Heading into Stomping Grounds, I would argue most fans didn’t hear or say one good word about this pay-per-view. Now one cannot blame the fans for tearing down a pay-per-view that has had such a lacklustre build to it. But despite the creative flaws, one has to remember, this company is full of incredible professional wrestlers, and I believe this card, was a reminder of that fact.
From top to bottom, almost every superstar on this show put in a great shift, and the live crowd was receptive to their efforts. We had plenty of surprises. Whether it was surprising outcomes, pleasantly surprising matches – there was plenty of hits throughout this show, and surprisingly only a few misses.
Tony Nese vs. Drew Gulak vs. Akira Tozawa (Kickoff Show – Cruiserweight Title Match)
I was excited by the combination of these three men, but boy, did they deliver! Nese said during his entrance, “Steal the show before the show,” and these three men did just that. Out of necessity, nearly every cruiserweight title bout has to start off at a ferocious pace so that those who are less familiar with 205 Live, do not lose interest. They started things off fast, but more impressively, they kept that same pace throughout this triple threat.
Even though they slowed things down enough for the moves and false finishes to settle in, Nese, Tozawa, and Gulak made sure the live crowd never lost interest. It was always one thing after another. From Tony Nese simultaneously hitting a German suplex pin, and hooking Tozawa’s legs with his own to pin both men, to Nese lifting Tozawa up with his arm and brutally launching him into the turnbuckle. Like the energiser bunny, all three men kept going.
Everyone involved in this triple threat deserves credit, but Tony Nese seemed like a man possessed at Stomping Grounds. His execution was flawless, and almost every standout moment in this match featured ‘The Premier Athlete’. The champion’s performance made the outcome even more surprising, and a tad upsetting.
Tozawa would end up getting rid of the champion, only for Drew Gulak to take advantage and become Cruiserweight Champion. He did not pin the champion to win, which was pointed out by 205 Live’s commentary team. So perhaps we will see a lengthy feud with Nese and Gulak battling over WWE’s Cruiserweight title.
Becky Lynch vs. Lacey Evans (RAW Women’s Title Match)
Opening Stomping Grounds main card was none other than ‘The Man’ Becky Lynch, who Tacoma, Washington welcomed with open arms. Although people were poking fun at WWE’s inability to draw a big crowd for Stomping Grounds, those in attendance made up for the empty seats with their loud voices, and that was evident in Lynch’s title defence.
Both women did a much better job this time around compared to their previous clash at Money in the Bank. Instead of attempting to make it an out and out wrestling match, they played to Lacey Evans strengths and added a lot more character driven moments. Lynch toyed around with the irritating heel early on as she grabbed her foot and began spinning her around.
She also reused Lacey’s trademark dirty tissue and shoved it in the mouth of her opponent, which garnered a great reaction. Lacey’s lack of experience was still clear for all to see. But like a true professional, Lynch carried her rookie opponent, and with the help of an enthusiastic crowd, gave us a fun opener where she retained her title.
Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs. The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods)
One thing I found quite refreshing about this PPV was how different, yet effective so many of the matches were. Instead of The New Day starting off hot by getting the better of Zayn and Owens, they opted to go straight to the beat down and build to the eventual babyface comeback. Owens superkicked Big E off the apron and then proceeded to unleash a flurry of superkicks on Woods, leading fans to believe this was going to end early.
Owens and Zayn dominated about ninety percent of this match. But when Woods made that big “hot tag” in the latter portion of the match, and Big E came in with suplexes, and hip flexes, it meant so much more as both Woods and E had worked hard for that one moment.
In typical New Day fashion, there were some thrilling false finishes. And just when we thought Zayn and Owens were going to lose, a stone cold stunner helped KO get the one, two, and three.
Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe (US Title Match)
Ricochet is small, and Samoa Joe is a big man. That was the simple story of this US title bout. It was logical, easy to understand, and made Ricochet feel like much more than a guy with a few flashy manoeuvres. Joe came across as a monster in this match as he destroyed Ricochet with thunderous chops, powerbombs, and clotheslines. Every time it looked like Ricochet was going to make a comeback, he would fall back to the mat.
The live crowd was losing out on the spectacle they have become accustomed to when watching the former NXT North American champion, and that made them cheer for Joe’s underdog opponent even more. Both men did a great job in their respective roles. Joe was aggressive, while Ricochet sold his beating very well, enabling him to win over the crowd on an emotional level.
Ultimately, Ricochet fought back, and after hitting a codebreaker on Joe, he hit his 630 for the win. I didn’t expect Ricochet to walk out as US champion. I’m also not complaining after having witnessed that highly entertaining title match.
