The background of Battleground gives us an exciting proposition for this event: the return of the Brand Split to WWE. Held less than a week after the roster draft, Battleground offers us the chance to see the end of long-running feuds, decisive matches regarding the future destination of championships and the presumable final matches of some factions and tag-teams.
Charlotte & Dana Brooke vs. Sasha Banks & Mystery Partner
The show opens with a tag match featuring the WWE Women's Champion Charlotte and Dana Brooke against title contender 'The Boss' Sasha Banks with a mystery partner, continuing Banks' and Charlotte's ongoing rivalry. The overwhelming sense of anticipation for this bout however lay in the unknown competitor, so when the music of the un-drafted, former NXT Women's Champion Bayley hit, the pop from the crowd was enormous!
The match itself seemed like an opportunity to advance the notable feud and introduce Bayley to the wider WWE Universe rather than any great technical exposition. The competitors, familiar with their time together in NXT, faced each other in turn, but other than Dana Brooke breaking up the first Bank Statement on Charlotte by nefarious means, there was little action of consequence, and the Sasha's second attempt at her submission finisher was successful. A great pop to open the show, it's just a shame the match wasn't to the same level.
The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods) vs. The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan & Braun Strowman)
The second match is a non-title, 6-man tag match between the champions New Day and the Wyatt Family, and is notable as the probable end to their feud as the draft has split the Wyatts. We're shown footage of their 'Compound' match, which has left Xavier Woods without his normal effervescent positivity. In fact, the opening of the match leaves no doubt that Woods is petrified as he freezes into inaction.
Kofi Kingston and Big E do their best to work around the gradually recovering Xavier, that is until a huge spear from Big E leaves Woods alone in the ring with Bray Wyatt. In the creepy way that only Bray can achieve, he sends him back to square one by dropping into his spider walk and hitting the Sister Abigail's Kiss. An adequate match, but it could have been so much better.
Rusev (w/Lana) vs. Zack Ryder – WWE US Championship
Our third match is for the US Title, currently in the possession of RAW's recently-married Rusev, ably and personally announced his by wife Lana, against Smackdown Live's perennial underdog Zack Ryder who parades his red-white-and-blue ring attire with the obvious patriotic pomp.
Rusev grapples Ryder on the mat in the early stages, applying his superior upper-body strength to gain dominance, whilst Ryder mainly counters with resounding strikes, kicks and knees until he finally manages a Broski Boot on the second attempt. Ringside, the Bulgarian Brute leaves Long Island Iced Z painfully dropped across the barrier, only to get a superb dropkick to the face in return. A Rough Ryder leaves Rusev prone but able to counter the follow up Elbrodrop.
The Accolade is inevitable though, and following a kick to Zack's head Rusev locks it on, however he needs to fully snap it back to make the resilient Ryder tap out and keep the title on RAW. Incensed, the Bulgarian refuses to release the hold until Mojo Rawley (Ryder's tag partner) hypes down to the ring to stare him out.
Seth Rollins is backstage with Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon and is bullishly ebullient about his chances of bringing the WWE Championship to RAW. This is followed by highlights of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn's feud throughout NXT and the main roster to bring us up to speed for the next match.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
These two have a long and storied history together, and even casual fans probably know by now that a match between them will see them try and knock the proverbial lumps out of each other, and this match starts no different both in and out of the ring. Kevin Owens takes advantage of a Zayn high risk climb 'up top' to drop him apex first on to the ropes to gain his first spell of dominance, all the time mocking both Zayn and the crowd, whilst delivering cannonballs and sentons where possible.
Sami slips mid-springboard-moonsault and lands awkwardly on his recently repaired shoulder, so KO starts targeting it single-mindedly. Zayn manages a Blue Thunder Bomb, Brainbuster to the apron and even attempts one of his through-the-ropes Torando DDTs only to meet Owens' foot and a follow-up cannonball. Zayn finally catches Owens with a sweet suplex to the turnbuckles, leaving him dazed and open for the Helluvakick which is an obviously agonising decision for Sami, but rather more steeled, he delivers a determined second kick and pins his rival for the three-count. A superb, and possibly final, instalment in this interminable feud.
We get some punditry on the matches so far from the Kickoff Show panel, and highlights of the pre-show victory for Breezango over the Usos.
Natalya vs. Becky Lynch
Smackdown Live's nascent Women's division is represented by Natalya and Becky Lynch settling their differences after their Money in the Bank mix-up. Lynch starts the bout in aggressive style, striking and kicking Natalya with a waist-lock takedown for a pin attempt. The Canadian uses the ropes well, both to break the Irish Lass-kicker's holds and to apply leverage in her own, and works over Lynch's leg obsessively.
