WWE

Shawn Michaels Q&A: Legendary Raw match with John Cena, the nWo, working with WWE’s future stars

Leave a comment

WWE will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Raw with a unique show on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on USA. The show will emanate from both the Manhattan Center and the Barclays Center.

I had the chance to chat with Shawn Michaels about some of the memorable matches and moments he had on Raw throughout his career, his role in developing the next wave of WWE talent and one moment when he knew he was going to venture off script during a promo. 

I’m sitting here watching the match you had with Max Moon on the first episode of Raw and I’m wondering how it must feel to know that you’re going to walk back into the Manhattan Center and participate on the 25th anniversary edition of the show.  

“Well I gotta tell you, I hope that’s where I get to go. No one has made any decisions yet as far as I know. As much as I love the Barclays Center, I would rather get to go back to the Manhattan Center.

I don’t know that at the time I was mature enough to appreciate how unbelievably cool and awesome that building was.

It’s sort of like a rock band. They start out in those places and then you want to get to play in stadiums. As phenomenal as it is to be in front of 80 or 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s really hard to beat going back to those intimate places, filling them up, and feeling that electricity, that passion, that excitement in that environment.

For me if I were to get to pick, that’s where I would want to go back to, especially on that night.”

I imagine you had a similar feeling when you appeared in San Antonio as a special guest referee in an NXT show

“Yeah! The old Aztec is a great environment as well. It’s one of the things that NXT does that I really enjoy. They play a lot of similar venues to that. It was a great deal of fun. That is one of the many things about helping out with NXT and the folks down at the [Performance Center].”

So last night as I was prepping for this interview I went on a YouTube deep dive into some of your memorable matches and moments on Raw. The first one I want to ask about is your hour-long match with John Cena in London. I’m curious to know how that came together because it’s so rare to have a WWE match that pushes the hour long mark, especially one that’s on free television.

“So that turned out at the very end of our European tour that year. We had already been on the road there for over a week.

I found out what we were doing when I got to the building and was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’

When you hear that the match is going an hour, it seems like a long time, but when you’re working with someone like John so much … I’ve had the opportunity to go back and watch that match and it just flows right by. That’s obviously a testament to John and heck I’ll even pat myself on the back a little for that one (laughs).

It’s amazing how trying to do that hour-long match didn’t seem like such a big mountain to climb. It really helps when you have a history with someone. John and I were coming off of the WrestleMania [23] match and because of that, we had a decent amount of story points to work around, so it was easy.

It obviously doesn’t hurt when you’re in a phenomenal environment as well. Let’s face it, the folks in the U.K. are pretty easy to wrestle in front of. They are a very passionate group.

I gotta say that’s one of my favorite matches.”

Another one of my favorites was the match you had with Shelton Benjamin in the Gold Rush tournament. You guys made unexpected magic in the ring that night. Had you worked with him before that match, or was it something that just organically came together as you were talking it out in the ring?

“I don’t think Shelton and I worked together before that and we barely worked together after that. It was just something that came together. Shelton is a phenomenal athlete. There isn’t anything that he can’t do and he also makes everything look flawless.

One of the strengths that I bring to the table is that I can work to other people’s strengths. If you have a lot of them, that makes it easier for me (laughs).

It’s one of those situations where you have someone who can do anything under the sun and you’re not too shabby yourself and then it becomes just a matter of putting things together that makes sense.

It certainly helps when you’re building to a certain point in the match and the timing comes off perfectly and that’s exactly how that match ended.

I know there are a fair amount of times that I’ve tried to capture that lightning in a bottle again and I don’t think it’s ever turned out as well as that did.”

Agreed. The only spot like that I can think of that came close was the superkick on Rey Mysterio, but it just didn’t have the punctuation because that was during a Survivor Series match, so it was just an elimination, which is much different than the finish of a high-energy match.

