Hello everyone, and welcome to my recap of this year’s Lame Duck PPV. What else should we call an event that’s a glorified bridge between the pre- and post-draft eras and functions a table-setter for SummerSlam? Sure, Battleground works, too. Anyhow, and per the snarky disclaimer, there was a bit more filler tonight than killer combat, although NXT marks got their Mojo on and more, Bob Backlund got weird and Randy Orton highlighted his snazzy new hashtag. So before this summary runs the risk of sounding as if I’m just Cross Face Chicken Wing-ing it, here are the five key insights (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from 2016 edition of Lame D… er, Battleground.
5. Bayley Breathing
What, no Duncan Sheik fans among you? Clearly, there are plenty of Bayley backers, as the now ex-NXT standout made her main-roster debut as Sasha Banks’ mystery partner against Charlotte and Dana Brooke. There’s a give and take here. Full Sail faithful got their moment, but as soon as Bayley made her entrance, all smiles and in her element amid Sky Dancers and streamers, it sucked all air out of the match itself, i.e. it’s not as if Bayley’s going to lose on her big night. Though credit to the booker who determined that Sasha should get the submission over Charlotte, thereby refocusing the emphasis on their ongoing feud, rather than squash all that momentum in order to afford the latest Florida call-up ultimate spotlight. I personally don’t get the Bayley thing, and think turning her heel would be a no-brainer, but I’m also not schilling merchandise to 7-year-old girls. Or am I?
4. Replay It Again, Sami
It was a fine battle between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Maybe even a very good match, or a great one. Hard to say when there was an instant replay commanding our screens, and Michael Cole’s commentary, at seemingly every juncture that called for our attention and emotion. So much of what makes PPVs special, even when there’s one very month and they’re syndicated on the WWE Network, is watching matches evolve without commercial interruption or an imperative to over-stimulate viewers so they stay glued through a word from USA’s sponsors. So when it comes to an event like Battleground, whose reputation relies on the buzz from adversaries like Zayne and KO concluding their saga, someone oughta tell whoever’s got their finger on that replay button that anyone watching already bought in, and there’s no need to overproduce.
3. Wit’s Enzo
JBL was right—unplug him. Or maybe call in the Oscars orchestra pit to cut him off at the halfway point of his endless chatter. I’m sure Mr. Amore’s a nice guy who’s worked hard to get to where he is, and he shows flashes of high-flying electricity in the ring. And he and Cass look and feel like a well-paired alliance (even if, as JBL once again astutely observed, Cass might be destined for bigger things down the line). I’ll also concede that fans—and apparently John Cena—seem to dig the guy’s idiosyncratic spin on conventional silver-tongued talkers. But by any measure, Enzo’s pre-match promo tonight was indulgent and overlong, and not especially memorable in both its nonsensical and more nuanced moments. It seems, of late, that fans have afforded anything new from NXT extraordinary creative latitude by fans, but it also begs the question of whether their standards have gotten soft.
After searching through my road atlas for several minutes, I can confirm that Viperville is, sadly, not within driving distance of Dudleyville. Though as a silver lining, it’s a stone’s throw from Alphaville. (See, this is what happens when there’s hardly enough happening in a three-hour show to flesh out a formidable recap.) Anyhow, Randy Orton has returned, and he’s full of smiles and handshakes and kisses for babies. Not to mention jokes (it’s produced “Fah-n-dahhhhh-n-goh,” damnit) and jabs at Brock Lesnar’s expense, continuing WWE’s recent trend of confronting superstars’ wellness abuses head-on by working them into storylines. A betting man might surmise that Orton’s goody two-shoes routine is a ruse, and it’s only a matter of SmackDown episodes before Mr. #Outtanowhere is screwing over one of his babyface buddies and slithering his way to the apex of heel hierarchy. It’s also possible I’m overthinking things and wanted an excuse to type “apex of heel hierarchy.” Jesting aside (by both Orton and myself), Jericho deserves applause for selling a segment that lacked intensity without Lesnar in the building. And hopefully—given that this is rasslin’, after all—there’s a serious SummerSlam swerve in store when Orton and the Beast collide, as opposed to a perfunctory payday.
1. SmackDown Looking Up
In retrospect, Dean Ambrose’s win should have been the most telegraphed turn of the night. If SmackDown’s gonna have a fighting chance of firming up its cache as a standalone show while also value-enhancing the collective five hours of wrestling on offer over Monday and Tuesday nights, the champ—to invoke SmackDown’s own John Cena—probably needs to live there. At least for now. But to be honest, the most promising development wasn’t so much Ambrose’s victory (not to diminish the significance of him clean-pinning both former Shield mates in less than a week), but the demonstration of brand loyalty during and after the bout. If titles can somehow be fluid between shows and democratize the product without watering down each individual broadcast, this could be an exciting time. Whatever the direction, no one has benefitted more in the short term by historically staying healthy and keeping his nose clean than Dean.
Below the Belt:
- Big E really outdid himself with the specificity of that Bonecrusher reference.
- We get it. JBL knows about clotheslines.
- You say, “flying a swat,’ I say, ‘swatting a fly.” It’s been a long week for Michael Cole and crew.
- Don’t rule out Xavier Woods defecting to Bray Wyatt soon.
- Zack Ryder’s theme got a bit of a pop-punk makeover. Maybe he is here to stay.
- Déjà woo, lol
- The allure of a “Mojo Rising” headline wasn’t quite enough for me to dedicate more real estate to all that.
- Think Byron Saxton would be OK if I stole “impassioned disdain” as a death-metal band name?
- Interesting that Natalya seems easier to push as a heel.
- Might be time to start pre-recording Shane McMahon’s backstage promos.
- I still think the Miz should have ended up with Coral.
- Well, that IC title match was a real shit show.
- So, wouldn’t the Club basically like the teenage girl in any horror movie?
- I wish Gallows would go back to the creepy makeup-and-mask motif.
- A bit surprised by the Cena pinfall over Styles, but there’s more to come from them on SmackDown.
- Fear Roman’s beard.
- Fear Konnor’s enthusiasm for Ambrose’s win.
- Move of the Night: Enjoyed Karl Anderson’s announce-table spine buster on Cena, and appreciated Cena being willing to receive it.
- Line of the Night: On a night lacking for quality laughs, I’ll always take a vintage “stupid idiot” taunt from Jericho.
- Sign of the Night: I’ll never say not to a “Slayer” sign.