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WWE: Let’s reshuffle WrestleMania 33’s main events

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Please don’t yell at me for this simmering take that I’m about to share regarding Super WrestleMania Sunshine.

None of the 13* matches that have been either announced or heavily rumored, feel special.

(There’s an asterisk in the sentence above because Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles hasn’t been officially announced by WWE yet and the way Shane’s final sentence was worded on Tuesday left the door open for him to appoint a representative to face Styles in Orlando. If we get Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles, it will be special.)

After looking at the card again, the best in-ring match on paper is Neville vs. Austin Aries, but who knows if they’ll get the time to put on a 15-minute exhibition. There are 13 matches on the card after all, so someone’s time is getting cut.

The amount of upper-midcard/main event level talent that WWE has at their disposal is actually pretty good when you line it up: Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, HHH, Undertaker, Randy Orton, John Cena, AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins.

So what’s the problem?

It’s pretty simple really, the combinations just don’t feel right at all.

It’s like when you scroll through Facebook for no reason and notice that two seemingly incompatible people that you went to high school with are now dating. For a moment you stop, look at the photo or status update and wonder, how did we get here?

WrestleMania is a little more than two weeks away. I don’t want to say that it looks like just another PPV because creative has really tried to incorporate deeper storytelling in the key matches, but it also doesn’t feel like we’re about to witness the company’s biggest show of the year.

On some level, the creative team and Vince have succeeded because I find myself invested in quite a few of the matches that I knew were coming, including John Cena/Nikki Bella vs. The Miz/Maryse.

But look at that list of 12 names again. There’s potential for a really interesting WrestleMania card if you just mix the combinations up a bit. So, let’s fantasy book using the names above and see where it takes us.

WWE Universal Championship match: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Chris Jericho

This one just makes sense right? Why not reward the longest active storyline on Raw with a world championship match. Owens has really hit his stride since the heel turn on Jericho and the feud has legitimate main event level heat. It’s amazing to me that at this point in his career Jericho is a WHITE HOT babyface. Just goes to show how excellent both performers were over the last eight months.

WWE Championship match: Bray Wyatt (C) vs. Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles

I need a transition here, think you can help Lance Storm?

Survivor Series was the last time I needed to see Shane McMahon risk his well-being in a professional wrestling ring. He’s lucky he didn’t get seriously injured on this spot:

If you’re reading this column, you know that AJ is going to drag an acceptable match out of Shane, especially at WrestleMania. Styles is, right now, at this moment, the best in-ring performer in the company. He’s going to bust his ass in order to tell a story while protecting Vince’s child as much as he can, but Shane is a showman and is going to sacrifice his well-being for the thrill of performing in front of 50,000+ people and millions more on television.

So not only would this triple threat match protect Shane, it would be a damn good match and actually makes sense in the storyline.

(I thought about making this a Fatal-Four Way match with Luke Harper, but it’s just too much of a stretch to put Harper in a WWE title match at the biggest show of the year.

Goldberg vs. Undertaker

The Undertaker doesn’t appear to be in WrestleMania shape right now. He reportedly needs hip surgery, so wouldn’t a quick match against Goldberg be the perfect solution?

Have Goldberg hit the spear and Jackhammer on Taker in the first two minutes, only for the Undertaker to kick out and then go on to beat Goldberg within five minutes. Not only would the crowd go bonkers, but it would save the Undertaker from having to perform a long, taxing match.

There’s only so many first-time-ever matches left with long-time veterans like Goldberg and The Undertaker. This would actually be an attraction, unlike Lesnar vs. Goldberg III.

After the short match, Undertaker can go get his hip worked on and then put Roman Reigns over next year.

Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

Even though we’re probably going to get this match at some point during Lesnar’s inevitable title reign, it would make sense to give Strowman a reward for how much he’s improved since the brand split.

This match would be like Godzilla vs. King Kong. Two giants knocking over buildings in their path. I mean, remember when Strowman didn’t go down for Lesnar’s clothesline in the 2016 Royal Rumble and then Brock flattened him with a legit clothesline.

Just imagine the build we could have had; the two could have brawled in the ring after Stephanie and Mick Foley ordered them not to touch before Mania. Referees, fake security guards, and random guys in the back would try to separate them only to fall victim to a bunch of F-5s or crazy Strowman chokeslams.

Strowman has proved he can chain-wrestle with a bigger opponent, now he just has to prove that he can brawl with Lesnar. 

