WWE

WrestleMania 33 Live Blog

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WWE’s biggest show of the year is underway from Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Follow along as we go for the “Ultimate thri …

You’re right, we’re going to hear that phrase 50,000 times during the next six hours, so let’s just move along. Get your snacks and adult beverages ready because this is going to be a long night.

Pre-show

5:30 ET: This has already replaced WrestleMania 26 as my favorite set. I can’t even imagine what the pyro budget is tonight.

All right Austin Aries got a very good reaction. Glad to see so many people are in the building 90 minutes before the show.

–  Neville’s kick to the head of Aries was nice.

– Oof, the King of the Cruiserweights landed so hard on the outside.

– OMG how is Aries still moving. He landed right on his head from a German suplex.

– Can we all just be glad that this match was on the pre-show. Both guys have had a chance to shine and the crowd was getting up for the big spots.

– Nice striking sequence from both guys.

– Neville pins Aries after heelish tactics led to the Red Arrow.

– No matter how many times I see it, the Red Arrow is still amazing. Neville did almost crush Aries’ face.

– If the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was in the bigger ring, IDK if I would care about it. Just look at these jabronis.

– SAnitY’s entrance would not have worked in the daylight, but annoying that Killian Dain is just another “guy” in this match.

– Oh snap, Braun Strowman and Big Show eliminated 

– That moment when you realize Luke Harper is in the ring.

– Man, American Alpha once again just looks like a couple of guys. Jason Jordan should have at least had a flurry of suplexes before getting tossed.

– Tian Bing with a nice showing. Much better than Hideo Itami two years ago.

So Mojo is winning right?

– The security guard doesn’t know who Gronk is.

– Noticeable sound issues throughout the pre-show. Weird considering how top notch WWE broadcasts are.

– Jinder Mahal just got GRONK’d.

– Gronkowski really should think about joining WWE after his playing career wraps up.

– Dain stunningly lasted until the final three. Must be viewed as a hot prospect.

Mojo eliminates Jinder Mahal to win the ATMBR. 

– WHY DIDN’T GRONK AND MOJO CELEBRATE LIKE STONE COLD?

Baron Corbin vs. Dean Ambrose for the IC title 

 These guys are working hard, but you can tell the crowd just wants the main show to begin. Much quieter than it was for the cruiserweight match and the battle royal.

This match could have really used some weapons.

Corbin reacting to a two count is just hilarious. THAT WAS THREE!

Crowd is starting to get behind Ambrose.

The rotation counter for the End of Days always looks impressive.

Dean Amrbose beats Baron Corbin to retain the IC title

– Really surprised Corbin looked up at the lights here. It felt like he was set for a run with SmackDown’s mid-card championship.

Main card

7:00 p.m. ET – Yes, the pre-show is FINALLY over. Let’s see what opens the show.

– Mandatory performance of “America the Beautiful,” I wonder what’s going through Vince’s mind right now.

“The Greatest Live Event in Entertainment”

– It’s your WrestleMania hosts the NEW DAY.

– Xavier Woods’ hair is a sight to behold.

– Um … is this Raw or WrestleMania? That was a waste of a segment besides Big E “pull the lever” line. At least throw out some ice cream bars.

– WHAT, AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon is opening the main card!?

– MASSIVE POP for Styles.

– Styles’ gear is fire emoji, fire emoji

– Styles’ new shirt is red and his gear has red in it. He’s definitely going to Raw.

– OMG Otunga just said there’s “no way” Styles is going to tire out Shane McMahon.

– Shane is already pouring sweat btw.

– Will say Shane did OK with the chain wrestling sequence. Crowd appreciated that.

– HOLY CRAP, Styles “launched” Shane with a baseball drop kick to the outside. Shane flew over the announce table.

– Is a thunderstorm coming?

– As expected, Shane is getting in a lot of offense. The crowd hated when he back Styles into the corner and threw his terrible looking punches, but Styles made Shane’s running back elbow look solid.

– For those who care, Shane is wearing the Jordan XXXI Chinese New Year.

– Hey, that submission sequence wasn’t terrible! If you would have told me before the match that they were going to do that, I would’ve done this:

– The Styles Clash sequence was top notch. I was really surprised Shane kicked out.

– REF BUMP, DRINK.

– Styles’ coast-to-coast attempt was blocked by Shane and a trash can. Just a reminder that Styles is one of the best sellers in the company.

