WWE

2017 Royal Rumble: What did we learn?

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WWE’s “Road to WrestleMania” kicked off with the 30th annual Royal Rumble from the Alamodome in San Antonio.

With numerous plausible outcomes on the table in the two world championship matches and the 30-man over the top rope battle royal, this was one of the most anticipated Rumble Pay-Per-Views in many years.

Shockingly, it was the lack of surprises in the Rumble match that made the show feel a lot less memorable than it should have been.

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The most unpredictable Royal Rumble in years ended with a surprising finish, but it wasn’t the right choice

Randy Orton is one of the best performers in the business, but this Royal Rumble match was promoted as the biggest Rumble match ever. It was a golden opportunity to make a new superstar.

The PPV overall was a thumbs up show because every match was entertaining, but the booking of the Rumble match itself was highly questionable. After Tye Dillinger’s surprising entrance at number 10 (who would have guessed it?), every person who entered the match up until Brock Lesnar (26th), was a full-time mid-carder.

If you want to make the case that Corbin (entered 13th) is higher on the card than the other guys who entered around him, you can, but the point stands. Besides Corbin, Dean Ambrose, all three members of The New Day, Cesaro and Sheamus, James Ellsworth, Miz, Randy Orton, Rusev (who was a total afterthought), Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper and Apollo Crews entered the match in some order from 11-25.

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And then we finished off with Lesnar (26th), Enzo (27th), Goldberg (28th), Undertaker (29th) and finally Roman Reigns (30th). When Undertaker came out 29th, I thought OK there are two possible options for the final entrant.

Either Kurt Angle (very unlikely) or Samoa Joe (a lock I thought) is making the ridiculously long walk to the ring.

NOPE.

Here comes Reigns out to a chorus of thunderous boos so loud that you couldn’t hear his music over the speakers in the Alamodome.

If Vince is really trying to get Reigns over as the next big babyface, why is he coming out 30th? And why the (expletive deleted) is he booked to eliminate the Undertaker? The latter spot should have been reserved for a heel because the crowd was predictably going to respond in a negative way when Undertaker’s feet hit the floor.

Perhaps Meekmahan wanted Orton to get a huge babyface pop and knew that he could use the crowd’s hate for Roman as a springboard to get that reaction, but whatever the case, Orton is headed for a championship match at WrestleMania and John Cena is currently holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Cena vs. Orton for the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th time? Don’t sign me up.

I guess the rumor that popped up last week about Orton facing Wyatt for the title at Super WrestleMania Sunshine has some legs.

Goldberg vs. Lesnar was handled perfectly

love that Goldberg has Lesnar’s number. Brock’s shockingly quick elimination by Ol’ Bill should set Paul Heyman up for a great promo.

Lesnar wanting redemption vs. Goldberg at Mania is such a simple storyline, but the crowd will eat it up.

Why no Samoa Joe?

If you’ll allow me, I’m going to rant here for a bit. If you don’t care about Joe, skip to the next section.

Would this not have been a perfect time to bring Joe in and establish him as a powerhouse?

Maybe he could be Shane’s representative to face AJ Styles at WrestleMania. I suggest this because I think we’re headed for Shane vs. AJ at Mania; even though after Shane-O-Mac’s last showing in the ring, he should hang up his wrestling sneakers and wind pants forever.

Seriously though, Joe has nothing else to prove in NXT. He’s turning 38 in March and SmackDown’s roster could really use a boost heading into WrestleMania season. Much like Styles did last year, Joe could have established himself as a threat on the main roster in 20 minutes.

This felt like a gigantic opportunity that was wasted. Plus, the Rumble match could have really used a surprise in the middle of the match.

The biggest shocker of the weekend was Seth Rollins showing up at NXT: TakeOver

After Rollins “lost” his spot in the Rumble match to Sami Zayn, I kept trying to figure out when Rollins was going to show up. The idea of him causing havoc at the NXT special on the WWE Network seemed like a fantasy booking idea that was never going to come to fruition.

And then it actually happened! Rollins snuck into the ring and stole the microphone from ring announcer Mike Rome and demanded that HHH come out and fight him. The crowd exploded and made Rollins feel like a white hot babyface. Triple H of course didn’t fight Rollins and instead sent out security to “forcefully” remove Rollins from the building.

