WWE

WWE: Should we care about Extreme Rules?

Leave a comment

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 …

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

WWE
Leave a comment

This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

WWE
Leave a comment

Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.