Monday 20 July 2015

WWE Battleground 2015 review

Battleground was, amongst other things, a indication of Randy Orton's standing in WWE in 2015. This is a man who just under two years ago was positioned as the company's top heel and on-screen undisputed top star. Since splitting with his benefactors The Authority last year he's had an underwhelming feud with Seth Rollins and nothing else. After playing a relatively minor part at Money in the Bank this show saw him relegated to a thoroughly mid-card outing against Sheamus, and in his home town no less.

It's peculiar how the standing of someone like Orton can fluctuate so drastically. He's been on the roster for well over a decade now and despite this, and the fact that he's a favourite of the McMahons and is amongst the best wrestlers on the roster (when he's motivated) he frequently finds himself dropping down to programmes such as this, his momentum and focus drained. It's impossible to imagine this happening to John Cena, who is a close parallel to Orton in terms of years served and standing on the backstage pecking order.

But hey, this is a company that finds it a struggle to sustain a push for pretty much everyone. That's why Bad News Barrett defeated R-Truth on the pre-show (in a match that should make it clear why I don't write about pre-shows) despite having won the allegedly star-making King of the Ring tournament in April and Adrian Neville, the man who debuted to much fanfare the night after WrestleMania and who we're supposed to believe has been pegged as a future headliner, was nowhere to be seen on this show. For that matter it's why the Divas division which was given some fresh talent in a high profile and well received segment on RAW just six days earlier wasn't considered important enough to have its match announced in advance for this show.

Orty won his opening match against Shaymo with an RKO (outta nowhere!), an interesting outcome with Sheamus being the Money in the Bank holder but not exactly massively surprising. It was a pretty enjoyable match for the most part but we didn't see anything special. It would probably have been improved by losing a couple of minutes, to be honest.

After a recap of the main roster debuts of Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks we were shown Stephanie McMahon chatting to Jojo backstage. After pandering to the St Louis fans (to make it clear she was a face at this point) she announced that there would be a triple threat later in the night with a representative of each Divas team involved.

New Day followed that with some chatting of their own, only they did it on their way to the ring for their tag title match. They said they'd been tested for five weeks (prompting a nice call-back to Big E's obsession with the number five that he had in NXT) but they hadn't lost their way. They ended by saying they deserved to win and that they'd defeat the Prime Time Players. It was a great promo, mostly because they're such smug idiots. Big E in particular was great (again).

The more prominent New Day combo of Kofi Kingston and Big E represented the team in the match. It makes sense that they get to wrestle the most because they're the more capable members of the group and it frees Xavier Woods up to ran around the ring being a modern day Bill Alfonso. He came out with such gems as "Worst. Leg drop. Ever" after Titus leg dropped Big E, "What happened to you?" after Darren Young had been launched out of the ring by Big E, and "There it is again: triceps meat!"

The match followed the standard WWE pattern: the heels isolated D-Young and worked him over in the corner. After several minutes Young tagged out to Titus, who smashed his way through Kingston and Big E. The crowd were really into Titus at that point, which just goes to show that if guys are booked to their strengths people will react.

After being distracted by Woods Titus tagged back out. Young immediately hit a crisp overhead belly-to-belly on Kingston, walloped Big E with a rolling elbow, and back dropped Woods on the ring apron. Back in the ring he was caught with a spin kick by Kofi and set up for the Big Ending by Big E. He wriggled out of that, avoided a Trouble in Paradise, and hit the one-time 'Wildcat' with a gutbuster. Titus was then tagged back in to hit the match-winning Clash of the Titus.

It was nice to see the Prime Time Players turn in another strong performance after years of being considers just another team. They've shown they have something to offer the division. It's just a shame they've not had the chance to work with Cesaro and Kiss, Harper and Rowan and the Usos, all three teams being afflicted by injuries. We do have a PTPs versus Lucha Dragons match to look forward to though. That could be interesting.

Backstage Paige talked about how she'd been wanting change for the Divas division for months and she's psyched to have Charlotte and Becky Lynch helping her. Lynch said they should tear the division down and rebuild the entire thing. Charlotte said they'd do with flair. I'd like weak, obvious puns to become her new gimmick.

Match three was Roman Reigns versus Bray Wyatt. One of the most interesting thing about the match was the video package that explained why it was happening. Mostly because it highlighted how weird the rivalry between the two is. Wyatt started off by talking about how it should have been him that won Money in the Bank, which made sense because wrestlers should want to win that as it gives them a world title match with a practically guaranteed victory. That he'd be jealous of Reigns being in the match and cost him the win made sense. What didn't make sense was that the feud quickly degenerated into mid-90's level Undertaker-esque mind games, complete with doppelgangers, promos about loved ones, and the apparent ability to teleport.

