The Spotlight on WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament 

Well the world of WWE never stops, that’s for sure. Following three straight days of programming on the USA Network, touted as “WWE Week” and capped off by the annual “Tribute To The Troops” special last night, WWE held a press conference live in London, England this morning. At that press conference, WWE COO, Paul Levesque (Triple H) announced that WWE would be crowning it’s first ever United Kingdom champion as a two day, 16 man tournament will be taking place between the weekend of January 14th and 15th. The tournament will air live on the WWE Network and take place at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England (Home of NXT Commissioner William Regal) and will feature the following 16 competitors Trent Seven, Jack Starz, Pete Dunne, Wolfgang, Roy Johnson, Sam Gradwell, James Drake, Jordan Devlin, Tyler Bate, Joseph Conners, Tyson T. Bone, HC Dyer, Dan Moloney, Chris Tyler, Saxon Huxley, Ringo Ryan, Tiger Ali and Tucker. It would appear that two of these men will be alternatives, though it was not announced who.  
Probably the coolest announcement, at least to me, was that former Ring of Honor Champion Nigel McGuiness would be brought in to co host the tournament and work with Michael Cole on calling the event. For those unfamiliar with Nigel’s story, he was seen as one of Ring Of Honor’s biggest stars having unbelievable matches with Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) from 2005-2009. In September of 2009, it was announced that both McGuiness and Danielson would be leaving Ring of Honor as they had agreed, in principal, to a deal with WWE. The two had one last match against one another at Glory By Honor 8 on September 26th, 2009 before the two left for WWE, a show I attended live and was one of the most emotional shows I ever got to see live. In the end, Danielson would sign his deal with WWE but WWE never did offer the deal to McGuiness due to a biceps injury that came up during his medical pre screening. Thus, for me, it’s really great to see Nigel getting a shot to work for WWE in this capacity.  
No official press release has been released as of this writing as the press conference just ended a few hours ago but you can see video of the press conference including Levesque’s announcement as well as comments by Finn Balor, who attended the conference along with Leveque and William Regal on both WWE’s official facebook page and on their twitter @WWE.  
You have to give WWE credit for always looking for new and unique ways to offer something for everyone, particularly on the WWE Network. Last year the WWE launched the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic which aired on NXT and lead to WWE bringing in independent talent to compete in the tag team tournament, including current NXT Tag Team Champions, DIY! This past year has seen WWE launch the Cruiserweight Classic tournament featuring 32 of the best cruiserweights from around the world. This ended up leading to the return of the cruiserweight division on Raw and a show dedicated to the cruiserweights, 205 Live, that airs on the WWE Network live on Tuesday nights. At the end of the day, wrestling in the UK is a completely different style that really hasn’t ever fully been seen in WWE and so it will be nice to see WWE put a focus on this brand of wrestling and provide the platform for the UK’s wrestling scene through this tournament.  
There is no word as to what the future of the UK champion will be following this tournament but we will update that information as soon as we know anything. 

The Spotlight On NXT Takeover Coming To Toronto

Last night, triple h tweeted the above and confirmed that the next NXT Takeover special will in fact be taking place on Saturday night November 19th from the Air Canada Centre the night before the WWE Survivor Series pay per view.

The Survivor series is the second longest running WWE annual pay per view, behind only WrestleMania, and will be the next cross branded WWE pay per view featuring superstars from both Raw and Smackdown Live.  Thus, it make sense for WWE to make the most out of one of the “Big Four” pay per views and turn it into a weekend, similar to what they’ve been doing the most recent years with Summerslam.  By putting NXT Takeover the night before Survivor Series, and presumably Raw from the same area the night after that, WWE will create a third vacation-destination weekend for its fans. WWE just sold out three nights at the Barclays Center with Takeover, Summerslam and Raw and ran several meet and greet opportunities for its fans throughout the New York City area.  The Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Raptors, can actually hold 2,000 more people than the Barclays Center can and so this will become the largest venue that NXT has ever run.

From here, the next logicial step would be for WWE to create that fourth destination weekend around the Royal Rumble, which takes place in Los Angeles, California, and put on the next NXT Takeover special the night before that show as well.  It has become a tradition, since 2013, that a member of the NXT roster compete in the Royal Rumble so perhaps they could even hold a battle royal on that takeover show to see who gets that opportunity, I realize we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

This is obviously great news for the NXT brand.  While some will say that by pairing the Takeover specials with the big four WWE pay per views and moving them to big venues, it takes a bit away from NXT’s appeal ( with the thought being that you’re not giving NXT as big of a spotlight as their own time of the month for their pay per views and that you’re taking NXT out of the more intimate setting that it was built on), I would tend to disagree.  I think it first and foremost shows how far the NXT brand has come in being able to have events take place in such big venues.  Also, this is great for the talent involved down in NXT to be able to complete on such a big stage as they prepare for their career in WWE somewhere down the road.  It’s also great for WWE because it makes the Survivor Series feel like a bigger deal, in that it will now have a whole weekend centered around it, which is should be due to its rich history.

