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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Battleground 2015. BATTLEGROUNDLAND!
Worst: Video Game Wrestling
If you want proof that Sheamus and Randy Orton are soulless video game characters forced to go through their motions and animations again and again while an unforgiving child God with a controller keeps hitting “rematch,” watch the WWE Fan Nation clip. Watch Orton hit a clothesline on Sheamus, then go back to his “tired” standing animation. Watch him go for a powerslam, do the gesture without a body in his arms, then go right back into the tired standing animation. Watch them block and trade punches on the outside.
I like (and occasionally love) these guys as performers, but the Randy Orton vs. Sheamus combination has run its course. I’m worried that Sheamus vs. ANYBODY feels like a tired retread at this point because in my brain, Sheamus has only wrestled like 7 or 8 guys since he debuted. That’s an exaggeration, but damn, think about it. How many times has he wrestled Dolph Ziggler? Orton? Mark Henry? You can instantly play through an entire Sheamus match with any of those guys in your head. This was every match he and Orton have ever had.
The story isn’t bad, but it isn’t new. Sheamus wants to hit a Brogue Kick on Orton because that’s how he wins matches. Orton wants to hit an RKO on Sheamus for the same reason. They go for their moves a few times and they don’t work, because you can dodge any RKO by extending your arms out in front of your chest, and you can counter any Brogue Kick by leaning slightly to the side. They do that for a bit, and then — just like in the video games — Orton builds up a special, hits the button until there’s a pause in the animations and hits an RKO “from outta nowhere” to win.
I think the most video game thing of all is that they show a bunch of clips and video packages of Sheamus and Orton feuding, and I don’t remember ANY of it. It’s like they animated cut scenes and I’m seeing them for the first time. I think my brain’s developed a filter for these placeholder feuds for guys they want to be important, but not right now.
Here’s a spoiler for the next month of Sheamus’ run as Mr. Money in the Bank:
Best: TRICEP MEAT
The Prime Time Players vs. The New Day for the Tag Team Championships was good in the way it usually is, with The New Day being absurdly enjoyable and PTP relying on the unstoppable mutant force of Titus O’Neil to win their matches. I think I make a joke about it every week now, but the Undertaker shouldn’t have interrupted the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, Titus O’Neil should’ve. That guy’s the Mil Muertes of WWE. He’s got some innate skill to build up specials at 5X the normal Superstar rate, so he’s out there on the apron spamming taunts for five minutes and suddenly has 10 specials. You run at him and he’s like BOOM, NOPE, CLASH OF THE TITUS. The-f*cking-end.
Anyway, the highlight for me (again, as per usual) was Xavier Woods at ringside. The two things we’ve learned from this feud are that 1) Titus should be a color commentator, and 2) Xavier Woods should stand near color commentary at all times and yell asinine shit at wrestlers. I swear, I don’t think I like anything more right now. Him yelling “OH WHAT HAPPENED, WHAT HAPPENED” when the PTP get hurt is great, but him rambling on about Big E catching them with his “tricep meat” is next-level. TRICEPS MEAT. That’s a glorious dissection of that move. It’s a “back elbow” that doesn’t actually connect with the elbow, but that’s fine because THE BACK OF BIG E’S UPPER ARM IS THICK ENOUGH TO KILL YOU.
I’m excited for that “Dad Of The Year” buzz to wear off so Titus can be a normal wrestler again, but yeah, great stuff. I kinda wish the Prime Time Players and The New Day would all just go to NXT and be a part of that tag division. Let’s consolidate our strengths across the board and get the people busting their asses at various aspects of pro wrestling busting it in the same places. It worked for the Divas, right?
Worst: BABY INTERVIEWERS
Seriously, what the hell’s going on with the backstage interviewers? Did WWE stop feeding them?
In the above video, Tom Phillips has taken the widest-possible stance to interview King Barrett about conquering R-Truth in their Best-of-601 series. Barrett’s a big guy, but Tom is f*ckin’ squatting in the background and they’ve got the camera pointed up from Barrett’s navel. Are we running a wrestling show or shooting a Phantasm sequel, guys? Come on.
The trend continued with Jojo interviewing Stephanie McMahon and making her look like Andre the damn Giant:
Billed heights say Jojo is 5-foot-2 and Stephanie’s 5-9. Does that look like a 7-inch gap to you? Even if Stephanie’s wearing heels, Jojo’s gotta be hunched over in the background and standing in a hole. It’s like somebody’s adorable child wandered backstage and started asking people for their thoughts on things.
Best/Worst: Roman Reigns Vs. Bray Wyatt, If Any Of This Was Over
Think back to that epic Shield vs. Wyatt Family six-man tag at Elimination Chamber last February. Roman Reigns was beloved by marks and smarks and whatever else you want to call wrestling fans alike. He was this Handsome Prince who followed around these two weird violent jerks and put an exclamation mark on whatever they did, in or out of the ring. He was abnormally strong, could obliterate people by running into them and cocked his fist like a gun. It had a context. Bray Wyatt was still relatively fresh up from NXT, and though he’d had a few stinker feuds with R-Truth and Kane, there was still an upside. He was a great promo with a great look and a spooky faction of swamp people. WWE ran the Wyatts and the Shield head-on, and they put on what I still consider to be the best match of that year.
At Battleground, Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt beat the crap out of each other for almost half an hour. They both played their characters well, told the story of Bray pushing Roman too far by trying to ruin his family and career, and paid it off with the realignment of Wyatt and Luke Harper. On paper, it’s just as good as that Shield/Wyatts match. In practice … it isn’t. Why?
WWE’s convinced that they can just tell you something and It Is So. I’ve written a lot about them not showing their work, and relying on having the announce team yell, “Roman Reign is the BIG DOG,” to do it for them. They create stars, right? So they say, “this guy is a star,” and if you don’t go along with it, something’s wrong with you. You’re the wrong kind of fan. You’re jaded, or you don’t want to enjoy yourself. They have a guy like Wyatt enter a series of feuds with guys of varying importance, and fans that are paying attention start to observe trends. It’s why we always pick Cena to win, and Dean Ambrose to lose. It’s not that we’re “smart marks” or trying to be pessimistic insiders, we just see how something happens a bunch of times in a row and don’t have much of a reason to expect it to change. There’s a deep, lingering feeling of “now here’s THESE guys” that comes along with any feud or match WWE hasn’t made the focal point of the show. Far too often it feels like the barest-bones of a story, executed as an excuse for WWE Superstars to exist in front of us for a few minutes. The match doesn’t even matter. We’ve been trained to feel like a “good match” is a triumph of the performers involved bucking the system, and not the point of pro wrestling.
Bray Wyatt’s great, but we’re tired of it. We don’t respond to his promos the same way we used to. We aren’t “afraid” of him because he doesn’t really do anything, and he loses all his important matches. If he doesn’t, it’s because of someone stepping in to help him. Roman Reign sis great, but he bloomed at the wrong time. That’s not me saying I know when he should’ve gotten pushed or whatever, it’s just an observable vibe. He hits his moves and some of the kids cheer, some of the adults boo, but it’s not that Cena thing where it’s a force of nature and an expected call-and-response. Bray Wyatt grabs chairs. The crowd cheers. Roman stops him from using them. The crowd boos. This is the crowd response for a story about a cultist madman who has been accosting a hero’s family. Does that seem right?
The work was good. Luke Harper returning as the least hidden Hoodie Man ever was good. Getting the Wyatts back together is good, even if Erick Rowan’s out with an injury for the foreseeable future. In a few weeks, we’ll probably forget it existed. Will anyone go back and say, “man, remember that Bray Wyatt Roman Reigns match? That was SO AWESOME.” And why? Because the match doesn’t deserve it, or because WWE sometimes forgets that the months before and the months after a match can change its reception? Does Shield/Wyatts at Elimination Chamber matter if The Shield hasn’t spent a year being The Shield? If this was the exact same match but Roman Reigns vs. Husky Harris, built on four weeks of them interfering in each others’ matches and nothing else, does it change? Does it matter?
Best: BRIE MOOOOOOODE
This is going to sound dramatic, but I think my favorite part of Battleground was watching Brie Bella flop around and drown in the deep end of the pool.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Brie Bella is like Van Gogh vs. Picasso vs. Guy Fieri. It was magical. You’ve got the two top in-ring characters and performers in the NXT Women’s Division — arguably the best women’s division in the world right now, or at least the one with the most forward social momentum — against a lady who yells a lot, and is only ever defined by her sister or her husband. She’s like an ultimate mash-up of Daniel Bryan and Nikki, but without the good stuff. She throws Bryan’s kicks, but they look terrible. She tries to hoss up like Nikki, but Brie is to Nikki as The Renegade is to The Ultimate Warrior. She’s trying hard and they look the same, but … yeah, no.
