WWE

WWE: Should we care about Extreme Rules?

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Another Pay-Per-View already?

That’s what I said to myself when I heard Mike Cole shout that Extreme Rules is this Sunday. It will have been literally two weeks since WWE’s last PPV, which felt like a Sunday night episode of SmackDown.

The same notion applies to Extreme Rules. It feels like a Sunday night Raw but with weapons and gimmick matches, but that’s the way of the “new era” in WWE, so I suppose we just have to get used to it and hold onto the little moments that make us realize why we watch up to nine hours of WWE programming every week.

Lately those moments have been harder and harder to find. Typically the period after WrestleMania is a time when new characters are introduced and pushed, but right now, almost everyone on the roster feels a bit stale due to the lack of captivating storylines.

But we’ll watch on Sunday night because that’s what we’ve been trained to do. Sometimes it’s OK to be a sheep.

Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor (Winner faces Brock Lesnar at Raw’s July PPV)

I’ll be blunt, there aren’t many reasons to be excited for Extreme Rules, but this could very well be one of the best WWE matches of the year. Five of the best in-ring workers in the company will be in the ring at the same time (well, not really, but you get what I mean) and you can expect plenty of weapons to get used.

So why do I find myself not excited for this match at all? The fact that we get a PPV seemingly every other week now doesn’t help. Three hours of television every Monday night certainly doesn’t help either, but I’ve endured three hours of Raw for years now and will still get excited for main events of certain shows.

Let’s look at how these five have been booked in the buildup for this match and compare it to how NXT builds up big matches for their Takeover shows.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen Reigns vs. Balor, Reigns vs. Rollins, Joe vs. Wyatt vs. Balor, Rollins vs. Wyatt, Reigns/Rollins vs. Wyatt/Joe, etc … We’ve seen so many combinations of these five that when they finally get in the ring on Sunday night, there will be no heat for them touching for the first time. People will be excited that the match is about to happen, but it could have been so much more.

In NXT, video packages, enhancement matches and contract signing segments are used to bridge the beginning and end of a big feud. When the competitors step into the ring for their PPV match, there is a curiosity about how the match is going to look because we haven’t seen them touch yet in a match setting.

Sure, only one hour of NXT television needs to be filled every week, whereas Raw is a behemoth that needs to be filled with multiple segment matches. But instead of seeing the 1398560195 different combinations with the five guys who will participate in this match, what about having Reigns and Rollins come together to face a tag team. Why couldn’t Wyatt and Balor have been forced to work together in a tag setting before one of them turns on the other? What about a five-way contract signing that breaks down and gives us a small glimpse of what’s to come at the PPV?

Instead, the booking for this match has felt incredibly lazy. Let’s spin the wheel and see who will face who this week! The TV matches have been solid because these are five professionals who know how to work at a high level, but the results have been rendered meaningless, which is a shame considering a good chunk of the singles matches have featured clean finishes, including Reigns over Balor, which really was a waste right now and should have been saved for a future PPV.

So who’s going to win this match? That’s the one fascinating aspect of this match. I doubt Reigns is winning considering the rumored WrestleMania match between him and Brock, but you could make a case for the other four.

There’s been talk of a Wyatt-Lesnar feud since last year. Joe vs. Lesnar could be a killer match if booked correctly (we know how that story goes). Rollins-Lesnar could be excellent and Balor-Lesnar presents a lot of intrigue.

My money is on Rollins. Joe, Wyatt and Balor deserve more than just a throwaway title match against Lesnar. That’s not to say Rollins doesn’t deserve better, but we’ve already seen Rollins vs. Lesnar, so he could be slotted in the number one contender’s role and it would save the other three for bigger programs against Lesnar down the road.

Alexa Bliss (C) vs. Bayley in a kendo stick on a pole match for the Raw Women’s Championship

Even though both participants were involved in potentially the worst segment of the year this past Monday, this match has been built extremely well.

The story here is that Bayley is incapable of “getting extreme.” She’s too much of a good girl to attack Bliss with weapons. Due to how often the good girl ideal of Bayley has been mentioned in the build up for this match, when Bayley finally gets her hands on the kendo stick, the crowd, in theory, should pop huge when Bliss gets her comeuppance.

The problem is, Bayley hasn’t exactly been the same crowd darling that she was in NXT. Sure, she gets a pop when her music hits, but the connection between her and the audience quickly ends after that (I’ve talked about this problem in length in previous columns). Bliss has been money on the microphone though, so if the crowd pops for Bayley’s kendo stick shot, it will be thanks to all of the work Alexa has done to get the people who paid money to be in the building to care about the moment.

