– If you missed it, you can watch WWE Battleground 2016 here. If you’d like to check out any of the older Battleground columns, you can do that on the Battleground tag page. Prepare the Battleground for massacre!
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Battleground for July 24, 2016.
Just to say it before I start picking it apart, I really enjoyed and appreciated this show. Going into it, the card didn’t look great and everything kinda felt like a pee break on the road to SummerSlam, but it pleasantly surprised me. Instead of jamming everything up to make SummerSlam interesting, they went with a (more or less) clean show, full of actual finishes and great wrestling. It’s one of those nights where yeah, maybe you’d want more important stuff to happen at bigger shows, but you can’t complain about the execution of the smaller.
And now, a dude complaining about the execution of the smaller.
(Just kidding, I really did like it a lot. And that opening video package is one of the best they’ve done in a while. WWE always has top shelf video production, but a lot of times the hype videos they make kinda blend together. This one had a different, more deliberate vibe to it and I really dug it. I also appreciate that the Wyatt Family didn’t pose for a video holding novelty flags.)
Best: It’s Bayley!
Bayley being Sasha Banks’ mystery partner was such a foregone conclusion that the rumor had been accepted as fact by the time we made our Battleground predictions, and we were all like, “nah, it can’t be Bayley, it’ll be somebody else,” just to safeguard ourselves from the disappointment. But hey, sometimes the right call is the obvious one, so here’s an undrafted lady with an upcoming NXT Women’s Championship match making her “WWE debut.” That’s awesome.
The announce team pushed the “one time only” thing really hard, and I think that detracted from it a little. Let us wonder for a minute, you know? You can easily drop that fact on Raw and make us go “oh, okay.” It only detracted a little, though, because come on … you’d have to have a cold, black heart to not love Sasha Banks’ face when Bayley’s music played. That’s such a genuine reaction for a genuine friendship, and that’s something wrestling — especially the women’s division — desperately needs. People who are on the same side and seem to actually give a sh*t about each other. Not just people who are aligned because they’re lumped into halves.
The match itself was good, and putting it first with the Bayley surprise was a good call. Bayley’s reaction was AMAZING, and gave me that kind of happy chill I remember getting when Jericho showed up with the Millennial Clock. Sasha tapping out Charlotte was, again, the super obvious but correct decision. You’re building to Sasha vs. Charlotte at SummerSlam, and (unless you’re an absolute nihilistic maniac) you’re putting the belt on Sasha. Keep her strong here, send her good pal Bayley back to NXT to get her guts kicked in by Asuka, and play with that interpersonal dynamic whenever you want.
I’ll save the big HERE’S MY EMOTIONAL BREAKING POINT rant for when Bayley’s actually got a main roster job, but I hope this is for her what Roadblock was for Enzo and Cass. I’m also okay with her showing up on Smackdown, turning on Becky Lynch for no reason to establish dominance, and changing her name to BAYLEY DARK.
Best: A Good Ending To A Story, Or
Worst: Ending Stories For The Greater Good
So, Battleground exists as a weird “end of an era” kind of show as it’s the final Whatever That Era Was event before the brand extension. Some stories appear to be ending with a “welp, this is the last time doing this will make sense, so we might as well finally do it” like the Shield triple threat, while some appear to be ending on step two or three of a five-step plan. The Miz vs. Darren Young is one of those, as they’re headed off to different shows now, and the Wyatt Family vs. The New Day is another.
That said, I again appreciate how straight-forward this was, and I stand firm in my belief that no matter how mad they make me artistically, the Wyatt Family should rarely, rarely lose a straight-up six-man tag. These guys — well, this team under this banner — beat the f*ckin’ Shield Bros at the height of their power. They should be eating the New Day for breakfast.
It’s hard to explain to people who think I’m just a Cuppa Hater, but it’s super frustrating how close to exactly right Bray Wyatt always seems to be. The guy has everything he needs to be an Important Person on the show. When I say “important person” I mean someone who actually MATTERS and AFFECTS things, and doesn’t just say he’s scary and powerful without anything but some failed kidnappings and sh*tty special effects to back it up. Bray is DOPE in these six-mans, and when he’s allowed to be that Tank With A Ferrari Engine and just snap off his offense like an attacking snake, he’s an A+. Rowan and Strowman have gotten better, so if Strowman’s by his lonesome on Raw, maybe we’ll get Luke Harper back, return to Wyatt Family Prime and really do something.
Or not. Because it’s usually not.
But this was very good. I liked the truncated Xavier Woods story, with him teasing a hypnotism only to snap out of it and furiously throw hands. I also like that it came back around to him being scared of the Crab Walk and getting caught in Sister Abigail. I don’t like that the woodland car-and-mud brawl didn’t affect anyone in any way, and if they’d just skipped it entirely and gone straight from Woods being weirdly scared to being almost hypnotized and super susceptible to swampbilly magicks, it would’ve been great. Such a corny pit-stop.
Oh, also, Big E, if you’re reading this … brother, you have got to stop doing that Chessman spear through the ropes. You never get all the way through and the person you’re hitting never goes back with the momentum properly, and you keep landing on your head and almost killing yourself. It’s not worth it. At the very least, save that sh*t for WrestleMania. Battleground does not need your paralysis.
Best: Rusev Forever
1. Lana in a princess tiara is the look she needs to keep. Ever since her awkward kindergarten fling with Dolph Ziggler, Lana has been looking for an updated look. Original Business Lady Lana was great, but Jean Jacket Skipper Lana caused a definite end-point. She’s tried vinyl, camo, all sorts of things, but I think the Debra McMichael is the way to go. I especially liked when they cut to the locker room shots during the main event and Lana was still wearing the tiara.
2. Rusev vs. Zack Ryder was surprisingly good, for what it was. It was a solid title defense for Rusev, with Ryder putting up a fight and getting very close to winning, but doing a little too much and catching a kneecap to the el-bro. One kick to the back of the head later and he’s in the Accolade, which means curtains. Rusev appears to be the only member of the League of Nations to survive that plague of boring-ass locusts, and I honestly hope he keeps the belt for another 6 1/2 years.
3. After the match, Mojo Rawley makes the save. Rusev looks at him like the rest of us:
His explanation of the look is even better:
I also would’ve accepted WHY IS NINJA TURTLE IN RING WITH ME. Rusev for President. No, Rusev for KING OF PRESIDENTS.
Best: Destined To Temporarily Stop Doing This
Wrestling is about the moments.
Even during his NXT run, the love I had for Sami Zayn was built around the moments. The debut, where he shocks Cesaro. The 2-out-of-3 falls match, where he gets caught on the tornado DDT, almost gets dropped and gets launched so impossibly high in the air before being murdered with a European uppercut. The championship match close calls. The referee getting pulled out of the ring by Neville in the fatal four-way. Choosing to not cheat to beat Neville. Owens turning on him on night one, and powerbombing him into the apron. The knockout. The injury. The return. All of those things have great matches attached to them, because Sami Zayn’s a superb f*cking pro wrestler, but there are few if any who can match him in creating and expressing moments.
I don’t think anyone honestly thinks this is the last Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens match. I don’t think it’s the last Zayn and Owens match this year. They might have a rematch on Monday night. But what it did is create a true moment of closure for Sami that paid off the two years of struggle he’s faced trying to exist in the same universe as this cat, and Sami’s ability to express that moment is what makes it so powerful.
During the finishing spring, Sami hits an exploder in the corner, pulls Owens back toward the middle of the ring and half-nelson suplexes him. That set up a Helluva Kick, and Owens is OUT. He collapses into Sami’s arms, and any other time Sami would just push him down and cover. He’s got the match won. Instead, the moment hits him. Watch him close his eyes before he starts running. It’s all connected. Owens collapses, and Zayn is overtaken with a moment that says so much about who these characters are and how they interact. It’s not anger, it’s remembrance. It’s not compassion as much as it is pity, not for who Owens has become, but for everything they’ve shared. It’s the look you give when you remember what your best friend used to be, and then remember how they can never be that to you again. The announcers call it a bunch of things, but they were close when they said compassion. Sami’s not going to lose the match over it and he’s going to be happy to win — he’s got a f*cking point to prove — but in that moment, he shows that sometimes the road to happiness is paved with a tonne of regret, sadness, and choices made. It’s brilliant. And then, you know, he kicks him in the face again.
It’s not just that one moment, though.
There’s a gross one in the middle of the match where Sami goes for an Arabian Press and pulls a Kidman. You know how like, 20% of Kidman’s shooting star presses wouldn’t go outward, and he’d just spin in place and land on the ropes or the turnbuckle? Yeah, Sami doesn’t time the rebound correctly, sorta spins upside down in place and comes crashing down on his shoulder. That caused big red Metal Gear Solid style exclamation points to appear over our heads. That could’ve been it.
