Heading into Battleground, a lot of hype was placed on the event given the brand split officially begins this week. Certain match-ups were likely the last chance fans would get to see them for a long time. Others have more mileage on them thanks to last week’s draft. There was plenty to look forward to last night- all of it hinging on the main event WWE title match between Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. Being there live, there was an electric feel in the air that I haven’t experienced before in DC. Fans were on the edge of their seats almost the entire night, even for pre-show video packages. It was surreal.
Let’s take a look at what made the night special and what WWE could have improved on.
Video packages/promo videos
Before I get too complain-y, I must praise WWE’s production efforts. The superstars brandishing flags with their logos on them was pretty cool, as was the music chosen and fantastic work done hyping up each match-up. It didn’t feel by-the-numbers like other special events.
On the flip side, the big screen on the jumbo tron was having issues the entire night, going in and out. Sitting on the floor made certain angles hard to see when wrestlers left the ring- and craning one’s neck to see the four-sided screen up top wasn’t very comfortable.
Breezango vs The Usos
The crowd in attendance- even children from my vantage point- made absolutely zero effort to engage the Uso’s. Breezango have great chemistry together and it shows both inside and outside the ring. Breeze’s new corner superkick to an opponent through their legs is innovative and fun, even if superkicks are done far too much in today’s wrestling scene.
The right team won here, as Breezango can use this bit of momentum heading into Smackdown Live. Breeze’s counter using his knees and the small package showed great ring IQ.
Sasha Banks and Bayley vs Charlotte/Dana Brooke
There was only one person who would suffice as Banks’ partner, or riots were going to break out last night. I was able to catch Bayley’s entrance on my phone, before security warned myself and fans around me about not filming:
— Sean O’Brien (@SeanNeutron) July 25, 2016
I had predicted they’d go with Carmella, but that would have been a huge letdown to those in attendance wanting to see something special- and not fair to Carmella herself. Looking back, if you see Banks’ smirk and body language heading into the ring- there’s no way this could have been anybody but Bayley.
The match itself was full of energy and eventually all four settled into a rhythm. The audience was incredibly hyped for this bout, moreso than any women’s match on a WWE show in a very long time. The issues that plagued this match had nothing to do with the excellent ring work itself but the circumstances surrounding it.
By making this a tag match involving Charlotte, the women’s title was already off the table. That takes away from the stakes, especially with a champion reigning as long as she has. Also I have said this before, but the repetitious nature of the Sasha/Dana/Charlotte matches leading up to this took a lot of air out of the balloon. Aside from seeing Bayley, there was nothing unique about this match to get excited for.
Herein lies the problem with Bayley’s “debut”. I put debut in quotations, because news broke her full-time call-up won’t be until after NXT Brookyn II. Her not being drafted last week hurt the credibility of the draft as she was the third best female available. At that point, everyone knew she was likely being saved for Battleground. But why hype up a mystery partner before the draft and book yourself into a corner?
If WWE wasn’t going to draft Bayley, Sunday’s match should have been a singles bout between Sasha and Charlotte, or an announced tag match that included Carmella. Instead, WWE decided to save Sasha/Charlotte for Summerslam. Now Bayley heads back to NXT to finish a program with Asuka for Takeover: Brooklyn II, while WWE has to think of a way to re-introduce Bayley following that match. It all makes for a disjointed feeling. Despite those issues, being there to witness the reaction to her entrance was transcendent.
The one gripe I have with the actual match itself is Charlotte submitting to Banks. No idea why the champion took the pin when Dana Brooke could have easily sufficed.
The Wyatts vs The New Day
I know the New Day thrives on promos, even at special events. But with knowing they’d have to give Enzo a prime spot for mic time on a show that went over three hours without much filler, New Day’s promo wasn’t necessary.
They went to the compound and no sold the beating the very next week. And with Xavier Woods saying the Wyatts were “a threat to their very existence”, why get so goofy ahead of the match? A more focused trio would have given off a renewed sense of intensity.
Wyatt’s entrance is something to behold in person. As badly as he’s been made to look over the last few years, there’s no doubting how special he and his entrance are. If he’s not a face very soon, I’d be shocked.
— Sean O’Brien (@SeanNeutron) July 25, 2016
The match was paced really well and told a great story of Woods trying to overcome the trance Wyatt put him in. Woods’ frenzy towards the end reminded fans that yes, he can go in the ring, too. Big E’s ringside dive can be impressive, but I feel it gets sloppier/riskier each time I see it. Watching him get caught in the ropes was scary, and I am glad he wasn’t seriously hurt.
Surprisingly, the Wyatts won again. With Bray and Rowan to Smackdown and the New day on RAW, that seems to be the completion of their current feud. The finish made sense and Bray looks stronger than ever. Bray- like Breezango- can use this bit of momentum post-brand split.
US Championship: Zack Ryder vs Rusev ©
There was little to wonder with this match, and that’s not a bad thing. Rusev has looked like an absolute monster in recent weeks and it was no different here. Ryder fought as hard as he could, even unleashing an impressive dropkick off a barricade outside the ring. The audience is firmly behind him, as a title isn’t needed on him as much to keep him connected to the fans.
Rusev’s Accolade 2.0 is vicious, as are his kicks. I really worry when wrestlers superkick each other to the back of the head, though. Seems very risky with no reward aside from a shocking visual.
What made it really work here is that Rusev realized Ryder’s resilience wouldn’t allow the basic Accolade to work. Once Rusev sensed this, he cranked back and that was the ballgame. Ryder looks like a fighter, and Rusev looks like a strong champion. Introducing Mojo at the end reminded everyone that the Hype Bros are ready for Smackdown Live, even if it seemed odd that he and Rusev simply stared each other down.
Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens
On a card where the main event was possibly the most anticipated triple threat in WWE’s history, Zayn and Owens stole the show. They didn’t just have the best match on the card. It was the best match WWE has had all year.
The nearfalls, the high-risk spots, the history between the two in WWE, NXT and the independent circuit all played into the beauty of this match. Their storytelling is one of a kind, as Owens’ brashness, size and rough style mixing with Zayn’s endearing underdog persona make for the ultimate wrestling version of good versus evil.
Zayn miscalculating his moonsault was a scary spot, and either he was legitimately hurt or sold the hell out of his wrist:
Just when you didn’t think the two could hit another level, they would. Zayn going for his corner diving DDT only to be countered by a superkick was fantastic- even if the cameras missed it on the first shot. Then Owens modifying his cannonball dive to a prone Zayn immediately after looked brutal, even though Zayn was positioned safely and didn’t take the full brunt of it. The intensity was palpable, and Owens thinking he could finish off Zayn in typical fashion was balanced with Zayn knowing he needed even more gas than usual to defeat Owens.
The end reminded me of HBK/Flair from Wrestlemania 24 when HBK mouthed “I’m sorry, I love you.” It was personal. Instead of words to hammer it home, Zayn used the gesture of not letting Owens fall- only to keep him propped up for another Yakuza kick for the win. It showed Zayn’s progression, digging down deeper than ever to defeat his foe. Owens will now look to take out his frustration on the rest of the RAW roster.
Natalya vs Becky Lynch
IC Title: Darren Young vs The Miz ©
I lump these wo matches together not only because they followed each other on the card, but because they were the filler of the show- and that pains me to say as all four are talented performers.
In a show that went over 3 hours and included multiple promos and a talking segment, Natalya and Becky Lynch wasn’t necessary. Becky fighting alongside Sasha would have made sense. The match was the bathroom break of the show, and Natalya cleanly submitting Smackdown’s #1 female pick was baffling.
In regards to the IC title, it was in a bad position on the card and left everyone puzzled. The story they chose to tell wasn’t interesting, and nothing aside from the weird ending stood out about it. Both Young and Miz are great wrestlers, and Young using the Crossface Chickenwing instead of his former gutbuster finisher makes his moveset far less dynamic. There was no place on a show with this much hype for a title match that ended so terribly.
John Cena, Enzo and Cass vs The Club
Last night’s pre-match promo from Enzo Amore was his best so far in WWE. He’s been sharper than ever on the mic lately, and the beauty in his mic work is you don’t know where he’s going with it at first- but it all ties together at the end. His ability to have a crowd eating out of the palm of his hand puts him in discussion for being one of the best and unique promo artists of all time after Jake the Snake, Rock, Austin, Cena and CM Punk. Seeing John Cena off camera playing along to S-A-W-F-T was fun, as he’s a fan just like everyone else. His validation of Enzo’s promo by raising Amore’s arm at the end was improvised, but sold how special the moment was.
Cass was no slouch, either. His “soccer mom” story showed he can do more than just spell one word (albeit an unofficial one).
The storytelling remained strong in this fun bout, with Enzo and Cass doing the legwork for most of it. Anderson’s knee to cut off Enzo was sensational and timed perfectly. Cena came in and hit his moves, having to do almost nothing the entire match- which isn’t a bad thing, but showed how well they built up to the hot tag. I did question why he got the pin and not Enzo or Cass. Enzo’s courage in a 2-on-1 scenario was admirable, but mistaken once Gallows eviscerated him with a big boot.
The right team won here, and now both 3 man alliances are split up due to the draft. Look for AJ/Cena to fight at Summerslam and Enzo and Cass to carry on with Gallows/Anderson.
Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel:
It was questionable to have a talking segment on a special show like Battleground, but likely made due to not wanting to burn a date of Lesnar’s on a non-major show. Yet Jericho and Orton made it work even better than I’d imagined.
Jericho poking the bear-err, snake- was what this segment was built around. Orton more than held his own on the mic, and may have delivered his best promo work in his entire career. He came off likeable, natural, smart and funny. The improv was fun, as Jericho’s “his words, not mine” and “outta nowhere” prodding caused many laughs. Orton’s coining the term “Viperville” was fun and his comment about not needing “enhancement” may get him in trouble if not OK’d by management, but with his status in the company, I feel it was worth it and will add to the realness of a feud between him and Lesnar.
Sidenote: When Orton and Jericho watched the video package of Lesnar on a 42” Jeritron 6500, didn’t they realize there was a jumbo-tron 80 feet away?
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins vs Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose ©
The stakes and significance of this match were fairly evident prior to the bout, with Rollins and Ambrose doing great work to carry the feud until Roman came back. Reigns would never be taken out of it, as WWE had their only chance for these three to fight before splitting all three up via the draft. The gravity of the situation was only added to by the pre-match video packages, and the sight of all three in the same ring vying for one prize.
When all the authority figures were ringside, expectations of a screwy finish were high. But they decided to go a clean route, surprisingly. Even more surprisingly, WWE stuck to their guns and kept the belt on Ambrose. Reigns ate the pin as punishment most likely. I felt he got too much offense in at the end with Superman Punch Central. The nod to the Shield powerbomb was nice and effective. The chair to both Ambrose and Reigns brought back visions of Rollins’ turn over two years ago.
The problem here was that KO/Zayn put on a five star classic only a few matches before it, which raised the bar for all three men. That’s through no fault of their own, or even WWE’s. It is just the circumstances. All three played their parts, and the showing of the locker rooms was a nice touch to add to brand pride.
The end with the celebration was unique, but ironic that The Usos of all people held Ambrose on their shoulders.
Battleground was a show with plenty of hype and it was mostly fulfilled, with a few baffling decisions here and there. On a show so packed, some of it could have been cut. Not seeing healthy stars such as Cesaro and Ziggler on the card- even on the pre-show match- was jarring. Regardless, this was WWE’s best effort on a non-major PPV in years.
What would you grade WWE Battleground? Comment below or let me know @SeanNeutron.
(image via officialfan.proboards.com)