WWE Battleground had the promise of some major happenings, from our first real look at the simmering feud that has overtaken the summer in former Shield brethren Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to the crowning of a new Intercontinental champion to the fatal four-way dance that had the potential to unseat John Cena heading into SummerSlam. As I mentioned in this space last week, World Wrestling Entertainment was coming off a solid showing of Monday Night Raw in my view and had offered a couple of more-solid-than-usual midcard feuds giving us the glimmer of opportunity that this PPV would be more than just a hitching post on the road to bigger and better things. With both Battleground and last night's Raw firmly in the rearview, did they succeed in sating our palates or did their appetizers leave us wanting much, much more? There's only one way to find out, and that's to chalk up the night's winners and losers. Let's dig in, shall we?
Battle Tested: Tag Team Title Match
You've only needed to pay marginal attention to what's been going on in the WWE lately to note the excellent matches that have formed the series of the tag champion Usos versus their main rivals, the always oddly endearing Wyatt Family. The two teams put forth what I consider to be the match of the evening at WWE's last pay-per-view, Money In the Bank, and with not much else on the horizon capable of holding our attention, the best the boys at Titan Tower could do this time around is to add the ever-popular 2 out of 3 falls stipulation. While grizzled wrestling veterans will no doubt remain unsurprised upon discovering that it was the heel unit which garnered the first fall (as ever), the tempo of this match in the stretch run was what set it apart from their previous incarnations and actually made viewers want to see another installment.
Having exchanged one fall a piece, the culmination of the opener was a series of close counts for both sides that seemed to leave the competitors and their respective fans agape on many occasions. I've been a stalwart supporter of the work of Luke Harper, and he was dynamite again Sunday, seemingly leading an invisible demonic orchestra and actually cracking a sick smile during some of the more thrilling sequences. I fully profess to being fooled more than once as to the ending of the match, as both teams could have won it numerous times before the Usos finally retained. Of particular note was the superplex spot with Erick Rowan that brought the house (and nearly the ring) down. The Usos performed admirably against foes by now quite familiar, and should this be the swan song of the feud it's a coda well worth the wait. Sadly, this match being up first meant there was only one way to go...
Ground Chuck: Wyatt Win-Loss Record
Given the circumstances of the last match, I won't be too bitter about the WWE's stubborn refusal to allow the tag belts to adorn the waist of our favorite hillbilly cult members, even for a brief spell. I've mentioned before that the Wyatts don't need the glitzy gold for their gimmick to work, which certainly makes it catnip to the matchmakers in Connecticut. That said, there is such a thing as booking some of your best talent to lose a bit too much, and I'm of a mind that Trips and company are sidling that fine line to such a degree as to suffocate it. Harper and Rowan have looked very solid in their contests with the Usos, but nonetheless have suffered some significant tarnish to their initial presentation as world beaters. While it has afforded the opportunity for them to garner their own theme song (jury's still out on that one, but it's progress) and a bit more character development other than Bray's Bouncers, there's still plenty to do. You can't be that fearsome when you're consistently coming up short.
As to their fearless leader, it was rather clear that Bray was going to be challenged to come out on top in his lengthy feud with John Cena. Similarly, we couldn't quite feign shock and awe when the bearded one did NOT follow the buzzards to the belt at the top of the ladder last month. Chris Jericho's return afforded the WWE the perfect opportunity to match him against a big talker with not much to lose for a few months to keep the big man busy while other things sorted themselves out at the top of the card. It couldn't come at a better time, really, since the Bray backlash has begun to some degree: these past few weeks have marked the first time I've heard the natives growing audibly restless during the spontaneous verbal inundation that has become Bray's trademark. While having Y2J pin Wyatt allows for the logical rematch in a few weeks (which the Eater of Worlds will no doubt emerge victorious from), it must be said that the Wyatt clan has been striking out on a regular basis on PPVs of late. As entertaining as his character undeniably is, it will take more than a locker room beatdown to inspire us.
Battle Tested: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose has been riding one hell of a hot streak since the Shield imploded, and that's more than a bit surprising since he's overshadowed figuratively and literally by the fan favorite Roman Reigns. The WWE has smartly used that fervor to present Ambrose as the righteous hero, who will go through any obstacle placed in front of him to prevent the Authority's anointed one, Seth Rollins, from gaining any type of tactical advantage, briefcase be damned. While not a new ploy (Sandow v. Stardust, anyone?) it's quite an effective one. Despite the fact that I don't as a rule cotton to advertised matches not taking place for the sake of an angle, the presentation of it worked with Ambrose's unhinged character and gave him more odds to rise up against in his quest to avenge himself against Rollins. When this match does happen at SummerSlam, the roof will blow off the place. Well, it's already off, but you get the idea. These goals were furthered last night, as Cesaro pledged his allegiance to HHH and friends (in an odd sequence, really, but let's run with it) and put on one hell of a tilt with Ambrose. This guy is red hot right now, and that's a good thing for all involved.