Lesnar can put on a really good match with supersize opponents and Strowman’s performance in the Raw main event against the Big Show and his Fast Lane match against Reigns proved that he’s ready for a WrestleMania moment that doesn’t involve the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

HHH vs. Seth Rollins

I have no issue with the build for Triple H and Rollins. If you want to nitpick Hunter’s promos for sounding a bit too much like a babyface, I’m not going to argue with you, but his Monday beatdown on Seth came off really well.

The biggest question here is: Where does Samoa Joe fit into the equation? With Finn Balor ready to return, it’s fair to wonder if Balor will cut off Joe if he tries to interfere in the match. Personally, I’d love to see Balor connect with Joe and Owens to form an NXT stable with HHH as the figurehead.

Now here’s a dilemma. There are only two names left on the list. John Cena and Roman Reigns. It would be pointless for the two to square off at Mania without something on the line. So, what if we did:

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns (winner gets his brand the first pick in the 2017 WWE Draft)

This match can easily be repeated for the title at a future WrestleMania, so it’s OK to burn an encounter between the two, especially with how positively the crowd has been responding to Cena lately.

Either guy could conceivably walk away with the victory, which makes the match even more intriguing.

If you just skimmed the last section, here’s a comparison of the top matches at WrestleMania 33 and my proposed card for the event:

                    WrestleMania 33        Alternate universe WrestleMania 33
Lesnar vs. Goldberg (C) for Universal title Jericho vs. Owens (C) for Universal title
Orton vs. Wyatt (C) for WWE title Orton vs. Styles vs. Wyatt (C) for WWE title
Undertaker vs. Reigns Undertaker vs. Goldberg
Cena and Nikki vs. Miz and Maryse Cena vs. Reigns for first draft pick
Owens vs. Jericho (C) for U.S. title Lesnar vs. Strowman
HHH vs. Rollins HHH vs. Rollins
Styles vs. Shane One less bout opens time for other matches

I’m going to watch WrestleMania 33 live just like all of you are going to. It’s going to feel like WWE’s Super Bowl, which is what it’s supposed to be, but it’s hard to get excited as I have in previous years when it’s so easy to put together a superior card.

March Madness tribute video

Let’s “Go Home”

– If Miz can hold a conversation in French, the Miz and Maryse should do an episode of Miz TV where they only speak in French with English subtitles. This would be an easy way to get heat.

– Thought Maryse did a nice job closing her promo, even if the segment went on too long.

– So Nia Jax got DQ’d for beating up Bayley too badly? Hate that finish.

– Shawn Michaels is in WrestleMania shape.

– In storyline, Gallows and Anderson are morons. How could they not see the triple threat stipulation coming if they attacked both teams?

– I love that even the heels were questioning Styles after he beatdown Shane.

– Did Styles say “I’ll kill you” before throwing McMahon through the car window?

– Ambrose should have been one of the police officers escorting Styles out after Bryan fired him.

– I thought Dana Brooke was acceptable in the ring against Sasha Banks.

– “When the time is right, screw him!” Ugh, that’s what creative came up with for Orton’s big promo after burning Wyatt’s house?

– I LOVED Bray’s promo. He felt unhinged.

– The segment order of SmackDown was awfully strange. AJ should have attacked Shane as he was leaving and then Bryan could have rushed over and fired Styles on the spot to close the show.

– Was American Alpha vs. The Usos advertised once on television before the final segment or did I just totally miss it?

– Woof … ZERO pop for American Alpha

– Austin Aries gets a borderline jobber entrance for his Raw debut? Sad!

– Are we supposed to insinuate that Corbin has a forklift fetish? He was way too happy standing next to it before Dasha interrupted.

– From one Rutgers alumnus to another, congrats Eric LeGrand.

– The cruiserweights are starting to hit their stride. I really enjoyed the Tony Nese/The Brian Kendrick vs. TJ Perkins/Akira Tozawa match on Monday. The pacing of the cruiserweight matches is picking up just a bit.

– Does anyone else really like the Usos hoodies? I could see those being a potential merch mover if the WWE logo is kept off of them.

– It was so refreshing to hear a two-man booth on SmackDown. I like Mauro, but Tom Phillips really could slide into that role without skipping a beat.

The Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque’s quest to change WWE as we know it

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Paul Levesque, aka “Triple H”, has evolved from one of the top performers of his generation, to a prominent role behind the scenes as the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative for WWE. I had the chance to chat with “HHH” about what he specifically looks for when he’s recruiting new talent, why this past year has been so challenging for NXT and how he presents new talent to Vince McMahon. 

