WrestleMania 33 Roundtable Preview

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Instead of me rambling on for 2,000 words about WWE’s biggest show of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to bring a few other wrestling fans from NBC Sports along for the ride:

Jeff Graubart who will be attending WrestleMania 33 and “Easy” Ed Williams who is a big reason why I’m able to have this space to share my thoughts about the world of WWE.

So buckle up and get ready for the ultimate thrill ride before the “Ultimate Thrill Ride.”

Which match are you looking forward to the most?

Darg: Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho. This is as close as we’re going to get to an old school, main event level build. Both guys are coming in hot, especially Jericho who is a WHITE HOT (sorry for the gimmick infringement Jeff) babyface. Usually, long builds + over acts X (in-ring veterans who can go) = Four star match, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Jeff: It’s a toss-up for me between Rollins vs. HHH & Y2J vs. KO. Rollins and HHH has been a long time coming and you know they’re going to put on a show. The doubt factor with Rollins’ injury has worked for me and I’m just glad he’s getting an opportunity to take down the “King of Kings” on the biggest stage of them all.

Ed: On paper, the match I should be looking forward to most is Austin Aries challenging for Neville’s Cruiserweight Championship. Especially with the launch of the latest Game of Thrones trailer, I should be on the edge of my seat waiting to see if A Double can overthrow the King of the Cruiserweights, but the fact that it’s on the pre-show takes some of the luster off this potential gem. Yes, the fact that it’s on the pre-show means it may get more time than it would on the main card, but there’s also a good chance they’ll be fighting in front of just hundreds of people. One of the big negatives of 205 Live has been the lack of crowd reaction as people don’t want to stick around after SmackDown Live. Now they’ll face the same problem, except this time they’re going on too early. If anyone can overcome it, though, it’s these two.

On the flip side, especially now that it’s being billed as a normal wrestling match, most people think A.J. Styles vs. Shane McMahon is a total waste of the Phenomenal One’s talents. Of course I’d much prefer to see him face Samoa Joe, Finn Balor or even Luke Harper, but any time a McMahon is in a match, the company sees it as a high-profile attraction. This match had a late start, but the build over the last few weeks has been pretty good. A.J.’s initial beat-down of Shane was great, and the Boy Wonder’s (although at his age, maybe it’s time to retire that nickname) elbow through the table two weeks ago was vintage. At the risk of being put on the List of Jericho, many consider Styles to be the best in the world at what he does, and this is will be his biggest test of that to date. If he can carry Shane-O-Mac to a great match, then his reputation is cemented forever. And something tells me, he’s saying, “Challenge accepted!”

And I think it’s also worth noting that the John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse match has had the best build of the entire card. Everyone was up in arms when the match was announced, since many were clamoring for a Samoa Joe vs. Cena match, but the build for this intergender tag team match has been perfect. It’s had the right balance of humor and intensity. The Total Bellas spoof was hilarious. Cena eviscerating The Miz on SmackDown this week was fantastic, and given The Miz’s character, I wasn’t that upset he just stood there and took it. But with all that being said, I still don’t care about the match at all. The build has made for some great TV, but I don’t think the match will.

What will be the Match of the Night?

Darg: If we’re talking pure in-ring action, it’s gotta be Austin Aries vs. Neville for the cruiserweight championship. Being on the pre-show might end up working out in the end because they should get more time than they would on the main card, but if Camping World Stadium isn’t close to full, the lack of crowd reaction could really hurt the match.

My pick from the main card is HHH vs. Seth Rollins. The non-sanctioned gimmick will really work in their favor. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw blood here.

Ed: As long as it gets enough time, I’m going to go with Kevin Owens challenging for Chris Jericho’s United States Championship. This match has had the best long-term build by far, but it really feels like it’s been overshadowed over the last three weeks or so and has lost some steam. Otherwise this probably would be the match I was most looking forward to. These guys have an undeniable chemistry with each other, and they’re two of the best workers in the company.

