Monday, July 21, 2014

"Current Events": WWE Battleground 2014 Review

The star of the show, and he was technically supposed to be kicked out of the arena
Photo Credit:
Oppa TH Style

  • In the first pre-show match, Adam Rose quickly dispatched of Fandango with the Party Foul after both the latter's exes distracted him as part of the Rosebud Brigade.
  • In the second pre-show match, Cameron quickly rolled up Naomi to get a cheap pinfall.
  • The Usos retained the WWE Tag Team Championships over the Wyatt Family, two falls to one, with a double Superfly Splash to Rowan for the final fall.
  • The Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose match was called off after Ambrose assaulted Rollins during a backstage interview. Triple H threw Ambrose out of the arena.
  • AJ Lee bested Paige to retain the Divas Championship after a shining wizard.
  • Alexander Rusev defeated Jack Swagger via countout after reversing a Patriot Lock on the outside of the ring into a flip into the ringpost. After the match, Rusev continued his assault by putting Swagger in the Accolade.
  • Rollins came out to claim a forfeit victory over Ambrose, which drew an attack from the aforementioned Lunatic Fringe.
  • Chris Jericho defeated Bray Wyatt with a Codebreaker OUTTA NOWHERE.
  • The Miz won the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royale by skulking outside the ring after being thrown through the ropes and then dumping Dolph Ziggler over the top after he thought he indeed won.
  • In the main event, John Cena retained the WWE World Heavyweight Championship by giving Randy Orton the Attitude Adjustment on top of Kane and then pinning the latter.

