WWE Battleground 2014: Grading Each Superstar's Performance at Event
Any great wrestling pay-per-view is the result of great contests involving talented individuals who work together to craft the best matches possible.
On Sunday night, World Wrestling Entertainment presented a rather mediocre and lackluster Battleground show that featured some solid wrestling but only one match that stood out as anything remotely close to pay-per-view quality.
Despite the disappointing nature of the event as a whole and noticeable lack of chemistry among stars involved in some of the night's top bouts, there were some very strong individual performances that deserve recognition.
Whether it was Roman Reigns continuing to show why he has become the breakout star of 2014 or The Usos stating their case for MVPs of WWE, several stars proved their worth to the company and their dedication to the craft.
In honor of another huge WWE Network presentation, relive the best and worst performances of Battleground with report cards for every Superstar* involved in Sunday night's huge extravaganza.
*Except for the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal
The Adam Rose character is going absolutely nowhere, and performances like his spot during the Battleground Kickoff show explain why.
Rose has not evolved past what fans saw two months ago when he debuted. The act is exactly the same, the matches appear to be uniform and he has won very few matches without some sort of outside interference.
That nothing has been done to alter the character after it failed to get over in its initial months indicates that WWE Creative has all but given up on helping it or the performer portraying it succeed.
On Sunday night, Rose wrestled a very brief match no different or better than any other in which he has competed since May. The crowd barely responded to his act; more attention was paid to the lovely Layla and Summer Rae than the male performer himself.
If one thing is clear after the most recent WWE extravaganza, it is that it may be time to give up on the character that once appeared to have so much potential but has failed so miserably early in its existence.
Fandango is one of those hidden gems whom people will appreciate well after he is long gone from World Wrestling Entertainment.
A performer with undeniable charisma, Fandango is an underrated ring worker as well. Unfortunately, he didn't have the opportunity to showcase that aspect of her performance Sunday, as he and Adam Rose locked up in a two-minute match more concerned with furthering the angle involving the ballroom dancer and former partners Layla and Summer Rae than anything going on inside the squared circle.
As the two-timing egotist, he played his role well and took two hard slaps by two beautiful women spectacularly.
Otherwise, what the talented young Superstar turned in on Sunday was nondescript, through no fault of his own.
Naomi has long been considered one of the most underrated, underutilized Divas on the roster and has shown why in two consecutive pay-per-view performances.
Last month, she and Paige had a very good, very competitive bout for the Divas title, and on Sunday night, just prior to Battleground, she carried Cameron in a match far better than it had any right to be.
The former NXT star showed good intensity and aggression as she took the fight to her former partner and did an even better job of putting over her limited and sometimes unconvincing offense.
The look of disgust and disappointment on Naomi's face following what was a tainted loss really sold how stunned she was over the developments.
There will almost assuredly be a time when she gets revenge for what went down on Sunday night, but for now Naomi should be quite proud of what she was able to accomplish with the fairly inexperienced Cameron.
Cameron is a natural heel. She exudes an aura that makes her almost instantly unlikable. Her attitude and the way she carries herself is that of a spoiled brat with an ego the size of former partner Brodus Clay.
Those elements make her an effective heel, but her limited in-ring experience does not lend itself well to expanded wrestling matches.
On Sunday night, in a controlled environment and with an opponent as talented as her former friend and tag team partner, Cameron proved that she could do the bare minimum to deliver a fine performance. She took a tremendous beating and did so quite well.
The win was a suitable way to continue the feud and set up a scenario in which the arrogant villainess will get her comeuppance. Until then, Cameron figures to serve as a solid heel for the Divas division as long as she can continue to turn in performances that do not expose her considerable weaknesses.
There is no act in today's WWE as consistently great as WWE Tag Team champions Jimmy and Jey Uso.
The twin sons of Attitude Era great Rikishi simply do not have bad matches, regardless of who the opponents are. A dynamic duo with a move set that lends itself to popping the audience and creating dramatic near-falls late in matches, they have had outstanding bouts with everyone from The Shield to the New Age Outlaws to RybAxel.
At Battleground, they wrestled a Match of the Year candidate against Luke Harper and Erick Rowan that had fans in Tampa chanting "This is awesome" at the top of their lungs. With every high-impact maneuver, every signature spot, every finisher and every near-fall, the response grew louder and louder.
The explosiveness with which they approached the final moments of the bout, despite being physically and mentally exhausted, helped demonstrate the desperation they were feeling. There was a very real sense of urgency in their performance that helped suck the crowd into the action, convincing them to invest themselves emotionally in the bout.