– Shane with a beautiful coast-to-coast.

– Man this one is going much longer than I thought it would.

– Shane ate it on the elbow through table spot.

– OMG Shane counters a Phenomenal Forearm into a float over DDT and then MISSED A SHOOTING STAR PRESS.

AJ Styles pins Shane McMahon after hitting a Phenomenal Forearm. This may have lasted a bit too long, but the last five or so minutes were very good.

Chris Jericho (C) vs. Kevin Owens for United States Championship 

– The crowd counting down Jericho’s entrance gave me goosebumps.

– A giant list and a light up vest! If only Y2J had a light up scarf.

– Owens’ cannonball to Jericho on the apron looked cool.

– Anyone else chuckle when K.O. yelled “ASK HIM!” at the ref?

– The Roommate laughed when Owens yelled “You have no friends” at Jericho.

– Every time Owens sets up for the package suplex, I think he’s going to hit the piledriver.

– Nasty bruise just above Owens’ right eye.

– Nice counter sequence from both guys. Always amazes me when someone counters Owens’ swanton bomb with their knees.

– The Go-Home Driver!

– I said this to “Easy” Ed on Friday before I left worked, I was worried that Jericho and Owens’ match would slow down a bit too much and that kind of happened. The crowd sat on their hands a bit during the middle of this one.

– Jericho kicked out of the pop-up powerbomb and Owens put his right index finger on the bottom rope to break up the pinfall after a Codebreaker. The finisher kick out counter is now at four.

– Kevin Owens pins Chris Jericho to become the new United States Champions after an apron powerbomb of death!

Raw women’s title match up next, shocked this is happening already. Once again the match order is highly questionable.

– Fireworks for Bayley. Her entrance looked amazing, especially the giant Bayley Buddies by the ring.

– Sasha Banks is riding down to the ring on the back of a fancy golf cart, better get that queued up for the Undertaker’s entrance.

– The camera shot with Charlotte standing close with the fireworks going off in the background was just incredible. The set makes this event feel so special.

– I think this match is going to go like this. Nia get the heat early and then Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha all team up to eliminate her. Bayley and Sasha team-up to try and eliminate Charlotte, but then Sasha gets eliminated and turns on Bayley. Let’s see what happens …

– Jax dominating early. Step 1 complete.

– Dude, Nia Jax just landed right on the back of her head after a double suplex-boot combo move.

– Nia Jax eliminated after getting hit with a triple team powerbomb. Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha all jumped on top of her for the pin.

– Charlotte hit that corkscrew moonsault to the outside perfectly.

– Sasha Banks eliminated after she gets sent into the exposed middle turnbuckle by Charlotte. Crowd was not happy.

– Why did we have to have the Fatal Four Way gimmick if two of the competitors were going to get eliminated this fast.

– Charlotte ran Bayley’s knee into the exposed turnbuckle and is now working it over. Is she going to run through the division tonight?

– Nice backbody drop from the top rope by Bayley.

– Bayley retains the Raw Women’s Championship after hitting a top-rope elbow on Charlotte

– Well that came out of nowhere … gotta wonder if their time got cut before the show started.

HOF recap from Friday, this means I finally get a bathroom break.

– This pop for Kurt Angle is going to be awesome.

– Where does Angle’s theme rank all time? Gotta be top five right?

Raw Tag Team Championship ladder match between Gallows and Anderson (C) vs. Enzo and Cass vs. Cesaro and Sheamus

– This is Enzo’s best outfit of all time:

– Crowd is thunderous for the SAWFT chant.

– Cesaro is wearing a suit that’s also a kilt. James Bond would never wear that.

– Odds of Sheamus’s giant cut getting opened up during this match is extremely high.

– I just hope Enzo makes it out of this match alive.

– Crowd is not going to be happy when the New Day is the fourth team in the Fatal Four …

– WHAT THE …

– Hey Matt Hardy how does it feel to be back?

– Cesaro is so lucky that he didn’t get seriously hurt when Big Cass potatoed him on the ladder.

– That big boot from Cass to Jeff Hardy looked vicious.

– Cesaro just swung Anderson around like 20 times, while Sheamus delivered the Beats of the Valkyrie to Gallows. Got a standing ovation from the crowd.

– Ah they got the Cass lifting Enzo up the ladder spot out of the way already.

– Enzo is taking a hard fall off of a ladder at some point.