Even though Rollins vs. HHH is a predictable WrestleMania program, this moment provided the feud with extra fuel it desperately needed.

AJ Styles and John Cena had an excellent match, but it wasn’t as good as their SummerSlam classic

The concept of hitting a big move after big move that leads to constant near falls has been the crutch for Cena matches since his run with the United States Championship.

There’s a reason why Cena always does this. It works.

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But when you’ve already seen Cena and Styles go through sequences similar to what we saw on Sunday, the spectacle of Mr. WWE vs. Mr. TNA wrestling for the company’s biggest prize just doesn’t feel as big as it should have.

Styles kicking out of an “avalanche Attitude Adjustment”: Check.

Cena hitting a Code Red for a nearfall: Check

Styles hitting five of his cool moves that he busts out every once and awhile: Check

I don’t want to totally bury this match. It was very good and both men should be praised for performing at this level on such a big stage, but when you’re stepping into the ring with someone for the third time in a one-on-one situation, the match should feel different than the first two and this one did not.

Kudos to Cena for coming up with a very cool finishing sequence that we haven’t seen before.

Neville wins the Cruiserweight Championship

But will he save the division? The crowd was mild at best for his match with Rich Swann.

Gallows and Anderson finally win the tag titles

It’s about time! With the amount of times G&A have “failed” to become the tag team champions, they really needed a win and could benefit from a nice long reign with the titles.

Will they get that long reign? Probably not. I wonder if Enzo and Cass are going to win the titles at WrestleMania….

Bayley and Charlotte put on one hell of an opening match

I hope both girls got a standing ovation when they walked through the curtain. This was a wonderful opening match, which played to the strengths of both performers.

Charlotte mocked Bayley by yelling at her that she should be sitting with the fans. This ignited Bayley to make her comeback, which got a big reaction.

It seems like every show now must include a big spot on the apron, but the Natural Selection looks like one of the safest moves to take in that position. Even though you wouldn’t know it by how well Bayley sold the move.

I can’t wait to see these two face off again at WrestleMania. Unless Nia Jax gets involved, which seems likely with how quickly she ran through Sasha Banks.

Braun Strowman “saves” Kevin Owens from dropping the Universal title to Roman Reigns

Apparently all of those pep talks backstage between Owens, Jericho, and Strowman got the big guy in the spirit to help Owens.

Wait, what am I doing? That’s not how we cover sports entertainment here!

The idea of having Jericho drop an object that plays into the finish is so elementary that Vince probably figured the match needed an extra surprise in the final act. Enter an angry Strowman who chokeslammed Reigns on an announcer’s table that still had two monitors on it. Luckily, Roman didn’t land on top of them.

Even though Owens walked away with the championship, this wasn’t a particularly strong win for him. Don’t expect him to carry the red strap into WrestleMania, but who knows who K.O. will face at Fastlane.

With Finn Balor almost ready to return, it would make sense for those two to square off for the title and a spot in the Universal title match at WrestleMania.

The Twitter: @ScottDargis

It’s His Time: Jeff Jarrett will be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame Class of 2018

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The phrase never say never is one that is used quite often in the world of professional wrestling. It’s a saying that is mostly used to drum up interest in a person’s potential return to a company or an unlikely dream match that sends the Internet into a tizzy.

But in this instance, the phrase couldn’t be more appropriate because Jeff Jarrett is the newest member of WWE’s Hall of Fame.

That’s right, J-E-double-F J-A-double-R-E-double-T is going into the H-O-F.

“I would have never dreamed that in 2018 I’d be going into the Hall of Fame,” Jarrett said to NBC Sports last week, “but as I’ve sat back and looked I said, ‘Welp, I guess there are some things that are just meant to be.’”

Considering how Jarrett’s tenure with the WWE ended in 2001, there are quite a few people who never thought the door would be open for Double-J to return.