“Yes and that’s the thing. You know it is just special and when somebody asks to do it again you go, ‘Uhhhhhh we can try it ….’ I certainly knew that when it happened that it’s something you don’t mess with. You shouldn’t try to go back and do it again.”

I stumbled across the promo you cut at the beginning of Raw in Montreal in the summer of 2005. You were working with [Hulk] Hogan at that point, but obviously the only thing the crowd cared about was Bret Hart. It had to be an unbelievable feeling to know that you had everyone in the building eating out of the palm of your hand.

“That was one of the few times after I came back in 2002, where I went out there and there was absolutely no way that I was one, going to hit any of my time cues and two, that I was going to stay anywhere remotely close to the script.

That was a situation where everyone who knows anything about this line of work felt the same way as the crowd, so no one was going to be angry about it because the moment was perfect.”

Another little random moment in time is when you returned in 2002 as a member of the nWo. The group’s run was cut short due to Kevin Nash’s injury, but do you know how the storyline was supposed to play out? It seemed like we were going to get to a point where the group consisted of you, Nash, Hunter and X-Pac.

“That is a phenomenal question and I honestly don’t know where it was supposed to go because I had just gotten back to WWE. The extent of it, that I knew, was that Kevin was supposed to work with Hunter at the next Pay-Per-View.

(Writer’s note: Triple H appeared on the next PPV, Vengeance, in a segment backstage where, in storyline, SmackDown commissioner Stephanie McMahon and Raw commissioner Eric Bischoff tried to convince Triple H to sign with their brand, but Shawn Michaels persuaded Triple H to sign with Raw and then Hunter turned on him the next night when they appeared as D-Generation X.)

I know that we had turned on Booker and then we turned on [Big] Show, but I honestly don’t know where it was going because I was just finding my footing and didn’t know enough to be asking someone, ‘Where is this going?’

I had no intention of wrestling at that point and then of course so many things changed after Kevin went down. I need to hunt someone down and find the answer.”

In an interview you talked about fading into the background, but now here you are working at the Performance Center and helping out with NXT. What was it about being down there that made you want to get involved?

“It’s honestly the environment at the PC. Matt Bloom, Sara Amato, Terry Taylor, Robbie [Brookside], Norman [Smiley], Steve [Corino]. There are just so many great people who are there to do one thing.

Everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction. Absolutely nobody is trying to prove anything to anyone. Nobody is looking to do anything but help these young men and women have an opportunity to go out there and do what we had a chance to do.

It doesn’t work if all of those men and women you work with are all pains in the backside, but they’re not. If there was something that stuck in my craw I’d tell ya, but that’s what drew me to it.

For me, it was a situation where I looked at it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, all of the stuff that I absolutely love about this business is here and all of the stuff that I don’t care for and that I don’t feel like doing again are also here.’ It was just an absolutely perfect situation. It’s infectious and you feed off of the desire and the passion.

And then of course the direction and the vision of the people who are running that place. I’m not even talking about Hunter. He’s my buddy, obviously, and I can hang around him no matter what, but it’s what Matt and Sara and everyone else brings to that place.

It’s just a fun thing to be a part of and it’s fun be a part of the wrestling business.”

I have to imagine it’s great for someone like you who has so much experience in the business to help people when they’re struggling to find the answer with something and you can call back on an experience that will help them understand how to solve the issue.

“For sure and also getting them to think in ways that they might not know, or even more importantly, letting them know that what they were thinking about was right.

It also helps them because I was a risk-taker during my career. I’m certainly less structured than almost everybody else there (laughs). There’s a little bit of a rebellious gunslinger in me and that’s something that might be a part of some of them and I think those are the people who can be put with me and we can see where it goes.

I think they understand that if I say it’s too much, then it’s probably too much because let’s face it, there isn’t much that I think is too much.”

So what talent has stood out to you down there?

I love my guys. That’s [Johnny] Gargano, Roddy (Roderick Strong), Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole, Drew McIntyre, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe, [Tommaso] Ciampa, Authors of Pain, they’re doing great.