Instead, the match’s tone shifts. If you’ve ever seen the first big important Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask match, there’s a pretty blatant botch near the beginning. Tiger Mask goes up for something and just kinda falls off of Dynamite, touching his arm on the way down. Maybe it was supposed to be an arm drag? Anyway, instead of just ignoring it and moving on with the match, Dynamite shakes out his arm. In that instant, Dynamite creates a mystique about his opponent, and you’re like, “wait, what just happened? What did Tiger Mask do?” Because he’s Tiger Mask, and he can do anything. The botch becomes an irreplaceable cog in the story of the match. For modern fans, think about when Seth Rollins broke John Cena’s nose on Raw. Cena had to wrestle the rest of the match with a crushed face, and his real pain and intestinal fortitude not only changed the story of the match, but improved it. He was suddenly in real danger.
When Zayn lands on his shoulder, the match becomes about Owens targeting it, and what Zayn can do about it. He might’ve been really hurt and dealing with real pain, but that became irrelevant … they took something that could’ve been a mistake and made it the next step in the story. Zayn became an even bigger underdog. When he hit big moves, they were weakened by the arm. When he punched with that arm, he showed that it hurt. He never forgot it, and visibly displayed the kind of grit you need to move beyond an unexpected injury when it’s time to hit your big moves. It was all about adrenaline, and Zayn used his face and his body to tell that story. It’s not just something we typed in here to make ourselves feel better about the art of wrestling, or something the announcers said to cover. It was the story they chose to tell, and they told it. Because they’re good at this.
This is one of the best WWE matches of the year, and the botch made it better.
I’m excited to see what the next step is for these guys. I hope they find themselves on the same side on Monday, so we can tell that story. I want to see an extended period of them being friends in WWE. They don’t ever have to get along to know they’re on the same team. I’m also okay with Zayn dropping 7 pounds (or having his billed weight dropped) and taking Raw’s Cruiserweight Championship, and for Owens to run against Rusev for King of Presidents.
Best: A Good Natalya Match (?) (!)
Like I said, the most refreshing aspect of this show is that it was a pro wrestling show. It was very light on the bullsh*t, and allowed the heels to look like competent, accomplished pro wrestlers who might just be jerks.
Natalya vs. Becky Lynch was a well put-together match built exclusively around Natalya working Becky’s leg, then slapping on the Sharpshooter a few times and putting her away. I’ve never liked WWE’s insistence that the Sharpshooter hurts your legs — it hurts your BACK, you’re just being held by your legs — but whatever. Maybe your legs are being weakened so you can’t break the hold, and your back doesn’t need to be worked that much for it to take you out. Bret Hart did a Russian leg sweep and a backbreaker to set it up, but … all right, sorry, sorry.
One of my favorite non-spectacular matches is the 2-out-of-3 falls match between MVP and Chris Benoit, where MVP says he’s coming into it with a gameplan, then executes it perfectly and skunks Benoit in two straight falls. Natalya/Becky reminded me of that, with Natalya just doing what she should do to win a match and winning it. Heels don’t do that enough, and I appreciate them doing it here.
I think it would’ve been a lot better if the crowd had cared, but you can only expect so much when it follows Zayn and Owens.
Worst: The One Bad Finish
Okay, not everything on the show can be good. Zayn/Owens was so good it got two cool-down matches.
But yeah, Darren Young is doing well against The Miz, so Maryse accosts Bob Backlund. He just kinda stands there screaming at her in response, so she flops and tells Miz that Backlund pushed her. Miz attacks Backlund, which causes Young to put Miz in a “crossface chickenwing” — actually a cobra clutch with a body scissors, for some reason — and get them both counted out. Pretty much none of it makes sense, and it screams, “we don’t know what to do because we drafted y’all to different shows, so just ruin it and we’ll do something else.” Terrible.
Two things I like, though:
Best: Two Things I Like, Though
1. Darren Young looking at his hands after he had the submission on Miz. It’s the same look crazy Bob Backlund gave his hands after he realized he could turn Bret Hart into a helpless baby with the chickenwing, like he’d suddenly been possessed by the Ultimate Warrior or whatever. That’s a great direction to go in. I’d love if it if they built it up like Backlund was trying to turn him into a respectable grownup, but actually turned him into a batsh*t old political codger.
2. I think the dynamic between Miz and Maryse is really interesting. She keeps coming up with these convoluted plans to help him avoid losing the belt, but he doesn’t seem to be in on any of them. When she “got hurt” on Raw, he gave up his match and carried her to be the back for medical attention before she revealed the ruse. Here, he doesn’t seem to be in on her “Backlund pushed me down” thing and is just sticking up for his wife. He’s actually kind of a babyface until you get to the parts where he finds out and is like, “WOW, WHAT A GREAT PLAN YOU HAD.” Maybe he’s just a babyface in love with a heel.
Another week, another “Enzo Amore is great at talking.” I love how complexly unnecessary everything he says is, and how it ends up making perfect sense by making no sense whatsoever. Why are dudes getting upset at being called chicken tenders and jalopies? Why does anyone think Gallows and Anderson are eating bananas and looking at each other? It’s great. I also love that he made it almost exclusively about poop and pee and sucking dick because John Cena’s in the ring with him, and you’ve gotta play to your audience. Cena LOVED THAT SH*T.
As for the match, it was predictably very good, with Enzo getting better in the ring every time we see him. I like the intelligence that he shows in how he approaches fights, whether it’s trying to leverage opponents against one another, leading them into his bigger and stronger teammates or hitting desperation moves to get out and get a tag. They’re gonna f*ck around and turn that dude into the biggest star in the company.
Cena still looks like he’s lost a step to me. I’m not sure how to explain it. The time off really looks like it hurt him. He’s still good in the ring, in that way John Cena always is, but everything looks like a struggle to him now. Watch the finish, with him trying to get up on the second rope for that Attitude Adjustment and Styles having to take like a minute and a half to readjust himself. I’m not gonna be bold and say his era’s gonna be over any time soon, but it’s starting to officially look like maybe it oughta be. Or hey, maybe he’ll just become the best worker in the world because his body won’t let him be Unstoppable Superman anymore.
This is another match that seemed a little off due to the draft, with Styles and Cena going to Smackdown and the tag teams going to Raw. Are we gonna keep those beefs going in both directions? Are we finally going to get a Balor Club on Raw, or are they gonna play the “YOU’RE OUR OLD FRIEND BUT YOU’VE CHANGED” thing they briefly did with Styles?
Best: Corny Chris Jericho And Corny Randy Orton Get Corny
Brock Lesnar is gonna f*ck you up, dude.
Best: Finally We Can Move On From The Damn Shield
And finally, the main event. We’ve been waiting for this one for a long, long time.
First of all, let’s talk about Roman Reigns. He’s back from his wellness policy violation with a little extra weight and a fuller beard, and … well, I don’t have a more delicate way to put it. He’s Rhyno. They’re starting to look the same, they’ve got the same moves, the works. Reigns just needs to put a big R on the front of his wrestlevest. The boos aren’t getting any better no matter how many times you say he’s a passionate everyman, so maybe Monday’s Roman Reigns should lose the Shield sh*t, let the torso and beard expand if he wants and just start cracking heads. Be his own thing, finally, and Rhyno it the f*ck up until the reactions change.
Second of all, it’s surprising that they went with a clean finish instead of doing something shifty to get a world title on both shows, but again, I like it. Ambrose getting a clean pin on Reigns does wonders for his legitimacy as champion, and pinning Reigns allows Rollins to both blame Reigns for the loss and claim he didn’t actually lose. It helps everyone in every direction, except for Roman I guess, but what can you even do?
I wish I had more passionate things to say about the Shield triple threat, but at this point it’s like watching primary colors fight. How excited can you get for red and blue and yellow, you know?
All in all, it was more great, fun pro wrestling, and Battleground was a pretty close approximation to what my idealized version of WWE would be. Focus on the new stars, build some good matches around stories that make sense even if they’re simple, and be brave enough to execute and have some wrestlers win matches instead of beating around the bush and half-assing everything all the time. The new show setup allows those primary colors to brighten or darken or explore some new shades, and maybe we’re finally, desperately striding into something new. Fist bumps crossed.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Match ends with Ryback stealing the title and disappearing into the crowd
Bob Backlund is like if the kid from Problem Child opened up the Ark of the Covenant.
WHO ARE YOU TO DOUBT FANDANGO? He’s a serious professional.
In Viperville it takes twenty minutes to get to the point.
Brock: I’m going to make Randy Orton sh*t into a bag because he needs to, not because he wants to
The Real Birdman
Finn can come out in full demon paint and still look less weird than Enzo
Full Nelson Reilly
Yeesh, the orgy Miz and Maryse came from had less of a messy ending than that match.
JBL: “Hey Byron, I have a going away present for you!”
Byron: “Oh, thanks man! What is it?”
JBL :”It’s a snuff film. Starring me and YOUR PARENTS!”
Byron: “… Why?”
JBL: “Because you’re a NERD Byron!”
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Guys, there are two women’s division matches on the show, featuring all of the Four Horsewomen between them. I want to send 2016 a nice fruit basket.
That last one was for Generico.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Be sure to be here tonight (Monday night, in case you’re reading this later) for Raw, and again tomorrow (Tuesday, if you’re reading this today and today is Tuesday) for the Best and Worst. If you’re confused by that, just be here every day.
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