– A Twist of Fate from the top of the ladder to Gallows, a swanton bomb from Jeff Hardy off of a 20-foot ladder through Cesaro and Sheamus who were draped on ladders that were positioned from the ring to the barricade.

Matt Hardy pulls down the titles and the Hardy Boyz become seven-time tag team champions. 

From bell-to-bell this was a very good match. There was never a down moment and the crowd was super hot throughout.

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse 

– Jerry “The King” Lawler joining the commentary booth. You know what this means? NO OTUNGA!

– Al “Chocolate Thunder” Roker needs to embrace his heel side.

The percentage of the crowd singing John Cena “sucks” was around 75%.

– The Miz is getting thunderous cheers right now. Really didn’t think this would happen.

– Very slow pace to start this one. Miz controlling the action. This match is already going longer than I thought it would.

– No, keep him away from the table.

– Got a bit uneasy when Nikki did the suicide dive. Gotta wonder what kind of shape her neck is in.

– John Cena and Nikki Bella defeat The Miz and Maryse after a simultaneous AA and Rack Attack 2.0. Well that ended in quick fashion. Miz controlled 98% of that match. The worst one of the show so far.

– Is the crowd about to boo Cena’s proposal?

– Is Natalya going to run in and interrupt?

– Cena proposes!

– This is a pretty awesome moment. Feels genuine.

Triple H vs. Seth Rollins 

– This pre-match video package was great when I watched it the first time on Monday, it’s just as good now.

– I love how Stephanie has been incorportaed into Triple H’s entrance over the last two years.

– HHH has to love the fact that he’s not in the final match of the night in this marathon of a show.

– Why isn’t Samoa Joe riding in a side car next to HHH?

– That moment when you thought Seth Rollins was getting a new theme. Very cool entrance though.

– I wonder if Rollins got that torch from Randy Orton’s ceremony.

– Rollins was reportedly battling a rough illness earlier in the week. Hopefully he’s feeling better.

– Going into the show, I thought this would be the Match of the Night, let’s see if these two can deliver.

– We’re less than two minutes in and Rollins has already lost his wristbands. Has the guy ever heard of tape?

– Rollins’ gear getting compared to Goldust. Let’s be real, Goldust never wore anything this awesome.

– The buckle bomb is back. Just know I cringed when HHH hit the corner.

– Gotta think a big spot is coming soon. They’ve been going at a pretty slow pace.

– If you’re wondering if the Hardys are still broken? Here’s your answer:

– Here come the chairs!

– Pulling the table out from under the ring will always get a pop. It will seriously never not get a cheer.

– It’s Falcon Arrow not Falcon’s Arrow. Mike Cole always struggles with that one.

– Rollins has been watching some Johnny Gargano tape.

– Triple H has been watching some CM Punk tape.

– Man the crowd is starting to get a bit tired out. Haven’t reacted to this match very well at all.

– SUPER close near fall after a pedigree. The finisher kick out counter is now at five. Considering the last one happened in the Jericho-Owens match.

– Stephanie just got put through a table. That woke the crowd up.

Seth Rollins pins Triple H after a pedigree. Kinda wish the counter sequence for the pedigree would have happened after Steph went through the table. Crowd was ready to get super hot for the finish. Match stayed at one gear the entire time, so it’s fair to wonder if the knee gimmick didn’t exactly help the match.

Shockingly no Samoa Joe appearance.

– Why couldn’t the Pitbull performance get cut from the show? It’s 10:15 and we still have four matches left. Is this damn show going until Midnight?

Bray Wyatt (C) vs. Randy Orton for the WWE title

– Orton was so damn goofy leading up to this match and this video package can’t change that.

– Wyatt’s entrance looks so wild with this many people holding up cell phones. Must be bone chilling for him to walk down that long ramp and look out into the crowd.

– Woah, the snake on the entrance ramp is a delightful touch.

– ONE FALL.

– Greg Hamilton is seriously underrated.

– It’s now time to wonder if the SmackDown women’s title match got cut from the show. If not, this might go to Midnight.

– Woah, an image of a bunch of maggots was just projected on the ring. That was awesome.

– And now it’s worms.

– Crowd is dead right now, but what else would you expect? This show is a marathon and the crowd is gasping for air like the out of shape person who enters a 5K without training.

– Ah the mandatory punt attempt from Orton at WrestleMania.