In the end, it’s great for the fans who will have another place to go see a weekend filled with live events and continue to enjoy more content on the WWE network.  How do you feel about this announcement? Let me know over on twitter.com/tommyonthespot.  Keep checking out over here on thedailyspotlight.com for all of your wrestling news!

The Spotlight On The WWE Tough Enough Competition Special 

  Tonight WWE Tough Enough will debut live on the USA Network, returning after four years. I’ve already broken down all of the changes to this year’s show and so for this piece I’m going to be breaking down the, what was in essence, first episode of Tough Enough, the Competition Special which aired last week on the WWE Network. I was really happy to hear WWE was going to be airing the special as not only did this add new content on the network, I’m always happy about that, but it also got you familiarized with the contestants, the trainers & the new Tough Enough season overall, prior to the debut episode on the USA Network. Let’s get into some highlights of the show. 

 Mike Hayes Steals The Show– Right from the first scene of MIke exiting his hotel room, you couldn’t help but root for the guy. He’s the first person we’re introduced to and someone who’s story we follow along with throughout the show. It’s revealed that Mike is a war veteran who was involved in accident while overseas which left everyone else in the accident dead and left Mike without one of his legs.  Despite Mike having a prosthetic leg, he has still become a wrestler and was chosen to be one of the 40 finalists on Tough Enough.  In the end, unfortunately, Mike’s body gave out on him and he took himself out of the competition.  When he did leave the competition, however, he received a standing ovation from not only the rest of the contestants, but also from the trainers and Triple H which was a really nice sign of the respect Mike earned.  The good news is that following the show WWE released a video showing that Mike was offered another chance to come back to the performance center, when he felt that his body was up for it. 

 This Isn’t For Everybody–  What I always appreciate about these casting specials is that they show the hard work that the contestants are forced to endure in order to prove that they are, for lack of a better term, tough enough.  Whether it be the contestant that puked as Triple H entered the facility or the individuals literally falling over, it was clear that this wasn’t for everybody.  With that said, it was also nice to see that most of the contestants were wearing protective headgear so that if they weren’t trained prior, they would be able to protect themselves while learning how to take bumps.  The trainers really seem to be a good fit this year as Booker T is back and does a fantastic job as the leader of the trio.  Billy Gunn and Lita also seem up for the task and don’t look like they’re going to be messing around at all.  In particular Billy Gunn’s criticism of Lorenzo not being coachable and of Alex (The Big Oh!) being too much of a “wrestler” as opposed to just being himself and letting the trainers get to know him as a person. 

 The Good, The Bad & The Ugly- With every casting special of every reality show ever, half of the fun is seeing not only the good contestants, but also the really bad contestants.  Tough Enough had it’s share of both.  Whether it be the cocky guy who claimed he was 6’0 only to have a tape measurer prove he was but 2 inches away from that height or the former exotic dancer who had zero WWE knowledge whatsoever or the infamous Kingdom twins who pulled out of the competition claiming that they felt the trainers could have been nicer in the way that they spoke to them (which lead to a great Booker T response by the way) there were some historically bad contestants in the final 40.  I think Lita said it best when she said that she’d like to have a word with some of the producers who even wasted their time with some of the contestants.  That said, there were also some really great contestants.  Aside from Mike Hayes the contestant that everybody has been talking about is 18 year old Alligator Wrestler ZZ who’s small town charm (and Bray Wyatt demeanor?) captured the hearts of wrestling fans and viewers alike.  There was probably no greater moment in the entire competition special than when ZZ returned to join the final  13 after being cut earlier in the show.  On the contrary, it broke my heart to see Ashley (In all of her Eva Marie glory) not make the show because of a heart ailment as she seemed to want it more than any of the other girls there.

Closing Thoughts  Overall, I’m a big tough enough fan and I’m enjoying the fact that everything is going on live as opposed to the entire thing already being recorded.  I really hope they take a Big Brother approach with the live shows and show live footage intertwined with the major happening highlights from the week.  Since this special launched, the tough enough contestants have taken to Periscope as a way for the audience following along interact with the contestants and get to know them better.  They’ve also announced that immediately following the live shows, there will be a post show entitled “Tough Talk” hosted by the Miz that will air live on the WWE Network.  Periscope and Tough Talk are both really great ways for WWE to tie in both social media as well as the WWE Network into the Tough Enough experience.  Lastly, I also like that the tough enough house this year isn’t the mansion that it has been in past editions of the show.  It’s fine for the contestants to have opportunities for rewards and fun but living in a mansion just isn’t realistic.