(Don’t miss NXT Takeover: Orlando on Saturday, April 1 at 8 p.m. ET Live on WWE Network)

Me: You’ve had an incredible in-ring career; a 14-time world champion. As I look up and down the WrestleMania 33 card I see so many NXT alums and I wonder, what did you learn from your time as a performer that has helped you as an evaluator of talent?

Paul “HHH” Levesque: “Oh man … everything that I’ve learned since I’ve walked through the door. The funny thing for me is that I’ve been in a unique position during my career. I was fascinated early with the behind the scenes and production aspects of the business.

So, shortly after I came to WWE I was in creative conversations with Vince that led to me to being offered to come to production meetings, which I didn’t have to go to. I would get up early on TV days and go to these production meetings that I didn’t need to be a part of. People thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t trying to do anything more than learn. I wanted to learn what they were looking for.

The vision of what the talent thinks they want and what the office thinks they want are sometimes two different things.

I have the unique perspective of having both sides and that allows me to I think look at talent a different way, but to also to be able to say here’s what you need to be able to do. Here’s the way you need to be able to work at it. Here’s the way you need to perceive cameras and how cameras see you. How you put your character out there and how you put your brand out there.

At the end of the day for us, characters are all about charisma. So that’s the thing you’re looking for the most. I see a lot of unbelievable athletes come through the Performance Center; sometimes they have charisma, sometimes they don’t.

I’ve hired a lot [of people] that have charisma, but aren’t necessarily the greatest athletes we saw that week because you just can’t take your eyes off of them.

For example, there’s a guy that I hired in China that everybody on the team who was over there didn’t put this kid on the list and when we went through the list at the end of the day of who we’re going to offer an opportunity to come and train with the WWE I was like, ‘Where’s this kid?’ and everyone was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’

I was like, ‘No, where is he?’ He was heavy and a Mongolian wrestler, so he’s athletic but he’s heavier and in some ways he’s not anything we would look for, but he worked his butt off. He was always last, but he never quit man. He just went. Some guys would pull up with an injury and they’d go sit out. You could clearly tell that they were just gasping for air and needed to sit for a second. They’d be back ten minutes later.

He gutted through everything and you couldn’t take your eyes off of this guy. He did stuff that was funny, even though he didn’t mean for it to be that way. He was always the center of attention, even when he wasn’t doing anything!

Everyone was against him and I said ‘Is there anybody in this room who didn’t watch this guy the entire day? I’ve heard everyone talk about this guy. Why? He’s the sleeper money in this group.’

So we brought him [to the Performance Center] and there’s not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t send me a clip or a photo of him doing something where there’s 10 or 15 people around him watching. He’s just one of those naturally charismatic people that you can’t put your finger on why.

I look for that more than I look for anything else.

Is he ever going to do a moonsault? Probably not. Is he ever going to be a Shawn Michaels in the ring? I guarantee you he won’t. But, if he loves it, if he works hard and keeps himself straight, he’s probably going to make it and he’s probably going to be good.

That’s the biggest thing to me, the charisma factor.”

You kind of answered my next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. When you’re scouting someone, what do you specifically look for?

“Look, I mean there are other factors as well. I don’t want to make it sound like ‘Oh, look at this guy he has a big personality and forget all of the rest of it.’ Obviously athleticism, the willingness to do this, the desire to work hard, but then there’s leadership qualities that we really look for.

When guys go to a camp, sometimes people watch them and go, ‘You’re just making these people throw-up in garbage can because you’re working them so hard.’ I want to push them to where they’re really outside of their comfort range and then see what they do with it.

It’s really easy to be nice and be the perfect professional when you feel great, but when you’re on the verge of puking in barrel and you’re exhausted and there’s someone barking at you to do more and the guy next to you just fell on you because he’s at the same place you are, do you help pick him up or do you curse at him and go about your own business?

There are differences in how people react to things. I’m looking for leaders. I’m looking for someone that can be a professional. I’m looking for the consummate athlete on all aspects.

It’s not just one thing, but if you ask me the one thing I look for, charisma is king.”

Going back for a second to the guy that you were talking about in China; it seemed as though there was and still is a certain look that a talent needs in order to reach a certain level of success in WWE. Now, obviously there have been exceptions to the rule, but it seems like over the past few years you’ve bucked that trend. How did that transition happen?

“So, I’m a big believer in talent is talent. It comes in all shapes, sizes, looks, feels, everything. I think sometimes there’s been a bad rap of like take this as the thing that’s most successful, so that’s what we’re going to give.

I think that’s happen here in the past. People can say whatever about WWE and look, is there a particular style of athlete [we look for]? Sure, it’s like that in anything.