Becky opportunistically counters and executes an Enziguri and an Exploder Suplex for a two count, but Natalya's groundwork for the Sharpshooter pays off, locking it in mid-ring and getting the submission on the second attempt. In my opinion, this was a much better match than RAW's female offering, both technically and in the psychology. A short but impressive match.
The Miz (w/Maryse) vs. Darren Young (w/Bob Backlund) – WWE Intercontinental Championship
Darren Young unexpectedly won a Battle Royale two weeks prior to this event, not knowing it would be for a chance to bring the Samckdown-bound Intercontinental Championship to RAW, but looked determined in the opening stages to do just that by aggressively taking the fight to the champ. As usual, it takes a little interjection by his wife for the Miz to gain any kind of dominance, shoving Young hard to the floor from the cornerpost after a distraction. Miz dominates the ringside brawling, but loses control of the match again when the action gets back between the ropes.
Frustrated with his lack of demonstrable prowess, the Miz tries to walk from the match, but finds his path blocked by Young's mentor Bob Backlund. He returns to the ring, but whilst his back is turned, Maryse pretends that she was struck by the former WWF Champion. Both Backlund and Miz are incensed and confront each other, however, Darren Young is livid. He locks the Cross-face-Chickenwing in on Miz just as the ref throws the match out as a No Contest.
John Cena, Enzo & Big Cass vs. AJ Styles & the Club
With John Cena and AJ Styles heading to Smackdown but the Club and Enzo & Cass heading to Monday Night, this is a last chance for the former New Japan boys to #BeatUpJohnCena. We're treated to quite probably the best Enzo Amore (and to a great extent, Big Cass) pre-match promo to-date, including plenty of medical and 'Soccer Mom' analogies, and the excellent advice to '...never make eye-contact with anyone, while eating a banana!'
Enzo and Cass make good going early on against the Club members, Cass even using his partner and AJ as projectile weapons, before Enzo becomes trapped by the experienced tag techniques of the Club. When the hot tag to John Cena finally arrives, he springs into immediate action with a five-knuckle-shuffle and an attempt at an AA on AJ. Styles counters into a stunning bicycle kick.
A period of breakdown and interference leads to Cena being left back in the ring with AJ, Styles hitting the 'Clash for a Pin-attempt. Just to note, that has to be the smoothest Styles-Clash on a big-guy that I have seen. Big Cass pays for breaking up the pin by taking a Magic Killer from the Club for his efforts, before Enzo retaliates to leave the legal men in the ring. AJ gets to his feet first and heads to the higher-ground of the cornerpost, only to be caught out by the recovering Cena. A Super-Attitude-Adjustment is enough to wipe out Styles and get the win with a mid-ring pin. Excellently executed six-man tag, with a little bit of everything barring some chain-wrestling.
Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel feat. Randy Orton
We have a special Battleground version of Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel next, to celebrate Randy Orton's return from a 9-month injury lay-off and promote his upcoming match with Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. Whilst pointing out that it may take 15 or 20 suplexes to arrive at Suplex City, Randy commented '...it only takes one RKO to get to ViperVille... No Enhancement Needed...' followed by an actual Mic drop. What a stunning dig, with even Orton admitting he might pay for it! Randy provides us with a much teased RKO on Y2J to wrap the segment.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Championship
Our Main Event is a No-DQ Triple-Threat for the WWE Championship, with many excellent angles on it to whet the whistle. Firstly, if either challenger dethrones Smackdown's Dean Ambrose, the historic title will be heading to RAW instead. Second is the opportunistic events surrounding Ambrose's win at Money in the Bank, where all three of tonight's competitors were champion within a ten minute window. Finally we have the fact that these three were once a very successful faction in the form of the SHIELD.
The match itself is fast-paced and balanced, Ambrose brawling well, Rollins stunning with his high-flying athleticism and Reigns, back from a 30-day 'Wellness' suspension, taking out his obvious frustration with explosive power; all demonstrating the complementary styles that made them such a great team. Ambrose launches himself via the commentary desks on to the RAW pair, brawling in the Timekeepers' area, to good effect, and the announcers' tables are put to good effect again as Ambrose and Rollins team up SHIELD-style on Reigns to try and keep it one-on-one.
It was Ambrose however, biding his time whilst recovering ringside, that took advantage of Reigns wiping out Seth with a Spear to employ his own Dirty Deeds and get the 3-count. Fantastically well executed Triple-threat that delivered a lot of uncertainty and suspense with the fast and brutal action. Looks like RAW will have to get their own senior male championship!
A significant point in WWE history demands a decent Pay-Per-View event to mark it, and by-and-large this delivered, with the Zayn/Owens match, the failure to #BeatUpJohnCena and the Main Event all outstanding. Seeing where the chips fall regarding championships was also a great hook, and gives this its particular place in history.
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