– Orton kicks out of Sister Abigail. Finisher kick out counter is at six.

Randy Orton wins the WWE title after an RKO outta nowhere. This was the worst match on the show. The gimmick of Wyatt “changing” the image on the mat was unique and did the job, but the action from bell-to-bell just never clicked and the crowd didn’t even care about the title change.

Goldberg (C) vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship

– I would have to imagine the crowd is going to be hot for this one. If not, maybe the SmackDown women’s title match should get cut.

– The pop for Brock Lesnar was similar to one that you would hear at the third hour of a boring Raw.

– Oh shut up with your numbers to remember Mike Cole.

– Damn, Goldberg is in tremendous shape.

– Crowd didn’t even budge for his pyro.

– Crowd is dead, who you gonna call? Paul Heyman!

– Man, quite a few boos when Jojo introduced Goldberg and now they’re roaring for these Brock suplexes.

– HERE WE GO. SPEAR, SPEAR, SPEAR THROUGH THE BARRICADE

– Lesnar kicked out of the Jackhammer! Finisher kick out counter is at seven.

– This place is going to explode when Lesnar hits the F5.

Brock Lesnar pins Goldberg after hitting an F5 to win the Universal Championship. Lesnar gave Goldberg 10 german suplexes. This match did wake the crowd up quite a bit considering how quiet they were for the entrances. Could not have been booked better.

SmackDown Women’s Championship Six Pack Challenge

– Mickie James channeling Tatanka with her entrance gear.

– Apparently it’s Carmania.

– Naomientrance looks effing crazy on this stage.

– So this match is going to be a quick one. Imagine it’s just going to be a spotfest.

– James Ellsworth just tried to superkick Becky Lynch, who landed an exploder suplex on him.

– A double sharpshooter? I guess that kinda worked.

– She calls that the rear view is apparently still the name of the move.

Naomi makes Alexa Bliss tap out to win the SmackDown women’s championship. This match was exactly what it needed to be considering the time. Everyone got their spots in and no one messed anything up.

Oh no, not another New Day segment …

– Here comes the inflated number for the Citrus Bowl attendance record.

Main event time FINALLY, Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker

– This is an amazing video package, but we seriously might go all the way until Midnight.

– What if the Undertaker gets rolled out to the ring in a casket? That will save us 15 minutes.

– Now this one is No Holds Barred. Good call considering how limited the Undertaker might be.

– So glad to see Jim Ross is back in his environment considering the recent tragedy he endured.

– The crowd isn’t tired enough to hold back from booing Reigns.

– Undertaker coming up through a trap door in the ramp for the win!

– This is amazing:

– Undertaker and Reigns trading huge blows to start. Expecting a slugfest from these two.

– One of my favorite little things the Undertaker does is when he stumbles into the corner with his hands up like he’s ready to fight, but clearly on dream street. That always cracks me up.

– Crowd is so quiet that you can hear Reigns and Undertaker calling spots.

– DAYMN Reigns with a wicked spear that drove Taker through the Spanish announce table.

– No one gives better chair shots than the Undertaker.

– Shouldn’t the Undertaker not be surprised when someone kicks out of the Tombstone at WrestleMania?

– Oof, Reigns tried to counter a Tombstone and it led to a very bad botch. Reigns called an audible and hit Taker with another Superman punch.

– Reigns isn’t afraid to swing that chair either.

– This crowd is going to be too tired to riot after Reigns wins.

– Undertaker has kicked out of two spears and Reigns kicked out of a Tombstone, which means the finisher kick out counter is now at 10.

Roman Reigns pins Undertaker after hitting a huge spear. This felt like a squash. Reigns controlled a good chunk of this match especially the final five minutes or so. Really thought Undertaker would hit another Tombstone.

– Undertaker sits up in the ring after Reigns leaves. Somehow he’s back in his entrance gear.

– If this is really it for the Undertaker, you have to wonder how he feels about that performance and the crowd reaction. There was just nothing left for them to give because IT’S AFTER MIDNIGHT.

– Taker is so close to losing it right now. There’s definitely some tears in that ring.

– THANK YOU TAKER

All right folks, that’s it for me. I hope you enjoyed the show. You can follow me on Twitter @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque on the future of NXT and his match with Jinder Mahal

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For the first time ever, USA will air a special one-hour NXT special tonight at 7 p.m. ET and the head honcho of NXT, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, took some time to talk with me about how some of the brand’s biggest stars have upped their game in 2017, the three-to-five year plan for NXT and his match with Jinder Mahal in New Delhi.  

