Produced By: WWE
Date: July 24 2016
Location: Verizon Center, Washington, DC, USA
This year’s Battleground event felt like a transitional show due to the Draft taking place last Tuesday. The WWE roster has once again been split into two, but the line-up changes would not become official until after Battleground. Only thing is, many of the PPV storylines had been compromised by the brand extension, meaning that some rivalries had lost any meaning, since the supershow bouts were now essentially pointless. That all being said, despite the less-than-enthusiastic feeling amongst fans prior to this card, the talent came through with several great matches and moments, all of which resulted in Battleground being one of the top events of the year so far.
The Kick-Off Show gave us The Usos vs. Breezango, a logical bout since the two teams were chosen by SmackDown. This was a by-the-numbers doubles match for the most part, with Tyler Breeze and Fandango repelling early offence by the supposedly babyface combo by taking control and wearing down Jey. He inevitably made the hot tag to Jimmy leading to an Usos comeback. Tyler prevented an Usos Doomsday Device but he and Fandango still tasted a high crossbody from Jimmy. In the end, Jey launched himself through the ropes to take out Fandango at ringside, and Tyler blocked a Jimmy splash and rolled him up for the surprise victory for Breezango.
It was a good start to the night, but more importantly Breezango were very well-received by fans, despite being a heel tandem on the very bottom of the proverbial ladder. In contrast, The Usos were heavily booed again, proving how damaging their alliance with cousin Roman Reigns has been to their popularity, and the fact that the tandem, which were once WWE’s top team, lost to a comedy heel twosome here doesn’t bode well for their futures. Like with Dolph Ziggler, The Usos are stale and really could benefit from a heel turn themselves. They’ve been babyfaces for five years, and both their fortunes and their crowd appeal have plummeted in recent times. A series between NXT call-ups American Alpha and a newly-heel Usos team has plenty of potential.
Battleground opened with another tag team match, this time pitting Charlotte and Dana Brooke against Sasha Banks and a mystery partner. Without getting into why the Women’s Champion was in a non-title doubles bout for the second PPV in a row, the big intrigue here concerned the identity of Sasha’s partner. As it turned out, Sasha’s mystery partner of choice was none other than Bayley, who legitimately got a Rock-level pop for her long-awaited main roster debut. The babyfaces were attacked at ringside by the heels, to hefty boos, as Charlotte and Dana took control early of this match.
Bayley showed fighting spirit early on, but it was Sasha who received the brunt of the punishment by the defending Women’s Champion and her not-as-talented partner in crime. The Boss soon tagged Bayley back in, and despite her taking a slightly ugly bump on the back of her head to the top turnbuckle, the former NXT Women’s Champion proved why so many fans were excited to see her with some great offence, including her running knee attack into Charlotte at the corner. But Sasha would be the one who won the match for her team, locking Charlotte in the Bank Statement and forcing her to tap out. This sets the stage perfectly for Charlotte vs. Sasha for the Women’s Title, where Sasha will surely win the gold that she should have claimed at WrestleMania 32.
The bigger story here was Bayley’s debut, although the announcers pointed out that this was a one-time appearance by Bayley (for now). I suspect that WWE planned to install Nia Jax (who was called up in the Draft) as Sasha’s partner, but the potentially negative reaction to it not being Bayley convinced them to change their minds, whilst emphasising that she hadn’t been officially called up yet. You may call it a guest appearance. I can understand fans being unhappy that Bayley wasn’t Drafted, but she still has business to take care of in NXT, with an upcoming title rematch against Asuka at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. After that show, Bayley will probably arrive on Raw or SmackDown for good, with a future title match against Sasha (assuming she is Women’s Champion by then) seeming like a great prospect, perhaps for next year’s WrestleMania, based on their classic NXT Takeover collisions in 2015.
Next up, The New Day battled The Wyatt Family in a six-man tag team match. This was the second bout of the night involving a champion (or champions) where the title would not be at stake. Also hindering this match was the outcome of the Draft: with Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan on separate brands to New Day and Braun Strowman, this intriguing feud (based on Xavier Woods genuinely fearing the Wyatts) had to end here, without the championships on the line. It also means that the recent six-man brawl on the Wyatt Family compound (which some felt had undeniable similarities to the Final Deletion match/angle involving Matt and Jeff Hardy in TNA) ultimately counted for nothing, unless other enemies to Wyatt end up visiting his gaff at some point.
That being said, this was still an enjoyable bout. New Day did their usual funny pre-match promo, and the bout itself told a logical story of how Xavier was trying to overcome his fear of Bray. After seemingly being mesmerised by the leader of this cult, Woods eventually did snap out of his trance and come out all guns blazing at Wyatt, hitting some nice offence to a big pop by the crowd. But it wasn’t enough to seal the victory, as Bray caught him and dropped him with Sister Abigail for the win. It’s worth noting that Big E nearly broke his neck hitting his spear through the ropes to the floor on Strowman, which hopefully will be sufficient evidence for the big man to remove this (admittedly impressive-looking) spot from his repertoire; the last thing fans want to see is one-third of their favourite tag team act suffering a serious injury, and I imagine that he wouldn’t want that outcome either. Oh, and Michael Cole on commentary dropped a right clanger here, as he noted how Strowman swatted Woods like a fly, except it somehow came out as “flatted a swy”. As Ron Simmons would say, “DAMN!”
We actually had a champion defending his title in the following match, as Rusev put his United States Championship on the line against Zack Ryder (who was sporting Randy Savage-esque attire based on the stars and stripes). Against all odds, Rusev’s career appears to have been rehabilitated; it seemed like his main event prospects were dead after his turbulent 2015, but the last few months have seen the Bulgarian Brute regain much of his momentum (and the U.S. Title), making him a force to be reckoned with once more. Ryder has had an up-and-down year, although this latest title opportunity at least gave him another PPV match, even if the result was made obvious by the two men being separated via the Draft (noticing a pattern here?).
This bout was okay; nothing special, nothing offensive, but ultimately nothing too memorable. Rusev dominated the early going, with Ryder fighting back and strangely electing not to pin Rusev after a Rough Ryder, instead looking to confirm a victory with an Elbro Drop (that’s the name for his top rope elbow; seriously, bro). But Rusev avoided this big finisher and clamped on the Accolade which, after an unsuccessful attempt by Zack to break the hold, earned the big man the submission victory. Rusev continued the beating afterwards, until Ryder’s Hype Bros tag team partner on NXT, the called-up Mojo Rawley, ran out to defend his friend, with a bemused Rusev walking away. It filled air time, I guess, and it both continued Rusev’s winning ways and gave an official debut on the main roster to Mojo, but this was definitely a match that lost a lot of steam due to the results of the Draft (namely, that they pretty much gave away the result here).
One match which wasn’t hindered by the Draft was Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens; both were selected for Raw and thus weren’t separated, which ironically flew in the face of expectations. However, this was still hyped as being the feud-deciding match between Zayn and Owens, who originally feuded for a lengthy period in Ring Of Honor in 2009-10 (when both were El Generico and Kevin Steen respectively), then on NXT in 2014-5, and finally on the main roster for most of the year so far. They had a terrific match at Payback, some great exchanges in multi-man battles at other points and stole the show in ROH and NXT matches in the past. Therefore, expectations were high for this, supposedly-final Sami-Kevin scrap.
To be honest, I found the first half of this match to be just alright; the action was watchable, but whether it was due to the slower pace, the less exciting offence than we saw at Payback or the crowd being a little switched off for the first few minutes, this match threatened to feel like a bit of an anticlimax. That was, until Zayn nearly crippled himself with a dangerous-looking fall off an attempted sitdown moonsault to Owens off the top rope to the floor. This increased the realism of the match, as Owens targeted Zayn’s shoulder in typically violent fashion, and if Zayn wasn’t legitimately hurt, then he did a damn good job of making people believe that he was through his selling and constant holding of his right arm. The match really went into turbo-drive when Zayn hit Owens with a jaw-dropping brainbuster on the ring apron, by which point the fans were now fully invested. Plenty of big moves followed, from a Blue Thunder Bomb by Zayn to a triple sequence by Owens that saw him avoid a through-the-posts ringside DDT by Zayn with a superkick, followed by a Cannonball and a huge Frog Splash. Zayn survived a Pop-Up Powerbomb when his foot just about touched the bottom rope, and Owens was drilled with two consecutive Exploder Suplexes (I thought KO had reversed the first one, but he hadn’t; he just no-sold it, if we’re being honest). This led to the finish, where Zayn whacked KO with a Helluva Kick, and in a moment reminiscent of a fight scene at the end of a movie, Sami chose to hit one more killer blow over ending the match with a second Helluva Kick for the pinfall win.
