Battleground (2014) – Tampa Bay Times Forum (Tampa Bay, FL) – Main Event: WWE World Heavyweight Championship Fatal Four-Way: John Cena (c), Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, and Kane – Announcers: Michael Cole, John Bradshaw Layfield, Jerry “the King” Lawler; Pre-Show: Renee Young, Booker T, Alex Riley, and Christian.
After a disappointing MONEY IN THE BANK, the WWE recovered nicely with a very solid (if not entirely satisfying) BATTLEGROUND PPV.
The event is somewhat less than it should be due to a rash of obvious results and stalled storylines, and I continue to think that the deeper we get into the WWE Network era, the less PPVs will matter. With PPVs essentially costing $10 now (the price of one month of the Network) instead of $50 or $60, the WWE doesn’t have to do as much to make the audience happy. And I don’t just mean letting the favorites win. I just mean making the product feel special. In some ways, the ratings for RAW and Smackdown now feel like they’re more important than the PPVs, or at least the non-Big 4 PPVs.
Where did Rollins turn on the Shield? RAW. Where did Sheamus win the U.S. title? RAW. Where did we see the return of the Miz? RAW. Jericho? RAW. Where did the Jericho/Wyatt feud start? Where did Cameron and Naomi break up? Where did Layla turn on Fandango? RAW. RAW. RAW.
Who got the Sting announcement?
Who’s surprised he didn’t show up at the PPV?
Who’s surprised Paul Heyman’s promised “Plan C” didn’t materialize at BATTLEGROUND?
Who’s expecting Plan broCk to show up on RAW?
What have the PPVs given us since WRESTLEMANIA XXX? How many feuds have started there? How many title changes have we seen?
One title change. One. Bad News Barrett over Big E at EXTREME RULES. Okay, two, if you count the ladder match for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight title at MONEY IN THE BANK. That’s just as many title changes as we’ve seen from the Divas division on RAW during that time.
The PPVs will remain as the signposts for the company but these last few PPVs haven’t felt anymore special than an episode of RAW. Heck, with RAW clocking in at three hours, the PPVs aren’t giant-sized product, either. It’s just another three hours of Network programming, although one with longer matches than RAW and Smackdown. I dont’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is a different thing, and I think the WWE is still struggling to figure out how this new era works, and how they need to best manage it.
If the WWE wants the PPVs to matter, than they have to matter. We have to see things we don’t normally see. We have to see storylines advanced – chapters have to end or begin. It can’t just be another night of wrestling, and unfortunately, as good as most of the matches at BATTLEGROUND were, there wasn’t much in the way of turning the page on the ongoing stories. Which makes me wonder …
Have we entered the Decompression Era? Are we getting the wrestling equivalent of comic companies slowing down stories in order to serve the trade paperback crowd more than the monthly buyers? Wrestling storylines used to move at a glacial pace, of course, but that was back in the pre-Network, pre-Internet, pre-RAW days when it was much harder to find wrestling content.
In the recent past, however, when you bought a PPV through your cable/satellite provider, you got to watch it once and that was it. But BATTLEGROUND has been over for eight minutes as I’m writing this and I’m watching the replay of BATTLEGROUND on the Network. I can stop it and watch it again anytime I want. I can watch the Uso/Wyatt match, then watch it again, then watch it again, then … you get it.
What can’t you watch immediately on the Network?
It looks like it now takes a month for RAW episodes to appear, so if you want to watch RAW, you’ve got to watch RAW on the USA Network or DVR it.
If you can get one thing whenever you want, and another thing once, which has more value?
There were two opening matches for BATTLEGROUND: Adam Rose (with Layla and Summer Rae) and the post-breakup Cameron vs. Naomi confrontation. The first match continues to demonstrate that Adam Rose is a complete enigma: he keeps winning and keeps going nowhere. He’s here just to be background for Summer Rae and Naomi to slap Fandango. That’s the only reason this match exists, and it happens, so … hooray. The problem with the feud is that none of these people are going anywhere. At least, in the weeks before Layla turned on the ‘Dango, Summer Rae was clearly getting a push, but now that her and Layla are BFFs, this storyline isn’t doing her any good. It’s also not doing Fandango or Rose any good.