The win established the brothers as the centerpiece of WWE's tag team division and one of the most popular acts in the entire company.
Luke Harper and Erick Rowan
One look at Luke Harper and Erick Rowan reveals a team of big men who should be nowhere near as good as they actually are. After all, history tells us that Superstars with their size and weight are traditionally brawlers, workers more inclined to punch and kick than do anything resembling an actual competitive wrestling match.
Harper and Rowan have bucked tradition, however, proving they can hang with any set of Superstars put in front of them. Harper was no big surprise given his solid resume of work in the Indys, but Rowan has developed into a very talented big man on a seemingly weekly basis.
On Sunday night they delivered their best performances to date, challenging The Usos for the WWE Tag Team Championship in a Best 2-out-of-3 Falls match.
The Usos tend to cut a fast pace, and to their credit, Harper and Rowan kept up that pace. They never appeared to be slower or blown up at any point in that match. Their power-based offense meshed perfectly with the faster, more agile offense of the champions, and the result was a crisp match that thrilled the Tampa fans.
Rowan and Harper lost, but the lack of suitable competition past them indicates that there may still be some life in the program.
The first few months of Paige's main-roster career have not quite gone the way fans had hoped.
The Anti-Diva character was done away with completely in favor of no character at all. Wrestling, the one thing she excelled at above and beyond everyone else, proved somewhat meaningless as her ring work was limited to the two or three minutes.
On Sunday, in one of her first elongated in-ring performances, she was charged with wrestling as a heel, a role she has not filled in years. Add to that the fact that she was working with AJ Lee for the first time in a legitimate match, and there are plenty of excuses for the lack of chemistry between the two talented ladies and the numerous botches that occurred during the contest.
Paige made up for the somewhat disappointing in-ring performance with the evolution of her character. At several points she could be heard yelling, "Come on, AJ," almost as if she was disappointed by the woman for whom she feigned respect and admiration.
Eventually, she was outwrestled by the champion and saw her night end on a low point.
The good news, through all of it, is that she will have more than one opportunity to make up for her showing on Sunday, as the program between she and champion Lee appears unlikely to end anytime soon.
The story told during Sunday's Divas Championship match was one that required AJ Lee to take a beating and score a somewhat fluky win over her superior opponent. She filled that role to perfection, bumping around the squared circle and playing the role of plucky underdog quite admirably.
Still, it was quite apparent that the current titleholder has some ring rust to knock off before she returns to the quality performer she was prior to her hiatus.
The chemistry between she and Paige was shaky at best, and the match suffered for it. As they work together more frequently, they will develop said chemistry and deliver the matches so many expect of them.
For now, fans will have to stay patient. The story and ring work will develop, and when it does the fans will be privy to some magical work from two extremely talented young women.
Jack Swagger was one of the most buzzed-about Superstars entering Battleground.
He underwent a recent babyface turn and had enjoyed the biggest reactions of his career as he stood up in the face of the dominant Rusev and his loud, yapping social ambassador, Lana.
In what was his highest-profile match since his WrestleMania 29 battle against Alberto Del Rio, Swagger worked well enough as a babyface to suggest that he can succeed in the role. At the same time, he did very little to make himself stand out among a roster full of very talented fan favorites.
The strongest aspect on his work on Sunday night came when he locked in the Patriot Lock, bringing the crowd to its feet and ensuring a hot finish.
Of course, the count-out decision cooled the audience significantly, but it keeps Swagger strong enough for the feud to continue into the future, something that will benefit all involved.
Strictly from a wrestling standpoint, Rusev's grade is similar to Jack Swagger's (B-). Nothing he did was that much different from anything fans have come to expect from him, regardless of the hot storyline that accompanied the bout or the quality of opponent with whom he shared the ring.
When factoring in the intensity that he showed during Lana's pre-match promo, yelling in his native tongue with fury and anger in his eyes, you have a performance that exceeds his work between the ropes.
Rusev was passionate and emotional as the opening bell rang, and the aggression he showed throughout helped demonstrate the importance of the match to the Bulgarian Brute.
The way he sold Swagger's trademark offense, particularly the Patriot Lock, proved that he was not flawless and that he could, in fact, be beaten. That selling helped put Swagger over, even in defeat, and quenched the fans' thirst until they meet again.
Which may occur as soon as SummerSlam on August 17.
One of the more disappointing elements of the Battleground pay-per-view was the fact that fans were robbed of the advertised match between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, a bout some thought could steal the show.
At the same time, Rollins and Ambrose managed to further their story with strong performances in several big brawls that occurred backstage, around ringside and in the parking lot.