Fans were ecstatic, and the match was undoubtedly a great one. I’m not sure if it was a Match Of The Year contender, as some have said, due to the uneventful first half; but the second half was as good as it gets, and if this did indeed bring the Owens-Zayn feud to a conclusion, then the rivalry couldn’t have ended any better. I personally suspect that the two will clash again in future, possibly after forming a team based on mutual respect (Owens is surely going to turn babyface at some point; the fans love him too much for this not to happen). So, KO and Sami are probably destined to “fight forever”, as the fans chanted, but while their hostilities are placed on hold, they can savour the fact that their latest feud ended with a thoroughly enjoyable and dramatic match that pretty much stole the show.
Due to the excitement of Sami vs. Owens, the crowd seemed worn out for the next match, pitting Becky Lynch against Natalya (set up by Natalya turning heel on Lynch at Money In The Bank). They put on a good technical wrestling match, but the reactions were low enough to bring down the overall quality of the bout. Becky got a good reaction when she trapped Nattie in the Sharpshooter, but her Canadian adversary turned the tables and trapped Becky in the Sharpshooter, giving her the surprise clean heel win.
With both women on SmackDown, their feud is likely to continue. For Becky, though, her defeat here doesn’t bode very well; she’s likely to be pushed as the top female on Tuesday nights, but losing this match suggests that WWE is unlikely to be fully behind her. Natalya’s fortunes seem brighter after this surprise win, although Becky aside, there aren’t a lot of babyface females on SmackDown (Carmella, maybe?) for her to tangle with. Hurting both women the most, though, is the fact that the Women’s Championship now resides with Raw, so unless the Women’s Champion is going to roam between the brands, it could be a very long time before either lady even enters a title chase, let alone win a championship themselves.
The Miz defending the Intercontinental Title against Darren Young seemed like an odd meeting beforehand; despite Bob Backlund’s campaign to make Young great again (was he ever great in the first place?), being fast-tracked into a title bout on PPV actually reduced his chances of getting over, if anything. That the two men were separated from each other via the Draft also meant that a title change was unlikely. And a pretty poorly-written and poorly-executed finish capped off an entirely uneventful match, which saw Battleground hit its low point for the evening.
To recap the conclusion: Bob Backlund and Maryse argued at ringside. Maryse slapped Backlund. Backlund fell down, and then Maryse went down, intimating that Bob had hit her. Then Bob tried to remove his shirt, but because he had braces on, this was a challenging task to pull off, leaving him looking absolutely ridiculous. In the meantime, Miz confronted Backlund at ringside, followed by Young, and the two men brawled as the referee counted them both out. And finally, Darren locked Miz in the Crossface Chicken Wing. So, the match had no winner, Miz was left laying, and Young didn’t win the title; and, due to the Draft, there will not be a rematch. What the hell was the point of all that?
After a match where the crowd was largely unresponsive and a bout which was pretty awful, if we’re being honest, the show took a step in the right direction again with a six-man tag team match, pitting John Cena, Enzo Amore and Big Cass against The Club. That Cena and AJ Styles would continue their feud in a multi-man match, and that both squads were split up by the Draft (if you class Cena and the Enzo/Cass team as a squad), made this match and the show as a whole feel second-rate. Still, Enzo opened proceedings with another unique and humorous promo, which the crowd simply loved. Enzo and Cass can do no wrong right now; it remains to be seen if their popularity will be matched by a push (a New Day vs. Enzo and Cass bout for the Tag Team Titles at SummerSlam would be a good starting point).
And this match was worth watching too. It dragged on a little bit, but it was a good effort by all. The Club dominated much of the contest with Enzo being the babyface in peril; at one point, Karl Anderson hit a sweet dropkick on Enzo to prevent him making the tag. He did tag out to Cass and later Cena, who took control of the match in his usual way (I believe the internet sarcastically call it “the Five Moves Of Doom”; or four, since he didn’t hit the Attitude Adjustment right away, which he never does now that I think about it). I assumed going in that The Club would win, but no: after some back-and-forth exchanges, including a Styles Clash on Cena with Enzo breaking up the fall and Amore dropping Karl with a flying DDT at ringside, Cena claimed the win with a middle-rope AA to AJ. Cena vs. AJ will continue on SmackDown, with a probable rematch at SummerSlam forthcoming, although it remains to be seen as to what Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson will fare on separate brands to Styles. Might they recruit Finn Balor, the original Bullet Club leader in New Japan who has been promoted to Raw?
Before the main event, we had the return of Randy Orton on a Highlight Reel segment with Chris Jericho. The two went back and forth in pretty hilarious fashion, although the best comment came from Orton when he threw a barb at SummerSlam opponent Brock Lesnar, suggesting that he can beat Brock, “no enhancements needed” (in a sly yet possibly counter-productive reference to Lesnar failing a doping test prior to his UFC 200 fight with Mark Hunt). Unsurprisingly, the segment ended with Orton levelling Jericho with an RKO, as the Viper returned and officially set his sights on Lesnar ahead of SummerSlam. That both men were separated by the Draft (this is getting repetitive now) will make the promotion of their match a struggle, but it’s bound to be a great showdown when they battle for the first time since 2002.
And so we come to the headline attraction: the long-awaited Triple Threat meeting of the three Shield members, as Dean Ambrose defended the WWE Title (that title’s name has been shortened in recent weeks, presumably due to the potential fallout of the Draft) against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, who was returning off a suspension due to a Wellness Policy violation. It took a bit of time to really get going, but this soon turned into a very good main event, with a plethora of back-and-forth moves, fast-paced exchanged and double-team combos. At one point, Ambrose and Rollins – sworn enemies since Seth broke the Shield up in 2014 – teamed up to drill Roman through an announcer’s table via a double powerbomb, which Seth followed with a chairshot to Ambrose (in a nice nod to Rollins’ chair-assisted betrayal of his Shield “brothers”).
From there, the big moves kept coming thick and fast. I loved one sequence where Rollins caught Ambrose with a reverse kick to the temple, which Roman followed with a Superman Punch to Seth, only for Dean to rebound off the ropes and clothesline Reigns (the rebound clothesline, which Ambrose now pulls out in every match thus reducing its impact, had a vital role here). With both Commissioners (Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon) and both General Managers (Daniel Bryan and Mick Foley) stationed at ringside, a potentially murky finish seemed likely, but it wasn’t to be: after Roman was drilled with a Pedigree and a turnbuckle powerbomb by Rollins, Seth was levelled with a Spear, only for Ambrose to drag Reigns up and nail him with Dirty Deeds for the pinfall win. Dean’s victory was met with a huge pop, which was expected given that the hated Reigns was defeated, as was his post-match celebration alongside the SmackDown roster (during which The Usos celebrated with Dean despite him defeating their cousin).
I was fully expecting Ambrose to lose the WWE Title here, so that Rollins or Reigns could take the gold to Raw in light of – yes! – the Draft. That Dean won was a nice surprise, and that he won cleanly was even better. As of right now, Ambrose is not only WWE Champion, but with John Cena’s schedule reduced going forward, he is arguably the top man in the entire company right now. Beating Rollins clean on SmackDown prior to this, and the extended celebration here, seems to crown him as the new face of WWE, something that was unimaginable even six weeks ago.
Meanwhile, it marked a turning point for Roman Reigns. Having been pushed as the new top dog in WWE for so long despite the crowd simply not accepting him in that role, and with a suspension damaging his prospects even further, Reigns returning to lose cleanly here suggests that his big push is over, at least in its current form. The best thing that WWE can do right now is to turn Reigns heel, and while WWE has been reluctant to do so, the booking here suggests that this could happen; if Roman is to remain a top babyface, why have him lose cleanly again here? I predict and hope that Reigns snaps in the face of fan negativity and his own shortcomings, in a kayfabe sense (due to match results) and in reality (the suspension) and goes full-on heel, turning the more likeable Rollins babyface in the process. It will be very intriguing to see what happens and how WWE moves forward with all three (perhaps Ambrose is the one to really keep an eye on; after all, who on SmackDown could he realistically defend the WWE Title against at SummerSlam if Orton, Cena and Styles are booked up?).
So, for a show that had a B-show line-up (besides its main event), and which was hampered further by the Draft, Battleground was pretty damn good. Zayn vs. Owens slowly turned into an awesome match, the main event was very good, and there were big crowd-pleasing moments, namely Bayley’s appearance and Ambrose retaining the WWE Title. It wasn’t flawless by any means, but it was far better than anticipated beforehand, and hopefully WWE will continue to deliver strong PPV events going forward as a(nother) New Era commences, thanks to – one more time – the Draft.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good