WWE

One-on-one with WWE Champion Jinder Mahal

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Before Jinder Mahal defends the WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura at SummerSlam (live worldwide Sunday, August 20th at 7 p.m. ET on the WWE Network), I had the chance to chat with him about how life has changed since becoming a world champion, what he thought of his Punjabi Prison match against Randy Orton and what he has to say to the people who think that the only reason he’s champion is due to WWE’s desire to expand in India.

Me: “It’s one thing to wake up the next day after winning the WWE Championship as opposed to waking up three months into your title reign, how have you changed as your time with the title continues to increase?”

Mahal: “I just try to improve every week. Improve on everything, my promos, my body, my conditioning, my in-ring [work]. It’s my goal to be champion for a long time. I want to headline WrestleMania. I want to be a Hall of Famer one day and I know I can’t accomplish those things without improving every week.

The main thing is I have a chip on my shoulder. I was released from WWE, so every day that I’m in WWE now is a blessing. I want to take advantage of the opportunity and I can’t become complacent.”

“Being a champion means there is a different level of pressure now to carry segments, which can include a lot of dialog. What adjustments did you have to make in order to succeed as a focal point of a segment as opposed to someone who is just hanging around in the background?”

“Self-confidence is the main key. If you’re unsure about yourself, they can sense it, the crowd can sense it. I just have to remind myself that I got this, whatever it may be, a promo, a match, or headlining a Pay-Per-View.

In the couple years I was in WWE [prior to my release] I never even had the opportunities to compete for a singles championship. I started listening to a lot of motivational books and self-help books and I listened to guys like Eric Thomas and C.T. Fletcher, who is a YouTube phenomenon. I listen to these guys who just get in a mindset of being in beast mode.

I just have to remind myself of what I have. There is a reason why I’m in this position. I’ve worked hard to be here and I’ve prepared for this opportunity.”

“Let’s talk about the Punjabi Prison match against Randy Orton at Battleground. Now that you’ve had a chance to actually sit down and watch it, how do you think it went?”

“The Punjabi Prison really is unlike any other match in WWE. To me, the structure is more impressive in person than the Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell. It is so solid. I was hitting it as hard as I could and it was not budging at all.

I thought the match went well, but when we were in the first cage, the crowd couldn’t see well because of the two cages, so they weren’t too lively. The atmosphere makes a match and the crowd was flat during the match and the whole Pay-Per-View.

I think me and Randy worked very, very hard. Out of the three Punjabi Prison matches, I think ours was the best one. When I was in the ring during the match, I didn’t feel that great about it because of how the crowd was reacting, but when I watched it back on TV, I thought it was a really good match.”

“When The Great Khali surprisingly came out at the end of the match, did you find yourself becoming a fan again for a split second?”

“Yeah actually that happens a lot where I catch myself being a fan. A few weeks ago I was facing Shinsuke at a live event and I got lost in his entrance for a moment. I had to remind myself where I was (laughs).

A couple of weeks ago John Cena was making his entrance and the crowd was electric. I grew up watching John Cena. I was still in my teenage years while he was establishing himself as one of the all-time greats.

When Khali’s music hit, it was another one of those moments. A lot of people in the U.S.A. don’t give Khali the credit he deserves. In India, Khali is even more than what [Hulk] Hogan was in the 80s. He’s on a whole different level. He transcends even more than the Bollywood actors do. They’re fans of Great Khali. I would say he’s the biggest wrestling name in the world due to India’s population.”

“When you and Khali were standing on the ramp together after the Punjabi Prison match, something hilarious happened when he pulled the title out of your hands and held it up to the crowd. What was going through your mind when he did that?”

“It’s our title. It’s India’s title. We’re very proud. Every Indian I see will say something to me about the WWE Championship or they’ll say that you helped put us on the map.

The hardest bump I took that night is when Khali patted my back. If you go back and look, you can see that I had to stick my elbows out so he couldn’t do it again. His hand is so heavy.”

“There’s a perception that the only reason you’re currently the WWE Champion is due to the company’s desire to expand in India. How do you feel about the idea that you’re here because of a situation and not because of the hard work you put in?”

“WWE has wanted to expand in India for years. They wanted to expand in India when I first debuted and they didn’t put the title on me right away. I wasn’t pushed to the moon, I was in 3MB in fact. I was there to enhance other talent, but I believe that I’m ready, that I’m worthy of the WWE Championship. I consider myself one of the best conditioned and most improved athletes in WWE and I’m just getting started.

Obviously, Vince McMahon and the powers that be see something in me. They have the confidence in me to hold the championship and I have to prove it to them that I can be responsible with it. I’m not going to embarrass the company. I’m straight business and I’m here to improve.

If they gain more viewership in India because of me, that’s awesome. That’s what WWE is, it’s a business. If they can improve business, they’re going to do that. The point of any champion is to sell tickets, [in this case] sell WWE Network subscriptions, and sell merchandise.

They’re not just going to put the championship on anybody, you have to be worthy of the championship.”

“What are your thoughts about working with Shinsuke Nakamura at SummerSlam?”

”I’m excited. It’s going to be unpredictable, I don’t know what to expect. The crowd at Barclays [Center] can be very unpredictable.

I grew up watching SummerSlam and to think that I’m in the title match, I’m in one of the main events at SummerSlam is just mind-blowing. I know I’m going to rise to the occasion. I know Shinsuke is taking this opportunity very seriously. It’s one of the biggest matches of his career and it’s definitely the biggest match of my career thus far.

I need these SummerSlams and WrestleManias to establish and solidify my legacy because I want to go down in history as one of the all-time greats.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

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