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

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