But as I’m learning now, there’s so much talent worldwide that I think the wrestling business is in great shape for the future.

What makes NXT standout to me in this clustered landscape of professional wrestling is the way it blends old school storyline building blocks, but with a new school twist in terms of in-ring style.

“I 100 percent agree with ya. It’s all of the sort of stuff that you like about the old school wrestling, but it’s done in today’s style. I think it’s a perfect dose of both.

Again one of the things that really helps down at the PC is, I’m not the bitter old timer (laughs). I encourage the change, I encourage the evolution, but it’s important for them to hear when they need to slow down. I tell them, you won’t slow down as much as they probably want you to, but neither did I. It’s all a learning curve.

I think it’s important for them to know that people said the same things to me when I was that age.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Adam Cole: I want to have the biggest personality in the room and not just on the microphone

Leave a comment

Before Adam Cole heads to the Smoothie King Center for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on WWE Network, I chatted with him about how much he’s learned during his time in NXT, what makes the NXT crowds special and what it was like to meet Shawn Michaels. 

About a year ago you said that if you made the jump to WWE that you would want to start off in NXT as opposed to going right to the main roster, flash forward to now and you’re an established star in NXT. Is this part of your journey everything you thought it would be?

“Yeah for sure. When I come into a situation, especially like this one in NXT, my goal is to get to perform in front of these fans, to get to wrestle with these guys, who are in my opinion, some of the best wrestlers in the entire world. I felt like I could fit really well in this environment and I think I have. To get the chance to do what I’ve done here so far has been a total blast and so much fun.

But at the same time it’s exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’ve gotten to do things in NXT, and even WWE, that I didn’t imagine I would get the chance to do. Very happy with the journey so far.”

In what ways have you grown as a performer since coming to WWE?

“There’s just such a better understanding of who I am actually as a performer. You fall kind of into … I don’t want to say a routine because you’re always trying to improve and get better, but when you wrestle for certain organizations time-and-time again, you kind of fall into this routine of performing a certain way and having matches a certain way. Also, after a while you’ve wrestled everyone over-and-over again.

Getting to come here and getting to wrestle a bunch of new talent, some guys I’ve met before and some guys that I’ve never met before. It puts you in a situation where you learn to adapt and change, whether it be character wise, things that you do in the ring. It just gives you new challenges.

I’m teaming a lot more with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, so that throws me into a different situation as far as learning to wrestle as part of a team as opposed to working solo most of the time.

Also the fans, I’ve noticed in each and every promotion, even though there are a lot of similarities in many different ways, NXT is a totally different animal.

Overall, adapting has been the biggest growing point for me.”

Interesting, in what ways are the NXT crowds different from the other promotions you’ve worked for.

“The NXT fans to me are in love and so infatuated with the characters. So to me when you see a guy like Velveteen Dream or No Way Jose and the way that they’re so invested in them as performers, not even necessarily with what they’re doing between the ropes, but in their entrances.

I feel the connection with the audience is just so much greater than anything I’ve felt before. It’s pretty incredible, especially when you’re at TakeOver events.”

When I watch the backstage segments with you, Kyle, and Bobby, they come off like old school nWo style promos. Obviously the music playing in the background, which sounds like a new age nWo theme, and the camera angles help, but it’s the natural chemistry you guys have on camera because it seems like you’re just having fun and being yourselves on camera. I would imagine it has to be awesome to just bounce off of each other while filming those.

“Oh man yeah, it’s so much fun. I think that’s exactly why it comes off that way. Me, Bobby, and Kyle are as close as it gets. That’s not just a performance. I’ve known Kyle O’Reilly since 2009 and I was in his wedding. I’ve known Bobby Fish for years and years, we used to travel together all of the time. We talk every single day.

So when we’re there and we’re talking in front of the camera, that’s just us having a good time and I think that’s a big reason why the group works so well. It’s very natural because it’s very real. So I think in turn how we project ourselves comes off as fun because we are genuinely having a great time together.”

