WWE Battleground 2016
July 24, 2016

Watch: WWE Network

Meet our reviewers:

Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Charlotte and Dana Brooke

Bryan Rose: I thought this was a fun match. They got enough time to do a decent match and everyone looked good. To top it off, this got super heat because Bayley was in fact Sasha Banks’ partner and the reaction was ginormous. It was the right time to do it as Bayley has done everything she can on NXT and it’s time to take the next step, and that is the main roster. The heat in this match helped this make it fun. No, not everything looked crisp but the debut was a good moment and a great way to kick off the PPV. ***

Jeremy Sexton: I’ve been in crowds for pay-per-views in DC before, as a former resident of the Hill. I wasn’t sure how big the reaction would be for a Bayley debut if it happened, as it can be sort’ve a weird crowd sometimes. Turns out, the DMV is all about the Hug Life. Bayley got a huge reaction and an even bigger hot tag. The match was a little paint by numbers, but was a great opener. It got the crowd pumped, the work was good. Bayley looked fantastic, which makes it completely puzzling to me that this isn’t an official call-up for her. The affection the “Four Horsewomen” have for each other is palpable in the ring. You could tell by Sasha’s face that it was going to be Bayley joining her and they all put their workin’ boots on tonight, even Dana who wasn’t terrible. I really, really dug this. ***1/2

Taylor Mitchell: If you try to think too much about how Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were drafted ahead of Bayley, you’ll give yourself a headache. If you ignore that non-sense then you’ll realize that Bayley was the definitive right choice to debut as Sasha’s mystery partner here. Bayley is now officially the most marketable baby face women’s wrestler WWE has ever had. It was a fun moment to watch and Sasha’s genuine smile when Bayley made her entrance was a rare moment of sincerity that is missing from WWE TV. This was a fun tag match that had a lot of nifty spots without giving away too much. Sasha forcing Charlotte to tap out sets up a title shot for Sasha in an NJPW style storyline. I dig it. Give us more of this type of booking in the “new era.” ***1/4

Rich Kraetsch: Though obviously on a much higher level than famed NXT main roster flameouts Adam Rose and Emma, people continue to worry and wonder if NXT stars will debut with crickets. Enough of that. NXT stars are stars. Bayley came out to a gigantic reaction and acclimated herself well. Sasha seemed to have an extra pep in her step as well, know doubt pumped by her new higher standing within the company post-draft. I enjoyed the …statement of Banks tapping Charlotte with the Bank Statement and the women’s roster getting a much needed boost. Win across the board. ***

The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman) def. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods)

Bryan Rose: This was a good match but the only thing I’ll really remember is Big E doing that spot that always ends up hurting him. He speared Strowman to the floor with a spear through the middle rope and landed RIGHT ON THE BACK OF HIS NECK. That looked downright scary and I hope he’s alright. But moving on from that spot, this was a good match. Even though Wyatt got the clean win, they pushed Strowman like nobody’s business during this match. If you think his push has been stalled, well it isn’t anymore. Xavier’s fire near the end was great though, and the last few minutes were very fun. Good stuff overall. ***

Jeremy Sexton: I was all set to review the match, but then the ring announcer opened his mouth. I’m sorry, who is this guy? He sounds like a radio broadcaster in an old cartoon. Ok, focus Jeremy, there was a match here. It wasn’t necessarily a great match, but it wasn’t bad. It was a match. They killed the crowd after the hot opener, but pretty much got them back. It was weird, the botches in this match kinda made it better. Especially so with Big E’s spear that may have finally broken his neck. It signaled the tide turning on New Day right before they lost. It’s almost like they planned it that way. The “Xavier is petrified by Bray” thing does nothing for me and the pay off felt bland. Probably didn’t help that a minute or two earlier, Braun Strowman threw him down like he was spiking a football. All in all, the match was fine, I guess. ***

