WWE

WWE Weekly Recap: The Ballad of Braun Strowman

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Throughout last Monday’s edition of Raw, the commentary team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton promoted Braun Strowman vs. Big Show as the main event of the show. The first time Cole mentioned it I thought to myself, this seems like an odd choice.

Who would want to watch Strowman and Show go one-on-one in the final segment?

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As I watched the surprisingly solid match late on last Monday night/Tuesday morning, it made me realize just how much Braun Strowman has progressed over the last 18 months.

It wasn’t that long ago that he was lumbering around the ring like a big toddler who was learning to walk for the first time. He’d awkwardly flail his arms around while waiting for his opponent to hit him and his offense was just a series of long rest holds.

Despite his incredible size, Strowman showed absolutely zero signs of being the athlete that he has become since the brand split.

The pacing of his matches was and still remains an issue. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be because his offense has expanded. In his initial matches, Strowman chucked Dean Ambrose and Reigns around the ring like they were cruiserweights, but the crowd just sat on their hands bored AF.

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The live audience isn’t going to react to power spots if they’re immediately killed by constant rest holds.

Do not click off of the page if you get bored by the match I’m about to put below. Just politely scroll down and continue on your way.

Flash forward to just over a month before Super WrestleMania Sunshine and the “monster among men” has blossomed into a legitimate main event talent.

His move set has greatly expanded, which has given him the ability to ditch some of the rest holds that once slowed the pace of his matches. His selling is still not great by any means, but it’s gotten worlds better since the match I posted above that you totally didn’t finish watching.

His promo skills are perfectly acceptable (I thought he did a good job of running down Foley this past Monday) and something about him screaming at full blast while putting his arms into the air after destroying someone just doesn’t seem to get old.

He runs at full speed into the barricade and ring posts too much for my liking, but you know a talent has something when you have someone who is six-feet, eight inches tall and weighs 378 pounds and can do this:

At Fast Lane, Strowman is scheduled to face John Cena 2.0 Reigns in the second highest match on the card. It’s a chance for Braun to prove that he’s ready for the even bigger push that may come after WrestleMania.

It’s also a chance for Vince to actually make a new main event player, which we all know WWE needs right now considering how thin the roster is being spread across both brands.

There is a genuine fear by many fans that Reigns will “overcome the odds” and pin Strowman clean in the middle of the ring in order to heat him up for his rumored WrestleMania match against the Undertaker.

Throughout this current feud, Strowman has gotten the best of Reigns at every turn, which if you follow the traditional WWE formula means that Roman will most likely win at the PPV.

If Braun loses to Roman clean in the middle, it will immediately put him on a level underneath the full-time main event talent, which would be a shame considering how well Strowman’scharacter has been booked since the draft.

While SmackDown has been developing Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, the entire women’s division, Luke Harper, AJ Styles, American Alpha, Heath Slater and Rhyno, the Fashion Police and a totally new version of the Usos, Raw has struggled to develop new male stars.

Kevin Owens slid into Finn Balor’s spot as the Undisputed Champion and that’s about it. Seth Rollins’ face turn hasn’t worked. Big Cass and Enzo are as popular now as they were when they debuted. Roman is still getting a chorus of boos on a weekly basis. Rusev is being wasted. Insert Sami Zayn geek joke here.

Even if he is playing a new character, Chris Jericho is an established star under the WWE umbrella, so he doesn’t apply here. It’s the same reason that I left The Miz out of the SmackDown paragraph.

BO DALLAS HAD JOBBER MATCHES

The New Day is talking about making ice cream machines. Gallows and Anderson are wearing bogus Bullet Club knockoff shirts because that’s exactly what they are right now. The Shining Stars are being wasted. You could possibly talk me into Cesaro and Sheamus, but you know that they would both be in such a better spot if they were on SmackDown.

Besides Owens, Strowman has been the only male talent on Raw who has been given a designed push to get over. It’s been said before, but Vince does know how to book a big guy and Strowman is an athletic giant. There’s a reason McMahon requested that he work on his skills in developmental without appearing on NXT.

Vince’s vision is now coming to life, but he’s about to hit a potential barricade on the road to WrestleMania.

Reigns is already an established star. He may not receive the type of crowd reaction that Vince and Co. would like (MEEKMAHAN is still determined to push him as his next big babyface), but this point cannot be disputed: Reigns is one of the biggest names on the current roster.

The Roman Empire (ew) could be beaten clean in the middle of the ring by Strowman and wouldn’t lose a bit of momentum heading into his match against the “Deadman,” but with how defiant Reigns has been in storyline about getting this match, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be eating a pinfall on Sunday.