If you’re shown steak all of the time, it’s no surprise that you’re going to eat steak. So when everybody coming to you with the same look and feel, a certain pattern begins to develop because that’s what being put in front of you and that’s what you have to select from.

My selection process is different. Yes, I understand what Vince likes and what Vince sees in an ideal archetype performer, but I also know him well enough to know that he likes a lot of different archetypes, so I’m not going to give him one; I’m going to give him a little bit of everything.

He’s going to see a Bray Wyatt and go (Vince voice) ‘That’s great!’ He’s going to see a Braun Strowman and go ‘Ah yeah, that’s my wheelhouse right there. I love that.’ He’s going to see Finn Balor and hear the girls going nuts and then see the paint and go ‘Geez look at that, I love that!’ That’s something that I don’t think would have been put in front of him eight years ago.

I sometimes wonder if Bray Wyatt would have been put in front of him 10 years ago. I don’t know that he would of. That doesn’t mean that Vince wouldn’t have loved him back then.

I want there to be so much diversity on every level. I want it to be international diversity. I want there to be something for everybody within WWE so you can gravitate towards characters that you can relate to. That’s still a work in progress.

It’s a work in progress when you look at the Performance Center and you look at the talent there and see that 40 percent of the talent is international now, there’s 17 countries represented. A quarter of the talent there is women. The diversity level is at an all-time high and that’s on purpose. We’ve done that for desired effect.

Is it showing right now on the main roster? Nah, not necessarily because it’s going to take a little bit of time to percolate up, but it’s there.

I want that diversity. When you talk about the women, I want there to be a Sasha Banks; the smaller, run her mouth, cocky, arrogant, little athlete. I want there to be a bigger, dominant athlete like a Charlotte. I want there to be a Nia Jax that brings a whole different danger component. I want there to be a Bayley that is this naïve, fan-friendly, little girl centric character that everybody loves.

Then you still want there to be the Bellas, who are like the Kardashians of the women’s division. You want that variety.

It’s the same with the guys. I want there to be a Cena, I want there to be a Randy Orton. But I also want there to be a Bray Wyatt. I want there to be a Braun Strowman. I want there to be a Finn Balor. I want there to be a Samoa Joe or a Kevin Owens. Big Cass and then a little guy like Enzo that can run his mouth nonstop.

I want that diversity.”

As I looked at the WrestleMania card and noticed all of the former NXT stars, I thought about how much the roster has changed over the last year. There have been so many guys and girls that have gotten the call-up to the main roster, how challenging has it been to deal with such a major transition to NXT?

“So that’s been the most challenging thing for me in the last year. When we had the draft, 16 talents got called up. I started over with the women’s division. Thank God I kept Asuka because she’s been the anchor. My male division was pretty much stripped down. I lost a lot of it.

Behind the scenes, the same thing happened. My executive producer that works with me on the show got called up. I got a new one; he made it two weeks before he got called up.

I lost my edit team that helped me get the feel and the look of the brand because they got called up. I was thrilled for them. They were so good that the office said, ‘Look we’re expanding, we’re going to do 205, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. We need these people.’

I’m very hands on with the writing of NXT and the team that was writing NXT with me got called up. When we split the brands, we needed a different writing team and they got called up.

So I started over with this whole new team and they needed to get their feet on the ground. It was really a brand new start over point for us. That’s challenging, but that’s also to me part of the strength of NXT. It’ll change, but it’ll be fresh and it’ll be different than it was a year ago. I’m not saying it’s always going to be better, but it’ll be different.

I just got a whole new behind the scenes team and it’s taken me since SummerSlam to get them, but I just got them and I’m really excited about it. I feel like for the first time since the draft, NXT is back in business and we’re going to rock and roll.

I’m looking forward to NXT constantly keeping us on our toes and the demand for more and more on the main roster, the demand for more and more shows, whether that is localized content in the UK, or the cruiserweight division or the women’s tournament that we’ll have coming up sometime this year.

All of those things are exciting opportunities and make NXT an exciting opportunity.”

Can you describe what it feels like to see a talent that has had success in NXT, but struggles to find their footing on the main roster?

“It’s hard for me. It’s hard for them. It’s a difficult situation. I say this to talent all of the time, careers are marathons, they are not sprints.

Even though we say it’s a third brand, it really is and you might never make it out of NXT and you’ll do really well in your career, but if you do get the chance to go to Raw or SmackDown, it’s like starting over. You’re starting over with new management and new everything. The job is the same, but you’re starting over and you have to re-earn your stripes. It’s a slightly different product.

