Publishing this two days after the event aired, I can’t help but question if there’s any point. Then I realised, one of the reasons that I cover WWE PPVs here is to track their progress and development over time. Missing one, in a year that will have fourteen by its end, may not seem a big deal. However, I feel that not reporting this one PPV would be unfair on certain talents within. For example, Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal have been running a questionable and tiresome feud for some time now. It would be the height of injustice not to comment on their Punjabi Prison match at this year’s Battleground; it made me quite like Mahal for the first time, which is always worthy of discussion.
I was unable to tweet, or even watch, this PPV live. Since we’re a non-profit, voluntary site, the obligations of life must sometimes take precedent. I’ll be writing about that soon but, for now, I have a fair bit to say about this event. While I regret that this post will be less expansive than my traditional reports, I’ll do what I can to get my thoughts down. In essence, Battleground was a very enjoyable package. With three-hour shows, low points are inevitable. So too are the high points, which were in attendance in stride. As always, I’ll run through it all from kick-off to main event. It would be remiss of me not to mention that, like a couple of recent PPVs, I had been out of the loop with weekly SmackDown Live episodes.
The Kick-Off Show
I’ve started to question if I should even bother reporting kick-off shows, and this one doesn’t help. Occasionally, a brilliant match will pop up in the hour. That didn’t happen this time. As a result, all we were left with was the usual naff analysis, awkward appearances and a rubbish match to boot. Don’t get me wrong, Aiden English and Tye Dillinger put on some perfectly serviceable work. The problem comes in its booking. Dillinger has been (typically) held back since coming up to the main roster. Why he had to suffer this loss to English on a bloody kick-off show, without any storyline in sight, eludes me.
I can’t help but feel like this hour was a waste of my time. I’ll try out a couple more kick-offs before the year is out, but I need more than this. To illustrate my anger at certain practices, why did a promo-package for Rusev and John Cena‘s Flag Match get to interrupt the match here? People watching the Battleground kick-off are almost sure to follow through to the actual event anyway. Why advertise it, at the expense of talent? What makes it even worse is the fact that the promo-package had already been on our screens once. It was an outright insult to play it a second time, during a match. One highlight was Carmella‘s appearance on the panel. The Princess of Staten Island is far more interesting than Alexa Bliss at the moment…
The New Day (Xavier Woods & Kofi Kingston w/ Big E) vs. The Usos
(WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship)
This match has seen itself receive enormous praise. I can see why; it develops beautifully, showcases some top-level athleticism and even came packed with more impact than you would have expected. All that said, I just found this fell quite flat for me. Perhaps it’s just that I hadn’t invested myself enough. I was still getting comfortable for the three hours to come, and that may have had the effect of distracting me more than I would have liked. I’m going to leave the jury out on my feelings, since I accept that this match was probably far from flat. Funnily enough, having read other notable reports of this match, I actually wrote the word “dull” in my notes alongside more praising comments. It didn’t capture me but, considering its reception otherwise, I may have to revisit this one before the week is out.
It’s interesting to mention that, even when distracted, I thought that nobody did anything necessarily wrong in this match. I could see the quality on display, and enjoyed it greatly. As Captain Picard says, it’s possible to make no errors and still lose. That sums up how I feel about this performance. Everyone did wonderful work. You certainly couldn’t label this match as lazy or uninspired. I could see throughout that passion and skill filled its every corner. Perhaps that’s why it bored me somewhat; it was almost too smoothly done. One of the more positive things I can say is how heavy-hitting this one was. You wouldn’t have expected it from the slighter contingent of The New Day.
As with every main-roster Nakamura match so far, this should have been much more than it was. It didn’t have much behind it going into Battleground either, since neither competitors are known for mic abilities. This left us with poor storytelling, which shouldn’t have been a problem. Nakamura is good enough to break those shackles, and Corbin is very seriously getting there. Unfortunately, the ring-work matched the narrative. Corbin’s speed, and impact, is always impressive, but he didn’t do nearly enough with it to maintain much interest. As for Nakamura, he got off his creative-assigned moves of doom and little more. It’s a real shame to see, especially since I doubt that Nakamura will ever be given the space to be himself that he really requires. It all ended when he got hit in the knackermuras in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it DQ. Possibly the lowest point of Battleground this year.
Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Tamina vs. Lana
(Fatal 5-Way Elimination)
I’ve been championing, for the entire year now, the female athletes of WWE over the males. I know I’m not the only one. Why, then, are they so often thrown into messy clusterfuck matches where they never get the chance to show their true mettle? Almost every PPV of 2017 has followed this practice, probably because the bookers are still uncomfortable having more than one women’s match on the card. Therefore, since they’re all so good and deserve the showcase, the women end up in the muddy waters of 5-ways and other stupid excuses to have them all fight at once.
They’ve been able to make these stipulations work for them in the past, but they just couldn’t get their hands around it this time. That’s not to say that they didn’t perform very well, because they did. It’s just that, with a limited time-slot and little opportunity to practice one-on-one psychology, it didn’t hit any particularly memorable notes. Natalya and Charlotte were on fire, and it seems like Lana can keep her squealing mouth shut a little more. What we should have seen was a much more expanded bout when it came down to Natalya and Charlotte on their own. Instead, it just petered out and ended in a whimper. Sad.
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles
(WWE United States Championship)
Every PPV, one match takes a classic approach that puts itself head and shoulders above the rest of the card. One thing I’ll give WWE credit for at the moment is their spanning of the wrestling “genres”. There are a lot of different flavours to wrestling, and you have to admit that WWE do provide a varied buffet. This is a tussle that would make Jim Cornette, and fans of more old school wrestling, proud. Owens and Styles are two of the finest ring-workers on the roster at the moment, and their work together is usually a beauty to behold. They take their craft seriously, and approach it with no-nonsense aplomb.
The only thing that took away from this segment of pure wrestling was its commentary. The team were doing a magnificently bad job here, with Tom Phillips being so out of his depth that it was painful. Add his many slips of the tongue across the whole PPV to the slate and I’m not sure I ever want to see this poor man’s Michael Cole again. It doesn’t help that I find John “Bradshaw” Layfield unlistenable since his bullying of Mauro Ranallo came to light. Criticism on the terrible commentary aside, this bout had everything that I like about wrestling presented exquisitely. An exciting thought for me is, I believe they’re capable of even better too.
Unless you’re a Trump supporting, alt-right golem of sickeningly unquestioning patriotism, you’re probably more than tired of WWE’s USA vs. The World obsession. In fact, for those old enough to remember, it was an unconscionable bore when Yokozuna was stomach-butting up against Lex Luger over twenty years ago. Just imagine how tedious the whole thing is now, to a fan who’s been watching this shite most of their life (like me). So, let’s just take it as read that the xenophobia of this match is disgusting and move on.
When you put the politics aside, I find myself seduced by this Flag Match. Other reports have labelled it as a low point, but I thought both Cena and Rusev put on compelling performances. Cena didn’t do much more than his usual moves, but he imbued enough extra flair for me to want to give him credit. Rusev, on the other hand, looked fantastic from start to finish. I never “got” Rusev until this match but, with a trimmer look in-tow, I think I see the appeal. I didn’t expect tables, or the physicality both athletes brought in. Those pleasant surprises were enough to keep me hooked and engaged, despite some belaboured pacing. Yet, by the time Cena got his obvious victory, I couldn’t help a familiar sigh at the underlying racism of the whole thing.
Side note: Chants of “ECW” were annoying in the 90’s and they’re even more annoying now. Grow up.
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis (w/ Maria Kanellis)
After making a bit of a tit of myself a couple PPVs ago, by not knowing Mike or Maria Kanellis, I’ve used it as an opportunity to deepen my knowledge. After some extensive research, I’m now far more aware of the pair, their abilities and their work within wrestling. I have determined, quite unequivocally, that I love them. They’re as hilarious as they are talented, and I’m very excited to see them in the mix. I can see them being under-utilised and undeveloped, but that may just be par for WWE’s course. After all, they are being thrown into what is, essentially, filler with Sami Zayn.
Every PPV has filler, and it does regularly directly precede the main event, for pacing reasons. I usually can’t be doing with these, and can’t help but feel sorry for the participants being treated like time-wasting marionettes. This match, in its booking and surrounding atmosphere, stank strongly of filler. In practice, it was filler at its very finest. If this is the face of clock-watching for the main event, I don’t mind a shorter placeholder match. Both participants were magnetic, and ready for a barnstorming handful of minutes. These two ex-Ring of Honour alumni are certainly movesmiths, making some of the PPV’s best bumps look gorgeously effortless. I hope that, off the back of this, they’ll earn a deeper narrative. They won’t.
Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton
(Punjabi Prison for the WWE Championship)
This is the match that sold me on Mahal. I’m not even sure I can give a satisfying explanation as to why, because it’s not like he pulled out any more athleticism than he usually does. Something about it made my cynicism ebb away, and I found myself won over to his look. He’s not without the ability to put on a match, though it’s clear that this was carried by Orton. Their feud has been a source of great irritation to me recently, but the entire spectacle of the Punjabi Prison brought the mark out in me.
The structure is a fun one, if completely overblown and incomprehensible for the live audience. Surprisingly enough, I felt it was utilised well too. I’ve read a lot of disappointment with the way that the doors of the inner structure were misused, but I can get past that. All things considered, both Mahal and Orton got to it with admirable enthusiasm. I had pegged the structure as being nothing more than window dressing, but it came into things far more in ways I found entertaining.
I cringed a little when the Singh brothers revealed themselves, but they truly pulled out all the stops in terms of interference. They took a lovely amount of punishment, and Samir’s bump onto the announce table was icing on the cake. When it comes to the appearance of The Great Khali, I would have preferred a better finish. I’ve never been a fan of Khali, and I think his alliance with Mahal is yet another racist brushstroke from a company who sees countries like football teams. The match itself is a unique entity that deserves a watch, but you might as well turn it off when Khali comes in and ruins it.
While I feel enormously let down by the booking of Nakamura and the women, I believe Battleground to be one of the better overall packages of the year so far. It was a very eclectic card, which was one of its greatest strengths. Though it may not have been so varied in its stipulations, the styles on display were impressively disparate. The main event was a classic WWE match, while the clash between Styles and Owens was more traditional in approach. Conversely, we had some great tag team work, good action from the female division and even some breakneck speed from Zayn and Kanellis. That soap opera style got a look-in with Breezango, a segment that was funny but not deserving of much mention.
There was more that was pleasantly surprising about Battleground than annoyingly disappointing. With only sparse dips, most of the show held my interest and rewarded it. I had plenty of energy left for multiple smiles by the time the main event swung around. This is especially strange considering my dislike for Mahal as champion, and Orton’s attempts to recapture the WWE Championship. It’s saying something that I was in a good enough mood by its end to want to watch Talking Smack. My normal practice is to fall, drained, onto my waiting bed and slip into a temporary coma. After all, PPVs conclude at four AM for us British fans. I wanted more, but I’m sure that WWE will drop many of its most promising balls as they keep trying to throw new ones in.