Due to how much Bayley has been dumped on by Bliss in her promo time and based off of how WWE books, you would expect Ms. Hug Life to walk out of Baltimore with the title. However, Bliss keeps mentioning how she’s the new queen of the WWE, which makes me think that they have bigger plans for her beyond this feud. I’d love to see her paired up with Nia Jax for a while, with Jax acting as Bliss’ bodyguard until the two end up splitting up and having a feud.

 Dean Ambrose (C) vs. The Miz w. Maryse for the Intercontinental Championship (If Ambrose gets disqualified, he loses the title)

I can’t help but watch this feud between Ambrose and The Miz and wonder, how much better would this be booked if the two would have just stayed on SmackDown?

Ever since the two moved over to Monday nights in the “Superstar Shakeup” it feels like they’ve moved down the totem pole. The Miz’s promos aren’t packing the same punch that they did on SmackDown and even though Ambrose has looked better in the ring recently, there’s really no reason to care about his character.

The stipulation for this match came after Ambrose kicked Miz in the nuggets during a title match on Raw. Dean was disqualified and then Miz got the stipulation put in place for the rematch at Extreme Rules.

With Maryse scheduled to be at ringside for this match, it would make sense for her to immediately attack the Miz after the bell rings in order to win the title, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ambrose “figures” out a way to either get Maryse banned from ringside by Kurt Angle, or locks her in a room backstage so she can’t interfere in the match.

If Miz were to win the title, he would move into second place behind Chris Jericho for the most IC title reigns ever with seven (Jericho has nine), which makes me think that the Miz will piss Ambrose to a point where he gets himself disqualified. This match is going to either end in a DQ, or by a pinfall right after a DQ is teased.

The Hardy Boyz (C) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro in a steel cage match for the Raw Tag Team Championships

With every week that passes by without any sort of development of the Hardy’s characters, the pop dwindles. It’s still one of the best on a weekly basis, but over the last few weeks, excluding last week, it’s gotten noticeably lower.

I’m expecting Jeff Hardy to do something crazy in this match because that’s his role in a gimmick match, so the crowd will pop big for that, but it’s hard to imagine that these four will have a better match than they had at Payback. It was a hard-hitting affair (Jeff’s tooth is still flying in the air from Sheamus’ kick) that was really underrated.

Can these four top that performance on Sunday? Of course, but the steel cage stipulation makes me a bit concerned that it’ll hamper the heat of the match. Let’s pause to think about all of the memorable tag team steel cage matches in WWE history …

Wait, there are none? Hmm … I guess there is a reason why a cage is rarely used in a tag team setting. I’m expecting the Hardy’s to keep hold of the titles here, but if they don’t get a resolution with the Broken Universe or create some sort of variation of the character, they’re doomed to fall into a mid-card act that will eventually be broken up when Vince decides to push Jeff back up to the top of the card on SmackDown.

Neville (C) vs. Austin Aries in a submission match for the Cruiserweight Championship

We’re all still waiting for these two to put together the four-and-a-half star match they’re capable of having on a WWE show. They had perhaps the best in-ring match at WrestleMania, but didn’t have enough time to get the crowd totally invested and it was the first match of the pre-show, which means the crowd really wasn’t ready to turn it up to another gear just yet.

Their rematch at Payback was quite good, but the finish was all sorts of garbage. One would think that this is the blowoff of the feud, which means there’s no turning back. If Neville and Aries are going to elevate the 205-pound title, it’s going to have to be in this match.

I’m expecting a technical wrestling display in this one. There’s a time and place for high flying moves and this Sunday in Baltimore won’t be the time, nor will it be the place for Neville’s Red Arrow or Aries’ suicide dive through the middle and bottom rope.

This needs to be a hard hitting affair.

With Neville surprisingly tapping out to Aries this past Monday, one would think that Neville is going to leave with the purple belt over his shoulder, especially with the pending feud with TJ Perkins (Note: I will never refer to him as TJP), but if Aries were to win, you could do an angle where Neville wants the next shot at the title, but Perkins gets in his way.

My money is on Neville retaining his title and feuding with Perkins.

Rich Swann & Sasha Banks vs. Noam Dar & Alicia Fox

If you’re Sasha, this is a life comes at you fast moment. Welcome to the world of filler segments and feuds. I did enjoy her and Swann dancing in the ring on Monday night. The two certainly have on-screen chemistry that needs to be explored. Dar and Fox on the other hand …

It doesn’t matter who wins or loses this one because no one is going to remember this feud a month from now. With how many times Fox has gotten the best of Banks over the last few weeks, I think Rich and Sasha will come out on top.

