Breaking Down Battleground: Ennui The People
Much has been written about the number of pay-per-views that WWE has each year, and much of what has been written concerns whether less might be more. One look at the card for the upcoming Battleground event might place me very firmly in the camp of those favoring a PPV reduction.
Pay-per-views are supposed to be special, featuring contests that you don't get to see each and every week on a random episode of Raw or Smackdown. While probably only WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble have really held their cachet over the years, matches like Hell in the Cell and the Money in the Bank at least bring a sense of rarity to your average wrestling viewer. If Halley's Comet came around every four weeks, it likely wouldn't be as big of a news story. They can't all be special of course, but rarely have I approached an impending event with such a strong sense of malaise. Let's delve into why.
Bear in mind, of course, that as this column goes to press early Tuesday morning, there are a grand total of five matches announced for Battleground, not counting the pre-show match. Of those six matches, half of them were not even announced until Raw on Monday, those being the pre-show (Damien Sandow vs. Dolph Ziggler), the Divas title match (AJ Lee vs. Brie Bella), and the Rhodes Family vs. The Shield. Whether this was a case of indiscriminate booking or poor advance planning I cannot say, but it's simply inexcusable to have so few angles set up well that half of the matches have to be announced the week of the event. Any sense of anticipation you'd have about any of these clashes will be minor indeed.
As to those matches themselves, they illustrate perfectly the conundrum that WWE presents itself with far too quick turn-around times between some of their PPVs. Dolph Ziggler, as mentioned by myself and many others at TJR, finds himself buried firmly in the midcard. A feud with the equally ill-used MITB winner Damien Sandow might be just what the doctor ordered for both men, but it won't make the main show and has had just about no build whatsoever. While I'm always a fan of putting those two gentlemen in the ring and seeing what happens, I can't shake the feeling that a bit more could have been done to make this special. Instead, it's just sort of...there. I'll waste little time on the Divas match, as I think I've made my feelings there abundantly clear. WWE has used the real-life engagement of Brie and Daniel Bryan as an angle (finally) this week, and while obviously incorporating it into the big Bryan/Orton main event, it's had no bearing whatsoever on AJ/Brie, despite the history of those on-screen characters with AJ. It's perplexing to say the least. The momentum garnered by AJ's excellent promo weeks back has all but burned away at this point, leaving the "pick a random diva out of a hat" booking boredom personified.
The Rhodes/McMahons angle has overall been very well done, and I've really enjoyed the way it's been booked on the TV segments over the last few weeks. The ridiculousness of the premise of this payoff match, though, strains credibility even for a professional wrestling environment. Triple H and Stephanie, who have fired Cody and placed barrier after barrier in front of anyone they care to, can't can Dusty (who doesn't even appear regularly on WWE programming, by and large) without allowing the aforementioned Rhodes and fellow "ex-employee" Goldust to try and beat The Shield. In addition to once again failing to allow any members of The Shield to defend their titles (an issue temporarily remedied at Night of Champions at the eleventh hour, just to rear its ugly head again), the stipulation becomes too obvious to take seriously. It also finds another way for Trips to take over more of the show, as he's already prominently featured in the Orton/Bryan affair. This couldn't have been handled on TV? Rhodes has a compelling story and build at least, but the payoff should be Cody defeating Orton. That's how you build a star.
The rest of the card, unfortunately, is equally status quo. I can't complain about the long-simmering, twisting and turning feud between Paul Heyman and ex-Heyman Guy CM Punk (it's been brilliant all the way through), but I'm having a very hard time getting excited about Punk vs. Ryback. It's been seen and done enough that I can't imagine there are too many people that care. WWE missed a big opportunity by pairing Ryback with Heyman instead of another heel that needed some help (Wade Barrett and Big E Langston, that's your cue) when they should have avoided the whole mess by not cutting Ryback's fan support short and turning him heel in the first place. Heyman's mic work is good enough to save just about any angle, but Monday's Raw started to feel like it was really stretching to me. Ryback's not strong enough on the stick or in the ring to have a match worth getting excited about, so the only real reason to watch this one is to see if Punk finally gets his hands on Heyman. That's probably why you watched the last two PPVs. Getting tired yet?
I'm not sure what it is about World champion Alberto Del Rio, but I'm not enamored with his feud with RVD either. Already going against it is the fact that we know RVD is due for a bit of a break, but making the match hardcore rules (while certainly a welcome change from the straight-up affair) cements the clarity that the favored Mr. Monday Night will be coming up short. I'm not sure anyone cares that Del Rio's former cornerman Ricardo Rodriguez is now plying his trade for the challenger, where normally that sort of storyline would be a much bigger deal. Should Ricardo be a determining factor in this match (seems likely), then that part of it will at least make sense. I've seen nothing in the chemistry between these two men, however, to indicate that they will do much to outdo that potential surprise. No offense to either guy, as they are both talented hands. It's just once again wearing a bit thin.
Not even the WWE Title match has managed to avoid the pitfalls of this card. Much of that has to do with the way NOC was booked, with Bryan defeating Orton only to have the title held up in an odd manner the following night. Trips & Mrs. Trips then emasculated Orton into becoming a lean, mean psycho machine and it's really only impacted...The Miz. We've already seen Bryan beat Orton and knew he was more than capable of it anyway, so this is all very anticlimactic. I'm not against the "trick" ending with the evil referee (though I do miss Nick Patrick at times like these), but with all of that drama hanging over the match it really reduces the prospective potential of Bryan winning the gold again just yet. Booking Orton that weakly would further reduce what's already been a puzzling arc for him. Beating the stuffing out of a glorified interviewer in The Miz is doing nothing to stem that tide.
I don't mean to be too harsh on Battleground, as it's clearly a challenge to develop distinctive storylines in just a couple of weeks, but looking over this slate of matches it's difficult to see too many reasons to plunk down cold hard cash on Sunday. It's also unfortunately become a bit of a trend, as WWE has kept its top guys in long-term recycling for quite a while. Again, I'm certainly not averse to having extremely talented wrestlers with a great background story taking their time over the course of quite a few PPVs, but this is not that in many cases. It's also much harder to build those classic feuds in today's short-attention-span society. As quickly as we've seen what's happened, we want to know what's next. These are valid points, but there's no excuse for singlehandedly failing to provide any notable buzz going into this weekend. That is the job of the promoter, and it always has been. Just because you've put many of the rest of them out of business doesn't make you the best at it by default.
WWE is at a bit of a crossroads here. Their unquestionably biggest star is out for a while with an injury, and some of their secondary faces (Sheamus, Rey Mysterio) are as well. While I think keeping the belt away from Bryan will ultimately make the story better, he is as over as he's ever going to get and it's about time to reward the fans for their investment before any more ground is lost. The company is completely dominated by heel champions, which again devalues the point of having some of them. It's all about balance. Worse yet, authentically interesting characters like The Wyatts are barely showing up on our screens as we wait for something...anything...to happen.
We are nearing one of the more exciting times of year to be a wrestling fan, as the end of October through early April will feature Hell in a Cell, Survivor Series, TLC, Royal Rumble, The Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania. These are all big events that bring with them a certain expectation of excitement and grandeur. That's no excuse for the company not doing its due diligence to make each and every PPV a special affair, however. Failure to do so means they should follow what some of suggested and dump a couple of events into mothballs. If they aren't excited about it, I'm pretty sure viewers won't be either. This Battleground is far too peaceful for me.
* Antonio Cesaro continues to impress. I'm not sure how anyone can't be a fan of this guy at this point in time. Any wrestler who can find a way to use a giant swing and make it cool deserves serious consideration for top of class. The Real Americans team of Cesaro and Swagger continues to have uneven booking, but with the Wyatts and Shield in front of them, I'm not sure that's about to change anytime soon. Getting him a singles feud that people can actually watch on television would be appreciated. There is no doubt this gentleman is capable of great things; it's no surprise to anyone who's followed his trajectory in professional wrestling. Is it too much to ask to get him onto some PPVs already?
* Nice to see Brad Maddox actually sort of doing his job on Monday Night Raw last night. Much of previous Four Corners has been spent lamenting the horrible GM situation, and this week shall be no different. I've never been a fan of Maddox's gimmick, I admit, but even if you are this current setup can't be doing much for you. Most weeks he's an afterthought, giving off an Eric Bischoff-lite persona that's even worse than it sounds. With the McMahons in charge, there's clearly no point to even having segments with him. As to Vickie's reign on Smackdown, she's tremendous as always (give this woman credit for becoming a massive heel with little to no training whatsoever) but we've been there, done that. With all the doors opening to past wrestlers to market video games and TV shows, I find it hard to believe we can't do better. If you're going to have a GM, at least shake it up a little.
* For much of the decrying and naysaying I may do about WWE from time to time, I absolutely love everything I've seen and heard about the Performance Center. We all look fondly on the characters of yesteryear, and rightly so, but the art of shooting an excellent promo is equal to what you can do in the ring and evidence of that abounds. Just think about some of the not-so-great athletes who became legends in this business by what they said on camera. It's easy to understand why traditionalists may object to importing reality stars, athletes and such instead of the old "wrestle through the whole country and earn your way in" mantra, but I think it's misguided here. Getting marketable, polished presentations out of tomorrow's wrestlers is incredibly important. I think we all saw what a difference it made following Tough Enough or NXT. Bravo.
* Finally, one of my favorite things about wrestling, naturally, is the "shoot" promo. I suppose there are called pipe bombs now, and that's fair enough. Punk's is sort of the bar by which all else are measured, but one of my all-time favorites is when one of the best announcers in wrestling, Joey Styles, "quit" Raw. Looking back at it now, it actually foreshadowed quite a bit that came after. Joey, as we know, is still very much employed by the organization he tore up, but don't let that ruin the fun for you. If you've seen it before, take a time to savor it again. If you haven't, you'll very much enjoy it:
I miss that guy. That's all I have for this week. I'd like to thank you for reading and encourage you to leave your comments, concerns, and scrolls of healing below. I will return on Friday with another edition of the Headlines. Until then, have a great week and I'll see you next time!