Let’s keep this first one simple, is this the most important night in the history of NXT?

“It’s one of them. I think it’s a pretty cool opportunity when you think about the original concept of what it was. This small developmental thing in Florida that has grown and evolved over the last few years to where NBC Universal, one of the largest television and entertainment companies in the world is willing to give up a primetime slot on a Wednesday night to air an hour of NXT programming. That’s pretty cool to me.

I’m really proud of everything that it has accomplished. No matter how it does, I see it as an opportunity to expose a lot of people to NXT who haven’t seen it yet because as much as people talk about it, or you hear about it on Raw like ‘this person was an NXT champion or this person came from there,’ there’s a lot of people who have never seen it because it just airs on the network. Hopefully this is their chance to sample it.”

How did this special airing of NXT on USA come about? Was this an idea that NBCU came to you about, or was this something that you pitched to them?

“They approached us with it as far as I know, I wasn’t there when it happened. Every year we do ‘WWE week’ on the USA Network and with Raw being on Monday, SmackDown now being live on Tuesdays and now there’s the content that they can fill the rest of the week with. Tribute to the Troops on Thursday is the signature event of the week.

Wednesday was the perfect opportunity for us. They presented it to us this year as an opportunity and I was asked if I would be interested in creating a show for that and I was like absolutely. Is that a trick question?

I’m really excited about the show. Coming out of the last TakeOver that we did, there’s a new champion, but there was also an injury to Drew McIntyre and it forced us to reboot a little bit and come up with a new number one contender, but it allowed us to put on an excellent show for USA, which includes the NXT champion Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas against Fabian Aichner, who some fans saw in the Cruiserweight Classic. He’s just a phenomenal performer.

The Authors of Pain will be on there as well and then in the main event Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole in a match that will help determine the eventual number one contender to the NXT champion. It’s a really strong show.”

It’s fair to say that Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas’ first few months in NXT were rough to say the least and now I feel like with Zelina Vega, he’s really starting to find his stride. What have you seen from him in the past few months that gave you the confidence to put the title on him?

“I’ve seen the same thing you have.

There’s a curve to doing what we do when you walk in the door for the first time, no matter where you’ve been. People talk about other promotions around the globe, but I haven’t seen anyone who doesn’t come in the door that doesn’t feel a difference when they walk in. That can lead to a lot of things. Intimidation, loss of confidence. You can take a step back.

It’s also a different style for him. There’s a lot of factors and I think when he first came in … and I’ve seen this with a lot of talent, whether that be Hideo Itami, Ember Moon, really, really talented people walk in the door and it takes them awhile to get their feet under them. It takes them awhile to get used to the style change. It takes them awhile to get used to how we shoot television. To have that confidence is really what it comes down to.

If you look back to where he started to where he is right now with us, it’s a completely different performer. As I saw that taking place over time I thought, now he’s starting to get it, how do I give him the platform to regroup?

It’s hard to have a guy all of a sudden go from being not good to being really good. So what’s that shift? What’s that platform that allows him to grow even more?

That was Zelina Vega. With the way we presented it, she came in, gave him the confidence and put him back on track. It all led him to changing who he is as a performer. I think you see that now. The swagger that he has. He comes off like the cocky, arrogant guy who knows he’s that good and he is.”

Well yeah and it gave him essentially the mouthpiece he needed because obviously English is still a challenge for him, but having her there and having her express his confidence gives him the ability to just focus on being a standout in-ring performer.

“My goal … and I try to combat this with NXT all of the time, as we’re putting performers out there people will come to me and say like ‘well we shouldn’t have Andrade do this promo because it’s not his strong suit’ and it’s like well he has to learn to do it right?

You have to put them out there and you have to give them the ball. Sometimes you have to throw the guy the ball, while understanding that he might fumble it, or he might fall down, but he has to get used to catching it and then eventually he’s going to run for a touchdown.

We run that fine line of what their performances are. Putting the spotlight on their strengths, but not hiding the weaknesses to a point where they’re covered up. They’ll never grow that way.

I want to make him a well-rounded performer. I want him to continue to get better at English. I want him to continue to grow as a performer to a point where he doesn’t need those other things, but that’s not where he’s at yet, so we try to do the best we can with him right now.