This is an opportunity to go against the grain and give Strowman a star-making win, but the timing just isn’t right.

The best case scenario for Braun is a double count-out after a huge spot on the outside that “takes out” both men. It gets both guys out of the match without a legitimate finish.

Will Vince pull the trigger?

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Photo of the week (Thanks to Redditor KrispinDallas2)

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That’s a teenage Kevin Owens wearing a Y2J shirt.

Time to “Go Home”

Raw was so bad this past week, so my apologies for all of the negativity that’s about to follow:

– Even though Nia Jax continued to look terrible in the ring, the blown spot between her, Bayley, and Sasha was not Jax’s fault. Sasha forgot that Bayley tagged her into the ring and then proceeded to botch a spot where she and Bayley were supposed to hit the ropes at the same time.

– Dana Brooke had one job and totally blew it. No wonder Charlotte didn’t want to team with her.

– The Oscar joke that the New Day attempted was just embarrassingly bad.

– One day I’ll care about the cruiserweight division, but at this rate, I’m not sure that day will ever come.

– Big Cass and Luke Gallows is a match I never want to see again.

– Enzo is turning heel … right?

– The Seth Rollins segment before HHH came out was worse than the New Day’s Oscar joke. I lost count at how many times Rollins called Graves “dude” and this is coming from someone who says dude multiple times on a daily basis.

– Here’s something I enjoyed from Raw: Kevin Owens and Bill Goldberg’s opening segment. It was a nice, quick 10-minute promo to open the show, but Goldberg posing to Owens’ music at the end of the segment was just awkward.

– Samoa Joe vs. Cesaro was WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY too short. After the multitude of short wrestling segments on Monday, I thought for sure those guys were going to go for at least 15 minutes and put on a clinic.

OK, now onto the good stuff:

– AJ Styles vs. Luke Harper was very good. Harper once again got the chance to shine, even though he got pinned twice by Styles.

– I’m expecting Shane McMahon to “find” a different angle from the battle royal that shows Styles’ feet hitting the ground before Harper’s, which will springboard us into a Shane vs. AJ feud …

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– Cena and The Miz talked for 20 minutes and I didn’t want them to stop. Both cut excellent promos and I was legitimately shocked when Cena told Miz that he “stole Chris Jericho’s character” after debuting with the company 10 years ago.

– Even Maryse did a good job!

– I underestimated how much I like seeing Cena and Nikki Bella on screen together.

– I don’t understand why some people think Cena seems checked out heading into this Mania program against the Miz. He was “on” during this past week’s SmackDown and has been channeling the word life version of his character for weeks now.

– Becky Lynch and Mickie James worked a very, very good two-out-of-three falls match, but with Lynch picking up the victory and Natalya challenging Bliss backstage after the match, I have no idea who is going to wrestle for the SmackDown women’s title at WrestleMania.

– I was not a fan of Randy Orton’s closing promo. I loved how it was shot, but it felt like Orton was talking forever and most of the dialogue made me hover over the fast-forward button for a solid five minutes.

– Is Wyatt or Orton the babyface heading into their Mania program? It was really easy to sympathize with Wyatt as Orton burned down his compound.

The Twitter: @ScottDargis

Adam Cole: I want to have the biggest personality in the room and not just on the microphone

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Before Adam Cole heads to the Smoothie King Center for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on WWE Network, I chatted with him about how much he’s learned during his time in NXT, what makes the NXT crowds special and what it was like to meet Shawn Michaels. 

About a year ago you said that if you made the jump to WWE that you would want to start off in NXT as opposed to going right to the main roster, flash forward to now and you’re an established star in NXT. Is this part of your journey everything you thought it would be?

“Yeah for sure. When I come into a situation, especially like this one in NXT, my goal is to get to perform in front of these fans, to get to wrestle with these guys, who are in my opinion, some of the best wrestlers in the entire world. I felt like I could fit really well in this environment and I think I have. To get the chance to do what I’ve done here so far has been a total blast and so much fun.

But at the same time it’s exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’ve gotten to do things in NXT, and even WWE, that I didn’t imagine I would get the chance to do. Very happy with the journey so far.”

In what ways have you grown as a performer since coming to WWE?

“There’s just such a better understanding of who I am actually as a performer. You fall kind of into … I don’t want to say a routine because you’re always trying to improve and get better, but when you wrestle for certain organizations time-and-time again, you kind of fall into this routine of performing a certain way and having matches a certain way. Also, after a while you’ve wrestled everyone over-and-over again.