It’s amazing what Jericho is able to do in the ring at his age, and his ability to reinvent himself is second-to-none. This run is definitely the best he’s had in years, and you could even argue it’s his best ever (and that’s saying a lot). When a clipboard and the word “it” is over more than the majority of the RAW roster, that’s impressive (or is it…).

Owens has played his role to perfection as well. While Balor was reportedly slated to have a long run at the top before his injury, Owens stepped up in a big way. It was just the boost he needed, too, as he was starting to get a little stagnant. While it’s annoying he relied on interference and heel shenanigans 99 percent of the time, that’s just the nature of the beast nowadays if you’re a heel. These two should have the perfect blend of great in-ring work, humor and psychology to tell one of the better stories on the card.

With Jericho scheduled to go back on the road with his band Fozzy soon, one would think Owens will walk away with the gold. Owens will definitely end up with the belt, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Y2J get the win just to lose it the next night, perhaps, on the RAW after Mania.  

Jeff: I really think that KO and Jericho are going to bring the house down. We all know that KO can put on a solid match with anyone and Jericho is the GOAT, seems like a solid formula. If this is the last match of Jericho’s run, you better bet your ass that I’m gonna drink it in, mannnnnnnnnnn.

Speaking of, who or what will make you mark out maaaaaaaaaan?

Jeff: AJ STYLES – this guy is going to make Shane McMahon actually look like a legitimate wrestler. With no crazy rules or a cage to jump off of, this match is going to be AJ guiding Shane through the best match of his career, just watch.

Ed: If the Ultimate Thrill Ride is brought to a screeching halt by the Broken Matt Hardy, Brother Nero and any other members of the Broken Universe, it will be a WrestleMania moment for sure. There have been plenty of teases that it could happen as WWE and the Broken one himself have been going back and forth on Twitter, but it’s by no means a lock and could easily be saved for the next night or two on RAW or SmackDown Live. They’d be a great fit on the blue brand to feud with the Usos and/or American Alpha.

Since that’s something not scheduled to be on the card, though, I’ll go with Roman Reigns officially turning heel. This is the third-straight WrestleMania the company is trying to push Roman Reigns down our throats, and it’s already rumored he’ll be main eventing next year against Brock Lesnar. He’s going to be booed out of the building Sunday against the Undertaker, and he’ll be booed almost as badly next year against Brock Lesnar if they stay on that path. So, why not just finally pull the trigger and make him a heel? He has shown flashes of a heel persona in the past, and most notably over the past couple of weeks.

The role just seems much more natural for him. He might be the only one in the company capable of getting The Rock booed which happened when the People’s Champ tried to help him celebrate his Royal Rumble win in Philadelphia a couple years ago. The irony of the situation is that The Rock went through a similar situation when he debuted with the company. It got so bad that Hollywood’s highest-paid actor was showered with, “Die Rocky die,” chants. Rather than stay down that path for three years, Rocky Maivia turned heel, and The Rock was born. History needs to repeat itself with his cousin Roman. And Sunday in Orlando is most definitely the time.

Darg: If you’ll let me #FantasyBook for a minute, what if Samoa Joe runs out to help Triple H and Finn Balor makes his shocking return, but instead of taking out Joe, he takes out Rollins and aligns himself with the group of NXT guys that is currently forming around HHH.

Will anyone make a surprise appearance?

Jeff: WrestleMania is the place where anything can happen right? If dreams really do come true, we’ll get an appearance from a very Broken Matt Hardy. Hopefully Broken Matt and Brother Nero get involved in the Raw ladder match for the tag titles.

The other big mystery is Kurt Angle. We know he’s going to be there for the Hall of Fame but is this the time and place for him to debut as the next General Manager of Raw? My gut tells me this will be saved for the Raw after WrestleMania, but a man can dream.