That’s going to do it for me today but be sure to check back later today prior to the Tough Enough premier to see my first edition of the Tough Enough Power Rankings where I’ll be ranking the chances of each one of the remaining 13 finalists.  Until then, what are you most excited about this year’s Tough Enough?

The Spotlight On Attitude Era Raw- 12/29/1997

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the spotlight on Attitude Era Raw where each week we continue our journey through every episode of Monday Night Raw that took place during the famous Attitude Era as listed on the WWE Network’s Attitude Era Raw section.  Remember the hope is to have these listed for you as you’re waiting for this week’s Raw so that if you’d like to wet your wrestling pallet prior to Raw, you can go back and watch this episode.  This week we journey back to December 29th, 1997 in which Raw took place in the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.  For what it’s worth, the Nassau Coliseum is my favorite venue to watch a wrestling show, at least it rivals Madison Square Garden.  I have been going to shows at Nassau Coliseum since I was all but five years old in 1991.  With that said, however, I hadn’t gone to any television tapings until the late 1990s so I was not present for this Raw taping. Regardless, this was a really fun and eventful episode of Monday Night Raw so let’s get right into it with the highlights of the show.

Highlights
1) Crapper 3:16-   The highlight of highlights on this show has to be the opening segment featuring the brawl between The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust (Coming to a Do you remember section of this blog near you) and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  TAFKA Goldust comes out as the single most annoying character back then, dressed as the new year’s baby as this was the final Raw of 1997.  This leads to Stone Cold Steve Austin showing up and lowering a porta john from the rafters before throwing Goldust into said porta john.  It’s one of the great Stone Cold Steve Austin memories that I feel gets overlooked because it took place early in his run pre-McMahon feud but to me it’s one of my favorite memories of the Stone Cold character, well worth going out of your way to track down.
2) Jim Cornette’s Rant-  This is an interesting episode of Monday Night Raw because in many ways it’s a transition episode.  This being the final episode of 1997, a year in which WWF lost mostly every week in the Monday Night War and lost Bret Hart in well documented controversial fashion, this is right before the WWF started one of it’s most successful year’s in history, that being 1998.  Thus, in this episode you get a heartfelt thank you from Vince McMahon thanking the fans for sticking by the WWF and also to expect big things from the WWF in 1998.  Also on this episode, in a similar vein, you get a pretty controversial promo from Jim Cornette about the state of wrestling of 1997.  It’s worth taking a few minutes to check out and I’ve embedded the video for you guys above.
3) Shawn Michaels Vs. Owen Hart- The war between Sgt. Slaughter and D-Generation X continued this week as Triple H pulled out of his title match with Owen Hart, due to injury, only to have Sarge declare that Shawn would now have to defend his world title against Owen instead.  This is really a packed show as this was also the night that The Undertaker’s casket arrived to scare Triple H only to have Shawn pop out of the casket dancing to start the build for their match at the Rumble.  As for match quality, I’m trying to give you one each week and, even though there’s a screwy finish, it doesn’t get much better than Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart.  Owen was still super hot at the time as it seemed that perhaps he would be getting that major push towards the world title following the Montreal Screwjob.
Do You Remember…
Chainsaw Charlie?!?!?- This episode of Monday Night Raw won’t only be remembered for the great DX and Stone Cold Steve Austin segments, oh no!  This stacked Raw will also be remembered for the night in which Chainsaw Charlie made his debut.  If you don’t remember Chainsaw, this was the character portrayed by Terry Funk during the time period where Mick Foley (Now Cactus Jack) was searching for a partner to help him out in his battles against The New Age Outlaws.  So yes that man with the pantyhose over his face in the picture above is WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk!
Closing Thoughts
Overall, this was obviously a stacked episode of Raw that’s worth going out of your way to check out.  I really like that not only did they start to put such an emphasis on the Royal Rumble (In December) but they also started to cement some of the seeds for Wrestlemania that year, three months out.  It’s because of long term booking like this that midcard matches at Mania that year like Owen Hart Vs. Triple H and The New Age Outlaws vs. Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie meant so much more.  That’s going to do it for this week, I’ll be back early in the morning with the spotlight on this week’s Raw and back next week looking at the first Raw of 1998!