Getting to come here and getting to wrestle a bunch of new talent, some guys I’ve met before and some guys that I’ve never met before. It puts you in a situation where you learn to adapt and change, whether it be character wise, things that you do in the ring. It just gives you new challenges.

I’m teaming a lot more with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, so that throws me into a different situation as far as learning to wrestle as part of a team as opposed to working solo most of the time.

Also the fans, I’ve noticed in each and every promotion, even though there are a lot of similarities in many different ways, NXT is a totally different animal.

Overall, adapting has been the biggest growing point for me.”

Interesting, in what ways are the NXT crowds different from the other promotions you’ve worked for.

“The NXT fans to me are in love and so infatuated with the characters. So to me when you see a guy like Velveteen Dream or No Way Jose and the way that they’re so invested in them as performers, not even necessarily with what they’re doing between the ropes, but in their entrances.

I feel the connection with the audience is just so much greater than anything I’ve felt before. It’s pretty incredible, especially when you’re at TakeOver events.”

When I watch the backstage segments with you, Kyle, and Bobby, they come off like old school nWo style promos. Obviously the music playing in the background, which sounds like a new age nWo theme, and the camera angles help, but it’s the natural chemistry you guys have on camera because it seems like you’re just having fun and being yourselves on camera. I would imagine it has to be awesome to just bounce off of each other while filming those.

“Oh man yeah, it’s so much fun. I think that’s exactly why it comes off that way. Me, Bobby, and Kyle are as close as it gets. That’s not just a performance. I’ve known Kyle O’Reilly since 2009 and I was in his wedding. I’ve known Bobby Fish for years and years, we used to travel together all of the time. We talk every single day.

So when we’re there and we’re talking in front of the camera, that’s just us having a good time and I think that’s a big reason why the group works so well. It’s very natural because it’s very real. So I think in turn how we project ourselves comes off as fun because we are genuinely having a great time together.”

Speaking of coming off natural, you come off so natural on the microphone. I talked with Ronda [Rousey] this week about where she’s at in terms of speed while talking in front of the live audience and then I asked Roman [Reigns] about it and he talked about how he was able to process the idea of taking his time to make sure he stopped rushing through his material.

Is the speaking part of the business something that you were able to gravitate towards and get comfortable with quickly?

“I think so. There is a constant growth process. I think that’s why I love this job so much. There’s no such thing as completely perfecting every area of it, you’re always trying to get better at it.

For me, I picked up the promo aspect of pro wrestling much faster than the actual wrestling part of it. I was always fairly athletic and I could do things even from the beginning of my career, when I was 18 and 19 years old. I was always the guy who could always string words together and found what I was saying to be actually believable however I was trying to come across, whether that be somewhat likeable or somewhat of a jerk.

I don’t know why that is, but I remember as a kid just being so fascinated by guys who were good talkers. Even in movies. I used to love the way James Bond villains would act and how cool they came across and how awful they seemed, but what they were saying was so believable.

I’ve always been fascinated by guys, especially bad guys, who were able to talk a certain way, tell stories with their words and just paint this beautiful picture for that you just completely rode along with. I’ve focused a fair amount of time on making sure that promos were something I really focused on.”

Your in-ring style is very interesting to me. You’re a smaller guy, but you work a style that is similar to a lot of bigger guys and it’s because of this slower pace that the spots actually mean something, especially when you build up to the climax of a match. Is that a pace that you’ve always had, or was there a certain point where you were like, OK I need to slow down now and figure out what works for me?

“That was something I developed over time. When I first started, I was definitely a guy that was doing every move under the sun and I was going a million miles an hour and just trying to wow the fans as much as I could. I thought that was the way to get them invested in me. Don’t get me wrong, that style is very impressive, but I on purpose work a certain style. It’s very important for me to do that.

It’s obvious that I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I want to have the biggest personality in the room and part of that personality isn’t just on the microphone. That’s the way I have to project myself in the ring as well.

All of my favorites in this business really took their time. They made everything they did mean something. Every movement they made had a purpose and that’s the type of performer I’m most comfortable being and that’s the type of performer I want to be too.”

There are so many performers doing unbelievable things we’ve never seen before on what feels like a weekly basis now, but after 20, 30 minutes go by and the match ends, I’ve seen so many big spots that it just feels like a blur, where as your matches build up to a few big spots that are easy to remember.