To your point, she brings a totally different dynamic to him that allows him to just be that cocky, arrogant champion.”

So NXT has gone through a lot of changes since you created it. What’s your vision for what’s next? Is it a weekly spot in primetime on USA? Is it presenting the brand as a legitimate alternative to Raw and SmackDown, where it doesn’t act as developmental for those brands? Where do you see this product going in the next three-to-five years?

“It’s funny the terms people put on things. Like a ‘legitimate alternative.’ Well if you don’t like one and you watch the other it’s an alternative right?”

Sure.

It’s an alternative now. I think that the more variety you can give the better. Raw is presented a certain way. SmackDown is presented a certain way. NXT is presented a certain way and there are markets for all of those products.

Do I see it not being developmental? Look in some ways the brands are just the brands and as talent improve and move up, where they end up, whether that’s Raw, whether that’s Smackdown, or if that’s NXT at some point in time, they’re all just going to be part of a brand.

I think there’s going to be a learning curve where NXT will always sort of be developmental for some, but I think we’re going to reach a point where we’ll say, ‘Well clearly this guy or girl isn’t developmental, he or she has been on the main roster. They’ve done this or this on the main roster and now they’re back down doing this in NXT.’

I think there’s going to be that shift back and forth. I think you’ll see, as you said earlier, a more legitimate alternative brand, although, I think on the lower and middle end of the roster, you’re going to have talent who have only been in the business for two years. The first time you’ll see them perform anywhere will be on NXT.

As talent come in from other places who have not yet had that experience to be on Raw or SmackDown, I don’t care where they’ve been, they’ll need the learning curve.

In some sense it will continue to be developmental, but it’ll be different from where it is today because I think you’re going to see talent move up and move down. I don’t think it should be seen as a demotion when they go to NXT. I think it should be seen as they’re competing in a different environment.”

Outside of Braun Strowman, I don’t know if there’s anyone who has impressed me more this year than Johnny Gargano. His performances stick with me every time I watch him. When I think about the five best matches I’ve seen this year, his name pops up multiple times. What has he done to up his game this year?

“I think he’s become a storyteller. There’s a lot of emotion in Johnny Gargano’s matches.

He knows his role. He’s the underdog who will never quit. You’re not going to beat him easily and he can always pull it out. He’s willing to tell a phenomenal story.

It’s the hardest thing sometimes … we have this conversation in the Performance Center a lot, Shawn [Michaels] will have it with guys, Matt [Bloom] will have it with guys, it’s about storytelling and that’s truly is what we do. The spots are the spots, but the storytelling is key.

When guys learn that and then they get in the ring with guys who are in the process of learning it, the difficult part is to try and get them to do what you’ve learned and not reverting back to doing what they do.

Johnny is one of those guys who has begun to learn that process really well and then brings everybody up with him and that’s a really impressive thing. He just gets it, but he’s also one of those guys that is 24/7. There are a lot of people who are that way, but it’s different with him.

You can be having a conversation with somebody else about their angle, or their match and you see him two feet away listening to the conversation trying to help figure it out, or give his point of view. He’s in the pocket all of the time. Those are the type of guys you love to work with because it’s passion. He’s passionate about the business, which is why he’s successful and will continue to be successful.”

I have to ask about the match with Jinder Mahal in New Delhi. Were you surprised at all by the reaction you got there? From what I read and watched on YouTube you got the biggest reaction of the night.

“It’s funny, you see a lot of comments to the reaction of the fans there. India is totally different market and WWE is huge there. One thing that people forget is the first time I went to India to perform was in 1996. I’ve been on their TV for a really long period of time.

There are certain guys there, in that market, who transcend the business for them. When we were talking to our television partners there about the marketing for the event, it was one of the things that kept coming up. It’s why I was put on the card.

I haven’t been there in a long time. I was excited and really happy to hear the reaction. It’s sort of what we expected. We know what resonates in markets and we can see it in our numbers and see it in the research that are partners have done as well as on social media.”

I think a lot of people were just assuming and this is a short-sighted thought that Jinder was going to get the biggest reaction. The fact that you’ve been on television for so long, combined with the attraction of seeing you for the first time created the reaction. Those fans have a longer emotional investment with you.

“I often think it’s funny to me that people in America, who have never been to India, put their thoughts and their beliefs onto other people, ‘like clearly that’s the truth.’ (Laughs). It’s totally different there!

