So anybody who saw Sunday’s Battleground pay-per-view will be able to tell you that it was bad. It’s made all the worse by the fact that last year’s equivalent was probably the best “B-show” of the year (Meaning it wasn’t WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, or the Royal Rumble). WhatCulture already wrote a lovely article about the obvious stuff so I’m going to stay away from, “Oh, the Punjabi Prison is impossible to see into, and there’s strange racial implications,” and whatever. Other people have said it already and said it better. Instead, I want to talk about Battleground as a signpost of something very simple:
The company continues to stay the course.
What I mean is that their whole mindset continues to reek of short-term planning. And before anybody gets all up my ass about how hard it is to change course in the middle of a development cycle, I know. I know. The WWE is probably in the process of putting out fires that began sometime around January, if that. But this issue has been going on for years now: We see the company banking on old formulas in the hope that they’ll pull in the numbers that they did when they were fresh. The options for anything new or exciting are consistently squandered.
Think about this for a second: Randy Orton lost a Punjabi Prison match for the world title after getting choked out by The Great Khali. Is that headline from yesterday, or 2007? Meanwhile, Sami Zayn won a nothing match against a returning wrestler, we got the same women’s match that we’ve seen for six months, and America beat a country that was standing in for Russia. In a match about flags.
The surprise of the evening was Khali’s return, and it’ll be all that’s talked about in the wrestling world for at least another week, which is obviously what the company is going for. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Big returns have generated buzz literally since we invented wrestling. But part of the reason that this is so newsworthy is because nothing else was newsworthy. The rest of the show was a big steaming pile of nothing.
At last year’s Battleground Sami Zayn had one of the defining matches of his WWE career. He’d been building this feud with Kevin Owens for like six months, and he kept losing, and they were costing each other matches and it was great. And then at Battleground Sami kicked Kevin’s fucking head off twice. It was a beautiful moment. This year he beat Mike Kanellis, who I guess is in love. And apparently that’s terrible.
At last year’s Battleground the main event was the long-awaited triple threat match between The Shield, which people had been clamouring for for two years. It was won by the underdog of the three and was a barn burner of a match. This year the main event was a gimmick match with three different flavours of interference.
Who gives a shit?! There’s nothing to care about! There’s been nothing to care about since WrestleMania! We’re in this weird limbo of nothing: Nothing of value is happening week-to-week, and Battleground proves that nothing of value is happening during the pay-per-views either. So why am I watching? It’s not even shocking! The last time I wrote about wrestling it was because things had gotten weird, and you know what? Weird puts butts in seats. If things are completely bonkers I might not enjoy it but I’m at least compelled to watch. Battleground was more like a slow, arduous march towards the inevitable. It wasn’t good, but more importantly it wasn’t interesting.
The WWE has had enough opportunities to make something interesting happen and yet instead of admitting that what they’re doing isn’t working they’ve decided to stay the course. They’ve stayed the course to the tune of a 20% ratings drop from this time last year, including a 40%-or-more drop with teenage boys, who represent a significant demographic.
But nothing is changing. Why would I watch if they’re committed to a death march?