Taylor Mitchell: The Wyatt Family found a way to suck the heat out of the crowd early in the match. The same crowd that was on fire during the pre-show when the ring was completely empty. Luckily for them, Kingston and Big E managed to earn their attention back after busting their asses in the comeback spots. Bray is still suffering from his gimmick being bastardized with poor booking. Maybe the split rosters will give him a fresh start? With the result of this match, Bray was given the momentum he needed with a pin over one of the top acts in wrestling. If that result wasn’t booked to set Bray in a new direction, then why the heck would New Day lose? These are the questions and strange corners WWE gets themselves backed into with the draft. There was some good character performances out of Xavier and Bray here with the tension of whether Xavier would fall to the mind games of Bray. Xavier was able to snap out of it for a mild pop. It definitely wasn’t Daniel Bryan leaving the Wyatt Family circa 2013, but it was the best of a bad situation. **3/4

Rich Kraetsch: I really loved the micro story of Xavier being scared of Bray and while the build and payoff to said story was great, this match just never clicked for me. The Wyatt Family’s offense sucks me (and the crowd) out of every match and the charisma-laden New Day could barely wake them back up. The finish seems odd given the future of the Wyatt Family but so long as this unit vs unit feud is over I’m fine. **

WWE United States Championship
Rusev (c) def. Zack Ryder

Bryan Rose: This was short, but a nice flurry of a match while it lasted. I liked the finish as Rusev got the knees up when Ryder was going for the elbow from the top rope. Not much to say beyond that, just an okay match while it lasted. Mojo Rawley coming in confusing Rusev was funny though. So we’ll see the Hype Bros. on Smackdown…which…um, well…yay? **3/4

Jeremy Sexton: As a match, this was pretty much best case scenario for these two. Ryder got a little offense in, the crowd got into his big spots, then Rusev crushed him. This lay back Accolade has got to go, though. The guy is clearly bending at the knees. You’re not putting pressure on the spine and back anymore, you’re just squeezing their chin. It’s just physics, people. Looks like this telegraphs the finish in the Intercontinental match. I did appreciate Rusev no-selling Mojo, though. I mean, it’s probably not the way you want to build a debuting guy because it made him look like a chump. But it’s Mojo, it doesn’t really matter. **3/4

Taylor Mitchell: Ryder is always a fun underdog wrestler to get behind. And you have to appreciate the hardworking wrestler that invests in the small things like new gear for special occasions that Ryder is, with his patriotic attire complete with a Sting “Great American Bash” ring jacket. Rusev is the most talented wrestler WWE doesn’t push to the main event scene. Rusev knows his character and is always doing things that make himself stand out. Ryder was breaking out of The Accolade and Rusev transitioned into leaning back and forcing Ryder to tap out with a more vicious looking Accolade. It’s the little things like this that most WWE factory guys never pick up on. Mojo Rawley made his debut after the match to give this PPV the feel of the Post-Mania Raw. Rawley got in Rusev’s face and Rusev backed down. No one is asking for a Rusev vs. Rawley feud, but if it ends in Rusev defeating Rawley only for Ryder and Rawley to seamlessly transition into reforming the Hype Bros on Smackdown, then I say “Job well done, WWE. Good booking.” **½

Rich Kraetsch: Every Rusev title defense against storyline geeks like Zack Ryder should be about three minutes with complete Rusev destruction. While this was what I would call a prolonged squash, there were still moments (too many for my taste) when Ryder looked like he may actually win. Mojo Rawley made his debut after the match and it was awkward as you would probably expect. **¼

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens

Bryan Rose: This was so great. It built well and the drama was totally there towards the end. Very few men and women understand drama in wrestling and how to build to it, especially on this roster when you’re trained that it is secondary. Zayn and Owens are tremendous workers. They’re athletic, they do cool moves. That was the bulk of this match, especially towards the end. They built up the drama well leading to all the hot near falls. But the last few minutes with Owens going off on Zayn to stay down, then Zayn looking at Owens one more time before finishing him off with a helluva kick…that was awesome. The only downside is that this match was way, way better than WWE promoted it, and kind of tells you a lot of things when two performers can have a match like this, but also get laid out by Kane just because. ****1/4

Jeremy Sexton: This was the best match these two have had with each other in who knows how long. Not that any of their other matches have been bad, as though it were possible for these guys to ever have a bad match against each other. The video before the match was great and told their story far better than the weekly TV has. It was pure emotion, everything from their WWE feud leading to this match. There were great callbacks and reversals. It wasn’t perfect, it started a little slow and Zayn darn near killed himself on a botched Arabian Press, not to mention the directing by Dunn et al. missed a couple big moments. Despite that, if you weren’t completely captivated by this match by the time it was all said and done, this might not be the artform for you. At the end, while Zayn held Owens in the corner and paused to think, I thought we might just see the ol’ Generico brainbuster. Alas, it was not to be. You have to save something for match #496. Brilliant match. ****1/2

