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Your 2017 Royal Rumble Primer

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If you’re a wrestling fan, this Sunday is the beginning of your playoffs.

If you’re a casual fan of the product, this is moment where you can latch on and ride the two-month “Road to WrestleMania.”

Thanks to the 30-man over the top rope battle royal that produces a number one contender for one of the WWE’s World Championships and plants seeds for feuds that will culminate at WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View is one of the most important dates of the year in professional wrestling.

There’s always a sense of anticipation in the air while watching the Royal Rumble match, which always makes for a “hot” crowd. Sometimes you can guess when a certain performer is going to come out, but those moments are very rare.

There’s nothing more exciting in the WWE than the moment after the crowd screams “one!” the buzzer sounds and the first few seconds of a person’s entrance music hits. It’s a rush that can’t be replicated, especially if you have a friendly fiver on the match.

I thought it would be appropriate to discuss what I think should happen at the show and what will happen on the six-hour extravaganza from the Alamodome this Sunday.

SIX

HOURS

simpsons

Raw Tag Team Championship match: Cesaro & Sheamus (C) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

This feels like the 9,000th time Gallows and Anderson have challenged for the Raw tag team titles. This feud was put in place as a way to funnel the New Day away from the title picture, which is fine, but at least give us a reason for the program.

There’s no reason for G&A to just be handed a championship program, but when you subtract the New Day from the potential challengers, there aren’t even enough teams to do a four team elimination match for the number one contendership.

So yes, this is a perfect pre-show match.

What should happen: Gallows and Anderson should kick off the festivities on Sunday with a title win. How many more times can they lose in a championship situation? Their credibility has been crushed, so why not try and build it back up, especially with Finn Balor coming back soon.

Plus, Cesaro and Sheamus are much better off chasing the titles.

What will happen: Cesaro and Sheamus will get a clean win. Gallows and Anderson have been given quite a few wins over the tag champs in singles matches and a “Dusty” finish win in a tag team title match a few weeks back on Raw, so that usually means that the booking will be reversed at the PPV.

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

In order to get Sasha out of the title picture for a bit, she was moved into a program with Nia, who was actually given a microphone in the middle of the ring on Monday and got her lines out easier than Goldberg did.

timeout

This program hasn’t helped either woman and I don’t expect the match to get over that well, especially with Sasha playing up the injury angle. Jax isn’t ready to be on the main roster at this point and as her awful match on NXT in Japan against Asuka proved, she’s damn sure not ready to work a long match on a big stage. Expect this one to be kept short.

What should happen: Nia should get the win after Sasha’s “injured” leg plays into the finish of the match.

What will happen: See the sentence above.

Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte (C) vs. Bayley

This feud has certainly seen its ups and downs as we roll into San Antonio. The idea of Charlotte making fun of Bayley’s passion for the wrestling business was an excellent idea that blurred the line of reality.

Were the segments featuring Charlotte and Bayley executed perfectly leading up to the Rumble? No, but a segment isn’t always going to be perfect.

Were any of the segments detrimental to either character? Almost, which is an issue. A few weeks back on Raw, Bayley fired off an emotional reply to Charlotte’s demeaning promo. The crowd was heating up for Ms. Hug Life and then things got … goofy.

In Charlotte’s promo, she referenced poems that Bayley had written in her youth, which is totally fine. It’s easy heat. Well, someone thought it would be a good idea for Bayley to recite a set of new poems to Charlotte and it did not go over well. Bayley didn’t lose the crowd, but it certainly changed the tone of the promo.

This past Monday, Bayley and Charlotte sat down with Corey Graves for separate one-on-one interviews and they were both great! Ms. Flair is expected to come off like one of the biggest heels in the company because she’s been on such a roll lately.

Bayley’s interview came off a bit awkward at first, but that’s part of her character, so it totally fit. When she turned up the intensity of her promo, it reminded me of the version of Bayley we all loved in NXT.

What should happen: Bayley should come extremely close to winning the title before Charlotte’s heel tactics help her retain the title.

What will happen: Charlotte will retain her title by using nefarious means. It doesn’t make sense for Bayley to win the title and end Charlotte’s PPV win streak (which has been built tremendously BTW) at the Rumble. That’s a moment that needs to be saved for WrestleMania.

save

Becky Lynch/Naomi/Nikki Bella vs. Alexa Bliss/Mickie James/Natalya

Before this match was announced this past Tuesday, SmackDown’s only match on the card was AJ Styles vs. John Cena and with four hours to fill, a multi-person match featuring SD talent needed to be added.

This is your classic face vs. heel dynamic, but there is a storyline connection between Alexa and Mickie, so don’t be surprised if Natty tries to create some drama with the two at some point during the match.

What should happen: Naomi should get the pin over Alexa in order to set up a title match at Elimination Chamber. Natalya and Nikki should brawl into the crowd and eventually backstage. Becky should lay out Alexa before Mickie gets in her way, which allows Naomi to score the pin.

What will happen: Mickie James will pin Becky Lynch. This is Mickie’s first main roster match with the company in seven years and Becky can afford to eat a pinfall.

Cruiserweight Championship: Rich Swann (C) vs. Neville

Outside of John Cena’s reintroduction of the Thuganomics promos (more on that later), there hasn’t been a better character over the last month than Neville. He’s fully embraced this heel turn and has owned it. He genuinely seems disgusted with the state of the Cruiserweight division, which has made his hate for Rich Swann feel legitimate.

I love the intensity Swann has shown over recent weeks. If he just kept dancing and getting his ass kicked by Neville, it would be really easy for the crowd to cheer Neville, but Swann has stormed down to the ring and literally punched the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” in the mouth during the build for this match.