For instance, I watched your match with AJ [Styles] in Ring of Honor recently and you guys worked such a slower pace, but it built up to a huge finishing spot that is going to stick with the viewer. When I come across a match like that one it just feels so different in comparison to a lot of the matches we’re seeing nowadays.

“Sure, sure. You bring up AJ and he’s the king of that. AJ is a guy that can do anything under the sun. He’s one of the most athletically gifted guys there is, but AJ is able to place his stuff and put it in situations where he has the fans completely in the palm of his hand.

He knows he can do anything, but he knows that the biggest reaction he’s going to get from the audience is working a certain style and taking them on this ride by building a story within the match.

Doing a million things is very impressive, but if you forget 90 percent of it, it’s kind of a shame.”

How many times has someone come up to you at the Performance Center and said you look like Shawn Michaels?

“(Laughs) More times than I can count. Whether that be at the Performance Center, whether that be fans. I think I get at least five or six tweets a week about how I look like Shawn Michaels. To me it’s just a giant compliment.”

Has he said that to you?

“Yeah! When we first met he said, ‘A lot of people tell me that you and I look alike and now that I met ya I see what they mean.”

Who is somebody in NXT that you haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet that you’re looking forward to getting in the ring with?

“I’ll tell you what, I would love the chance to have any sort of a program with Velveteen Dream. I think that guy has so much potential. He’s so good now. His understanding of the industry for his age is unbelievable. His natural talent is the same. I watch him, I’m captivated by what he does, so to get the chance to be in there with him in some capacity would be great.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis 

Ronda Rousey Now Has the Chance to be Herself

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Even though there are certain aspects of the professional wrestling business that feel natural to her, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she’s a former Olympian and was one of, if not the most dominant female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey knows she still has a lot to learn about the second act of her professional career.

The “Rowdy” one grew up as a huge wrestling fan, but then learned at a later age that the action was choreographed. It was a discovery that drove her away from paying attention to the business.

Fast forward to her time on top of the UFC and there she was sitting on the couch, with her friends, watching Monday Night Raw as a fan again. Thanks to Shayna Baszler’s insistence, wrestling once more became a part of Rousey’s life, but this time it acted as an escape from the rigorous world of MMA. It was a window into another world that gave her the ability to just kick back and relax.

Fast forward again to today and now pro wrestling is no longer a way for Rousey to relax, it’s the main focus of her life.

You can watch WrestleMania live around the world April 8 on the WWE Network at a special start time of 7 p.m ET. 

She’s all in, which means she now must adjust to a world that isn’t exactly the easiest to become comfortable in considering her entire athletic career has been focused around the idea of finishing her opponent to find success. Now she must work with an opponent to make the music that will gain a response from the crowd.

It’s that major change that Rousey called her “biggest adjustment” when I chatted with her last week. “I’ve learned a lot about teamwork. That’s basically the main thing. Being in a team environment and working with everyone to make it great. It’s actually been a real joy to learn and to feel less lonely in my endeavors.”

But playing nice with others isn’t as easy as it looks. There are major alterations that had to be made in order for Ronda’s physical work to be fit for television.

“I mean things that I’ve already done in the past a million times feel natural, but how and where we’re applying them is still unnatural. Like the timing things are a little weird and have been been hard for me to pick up. I’m used to being as compact as possible. I’m used to trying to hide my face,” Rousey said.

“There are just a bunch of little things like being aware of where the cameras are and stuff like that. Stuff that I’ve never thought of once in my life are things that I now have to keep in mind. I think the pace and timing are the biggest adjustment. The actual techniques are there, but they also have to be adjusted as well. Every throw I’ve done has been with the intention to inflict as much harm as possible and not to look good, so I need to change things to make everything look more grand and be more safe. To work with somebody else and to learn to take cues when my whole life I’ve kept things very secret and sudden has been a huge adjustment.”

During her training for fights, Rousey would focus on figuring out ways to submit her opponent while she rolled or performed judo with her training partner. Her coaches would watch her technique to figure out what she could potentially apply in her next fight.

She’s still rolling and doing judo techniques with a training partner now, mostly Shayna, but instead of figuring out ways to put her opponent away, she and the trainers down at WWE’s Performance Center are figuring out which techniques can be applied to a live match.

“It’s not really like I need to get more reps with judo. I’ve done enough judo stuff for several lifetimes. There’s so much that both of us do that we really don’t think about and so I like to have someone like Sara Amato watch Shayna and I or anyone else, roll around and see if she could spot something that might be applicable in the ring,” Rousey said.