The way they see things and react to things is very different. There are certain guys that once they reach a level there, it’s a whole different ballgame; Undertaker, [John] Cena. It’s just a different level of stardom.

When we were over there a few months ago having business meetings, to hear the people who are running television studios or Internet companies say to me ‘I watched you when I was a teenager. You were like the biggest guy in the world.’

I met a massive Bollywood star the other day who told me that I was his entire childhood. He got suspended from school for telling someone to ‘suck it.’ At a time in ’96 when there were like three channels there, we were on one of them all of the time.

It’s not to say Jinder wasn’t ‘over’ there. He was! You have to understand the market. It’s not like everyone just went, ‘Oh my God he’s Indian! He looks like us so we love him.’ They are a savvy market. They understand that he’s [playing] a bad guy [on television].

Even though he got a massive reaction, he still needs to earn their respect. He’s still growing and still new. You know what I mean?”

Well back to the storytelling point from earlier, that’s the emotional attachment right?

“Yeah.”

Jinder still new in many ways, especially in this role. The audience has to grow with him in order for him to reach that level of stardom you mentioned.

“Absolutely. Just even being on this tour will help him. The reaction he got at the beginning of the night was much different than the reaction he got at the end of the night. It just grew. Their appreciation of him grew. It was all handled in the right way and done in the right manner.

Over time he’s going to grow and become a cultural icon for them.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Dolph Ziggler Isn’t Going to Stop Pushing Himself

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Before WWE’s most patriotic show of the year, Tribute to the Troops, airs on Thursday, December 14th on USA at 8 p.m. ET, Dolph Ziggler chatted with me about the state of his career, if there’s anything about it he would change and why he thinks Naomi has the best “comeback” in the business.  

Give me one word to describe your career this year?

“Wow one word? OK you tell me how your career has been this year in one word.”

Ummm …. That’s a good question (laughs)

“See it’s not that easy.”

I would say winding. Where I’m at now as opposed to where I was in January is drastically different.

“OK that’s fair. I would say solid. I’m pretty reliable no matter what situation I’m in at work and also solid in that I’ve been pretty busy doing things beyond wrestling.”

On Edge and Christian’s podcast you opened up about your unhappiness with the placement of your character right now ….

“That was a sentence in an hour and a half discussion. I know it makes for a great click-bait article where I’m like ‘yeah it sucks!’ But they left out the part where I talk about how I want to be better and here’s why everyone should be working to be better. That’s the part people leave out, which is fine.

If you’re … you’re at NBC Sports right?

Yeah.

“OK if you’re doing great work for the last 10 years and you want to be in the top position at your job and you’re scratching and clawing, wouldn’t you be unhappy if there was no movement? You would go ‘Sure, yeah I want to be on top!’ But not everyone gets to be on top at once. Of course I hate not being the champion and not having the show revolve around me, but I love it. That chip on my shoulder drives me to keep going and keep proving how good I am, until somebody somehow shows me some instance where I wasn’t great at my job.”

What I was going to ask was, is there a certain point in time that you can point to where you say “this is where the downward turn started” or was it a gradual process?

“It was very gradual. It went from ‘Wow, we have something special here with Dolph. The crowd is feeding off of him whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.’ But after a while, a really good match here and there or a special moment here and there is not enough to create a star. So after a big match and then just going back to being Dolph, it’s hard to not be Dolph.

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to make the most out of those situations. Anytime people see me or the character, you can kind of see how they mesh together and I’m pretty sure there’s nobody who blends that gray area with the character better than me. And that’s a fact.”

I was going to ask this a bit later on, but it fits perfectly here. A few months ago when your entrance gimmick started I thought it was a bit odd, but then I started to realize that a meta-type character who understands his placement on the card and understands what the crowd pops for is perfect for this era. What are some things you’re looking to explore with this character in the coming weeks?

“We’ve opened the fourth wall a lot with this business and we’ve let reality become a huge part of it, which is awesome. Being able to interact with fans every single day gives them the ability to know what’s going on behind the scenes a little bit and you can actually use that as part of your character.

It would be stupid to let them in on all of these different aspects of the show and then pretend that I win every night because then we’re basically calling them stupid for believing that. But if I go ‘Hey I don’t win all of the time, but I’m really good and you know this and I know this’ and one of the nights could be the time that we go with it and that’s very realistic in this world.

It’s one thing to joke around with fans, but to disregard huge aspects of a career would be a mistake.”