I like the Wyatt character and I'm not averse to Reigns as a top guy but none of this has done either man any favours.

Do you care? Do I? Who even knows anymore...
The match was slow and featured little to hold attention. Reigns started off by lumping Wyatt but had the tables turned on him with a punch to the mouth from the outside. From there 'The Eater of Worlds' controlled a brawl around ringside for several minutes, the highlight of which was him screeching with laughter at the Spanish announce team. Reigns would eventually make a comeback after being trapped in a sleeper for what felt like five minutes, battering 'The New Face of Fear' with right hands, clotheslines and other assorted basic power moves.

Reigns went for the Drive-By (the awful name for his running drop kick) but got caught with a clothesline by Wyatt. After giving Reigns a senton on the outside Wyatt rolled Reigns back into the ring and continued to work him over. Reigns would fight back, allowing the two to exchange signature moves and finishers in what was the hottest portion of the match and should have been the finishing sequence. Instead they had Wyatt kick out of a Superman punch, counter a spear with a kick to the face, and floor Reigns with a right hand for a two count before both men took a breather and the match continued.

The actual finish saw a lad in a hoodie jump the barrier and shove Reigns into a ring post as he was throwing chairs into the ring. Wyatt then hit him with Sister Abigail in the ring and pinned him. The hooded lad then joined Wyatt and revealed himself as Luke Harper. While run-in finishes are never ideal I was okay with this one. The Wyatt Family should never have been broken up. Putting them back together is the most sensible thing that could have been done.

After a SummerSlam hype video and a shot of the St Louis Cardinals (a team I care so little about I can't even be bothered to Google what they play) we got a segment of Jojo interviewing Beautiful and Dangerous (geddit? Because it spells BAD!) backstage. Jojo asked if they'd had trouble picking a representative for the triple threat. Naomi went the basic heel route and asked if Jojo was implying BAD were trouble. She then told us the strengths of each member: Tamina's the muscle, Naomi's the razzle and the dazzle (whatever that's supposed to mean), and Sasha's the NXT women's champion, which was presumably Naomi's backhanded way of admitting Banks is the best wrestler of the trio (because she is). Banks basically said she'd show what she was all about in the match. The three then wandered off and went straight into their entrance.

Your brand new Divas division.
Banks and Charlotte represented their teams. Nikki Bella teased that she'd wrestle for Team Bella before telling the crowd "Not tonight" and leaving the ring. It would be Brie that wrestled for the Bellas. In my opinion Alicia Fox would have been the best choice form that team in terms of wrestling ability. I suspect WWE wanted an actual Bella in the match though.

The match was essentially another Charlotte versus Sasha Banks match with Brie interfering every so often. The NXT girls were pleasingly over. The audience reacted strongly to Charlotte's Flair mannerisms and broke into a "Like a boss!" chant when Banks was in control. The match got over ten minutes and held the crowd's attention with solid wrestling work (mostly between Charlotte and Banks), high spots (mostly in the form of dives out of the ring), and by allowing everyone involved (including those at ringside) to get across something of their character. Charlotte won with the figure eight leg lock on Brie after Brie had broken up a Bank Statement on Charlotte.

The penultimate match (not the semi-event slot, as you'll read below) was Kevin Owens versus John Cena for Cena's United States championship. Owens was the heavy favourite with the live crowd, just as he had been in the previous two meetings. Both lads put on a great match, just as they had in their previous two meetings. Highlights included: Owens catching Cena as he attemptd a cross body block and giving him a version of the World's Strongest Slam; Owens rolling out of the way of the Five Knuckle Shuffle setup and luring Cena into position for a Swanton bomb, only to be met with knees; Owens stealing the Five Knuckle Shuffle for himself; Owens reversing the springboard Stunner into a German suplex; Owens' second rope fisherman buster; Cena reversing the pop-up power bomb into a hurricanrana; Owens hitting an AA and applying the STF; and Owens taking a springboard Stunner only to stay on his feet and floor the champ with a lariat.

Even though he's turning out great matches Cena's
still doing sloppy applications of the STF.
The finishing sequence saw Cena hit an Attitude Adjustment from the second rope. Despite it being the third of the match overall and WWE matches very, very rarely seeing someone kick out of a third finisher Owens kicked out. Cena sold absolute disbelief as Cole emphasised he'd not seen him looked so stunned since he lost to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. Owens was deadweight as Cena pulled him up but managed to sneak in a small package for a very believable two count. Cena then applied the STF, forcing Owens to tap out.

That Owens lost was disappointing. But he was kept strong in defeat, fighting against the STF and being allowed to kick out of the AA three times. It verges on amazing that Cena has been this good in 2015. It just shows that if he feels he has something to prove against someone he'll work hard to produce a cracking match. That's three match of the year contenders he's had with Owens now, in addition to the various TV matches he's had with Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose and others. I wouldn't mind Owens v Cena IV at SummerSlam, even though this was framed as the final entry in their series.

Miz wandered out to the ring after that, just as Cole and company were talking about Ryback being pulled from his scheduled title defence due to a staph infection. 'The Awesome One' ran down 'The Big Guy' for getting injured and depriving him of his championship victory. He proclaimed himself the toughest man in the building and urged Big Show to retire, prompting 'The World's Largest Athlete' to waddle out to the ring. Miz tried sweet talking him but got a KO punch for his trouble. The audience enjoyed that. I was just happy that the segment was kept short.

Which just left the WWE world championship match, Seth Rollins defending against Brock Lesnar. Everything immediately before the match, the hype video, the entrances, was excellent, perfectly building anticipation for the big fight. At the bell Lesnar rushed Rollins into a corner and hit him with shoulder tackles. Rollins managed to slip away and left the ring. 'The Pain' followed him and got caught with punches as he rolled back in. He shrugged those off and tried a suplex. Rollins clenched the ropes and got in some well-placed kicks on the challenger. He headed to the top rope and launched himself off, hoping to daze the big man.

Suplex city. Population; Seth Rollins.
It didn't work. He got caught. And then the suplexes began. Rollins absorbed five German suplexes before he rolled outside the ring, grabbed the title belt ad tried to leave through the crowd. Lesnar leapt out of the ring, launched himself over the crowd barrier and through Rollins back into the ring.

Rollins took another German suplex and some elbow strikes before reversing a suplex and wobbling Lesnar with a super kick and some strikes of his won, all aimed at the hamstring. Lesnar was taken down to his knees and took four super kicks as he staggered back up. The champ tried for a Pedigree but Lesnar turned it into an F5 attempt.

Rollins escaped that and kneed 'The Beast' out of the ring, following him out with a suicide dive. He returned to the ring to go for a second but Lesnar slipped in after him and met him with a belly-to-belly suplex off the ropes, Rollins' seventh suplex overall. Lesnar hit five more German suplexes on Rollins. Rollins responded by slapping Lesnar. Lesnar smirked and gave Rollins (unsurprisingly) another German suplex.

After that Lesnar scooped Rollins up and blasted him with an F5. The count went as far as two before the lights cut out and a gong sounded.

Yes, he first ever singles match between Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins was interrupted by the return of the fifty-year-old Undertaker.

To his credit Lesnar sold the appearance like The Undertaker was the scariest sight he'd ever seen. That was the best approach to take but considering his standing within the company there was no guarantee he'd do it. He had, after all, beaten 'The Dead Man' with relative ease in their last encounter a year and a half earlier and been on a tear ever since. If anyone on the roster could justifiably stare down 'Taker and treat him like a washed up has-been it was Lesnar. Not doing so retained the air of credibility that's needed for whatever Undertaer does next.

Still over after all these years.
Based on what we see next that seems like a rematch with Lesnar at SummerSlam. 'Taker went for a choke slam. Lesnar escaped and went for an F5. Undertaker escaped that, kicked Lesnar low, and gave him both a choke slam and a Tombstone piledriver. He went to leave but returned to hit a second Tombstone when Lesnar dragged himself up to his feet. The response was wild, but a few boos stood out amongst the pro-Undertaker cheers and chants.

The show went off the air with Undertaker marching backstage and Heyman tending to Brock Lesnar in the ring. The fate of Seth Rollins was left unknown.

As a show Battleground was pretty good, on the whole. The main event was great and although it went to a non-finish it did so for the right reasons and provided something that satisfied in place of a hot match. Owens v Cena III was every bit as good as their previous two encounters, the Divas were finally presented as a serious division again on pay-per-view, and the tag titles were attached to another enjoyable match. There were less  good additions like Orton v Sheamus and Wyatt v Reigns but they were never actively bad. It stopped short of being a top notch show but it was a highly enjoyable couple of hours.


Results summary:
Randy Orton defeated Sheamus
The Prime Time Players defeated New Day to retain the tag team championship
Bray Wyatt defeated Roman Reigns
Charlotte defeated Brie Bella and Sasha Banks
John Cena defeated Kevin Owens to retain the United States championship
Brock Lesnar v Seth Rollins went to a non-finish when The Undertaker returned and attacked Lesnar

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