“I can’t be like, ‘Hey this is what I did’ because there are so many times when I’m in a grappling exchange or sparring and I’ll just do something that I know is brilliant and the other person doesn’t even know how they ended up getting caught, but I know it was great and then I end up moving on and forgetting about it.”

Ronda continued, “It’s not like I’m walking in there and I’m going to do some grappling that looks cool, but doesn’t work for wrestling. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go work over here, tell us if anything is useful.’ Sara will step in from time to time and ask us to do something again or change it around so we do it like this. It’s been a big help.”

The concept of maximizing “spots,” which is wrestling lingo for a big move or moment in a match or segment, is something that Rousey has studied feverishly over the past few months. It’s easy for someone new to the business to feel like they have to get all of their stuff in during a short amount of time, but this can actually be a detriment because it means none of the moments that are supposed to leave a lasting impact will be felt by the audience.

In order to help her understand just how important small movements are to building up to a big spot, WWE wrestler and well-respected trainer Brian Kendrick gave Rousey a key homework assignment that helped her unlock the concept of how to put together a match.

“He had me watch Hulk Hogan vs. The Undertaker [from Survivor Series 1991] just to teach me how much it really is all about the story and how little physically I really need to do. I don’t need to be a spotty person,” Rousey explained. “The Undertaker going down on one knee is all that needed to happen in order to get a reaction from the crowd. They really didn’t do that much physically to each other. That was a really good learning session for me. I can have this tendency where I go, ‘I know so, I know so, I know so,’ and I’ll do all of these things, but that match really taught me where to apply things intelligently instead of just throwing them out there.”

But it can be hard to avoid throwing everything you have when you get nervous and start moving fast, which is something that Rousey is self-aware of, especially when the microphone is in her hand.

“My sentences are chopped up into little pieces, so what seems to me like three seconds is probably more like one second. That’s one thing I’m learning. Once I think it’s been too long, to wait even more. I need to triple how patient I am,” she said.

It was evident to see just how different the speed was for someone who is still clearly getting adjusted to the nuances of the business and someone like Paige, who has grown up in the wrestling business and very clearly understands who her character is and more importantly, how her character should sound.

Rousey knows she has a long way to go in order to gain the confidence she needs to cut a badass promo, but she’s determined to find her voice and to not sound like anyone else who has come before her.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to walk out there and cut a promo like Paige because she has been in this business since she was a little kid. She doesn’t talk like I do and if I walked out there and started talking like that, nobody would buy it because I know that I don’t talk like that,” Rousey said.

“It’s a fine line to walk,” she continued, “I have to be myself, but mold myself to fit into that environment because there is a risk of trying to do too much that will make people roll their eyes at me. I don’t want people to look at me and go, ‘Oh look at Ronda trying to be a pro wrestler.’ I want to go out there and speak as myself. That’s it. That’s what I’m good at. I can speak to large crowds of people and I’ve done that for years and now I need to find my own way instead of copying other people’s way.”

But having someone like Paige backstage is only going to assist her in her goal to become the best she possibly can be in this business and it’s something that she’s very conscious of.

“Having all of the examples around me really help like Paige, who is conquered a style and really made it work for her. She’s molded it through years of practice. I’m just surrounded by amazing examples.”

One of those amazing examples is Goldust, who is the eldest son of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Goldust is a true veteran of the industry and is someone that Rousey was absolutely thrilled to meet.

“Goldust took me aside the other day and gave me some advice and I was like, ‘Oh my God it’s Goldust and he’s giving me advice.’ I was geeking out so hard while still trying to receive information (laughs).”

In the previous act of her life, Rousey was forced to talk in a reactionary style interview. A microphone would be put in her face after a fight and she would have to respond to questions about how she forced her opponent to submit and then call out someone for her next fight.

In this act, Rousey must use her microphone time to drive along a story line with specific pieces of dialogue. It’s a totally different style, but one that she finds liberating.

“I think it’s more of a release than anything. I was always on the defensive, on guard. They were asking me questions with a certain answer in mind, they were trying to get a reaction out of me.” Rousey said of her MMA interviews.

“I think this is like a cool discovery process,” she continued. “People say, ‘Well who is your character?’ But I’m really thinking like, who am I because I’m me out there. I have to be much more introspective than I would in a reactionary environment.”

As Rousey continues to figure out how to apply her voice and her physical gifts to achieve greatness in this stage of her career, she is also going through a journey on a personal level to find herself, to find happiness outside of a world that made her name famous across the globe.

“I’ve never been allowed to just be myself,” she said.

Well now is her chance.

Twitter: @ScottDargis