What should happen: As much as I like Swann, it’s time for Neville to claim the title and turn this division into high gear. With Tozawa and Austin Aries set to join the 205 Live crew, there might be enough talent to save the cruiserweights.

What will happen: Neville will force Swann to tap out to his Rings of Saturn variation.

No Disqualification WWE Universal Championship match: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Roman Reigns (Chris Jericho will be suspended above the ring inside a shark cage)

Sure, we’ve seen this match quite a bit over the last few months, but I thought creative did a very good job pushing the shark cage element this past Monday on Raw. The Superman punch from Reigns to Jericho while Y2J was hanging from the cage was pretty effing awesome.

As I’ve written in a previous column, Owens just hasn’t been booked as a strong champion, so it seems like he’s ripe for a loss here, especially when you consider how high Vince is on Roman.

If you follow pro wrestling you know how obsessed Vince McMahon can be and he hasn’t given up on making Reigns the next face of the company.

Has Vince cooled his jets a bit? I suppose. It doesn’t feel like Reigns is being shoved down our throats like he was in April-June of last year. If you paid attention to how Jericho “won” the United States Championship though, you can see that Roman is being booked as #SuperReigns again.

One of the main title matches at WrestleMania is going to be on the under card, which means Roman could face Braun Strowman for the title and it doesn’t have to be a 15-20 minute mat classic.

Having said all of that, a win for Owens would be huge here, especially if Jericho drops say a pair of brass knuckles from the cage and gives K.O. the assist.

A similar scenario with a Roman getting the win is also totally possible here. Due to this completely believable alternate scenario, I think this match will have a hotter crowd than some might be anticipating. The actual finish is just that unpredictable as of right now.

What should happen: Owens should retain the title with the assist from Jericho.

What will happen: Owens will retain the title because he’ll have to defend it again at Fast Lane. There’s still a chance he won’t walk into Super WrestleMania Sunshine with the red strap.

wait

WWE Championship match: AJ Styles (C) vs. John Cena

In terms of match quality, this should be another classic between the two. Styles and Cena are the two best full-time performers on the roster.

(Note: Yes, Cena has dipped out for a few months to film shows and movies, but he still appears way more than Brock, Undertaker, or Goldberg and still works house shows.)

If Cena wins the title, he’ll match Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championship reigns.

If Styles wins, it’ll cement one of, if not the best opening year for a new superstar in the history of the company. If AJ goes over Cena on Sunday it’ll be the fourth time Styles has recorded a win over Cena.

Here’s a stat to chew on: When Styles walks into the Alamodome, he will have held the title for longer than Ric Flair, Eddie Guerrero, Roman Reigns, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and Mick Foley. (H/T to Tygrus on /r/SquaredCircle.)

There’s nothing else that needs to be said. This is going to be an excellent match.

What should happen: Styles should stun everyone by beating Cena, thanks to the help of either Anderson and Gallows or new members of “The Club.” This would be the perfect time to introduce new characters (Hi Revival!) who help AJ with his quest for respect.

What will happen: Cena will get his revenge win over Styles and tie Flair’s record. Styles will then spiral into a WrestleMania program with Shane McMahon. If you don’t believe me, just watch this promo from Talking Smack. It’s painfully obvious.

Cena’s promos have been on fire as of late. He’s been channeling the “Thuganomics” version of his character and the results have been awesome. The backstage promo he had with Renee a few weeks ago was a grand slam and there are not many in the business who can cut a better promo on a “go-home” show than Cena.

The 2017 Royal Rumble Match

Whew I don’t know what will be longer. This column or the Royal Rumble itself. We’re in the home stretch here, so hang with me for a few more graphs.

This year’s Rumble match is one of the biggest ever in terms of star power.

We won’t have to worry about announcers entering the match in order to fill spots. In fact, the usual chunk of lower card guys won’t get an opportunity to work the match, so the crowd should be even more fired up than usual.

So what spots should we expect to see?

It seems likely that the ring will fill up early in order for Braun Strowman to clean house. He could also enter early (let’s say number 3) and just continuously throw guys out one by one until the Undertaker, Baron Corbin, Big Show or Brock Lesnar come out to turn the tide of the match.

A Lesnar-Goldberg staredown towards the end of the match will absolutely happen.

According to a report, Finn Balor is close to returning, so he could be a surprise entrant.

With Samoa Joe’s absence from NXT television since dropping the title to Shinsuke Nakamura, he seems likely to debut.

I expect Tye Dillinger will debut at number 10, but I don’t expect him to last more than 10 minutes in the match.

Will Kurt Angle show up? If he showed up in the number 30 slot, one of the biggest pops in ages would take place.

Luke Harper has to eliminate Bray Wyatt and/or Randy Orton.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Baron Corbin wound up as the workhorse of the match. Don’t be surprised if he winds up with a similar performance to Kane in the 2001 Royal Rumble. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the last person eliminated, but he could very well finish the match with the most eliminations.

What should happen: There’s so many scenarios, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and give you two:

A.) Samoa Joe should shock everyone by eliminating Goldberg with help from Brock Lesnar and then go on to face Styles for the world championship at WrestleMania.

B.) Jericho finally gets his revenge on Greenberg by eliminating him to win the match. Y2J will then go on to face Owens for the Universal title at WrestleMania.

What will happen: Undertaker will fulfill his prophecy by filling 29 holes with 29 soles and winning the Rumble match. He’ll then challenge Finn Balor for the Universal title in Orlando.

folks

P.S.

Glad to see you made it all the way past the final GIF.

Before you go, I just wanted to reach out to you the reader. If you’ve been paying attention to how WWE builds cards for their big shows, then I’m sure you have expectations and fantasy booking scenarios for this Sunday.

In fact, send me a few of your suggestions on Twitter and I’ll turn it into a column before Sunday.

@ScottDargis 

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.