Goldust vs. R-Truth

Now this match hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m expecting it to end up on the card. Since he turned on Truth, Goldust has felt important again thanks to his old school gimmick. It feels strangely fresh, probably because the style of the promo is so unique and hasn’t aged at all.

On Monday, Truth spoofed Goldust’s promo and it was shockingly great! I never thought I would care about the blowoff of a feud between these two, but I’m actually really looking forward to seeing how both are booked in this match.

If Goldust beats Truth and I suspect he will, he should immediately get bumped up to the IC title picture. Why not give him another run with it?

Twitter: @ScottDargis

We may also get the resolution to the “who beat up Enzo” storyline. The attacker is rumored to be Big Cass …

WWE: Let’s analyze that odd LaVar Ball segment from Raw

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We finally got to see what LaVar Ball’s gigantic personality would look and sound like in a professional wrestling ring and it was … something. The phrase train wreck comes to mind, but I’m not sure that accurately describes what took place at the Staples Center.

You see, professional wrestling isn’t easy. Whether it’s with worked punches or words, you have to be able to bounce off of the other person you’re in the ring with and that’s something Ball proved he could not do despite being in the ring with one of WWE’s best talkers.

Here’s the full segment:

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m going to do my best.

Let’s start with LaVar’s entrance. He’s being accompanied by his youngest son LaMelo, who will play a much bigger role later on, but for now, let’s just focus on how LaVar “runs” to the ring.

LaVar is immediately booed by a majority of the crowd, but as soon as he mentions the Lakers and Lonzo Ball, the crowd roars with approval.

Lonzo gets his own entrance, as he should, but for some reason he’s rocking a sock-sandle combo that doesn’t translate well to WWE programming.

The Miz is a true pro and proved it after he gave Lonzo the opportunity to speak to the Staples Center crowd for the first time. Ball’s eldest son is a very quiet person, so he was understandably brief, but Miz wasn’t going to let this moment pass. He hyped up Lonzo and the crowd did respond positively.

After the Miz declared that he and LaVar should be business partners (I want a triple Bs and M shirt), the segment began to crumble. When LaVar told Miz that he wasn’t on the same level as himself, the Staples Center immediately began to cheer The Miz as a babyface who fired up and asked LaVar and Lonzo how many championships they’ve won.

After Lonzo said three, Miz delivered the line of the segment:

“Did UCLA win this year?”

Here are LaVar’s next set of lines:

“Now we know what The Miz stands for! Misinterpreted Zone” (Which doesn’t make sense it’s only two words.)

“Or it stands for A Million Zippers!” (That’s even worse!)

When Miz refers to LaVar’s comments about how he would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, the crowd has had enough of Ball. He got booed louder than Roman Reigns, which is an achievement.

Ball’s retort: “Like I said before, there’s only two dudes better than me and I’m both of them!”

Miz then refers to himself as the Michael Jordan of WWE (……) and then LaVar tells LaMelo to “handle his lightweight.”

Miz responds with another great line: “Oh what you’re going to unleash all of the balls on me?”

When Miz tells LaVar he wants him to backup his mouth, Ball responds with his signature catchphrase “stay in yo lane,” which is just mind-numbing if you know where the phrase originated.

(Yes LaMelo wore a “Stay in yo lane” shirt that LaVar’s brand is selling.)

When the Miz gets “serious” and says “or what LaVar,” Ball responds “or the hunt is on and you’re the prey.” But instead of delivering it in a serious tone, Ball has a huge grin on his face and is about to start cracking up.

I can’t even describe what happened next:

Then Dean Ambrose’s music hits and then the segment somehow managed to get even weirder.

As Ambrose walked out onto the stage, LaMelo suddenly realized he had a live microphone with the opportunity to say whatever he wanted and this happened (NSFW, NSFW):

I would pay 10 dollars to see what Vince McMahon’s reaction was backstage. If you know anything about how strict Vince is with segments, you know that he had to be absolutely fuming and what happened next probably made him break something.

After Ambrose stops smiling because he heard what LaMelo said and begins his promo, Ball CUTS HIM OFF. But what LaVar didn’t realize was, he actually stopped Ambrose right as he was about to talk up Big Baller Brand for giving him a free shirt.

However, because Ambrose does this for a living he was able to get through his promo and the segment quickly ended after that.