Darg: I’m crossing my fingers and toes that New Day’s big WrestleMania moment will be interrupted by Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero. Not everyone in the crowd is going to know why Matt Hardy looks like “Doc” Brown’s cousin or why Jeff Hardy looks possessed, but that’s OK because the pop will be so loud from the hardcore fans that the causals will join in.

Ed: I’d love to see the Hulkster finally make his return to the company, but I think a more likely surprise would be Finn Balor. I know the RAW side, and the company in general, is short on faces, but I think this would be the perfect opportunity for Balor to come back as a heel.

Just picture this. At the end of the Rollins-HHH match, Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens come out for a  3-on-1 beat-down of Rollins, attacking his leg even more. With Rollins’ career in jeopardy, the lights go out, Balor’s music hits, and the Demon emerges. You get the full Demon entrance, which is tailor-made for such a big stage. The crowd is going nuts, HHH, Samoa Joe and Owens look shocked. Balor helps Rollins to his feet. And then cuts his leg out from under him and joins in on the attack. After all, Rollins was the one who knocked Balor out of commission in the first place. So, Balor makes a surprise return, gets his revenge, and completes HHH’s new NXT stable. Dare to dream.

How long will Goldberg v. Lesnar last?

Darg: If we include entrances, the main event will probably last in-between 15-20 minutes, but I‘m not expecting the actual match to last more than 10. I can’t imagine we’re going to get a one-two minute encounter where Brock goes over clean. I can’t imagine Vince closing the company’s biggest show of the year with the equivalent of a flash knockout.

Ed: I talked about this one in a previous question, but I think this one will go at least 10 minutes and no more than 20. So, let’s split the difference and say 15 minutes once you factor in entrances etc.

Jeff: I give this final showdown (thank God) only about two minutes and I think the majority of it will be a staring contest. After that incredibly main event worthy stare down, expect to see a spear attempt turned quickly into a F5. Lesnar fans will then rejoice.

Which titles will change hands?

Darg: SmackDown and Raw women’s, Raw tag team, United States, Intercontinental, Universal

 Naomi received a shocking reaction from the crowd when she returned on Tuesday, so I think she’s going to get a nice hometown pop after winning the match which may or may not be on the pre-show. I think Charlotte will win the Fatal-Four Way after Sasha turns on Bayley. Owens could really use a title. Corbin does as well, even though his feud with Ambrose has been, for a lack of a better term, suspect.

Enzo and Cass winning the tag titles would be a cool moment, especially if Cass lifts Enzo up the ladder to grab the titles. Even though their act has grown a tad stale, the duo gets a nice reaction every week. If they do win, let’s hope their reign lasts longer than Zack Ryder’s did the night after he had his WrestleMania moment.

Jeff: Raw Tag, Universal, Intercontinental, U.S. Title, Cruiserweight, Smackdown Women’s

I think we’re going to see quite a few titles change hands. The Universal title change appears to be the most obvious. Goldberg clearly only signed on to have a few one minute matches and then ride off into the sunset. I think we’re going to see Enzo and Cass take home their first WWE gold. After what I would consider the best run of Chris Jericho’s career, we’ll see it come to its gracious end courtesy of Mr. Owens.

I also think Corbin, Aries & Naomi will walk out of Mania with gold around their waists.

Ed: Raw and SmackDown women’s, Intercontinental, Universal, WWE World, Raw tag, United States

 The logical outcome for the majority of championship matches would indicate a title change, but you can never think logically when it comes to WWE.

I think the Raw Women’s Championship will go back to Charlotte after Sasha turns on Bayley, bringing Charlotte one step closer to breaking her father’s (and now John Cena’s) record for title reigns over the course of just a couple years.

I think Baron Corbin beats Dean Ambrose for the IC title in the match I probably care the least about. When the build for a WrestleMania match makes you think back to the infamous Judy Bagwell on a Forklift match in the dying days of WCW, that’s not a good thing.

It seems obvious that Lesnar will beat Goldberg, and he should. I can’t see them swerving us on that one.