Ground Chuck: Seth Rollins
Well, except for this guy, perhaps. Rollins spent the last few weeks exhorting Triple H to allow Ambrose to compete against him so that they could do something about him once and for all, and for good reason. Certainly the boss could manipulate things enough to put Dean in a compromising and untenable position, right? Not so much. Instead, he gets kicked out of the building by the world's most incompetent security staff just long enough to show up and prevent Rollins from doing anything. Rollins being a chickenshit heel is fine, down to the escort by what appeared to be the Basham brothers after seventy Big Macs, but it failed to launch the "Plan B" touted by Trips heading into Battleground. It was quite a reach to even pretend that Rollins would be cashing in after the main event due to him being in a tough match of his own anyway, but the angle was pretty much dumped like Seth's luggage as he narrowly escaped in his rental car. When he didn't bother to stick around for the title match, neither did my remaining interest. From the graphic proclaiming him as "Money in the Back" winner to being effectively bearhugged by the diminutive Charles Robinson, it was not a banner evening.
Battle Tested: Rusev/Swagger
It's true that Rusev's shtick is more than a little reminiscent of Nikolai Volkoff, but who's counting? Thus far, the WWE has presented him pretty well and made some good decisions as to who to match the Bulgarian Brute up against. That streak continued at Battleground, as what has become a rather entertaining midcard feud reached its completion with Rusev locking up against the suddenly-cheered Jack Swagger. The voices behind the men, Zeb Colter and Lana, have carried the mail here, and that continued Sunday, with both spouting off their usual banter before things got underway. Once that occurred, though, the two fought a compelling and realistic match, with Swagger teasing the Patriot Lock more than once and both men getting some solid shots in. By the time the action spilled to the outside, it was semi-predictable that a countout would occur, which is exactly what happened as Rusev propelled Swags into the ringpost in an oddly realistic way which resulted in the medical team being brought out to attend to the Real All American American. That allowed Lana to heel it up royally, encouraging Rusev to continue the assault despite the best efforts of the familiar faces of the WWE personnel. That technique is exactly what they need to do to keep Rusev's act fresh enough.
Ground Chuck: Divas, Divas, Div-uhs
I'm not sure what to say about the state of affairs here that I haven't said already, but I'll try. I appreciate World Wrestling Entertainment's numerous attempts to get us interested in the battle of the former Funkadactyls, but it's not working. Their tiff on the preshow was, I suppose, the standard preshow fare, but seemed wasted even still. The big match of Battleground was the truly odd feud between Champion AJ Lee and challenger Paige, and as has been the case with so many Divas matches lately, it was oddly paced and far from compelling. AJ won the match and Paige appeared fine with that result, at least until Monday when she promptly blindsided AJ and finally unleashed some brutality after giving us not much personality at all for a few months. I'm all for seeing Paige's evil side, and AJ as a face champ is fine too, I suppose, but they need to give her a better tagline than "I told you this is my house!" It's a bit too Downton Abbeyish for me. Meanwhile, if you're excited about what the future holds, you'll be happy to know that Emma is fresh from the fingerprinting and appeared (twice!) on last night's show, once during the Flo Rida promo and another during the ill-fated tag match featuring Lee & Paige. No word on if Flo's bling was still accounted for after the Emma embrace.
Battle Tested: Dolph Ziggler
Hey, remember Dolph? He's the guy that was champion for a minute and then was seemingly blackballed for sustaining a concussion. Mind you, this was after trying to get over for years using a male cheerleader gimmick and then walking around introducing himself to everyone. (Though that seems to be working just fine for Paul Heyman, but I digress.) Ziggler is a perennial crowd favorite who found himself entered in the battle royal to determine who would be claiming the vacated I-C title with Bad News Barrett on the mend. It hardly seems fair that a guy who had to win a tournament gets replaced by the winner of a battle royal, but such is life in the squared circle I suppose. With Rob Van Dam mysteriously absent (we learned later that it was due to injury, rather than incompetence, always a plus!) Ziggler was sure to receive the lion's share of the fanfare once the bell rung.
Ziggler lived up to the hype, according himself well during the always-difficult affair of a match where there is just about always tons of stuff going on, and managed to both continue his trend of sick moves that appear to be within a breadth of putting him right back on the DL and actually eliminating battle royal favorite and menacingly vanilla Sheamus, current U.S. champion, in the shocker of the match. Unfortunately for Ziggler, Miz had been lying in wait for pretty much the whole match and promptly dumped the former Spirit Squadder right out of there to claim the gold for himself. While it would have been epic for Ziggler to win, he was booked extremely well in the match and followed that up with an actual victory over the new I-C champ on last night's Raw. It's high time for Dolph to get some spotlight for himself. He's worked his ass off and he deserves another opportunity to get it done. Battleground was a very good start.
