one of my favorites that year and 30 percent of that was thanks to the streamers that were thrown at the end of Balor’s entrance.

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No matter who Balor works with, he’s going to put on a great performance and if WWE wants to have a NJPW style match at Mania, the Demon King would be the perfect person to insert into it.

Samoa Joe or Shinsuke Nakamura 9/1 (+900)

A debuting superstar has never won the Royal Rumble, but if there was ever a time to do it, this is it.

Joe is the more likely option out of the two, considering that he just dropped the NXT title to Nakamura and failed to beat him in the rematch, but if Nakamura loses the title to Bobby Roode at Takeover: San Antonio (unlikely, but you never know), he instantly becomes a favorite.

If either guy won, it would make sense for them to face Styles for the world title at the company’s biggest show of the year. Joe is one of Styles’ best friends in the business. They’ve made magic in the ring together and understand how to put on a clinic in front of a massive crowd.

Nakamura wrestled Styles in the second to last match at Wrestle Kingdom 10, which is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s version of WrestleMania. It was predictably awesome and if you haven’t seen it yet, set aside a half hour and watch it:

Chris Jericho 10/1 (+1000)

As much as I want to see Team Chris and Kevin face off for the Universal title in Orlando. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. If Owens does somehow hold onto the title at the Alamodome, Jericho would instantly become one of the three favorites to win the Rumble.

Owens and Jericho are the hottest act on the company’s flagship show. Roman Reigns may get a bigger reaction in some cities, but he’s still not ready to be a main event promo, which is exactly what Y2KO have been since September, which is why I’m still holding out hope that this match will be for the title.

If Chris and Kevin are going to feud with each other, someone is going to have to turn and it makes sense for K.O. to beat the crap out of Y2J.

Imagine the verbal jabs between a heel Owens and a sympathetic babyface version Jericho who keeps the same character tone, but plays into the cheers.

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Now imagine Reigns cutting a 5-10 minute promo about defending the title.

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Randy Orton/Bray Wyatt 12/1 (+1200)

It’s easy to see a scenario in which Orton and Wyatt square off at Mania, but what if creative actually has long-term plans for the group?

If Wyatt or Orton were to win the Rumble and wrestle for the world title at WrestleMania, it could set up a title program between the two for the May-July period.

The Miz 14/1 (+1400)

Even though he’s currently in a feud with Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title, Miz has been one of the best acts on SmackDown since the draft and deserves a main event run.

He and AJ teased a feud during a Miz TV segment a few weeks back, but I think the pair should be saved for a SmackDown exclusive PPV later on in the year.

Miz will eventually climb up the card, but sadly, he’s going to be left out of a high profile match at WrestleMania.

John Cena, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens 17/1 (+1700)

I’m expecting the losers of both title matches to enter the Rumble later on in the night. If I had to rank the four in terms of most likely winners I’d go: Styles, Cena, Reigns, Owens. It would be an interesting swerve to the Cena-Styles storyline if Cena won the title from AJ earlier in the night and then Styles responded by winning the rumble.

Owens is likely locked for a Mania match with Jericho and it would be a major letdown if Reigns won the most unpredictable Rumble in years.

Sami Zayn 25/1 (+2500)

If the Owens-Zayn storyline had any heat left, Zayn would be a logical choice. It would be a genuinely shocking moment and Zayn could use a boost after doing the job for Strowman.

With Owens likely taking on Jericho at Mania and Zayn’s current placement on the card, I don’t expect the taxi driver to make any real impact in the Rumble.

Rusev 25/1 (+2500)

The Bulgarian George Clooney deserves a featured spot in WrestleMania season because he’s one of the most entertaining full-time performers on the roster, but there are only so many spots to go around.

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Big Cass 25/1 (+2500)

I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Big Cass ends up as one of the “Final Four” participants in the Rumble match. Either that or he’s going to have a spot midway through where he runs through a couple dudes before going out quickly.