I think we see Enzo and Cass get their first taste of gold in the Ladder Match. Not much else to say about that one unless the Hardys are somehow involved, which I doubt. It also seems obvious that Owens defeats the soon-departing Chris Jericho. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them drag this out a little while longer, but I’ll stick with a title change prediction for the U.S title.

Bray Wyatt needs a win in the worst way in the WWE Championship match, but I have no faith that’ll happen. I think it’s an RKO out of nowhere for Randy. It looks like there should be a lot of heel victories, so this helps balance things out a bit.

The SmackDown Women’s Championship is a tough one as well. Like with Wyatt, I think Alexa Bliss overcoming five opponents (at least) would go a long way in building up her credibility, but I’ll predict Naomi winning to get the hometown pop.

So, I guess that means the only title I’m predicting not to change hands would be the Cruiserweight Championship. Moving the title to Aries seems a little too quick, and since it’s on the Kickoff Show anyways, it makes sense to hold off on a switch. So, that would make seven title changes. Maybe Bray has a shot after all.

Will this be the Undertaker’s final Wrestlemania match?

Darg: Remember two weeks ago when the “Deadman” chokeslammed Braun Strowman? He made an odd face after he slammed Ol’ Brauny to the mat. At the time it just looked goofy, but after I watched it again I thought …hmm… that looks like the face of pain.

Let’s face it, he’s 52 years old. His body is beat up. He’s not going to embarrass himself because he’s a professional, but I’m not expecting his match with Roman Reigns to be memorable, outside of the reaction from the crowd after Reigns goes over clean.

Ed: I’ll never predict that any match will be Undertaker’s last match. He’s the “Deadman” after all. Based on how he’s moved around in the ring in his limited appearances the last few months, I think it might be a good idea for him to hang it up. And I think Taker may go into this match thinking it will be his last (just like he did last year), too.

But even if that’s what he’s thinking now, he could change his mind as WrestleMania season starts to heat up again next year.

Jeff: Yup, this is it and the man to do it will be Roman Freakin’ Reigns. We all know that Roman “can do anything” and burying the career of a legend like the Undertaker seems only logical. The only thing we can hope for is that a long awaited heel turn comes with it.

Will the Wrestlemania 33 set be the greatest ever?

Jeff: It has to be – I mean, they are building a freaking roller coaster. The sets are so lackluster these days that WWE should be splurging on the show of shows. Supposedly it’s the largest and most expensive set built to date so I’m really looking forward to seeing the final product in person.

Darg: From what I’ve seen so far on the Internetz, the set is very impressive, but it’s ripe for Universal Studio ripoff jokes on social media come Sunday. I don’t know if it’ll be better than WrestleMania 24, 26 and 30.

Ed: There’s a roller coaster. So, uh, yeah. Best. Set. Ever.

Will anyone besides Braun Strowman win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal?

Darg: Have you seen the jabronis from SmackDown in this match? With Samoa Joe out of the equation, Strowman could really use a strong showing here and really I don’t see how anyone else will win, unless Sami Zayn finally gets his revenge on Strowman.

Ed: No. In fact, it should be booked so that Strowman eliminates every other competitor by himself. And after he wins, he grabs his ridiculous trophy and smashes it to pieces, screaming that he wants more competition.

Jeff: Who cares? But if I did care, my answer would be simple…ANYONE BUT THE BIG SHOW. Braun Strowman really deserved a high profile match at Mania and I really hope they use this battle royal to have him absolutely destroy two rosters worth of talent. I wouldn’t mind Sami Zayn sneaking in for the win either. It’s to give one of the hardest working guys on the roster a WrestleMania moment.

Will WrestleMania be 33 be too long?

Darg: After last year’s monstrosity (close to seven hours if you watched from the beginning of the pre-show through the end of Roman Reigns vs. Triple H), I would have to imagine this one will finish before or just after 11 p.m.