Daniel Bryan & Rowan vs. Heavy Machinery (SmackDown Live Tag Team Titles Match)
Perhaps I am being a tad generous by claiming this belongs in the hit column, but I found Bryan and Rowan vs. Heavy Machinery to be a fun tag match. Despite being booed because they were in the state of Washington (home of Daniel Bryan), Otis and Tucker kept their wits about them, which I also found pretty impressive for such a young team.
Daniel Bryan was excellent (as always), raising the bar every time he was in the ring, and even helping Heavy Machinery look like a genuine threat. At one point Bryan repeatedly hit Otis with his trademark kicks, but after a couple, he realised the big man was absorbing them, and in a panic kept throwing them knowing they weren’t affecting his much larger opponent. It was a small moment, but one that helped Otis stand out.
The overwhelming support for Bryan was nice to see, and in a way, made it even more enjoyable. Bryan and Rowan did end up retaining their titles. However, a rematch looks likely, which is fine by me.
Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre
Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre delivered the biggest surprise of the night because, according to this review, they had the best match of Stomping Grounds main card. Unlike WrestleMania, where Reigns and McIntyre went on after countless big matches, this time they had a much better opportunity to showcase their in-ring skills. They started things off quickly, as ‘The Scottish Psycho Path’ went running out after Reigns during his entrance. It was what this bout needed to hook the fans early on.
Like so many Roman Reigns matches, initially some section of fans were booing, but that changed as this battle wore on. McIntyre’s period of dominance was very effective, and it was during this period that most of the live crowd got behind ‘The Big Dog’. Plus, Shane McMahon’s interference was well timed and even led to some excellent near falls that made fans believe Reigns was going to lose AGAIN. Of course, the former universal champion would make a comeback, hitting his spear to win a very well paced bout.
Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss (SmackDown Live Women’s Title Match)
Now according to this review (others may disagree), only three matches made the miss column, which is pretty impressive for an average WWE PPV. The first of those three came when Bayley defended her championship against Alexa Bliss. Now its common knowledge Bliss is not a great wrestler, she’s not bad, but she’s far from the levels of a Becky Lynch, Charlotte, and Bayley. Also, previous encounters between these two have shown something doesn’t click when they face one another.
Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss had some good moments. Unfortunately, they could not keep the match flowing smoothly. There always seemed to be a hiccup in between moves or certain spots came off a lot worse than I’m sure both women had planned. There have been far worse title bouts in WWE history, but once again, there just seemed to be something missing when Bayley (who defeated Bliss after Nikki Cross tried to help Bliss) takes on Alexa Bliss in a WWE ring.
Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE Title – Steel Cage Match)
From a technical standpoint, Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston did very little wrong. Technically speaking, it was not a bad match. The simplicity of using the cage as a weapon and attacking Kofi’s leg made sense and some of the close calls where both men almost escaped using the door worked. However, it was hard to believe at almost any point during this cage match, that Dolph was going to walk out as WWE champion.
They started things a little too slowly, which did not aid both men in their quest to win over the live crowd, and no matter what they did, everybody watching knew Kofi would not be leaving Washington without his title. It was unfortunate, and both men did well. The ending was also well executed as Kofi dived through the middle rope, while Dolph was crawling out of the cage, to retain his title. Both men did their best, but they were fighting an uphill battle from the outset.
Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin with Special Guest Referee Lacey Evans (Universal Title Match)
When it comes to Stomping Grounds main event, I can see what WWE was trying to accomplish, and by the end of the main event, they got the reaction they were after. The bad part for WWE was, the road to get to that reaction was far from smooth, making this a disappointing PPV main event.
Baron Corbin introduced Lacey Evans as the special guest referee, and the fact the referee was a woman meant Seth Rollins would not attack her with a chair (it’s not the Attitude Era guys!). It made sense. It also meant this unnecessarily long feud between Becky and Lacey (and Corbin and Rollins for that matter) continues.
Also, while Corbin intentionally bent the rules and Lacey tried to help Corbin, Lacey magically became an official that had the power to change the rules of the match (I was not aware that referee’s had that kind of power). It did not make sense, and the payoff of Becky Lynch finally making the save was dragged out a little too long, making the eventual pop (which was still big) less impactful.
After Lacey slapped Rollins and hit him with a low blow, Corbin looked to be on the verge of winning his first WWE title, only for ‘The Man’ to make the save by attacking Lacey Evans. With Lacey taken out, Corbin called for another ref, coincidentally the same referee that cost him at Super ShowDown made his way into the ring. Corbin would eventually find himself on the receiving end of a curb stomp, meaning Seth Rollins retained his Universal championship.
All in all, I think the effort and performance level of the men and women at Stomping Grounds was a reminder for fans that you don’t judge a book by its cover. This PPV will not go down in history as a memorable one, but it did deliver a lot of very good in-ring action, and for a relatively small show like this, what more do you want?
All images are courtesy of wwe.com