Rollins in particular was quite effective as the cowardly heel more concerned with evading the onslaught of his former friend that actually facing him in a sanctioned match. The way he ran away from the Lunatic Fringe proved just how afraid he is of what Ambrose is capable of.
The most impressive part of Rollins' performance actually came following the ringside brawl. With a plethora of agents and referees holding him down, Rollins could be overheard yelling, "I'm gonna get you!" It was a brilliant bit that made the Money in the Bank winner look even more detestable and unlikable than he was before.
Always willing to talk a big game before hiding behind The Authority, Rollins has proven himself capable of being a major heel star for WWE in the future.
Dean Ambrose's role at the Battleground event was limited thanks to a show-long angle that was put in place to necessitate a match between he and Seth Rollins at some later point.
What fans did see of him was more or less the same as they had witnessed on Raw and SmackDown of late. He was unpredictable, uncontrollable and frantic as he attacked former friend Rollins backstage, in the arena and in the parking lot, never quite satisfied with the pain and punishment he had dealt out to the man he once considered a brother.
Sweating and seething with anger, he watched as Rollins sped away in a rental car, forced to wait until Monday for his latest opportunity to destroy the man that betrayed him more than any other.
The crowd greeted his many appearances with huge pops, suggesting that any concerns about his singles potential that may have existed beforehand.
The eventual match between Ambrose and Rollins will be one capable of showing up any other on the card. With a strong story and crowd participation behind them, fans will be treated to something truly special.
Until then, enjoy the maniacal rage and the wild brawls that Ambrose instigates on WWE television.
Chris Jericho entered the Tampa Bay Times Forum with every intention of stealing the show with Bray Wyatt. While the match was quite good and showed potential for even better bouts between the two in the future, it failed to live up to the heightened expectations.
The work was sloppy at times, especially early, as it looked like the competitors struggled to recapture the chemistry they had when they met in May 2013 in NXT.
Jericho was his typically great self, bumping around for Wyatt before making a spirited comeback late. With that said, it never appeared as though the match got out of second gear. As a Superstar with Hall of Fame credentials, someone who has faced every major Superstar of the last two decades, he bears some responsibility for that.
There is a much better match to be had between Jericho and Wyatt, and while the latter has proven to be quite talented, it will be up to Y2J to get that match out of the Reaper of Souls.
Bray Wyatt has earned a reputation for being one of the brightest stars on the WWE roster thanks to outstanding matches with Daniel Bryan, John Cena and The Shield.
While there was nothing inherently wrong with anything he did at Battleground, his match with Chris Jericho was the first time he appeared to be out of his league. Jericho was clearly on a different level than Wyatt, who looked somewhat slow as he attempted to keep up with the former WWE undisputed champion.
There were a few spots that were far from crisp, and though the blame must be attributed to both competitors, Wyatt just never looked as confident while competing against Jericho as he did while working with other main event talent.
Which is unfortunate, because Battleground needed one more really good match to help it succeed. Had Wyatt had a better night, that may have happened. Instead, fans are left hoping that the two stars are given another chance to have a match that lives up to the talent level of the competitors.
Sheamus, like The Usos, can be counted on to consistently deliver quality matches whenever he steps foot inside a squared circle. A workhorse for WWE in 2014, the current United States champion is one of the most reliable stars in the sport.
For that reason alone, it would not have been out of the realm of possibility for the Celtic Warrior to leave Battleground with the Intercontinental Championship to go along with his U.S. title.
That was not the case thanks to a big superkick from Dolph Ziggler, but Sheamus still managed to turn in one of the better performances of Sunday's huge Battle Royal.
Whether he was delivering the Brogue Kick and ending the night of Heath Slater or creating drama thanks to a stellar exchange with the aforementioned Ziggler, Sheamus was one of the key elements in the match to crown a new champion.
Already in possession of one of the company's midcard titles, Sheamus was not in need of the Intercontinental Championship to help him get any more over than he is, and thus his loss in the match does little to hurt him.
That Dolph Ziggler is as good as he is, and that he has the support from the audience that he has, makes it that much more obvious that he should be significantly higher on the proverbial totem pole than he currently is.
At Battleground, he again proved his wealth of talent by turning in the best performance of any of the men involved in the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal.
Ziggler evaded elimination, clinging to the ropes and stopping himself from tumbling to the arena floor on several occasions. He scored big eliminations in the form of former world heavyweight champions Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio and appeared to be the new champion before being hurled over the top and to the ground by The Miz.
The events surrounding the end of the match seem to indicate that Ziggler may find himself embroiled in a feud over the title with the new championship, something that would be far better than working with Fandango in a story about his former dance partners.