But then again, there are 13 matches, with a New Day segment and an obligatory performance from Pitbull, so I may end up melting into my couch by the final hour.

Future live look-in at my living room around 10 o’clock:

Jeff: I’m leaning yes. There are SO many matches but this is a direct result of the brand split. Definitely a few matches I have no interest in but I don’t think the length of the show is going to affect the impact of some of these high profile bouts.

Ed: I’ve been a fan since I was three years old. I watch RAW and SmackDown Live (and usually 205 Live and Talking Smack) every week. I read the “Dirt Sheets” and listen to wrestling podcasts. And I even worked there for a couple years. But yes, seven hours (minimum) is too long for this show given the matches on the card. With the amount of talent on this roster, you could have easily set up a card where seven hours would probably fly by (ok, maybe not fly by, but you get my point. If you had Cena vs. Samoa Joe, Styles vs. Nakamura, Reigns vs. Balor, Undertaker vs. Strowman and even kept Orton vs. Wyatt, Rollins vs. HHH, Owens vs. Jericho and RAW women’s match, then you have yourself a card worth setting aside 7 hours for. That being said, I’ll still be watching all seven hours. I may need several adult beverages to get me to the end, but I’ll still stick it out.

What match will make you say, “wow, that was much better than I thought it would be.”

Darg: AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon. When Styles “told” Shane that he wasn’t going to be able to climb anything or use any weapons and had to face the fact that he was going to step into the ring for a “pure” wrestling match, I laughed out loud because the idea of Shane O’Mac wrestling AJ in a gimmick-less match seems preposterous.

This is AJ Styles we’re talking about though, so anything is possible. I don’t know how he’ll do it, but Styles will pull an entertaining performance out of Shane. He’ll figure out a way to make Shane’s ridiculous offense look acceptable and will tell a story with the in-ring time he’s given.

Jeff: I can’t believe I’m saying this but Miz & Maryse v. Cena & Nikki at least has me interested. The Miz and Cena have been KILLING IT with their promos on Smackdown and I can only hope that it translates to in-ring action, although I’d say that’s doubtful. I think there will be a few entertaining spots, but for a concept that I originally LOATHED, I’m at least a little intrigued.

Ed: I’m hoping it will be the SmackDown women’s match, but I don’t think it will be. I think there’ll be too many moving pieces in this one, and unfortunately, it has cluster____ written all over it. I think Alexa Bliss is a phenomenal heel. Her delivery on the mic is different than anyone else. She has some of the best heel facials of anyone in the company, and she doesn’t have to yell to get her point across. She still has a long way to go in the ring, but the last couple of weeks aside, she has shown steady improvement. Becky Lynch, Mickie James and Natalya are proven commodities in the ring and have to be the glue to hold this one together. Naomi looked good during her return Tuesday night, but will she be just as good when Orlando will be unable to see her glow since it’s during the Kickoff show? Carmella just isn’t on this level yet, but she’s been entertaining in her role with James Ellsworth. Put all of them together (and possibly some surprises), though, and I think this one is better on paper.

So I’m going to go with Brock Lesnar challenging Goldberg for the Universal Championship. It seems weird to pick what is likely to be the show-closing main event, but most people don’t have very high expectations for this one. Their first match went less than 90 seconds at Survivor Series, but I think the reason for that was to save everything for the Showcase of the Immortals. There’s a very good chance this is Goldberg’s last match, and he’s in phenomenal shape. I have a feeling he’s going leave it all out in the ring and do everything he can to make this match an entertaining one. This may only go 10 minutes or so, but this isn’t the kind of match that needs to go a half hour. Brock Lesnar matches are not like other matches. There’s a legitimate feel to them. There’s a sense of danger to them. And given Goldberg’s age, that sense of danger will be heightened even more. Given Lesnar’s past and the fact that Goldberg already busted his head open on a door, don’t be surprised to see some “color” in this one either. It won’t be a five-star match, but I think this one will be much more entertaining than anyone expects.

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