We’ve seen LaVar Ball cut promo after promo leading up to and during the 2017 NBA Draft, but when he was placed in world of pro wrestling, we found out that he was out of his league.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE: One-on-One with Daniel Bryan

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Before Daniel Bryan makes his return to SmackDown Live this Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA, I had the chance to chat with him about #DadLife, why WWE needs to change how they’re presenting their stars, the independent guys who have the best chance of making it and the one guy he’d love to wrestle in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Hey Daniel, so everyone who I told about this interview wanted me to wish you a happy Father’s Day …

“Oh, well thank you!”

… So let’s start there. Is there one word that you can use to describe how yesterday felt?

“Gosh … I suppose just blessed? I feel like I live a very blessed life right now.”

Has there been anything in the month since your daughter has been born that has caught you off guard, or have you been pretty much prepared for everything that’s come?

“I mean I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for parenthood when your first child comes. I mean, maybe some people can. I had never changed a diaper before our baby was born [laughs]. I’m really learning on the job you know?

I thought I was the world’s most patient man. Brie sometimes gets frustrated with my patience [laughs], but what I’ve realized through having a child is, man I really need to work on my patience. I’d be changing a diaper and I have a real aversion to poop and pee, so I’m slow in doing just about everything. I take it off, I clean her and I’m like OK I’m doing really good. Then she pees and I’m like oh no, now I have to clean her again. Then she starts pooping again and now I have poop all over me. So now I start to get frustrated [laughs].

You have to constantly work on yourself and understand the things that you need to get better at.”

And this is the stage where all they do is poop or pee, just wait until she starts moving around.

“[Laughs] It was really hard for me because every time I would hold her or interact with her, in the first few weeks especially, she was crying. She was either sleeping, which was awesome because I would be holding her and she looked so peaceful and happy, but when she was awake, she looks at me and the only thing she wants from me is to change her diaper, but when I’m changing her diaper, she’s very unhappy. When I’m changing her clothes, she’s very unhappy and the only time she stops being unhappy is when I hand her to Brie and Brie starts feeding her [laughs]. When do I get to do the stuff that makes her happy!?”

Switching gears a bit, now that you’ve been in the role of SmackDown GM for almost a year, how would you assess your performance on-screen?

“Um … I don’t know. I would say a solid B-plus [laughs]. I always feel like there’s things that I can do better. I always strive to be the best that I can in any given role that I’m given. I always think that I can do better on things like Talking Smack and when I’m doing interviews and that sort of thing. How do we best make our fans excited for SmackDown Live? What is the best things that we can do to help the fans relate to the superstars?

We’ve had our hits and our misses, but I’d like to think over the last year that we’ve had more hits than misses.”

It seems like it didn’t take you long to get comfortable in the role. Was it easy to pick it up and run with it?

“Yeah … it’s just a natural extension of wrestling in the WWE. If you would have had me do this when I started with WWE seven years ago, I would have been horrible at it. But during my time with WWE I got more and more talking experience and now all I do is talk, so I’ve been able to get more comfortable with it.”

Scale of 1-10, how much fun is it to let loose on Talking Smack?

“I don’t really view it in a scale of 1-10. Sometimes when I’m talking about things that I know I shouldn’t be talking about [laughs] it raises those parts in your brain that excites you and makes you happy. For example, when I refer to James Ellsworth as “The Big Hog” I don’t think anyone really appreciates that other than me and some of the viewers. It makes me chuckle.

I consider a 10 as the happiest or the most fun that I have. A 10 would be doing something really fun with my wife and daughter. Just yesterday we went to a place to eat and Birdie was cooing and smiling and Brie and I were having a great time. That’s just the best. Talking Smack on its best day can get to like a six or a seven. Once you have this idea of where your true happiness lies, it changes your perspective.”

So as I got ready for this year’s Money in the Bank I went back and watched some of the older shows and the level of talent that is on the entire roster now in comparison to five to seven years ago is pretty astounding, but I feel like the product as a whole in its current state is very stale. What tweaks do you think need to be made in order to give the WWE a spark of excitement?

“I think a change of presentation is absolutely necessary. I think the way that we present our superstars probably needs to change. Years ago, [WWE] went through with this idea of having as much live stuff as possible on the shows, but I think when you watch say UFC for example, some of the things that are the most endearing, that make you care the most about the fighters are these backstage vignettes that show their real personality. You’ll see great fights that people will cheer maybe because they’re great fights, but the fights that have the most impact are the ones with fighters who people actually care about.