Ground Chuck: Everything Else About the Battle Royal
It's a shame, because I enjoy a good battle royal, but they truly end up being overdone very quickly. It seems like not so very long ago that Cesaro was having his own big moment during the WrestleMania Andre the Giant memorial, and since then there's been at least two more on various WWE programs. While I don't really harbor any ill will towards the decision to put the belt on the Miz (with Barrett out, there's a void for an arrogant champion who's been in at least one dreadful movie) the "strategy" employed by the eventual winner was stuff we've seen before and done way better. The old "hiding on the floor" spot? I left it right next to the cups and balls magic trick. Even more absurdly, the camera folks were apparently not given the memo to do their level best to avoid showing Miz on the floor every two minutes or so during other eliminations. Crawl under the ring maybe? Unless this was done intentionally, it was extremely poor production from a company that's far better than that.
As the match progressed, the announcers "forgot" that Miz was even in the match, a ruse which allowed for them to be as shocked as we weren't that he could bumrush the ring and toss Ziggler. My guess would be a few barked headset commands allowed a bit of recovery as JBL feigned that he knew it all along, but given the frequency of times we saw Miz laying outside patiently awaiting his opportunity, this was more dense than usual, even for an announcing crew boasting the mental wattage of Jerry Lawler. It's odd enough that the rather hasty decision was made to hand Mr. Awesome some gold after being a punching bag for Jericho the last few weeks, but his "don't hit me in the face" routine went out with Rick Martel vs. Shawn Michaels. We've got a ways to go to make this latest incarnation effective enough to merit the time. This belt should be a big deal.
Ground Chuck: 4-Way Dance
It's not just that John Cena won, because we knew that. And we really knew it way before even the SummerSlam poster featuring Cena vs. Lesnar was leaked, because let's face it, what else are the WWE folks going to do? There appeared to be the makings of a groundswell movement to get Roman Reigns elevated to the point of what would amount to a massive upset, but I don't fault the WWE for not pulling that trigger just yet. Reigns has improved on the mic and each match he's in seems to be better than the last, but he's not ready and there is absolutely no reason to rush just for the sake of rushing. The hard part of getting him very over is done, and far sooner than I would have thought. Now all that remains is to harness that emotion and intensity and turn it into the stuff of building a legend. A feud with Randy Orton will go a long way toward accomplishing that, and that match has the "big fight" feel that Reigns needs to keep him more than relevant while other issues play themselves out.
My major issue with this match was how much of an afterthought it seemed to be, almost as if the WWE had heard the catcalls of the fanbase and decided "You know what, we agree, let's just do up the usual and call it a night." Kane's participation in the match as Randy's backup enabled for the moment when heads would rear and facades would drop, but he had no shot at the belt and that was evident in the execution. Reigns makes for a great story, naturally, but with Lesnar returning you can toss that out as well. There are plenty of ways you could book this that would still result in Cena walking away with the belt, but a more creative one would have been Reigns spearing Orton into oblivion and Cena inadvertently stealing the pin. That could have left some prickly unresolved issues while still allowing the bigger story to be told. Instead, we got the standard "everybody hits their finisher and Cena triumphs" storyline that has plagued his championship reigns (no pun intended) of late. While the outcome was not a shock by any means, the ho-hum approach rankled.
Ground Chuck: 24/7 Authority
Anytime Stephanie and Trips want to plan their next vacation, that's just fine with me. Last night's Raw made me nauseously reminiscent of the Helmsley marriage angle, where he abducted Steph from her intended wedding and turned her against her family and into a super-heel. That left Raw to be a series of them exercising their power and being largely irritating. Ditto now, where more time was spent on the duo and their machinations just for a payoff everyone knew was coming than anything actually going on in the ring itself. I'm all for a Bella vs. Stephanie match, if only to keep Daniel Bryan in the sightlines, but it's really not a big enough deal that it's worth this kind of labor.
I will give a semi shoutout to Joey Mercury, who proved a comically competent henchman for Trips himself, and did better work in his segment than plenty of his interview segments with MNM. As much as I love the occasional Jamie Noble or Hugh Morrus sighting, I'm starting to think Mercury should run Raw one of these evenings. It can't go any worse. We'd at least be spared the hybrid jokes and Twitter bashing. Probably.
So there you have it, ladies and gents, one writer's opinion on the heroes and goats of the day. I admit some definite disappointment in this event after MITB, but one can only ruminate that perhaps things won't get terribly fascinating until those 6-month Network subscriptions come a calling. That's a risky proposition indeed in a lightning-quick attention span society. Will Brock's return be enough to correct said slide? That's a story for another day.
Feel free to leave your highs and lows in the space below.