General Observations:
  • I switched on The Network about a half-hour before the pre-show was set to begin, and it was replaying last year's Battleground event. Seeing Daniel Bryan as an active, healthy wrestler made me feel so, so sad.
  • Fandango vs. Adam Rose on the pre-show? My WWE got generous with the freebie action, didn't it?
  • Layla and Summer Rae came out leading the Rosebuds to the ring, because of course they did. Both ended up slapping Fandango which somehow didn't draw a disqualification. But hey, when you can put match that doesn't last as long as the average Jason Biggs sexual encounter in American Pie on an extended pay-per-view event, you gotta do it, right?
  • Second pre-show match! Cameron came out in Catholic schoolgirl-themed gear. I can only imagine the order came in for that to Sandra the Seamstress straight from Kevin Dunn.
  • "All women secretly hate each other." Oh fuck off, Jerry Lawler.
  • Naomi did at least get some chants from the crowd. Could it be that giving women agency past being sexy cattle endears them to the crowd? COULD IT?
  • Booker T actually said that Kofi Kingston was going to win the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royale because he's "ready to break through." Break through what, the record for most combined reigns with the secondary belts? Did Booker realize that Kingston holding the IC or United States Championships has become the Mendoza Line for those belts?
  • Jey Uso started the main show off with a bang by giving Erick Rowan a slap so hard that it knocked the sheep mask from his face to the floor. I think that move was called setting the tone.
  • I love Luke Harper's vertical suplexes. He hits them by cradling the neck like he's landing with a neckbreaker, which actually makes the move look like it hurts the taker more than it does the giver. The camera angle of him giving it to Jey showed his execution on it perfectly.
  • Oh man, the first two falls came in this match within the first five minutes, it seemed. The best way to make a multiple fall stipulation lose all effect is to treat the first falls like they're RAW matches, circa 1998.
  • Seriously, it seemed like midway through the third fall, the Usos were working as faces in peril for 90% of the match, although later, it would be paid back in full.
  • I also love the dynamic between Harper and Rowan, how Rowan is like the mythical Golem, and Harper is the rabbi who controls him. Even if the booking does the faction no favors, the Wyatts are operating on a different level in terms of character than most wrestlers in WWE right now.
  • Every time Michael Cole says "U-SO CRAZY!" I want him to be poked with a hot branding iron right in his scrotum.
  • The high spots in this match were way too numerous to mention all of them (even if they all fit in the scheme perfectly), but Jimmy breaking out the old "run the barricade parkour splash" was probably the most impressive thing I saw all match.
  • Rowan kicked out of a Superfly Splash, and the arena sighed like it had just watched Ryan Howard kill a rally with a strikeout. When you protect a finisher like the Usos have with the splash, you get that kind of reaction when it doesn't work.
  • Rowan superplexed both Usos at the same time, and I got an uncontrollably throbbing HOSS erection that still hasn't subsided yet.
  • How do you let a crowd decompress naturally after a hot opener before the second match? You film an angle that postpones one of the other scheduled matches, that's what! I wasn't too upset with the Dean Ambrose/Seth Rollins match getting cancelled for the night because I wasn't particularly ready for their first match to happen at fucking Battleground of all places.
  • Sign in the crowd at the start of the AJ Lee/Paige match read "AJ, marry me? I'm already 43." Gross. Then again, maybe a reason already existed as to why that guy was in his 40s and still didn't find someone with whom to settle down.
  • For as little time as Lee and Paige got to build their match, they packed in a whole bunch of story during it. The beginning had some rough collar and elbow exchanges that saw both competitors acting passive-aggressively graciously after the clean breaks. Then later on, Paige kept screeching at Lee to just lose already due to her own frustration, which may have been foreshadowing for RAW tonight.
  • AS good as the match was in terms of story, I was a bit disappointed with how sloppy it was. It sure wasn't the worst offender on the card, but I know both wrestlers are capable of better.
  • I'm also shocked that WWE announcers haven't given a cutesy, Stamfordized name to the shining wizard yet.
  • Randy Orton was seen backstage trying to fish an apology out of Kane. I need to see more of that Orton in my life and less of the wallflower dude who does RKOs while Triple H blathers on and Seth Rollins is the only main focus of the Authority.
  • When Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, speculation started to swirl whether it would affect the Lana/Alexander Rusev act. Lana came right out and referenced "current events," which was WWE's way of saying "NOPE THE FUCK WE AIN'T BACKIN' DOWN." I had mixed feelings about it, to be honest.
  • However, hearing an arena full of people recite "WE THE PEOPLE" along with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter as babyfaces who never repented on their racist, xenophobic acts gave me no mixed feelings whatsoever. I felt gross all over.
  • That all being said, Swagger is pretty well-equipped to be a babyface worker. He took a couple of huge bumps during the match, including the faceplant into the ringpost that led to the countout win for Rusev, and the crowd loves the Patriot Lock.
  • Rusev hobbled away from the ring after laying his beating on Swagger, selling the ankle that was worked on the whole match. I don't know about you, but that act left me with a WHOLE lot of goodwill for the Super Athlete.
  • Rollins came out to the ring to claim his forfeit victory. This act was another big reason why I didn't mind the bait-and-switch. In an age where it's hard to get real heel heat for wrestlers, claiming a forfeit win sometimes is necessary to stoke the coals.
  • SURPRISE AMBROSE never hurts, though.
  • Chris Jericho may be an old man, but he still has hops. The ground he covered from the top rope all the way up the entryway where the Wyatt Family was standing was pretty impressive. He also bumped so hard off the apron that he took out a cameraman. Those guys need to get hazard pay.
  • That all being said, man, Bray Wyatt/Jericho was amazingly disappointing. I've seen Jericho work good-to-great matches in his many Cool Dad Phase comebacks, and Wyatt has the ability to be perfectly cromulent in the ring. But they were just way too sloppy in this match for me to enjoy it.
  • Why was Rollins leaving the arena before the main event? Wasn't he supposed to be Plan B?
  • SURPRISE AMBROSE out of the trunk of a car has the potential to last as one of the best moments of the year. The best part about that was that I totally could buy that Ambrose hangs out in car trunks, whether to ambush people or just to collect his thoughts.
  • Curtis Axel got eliminated in the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royale, and Ryback looked over at him from the ring and gave him the "I don't give a fuck" shrug. Ryback is probably the best all-around talent in WWE who'll never get a sustained push again, and that fact makes me fucking depressed.
  • HEATH SLATER eliminated Antonio Cesaro. Let that sink in for a little bit.
  • I loved the fact that Miz won the title, but man, Dolph Ziggler sulking against the announce table actually made me feel bad for him until I kayfabe-realized for him that the only belt he needs to hold anymore is the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
  • The Kane/Orton alliance dissolved midmatch? No one saw that coming, and by no one, I mean everyone.
  • Even though he didn't win, Roman Reigns looked like the biggest star in his match for the second special event in a row. If you're going to build someone in title matches without giving them the strap, far worse ways to do so exist.

Match of the Night: Jimmy and Jey Uso (c) vs. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, WWE Tag Team Championship Best Two out of Three Falls Match - On paper, the Tag Title match between the Usos and Wyatts looked to be the strongest match in terms of in-ring action. Predictably, as the two teams have done several times in the last few months, they tore the house down in the opening match of the pay-per-view proper, and no one was able to pick up their slack at least during a regular match. While the layout of the match rendered the two-out-of-three falls stipulation superfluous, the third fall more than made up for the early shortcomings and provided yet another notch in the cases of both teams as part of the factional elite in the US today.

The first two falls went by almost as quickly as the two pre-show matches did, rendering the actual three-fall layout of the match useless. I blame that more on the agents than anything, but still, a multiple fall match is built to be a marathon. Still, the two teams began to build a strong narrative through the match by establishing a tone of dominance by the challengers with the only hope the Champs had being a flash pinfall in the second stanza. WWE likes to build matches by saying the babyfaces are against the odds and need to overcome great adversity in order to triumph against swelling evil. However, all the talk usually ends up ringing hollow. The Usos here were able to show that they were true underdogs in this scenario, working underneath two towering hosses with a penchant for crazy looks. It also cannot be understated how the opening of the match played into that build, with Jey knocking Rowan's mask clean off his face with a SLAP that would have made Rick James proud.