It used to be that way in the territory days. You might be over in one territory and take the gamble to go to another territory and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

It can be frustrating for them. They ask a lot of questions and we try to give them as much guidance as we can.

The other thing though that everybody has to remember is that in today’s world if you’re not “The Guy or The Girl” at the very top, the number one draw, you can still be a talent on Raw or SmackDown and working all of the time and be doing very, very well for yourself.

Do you always want more? Yes. Will that come over time? Maybe.

You reinvent yourself, you work hard. You continue to do the things you’re doing.

Back to the career being a marathon and not a sprint; when you’re a few years in, being on Raw or SmackDown and you’ve only been in the business for four years or whatever, it’s not a bad place to be.

If two years down the line you get that ride up to a much higher level, it’s a pretty good run.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE’s Bayley: Facing Stephanie McMahon would be a ‘dream’ match

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Even though Bayley made her main roster debut back in late-August, she’s quickly become one of the biggest fan-favorites on the main roster. Before she defends her Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania, Sunday, April 2 at 7pm ET live on WWE Network, I had the chance to chat with Ms. Hug Life about her extra time in NXT, if she asked for any advice from The Rock and her dream opponent. 

Me: While three of the “Four Horsewomen” were called up to the main roster, you stayed down in NXT. Do you think you needed the extra time in developmental?

Bayley: “Yeah, now looking back I definitely did. At the time obviously I was like what about me? I’m ready, let’s go! I wanted to do everything that they did. Now looking back, I think that has been the most important year of my career. I look back and think I wasn’t ready. I was so dependent on them throughout my years in NXT. If something went wrong, I always had them, but the year without them was all on me.

The whole division relied on me, everybody came to me for advice. If something went wrong, it was my fault. I really needed that leadership to build confidence in myself. In the future if I’m the leader for the locker room in WWE, I know that I can handle it. I was able to work with girls that have never been in a wrestling ring with before, girls who were just getting started, and girls who have been doing it forever like Asuka.

It was the most important year and maybe one of the most fun years I’ve had.”

You’ve been on the road with the main roster for seven months now; do you find yourself still adjusting to what life is like on the main roster?

“A little bit … the actual backstage and being in WWE was easy because in NXT the coaches and Triple H had prepared us for what to expect. That’s what the Performance Center is for, from doing promo class, to being in the ring for hours, to watching your matches back.

It’s the traveling and not being able to see my dog every day when I get home (laughs) that’s a little bit harder to deal with. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, but it’s all worth it though.

The brands are split right now; I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do two TV [tapings] every week.”

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about winning the Raw Women’s Championship?

“Oh man … just unbelievable. I just didn’t expect all of that to happen so fast.”

Obviously you’re a lifelong fan and I’m sure you envisioned that moment happening, so what went through your mind as you stood there with the title, in the ring, in front of thousands of people?

“I wish my family was there. That was the first thing that I thought about. My mom always says, you have a title match, should I be there? She was at every single NXT title match because she never knew if that was going to be the night. I just knew that she was going to be so mad that she wasn’t there.I knew they were watching.

I was in the Cow Palace when Eddie Guerrero won his first [world] title. I felt like I knew him and was so happy for him. I remember him jumping into the crowd and the crowd being so happy and then I did that and I just had that vision in my mind. It was weird! The crowd just made it more special considering my family wasn’t there. It was just amazing.

Did The Rock give you any advice when you met him?

“He told me that he watches and said you’re the champion so you must be doing something right. I was like, yeah I guess so. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. He said that he really enjoys watching. I hope he wasn’t just saying that to be nice though.”

Recently you’ve been paired on television with Stephanie McMahon quite a bit and she plays a character that rarely gets one-upped by a babyface. Have you thought about Bayley-Steph in the same way that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had Vince McMahon?

“I’ve thought about that so many times. Even when I was a kid (laughs). When she was having matches with Lita, I was like I want to have matches with Stephanie one day. That’s one of my dream matches to be honest.

If it could continue on, like you said with Austin and Vince, that would be so much fun, but I’m sure it’s a little much to ask for right now.”

Do you find yourself putting extra pressure on your shoulders because you’re the champ going into WrestleMania?

“Yeah totally. I’m probably doing way too much. Leading up to it I’m just stressing myself out. Do I need to get into the gym three times a day and try to still make everyone happy by doing all of these things that I need to do? I don’t even really know how to prepare for Mania, so I’m just doing what I think I need to do and I might be doing too much.

I think once I get to Orlando and I can digest what’s actually happening and appreciate it and know like holy crap dude, you’re here, then I’ll be able to calm down a bit. Right now, I have to be over-prepared.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis