WWE Battleground 2016
On the Pre-show.
Per usual, Renee Young quarterbacked the Expert Panel (Booker T, Jerry
Lawler, Corey Graves), who more or less spent 45 minutes hyping and
previewing the night's matches.
Not so usual: there were actually some value added bits besides a single pre-show match. Cesaro sat in with The Panel, and after playing nice for a couple minutes, decided to go for broke, and said how he belongs in the ring, not on the mic. On the heels of him being all salty about getting drafted to SD while most of his friends stayed on RAW, it looks like Disgruntled Cesaro is here to stay. Also, an interview with GM Foley and GM Bryan featured some nice, genuine, honest discussion about how each brand is looking to improve (only Bryan got a bit coy and refused to reveal his precise "out of the box" plans for SD).
Finally, the pre-show match of the Usos vs. Breezango was certainly a value-add highlight. Despite running less than 10 minutes, they crammed a LOT of awesomeness in by wrapping up Jey Uso's Face in Peril bit in 3 minutes, and then doing a good 5-6 minutes of high octane End Game. Finish came when Fandango grabbed Jimmy Uso's leg to slow him down on an attempted Superfly Splash... Uso kicked him off and leapt, but Breeze got his knees up into Uso's gut, and then wrapped him up tight in a pinning combo to score the upset. Early advantage in terms of the new SD-exclusive tag division to Breezango. Not just because they won, but because they looked sharp doing it; those two are really taking tandem offense seriously.
Opening Hype/Video/Pyro, and we're live in Washington, DC. Enjoy your last chance to see this particular configuration of Cole & The Gang (JBL and Byron Saxton), as WWE has completely remade the announce teams starting this coming week. In addition to being your last chance to see Cole & JBL together, this is your last chance to see those old RAW and SmackDown logos: WWE has all new graphics ready, but for some reason, they're still using the old ones for tonight...
Both the Spanish and German announce teams are seated at ringside, as well. But enough of that, it's time to head to the ring!!!
Sasha Banks & Her Mystery Partner beat Charlotte and Dana Brooke. Sasha Banks spent the weekend hyping up her mystery partner as some kind of super-amazing surprise. Welp, Charlotte and Dana enter first, so let's see what you got, Boss!
Not exactly a shocker, but I guess that WWE thinks they threw us off the scent of Bayley being 100% ready for the call-up by not including her in the Draft. No indication of whether this is a one time deal for Bayley, or if somehow this puts her on the RAW roster, but who cares? The fans are loving it. So am I.
The heels jumpstart the match, but the ref sorts things out and pulls them apart before ringing the bell. Fast back and forth start gives way to a Level One Ricky Morton by Sasha.... but after the Decoy Hot Tag to Bayley, all is clear: Bayley is our for-real Face in Peril.
It's a role she plays all too well, as the most universally beloved and sympathetic babyface since Ricky Steamboat was in his prime. A fitting comparison, given that there's a Flair on the other side of the ring.
As dictated by formula, the for-real hot tag is eventually made to Sasha, who goes on a tear against Charlotte. Then, when Dana interferes, allowing Charlotte to hit Natural Selection, it breaks down into a brawl.... eventually, Bayley takes out Dana outside the ring, Charlotte takes out Bayley, and we're back to the two legal women in the ring.
Sasha hits the backstabber into Banks Statement combo, and Charlotte has no choice but to tap out. Solid, if abbreviated, 10 minute match. Hot crowd, airtight ringwork, what else can you ask for?
Oh wait, I know what else we can ask for: a HUG, goddammit! Bayley's in the mood, but Sasha milks the moment for a bit before finally giving the fans what they want. Seriously, monster pop. For a HUG. Not since Team Hell No....
This obviously sets up Sasha as Charlotte's #1 Contender for SummerSlam. As for Bayley, JBL says he just got word that this was a one time deal, and Bayley remains property of NXT. So there's the answer to that...
The Wyatt Family defeat the New Day in a 6-man Match. The New Day's pre-match feelgoodery is a celebration of becoming the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions in history. Which is true, so long as your version of history only goes back about 10 years or so, to when the previous brand split somehow wiped out the lineage of the original WWE tag title (which has featured many champions with reigns longer than the New Day's). But whatever...
Wyatts make their entrance, and while the Fireflies are in full effect, when the lights come back on, the fans are clearly behind the New Day. Bell rings, and there's some (Broad) gesturing to tease that the match-ups we should look forward to are Strowman/Big E (power vs. power) and Woods vs. Bray (playing off the psychological hold Bray has on Woods).
But for starters, it's Kofi, and while he gets off to a hot start, that does not last. The Wyatts cut the ring in half for several minutes. When Kofi finally gets separation, he tags in Big E, with Erick Rowan coming in on the corresponding move. Big E dominates for a big power flurry, including a damned impressive overhead suplex.
A giant Pier Sixer breaks out, and the Wyatts regain the advantage, requiring Kofi to tag back into the match. He's already half-beat, so Bray sets him up for the Sister Abigail... and now, it's up to Eggsavier Woods. He breaks up the Sister Abigail, but all of a sudden, he's face to face with his own personal boogeyman, Bray Wyatt.
Woods is initially frozen, but then he snaps out of it and goes on one hell of a rampage. Woods single-handedly takes out all 3 Wyatts... but while tending to Rowan and Strowman, Woods gave Bray time to recover. And that is how a fired up and confident Woods wound up turning around and walking right into a Flash Abigail.
The Wyatts, who were broken up by the Draft, go out on a victorious note after a perfectly acceptable 15 minute contest that was a bit formula until the final Pier Sixer and Woods' breakthrough rally.
Rusev defeats Zack Ryder to retain the US Title. Lana's trying another new look, this time wearing lacy white, in the style of "slutty wedding dress," to remind us she's about to marry Rusev. Ryder is trying something new, too, drenching himself with red, white, and blue, to remind us he would like to be the US champion.
Ryder even has a few True Believers out there in the crowd, but when Rusev basically shrugs off the Broski Boot to snuff out Zack's babyface comeback, things look bleak.
Rusev gets greedy, and decides to throw Ryder around ringside for a bit. Zack gets one last glimmer of hope when Rusev whiffs on a charge, and eats the ringside barricade. Ryder gets it back into the ring, and hits the Rough Ryder. But when he goes for El-Bro Drop, Rusev gets his knees up to block, and immediately quits messing around. Camel Clutch, and we're finished here.
A gussied up squash: about as good as these two could do, all things considered, but it's not like they did enough to make it feel like the outcome was in doubt.
After the match, Rusev tried to continue assaulting Ryder, but Mojo Rawley (Ryder's tag partner in NXT) came out to make the save. So Rusev keeps the US Title on RAW, and SD just got another tag team in the form of the Hype Bros. Good deal.
Sami Zayn scores the big win over Kevin Owens. Fast start for Zayn, but Owens short circuits things by yanking Zayn off the top rope, in the middle of of Zayn's walk-the-ropes tornado DDT. A flash cannonball, and Owens embarks on a nasty little run of offense.
There's a little extra stank on everything, and the announcers are sure to remind us that Owens was drafted several rounds later than expected, last Tuesday, and Owens is pissed about that, and looking to prove he should have gone higher.
After a few minutes of destructoring, Owens decides to impose his will in a different way: by taking us to Chinlock City. As tends to be the case, chinlocks only exist to give babyfaces something easy to fire up out of. Zayn was more than happy to comply... but Zayn's rally ended when an attempted springboard moonsault went sideways, and Zayn wound up hitting the apron hard. His right arm and shoulder took the worst of it.
As awkward and painful as the bump looked, Zayn, Owens, AND the announcers all immediately worked the "one armed man" story into the match, so I almost wonder if that "botch" wasn't on purpose? Who cares, let's just enjoy what going on...
In this case, that means Owens going to work on the right shoulder, building up to a Crossface. Zayn has to struggle, but finally gets a rope break. That does not stop Owens from continuing the pummelling for a bit. Things build up to Owens going for some kind of suplex from the apron to the floor.... but Zayn counters it, and turns it into a vertical suplex, dropping Owens onto the steel apron. Ouch.
Zayn almost gets a count out win off that move, but Owens makes it in at 9. Both men, however, are hurt, and slow to get to their feet. They start trading punches, but instead of a game of YAY!/BOO!, the fans are split 50/50 on "Let's Go Owe Wens"/"Sam Ee Zayn." Zayn wins the fisticuffs, and sets up for his cut-the-corner tornado DDT, only to meet a forearm from Owens. Another cannonball hits, and then Owens nails the Bullfrog Splash for an ultra-convincing near fall.
Owens goes for the pop-up... Zayn goes behind, and hits the walk-the-ropes DDT that missed early on... Zayn goes for the Helluva Kick, but walks into a superkick... Owens goes for the pop-up again... but Zayn flips out and turns it into a half-nelson suplex, AND A SECOND ONE FOR GOOD MEASURE!
Zayn steps back, and has the Helluva Kick lined up... but as he charges, Owens steps out of the corner and hits the Pop-Up Powerbomb. One... two... thr.... Zayn just barely gets his foot on the ropes.
Owens is pissed, and wastes precious seconds complaining. Then, he finally turns back, and starts toying with Zayn. Slaps and smacktalk. And all of a sudden, Zayn wakes up and snaps off his trademark suplex into the turnbuckle. Steps back. Helluva Kick hits.
Owens is about to slump to the mat, but Zayn catches him. It's almost a hug. Compassion for his former best friend? Nope: after a brief tease, Zayn just busts out into an evil grin, and props Owens back up in the corner. He hits a second Helluva, just for shits and giggles. One. Two. And three.
Tremendous 20 minute fight, it'll take a pretty impressive outing by the Shield to top that for Match of the Night. And I'm a sucker for the happy ending for Zayn, too. I mean, I loves me some Kevin Owens, too, but Owens needs about 90 seconds on the mic to rehab his credibility, whereas Zayn's reputation as a hard-luck loser was getting to the point that he absolutely needed this.
Natalya beats Becky Lynch. Fast start for Becky, who is powered by a thirst for vengeance, after Nattie became roughly the 27th of Becky's friends to stab he in the back so far in 2016... her onslaught is so mighty that Nattie has no choice but to bail out of the ring.
This sets up for their own unique version of the cat-and-mouse role reversal spot, and just like that Nattie is in control and targeting Becky's left knee.
This focused attack is all with an eye towards the Sharpshooter, but rather than keep the pedal down, Nattie keeps pausing to taunt and mock the crowd. This allows Becky to snag Nattie by the wrist and go for the Disarmer, right in the middle of the heel beatdown.
Nattie freaks out and escapes, but quickly eats a boot to the head. Becky's comeback is on, building up to the Exploder, and another attempt at the Disarmer. Nattie escapes again, but Becky manages to hobble to the top rope and nail a missile dropkick.
Nattie kicks out, and the two wind up throwing punches at each other in the corner. When the ref steps between them to break it up, Nattie sneaks in a dirty dirty snap kick to Becky's bad leg.
Becky crumbles to the mat, and Natalya immediately pounces, and finally goes for the Sharpshooter. One time is all it takes, though, as Becky has no choice but to tap out. Very basic formula, but also very well executed, although I think it would have gone over quite a bit better if Becky had won; that said, I understand why this was necessary, as Becky vs. Nattie will have to continue past tonight, given the thin nature of SD's women's roster.
Miz retains the IC Title against Darren Young, via Something or Another (double count-out? DQ? Who knows?). With each passing week, Darren Young adopts more and more Backlundisms. Not just using the Crossface Chickenwing, anymore, he's now starting off matches with Backlund's crazy old man crouching charge, too. Delightful.
It's clear Young intends to stick to mat/amateur wrestling, and when Miz initially holds his own, Miz gets a little full of himself, and comes back for more. Second time around, Darren wins the grapplingsmanship... so Miz goes back to what he does best: he waits for Maryse to cause a distraction, and then pearl harbors Young. Miz firmly in control at this point.
The beatdown goes on for a while (long enough for the fans to get antsy and chant "BOOOO-RING"), but then Miz whiffed on his big hooking corner clothesline, and Young's comeback is on... then, as soon as Miz gets separation, he tries to walk out on the match.
And that's when things get schmozzy. Backlund blocks Miz's exit, forcing him back to the ring, but then Maryse slaps Backlund, causing both Miz and Young to get distracted. Backlund starts spazzing out, ripping off his shirt. Miz randomly goes out to confront Backlund, shoving him to the ground. Young follows to get revenge on Miz for attacking his mentor, at which point the bell rings. Young cinches in the Crossface Chickenwing (outside the ring), and Miz taps like mad, but the match is already over.
I have no idea what it was (double count-out, maybe? was Backlund supposed to get a shot in on Miz to cause a DQ? I dunno), but it was pretty flat, and maybe not the greatest use of 10 minutes of PPV time, considering they didn't give Miz the decisive kiss-off, but nor can there be any rematch, since Miz is on SD, and Young/Backlund are on RAW. Baffling.
John Cena, Enzo, and Big Cass defeat AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I assume that WWE is planning on running way past 11pm again this month, because Enzo & Cass had about 10 minutes of prepared remarks, which quickly ballooned into 15, because the fans kept cheering and chanting, and preventing them from talking. By the time the bell rings, it's 10:08pm, and we still have the Highlight Reel and the Shield 3-way after this.
Anderson originally steps in to start for The Club, but when the good guys send Enzo out, AJ Styles insists on tagging in to take advantage of the lesser competition. Styles manages to shrug off a "SOCCER MOM" chant to get the better of Enzo. But then Cass tags in. Styles tags out. Cass gets the better of Anderson, so Gallows steps in to interfere. Enzo hops in to even the odds, and Enzo & Cass decimate the Club with tandem offense. Styles even tries to put his 2 cents worth in, to no effect.
The ref gets things sorted out, with Cass and Anderson as the legal men, but pretty much as soon as Cass tags Enzo back in, the Club takes over. Enzo is getting the crap kicked out of him... more literally than you might think, too, since I just noticed he's got the poop emoji on his tights.
Enzo's biggest hope spot comes when he gets a small opening on Anderson, dodges interference by Styles, dodges a charge by Gallows, and seems to have a path to his corner.... but Anderson recovers and snuffs that out. Before much longer, Styles tags into the match, and is still salty after Enzo just moments ago got the better of him... so he opts to taunt and mock, which allows Enzo to counter his attack, and dive to the corner.
Hot tag to Cena, and Styles stays legal for the heels. Almost immediately, they hit the Chaos Button, and it's a six-way brawl... after a round of big moves, we wind up back where we started: Cena vs. Styles, and Cena hits the F-U. One... two... thr....
But nope, Gallows reaches in and pulls Cena out of the ring, and insta-spine-busters him onto the commentary table. Styles catches his breath in the ring, and the ref applies a count. Cena just barely gets back into the ring at 9, but immediately eats a Styles Clash.
This time, it's Big Cass who reaches in to break up the pin at the last second. Cass levels Styles with a big boot outside the ring, but then G&A attack him and hit the Magic Killer. Cass is out. Enzo hops in the ring and takes out Anderson, leaving him alone with Gallows. Advantage: Gallows. Enzo eats a boot, and he's out, too.
Cena and Styles are still legal, and both drag themselves back into the ring at this point. Cena takes out Gallows, and then sets up Styles on the top rope.... a top rope F-U hits, and just like that, the Club are losers on their final night together. Cena and Styles head to SD to continue their singles feud, while Enzo/Cass/Gallows/Anderson are all on RAW.
Fun 15 minute match that seemed to purposely keep the basic formula short, so that we could have a nice extended trainwrecky end game. Trainwrecky in a good way.
Highlight Reel with Randy Orton. For those of you scoring at home, Jericho has now added a goatee with a particularly silly pencil mustache to his hilarious menagerie of effete Fancy Lad Affectations. After failing to shush the crowd, he grudgingly gets down to business, and introduces Randy Orton, finally back from shoulder surgery.
Orton says he really appreciated 9 months at home with his wife and kids, but being back here in a WWE ring, nothing can replace that. Orton says he's so jazzed to be back in front of such a great audience that he doesn't even care that he's gotta share the ring with "this guy" (gesturing to Jericho).
Jericho says that "this guy" was nice enough to put Orton on his show, and just being in the same ring with Jericho takes Orton to a new level. He should be thanking "this guy." Orton tells Jericho to cool it, because if he keeps going down this road, he may provoke the Viper, and then, well...
Orton gestures to his new t-shirt. It's "RKO" on the front, but a surprisingly self-aware "#outtanowhere" on the back. Jericho says that Codebreakers can come out of nowhere, too, Junior, so let's just all cool off and talk business.
Jericho talks about the Brand Split, and how Orton's going to SD, while Jericho's on SD, so maybe, just one last time, Orton would like to soak in the Gift of Jericho. Orton no sells the moment and stumbles through a prepared line about how Jericho reminds him of Ellen.
Jericho tries to oversell it, but he can't get the crowd to do the "EL-LEN" chant, so he just moves onto the next topic, which is Brock Lesnar.
Jericho plays a Lesnar video package on the JeriTron 6000, and then says that it's curious that Orton and Lesnar started in WWE developmental at exactly the same time, then made it to the main roster at the same time, but somehow, Orton has avoided ever having felt the wrath of Brock Lesnar. Scared much, Orton?
Orton says No, it just sort of happened that he and Brock only had tangential meetings... but sitting on his ass for 9 months, Orton realized he'd have to do something instantly impactful to put himself back on the map. He wasn't gonna get that by challenging Fandango. So he asked for Brock Lesnar, knowing full well that he'd get his ass kicked. But even if it takes 20 Germans to get to Suplex City, it only takes 1 RKO to get to "Viperville." Then Orton tags it with "Just 1 RKO. No enhancement needed. Ahem."
Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh, he went there!
Jericho suggests Orton will pay for that smart-ass comment, and then says come to think of it, Lesnar asked Jericho to pass along a few messages tonight. They are all questioning Orton's manhood, and the last one is "You're a Stupid Idiot," calling into question Jericho's claims that these messages are from Lesnar.
Randall's response? RKOuttanowhere! And we're through here.
Huh. This really did nothing to make me interested in Orton/Lesnar... instead, I guess I could go for Orton/Jericho to kill some time. The only problem is: they aren't on the same show. So this wasn't supposed to make us think of Orton/Jericho. And it failed to do anything for Orton/Lesnar. So.... ummmm, it wasn't unentertaining, but ultimately, the entertainment value didn't really advance anything.
Dean Ambrose wins a Triple Threat Match over Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to retain the WWE Title. Commish Steph and GM Foley (RAW) and Commish Shane and GM Bryan (SD) all come down to the ring, and take a seat. Hmmmm. As if a Triple Threat didn't already have enough moving pieces for wonky endings, now we have to wonder to what lengths these four will go to make sure their brand gets the WWE Title...
Full boxing-style ring introductions from Joey Jo Jo Shabadoo Jr. [Sidenote: Greg Hamilton from NXT was the other ring announcer tonight, so once again, I worry about Lilian Garcia's status.] The boos for Reigns are so mighty that there was a noticeable change in the audio quality during his ring entrance, if you catch my drift. Ahem. More cheers than boos for Rollins. All cheers for Ambrose.
Bell rings at 10:55pm, which means WWE is, indeed, taking advantage of The Network to run past the 3-hour mark. Rollins offers up the old school Shield Fist Bump to start, but Ambrose declines, politely, while Reigns tackles Rollins from behind to kickstart things. After Reigns demolishes Rollins, we get some Reigns vs. Ambrose, just to see how the two still-friends are gonna handle things.
They'll handle things by agreeing to pull no punches. Both men full speed ahead, although the fans clearly have a preference. "ROH MAN SUCKS" is deafening. Regardless, Reigns is dominant early, overpowering Ambrose, and swatting away Rollins during Seth's brief cameos.
Ambrose finally gets a bit of traction on Reigns, so Seth strikes again, this time attacking Ambrose, with good results, while Reigns powders out. When Ambrose gets cocky, and starts bitchslapping Ambrose, Reigns re-emerges. Ambrose powders out, now, as Rollins/Reigns is next on the depth chart.
They brawl into the timekeeper cubicle, at which point, Ambrose unpowders, and runs across all three announce tables to dive onto Reigns and Rollins. Ambrose opts to isolate on Reigns, but when Reigns kicks out after the standing elbow, Rollins immediately flies in out of nowhere with a frog splash onto Ambrose's prone body. Only a two count.
At this point, about 10-12 minutes in, we finally eschew the standard rotating one-on-one (with one guy powdered out) formula, and start in with 3-way spots. A unique game of Triangle YAY!/BOO!/YAY! breaks out, as all three trade punches. But when Ambrose and Rollins team up to pummel away on Reigns, the crowd erupts with YES! chants for the beatdown.
They keep working together, and try for a double team powerbomb... Reigns fights out the first time, but Ambrose and Rollins still manage to chuck him out of the ring. Suicide dive by Ambrose hits. Suicide dive by Rollins hits.
Eye contact between Rollins and Ambrose, and it's time for another Double Team Powerbomb, this time, through the Spanish Announce Table. It hits, and Roman's dead. But while Ambrose takes the briefest moment to celebrate, Rollins just instantly grabs a chair and whaps Ambrose from behind. Jerk.
Back in the ring, Ambrose fends off the Pedigree. But when he goes up top, Rollins catches him, crotches him, and turns it into a superplex. Unlike last Tuesday, the secondary snatch works, and Rollins rolls through the superplex into the Falcon's Arrow. Ambrose kicks out at TWOOOOOO.
Rollins up to the top again. This time, Ambrose catches him. Ambrose to the second rope for a turnbuckle mount-and-punch... Reigns returns to the match to snatch Ambrose off the second rope and hit a powerbomb. Crucifixbomb for Rollins. Back and forth with Reigns and Ambrose, and Reigns attempts another Crucifixbomb. Rollins clobbers Reigns from behind, which means Ambrose gets dropped from the ring out to the floor.
Rollins hits the Pedigree on Reigns. Reigns kicks out at 2. Rollins goes for his Bucklebomb, but Reigns somehow blocks it and immediately bounces out of the corner with another Superman Punch to Rollins... Reigns steps back and bounces off the ropes, wanting to hit the Spear and finish things off.... but Ambrose intercepts with a flash Dirty Deeds. One. Two. THREE!
Ambrose retains. First half was a wee bit paint-by-numbers, but the second half was outstanding, and I'm pleasantly surprised by Ambrose's clean win. I know Rollins is the best of the three, but in a lot of ways, Ambrose is my favorite, and if nothing else, they gave him the title, and he's done nothing but meet or exceed expectations. It'd feel kinda unfair to take it off him until (a) someone else shows they can do it better or (b) Ambrose shows he can't excel in the role. So hell yeah: Ambrose retains!
The entire SD roster empties out of the lockerroom to celebrate with Ambrose to close out the show. The Usos hoist him up on their shoulders, while the frontline of Shane/Foley/Cena/Becky encourage the crowd to join in, as we fade to black.
And so ends the show.... and some off-kilter weirdness aside, it's hard not to classify it as a pretty damned solid show.
A few match outcomes weren't quite the most sensible (I would have flip-flopped the Wyatt and Club outcomes, since the Wyatts really are totally starting over fresh with a reboot focused on Bray as a singles, so they could take the team loss; meantime, Gallows and Anderson still need to be taken seriously as a tag team, so I would have left Cena/Styles out of the finish, and let G&A "steal" the win from Enzo/Cass for the sake of their credibility going forward), I still have no idea what happened at the end of Miz/Young, and the Highlight Reel utterly failed to sell us on Orton/Lesnar (and WWE can't follow up on the Orton/Jericho heat, either).
But those handful of confusing items are still easily marginalized on a night when we got two matches as strong as Zayn/Owens and the Shield 3-way. Zayn/Owens runs away with Match of the Night honors, but the 3-way was riveting because of the stakes (and the vague expectation that WWE will split the World Title), and it still came down to an absolutely clean win for Ambrose. That's big time.
I guess maybe WWE could have tightened things up, and if they'd brought this show in under 3 hours, the ratio would have favored the two super memorable matches... but after SummerSlam, when each brand is running its own PPV every month, I think we'll get that under control. I mean, I know *I* don't two weeks per month with a 3.5 hour PPV, a 3 hour RAW, and a 2 hour SD, on back-to-back-to-back nights... if they must do two PPVs per month, I hope we're making a concerted effort to cut the flab that goes nowhere (like tonight's IC match, and that Highlight Reel).
I digress. Still a hard show to complain about: two matches that'll almost certainly make DVD compilations in the future, a crowd pleasing appearance from Bayley, and a bunch of other stuff that didn't totally suck. I'd say that's an easy final grade of B.
See you tomorrow night with the RAW Recap!!!