The third match, however, was a masterclass in how modern tag team wrestling should be performed. The Usos continued to work underneath and build to a crescendo that allowed their climactic comeback to resonate with the crowd in more than just a token "yay good guys" fashion. The crazy high spots felt like they belonged in the match flow instead of being shoehorned into the fray for inserting them's sake. The fact that Luke Harper is as adept at throwing planchas as the Uso brother are is incredible and worth noting. The way the Superfly Splash has been built up as an untouchable finish made Rowan kicking out of it all the more eye-popping, and it set up for the double splash finish. Of course, the match wasn't perfect - Rowan's attempt at a frogsplash looked Tamina Snuka-levels of awkward - but it would have been among the best matches on every WWE special event this year. Outstanding work from two excellent teams.

Overall Thoughts: Battleground wasn't a bad pay-per-view by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly was a dull one. WWE couldn't have held the sign up saying that the show was part of a giant holding pattern any more clearly unless it had erected a road sign in orange and black outside the arena. To be honest, I can halfheartedly excuse any wrestling company trying to tread water between big events, especially when the availability of certain Anomalies is hamstrung by contractual engagements. If The Network had done booming numbers like WWE unrealistically projected back in the spring, then maybe a few more dates for Brock Lesnar would be feasible. At the same time, a holding pattern is one thing; lazy booking regardless of where the company is in its narrative pattern is inexcusable no matter what the situation.

Mainly, I was nonplussed by the amount of matches destined to happen at SummerSlam that were blatantly prepeated for the sake of setting up a return match. Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt is clearly happening again in Los Angeles; why have a match at Battleground happen that hammers home how ineffectual Wyatt and his crusade is beforehand? A turn is bound to happen in the AJ Lee vs. Paige feud, so why have them wrestle now as "friends?" Maybe that match I'm more willing to forgive because the feud needs something to latch onto and Paige did have a rematch clause to cash in. Still, the amount of time given to that feud vis a vis some other feuds on the show just makes everything seem rushed. The Jack Swagger/Alexander Rusev feud is another match that really didn't need to happen here if the payoff is supposed to be coming at SummerSlam. I get having a countout finish, and I'm not opposed to having them at the pay-per-view. When it happens as a continuance in a feud in the backdrop of so many other feuds getting prolonged, the impact lessens.

An aside, speaking of impact regarding the Rusev act, Lana certainly didn't shy away from MH17 getting shot down over Ukraine, which was a tricky subject regardless of how WWE scripted her to respond to it. At first, I didn't think it was a big deal because she didn't mention the crash by name, but still, she made light of a horrible act of war that claimed the lives of 300 people who were not germane to any kind of conflict going on between Russia and its former Soviet satellite state. Television shows make light of awful acts all the time; one cannot turn on an episode of a police or courtroom procedural without seeing the words "RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES" on it. At the same time, is the act of exploiting a tragedy such as that in pro wrestling in the realm of moral acceptance that Law and Order seems to be, or is it tawdry and cheap the way that, say, Tyler Perry handles HIV in his movies? I don't know if I can be the judge of that, to be honest. Then again, for the record, I think that a lot of the stories involving sexual assault on Law and Order: SVU are way gross, so maybe I'm more against that kind of thing than I'm currently letting on.

Getting back on track, a few nuggets saved the show from being completely bad. I wrote a bit about the Tag Title match above, and Miz winning the Intercontinental Championship felt like a net plus to me. The fact that Miz was the guy to take the belt after it being last held by RED BELLY seems like a bad case of deja vu back to WrestleMania XXIX, but I'm fully behind "Hollywood" Mike Mizanin as a character, especially if he goes all-in on developing his vanity and protecting his "assets." However, the absolute stars of the show were Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, whose bait and switch probably would have been better received by the masses if the rest of the show wasn't so goddamn uninspiring. Theirs is the one story that was told correctly last night if the endgame was going to be a match at SummerSlam. In fact, Ambrose popping out of a car trunk to assail Rollins may have been my favorite moment on the show last night.

If Battleground had more moments like that, then maybe it would have been worth the time. WWE has the Network, which means a lowered price point for people to catch these shows. It can do more experimental things and reach out of the box a bit instead of falling back on tired tropes like "feuding means a billion matches with or without any logical escalation," or "John Cena vs. familiar opponents again, LOL." I guess dull is to be expected every once in awhile, but for a company with the resources WWE has, it's also reasonable to expect the creative team not to have such a wet fart in terms of booking and planning, especially when that malaise has been the norm on television for the last few months.