WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: Samoa Joe is here to stay

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The night of the Royal Rumble was not one of my finer moments since I’ve been given the opportunity to write in this space. In the days following the Rumble, I couldn’t help but think that I was just another fan shouting about what the company had gotten wrong that night.

Specifically, the handling of Samoa Joe.

I yelled from my soapbox that night because I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce Joe, but in hindsight I realize that it would not have been nearly as good as the way he debuted the next night on Raw.

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If he entered the Rumble match at say number 17, it would have broken up the string of mid-carders and given Joe a brief moment of shine, but he would have felt like just another jabroni when Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Goldberg made their way down to the ring.

Instead, Joe was inserted as a main event player right away by “attacking” Seth Rollins and aligning himself with HHH as Hunter’s personal hitman. Even though it’s terrible that Rollins legitimately tore his MCL during their scrap, the reality of Rollins’ injury helped the aura of Joe’s character.

The portion of the crowd who is unfamiliar with Joe’s work around the world and in NXT had a reason to hate him when his music hit during the opening segment on Monday night. Rather than being positioned in the midcard with 99 percent of the roster, he has been placed in the upper echelon of performers.

Not only did he cut a superb promo in the opening 15 minutes, which was incredibly impressive considering the microphone isn’t the strongest weapon in his arsenal, he was given the main event slot against the guy Vince is continuing to push as the company’s next John Cena.

Going into his match on Monday against Roman Reigns, I was worried that Joe would get placed in a 50/50 match against him, which is not how someone gets over with the crowd during their first appearance in the ring.

Thankfully, Joe “beat down” Reigns before the bell rang and then controlled a good chunk of the match before Reigns made his inevitable comeback.

If you want to complain about the finish (Braun Strowman stormed down to the ring when Reigns was in position to vanquish Joe), I’m not going to stop you, but no one should be upset that Joe was given a pinfall victory over Reigns in his first match on the main roster.

It’s clear that Joe is viewed as an asset during the company’s biggest time of the year, which is key for him after WrestleMania. When the part-timers go away and the full-timers are called on to handle the bulk of the shows week in and week out, Joe will be one of the featured attractions on Raw.

Who knows what he’s going to do at Fast Lane now that Rollins is out until WrestleMania and his spot at Super WrestleMania Sunshine appears to be just as murky now that we can piece together a good chunk of the card (HI FINN BALOR), but whatever spot he’s given, the crowd will react appropriately because the company is telling us that we should take him seriously.

Especially when he’s wearing a suit.

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The prettiest GIF you’ll see all day

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Time to “Go Home”

– So is Baron Corbin beginning to make a face turn? Last week he was positioned on commentary with The Miz, but I didn’t think anything of it because Miz has such a big personality when he has a microphone that anyone who opposes him in that space is going to come off as a face.

But during the AJ Styles-Dean Ambrose match last week in which Miz and Corbin were on commentary, Baron kept putting over both guys during the match. Then, this week on SmackDown he interrupted Miz during the opening segment and the crowd cheered for him because he was once again positioned in a spot where they were going to pop.

Ambrose and Styles eventually made their way down and had a very, very good fatal four way match, but let’s rewind for a second. Ambrose could have been positioned in the spot to interrupt the Miz because Dean is a face. Styles would have been next and then Corbin could have been last and declared that he didn’t care who was in the Elimination Chamber because he’s going to run through everyone.

Whatever the case, I’m really digging how they’re pushing Corbin now. The creative team on SmackDown has done a great job with him and Alexa Bliss; two people that never reached their full potential in NXT and are now beginning to thrive on the main roster.

– Was anyone else shocked at how Styles took the End of Days? I thought it would look so much better.

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– Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho and Bill Goldberg had quite the entertaining segment on Monday. It began with Y2J putting Tom Brady on the list for people calling him the G.O.A.T and it ended with Jericho putting Owens in a title match against Goldberg at Fast Lane.

It is a bit of a bummer that Goldberg is going to walk into WrestleMania with the Universal title considering how well the “best friends” angle between Owens and Jericho has gone, but the idea of Goldberg facing Brock Lesnar for the red strap at Mania will appeal to the casual viewer who resurfaces for the company’s biggest show of the year.

– At first I was not a fan of the Braun Strowman’s push because it felt like Vince was once again forcing a big dude on the crowd when he wasn’t ready to take the ball, but now I’m sad that he’s going to get fed to the Roman Empire at Fast Lane.

Strowman has gotten so much better in the ring. Sure, he’s still reckless at times (he dropped Roman right on his head during the powerslam through the barricade spot this past Monday, the link below has the spot queued up), but think about how green he was last July. Kudos to him for improving this much in seven months.

– While the Natalya-Nikki Bella segment started off a bit awkward, it ended with a bang. I was pleasantly surprised that the idea of John Cena leaving Nikki for Natty was suggested by Natalya.

– There were quite a few good to great matches this week: Joe vs. Reigns, Zayn vs. Jericho, Styles vs. Ambrose vs. Corbin vs. Miz, the 12-man tag team match on SD, Cena vs. Orton, but none were better than the Fatal Five Way elimination match on 205 Live between TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, Noam Dar, and Jack Gallagher.

– For the first time since the cruiserweights were reintroduced on the main roster, this is a match worth seeking out. It was physical and high-flying.

– The Ascension got a win?!?!

– Quit teasing us Mauro by name dropping Kurt Angle during an American Alpha match.

– Also, this was a rough week for Mauro. He called the Elimination Chamber the “Hell in a Cell” twice and had quite a few slip-ups on commentary. No one is going to be robotically perfect in this role, but Mauro can make so many mistakes at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if making mistake becomes his gimmick. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen.

– So Lesnar and Paul Heyman showed up after Raw for a dark match segment with Big Show. Got it.

– I thought the duel contract signing segment on SmackDown was very effective. Mickie James, Becky Lynch and Alexa did an excellent job with their promos, especially Lynch. Naomi still has some work to do on that end, but the head kick she delivered to Alexa over the table looked really good.

– The finishing sequence to Akira Tozawa’s debut on Raw was pretty slick. The snap German suplex got a nice reaction.

– So Sasha is definitely costing Bayley the title next Monday, right? Does that mean we’re going to get Nia Jax vs. Charlotte at Fast Lane?

– Don’t get on Cody Rhodes’ bad side:

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