Taylor Mitchell: Zayn starts the match off with an attempted Helluva kick that Owens ducked out of the ring to avoid. This was a call back to their most recent PPV match. Is there a wrestler on Planet Earth this is better with callback spots than Zayn? Also, let’s talk about Zayn botching the Springboard Moonsault. This is a spot that Zayn has performed 1,000’s of times in his career, so it should shock you that he botched it. Zayn landed badly on his injured shoulder on the apron from this botch and the match was then spent working over his arm. Was it actually a botch? Or is Zayn so good that he planned the botch to make realistic transition into getting his arm worked over? Just the fact that I’m asking this question has to be a nod to Zayn’s incredible talent. The finish that saw Zayn measure up Owens for the Helluva kick by closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, and then hitting Owens with everything he had was great. But, that wasn’t all, Owens collapse into Zayn’s arms and Zayn as confident as he’s ever been in WWE, set Owens up for a second Helluva kick. The “fight forever!” chant may have debuted in the Zayn vs. Nakamura match, but it should be reserved for Zayn vs. Owens, because I could literally watch these two fight forever. And this match may have been their best of their WWE feud. ****1/2

Rich Kraetsch: We knew they could this. After some uneven performances on the main roster, Zayn and Owens finally delivered what we all knew they could and had a match that could show up on Match of the Year lists at the end of the year. I can bore you with the in-ring specifics, but to me, the match was all emotion and that was harnessed perfectly in the closing stretch. Zayn is one of the very best of all-time at showing emotion, particularly conflicted emotion. Like his huge title win at TakeOver: [R]Evolution, Zayn wrestled with himself in figuring out how much he wanted to win versus how much damage he wanted to inflict. This was his former best friend, the man he traveled the world… did he really want to hit him with ANOTHER kick. Zayn waited and waited before finally saying “No, I earned this, this guy fucked me over, this is my time.” He then destroyed him with another Helluva Kick for the victory. This works two-fold as characters always prod at Zayn for his lack of fire, how he can’t win the big one. And more times than not, he doesn’t. But that’s the value in being a great babyface, people don’t give up on Zayn. They never do. We’re always invested in him getting the big win, even if they are few and far between. Zayn is one of the best ever, I don’t care what you say. It will take a hell of a match to top this one tonight. ****1/2

Natalya def. Becky Lynch

Bryan Rose: I’m not sure why you’d have the heel win clean here, but what do I know. This was fine, but I didn’t think much of it. Natalya should have won as this is the main women’s program on Smackdown going forward but exactly would the motivation be? As far as the match itself goes, just a nice, solid match, nothing beyond that. Not sure what to think of Natalya as a top heel, but I guess we’ll see. **1/2

Jeremy Sexton: How ’bout the camera completely missing Becky’s kip up early on? This was weird. The work was fine. Becky got her leg worked over, Nattie applied a hold that puts pressure on that knee and won. Simple. No shenanigans or cheating. Just a clean win by the heel over the babyface. If this were a company that told logical stories, I’d assume the rivalry is done. Much more likely, we’re getting this again at SummerSlam for a SmackDown Women’s Title. I don’t really know what else to say about this. Wasn’t bad by any means, but just felt… strange. ***

Taylor Mitchell: This was a match where each wrestler was working over their opponent to set them up for their respective finishing submission hold. I’ll always appreciate that kind of work. It’s just smart wrestling psychology. Natalya’s promo work as a heel has come off as very forced, awkward, and disingenuous, but her heel work in the ring is very refreshing. It’s probably the most entertaining Natalya has been in the ring in years. It helped that she had the super talented Lynch as an opponent tonight, but this turned out to be a very solid match. Natalya wins with the Sharpshooter and Lynch came way looking great in defeat. More losses like this and Lynch will have the fans in the palm of her hand. ***¼

Rich Kraetsch: A well-worked but ultimately boring match that had no chance of following Zayn/Owens. The work was solid throughout but after such an emotional match preceding it, rest holds (which were integrated throughout this match well) received next to no reaction. Becky once again failed in “the big one” and she’s drawing closer to the point where when she finally does get the big win, it won’t matter as fans will have given up. ***

WWE Intercontinental Championship
The Miz (c) vs. Darren Young – Double Countout

Bryan Rose: This was fine. Young is okay, Miz is okay and they had a decent match but nothing more. Then you had the finish, where Backlund and Maryse got involved. Miz attacked Backlund, then Young put Miz in the chickenwing and…the bell just rang. No announcement, nothing as to who won this match. I am assuming Miz was counted out. You kind of needed that as the IC title should stay on Smackdown, and you also shouldn’t have Young lose clean. But there are better ways of doing it, and better ways of making it clear just what the hell is going on. Another example of WWE overthinking. **1/4

Jeremy Sexton: What was the point of this? You can’t beat Darren Young? I’m baffled. This was boring and then it got weird and then it was over. What was even the official result? Did they ever say? This stunk. **

Taylor Mitchell: There was, of course, convoluted spots involving Maryse and Backlund that caused the end result of the match. I’ve always wanted to like Young. The guy seems to work super hard, he just doesn’t know anything except what he’s learned in the WWE factory. Young is a guy that could use a six month stint in EVOLVE, as he could use a variety of experience to freshen up his game. This match was better than expected, but still didn’t deliver on a level that I want to see IC title matches at. It was fine. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t intrigued by Young “snapping” in the same vain of Backlund circa 1995. Young snapped attacking the heel, Miz, and even shoved a couple of referees. Is Young’s character eventually going to turn heel? This could be something interesting, but then again, this is WWE. So, probably not. **1/4

Rich Kraetsch: This whole Darren Young/Bob Backlund thing makes no sense to me. I don’t get it, I don’t understand the joke and I just can’t possibly care about either man in 2016. Others enjoy it, so whatever, I’ll admit I may be lost on this. The match, well, it was about what you’d expect when ½ of the combatants are Darren Young. They can put new coats of paint on him every few months but it doesn’t change a thing, he’s just not good. The Miz, while having a great year, couldn’t rise to the occasion to get something passable out of Young. **

John Cena, Enzo Amore & Big Cass def. The Club (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson)

Bryan Rose: This was a really good match. Six mans on PPVs are usually pretty fun, and this was no different. A bunch of cool spots near the end where everyone was doing some crazy moves. I think Anderson even took a DDT to the floor on the outside. Cena needed the big win on Styles here as I think it’s pretty clear that is the top program on Smackdown, and that will be the brand’s big match for SummerSlam. Good action (especially during the latter half of the match, where they just went all out), high energy, hot crowd…can’t ask much else! ***1/2

Jeremy Sexton: This was fun. Enzo and Cass brought a great energy to the match. At one point, John Cena just stood on the apron in disbelief of them, it was great. It felt like Anderson and Gallows brought a little goofiness of their own, but just the right amount. They had some creative spots here. I really liked the hot tag that started with everyone outside the ring and ended with Anderson breaking it up out of nowhere. It makes me want to see a tag match with the teams and more Cena/AJ singles matches on the Smackdown side. An effective, entertaining match. ***1/2

Taylor Mitchell: Amore killed it on the mic before the match and then absolutely killed himself in this match. He might not be a super worker, but Amore deserves massive praise for being the best promo in wrestling and getting himself over despite his limited experience. There were times this match felt like a house show six man tag and other times it felt like a hot feud. It had a strange dynamic in that way, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Maybe I “worked myself into a shoot” by hoping Finn Bálor would make his debut by attacking Styles and taking over the Club, which could’ve potentially hurt my instant reaction to this match. The finish saw a Triple A (Avalanche Attitude Adjustment) by Cena on Styles. It will be interesting to see how this leads to the presumed Styles vs. Cena rematch at SummerSlam. ***

Rich Kraetsch: Don’t go into this match expecting a knock down, drag out high-energy match of the night contender. It wasn’t that but it was solid throughout. Each member of the match played an exact role and each played it perfectly well. Enzo killed it in the pre-match cutting one of the longest in-ring pre-match promos you’ll ever hear — a clear indication of the confidence WWE has in his ability on the mic. Some don’t care for his schtick anymore but I love it because you can feel the passion in his voice. These are his words, said with the utmost confidence and desire. The Club ultimately lost here with Styles falling to Cena via top-rope Attitude Adjustment. While I would’ve had either Anderson or Gallows take the pinfall, you’d imagine this result will lead to a future Styles/Cena singles match in the very near future. This was fun. ***3/4

WWE Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) def. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins

Bryan Rose: This was like a lot of other matches on this show as they just went at it and spent 15-20 minutes just doing all sorts of great back and forth moves. Reigns got booed out of the building as expected, but what I wasn’t expecting was for Dean to win clean, pinning Roman Reigns after a Dirty Deeds. I get the loss last month, but the loss this month means a ton more. You’ve got to be wondering where they are going with him as maybe they’ve finally gotten the message that he isn’t the guy. But if he isn’t, then who is? He’s improved tremendously as a worker as he didn’t look lost here at all and kept the pace up with Ambrose and Rollins, the latter who proved in this match that he’s still one of the very best the WWE has as far as athleticism and in ring work. Just a tremendous, fast and frenetic match full of fun callbacks, like a triple powerbomb spot (that Cole has officially renamed “that Shield move”) and the steel chairshot by Rollins as that what led to the Shield breaking now. We now have to ask the question that is on everyone’s minds…what is Raw going to do without a world title? ****1/4

Jeremy Sexton: I’m stunned. There was every reason for WWE to do something different with the finish here. They need a champion on each brand, surely this was the opportunity to do a finish that left the title in jeopardy. Instead, Dean Ambrose went out and solidified himself as the top guy in WWE. He not only wins the much anticipated (yet poorly built) Shield triple threat, he pins “The Guy” clean as a sheet. Look, the cynic in me doesn’t want to believe that they’re actually getting behind Ambrose, that they’re going to find a way to put him down on TV this week. There’s still a little hope burning, however, that they’ve finally realized what we’ve all known for years. He was the best guy in the match and felt like a star. And he won. This guy has it. Now, can they capitalize and make him into a big star? Time will tell. The match itself was good, but felt very familiar. If you’ve seen any of the main event triple threats they’ve done in the past couple years, you know exactly what to expect here. The DC crowd hated Reigns, unsurprising given these are the same people that chanted “One More Time!” as Batista powerbombed Rey Rey into dust. They were into the match the whole way through and it kept a brisk pace and included a fair amount of memorable moments. A sneaky one, check the look on Rollins’ face as he hits Dean with the chair. Purely maniacal. ****

Taylor Mitchell: The Shield Triple Threat match was supposed to be one of the biggest matches that WWE had in their arsenal. It ended up happening on a B-PPV that was a throwaway show before the new brand split era. Not to mention it came off the heels of Reigns’ positive drug test that forced a 30 day suspension as per the wellness policy. On top of all of that Ambrose and Rollins wrestled for this same title TWICE in the last six days already. If there was a way to wring out all of the juice going into a big money match” then you probably do it that way. With that all said, these guys worked extremely hard.  None of these guys took the night off and it was an entertaining match, but I had trouble getting invested in it knowing the outcome doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I was surprised to see Ambrose pick up the clean victory after the Dirty Deeds on Reigns. I was expecting an overbooked finish, but kudos to WWE for going full tilt on the super talented Ambrose. Now, we just wait to see Raw unveil their new world title tomorrow night.  ***3/4

Rich Kraetsch: The monumental first all-Sheild title match was a content years in the making. This generation’s must-see match. And it came…and went without much fanfare. Sure, the Roman Reigns suspension derailed a lot of the momentum but this match seemed lackluster even before that. When each men arrived for tonight, my mind changed. The crowd was hot, all the GMs and commissioners came out, everyone was ready. And the match started great, there were smaller stories throughout with Ambrose/Rollins teaming up at a point to take out Reigns (even going so far as to double-team powerbomb him through a table). Then, it was just kind of over. Ambrose won clean, arguably the best decision, but the finish, the closing sequence and the build to both seemed just, there. This should’ve been a match for the ages and it just never reached that level. It was still very good and a worthy end to what could be WWE’s PPV of the year. Yet, I’m still left a bit disappointed. Maybe chalk it up to unreachable expectations? ****