Kofi Kingston does things no other Superstar is capable of in most regular matches, so whenever he gets the opportunity to showcase his unmatched athletic ability in a bout such as a Battle Royal he goes all-out to ensure that fans remember his performance.
While the spots he was involved in Sunday were not up to the level of others, he still made jaws drop by balancing himself on the shoulders of the previously eliminated Big E to prevent elimination. He also managed to use Cesaro as a base to balance himself.
Kingston may not be on the receiving end of the push many believe he deserves, but he never lets his position on the card determine the quality of his performances. He still works hard to give the fans something to talk about, which is an admirable quality in any Superstar.
Sunday was proof positive of his determination to perform up to expectations.
The Miz is the Superstar fans love to hate. With a new Hollywood movie star gimmick and a renewed push behind him, he took the first step toward reestablishing himself as one of the most visible stars in the industry.
On Sunday night, he constantly found himself on the arena floor. There, he waited patiently for he opportune time to re-enter the squared circle. If opposition was presented, he returned to the floor by rolling under the bottom rope.
It was a cowardly way to remain active in the bout and the perfect way for Miz to remind fans of the detestable villain he once was.
Late in the bout, Dolph Ziggler eliminated Sheamus and seemingly won the match. Miz, never one to hesitate in spoiling a triumphant hero's moment, entered the ring and dumped Ziggler over the top rope. Seconds later, he was announced as the winner and new intercontinental champion.
Sure, it is a title Miz has held before and one that pales in comparison to the WWE title he held just over three years ago, but it is a step in the right direction as Miz tries to put two of the most frustrating years of his career behind him.
While it looked like Kane was the odd man out in the main event, a Superstar whose best days were behind him and one who really did not belong in the same ring as his vastly superior opponents, the Big Red Monster was far more involved with the action that occurred in the bout than most could have expected.
Kane not only mixed it up with both Roman Reigns and John Cena but also gained a measure of revenge on Randy Orton for his RKO six days earlier.
Originally a plot device in the story involving The Authority's desperation to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Kane proved that he could still deliver in a pay-per-view main event when his work was limited and he was surrounded by more talented individuals.
The finish was exactly what it needed to be, as Kane took the pinfall. A future Hall of Famer, the loss will have little to no effect on Kane, who should remain a vital to The Authority's domination of WWE.
Randy Orton has been so good for so long that his performances tend go underrated and underappreciated.
That was not the case Sunday, when Orton became somewhat lost in the shuffle during the Fatal 4-Way main event.
Sure, he was integral in the subplot involving he and Kane, and yes, he took a huge bump in the form of a Spear through the timekeeper's position. And even though his RKO prevented Reigns from capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, that does not make up for the fact that his performance between those spots was rather subdued.
The Viper has been so reliable and so consistent in his work that when he disappoints, it tends to stand out more than when he excels. That was the case Sunday, when there simply was only so much spotlight to go around, and Orton found himself with the least.
Few expected Roman Reigns to leave Tampa with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but it was clear that in order to back up the tremendous push that he had received leading into the show, he had to deliver one of the best performances of his young career.
He did that, exploding late in the bout and dishing out his trademark moves and strikes to anyone who stood between he and the top prize in the industry.
Reigns flattened John Cena with a Superman Punch, caught all three of his opponents with a running boot to the side of the face and nearly decimated Randy Orton with a Spear through the timekeeper's position.
Unfortunately for the second-generation competitor and breakout star of The Shield, his efforts fell short as he received an RKO from Orton. He was then forced to watch from ringside as Cena celebrated a successful title defense, wondering what may have been.
If the SummerSlam promo that aired on two separate occasions earlier in the night is any indication, Reigns should figure prominently into plans for that event.
Based on his performance Sunday night, he most certainly deserves to.
John Cena turned in one of the least flashy performances of his career Sunday night when he took a back seat to Roman Reigns, who was clearly positioned as the star of the bout.
Cena took a beating at the hands of all of his opponents, particularly Reigns, who proved to be his equal. Being the superhero-like figure that he is, though, Cena made a tremendous comeback, delivering the Attitude Adjustment on Randy Orton, who crashed down onto the upper body of Kane, and pinning the Devil's Favorite Demon to successfully retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Just one month into his 15th title reign, Cena just keeps chugging along. There was nothing at all spectacular or special about the performance that he turned in Sunday night, but at the same time and more importantly, there was nothing wrong with it, either.
A veteran of WWE for 12 years, his work ethic is unwavering. That alone makes him an asset to Vince McMahon's company. That he remains a hero to so many young fans keeps him at the top of the company, regardless of how many older fans eagerly anticipate his fall from grace.