I think one of the things that really endeared me to people was that people got to view more aspects of my personality than most because of the different things that I did within WWE. Seeing performers frustrated and being able to show that on TV and being able to show their experiences, their reactions to what’s happening to them on the show and doing backstage vignettes. There was a great one on NXT about Roderick Strong recently about being a new dad and all of that kind of stuff.

Since I’ve been gone, they’ve been doing some really fun stuff with the Fashion Police. Not that there needs to be more of that exact kind of stuff, but it helps people get to know their personalities.

I think one of our failings on SmackDown Live was American Alpha. They’re great and on NXT they did all of these fun little interview segments with the two of them that got to show the people behind American Alpha. (They saw) who Chad Gable is, who Jason Jordan is. I’d like to do more of that kind of stuff.

In combat sports, personalities are what draw. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was one of the worst boxing matches I’ve ever seen, but millions of people watched it because of the personalities involved.

I think changing that dynamic and highlighting the personalities is something we really need to do. Now, I don’t know how we do it. I think if anybody has a magic answer of what the best way is to present personalities in this modern day of television, they’d make millions of dollars, so I may not have the answer.”

Time for the speed round

Best WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“Oh gosh that’s hard … so I was watching the NXT Takeover from Chicago and I really loved the Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne match. That’s my style of wrestling. Pete Dunne working over the wrists and manipulating finger joints is kind of attention to detail I really enjoy.

It’s hard because we get so many matches all of the time that are awesome. I really liked the AJ Styles-John Cena match from the Royal Rumble. Watching AJ Styles on a weekly basis is a constant pleasure.”

Best non-WWE match you’ve seen this year?

“There was a Minoru Suzuki-Kazuchika Okada match from New Japan (Pro Wrestling) that was my style of wrestling. Forty minutes, lots of submission stuff, it was really cool. I think a lot of modern fans in the United States would have a hard time with it, especially if you’re used to WWE style, but I really enjoyed it.

Even though the matches are totally different I would put it right there in terms of match quality with Will Ospreay-KUSHIDA match from the Best of the Super Juniors final.

“So that was really good. I really enjoy KUSHIDA’s work. He’s one of the guys that I would love to have a chance to wrestle because he does so many awesome technical things.”

Who is the one “indie” guy who has the best chance of becoming a star in WWE?

“It’s hard to define any of these guys as ‘indie’ guys anymore because they all have contracts [laughs].

I have really enjoyed watching Matt Riddle. I think he has a ton of personality and a ton of charisma and he’s got that look that WWE really likes and the has history in UFC. I think if he were to get an opportunity in WWE, he would do really well.

I also think Kenny Omega if he were given an opportunity would absolutely kill it.”

Coolest move you’ve ever seen?

“So I define cool as different than most people [laughs]. My favorite thing in wrestling that I’ve tried to do a million times and can’t do it, is when Jerry Lawler punches somebody in the face. It’s the best! He does it better than just about anybody. He punches dudes right in the nose and I don’t know how he does it without breaking them. It’s magic!

How you view wrestling evolves as you become a bigger fan. When I was in high school, I saw Juventud Guerrera do a 450 splash and I was like that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen! And then now it’s like watching Jerry Lawler punching someone in the face is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Is there one bump* you wish you could take off of your bump card? 

“There’s not a specific one. I feel like there wasn’t one big bump that caused any of my major problems. My neck problems came from years of wrestling a very hard style and my concussion stuff came from, hey I have a lot of concussions [laughs].

I think the one … actually I will say one. OK, in 2000 I did this ladder match and at this point I’d been wrestling for about six months. There was a 12-foot ladder and I jumped off of the top of the ladder that was in the ring and did a flip dive onto a guy that was on the floor, but I didn’t realize that I needed someone to hold the ladder, so the guy tried to catch me, but I just fell shoulder first onto my right shoulder and I’ve had right shoulder problems off and on since then. I also got a concussion in that match as well, so that match might have been the start of shoulder problems, which would then lead to other issues. If I could take that one away I would.

I honestly did a lot of stuff because for my size you have to do different stuff to get recognized. It’s different for someone like Randy Orton. When you’re tall and you’re good looking and your dad is a former WWE superstar, it’s a lot easier to get in the door. When you’re five-foot eight, don’t have really any natural charisma and you look like a normal guy who works out at the gym, you have to do some things to get noticed.”

*A bump is when a wrestler takes a move or does a big … dive, during a match.

Twitter: @ScottDargis