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.

genius

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

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

WWE: Who should win Money in the Bank?

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As we continue to roll through the doldrums of the WWE’s calendar, one of the most exciting events of the year has suddenly crept up on all of us.

Since the introduction of the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View in 2010, it’s stood out from the rest of the PPV cluster due to the importance and thrill of the MITB ladder match.

Any ladder match is going to have an extra bit of intrigue because, at its core, it is a hardcore match with multiple people falling off of ladders from eight to 12 feet. When you have five, six or even seven competitors crashing through tables from a high distance, the crowd is going to be even more invested than they normally are in a ladder match.

Add in the fact that the winner of the Money in the Bank match can “cash in” the briefcase for a world championship opportunity on any show for up to a year and you can understand why this show is a big deal for fans of the product.

There have been 17 Money in the Bank ladder matches in the history of WWE and 14* of the winners have gone on to become champions (asterisk is needed because Mr. Kennedy won the MITB match at WrestleMania 23, but dropped the briefcase to Edge on an episode of SmackDown. Edge would then successfully cash in against the Undertaker).

Winning the match is typically a sign that the person is about to get boosted up the card. Holding the briefcase elevated characters like Edge, The Miz, Daniel Bryan*, Alberto Del Rio and Seth Rollins into the main event picture. (Note on Bryan: Even though this wasn’t the Yes movement version of his character, Bryan started showing signs of finding his WWE voice after winning the match in 2011.)

Not everyone has had main event level success though. Jack Swagger’s title reign was a dud. CM Punk is the only two-time winner of the MITB match, but his first run with the title was lackluster at best. Damien Sandow had a thrilling television match against John Cena, but his momentum quickly flattened out after he became the first person to lose clean during cash in attempt.

Last year, Dean Ambrose climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase and then cashed it in later on in the night. Ambrose would pin Rollins (who had just beaten Reigns clean) to become the WWE champion.

I don’t expect the winner of this year’s Money in the Bank match to cash in on the same night as the show, but depending on who wins, the briefcase won’t be out in the wild for too long.

Let’s take a look at the field in the men’s match first and see if we can’t figure out who is going to walk out of St. Louis as Mr. Money in the Bank:

Kevin Owens (Odds 25/1): With Owens currently holding the United States Championship and running with this “New Face of America” character, it would be overkill for him to also have the MITB briefcase. I do totally expect Owens and Sami Zayn to pull off some crazy spot that hearkens back to their ROH days.

AJ Styles (10/1): In the month since his United States title match against Owens, it feels like Styles has taken a backseat to Shinsuke Nakamura. He’s still excellent in the ring – just look at how smooth this Styles Clash is – but his character feels a bit aimless right now, which has become a common thread among a good chunk of the main roster.

He’s still getting a nice pop every week, which is impressive when you consider how badly creative struggles with booking good guys, and odds are he’s going to be in a prominent match at SummerSlam. This then would make sense for him to win the contract and then declare that he wants to cash it by challenging the champion to a match in Brooklyn.

Dolph Ziggler (40/1): Not as crazy as you’d think. Ziggler’s heel turn hasn’t meant anything, but a heel Ziggler cashing in the title after a young guy wins the title for the first time could be a way to boost Dolph …

… Yeah, you’re right, how many times have we thought that Ziggler’s character was going to become serious, only for him to keep the same look, mannerisms, and movements that he’s been repeating night in and night out for the better part of this decade?

His role in this match is important. He’s the veteran who needs to make sure the match moves at the correct pace, which could be a challenge considering half of the guys in this match have never participated in something like this before.

GAH, that sounded like a line JBL will probably say on Sunday. Excuse me for a second …

Sami Zayn (15/1): It’s hard to believe that Zayn will win this match considering his character is basically just a goober who doesn’t understand how to properly hold a conversation. At times, Zayn comes off like a comedy guy, instead of someone who is trying to win the world title.

If there was a time to change the course with Sami and give him a new direction, this is the moment. But the fact that he’s got three wins over Baron Corbin recently led me to believe that he’s not getting the briefcase.

Baron Corbin (3/1): The “Lone Wolf” has constantly been referred to as a future WWE champion by the SmackDown commentary team and now would be the right moment to push Corbin up to the top shelf.

With how WWE books, Corbin’s recent losses to Zayn actually bode well for him. Typically creative likes to have a guy lose a few times before they rebound with a big win. It makes little sense, but when you see the booking pattern, you can’t unsee it.

So why is Corbin my favorite to win on Sunday? Simple, Vince and Co. still have high hopes for him and he reportedly has a big push coming in the second half of the year. He has the look of a champion, but in-ring work still needs some fine tuning because the crowd tunes out during his matches and his promos aren’t exactly memorable.

Hopefully, the briefcase can work its magic with this one.

Shinsuke Nakamura (6/1): Nakamura doesn’t need to win the MITB match to help his stock. Even though he doesn’t quite feel as special as he did during his first few appearances, Nakamura is already established as one of the top babyfaces on SmackDown.

Similar to Styles, I can foresee a scenario in which Nakamura wins the briefcase and then challenges the WWE champion to a title match at SummerSlam. As a noble babyface, this would be the right move for Nakamura’s character.

The road to Nakamura winning his first world title in WWE is a storyline that shouldn’t be glossed over by creative. The summer of Shinsuke could be extremely fun and provide us with something to grab onto as fans because right now, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening on WWE television.

As I mentioned earlier, for the first time, five women will step into the ring for a Money in the Bank match, so let’s repeat the device I used above:

Charlotte (20/1): Much like Nakamura and Styles, Charlotte doesn’t need to win the MITB match. The crowd is already invested in her and winning the briefcase isn’t going to help. There are plenty of other girls who could really benefit from a win, so it would be a waste to give it to the girl from the Queen City.

Becky Lynch (20/1): Everything I said above about Charlotte applies to Becky as well. Even though it’s felt like she has been floating on the show without any direction, there’s no need for her to win this match.

Carmella (4/1): Frankly I’m surprised Carmella hasn’t won the SmackDown women’s title already, but now is a perfect opportunity to guarantee that she will eventually hold the title. Just imagine the possibilities of James Ellsworth trying to help her cash in the contract, only for their plan to be thwarted until eventually she cashes in on a vulnerable champion.

Tamina (7/1): 7/1 odds!? She’s essentially Nia Jax lite, so you know Vince has at least considered the possibility of giving Tamina the briefcase. She had a better than expected match against Naomi this past Tuesday, so if she does win on Sunday, it will be fair to wonder if that match was a jumping off point for her.

Natalya (13/1): It wouldn’t shock me if Nattie won, but her carrying around the briefcase for a few months does feel pointless. Like Ziggler, she’s the veteran in this match, but her job is much harder than Ziggler’s because she’s never had to keep a ladder match, let alone a Money in the Bank ladder match together.

Twitter: @ScottDargis