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Stomping Grounds should have been a crowd-pleasing show, with all the major babyface champions going over and retaining their titles. However, for Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston and Becky Lynch, the night was a struggle. All three of them were paired with inferior opponents for their title defenses, and all three of them had disappointing matches.
Tonight was a reminder of a classic truism in wrestling; that in order for a babyface to reach their potential, they need to be paired with an equally talented heel. If the heel cannot get effective heat behind them while they are on the offensive, the babyface's comeback is going to be stunted. Fans didn't believe in Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler or Lacey Evans, which limited the quality of each match they were in. Ironically, a match on the undercard was an exemplary performance by a heel in order to build towards a babyfaces comeback.
That last point is important, because it is evidence that shows WWE did not have to resort to putting someone as untalented as Baron Corbin in the main event of tonight's show. WWE has a roster filled with talented individuals who could have had a much stronger performance in the main event. Yet WWE selected Corbin for the main event, while those other wrestlers worked on the undercard or worse, weren't on the show at all. WWE has a loaded roster filled with talent, but all of that talent doesn't mean a damn thing if those performers aren't pushed correctly.
Seth Rollins vs Baron Corbin: *
You have to really screw things up to make Seth Rollins have a one star match. To be fair, the blame can't be put entirely on Corbin here. Yes he wasn't over with the audience and the crowd crapped on him during the match, and not in a good way that built heat for Rollins' comeback but rather in a way that had fans deciding they would chant for seemingly anything else (Daniel Bryan, John Cena, AEW, CM Punk, etc.) than focus on the match. However, Corbin was fine in doing what he was asked to do and didn't botch any major moves.
The crime here was the booking. Corbin isn't over with the audience, but he was set up to control most of the match, so the crowd began to tune out. Then you had the stipulation with the special guest referee, which stepped all over any logic WWE was trying to use in the match. The most egregious part was when Corbin was going to town on Rollins with the steel chair while Evans watched and did nothing. Then for some inexplicable reason, Evans made the match a No DQ match (how does she have that authority?); which shouldn't have been necessary because she clearly wasn't going to disqualify Corbin when he broke the rules anyway.
The match was filled with a bunch of things like that, including Evans counting out Corbin and then stopping to make it a no count-out match (why did she count at all then?) and Evans slow-counting Rollins' pin attempt, and then later not counting it at all (why did she count in the first place?). All of this stalled and took away any momentum the match could garner. Really, it was unfitting for a world title match and the main event of a PPV. If this took place for any other promotion it would be roundly criticized, and yet it feels perfectly fitting for this current era of WWE programming.
Kofi Kingston vs Dolph Ziggler: ***
Both guys worked really hard, but the steel cage as a match stipulation is a bit outdated right now; it's hard to be original in there, although that is the first time I've seen that kind of finish, with Kofi doing a suicide dive out of the cage to win. I have mixed feelings about the finish; one on hand it felt like kind of a cheap end to the match. On the other hand, the announcers did a good job putting over Kofi's effort, like he risked it all to win the match.
The main issue with the match though is that nobody bought Ziggler as real contender for the title. Kofi himself is a career mid-card wrestler who caught fire earlier this year and pushed his way into the main event. If you want to establish someone who some fans might still see as a mid-carder, you don't put him in a match with another career mid-card wrestler who fans don't buy as a top star. Even though the WWE Championship was on the line, this just felt like a mid-card match to me. In the future, Kofi needs to have a more legitimate opponent so that his matches feel like major title defenses.
Becky Lynch vs Lacey Evans: *½
The match was a bit of a struggle; Lynch is still near the peak of her popularity but I can feel her momentum starting to stall. Working with Ronda Rousey and Charlotte is much better for her than working with Lacey Evans, who isn't nearly as over as Rousey or nearly as good of a worker as Charlotte. This isn't any different than Rollins having to work with Corbin or Kingston having to work with Ziggler; to be a big star you really need to work with other big stars.
Perhaps more troubling is the big push they are giving to the idea that Lynch and Rollins as a couple. WWE has their reasons for doing this; it's more marketable for two of their biggest stars to appear as a couple and obviously it played into the special guest referee stipulation later in the night. That being said, part of Lynch's appeal is her fierce independence. Pairing her up with someone, even a boyfriend that fans really like, takes away from that a bit. In short; Becky don't need no man.
Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre: ***
This was a vintage Super Cena match. Reigns got beaten down early, fought back and even with additional heel interference, overcame the odds and won clean. They obviously are building Reigns up again to be the face of the company, but McIntyre was a real victim tonight. He lacks a definitive win since returning to the main roster last year, and he really could have used the victory tonight. Instead he had the assistance of Shane McMahon and still lost clean, again, to Reigns. Tough break for him.
Ricochet vs Samoa Joe: ****
So this was a perfect match for the mid-card. The match revolved around Ricochet selling for Joe, and Ricochet is so light and agile that he really sold Joe's power offense really well. Later in the match; they used the heat that they gained by Ricochet's superb selling, to rally Ricochet back and have the babyface end up winning the match and the US Championship. It's really simple; one guy sells a lot and then rallies back to win. It ends up really working when you have a babyface the fans really like, and a heel that is capable of getting that heat necessary for the babyface's comeback. Joe should be a main event guy because there are not a lot of guys more talented than him, not just in WWE but anywhere in wrestling.
Bayley vs Alexa Bliss: *¾
Bliss does some things really well and is a natural performer in front of the live audience. She isn't a very good wrestler though, and that was on display whenever she was on offense in this match as they really have to work around her limitations, which is difficult because she is the heel. The finish with Cross didn't feel like it went down the way it was planned, it felt awkward and it was hard to understand what Cross was doing, or trying to do. I think presenting Cross as this really stupid person who has no idea Bliss is manipulating her isn't a great sign for her long-term future in WWE.
Heavy Machinery vs Rowan and Daniel Bryan: **½
Heavy Machinery was in a really difficult situation here as the babyface team trying to face Bryan and Rowan in Bryan's home state of Washington. The crowd was more into Bryan than booing Heavy Machinery; but it's not a good look for Heavy Machinery in their PPV debut on the main roster to play second fiddle to Bryan and Rowan when they are supposed to be the babyfaces. That being said, they still have a lot of potential as a babyface team, and their performance in-the-ring was fairly strong, so nothing major was lost for them tonight.
The New Day vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: ***½
For the sake of roster depth, Owens and Zayn both really need to come across as main event talent; so it was important that they went over clean tonight. They had a good back-and-forth match and did things a little different with Owens and Zayn immediately scoring some near-falls on Woods as soon as the bell rang. That kind of variety is important for WWE because they have so many tag matches between RAW, SmackDown and the PPVs.