Speaking of coming off natural, you come off so natural on the microphone. I talked with Ronda [Rousey] this week about where she’s at in terms of speed while talking in front of the live audience and then I asked Roman [Reigns] about it and he talked about how he was able to process the idea of taking his time to make sure he stopped rushing through his material.

Is the speaking part of the business something that you were able to gravitate towards and get comfortable with quickly?

“I think so. There is a constant growth process. I think that’s why I love this job so much. There’s no such thing as completely perfecting every area of it, you’re always trying to get better at it.

For me, I picked up the promo aspect of pro wrestling much faster than the actual wrestling part of it. I was always fairly athletic and I could do things even from the beginning of my career, when I was 18 and 19 years old. I was always the guy who could always string words together and found what I was saying to be actually believable however I was trying to come across, whether that be somewhat likeable or somewhat of a jerk.

I don’t know why that is, but I remember as a kid just being so fascinated by guys who were good talkers. Even in movies. I used to love the way James Bond villains would act and how cool they came across and how awful they seemed, but what they were saying was so believable.

I’ve always been fascinated by guys, especially bad guys, who were able to talk a certain way, tell stories with their words and just paint this beautiful picture for that you just completely rode along with. I’ve focused a fair amount of time on making sure that promos were something I really focused on.”

Your in-ring style is very interesting to me. You’re a smaller guy, but you work a style that is similar to a lot of bigger guys and it’s because of this slower pace that the spots actually mean something, especially when you build up to the climax of a match. Is that a pace that you’ve always had, or was there a certain point where you were like, OK I need to slow down now and figure out what works for me?

“That was something I developed over time. When I first started, I was definitely a guy that was doing every move under the sun and I was going a million miles an hour and just trying to wow the fans as much as I could. I thought that was the way to get them invested in me. Don’t get me wrong, that style is very impressive, but I on purpose work a certain style. It’s very important for me to do that.

It’s obvious that I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I want to have the biggest personality in the room and part of that personality isn’t just on the microphone. That’s the way I have to project myself in the ring as well.

All of my favorites in this business really took their time. They made everything they did mean something. Every movement they made had a purpose and that’s the type of performer I’m most comfortable being and that’s the type of performer I want to be too.”

There are so many performers doing unbelievable things we’ve never seen before on what feels like a weekly basis now, but after 20, 30 minutes go by and the match ends, I’ve seen so many big spots that it just feels like a blur, where as your matches build up to a few big spots that are easy to remember.

For instance, I watched your match with AJ [Styles] in Ring of Honor recently and you guys worked such a slower pace, but it built up to a huge finishing spot that is going to stick with the viewer. When I come across a match like that one it just feels so different in comparison to a lot of the matches we’re seeing nowadays.

“Sure, sure. You bring up AJ and he’s the king of that. AJ is a guy that can do anything under the sun. He’s one of the most athletically gifted guys there is, but AJ is able to place his stuff and put it in situations where he has the fans completely in the palm of his hand.

He knows he can do anything, but he knows that the biggest reaction he’s going to get from the audience is working a certain style and taking them on this ride by building a story within the match.

Doing a million things is very impressive, but if you forget 90 percent of it, it’s kind of a shame.”

How many times has someone come up to you at the Performance Center and said you look like Shawn Michaels?

“(Laughs) More times than I can count. Whether that be at the Performance Center, whether that be fans. I think I get at least five or six tweets a week about how I look like Shawn Michaels. To me it’s just a giant compliment.”

Has he said that to you?

“Yeah! When we first met he said, ‘A lot of people tell me that you and I look alike and now that I met ya I see what they mean.”

Who is somebody in NXT that you haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet that you’re looking forward to getting in the ring with?