Cameron and Naomi had a match that Cameron won and that wasn’t terrible, but, again, where’s this going? I mean, Naomi gets to keep Brodus Clay’s theme music, so she’s already lost, yes? Also, now that they’re not dressing the same, Cameron decided to come out looking like a sexy schoolgirl while Naomi came out looking like a sexy … taxicab? Checkerboard? NASCAR Victory flag?
I tweeted out a week ago that I wish the WWE Network would give us a weekly, hour-long Divas show because it would give the women’s division a chance to grow and develop both their stories and their in-ring abilities. Whenever they wrestle on RAW, neither the crowd nor the announcers are invested in what they’re seeing, and some of that is because there’s no reason for the crowd to get invested if the company isn’t invested, and there’s no bigger sign (oter than not being on air) that the company isn’t invested than when Cole, JBL, and King treat women’s matches as an opportunity to talk about anything else.
I continue to be confounded by these pre-event matches, too. Is anyone going to order the Network because of Rose/Fandango and Cameron/Naomi? Or are they just to continue nominally important stories?
One thing that needs to be said about the the Pre-Show is just how good Renee Young continues to be in whatever role the company puts her in. The back-and-forth between Booker T and Alex Riley continues to get better, too. When asked who would win the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal, Riley suggested, “a dark horse, Heath Slater.” Booker cracked up and said, “That’s why you’re sitting over there.”
It’s funny. I don’t know why sitting “over there” is a put down necessarily, but it felt like one.
During the opening match of BATTLEGROUND, John “Bradshaw” Layfield remarked, of the tag team of Erick Rowan and Luke Harper, “I’m not sure you can beat these two big men,” despite the fact that the Usos have beaten the Wyatts 162 times.
Make that 163.
This is the kind of result that irritates me. Look, the Usos and the Wyatts put on another fantastic match, just like they do almost every single time they get in the ring together. BATTLEGROUND saw them in a best 2 Falls Out of 3 match, and the two teams put together a smart, engaging match that continually built energy and suspense. At the end of the day, that’s the important thing, and when I re-watch this PPV in a year or five, I’ll likely say nothing but good things about it because it’s an incredible match.
But that ending …
It’s not that the Usos are undeserving Tag Team Champions, because they’re a very, very good tag team. Even though they haven’t developed much in the way of personalities (outside of Total Divas, at least) and are still getting by on the, “Hey, we’re the fun good guys,” they are totally dependable. You can see that the company trusts them (and likes them) because they’re the go-to tag team whenever a face needs two guys to partner with in a Raw-ending match.
What they’re lacking, however, is that storyline that matches their in-ring work. Losing the titles to the Wyatts would do that for them. Losing the titles gives them a mountain to climb, and helps to prove that they are not, like too many Tag Team Champs before them, a one and done team.
Pop quiz – do you know the last Tag Team Champs to serve more than one reign with these belts?
If you do, you are wicked smarter than me, because I had to look it up. It’s not the Usos. It’s not the New Age Outlaws (they were tag champs with the original belts, before the brand unification). It’s not The Rhodes Brothers, the Shield, Team Hell No, Kingston and R-Truth, Primo and Epico, Air Boom (which was a team of Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston, not a group of Golden Retrievers), The New Nexus (David Otunga and Mike McGillicutty), or Kane and Big Show.
It’s the Corre.
Yes, the Corre. The last team to hold the WWE Tag Team Championship more than once was Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel, who had three reigns before losing the belts for their final time to Kane and Big Show on April 19 … 2011. That’s right. For the last three years and three months we’ve been treated to Tag Champions who get one run with the belt and then disappear. Other than the New Age Outlaws (who were clearly just transition champions to get from the Rhodes Brothers to the Usos), every tag team since Otunga and McGillicutty has held the belts for at least three months, and then they drop them and just go away.
In today’s WWE, of course, the Tag Team division is in complete shambles, as the company seemingly trusts the Usos, the Wyatts, and … and … I like The Rhodes Brothers more than the company does, and they’re stuck in a feud with RybAxel, whom the company also doesn’t seem to believe in. Is four tag teams enough? It could be, if the WWE would do something with them besides have Uso/Wyatt and Rhodes/RybAxel matches. Everything just feels like it’s in a big rut, and that hurts the product. The fact that the Rhodes Brothers, in their Goldust and Stardust personas, got a promo (if not a match) hopefully indicates better days, but this company has shown repeatedly over the last few year that they see the non-Tag Team champs (whoever that may be, in a given time) as little more than mid-card filler material.