When WWE purchased WCW back in 2001, Vince McMahon infamously fired Jarrett live on television. This wasn’t just a standard segment in which Vince “fired” someone, this was a legit termination:

For someone who grew up and then went on to succeed in the wrestling business, Jarrett understood Vince’s line of thinking, “Vince does a lot of things well,” Jarrett said. “And he knows how to produce great TV. To me that night was just good TV.”

Even though the wrestling landscape in the United States seemed dry after WWE purchased WCW and ECW folded, Jarrett wasn’t worried about his future after being fired live on television.

“It’s a business and I knew that I was going to be getting paid on my Turner contract for about another eight or nine months, so I didn’t even think to address it that night,” Jarrett said.

Just over a year later after his firing, Jarrett and his father, Jerry, launched a new pro wrestling promotion: Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. A promotion that would launch the careers of future WWE/NXT superstars including: AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Eric Young, and Bobby Roode.

But what if Jarrett wasn’t fired in 2001? What if he stayed in what was arguably the biggest transition period in the history of WWE?

“I’ve never been a guy to look in the rearview mirror and talk about what ifs, I’ve always been a guy who looks forward,” Jarrett said.

“I think from an in-ring perspective, I was just hitting my prime years in the early 2000s. I would have loved to work with the guys in WWE during that time period, but it wasn’t meant to be. I took my career in another direction and I’m glad I did so, but the Hall of Fame is another opportunity for things to come full circle.”

And boy, are things going to come full circle.

As of now, AJ Styles is set to defend his WWE championship against Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania. Styles was one of the first pieces of fresh talent that Jarrett gave a major opportunity to in the early days of TNA. Without Jarrett’s vision, who knows if the “Phenomenal One” would have blossomed into the standout performer he is today.

For Jarrett, the idea of going into the Hall of Fame on the same weekend that Styles defends the WWE title at the company’s biggest show of the year is poetic justice.

“I don’t believe in coincidences, only convergences and AJ headlining and me going in to the Hall of Fame is perfect,” Jarrett said. “He’s been a friend since the early days of our relationship and it’s been great to watch him progress as a performer. I can’t say enough about the guy.”

Not only will this be a special moment for all of the superstars on the WWE roster who were given an opportunity to learn and grow on television thanks to Jarrett, it will truly be a special moment for his family.

Professional wrestling has been a three generation business for the Jarrett family. Decades before Jeff and his father launched TNA, Jerry Jarrett founded the Continental Wrestling Association in 1977, which eventually merged with World Class Championship Wrestling to become the United States Wrestling Association.

Jeff’s grandmother got into the business in the 1940s and quickly worked her way up. Working in her promotion at the concession stand helped Jarrett realize just how viable the wrestling business could be as a form of income.

When Jarrett is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, he’s going to make sure that it’s a memorable time for everyone in his family who has helped him achieve this career milestone.

“It’s a humbling honor and I will be accepting it on behalf of just not myself, but my wife Karen, who has had to go through ups and downs. My dad, my stepmom, my uncle, who just passed away. My grandfather, my grandmother on the other side of my family,” Jarrett said.

“It’s a three generation business, so I’m accepting it for everyone in my family because it is a family business. That is something that is so humbling to me. I’m the one who got picked, but it’s really an award for the entire Jarrett family.”

Jarrett stayed mum about his future plans, who reached out to him from WWE about going into the HOF, and wouldn’t reveal who will induct him into the Hall of Fame, even though he already has an idea of who it will be. However, he didn’t stay quiet when asked why this is the right time for him to join the collection of wrestling’s biggest names.

“Quite frankly I’ve thought about that. Who am I? Why am I going in now? They asked and I had to do a head-scratcher because it was literally a shock,” he said. “There are less than 200 wrestlers in the Hall of Fame and you think about the thousands of guys that have laced up the boots and I’m going to be one of those 200. It just doesn’t seem right in my brain.”

While it may not seem right in Double-J’s brain, the convergence of important dates in Jarrett’s life will come to a head when he walks up to the microphone for his speech in New Orleans.

“When I first heard about it I looked at my calendar and saw that the date of the ceremony is April 6, 2018 and April 6 of 1986 was the day that I had my very first match. So 32 years to the day is sort of surreal.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what talent has stood out to you down there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @ScottDargis