So I guess this year we're getting not one, but TWO new pay-per-view events. Before I had that thought, I was thinking that 'Battleground' was a pretty terrible name for an event, but I'm not so sure after remembering we've already had Payback. Of course an unimpressive name is the least of this pay-per-view's worries. With just three weeks of build (and Hell in a Cell's getting the same treatment at the end of the month), there's less to analyze and less to critique, so you'll probably see some thinner paragraphs than normal this time around.
Brief thoughts on Night of Champions:
-It was truly strange to see only one title change hands during the event (and that was really effectively only half a title change considering what happened afterward), but it was the right decision to keep the championships right where they were. Imagine if Rob Van Dam and Naomi were champions...eughhhh...
-I was glad to have the unannounced matches added to the card, but I would have preferred that they were not...unannounced. Miz and Fandango were painful to sit through. It's nice to see Curtis Axel take a championship defense match in stride, though.
-I was close too pulling my hair out over the sloppiness of the Divas Championship match, and the double Sharpshooter spot was stupidly executed. Brie Bella should be the champion already because of Natalya's stupidity.
-I was a bit angry at Alberto Del Rio getting himself disqualified, but for once he didn't look terribly weak and cowardly as a result. Plus it served as a good set-up for the hardcore match they're now set for.
-I wasn't able to enjoy the Daniel Bryan win as much as other people were. Everyone knew what was going to happen the following night, but they decided to celebrate anyway. It just felt like the elephant in the room for me, though, and it was a bizarre conclusion to a pretty lackluster night.
Off the Card:
The best thing about the Triple H-Stephanie super heel power couple thing is that a lot of wrestlers have been directly tied to the main storyline on Raw for the past couple months. Bryan, Orton, Big Show, the Rhodes family, the Shield, the Miz, Ziggler, and the legion of jobbers that are on Bryan's side. For once the story of the WWE Championship isn't confined to two or three people, it's affecting the entire landscape of the show. As a result the WWE Championship seems incredibly important. It really feels like the belt belongs on the most important wrestler on the show, as opposed to feeling like it should be that way when in reality the most important wrestler on the show is John Cena (or The Rock). Granted this is probably just because those guys aren't around...
Anyway, enough of that tangent. Thing is, because so many wrestlers have been in some way or another directly involved in the Bryan-Orton-Triple H picture, there a lot of those guys who don't have a match on the Battleground card. It's easy to get past guys like Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder, but both the Usos and Prime Time Players - the Shield's last two championship foes - are nowhere to be found as well. Additionally, United States Champion Dean Ambrose doesn't have a match, though that's presumably because all of his suitable opponents are unavailable in some capacity or another. Finally, Big Show also doesn't have a match for the third straight pay-per-view since his return, despite having had a very prominent role on Raw in that time.
Kickoff Match: Damien Sandow vs. Dolph Ziggler
Help me out here, has Sandow won a single match since winning the Money in the Bank briefcase? I'm really struggling to come up with one. That said, Ziggler has also fallen a very long ways since his not so impressive World Heavyweight Championship run. This seems every bit like an inconsequential match that was only put together so two sort-of important guys can sort-of be on the card. Sandow has been damn near invisible since his feud with Cody concluded, let alone had any beef with Ziggler. In short there has been no storyline to this match and I expect it to be entertaining, but forgettable.
Bray Wyatt vs. Kofi Kingston
After a considerable absence and an even more considerable lack of doing anything relevant, the Wyatt Family are finally active again. Bray Wyatt's match against Kingston was only announced on the most recent Smackdown, but there was some marginal build to it when the Wyatts appeared after Kingston's match on Raw yet didn't attack him. There MAY be something important that comes out of this match, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's just another quick squash to continue to build the Wyatts as a threat. A lot of people have turned off to the Wyatts because they've gone such a long time without really doing anything, but I feel they're worth waiting for. Even if Kingston just gets crushed in five minutes, it'll be nice to see Bray doing it on a somewhat grander stage again.
Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee (c) vs. Brie Bella
So I guess Brie is a face now. Uh...when and why did that happen? I mean I know WHY, it's because she's Daniel Bryan's fiance, but why in kayfabe is she good all of a sudden? Because unless someone comes up with another alternate explanation, I'm going to assume it's because she's Bryan's fiance. I haven't really been paying very much attention to this feud, but I'm quite amused and actually rather pleased that we're getting this instead of AJ-Natalya. Natalya is one of the stronger wrestlers in the Divas division, but she's been abnormally sloppy for the last few months and she's not very intriguing as a character. She came across as incredibly shallow and paranoid when she and AJ appeared on commentary together the night following Night of Champions and served only to make AJ look smarter, craftier, funnier, cooler, and just all-around more interesting than Natalya could ever hope to be. Additionally it makes a lot more sense for Brie Bella to be the Total Divas representative than Natalya - the Bella Twins are the ones plastered all over the advertisements, after all. The whole "Divas vs. Real Wrestlers" thing is still weird, but now at least we've got definitive faces and heels all throughout the Divas division when before people like Alicia Fox could just turn at the drop of a hat every other match and nobody paid any notice to it. Amazingly enough, the Total Divas show has actually done a decent job of defining who some of its cast members are as wrestling characters, and even without having watched the damn thing, I now have more investment in the Divas division than before it came around.
Still want Kaitlyn back, though.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Curtis Axel (c) vs. R-Truth
I have mentioned before that when I first started watching wrestling, crazy-as-fuck R-Truth was my favorite wrestler for a while. It is because of this that every single time I see babyface child-friendly rapping jobber R-Truth that I get incredibly, incredibly sad. The guy's just so terrible, it's confounding to consider how awesome he used to be. But anyway, Truth beat Axel in a non-title match to set up this title match, because that's how all Intercontinental and United States Championship matches ever get set up. This isn't even the main storyline that Axel's involved in, since he's still feuding with Punk along with the rest of Heyman's group, so there's no reason to care about this match or even to think that he has even a thousandth of a percent chance of losing his title during it.
Hardcore World Heavyweight Championship Match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Rob Van Dam, with Ricardo Rodriguez
This feud's still boring as fuck. Just saying.
So RVD and ADR are still fighting for the Heavyweight championship and English is still Del Rio's second language and it's more efficient for Van Dam to introduce a fucking clip show than for him to cut a goddamn promo because he somehow sounds A BAJILLION TIMES WORSE than Del Rio and during all of this Ricardo is RIGHT FUCKING THERE AND HE'S STILL NOT CUTTING PROMOS GAWWWWWWWWWWWWWD.
So Del Rio lost by disqualification to retain his championship and Van Dam is legendarily proficient in hardcore matches, so there's a Hardcore/Extreme Rules/No Disqualification/Street Fight/No Holds Barred/Brawl match between them now. Fair enough. There's no damn reason to care about it, though. They'll put on a match and one of them will win and fans of one or the other will be happy or sad, depending, and that's it. The story of this match is just a picture of Rob Van Dam pointing at himself. God damn it I'm actually missing Sheamus-Del Rio now, how did you fucking make this happen?
Cody Rhodes and Goldust, with Dusty Rhodes, vs. The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns)
If the Rhodes win, Cody and Goldust will be reinstated in WWE. If the Shield wins, the Rhodes family will be banned from WWE.
So of course one way or another, Cody is eventually going to end up back on the roster, even if he and Goldust lose this match (and they certainly might). Either way, this is easily the best-built match heading into the pay-per-view. As good a job as Triple H and Orton have done in turning heel, they're still being cheered by some fans, depending on the crowd. Nobody in the fucking world is cheering for the Shield during their confrontations with the Rhodes family. Cody has been built up masterfully in all of this and it's the first major heel-face turn in what seems like forever that looks like it will actually be effective, purely because of the early, purposeful investment that has been put into it. Dusty and Goldust are beloved performers from generations past, and together the three ensure that wrestling fans of the past thirty goddamn years will recognize and sympathize with at least one of them. The feud draws from reality, invoking the history of tension between Dusty and the McMahons and the unorthodox nature of the Rhodes family to really press just how important this matter is to them. But more than just the stakes on the line, there is a personal stake in this match as well, a reason for Cody and Goldust to want to beat the piss out of the Shield because of how they attacked their father. And on top of that all four guys are spectacular fucking wrestlers. Fuck CM Punk. Fuck the WWE Championship. Give me this match for forty goddamn minutes.
CM Punk vs. Ryback, with Paul Heyman
Although the Punk-Heyman feud is still miraculously going despite its amazingly simple structure, I do have to appreciate that Punk has gotten a different opponent for the third straight pay-per-view. I admit I'm considerably more interested in this match than in the Night of Champions handicap match because it features the strange continuing evolution of Ryback's character. It's fascinating to see WWE try to find something that works for the guy. That said, the motivations of the two main pillars of this feud remain the same, as is the dynamic that exists between them. Ryback is certainly a step up as a character from Curtis Axel and probably Brock Lesnar as well, and I would've preferred to see this portion of the feud get four weeks of build as opposed to the handicap match. It's fun to see the Heyman camp in action and fun to see it growing and its members interact with each other, but I'm more interested in seeing what they do beyond this match than seeing them continue to battle with Punk. I do appreciate that Punk's involvement in this storyline draws attention to it, though.
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton
Outside of stripping Bryan of the title, Triple H has been paying far less attention to the WWE Championship scene in the last few weeks than he had leading up to Night of Champions, and as a result it's looking much simpler. Bryan's character has suffered a bit in the last few weeks because he's no longer fighting against the whole corporation, but solely against Orton. This makes him look weaker because he's fighting against smaller odds, while at the same time Orton looks considerably stronger because he's acting more on his own. The return of Orton's uber-heel viciousness and mercilessness has made me finally realize how the guy got fans in the first place: he's good at portraying a brutal villainous psychopath and it's very easy to appreciate that. Now just don't try to make him a good guy while he's doing all of the same shit.
While this is a rematch from Night of Champions, the setup is very different. At Night of Champions Orton was a hollow champion who had the backing of the company, whereas Bryan was an upstart who refused to back down in the face of immense odds. As a result, when Triple H surprisingly withdrew his support from Orton, Bryan was able to defeat him fairly easily. All of this was apparently part of a gambit of Triple H's to mold Orton into the form he desired, and so far it seems to have worked. Orton again seems like the favorite in the match to me, but not because of unfair odds in his favor. The match will again be on even ground, but this time Bryan looks overconfident and Orton looks stronger than he has in years. If Orton wins - and wins fairly - then Triple H will get exactly what he wants and look like an evil, manipulative genius. If Bryan wins, then Orton will basically lose all credibility as a dangerous threat that he has effectively built up over the last several weeks. Regardless of that, I again find myself eager to find out not what will happen at the event itself, but what will happen further down the line.