So, yes, the Usos and the Wyatts put on a hell of a match, and ultimately, that’s the most important thing. But the second most important thing is that sense of advancement and there’s none of that here. There’s a hundred ways the Usos could have retained and set up a new chapter in the feud, but we didn’t get there. Tomorrow night on RAW, we’ll almost certainly see the Usos teaming with John Cena against the Authority, or teaming with Chris Jericho against the entire Wyatt Family, and they’ll do a bang-up job, but at the end of the night, they won’t be thought of as any differently than they are right now.
The Usos are a great team, but if they had story lines that came anywhere close to their in-ring talents, they could be a legendary team.
AJ Lee and Paige had their third match for the Divas Championship and they’re getting better. Look, I’ve been totally in the bag for Paige since I first saw her wrestle on NXT programming, and AJ has almost single-handedly carried the division for a few years now, but they are still searching for their in-ring chemistry. The first half of their BATTLEGROUND match was pretty pedestrian and often clumsy, but the second half started to show what they’re capable of giving us. The Divas have actually been getting quite a bit of airtime lately (the Layla/Summer Rae, Funkadactyls, Nikki Bella/Stephanie feuds are all getting regular play, in addition to AJ and Paige), but this is the feud that leads the division. I wonder if that’s why this storyline is unfolding slowly, too. I’m not sold on the “Frienemies” narrative, but at least JBL and King think it’s a phony story, too, and keep waiting for Paige to turn heel.
I’ve been riding the announce team pretty hard lately (and deservedly so), but JBL and King were pretty funny tonight during this match, both in ranking on Cole for believing AJ and Paige are pals and then in this wonderful exchange about the former Women’s Championship:
King: “Moola held the Women’s Title as long as there’s been daylight.”
JBL: “When Moola first had the belt the Dead Sea was only sick.”
That’s as good as it gets with these guys, folks.
AJ retaining the titles is not anything I have a problem with, but Paige’s seemingly inevitable heel turn neither happened nor was swerved away from. Instead, we just saw a shocked Paige leave the ring as AJ danced. Like the Uso/Wyatt feud, AJ and Paige are in a holding pattern, and here’s guessing that when something dramatic does happen to turn this story, it will be on RAW.
Rusev (with Lana) and Jack Swagger (with Zeb-
Wait. Let me rephrase that.
Lana (with Rusev) and Zeb Colter (with Jack Swagger) delivered a perfect mid-card match. These four are involved in a good story with good talking and good action, and they delivered on all front during BATTLEGROUND. The WWE has blessedly moved Rusev away from battling tomatoes and given him real competition and last PPV’s match against Big E and this event’s clash with Jack Swagger have done a lot to raise his stature in the company. I still thing Big E is a better overall performer than Swagger, but he’s earned this spot, and this chance to be a face and it’s nice to see him running with it.
I’ve been critical of Rusev’s long-term potential (I think the company has more money to make on Big E than Rusev over the course of their careers), but I’m coming around on the guy. He moves really well in the ring for a big guy, and I cringe every single time he slaps that trapezius muscle clamp on someone. I’ve also been critical of the Cold War angle (I think flag waving characters are cheap, whatever flag they’re carrying to the ring), but I can’t deny that it’s getting him over with the crowd, and has managed to get Swagger some of the biggest cheers of his career, too.
I really like this match, both for the in-ring action it delivered and the simple but effective manner in which the story has been developed. I loved the ending, too, with Swagger getting counted out after getting his head smashed into the ring post, after Rusev twisted out of the Patriot Lock.
A Goldust/Stardust promo was up next and while I think Cody is too good to be burying his persona in that of his brother, I love that this was an angle I didn’t see coming. I love that it extends Goldust’s amazing late-career run (Goldust wrestled at WrestleMania 12!). I love that Cody is fully invested in Stardust. This promo was just what I wanted out of this duo – it was strange, humorous, and equal parts indecipherable and logical. They didn’t get a match at the event, but right now it’s more important for the Dusters to get screen time in order to develop the characters and their relationship than it is for them to get another victory over RybAxel. I’m fascinated to see where the WWE goes with this team, because is there anyone for them to feud with other than Axel and Ryback? Are the Wyatts going to finally get the Tag Team belts at SummerSlam and then enter a feud with the Rhodes?
The Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose match sorta happened next. Ambrose had attacked Rollins earlier in the night and Triple H had barred him from the building, which meant Rollins won the match by forfeit. Except, of course, Ambrose had snuck back in and attacked Rollins on his way out, which gave the backstage officials a chance to run in and try to separate them. (Take one shot for every Jamie Noble appearance; two for Bill DeMott; three if you like my idea that Noble and DeMott should be the new Patterson and Briscoe.) They try to fight one another, but they can’t because of all the officials.
Later, Rollins leaves (thus ending the suspense of whether he’ll try to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase later in the evening), but Ambrose is waiting in his car trunk for him, and they brawl some more. This parking lot action is much better than the in-arena fighting, and sells Ambrose’s “wild and crazy guy” schtick much better than JBL babbling on about how he’s a lunatic who should get arrested.
The most confusing match of the night for me came next: Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt. It’s a good match, but curiously for a feud involving two great talkers, I still don’t know why they’re fighting. Hell, the announcers even mention they don’t know why Wyatt has chosen to come after Jericho. Yeah, Bray said something about how Chris had promised to save them and he didn’t, but all that does is make me think of Sad Teenager Bray Wyatt sitting in his room praying to his Y2J poster. So, again, another match is plagued by a bad storyline – nothing here feels any different than it did before the match. I was hoping for a Jericho heel turn, but I would have settled for something to change the tone of the feud and didn’t get it.
I’m not a huge fan of Battle Royals – at least until you get down to under ten wrestlers – but this match for the vacated Intercontinental Championship was pretty darn good. There was a steady stream of eliminations, and plenty of action. I like it when wrestlers use a Battle Royal to continue individual feuds, and we get a good helping spoonful of that from Cesaro and Kingston. Kofi did his usual amazing job at these over-the-top matches, and Cesaro gets a huge assist for helping him pull off a few of them. The thing with Kofi, though, is that you know they’re not gonna let him with one of these, so as soon as he has his signature moment, he’s not long for the match, and that’s exactly what happens here. After jumping backwards and landing on Big E’s shoulders, he gets eliminated by Cesaro, who then gets eliminated by … wait for it … Heath Slater.
Slater’s highlight moments are few and far between and I was thrilled to hear the Tampa crowd give him a big pop. Since he won those Tag Team Championships a few years ago, it’s been a tough road of being the Jobbing Jokester (a role that Damien Sandow is now filling) for Slater. I dig the guy, though. I think he’s a good wrestler and he’s always totally committed to his character. When Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre were released in the purge a few weeks back, I was worried Slater would be one of the cuts, but I’m pleased to see that he’s still around. I think he brings a lot to the card – maybe not at the top, but certainly in the middle and bottom.
There was smart match-long storytelling going on in the Battle Royal, too, with the Miz getting knocked out of the ring and to the floor, but not going over the top rope, which you need to do to be eliminated. This set up the Miz’s eventual win. After being sent to the floor, he played possum, letting Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler fight one-on-one, each thinking it was for the title. There was some good back and forth, as you’d expect from these two guys, and Ziggler’s elimination of Sheamus was pretty cool, kicking him to the floor in mid-air, as the Irishman was attempting to jump back into the ring from the apron.
The crowd reacted like Dolph had won, but then Miz slid in and dumped Dolph to win the title.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first way is that it sucks for Ziggler because I, like so many fans, want to see Ziggler get another title run. He’s a top of the card guy not getting his due from the company.
The second way to look at this result, however, is to realize that this is a good thing. Miz winning by tossing Ziggler, especially in an underhanded manner, elevates both men. This is the kind of storytelling I love to see. Ziggler winning the belts is good for him and good for his very vocal fans, but it’s not where he has the most value for the company. We learned this with Daniel Bryan last year – keep finding ways to “screw” him out of the title and when he finally gets it, the moment is legendary. I’m not suggesting Ziggler is going to headline WrestleMania XXXI (though, on talent, he certainly has the ability) or that we’re going to have to wait until then for him to get the Intercontinental Championship, but with him losing, it riles the fans up and ensures he stays hot with the crowd.
It also elevates the Miz. Yeah, Miz has plenty of detractors and has won titles before, but this new “moneymaker” persona he’s been employing since his return a few weeks ago has real potential. He’s always been better as a heel than a face because people just naturally dislike him: he’s a reality TV star, he seems like a dick, and he’s been elevated over guys like Ziggler and Punk, whom the smarks (myself definitely included) love and (myself only sorta included) think get a raw deal from the company.
A Miz/Ziggler feud coming out of BATTLEGROUND has real potential. Miz is a guy people love to hate and Ziggler is a guy people love to love, and so giving the Miz the belt and putting Dolph in the chase position benefits everyone.
The Fatal 4-Way was up last and John Cena, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, and Kane delivered a really good match. Certainly, the match largely overcame the problems it had, which was we all knew there was no way Kane or Reigns was walking out as the champ. Which meant we were staring down another run from either Cena or Orton. Except that it’s already been leaked that Brock Lesnar is coming back for SummerSlam, and there’s no way the WWE is going to have Brock be the man to stop the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak and then come back to feud anywhere but the top of the card.
Which meant one of two possibilities: either Cena wins and we get Cena/Lesnar, or Orton wins and we get a Lesnar face turn.
Yeah, it was pretty obvious who was going to win, but as I’ve said a million times, if you’re solely focused on the winners and losers, you’re looking at pro wrestling as sports when it’s actually entertainment. The WWE has earned their cake selling this match – the two faces (Cena and Reigns) don’t get along, as Reigns is clearly chomping at the bit to flex his muscles and challenge himself against the biggest dog in the yard, and the two heels don’t get along, either (Kane making Orton meet him in the basement for a pre-match chat was pretty hilarious just for the absurdity of Kane hanging out in the basement because where else would the “Devil’s Favorite Demon” hang out but the lower level of the arena?). While there were clear lines, those lines were also rather blurry, which added to the match’s tension.
All four participants did an excellent job playing off this tension. I loved Reigns refusing to let Orton tap. I loved Cena and Reigns squaring off, ready to throw down, only to see Kane sit up in the corner and decide their inevitable confrontation could wait a few more minutes.
That Cena won certainly wasn’t surprising, but it’s not undeserving. Does it make WWE programming better all by itself? Nope. But if you’re gonna bring Lesnar back, capitalize on his victory over Taker, and give him a title run, doesn’t it make the most sense to go Cena/Lesnar rather than Lesnar/Anyone Else?
What I’d like to see is the WWE set up a three-headed monster: Faces (led by Cena and Reigns), Heels (led by the Authority), and Lesnar and Heyman with the belts, making the rules and pulling all the strings. I think the WWE could get a lot of mileage with the Authority manipulating Cena into working for them. It wouldn’t be a heel turn because Cena wouldn’t be happy about it, but if Trips and Steph wanted to see him the champ over a guy like Lesnar … is Cena gonna turn down a title shot? Of course not.
All in all, BATTLEGROUND was a satisfying PPV, even if it was one that didn’t do enough to make me want to tune in to RAW tomorrow.
Here’s some amazing gems you missed if you’re not following me on Twitter:
Full Card Results for BATTLEGROUND 2014
1. Adam Rose (with Layla and Summer Rae) defeated Fandango – Singles match
2. Cameron defeated Naomi – Singles match
3. The Usos (Jimmy and Jey) (c) defeated The Wyatt Family (Erick Rowan and Luke Harper) – 2-out-of-3 falls for the WWE Tag Team Championship
4. AJ Lee (c) defeated Paige – Singles match for the WWE Divas Championship
5. Rusev (with Lana) defeated Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter) by countout – Singles match
6. Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose by forfeit – Singles match
7. Chris Jericho defeated Bray Wyatt – Singles match
8. The Miz won by last eliminating Dolph Ziggler – 19-man Battle Royal for the vacant WWE Intercontinental Championship (Order of Elimination: Xavier Woods, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali, Sin Cara, R-Truth, Curtis Axel, Damien Sandow, Diego, Ryback, Titus O’Neil, Alberto Del Rio, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Cesaro, Heath Slater, Bo Dallas, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler.)
9. John Cena (c) defeated Kane, Randy Orton and Roman Reigns – Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
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