“I’ll tell you what, I would love the chance to have any sort of a program with Velveteen Dream. I think that guy has so much potential. He’s so good now. His understanding of the industry for his age is unbelievable. His natural talent is the same. I watch him, I’m captivated by what he does, so to get the chance to be in there with him in some capacity would be great.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis 

Ronda Rousey Now Has the Chance to be Herself

Leave a comment

Even though there are certain aspects of the professional wrestling business that feel natural to her, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she’s a former Olympian and was one of, if not the most dominant female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey knows she still has a lot to learn about the second act of her professional career.

The “Rowdy” one grew up as a huge wrestling fan, but then learned at a later age that the action was choreographed. It was a discovery that drove her away from paying attention to the business.

Fast forward to her time on top of the UFC and there she was sitting on the couch, with her friends, watching Monday Night Raw as a fan again. Thanks to Shayna Baszler’s insistence, wrestling once more became a part of Rousey’s life, but this time it acted as an escape from the rigorous world of MMA. It was a window into another world that gave her the ability to just kick back and relax.

Fast forward again to today and now pro wrestling is no longer a way for Rousey to relax, it’s the main focus of her life.

You can watch WrestleMania live around the world April 8 on the WWE Network at a special start time of 7 p.m ET. 

She’s all in, which means she now must adjust to a world that isn’t exactly the easiest to become comfortable in considering her entire athletic career has been focused around the idea of finishing her opponent to find success. Now she must work with an opponent to make the music that will gain a response from the crowd.

It’s that major change that Rousey called her “biggest adjustment” when I chatted with her last week. “I’ve learned a lot about teamwork. That’s basically the main thing. Being in a team environment and working with everyone to make it great. It’s actually been a real joy to learn and to feel less lonely in my endeavors.”

But playing nice with others isn’t as easy as it looks. There are major alterations that had to be made in order for Ronda’s physical work to be fit for television.

“I mean things that I’ve already done in the past a million times feel natural, but how and where we’re applying them is still unnatural. Like the timing things are a little weird and have been been hard for me to pick up. I’m used to being as compact as possible. I’m used to trying to hide my face,” Rousey said.

“There are just a bunch of little things like being aware of where the cameras are and stuff like that. Stuff that I’ve never thought of once in my life are things that I now have to keep in mind. I think the pace and timing are the biggest adjustment. The actual techniques are there, but they also have to be adjusted as well. Every throw I’ve done has been with the intention to inflict as much harm as possible and not to look good, so I need to change things to make everything look more grand and be more safe. To work with somebody else and to learn to take cues when my whole life I’ve kept things very secret and sudden has been a huge adjustment.”

During her training for fights, Rousey would focus on figuring out ways to submit her opponent while she rolled or performed judo with her training partner. Her coaches would watch her technique to figure out what she could potentially apply in her next fight.

She’s still rolling and doing judo techniques with a training partner now, mostly Shayna, but instead of figuring out ways to put her opponent away, she and the trainers down at WWE’s Performance Center are figuring out which techniques can be applied to a live match.

“It’s not really like I need to get more reps with judo. I’ve done enough judo stuff for several lifetimes. There’s so much that both of us do that we really don’t think about and so I like to have someone like Sara Amato watch Shayna and I or anyone else, roll around and see if she could spot something that might be applicable in the ring,” Rousey said.

“I can’t be like, ‘Hey this is what I did’ because there are so many times when I’m in a grappling exchange or sparring and I’ll just do something that I know is brilliant and the other person doesn’t even know how they ended up getting caught, but I know it was great and then I end up moving on and forgetting about it.”

Ronda continued, “It’s not like I’m walking in there and I’m going to do some grappling that looks cool, but doesn’t work for wrestling. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go work over here, tell us if anything is useful.’ Sara will step in from time to time and ask us to do something again or change it around so we do it like this. It’s been a big help.”

The concept of maximizing “spots,” which is wrestling lingo for a big move or moment in a match or segment, is something that Rousey has studied feverishly over the past few months. It’s easy for someone new to the business to feel like they have to get all of their stuff in during a short amount of time, but this can actually be a detriment because it means none of the moments that are supposed to leave a lasting impact will be felt by the audience.