And that’s an important thing to note: the Bellas have both improved TREMENDOUSLY over the past few years, and that hard work shouldn’t be ignored or denied. She’s just in the ring with two women who are not only actively working to redefine what the top wrestling company in the world sees as “women’s wrestling,” but who are doing it. Like, this is happening in front of us. It’s not perfect and give the credit to whomever you want, but Charlotte and Becky and Sasha and the rest of the crew throwing hands between the yellow ropes are making it f*cking happen.
Charlotte getting the win is great, because Charlotte’s the one WWE crowds are going to instantly like. She’s a giant, muscular blonde who can do cartwheels and bridging figure-fours and her name’s goddamn Flair. Sasha’s the thinking man’s favorite, and Becky’s the one we all decide was secretly the best 10 years from now. Not to compare them directly, but it’s the same dynamic that Guerrero, Benoit and Malenko had. Guerrero was the crowd favorite, Benoit was the one all the smarks thought was the second coming and now in 2015 anybody with a Network subscription and at least two Nitros under their belt is like, “Dean Malenko is the greatest wrestler of all time.” Brie is … Hardwork Bobby Walker?
The best part of maintaining the old guard in the Divas division instead of jettisoning them all out into space is that they give us someone to boo. Brie’s in there so we can boo the hell out of her and all the stuff she supposedly represents and stands for, and we cheer Charlotte and Sasha because they’re cool and dynamic and new. The rub is that Brie doesn’t actually represent anything bad, it’s just that side-picking and artistic outrage are a work.
Best: Nah I’m Just Kidding
The thing you’re going to hear about Owens vs. Cena III is that the finish sucked, and I’ve spent most of the morning trying to rationalize it. I don’t really get it, but it feels like it’s over my head. Owens steps up to Cena as NXT Champion and goes Champion vs. Champion with him in his main roster debut and just straight-up beats him. No cheating, no bullshit, just a paw-paw powerbomb and a 1-2-3. Cena’s entire point has been that he’s waiting for someone to step up and prove they’re the better man, so when someone actually DOES it, he … says they aren’t a man, and a rematch is made before the show’s even off the air. They have the rematch, and Cena wins.
So! The third match is for the United States Championship. Owens kicks out of the Attitude Adjustment, escapes the STF and goes the extra mile by kicking out of the SECOND-ROPE Attitude Adjustment, Cena’s most bulletproof move. Nobody kicks out of that. It’d be like somebody kicking out of Kobashi’s Burning Hammer. Owens kicks, though, so Cena just kinda stands over him shocked, puts him in the STF and … makes him tap out.
Now, Cena winning isn’t the problem. Owens losing the NXT Championship but getting a rematch announced for the night before SummerSlam made him winning the US strap look like an impossibility. Owens isn’t winning the NXT title again, right, so why have him be the US Champ to lose? Cena already put over the NXT title once, it probably doesn’t need to happen again. So yeah, that’s not the issue. The issue isn’t Owens losing, either, because he hasn’t lost a lot, and he looked great in defeat. The match was spectacular and he got to kick out of the biggest move in WWE. Seriously, imagine Shane O’ Mac diving off the TitanTron with an elbow and the dude kicking out. That’s the second-rope Attitude Adjustment. It’s like 40 Michael Elgin buckle-bombs in a row.
The problem I have is that it didn’t feel like the right story to tell at the right moment. That’s not my decision to make, mind you, but what’s to gain by having a guy kick out of the biggest finish you’ve got, only to not be able to fight back and lose straight-up to your worst submission? If Owens had passed out in the STF that would’ve completed the narrative or whatever of a guy who’s more guts than brains and obsessed with not letting his family down. It’s the Stone Cold thing. Bret Hart beats his ass, Austin loses, but he loses on his own terms. He goes out swinging. Owens kicked out of the f*cking Rapture and wasn’t strong enough to get to his feet. Why’s he tapping?
That sounds like If Cena Wins We Complain Online, but I hope it doesn’t come across like that. I’m just not sure why it happened the way it did, and why that was the ending of the story of the One Guy who fulfilled Cena’s prophecy. It’s just Cena/Rusev or Cena/Wyatt again, kind of. Owens will be fine, and he’ll forever be the guy who “defeated John Cena in his debut,” and you can’t take that away from him. But the end of the story, like the ending of every story ever, is Cena not only defeating his opponent, but being unfazed and totally fine when he does. The ending wasn’t “wow, I barely pulled that off,” it was, “that should’ve worked, that bothers me for a second, let me calmly do another thing, okay that worked.”
I’m Besting it despite all of this, because it was a hell of a match. I won’t take that away from them. Cena’s Summer Of Workrate continues, and he deserves a supplemental Best for finally pulling off a Code Red without looking like he’s gonna die.
Worst: The Commonwealth Of Suplex, Or
Best: Everybody Likes The Undertaker So Here’s Your Best, Shut Up
Here’s the thing, and I apologize if this comes across wrong: I was looking forward to Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins being an actual match. The stuff they did in the triple threat back in January was outstanding, and I wanted an extended version of that. I guess they need Cena as a fulcrum for that, though, because without him all you’ve (kayfabe) got is the most unstoppable, overpowered character in WWE history going one-on-one with a coward who can’t win by himself. Plus, the Suplex City gimmick has cemented Lesnar as “the guy who does nothing but suplexes” no matter what, so the match is just Rollins running away, Lesnar catching up to him and suplexing him. Over and over.
Normally I love that, but this was such a one-sided punishment that you knew there was no way in hell Lesnar was walking out champ. WWE’s conditioned us like that. That’s why Lesnar/Cena at SummerSlam was such a revelation … it was like the one time they subverted the trope in a situation that mattered. Here, they didn’t do that. Lesnar suplexes him over and over until everyone’s like … “yeah, suplex city,” and then we schmozz it up.
The Undertaker returns with Sting’s hair and a BONE TO PICK with Brock Lesnar. He chokeslams him and Tombstones him twice, and Rollins slides in to steal the dirty pin and remain champion. Wait, that didn’t happen? Rollins and the referee just disappeared, and the show went off the air with a total disregard for its own main event? Did Rollins and the ref combine bodies and transform into the Undertaker? Did he possess and meld them?
I don’t know. Everybody loves the Undertaker so I don’t want to be like, “f*ck the f*cking Undertaker,” but unless they go somewhere radically different with it, I don’t buy it. If Taker’s here to join the Authority because Lesnar broke Kane’s ankle and Heyman keeps shit-talking him (and he’s End Of An Era huggin’ buddies with Triple H), sure, let’s do it. Give me Corporate The Undertaker. Taker wrestling in black slacks and no shirt, going on photoshopped vacations to Hawaii and getting into pissy backstage arguments with Randy Orton. If it’s just “Taker wants revenge on Lesnar for defeating him at WrestleMania” and nothing else, that loses me. Sure, Heyman namedrops being the 1 in 21-1 all the time, but haven’t we like, moved on? Didn’t Taker wrestle at WrestleMania 31 (on the same show as Brock) without incident? Why would Taker wait until Lesnar’s this super babyface trying to dismantle the Authority (at the behest of the Authority, question mark question mark) to strike? Why at Battleground?
Maybe it’s that Lesnar ended the Undertaker’s streak, a thing that defined him, and Taker wants to keep Lesnar from regaining the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which had recently defined him? If that’s it, where the hell’s he been in all the other Lesnar title matches?
If nothing else, they raised a lot of questions, and they’ve got me curious about what’ll happen on Raw tonight. I’m holding out for the black pants.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
2015 CHRIS: Hey past Chris, guess what? In a few years you will LOVE Xavier Woods
2012 CHRIS: I am literally going to murder you.
Reigns-Wyatt was a great opener to the G1 even if it HAD to have Bullet Club interference.
Current boss hierarchy:
I like how “Cena didn’t get all of it” is Michael Cole’s code for “The Spring Board Stunner looks like shit.”
We need to figure out a symbol for Brock’s suplexes to hang up in the rafters like they do with Ks for strikeouts in baseball.
“Wow. Undertaker looks good.”
This isn’t nearly as intimidating as the threat of Kane interference would have been
The Real Birdman
Raws go 15 minutes over and PPVs are going 15 minutes under. Got it
See you guys next month at Road Wild