Jesus, there's a lot to cover. An entertaining PPV, and the post-draft era beginning on Raw and Smackdown. With the brand split, I'll be covering each show as a separate section, because Smackdown is no longer the Raw recap and rematch show, it's the show with most of the shitty wrestlers on it.
Ultimately, nothing happened during Battleground. No titles changed hands. Bayley debuted as Sasha's mystery partner, but the announce team made it VERY clear that this was a special occasion and that Bayley would continue pursuing Asuka in NXT for the foreseeable near future. But man, that crowd pop for Bayley. Gotta love that.
Instead of momentous events, what we got instead was a seemingly energized roster putting on great matches full of energy, which is something most WWE PPV's these days are lacking after the first hour. I mean, just look at the participants in Battleground, divided into two camps: LOADS and NON-LOADS. A load is a wrestler who you don't need to see wrestle because you've seen everything they can do, and they never do anything else or surprise you.
NON-LOADS: Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Bray Wyatt*, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, Big E, Rusev, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, Darren Young, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows*, Enzo Amore, Big Cass, Dean Ambrose*, Seth Rollins
LOADS: Erick Rowan, Braun Strohman, Zack Ryder*, Natalya, The Miz, John Cena, Roman Reigns
* - Stars on the borderline, status dependent on who they're aligned with and how they're currently booked.
That's an amezing ratio. I left Jericho and Orton off the Loads list because they only talked. I mean, Orton's a load in the ring and on the mike, but even so, I can't think of a WWE event in the past two years outside of NXT that's had a ratio of exciting to boring talent like Battleground. And almost everyone was motivated and just putting it all out there.
And goddamn, what a match Owens and Zayn had. If it's the end of their rivalry for the time being, it went out on an amazing note.
New (ugly) logo! New (awful) theme song! New era!
Obviously, the biggest news items out of this week's Raw are the announcement of a new championship belt, the WWE Universal Championship, which is an awful, awful name. It rolls off the tongue like Mark Henry rolls out of the ring. They had a pair of fatal four-ways to determine the final two contenders, fighting in the main event for the chance to face Seth Rollins for the UC at Summerslam.
In the first match, Finn Balor defeated Kevin Owens, Rusev, and Cesaro in a match that really elevated all four guys to the top of the New Era Raw card, showing what the brand split and New Era are all about. In the second, Roman Reigns Reignsed it up over Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, and Sheamus in a match that seemed to negate all the promise of the first match.
And then Balor pinned Reigns clean in the main event with the Coup De Grace, and everything was right again. Balor-Rollins at Summerslam (presuming no shenanigans in the next month). BATTLE OF THE SLING BLADES.
And Sasha Banks... holy shit. I was expecting them to put the belt on her at Summerslam, but they decided to pull the trigger tonight, in a first-rate match that saw some incredible (and a couple of scary) spots from both people.
Neville returned to defeat Curtis Axel in a match that showed the wrong way to bring Neville back from injury. He was capeless, the crowd didn't give a fuck. Why not bring him in when you're introducing the Cruiserweight division and championship, since you're going to be putting it on him anyway. Give him a reason to be there and the crowd a reason to care that he's there.
The New Day's new antagonists are The Stylesless Clerb, unsurprisingly. The New Day had a fun little Longest Reigning celebration, the Clerb interrupted with a beatdown. Standard booking, but at least it's not happening between the Usos and Golden Truth.
Primo and Epico are back, with their three month absence leading to zero change in their weird, off-putting gimmick or their moderate Jim Henson's Alberto Del Rio Babies in-ring skills. They jobbed to Enzo and Cass after The Golden Truth wandered through the ring playing Pokemon Go, because the New Era is still part of the WWE.
Let's talk belt disparity. After this week, Raw has the Universal Championship, the Tag ?Team Championhip, the Women's Championship, the United States Championship, and the as yet unannounced Cruiserweight Championship. That's five belts. Smackdown has the WWE Championship and the Intercontinental Championship. That's two belts. That's just nuts. Without. women's and tag belts on both shows, what are they going to do and why?
Let's look at #1 contenders. Raw picked eight guys to compete for the #1 contendership, included five up and coming talented newer wrestlers out of the eight, and gave the nod to their newest star. Smackdown's contenders were John Cena (old guy), Dolph Ziggler (underused but been around forever), Baron Corbin (worst of the recent callups), AJ Styles (legit contender), Bray Wyatt (post-draft status unknown), and Apollo Crews (legit new talent).
Ziggler took the win, pinning AJ Styles after a ref bump, John Cena hitting his finisher on everyone, and setting up a face-face title match for Summerslam, which'll be weird.
In other news, Becky Lynch got her win back over Natalya, and then Alexa Bliss and Naomi and Carmella and Eva Marie with a new even more obnoxious intro and they all stood around for a couple of seconds because, well, nothing for this six-woman Women's Division to fight over except bragging rights.
The Miz interviews himself for a bit and Randy Orton interrupts, and a vague suspicion I had after Battleground was confirmed. Randy Orton thinks he's funny. That's not going to work out well for any of us. Anyway, they set up a non-title match that saves me a good 10 minutes because I know going in Orton's gonna win clean. And of course he does.
The Undrafted Heath Slater story picks up where it left off a week ago and it's used to bring fucking Rhyno out and I guess Rhyno is on Smackdown now? More young up and coming talent for Tuesday nights!
Meanwhile, where the fuck was American Alpha? They got a promotional docu-vignette, but that's it. I don't even think they were in the Battle Royal.
Odd show this week. Lots of small, squashy matches and promos led to a very packed hour. Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Wesley Blake and gets his title shot against Samoa Joe at Takeover Brooklyn. Which is great, but I almost hope Nakamura loses, because I like seeing him on NXT, and if you're the champioon, you never show up on NXT.
Billie Kay moves into the midcard of the NXT women's division, with new entrance gear, new music, and a standard win over the kind of jobber she was a few weeks ago.
TM61, the World's Genericest Tag Team, beat a coiuple of jobbers, in a classic Remember These Guys Exist match. Then No Way Jose comes out for his quick jobber squash, but grabs a mic after, and damn, that guy can promo! I think he's a better talker than he is a wrestler or a dancer.
All of that happens in 35 minutes. Our main event is Buddy Murphy (Blake and Murphy's divorce papers have finally been signed) vs. Kota Ibushi from the Cruiserweight Classic. Is this a tryout? Have they already decided to keep Ibushi? Or is it "we've got an Ibushi arouind between tapings, so it'd be a shame not to use him" kind of thing? Ibushi wins fairly quickly with a sit-out powerbomb, of all things.
The rest of the show is Samoa Joe showing up, learning he has a title match at Takeover, and being mad about it. Hey, maybe come to the tapings, champ. He refuses to fight, Regal threatens to strip him of the belt, Joe acquiesces and threatens Nakamura, and Nakamura comes out and dances a bit because Shinsuke Nakamura Don't Give A Fuuuuuuuuck.
Still working our way through the round of 32.
Zack Sabre Jr. beat Tyson Dux by submission. Dux had a redemption storyline, whereas Sabre's just a weirdo. Young, British, almost entirely mat-based old school submission wrestling. I don't know if WWE can actually educate an audience enough to sell his style to them. I don't know how much of the roster can work a good match with him. So we'll see how far he gets in the tourney.
The CWC credo of Fuck You Lesser Countries continues as Harv Sihra of Actually Canada But We're Saying India lost to Drew Gulak in a clumsy match mixing a bit of high flying with heavy submission work. This sets up a pure mat wrestling match between Gulak and Sabre Jr. in the second round, which makes sense.
Anthony Bennett, looking like a slightly subdued Zack from Dead or Alive, lost to Angry Indie Guy Tony Nece in a B- match. A bit botchy, especially at the end, and nothing inspiring.
And finally, we have the returning Brian Kendrick vs. Mexico's Raul Mendoza. This match had the snap and confidence and crispness the rest of the episode was lacking. Kendrick won with the Bully Choke even though they rang the bell before it seemed like Mendoza tapped. It's a shame, because I'd rather see both these guys moving on over Nece or Gulak.