Any member of The New Day 28/1 (+2800)

Big E is the only legitimate option here. This would be an ideal moment to begin the inevitable breakup between the three, but it needs to be a slow burn.

Dean Ambrose 40/1 (+4000)

He’s headed for another multi-man match for the IC title at WrestleMania.

Seth Rollins 50/1 (+5000)

Rollins is obviously penciled in to face Triple H in Orlando, so there’s no need for him to be near the title picture until after Mania.

Braun Strowman 50/1 (+5000)

He’s most likely facing The Undertaker. While it may seem like Strowman isn’t ready for the level of a match, if the company is serious about pushing him, he needs to be in this spot.

The split rosters have created a need for new stars, which means a clean win for Strowman over the Undertaker could be in the cards.

The Undertaker 50/1 (+5000)

As noted above, Taker most likely has a date with Adam from Tinder at Mania.

Yes, I know I used that line last week, but why not bring it back for round two?

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar 50/1 (+5000)

I’d love to see Brock and Goldberg “draw” the first two numbers and beat the hell out of guys until Braun Strowman eventually comes out.

Kane 70/1 (+7000)

Kane has shockingly been protected since the draft, so don’t be surprised if he has a strong showing in the Rumble. Who knows, maybe he makes it all of the way to the “Final Four.”

Shelton Benjamin 75/1 (+7500)

Benjamin was scheduled to return to the SmackDown brand after the draft, but needed surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He had a six-month recovery time frame and the Rumble falls perfectly in line with his rehab, so don’t be surprised if “ain’t no stoppin me now” blares over the speakers in San Antonio.

American Alpha 75/1 (+7500)

Enjoy the SmackDown tag team titles. Jordan has a chance to win this in a few years.

Apollo Crews 100/1 (+10000)

He should still be in NXT.

Any cruiserweight 100/1 (+10000)

Nope.

Dolph Ziggler 100/1 (+10000)

The guy’s gimmick is that he loses, so there’s no way he’s going to win.

James Ellsworth 1000/1 (+100000)

Any man with two fists has a chance to be eliminated.

Holy Schnikes moment of the week:

Take it away Becky Lynch.

If you don’t know what see you next Tuesday means, Google it.

Time to “Go Home”

– Stephanie was harder to listen to than Otunga this week. Was it necessary for her to talk down to Sasha and Bayley like that? As a fan, how am I supposed to cheer either of the babyfaces if they don’t have a snarky retort ready to counter Steph’s heelish lines.

– So Nia Jax pins Bayley essentially clean in the middle of the ring just two weeks before Bayley faces Charlotte for the women’s title. Makes sense.

– Has anyone else noticed that Karl Anderson’s pants say #BC on them? I find it a bit strange that no one backstage has said anything to him about this.

– Everything about Neville’s heel turn is great, including the variety of moves he’s displaying in the ring. This week he worked a mat wrestling/submission style that resulted in him using the Rings of Saturn to get the victory over Lince Dorado.

– I like the fire Rich Swann showed when he attacked Neville after the match.

– I thought Natalya and Nikki Bella had an excellent brawl on SmackDown. Nattie caught Nikki with a kick right to the face.

So Seth Rollins is supposedly getting new music after all. Once I heard this version by Downstrait, I got bummed out every time I heard Rollins’ actual music:

– Please WWE, no more Big Cass vs. Jinder Mahal matches.

– I like that Ziggler’s heel turn accelerated this week. The worst thing for his character would have been to come out this week and apologize for his actions. Instead, he beat the crap out of Kalisto after their match and then waffled Apollo Crews with a chair when AC came out to help his “friend” Kalisto.

– This was American Alpha’s best showing since their call-up to the main roster. Gable used his hot tag effectively and Jordan had a very nice amateur wrestling sequence with Bray to begin the match.

– I LOVED Cena’s backstage promo this week. It felt a bit like a Doctor of Thuganomics promo, just all grown up.

The Twitter Machine: @ScottDargis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want that diversity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis