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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Stomping Grounds for June 24, 2019.
Best: Drewserweight Classic
The quick version: this entire kickoff show should’ve main-evented.
If you need any indication that WWE’s become a fully formed late-90s WCW, Stomping Grounds had a great undercard, an A++ Cruiserweight Championship match, a boring championship match we’ve seen 30 times in a steel cage, and an overbooked bullshit main event. All they need now is someone from the Warrior family stepping in with too much creative control and compromising the product to a significant … shit, wait, nevermind.
The match of the night by a wide distance was the Cruiserweight Championship triple threat between Surprisingly Good Champion Tony Nese, Why Isn’t He The Champion By Now Drew Gulak, and Good Luck In Japan I Guess Akira Tozawa. Everyone shined here, and it’s beyond fantastic to see Gulak finally pick up a championship win considering he’s been the underappreciated star of the division since 2017 and just had two great matches with KUSHIDA on NXT TV. The best compliment a Cruisreweight Championship match ever gets is when a crowd that didn’t really care about it when the bell rang gets into it enough to start giving out standing ovations.
My only hope is that Gulak gets to stay on 205 Live and NXT indefinitely, and doesn’t get consigned to catering like poor Cedric Alexander and Buddy Murphy. Really great stuff. Free Tozawa!
Best: He’s A Hero, Gonna Take Pollution Down To Zero
The other highlight of the kickoff show (and the general highlight of my life) is Daniel Bryan doing work to put over Heavy Machinery in a way the announce team never has. Did you know that Tucker Knight was an all-American wrestling champion? Did you know that Otis Dozovic was a Pan-American bronze medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling? It sure sounds like something two guys who wrestle for a living should be leaning into instead of reminding us that they work too hard at low paying jobs and are neither gasses nor liquids.
I love Bryan’s promos for a lot of reasons, but mostly because he’s always telling the truth. He knows the value of making sure the audience knows you care about your opponent and think they’re a challenge, instead of doing that Shane McMahon thing where you just smirk and laugh about how if they aren’t you, they aren’t anyone. Because hey, what do you gain if you beat someone that sucks? Certainly not as much as if you beat someone worth beating. It’s why Ric Flair would always make sure to be like, “Dusty Rhodes, I respect all that you’ve accomplished,” before dragging him.
Bryan also points out how depressing it is that WWE doesn’t value tag team wrestling and hires great amateur wrestlers with charisma to do hip-thrusting idiot gimmicks, because he always tells the truth. If you think he’s too aggressive or that he’s “being a jerk about it,” that’s on you. Things are generally shit right now, WWE, and you need tough love.
Best: The First Half Of The Show, Not Counting Lacey Evans
While I’m not sure I can ever read Seth Rollins’ comments about WWE being the “best pro wrestling on the planet” without spraying water out of my nose — weird flex but okay, I’ll assume you’re talking about NXT TakeOvers and not Raw and move on with my life — but for the most part, Stomping Grounds exceeded expectations. It was a show equal to or exceeding Backlash!
The biggest surprise for me (which shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, but I’ve watched the weekly shows lately) was Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. New Day, which — get this — made Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn look really good for once. I am more in than I’ve ever been on anything on WWE finally remembering Owens and Zayn are two of the best wrestlers and talkers on the planet and deciding to use them for something other than being snarky henchmen in the background and taking losses for “more important” characters like Shane McMahon or Baron Corbin. This is KEVIN OWENS AND SAMI ZAYN. I should never, ever be writing up one of their segments with anything but unilateral praise, and I hope this is the beginning of me getting to do that again.
I liked the layout of the match a lot, with Kevin and Sami coming into it with a gameplan, isolating the weaker member of the team (Xavier Woods), and capitalizing on Big E’s ring rust to try to keep him out of the ring. Woods’ heart is the only thing that keeps him in it, and ends up frustrating the heels long enough for Big E to recover and New Day to fight back. The best part: Zayn and Owens are strong enough to fight through both the opportunistic game-planning and competitive back-and-forth portions of the match to win it, fairly, and remind us that they’re really fucking good at this.
The biggest, freshest breath of air.
The post-match Dot Com interview is even better, as it features:
- the poor man’s Renee Young
- Kevin Owens not knowing Sarah isn’t Renee, but Sami knowing, because Sami and Renee have a special relationship
- “Sarah? But you have blonde hair.”
- Owens putting WWE’s leveraging of our preexisting feelings about these characters to instantly rehabilitate them after a long period of depressing sadness into words, and letting us know it’ll all be okay
- cameos from Sin Cara and Mickie James “out there in the darkness”
- “Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, you’ll get there.”
- Sami and Kevin deciding to stand with their backs to poor man’s Renee (“who’s poor man?”) and stare at a giant picture of Sin Cara instead of talking her to her
Put promos like this on television, and throw that pre-written “you people” shit in the garbage.
Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe for the United States Championship never really kicked into high gear and became what I wanted it to be, mostly because it was never intended to be what I want it to be, but it’s still Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe, and therefore extremely good.
It’s a slower pace than I was expecting, but I should’ve known it was coming. WWE seems like they love Ricochet without completely understanding the kind of matches he excels in, so they’ve got him in there doing those big, long, mostly slow Rey Mysterio WWE matches where he gets beaten down, gets some athletic hope spots, gets shut down, and wins via miraculous gymnastics. I was a little bummed they didn’t pull off the finishing spot cleanly — Ricochet was supposed to do the shooting star bump on the clothesline and land on his feet, but only really “got his feet under him” — but it got the message across, and Ricochet’s holding a championship in WWE Proper. That’s pretty cool. I wish Joe could hold championships and have those reigns mean something instead of being a transitional champ, but it is what it is.
It looks like we’re getting Ricochet vs. AJ Styles for the United States Championship on Raw, and if that’s not a reason to tune in and watch a dozen fried chicken commercials, I don’t know what is.
If the Good Brothers are gonna be in Styles’ corner, maybe Ricochet can call up his old Taguchi Japan friends The Viking Raiders, KUSHIDA, and Jordan Myles to back him up. CJ Parker’s still alive, right?
The Planet’s Champion and The Conscientious Vintner vs. the Blue Collar Comedy Tour was also really fun, albeit with one major problem: when they got in the ring and realized the Tacoma, Washington, crowd was going to cheer Daniel Bryan and chant things like “please recycle” no matter what, they should’ve called a Bret-Hart-in-Canada-style audible and gone with it. They should’ve had Bryan soak up the response and maybe let Heavy Machinery do some threatening jiggling toward the crowd or something, I don’t know. Instead, they just wrestled the match they had planned, independent of the crowd response. Much like how letting wrestlers talk like human beings and show their natural personalities in promos is a million times better than the sterile, boring alternative, allowing the wrestlers to listen to and react to the crowd to help make them part of the match is a major key.
Still, both of these teams are good-to-great, and anyone who saw Otis vs. Tommaso Ciampa on NXT TV knows Heavy Machinery could seriously be a big deal if they don’t end up on the ass-end of No Way Jose’s conga line. I was really hoping we’d get to see Bryan try to put the LeBell Lock on Otis and not be able to due to Dozer’s insanely weird physiology, but I’ll award infinite points to any D-Bry match ending in a small package. My love of Ring of Honor World Champion Bryan Danielson is forever, and convinced me that completely dominating a company full of intense death moves with a goddamn inside cradle is the most baller power play in wrestling history.
Let’s hope someone important listened to Bryan’s Kickoff Show promo and remembers that (1) tag team wrestling is great, and that (2) even though the tag team divisions on both shows look pretty sad, they employ like 70% of the world’s good wrestlers and could really make something out of it if they wanted to.
I also thought Bliss vs. Bayley was pretty good while it lasted, at least in comparison to the Raw Women’s Championship match from earlier (which we’ll get to in a moment). I hope Bliss can stay healthy in the long term, because the work she’s been putting in with Mike Quackenbush is already visibly paying off, and if she can keep improving she could be a really important non-Horsewoman cog in how WWE’s women’s wrestling works. Good matches and great performances are especially important right now, when Lacey Evans is getting mega-pushed, Sasha Banks is missing in action, and Ronda Rousey went home and took WWE’s interest in women’s wrestling with her.
Anyway, the ending was a little predictable, to the point that my internalized fantasy booking made me disappointed for how basic it was. That’s all on me, I can’t blame them for that. I treat WWE matches like nerds treat Star Wars movies. In case you didn’t see it, Nikki Cross takes a dive for Bliss, allowing Bliss to get the upper-hand on Bayley and set up to win the match. When Cross “comes to,” she gets in the ring and tries to attack an already on-the-ground Bayley. That causes a ref distraction, gets Bliss’ eyes off the prize, and allows Bayley to capitalize. Bayley wins, and now Nikki Cross is the reason Alexa Bliss isn’t both Women’s Tag Team and Smackdown Women’s Champions. And that’s not going to go anywhere other than the emotional abuse and manipulation that won’t take the story anywhere we haven’t seen too many times before.
Long story short, it was a solid match that missed a few creative opportunities and is probably going to lead to the “same old same old,” which is, at least to me, the worst non-fatal step Raw can take with its pay-per-views right now. Predictability is good sometimes. Low effort storytelling is forever a bummer.