The Spotlight On E:60- WWE: Behind The Curtain

I had mentioned this special in the daily sports update on Tuesday and got to check it out with my girlfriend last night.  I always like to watch different documentaries about WWE with my girlfriend because she enjoys them and she also offers a different perspective on the documentary as a casual fan of the product.  I went out of my way to avoid any spoilers on the documentary so that I went into the documentary with an open mind, not knowing what to expect.  In the end, I found the documentary very enjoyable and an interesting look on how the developmental process works once a talent arrives at NXT.  The piece included interviews with Triple H, Vince McMahon. Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock along with NXT talents and their loved ones.  Let’s get into some of the more interesting highlights of the film.
Highlights

1) Ray Leppan–  At some point during the story of Ray Leppan, my girlfriend turned to me and said “I feel awful that I ever hated his character.”  For those of you who don’t know Ray Leppan currently competes as Adam Rose for WWE.  His story is the real highlight, in my eyes, of the piece as it gets into so much of the back story on the man behind the character and the struggle that someone can go through down in NXT if they can’t create a connection with their character.  Ray spent three years down in NXT working as the character Leo Kruger after moving to Florida from his native South Africa after getting the opportunity.  The documentary shows how many of the management level people doubted Ray and felt that he was struggling in creating a believable character.  All the while we get to learn about the real life struggle that Ray goes through with his newborn son who was born with a stomach ailment that doesn’t allow him to eat food and he needs to be fed through a peg.  Ray’s son was only given a life expectancy of two years.  Once you get that connection Ray’s family and the struggles that he goes through to get onto the main WWE roster to support his family, you root for Ray to make it for the rest of the film.  It breaks your heart to see the 35-year old Ray being told by Triple H that he has to reinvent himself.  The piece then does a great job in showing how (over the two years in which the piece was filmed) Ray is able to create the Adam Rose character and find success in making it up to the roster.  I really hope WWE tells this story on Raw because it can do a lot for the Adam Rose character.  I mean who wouldn’t want to root for a guy like that?

2) Behind The Curtain– The backbone of this piece, other than the profile pieces, is the access that is granted to ESPN to film production meetings and other backstage segments.  It was really cool to see how a production meeting is run and the different personalities involved like Michael Hayes, Terry Taylor and Michael Cole.  From there the backstage segments showing Paul Levesque (Triple H) addressing the NXT roster are really well done and give you an insight into the world of the NXT superstar.  These superstars are working all day everyday on every aspect of their character that you can think of (from promo class, to in-ring action, the character development to weight training it all happens for these superstars at the performance center) and it is made obvious that they are competing for a spot that is anything but guaranteed.  I thought it was also cool to see the cameras follow Xavier Woods around all day the day of his debut from arriving to the Nassau Colisseum to his post match critique with Triple H.

3) Matthew Polinsky– Corey Graves was touched on a bit here on the spotlight of the first episode of Culture Shock which he hosts and you get a great look as his tough journey.  Being a lifelong fan who’s mother used to make him birthday cakes with his favorite wrestler on the cake and who then grew up wanting to be a pro wrestler only to be sidelined due to a back injury, Polinsky’s story really hit home with me.  Polinsky is first presented as a can’t miss prospect and the only talent who receives support of all of management involved in the production meeting. Triple H literally refers to Polinsky as “a priority” while hall of famer Dusty Rhodes calls him “A moviestar”.  Then Polinsky ends up medically disqualified due to a number of concussions.  This is heartbreaking for the lifelong fan and his family that he has to support.  I remember when I first heard the Polinsky was going to be doing commentary thinking, wow that was really cool for WWE to allow him to explore other opportunities when wrestling didn’t work out.  This piece gives you insight into the decision and makes you feel that much better for Polinsky watching it all unfold.

Closing Thoughts 

Rather than lowlights here, I’m going to instead list some closing thoughts because again I really enjoyed the documentary.  It made sense from an advertising perspective for ESPN to feature and promote interviews with, arguably, the three biggest stars in WWE history, Hulk Hogan, The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin.  That said, their appearances were  pretty breif and didn’t add too much in the way of discussing the topic at hand.  I would have instead preferred to hear from three current stars like a John Cena, or a Roman Reigns or a Seth Rollins, who have both passed through the NXT system.  I also thought Bill Demott, former head trainer at the WWE Performance Center, came across really well.  I know a lot has been said about Demott, and I won’t get into what’s true or untrue because I don’t really know, but it’s clear that in this piece he seems to be genuinely invested in the careers of the NXT Superstars. 

A final thought would be that in both watching the E:60 special and the Roman Reigns 24 special on the WWE network the night before, both of which have been covered here and that I’ve enjoyed, that there is a market for these type of human profile pieces.  Both pieces featured the superstars in their everyday life.  The superstars were shown as regular people with real struggles, the same struggles that we all go through on an everyday basis.  I found that the superstars featured came across as not only likable, but also relatable.  After the 24 special, I want to see Roman Reigns main event Wrestlemania again and win the world title in the process.  Likewise, I want to see Corey Graves, Xavier Woods and, especially, Adam Rose all succeed in their respective careers because now I know them a bit more as people and want to see them do well for their families.  I hope that these “behind the curtain” type specials continue into the future as it’s been a really fun week to be a WWE fan, and I didn’t even get into Raw!

An extra here if you’ve watched the special & wanted a little more, ESPN has realized two extra features on their website dedicated to Tyle Breeze & Colin Cassady, they’re worth checking out.