In order to help her understand just how important small movements are to building up to a big spot, WWE wrestler and well-respected trainer Brian Kendrick gave Rousey a key homework assignment that helped her unlock the concept of how to put together a match.

“He had me watch Hulk Hogan vs. The Undertaker [from Survivor Series 1991] just to teach me how much it really is all about the story and how little physically I really need to do. I don’t need to be a spotty person,” Rousey explained. “The Undertaker going down on one knee is all that needed to happen in order to get a reaction from the crowd. They really didn’t do that much physically to each other. That was a really good learning session for me. I can have this tendency where I go, ‘I know so, I know so, I know so,’ and I’ll do all of these things, but that match really taught me where to apply things intelligently instead of just throwing them out there.”

But it can be hard to avoid throwing everything you have when you get nervous and start moving fast, which is something that Rousey is self-aware of, especially when the microphone is in her hand.

“My sentences are chopped up into little pieces, so what seems to me like three seconds is probably more like one second. That’s one thing I’m learning. Once I think it’s been too long, to wait even more. I need to triple how patient I am,” she said.

It was evident to see just how different the speed was for someone who is still clearly getting adjusted to the nuances of the business and someone like Paige, who has grown up in the wrestling business and very clearly understands who her character is and more importantly, how her character should sound.

Rousey knows she has a long way to go in order to gain the confidence she needs to cut a badass promo, but she’s determined to find her voice and to not sound like anyone else who has come before her.

“It wouldn’t make sense for me to walk out there and cut a promo like Paige because she has been in this business since she was a little kid. She doesn’t talk like I do and if I walked out there and started talking like that, nobody would buy it because I know that I don’t talk like that,” Rousey said.

“It’s a fine line to walk,” she continued, “I have to be myself, but mold myself to fit into that environment because there is a risk of trying to do too much that will make people roll their eyes at me. I don’t want people to look at me and go, ‘Oh look at Ronda trying to be a pro wrestler.’ I want to go out there and speak as myself. That’s it. That’s what I’m good at. I can speak to large crowds of people and I’ve done that for years and now I need to find my own way instead of copying other people’s way.”

But having someone like Paige backstage is only going to assist her in her goal to become the best she possibly can be in this business and it’s something that she’s very conscious of.

“Having all of the examples around me really help like Paige, who is conquered a style and really made it work for her. She’s molded it through years of practice. I’m just surrounded by amazing examples.”

One of those amazing examples is Goldust, who is the eldest son of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Goldust is a true veteran of the industry and is someone that Rousey was absolutely thrilled to meet.

“Goldust took me aside the other day and gave me some advice and I was like, ‘Oh my God it’s Goldust and he’s giving me advice.’ I was geeking out so hard while still trying to receive information (laughs).”

In the previous act of her life, Rousey was forced to talk in a reactionary style interview. A microphone would be put in her face after a fight and she would have to respond to questions about how she forced her opponent to submit and then call out someone for her next fight.

In this act, Rousey must use her microphone time to drive along a story line with specific pieces of dialogue. It’s a totally different style, but one that she finds liberating.

“I think it’s more of a release than anything. I was always on the defensive, on guard. They were asking me questions with a certain answer in mind, they were trying to get a reaction out of me.” Rousey said of her MMA interviews.

“I think this is like a cool discovery process,” she continued. “People say, ‘Well who is your character?’ But I’m really thinking like, who am I because I’m me out there. I have to be much more introspective than I would in a reactionary environment.”

As Rousey continues to figure out how to apply her voice and her physical gifts to achieve greatness in this stage of her career, she is also going through a journey on a personal level to find herself, to find happiness outside of a world that made her name famous across the globe.

“I’ve never been allowed to just be myself,” she said.

Well now is her chance.

Twitter: @ScottDargis