There’s also a really fantastic little
Mustafa Muhammad? Ali video package featuring some good-hearted street justice, which incorporates some repurposed footage (or at least the same outfit) from the video he did back around Elimination Chamber. I’m excited to see him back, and also kinda wish they’d let these cruisers who hit Raw or Smackdown and build up some fandom and cred go back to 205 and get more people to watch.
While you’re at it, send 190-pound Finn Bálor over there to defend the Intercontinental Championship a few times if you’re gonna relegate him to dark matches with Shinsuke Nakamura and the other characters that got paved over by the Wild Card Rule.
Best/Worst: Have You Asked SHANE MCMAHON To Be Your Personal Savior?
Another example of this is Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre. These guys are great at wrestling and have good chemistry with each other, but the context in which they wrestle and WWE’s weird priorities keep mucking it up.
Let me put it to you this way. Creatively, they had Drew McIntyre (who is supposed to be this big, unstoppable, violent “sociopath”) lose to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania. Step two in the story was having Shane McMahon, a 49-year old non-wrestler in cookout clothes who looks like he could have a heart attack and die at any moment, pin Roman Reigns. This set up Drew McIntyre losing to Roman Reigns. And all this sets up a HANDICAP MATCH on Raw, teaming Drew and Shane against Roman Reigns. Fuck.
The match also suffered a bit from pacing issues, which “big time” Roman Reigns matches often do. The guy has Triple H disease, where he could wrestle a banger 10-12 minute match and get out of there looking fantastic, but goes 20 for some reason, leaving the first half to three-quarters of his marquee matches feeling flat. See Triple H vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania for the ultimate example of this, and Reigns vs. Undertaker for an example that isn’t Game flavored. This match went an astonishing 17:40 for some reason, meaning it was (surprise!) a really good 10-minute match that had its colors dulled by about seven minutes of dumb Shane McMahon content it never, ever needed.
Complaining about Shane is probably getting pretty passé to the readership at this point, but his negative effect on everything he touches right now can’t be overstated. Remember when Shane originally came back and it felt cool and fresh? Could you have imagined he’d end up making me beg for Stephanie to show up instead? I’d take Linda at this point. I want to see her do a coast-to-coast dropkick without landing in the middle and hoping her opponent remembers to lean forward out of the corner so her feet touch.
Worst: It Shouldn’t Have Been You
This match was so flat it could have its own Netflix documentary.
I don’t know why we keep giving these championship matches to Dolph Ziggler, but as a big match opponent on two consecutive house show pay-per-views he’s a fucking Diet Mountain Dew you accidentally opened and left sitting on your counter for two weeks. He controls for most of this cage match, and his “control” offense is 80% him pacing back and forth. That’s it. Then he tries to pull some Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart cage match drama, and it’s just lifeless. He clearly doesn’t want to be there anymore, but doesn’t really know what else to do, so he’s going through the “good wrestler” motions without any heart or spirit. That probably sounds harsh, but shit, I was right there with all of you back in the 2010-2013 era where he was clearly one of the best performers on the show. I get why he’s great on paper. In practice, he’s a relationship you want to end but can’t figure out how to get out of.
Literally the only moment of this 20-minute pay-per-view match anyone is going to remember is the finish, which was admittedly pretty cool (and lifted from the Austin Aries vs. Colt Cabana ROH Championship cage match back at Third Anniversary Celebration in 2005):
It’s a very Kofi Kingston kind of finish, and I like that they’re putting in the work to make him a real, viable WWE Champion. His championship win at WrestleMania was emotional and well deserved but was also kind of an unexpected, last-minute thing, so it could’ve very easily transitioned the belt off of him by now. I’m happy for him, and hope he hangs on to it at least until SummerSlam. Preferably beyond, as he’s a unique champion who shows up every week with his working boots on, whether he’s asked to wrestle this wine-cooler-soaked Trapper Keeper of a character or not.
Also, why was the cage even there? They barely used it, and it only served to prove which guy could go through a door fastest. It’s like a grudge match that forgot its own grudge, and became a battle to see who could stop wrestling the most.
My best wish for Kofi is that his Extreme Rules opponent can be someone who isn’t Dolph, and also maybe isn’t Owens and Zayn so they can build up some momentum and not take any more important losses right away. Maybe he and Nak wanna come up with something cool? Maybe run Kofi vs. Rusev in a main-event program? Hell, give Buddy Murphy or Matt Hardy a shot, just throw a bone to one of these guys and give us something atypical for a month.
Worst: Evans To Murgatroyd
Remember that Lacey Evans vs. Charlotte Flair match on Raw that was so bad it felt like a rib? Well, here’s our favorite Not Ready For Primetime Player doing it again:
I feel like I’ve been pretty pro-Lacey Evans since she showed up in NXT, at least on an ironic level, but man, she’s not good. She’s the in-ring equivalent of Dana Warrior putting on Ultimate Warrior face paint to show she’s an ally. She looks like a good idea, but maybe you should think about it for a minute before you hit “tweet.”