Is there something that you would change about your character right now?

“Yeah I’d be about three inches taller, so I could be a 10-time world champion (laughs).

I’m a big 80s hair metal guy, like a David Lee Roth or someone like Nikki Sixx or Vince Neil to where I could put on a big show and be awesome at wrestling, but in this character right now where I focus on throwing that all away because I see the transparency in characters and my character hates on them.

It’s a special place that I get to go and I walk to the ring with disdain for the fans knowing that they sit there and bury everything that we do, but then they cheer for who their supposed to because their such hypocrites it’s so great.”

If I could give you a time machine to go back and change any part of your career, what moment would you go back to?

“Ummm … you have anything in particular off of the top of your head?”

Well I was thinking about the period of time after you cashed in Money in the Bank the night after WrestleMania 29 against [Alberto] Del Rio and it felt like you had so much potential, then the double turn happened at Payback. It felt like the right move in the moment, but in hindsight I wonder if that decision was a mistake.

“Hmm.”

And you’ve talked about this before. The curse of the start-stop push. Every time it looked like you finally had momentum, it was killed. I just think that moment specifically began the downward spiral that I asked about earlier.

“I could see how you would think that, but what was I going to do? It’s pretty clear that there wasn’t long-term plans with me as champion.

I’m so proud of that match with Del Rio because it was … if I was an artist, that was a masterpiece I painted. I always enjoyed being in the ring with him because he brought it every time and we beat the hell out of each other and we got to do something special that night by switching things around.

When everyone says how much better the attitude era was just because more teenagers watched it then and I say well we did something special here, when I was someone who wasn’t in the championship picture until basically a couple weeks before that. I was always in the middle of the card … losing and all of a sudden it changed in one night.

It’s hard because you either go with it or you don’t and sometimes you deal with the cards your dealt and you go ‘OK, well if they’re not going with me as the champion, this top guy, how do I make another opportunity down the line?’

You can switch around any one day and it really doesn’t change 12 years.”

What do you “pop” for now that you’ve been in the industry for this long?

“Let’s see … I like watching Naomi work. She’s one of my favorites to watch.

Ahh … there’s a million things … what do you like?

Oh man …. This is going to sound generic, but watching AJ Styles work is one of the reasons why I still look forward to tuning into WWE programming every week.

“That’s great!”

It’s just the little intricacies of how he sells and his offense, which always stands out. I’m curious as to why you said Naomi.

“I remember a couple years ago, she was just a smiling athletic performer and she became a member of [Team] B.A.D and I was like there’s no way in hell she’s going to pull this off.

And then I saw her first day and I was like I don’t know how she’s doing this. Her offense is amazing and she has the best comeback in the business. I’d even rival hers to your boy AJ.”

I would agree with that.

“She has such a cool, fun, unique, explosive comeback that no one else can do.”

She also has one of the best hot tags in the business.

“Oh yeah.”

Going back to the Del Rio discussion for a minute, who are some people that you felt amazing in-ring chemistry with?

“I used to give this other answer all of the time, but it’s been years. Kofi and I for about four years wrestled every SmackDown, every Raw, and every live event. We had a best-of-500 series that I love 497-to-3.

We were wrestling so much that we were trying to think of counters to counters of counters to make it interesting and different every time. We had so much fun.

My favorite part is, the Dudleys came in and were like ‘we know you and Kofi do all of the high-flying stuff’ and I was like no! Kofi does the high-flying stuff.

I love when people throw a little amateur wrestling background into their stuff. Just modifying the most basic of all moves is really fun for me to see. Gable and Jordan will throw in a little stutter step or fake that no one else is doing and I’m like oh that’s nice.

Have you worked with Gable yet?

“A little bit during a live event in a triple threat, but we haven’t gotten in there to do anything big yet.”

Let’s talk a bit about visiting the troops in San Diego, I imagine that has to be one of your favorite events of the year.

“Yeah it’s great. We love doing it. It’s a long day for us, but we love it. We get to give this tiny percent back to these brave men and women are doing for us every single day. Anything we can do, we’ll bring in singers, comedians, we’ll shake hands, we’ll talk about wrestling, we’ll talk about high school football, we’ll talk about anything they want just to take a few minutes to thank them.

It is so rewarding to us and it means the world to us to put on our most patriotic show of the year. When we get to perform for them in person, nothing is better than that.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis