WWE Battleground 2014 only has to achieve mediocrity to top last year's show.
The first-ever Battleground pay-per-view irked fans and incensed critics, particularly with its absence of an ending. Its few bright spots couldn't combat the prosaic nature of its filler matches and a vacant championship remaining vacant.
On October 6, 2013, Over the Limit gave way to a new pay-per-view.
It made history, but not the kind worth bragging about. After an uneven Night of Champions, WWE sputtered once more.
F4WOnline reported that Battleground earned "114,000 buys worldwide, making it the second-lowest number (to the ECW December to Dismember) in the last 17 years."
John Cena was out of action after elbow surgery. Sheamus sat at home recovering from surgery for a torn labrum. With that deficiency in star power, WWE had to depend on Daniel Bryan, who at that point was an unproven commodity.
Fan support was feverish for Bryan. His passion, reckless in-ring style and mastery in the ring had won the audience over, but there were doubts about whether he could slide into Cena's top spot.
The company set him up for failure, though, involving him a series of championship matches that jerked fans around.
On Night of Champions, the pay-per-view before Battleground, Bryan defeated Randy Orton to become WWE champ. On the next night, however, Triple H stripped him of the title, citing a fast-count from the referee.
That led to fan backlash, to them feeling cheated enough to demand a refund for their cable company and get it.
Rather than try to appease fans with its next show's main event. WWE opted for another unsatisfying conclusion. Before that, the company delivered an up-and-down show.
The night's lineup had some enjoyable fare, but there was too much empty padding around it.
- Damien Sandow vs. Dolph Ziggler (Pre-show)
- Alberto Del Rio vs. Rob Van Dam (Battleground Hardcore Rules match for World Heavyweight Championship)
- The Real Americans vs. The Great Khali and Santino Marella
- Curtis Axel vs. R-Truth (Intercontinental Championship)
- AJ Lee vs. Brie Bella (Divas Championship)
- Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. The Shield
- Bray Wyatt vs. Kofi Kingston
- CM Punk vs. Ryback
- Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (WWE Championship)
Del Rio and Van Dam put on a good show. The story centered around Van Dam getting his title shot in the kind of match he has always thrived in, that he battled in several times over in ECW.
The challenger didn't shy away from risk, leaping onto ladders and spending much of the bout hurtling himself through the air.
Del Rio withstood it all and looked comfortable in a battlefield filled with chairs, ladders and trash cans. Ricardo Rodriguez had left his side, now standing in Van Dam's corner. During the match, Del Rio attacked his former valet before using his signature submission hold to retain.
There wasn't another standout match until Rhodes and Goldust had to fight to remain with WWE.
The biggest highlight in the three contests before that one was Cesaro swinging The Great Khali. The increasingly popular heel thrilled the fans in the First Niagara Center by dizzying his biggest prey yet.
Battleground's peak came not long after that, following three-straight disappointing undercard bouts.
The Shield stood in the Rhodes family's way, promising to knock them out of the WWE for good. If Rhodes and Goldust won, they would both win jobs with the company. If they lost, they would be banned from WWE and their father would lose his position at NXT.
The high stakes, a well-crafted story leading up to that point and some fast-paced tag-team action come pay-per-view time made for a compelling, emotional match. Dusty Rhodes whipped Dean Ambrose with a belt, the Rhodes brothers survived and then celebrated joyously.
It was WWE storytelling at its finest.
Battleground would falter from that point on.
Wyatt vs. Kingston was fine, a warm-up match to showcase a new monster. It wasn't supposed to be anything special. The pay-per-view instead depended on the two matches that followed, two underwhelming efforts.
Punk and Paul Heyman's rivalry dragged at this point. In the process of pursuing vengeance against Heyman, Punk had delivered an instant classic against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam and spent the next few weeks tangling with Axel.
When Ryback barreled into the story, it felt like an empty add-on.
That was evident here when he and Punk collided with little spark. The average affair ended with Punk nailing his opponent with a low blow.
It's hard to remember much else from the match. Battleground's main event created more vivid memories, but not for the right reason.
That bout almost didn't happen, though. The pay-per-view feed went out for a few minutes right before Orton vs. Bryan, leaving fans to wonder if they were even going to get a WWE title match.
Our #WWEBattleground broadcast was disrupted by a power outage in the Buffalo area. We apologize for the interruption.— WWE (@WWE) October 7, 2013
After it was over, some likely wished that the power hadn't come back on.
Orton and Bryan performed well. Their usually stellar chemistry wasn't at its highest point here, but the two wrestlers entertained with hard-hitting action. It's the anti-climax that capped off their battle and the show itself that left the audience confused and vexed.
Big Show stomped down to the ring and punched everyone involved in the match. He knocked out Orton, Bryan and the referee.
He was supposed to be having an internal struggle in public, fighting back against The Authority ordering him to attack Bryan, but unable to slip away from their control. His attack left the match undecided, the title still vacant and fans waiting for something else to happen.
Nothing did. The first entry into Battleground's featured a belly-flop of an ending and an overall disappointing show.
The critics pounced.
PWTorch's James Caldwell called Ryback vs. Punk, a "house show-level, unmemorable match." ProWrestling.net's Chris Shore said of The Real Americans vs. Khali and Santino, "The match was total garbage." John Canton wrote on TJRWrestling.com, "Several matches were pretty boring or meaningless without much story involved."
On the pay-per-view's ending, Mike Johnson wrote for PWInsider, "It's almost as if WWE crafted the finish specifically as a middle finger to fans who called asking for a refund after Night of Champions."
On Wrestling Inc, Jesse Collins wrote, "I think we are looking at the worst ppv of the year from the WWE."
Dave Meltzer pounded the show as well. In Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t ProFightDB.com), he only awarded one match (The Rhodes brother vs. The Shield) a 3-star rating or higher. Three of the matches earned less than two stars.
The average match rating for the night was 2.13 stars.
Fans didn't enjoy Battleground's first installment either. Those in attendance in Buffalo, N.Y., responded to the end of the show by chanting "BS!"
Wow, fan reaction to Battleground is...not good...https://t.co/avthX2St8b— Answer The Ten (@Answertheten) October 7, 2013
All of the inaugural Battleground's high points are smeared with its flaws. Fans are just as likely to reminisce about the Rhodes boys fighting off expulsion from WWE as they are to have bile rise in their throats thinking about how the pay-per-view ended.
Battleground 2014 doesn't have to be a classic show to be deemed successful. With as stained a legacy as the pay-per-view has, just avoiding "BS!" chants and being dubbed the worst show of the year will be a step up.