Seth Rollins’ Quest for Greatness

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With the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View coming up this Sunday, which can be seen live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7pm ET, I had the chance to chat with Seth Rollins to discuss his return to the ring, how his knee is holding up, if he’s putting extra pressure on himself because he missed the “Road to WrestleMania” last year, and the moment when he realized the members of The Shield were destined to become stars.

Me: It’s been eight months since you’ve returned from your serious knee injury. How would you describe the last eight months of your career?

Seth: Umm … Difficult. It’s been a struggle for me just to find my footing again. I was in such a good position when I got hurt. I was really comfortable where I was at. I thought I was just getting into my groove as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The character and everything with J&J [Security] were going well.

The last eight months, after the surgery and the rehab and everything have been very tumultuous. Obviously we had the brand split, which has thrown everything up in the air. You got guys like Goldberg coming back. The Undertaker is making himself more prominent.

You’re fighting tooth and nail. You have a new title, the Universal Championship, which is still very young. There’s just so much in flux; so much up in the air all of the time. I feel like there’s more on my plate now and just trying to manage all of that is crazy. It’s been a difficult time.

As we sink in deeper to this Raw only type thing, I think my feet will start to find themselves. This is a big, BIG three-to-four months we’re coming into right now, so I have to find that footing. I gotta be strong.

Now that you’ve declared your intentions to face HHH, the crowd seems to be responding to you a bit better than it was during the final months of 2016. Do you feel like you’re starting to hit that stride again?

I certainly hope so. Like I said, as we’ve gone along I’ve gotten more comfortable with the situation. I think the crowd has to forgive me. Our audience remembers. It’s been a struggle to see if they’re going to put their support behind me or not. It’s a fun game to play, but I think over time I need to win people over again.

If you look at where I was before I got hurt, [I was] consistently putting in high level performances. Even in my role then, people were starting to get behind me, so I think it’s a matter of reminding people what I’m capable of, in a good way. Hopefully we’ll start to gather that momentum again and right now is as good of time as any.

How’s your body feeling?

Pretty good overall to be honest with you. That’s one of the nice things about the brand split that people don’t understand. We get an extra day off of work because we only have to do one television taping in a week.

To have one extra day at home, one extra day not on the road, one extra day not in the ring, I think that’s really helped to keep me healthy. I’ve been able to get more sleep and rest more, instead of having an extra 12-hour day of work, which can be very taxing on the body.

Has there been a moment in the ring that has given you a pause about your knee since you’ve come back?

Not at all actually. I had great surgeons and put in a lot of work with my guys who helped me through rehab in Birmingham, Orlando and Davenport. Everybody was fantastic.

The knee has been holding up really well in the gym and in the ring. It’s been 100 percent awesome.

Do you feel like because you missed the Road to WrestleMania last year due to your knee injury that you’re putting extra pressure on yourself this year?

Yeah definitely. I always put extra pressure on myself in big situations. Whether it be the main event of Raw or a huge match at a Pay-Per-View. It seems to be how I bring the best out of myself. I’m definitely doing it this year on purpose.

I don’t think it will backfire. I think it will help me push my limits and push myself to the next level in terms of what I’m capable of from a week-to-week standpoint going into Rumble and Mania.

Hopefully I’ll make this year one as unforgettable as I had two years ago.

Let’s circle back for a second on the crowd forgetting about the heel version of your character. When you came back from your injury it seemed like a perfect opportunity to have you return as a white hot babyface. Now obviously that didn’t happen and you ended up turning face a few months later. Would you want to go back and change any aspect of your return or are you fine with how everything has worked out?

You know … umm … obviously those decisions aren’t up to me. So even if I could go back, I couldn’t change a dang thing.

There are people who have been doing this for a lot longer than me, who are a lot smarter than me. They do things for a certain reason, so I’m not one to try and say that I know better than somebody else. That’s not how I operate. I’m always one to roll with the punches and at the end of the day this just presents another type of challenge for me and us as a company.

I like doing things organically. I like when things make sense. I don’t like having to force things. I don’t … I think it’s fine the way it is and I think we’re going to make the best out of it.

But again, it’s not my company. I don’t do that sort of thing. I’m just here to wrestle, have a good time and entertain the fans. So whatever is asked of me, that is what I will do.

Ever since you, Reigns, and Dean Ambrose debuted on the main roster, you’ve been featured at or towards the top of the card. Was there a moment, it could have happened in NXT, when you guys realized that you were destined for great things with the company?

Umm … you know Roman was a really late addition [to the Shield]. Ambrose and I were close in developmental just because we knew each other from the independents. We had similar backgrounds that drew us together. Roman was a separate entity.

Everyone kind of looked at Roman and pegged him as a future star. I mean obviously the wave of independent stars hadn’t really happened yet when Ambrose and I had gotten to developmental.

Someone like CM Punk, had made a name for himself and Daniel Bryan was doing well, but other than that a lot of other guys had not panned out. There wasn’t a whole lot of faith in the independent scene as far as building money drawing stars.

I knew I was different and I knew Ambrose was different when we started working together with each other in the ring when he arrived [in developmental]. It just felt like there was a confidence that we had and obviously like I said Roman had with just the way he carried himself. The company put a lot of faith in him from the very beginning.

[Roman] was always pegged as…just look at him, I mean he’s 6 feet 4 inches, 274 pounds, he’s going to be a star. A great looking guy. He’s got everything going for him in the world. Ambrose and I are two unlikely guys [to make it]. But we just knew.

We wanted to come in and make and impact. All three of us. We were really unhappy with the way we saw guys who had gotten called up and were floundering. They’d make an impact and then go settle back down. That really wasn’t what we were interested in. We wanted to come in, make a statement, change the business and show the entire company and the wrestling world that we’re not just going to settle for mediocrity.

We’re going to come in and push the envelope every single night to make sure more people like us get the opportunity that we didn’t get when it comes to WWE or developmental. We went out and just tried to outwork everybody every single night to put our stamp for ourselves and for our generation on the map.

Twitter: @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