Lacey vs. Becky actually opens the pay-per-view, following that amazing triple threat Cruiserweight Championship pre-show match. The crowd clearly still wants to like Becky Lynch matches, but Lacey seems to be her only opponent, and that “two belts” run is going to be an epic disappointment if she just immediately lost one to Charlotte and spent the next several months struggling to defend the other in Close Quarters with The Marine. I don’t think Lacey’s a lost cause or anything, but they took her out of the oven too soon, and she’s crumbling.
So let’s fast forward to the main event, where-
Oh come on.
Worst: A Baron Corbin Main Event, Brought To You By The Kitchen Sink
Finally we have the main event, which seems to be surprisingly divisive.
I’ll start by saying I get that a Baron Corbin pay-per-view main event needs all the Pyro and Ballyhoo™ in the world to make it interesting, so we got a special guest referee mystery, a show-long tease of better ideas like Paul Heyman, a big introduction for Lacey Evans, the Over The Edge ’98 match structure to build up the “odds” against Rollins with on-the-fly rule changes, multiple false finishes, a table bump, Becky Lynch getting involved, and multiple referees. I can also get that to some people, especially the ones who haven’t watched WWE consistently for the past 20 years and seen the diminishing returns every time they bust this idea out, it could be fun or “hot” or whatever.
I also have to explain that I’ve unfortunately been present for every one of those diminishing returns, and don’t really dig it when they go Most Obvious Common Denominator and tell you the entire match in an instant. It’s like watching a movie trailer that shows you the whole movie. Of course Lacey Evans is here to do the Over The Edge match, even though Baron Corbin doesn’t still have General Manager powers and a WWE official can’t change rules on the fly like, say, Vince McMahon could. Of course if Lacey’s out here messing with Becky Lynch’s boyfriend, Becky Lynch is going to get involved. Of course Rollins is going to win, because the guy who does The Stomp losing his championship on a show called Stomping Grounds to arguably the least effective, believable, and popular wrestler in professional wrestling, a guy who wrestles in stretchy dress clothes, would’ve been a disaster.
I don’t want to play the “it’s obvious because I’m SMART” card, but it feels like you’d have to be straight-up stupid to be surprised by any of this. There are positives. Rollins is really good at his job, Corbin is serviceable, and the idea of Corbin bringing in a female referee that Rollins couldn’t just murder with a chair in good conscience was … I don’t know if I’d call it “clever,” but it’s something. But the negatives outweigh the positives, from the endless Brock Lesnar teases over the past couple of months that have gone nowhere to Becky Lynch getting slotted into the Candice LeRae NXT “I won’t let you cheat against my HUSBAND~” character, to everything else.
Becky being fine with tons of evil general manager cheating but drawing the line at someone punching her significant other’s genitals is pretty funny, I guess.
And that’s just your main event. An evil loser waiter pretending he still has powers he lost months ago, playing Vince McMahon’s greatest hits with Dana Warrior’s self-insert fan fiction character on a thrown-together show they had to rename because of Saudi Arabia jokes for a half-filled arena of people chanting AEW, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and “boring.”
If that’s what you’re into, more power to you.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
The correct finish was Becky ripping Lacey’s arm out and counting the three with it.
The Real Birdman
That match could’ve taken place on top of a library & been less overbooked
Alexa: “You peaked in NXT!”
Bayley: “Yeah, me and like 3 dozen others, big deal!”
Guys, I’ve been sitting here for two hours waiting for my Loaded Fajitas, and now I see my server is on TV. Should I ask to speak to the manager?
Much like “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, Cage was barely a factor.
May the pain from Reigns fall mainly on the Shane.
*Seth proceeds to destroy Lacey with the chair*
“what? I once threatened to break a crippled man’s neck to get my boss’s job back. why would you assume I wouldn’t do this?”
Ricochet didn’t get called up for a cup of coffee. It’s a CUP OF JOE. It was right there, Graves.
*seth does the falcon arrow*
Lacey: honey we all know that never ends matches
Cool. Now you make Joe a main eventer and don’t give me another Baron Corbin Universal title PPV match again.
That’s it for Super Shoe-down. Thanks for reading.
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Stomping Grounds was certainly the best WWE pay-per-view of the month, although it really could’ve used an Undertaker vs. Goldberg iron man match to tie it together. Make sure you’re here for Raw and Smackdown to see the fallout from Stampy Grounds, and be here next month for ExTrEmE RuLeZ, which is apparently the live event guaranteed us by the United States Constitution. See you then!