Stomping Grounds served as a not-so-subtle reminder that WWE’s product is monumentally more exciting with fresh matchups.
There is no doubt that WWE has the most complete, elite roster in the world. Yet despite the abundance in riches, the Stomping Grounds card was filled with rematches from April’s WrestleMania (Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre), May’s Money in the Bank (Becky Lynch vs. Lacey Evans) and June’s Super ShowDown (Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin, Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler). Even more frustrating, the rematches all ended with the same winners from their prior encounter, begging the question of why new opponents were not inserted into the matches.
But there were a handful of fresh matchups at Stomping Grounds. The best two matches of the night were Daniel Bryan and Rowan defending their SmackDown tag titles against Heavy Machinery, which was wildly entertaining, and the match of the night between Samoa Joe and Ricochet for the United States championship.
Every match on the card ended in a clean finish, and although it was hurt by the rematches, this show was impressive from beginning to end.
Taking place on the 23rd anniversary of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s legendary “Austin 3:16” promo at the 1996 King of the Ring, WWE did not bestow the opportunity to any of its performers to cut an extended promo on a live mic after any match. Although there is an inherent risk in doing so, taking that chance is necessary when seeking to create a mega star.
• Drew Gulak won a triple-threat match over Tony Nese and Akira Tozawa on the preshow to become the new Cruiserweight champion
• Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch defeated Lacy Evans
• Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn defeated The New Day’s Big E and Xavier Woods
• Ricochet defeated Samoa Joe to win the United States championship after delivering a pristine 630 Splash
• Daniel Bryan and Rowan defeated Heavy Machinery to retain the SmackDown tag titles
• Bayley successfully defended her SmackDown women’s championship against Alexa Bliss
• Roman Reigns defeated Drew McIntyre
• WWE champion Kofi Kingston defeated Dolph Ziggler in a steel cage
• Universal champion Seth Rollins retained his title in a victory over Baron Corbin
Takeaways from Stomping Grounds:
• Ricochet made his main roster debut this past February, but start-and-stop booking and a void of any true rivalry plagued his first five months in WWE. He’s put together a few good singles matches, especially on Raw against Cesaro, but just hasn’t been able to build any momentum.
Until Sunday night.
Ricochet and Samoa Joe delivered a nonstop clash of styles, with the high-flying modus operandi of Ricochet contrasting the brute power of Joe. There were enough false finishes that the end sequence was still a genuine surprise, and the crowd erupted when Ricochet dropped a picturesque 630 Splash on Joe for the win.
The camera followed Ricochet backstage, where a collection of WWE stars (all of whom were babyfaces, with the peculiar exception of Charlotte Flair) cheered on the new United States champ.
During his post-match photo shoot, Ricochet was greeted by Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows before receiving further congratulations from AJ Styles.
Styles challenged Ricochet to a title match tomorrow night, which has the potential to be the best match on Raw thus far in 2019.
• Daniel Bryan delivered a memorable performance in front of a red-hot crowd in his home state of Washington.
Bryan teamed with Erick Rowan, as they defended their tag team titles against the vastly underrated Heavy Machinery team of Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight (though WWE has changed the names to simply Rowan, Otis and Tucker).
The match was a pleasant combination of power, mat-based precision and high-flying maneuvers. The in-ring exchanges between Bryan and Otis represented the highlight of the entire show.
Watching Bryan work is a joy. He gets himself over by making his opponent shine, and he took bumps that highlighted Otis and Tucker. Bryan made Heavy Machinery look so tough that their time in the ring with Rowan was also that much more enhanced (and the commentary team also did a nice job of capturing the meaning of those moments between the three monsters).
The home state crowd of Washington cheered so passionately for Bryan that it was a reminder of how perfect he is as a babyface. The nonstop boos for Heavy Machinery also allowed viewers to envision the duo as heels, which, one day, would add a new dimension to their characters.
A small package finish helped put a proper piece of punctuation at the end of this story. Hopefully the two teams will avoid an immediate rematch, building some extra intrigue to their next encounter.
• Bayley defeated Alexa Bliss in the best match the two have had together.
Very quietly, Bayley has put together a fantastic 2019. She won the tag titles with Sasha Banks, helped the Ilconics attain their best moment in WWE when she took the pin fall at the end of their ‘Mania match, and starred at Money in the Bank with a ladder match victory and ensuing title win over Charlotte Flair.
At Stomping Grounds, Bayley combined with Bliss to put together a very good match that helps further establish her as one of the top wrestlers in the world.
The next step for Bayley? A SummerSlam match feud with Sasha Banks.
If done correctly, that is a match with clear stakes and a compelling backstory that could generate enough interest to even close out the show.
• If you felt like you’d already seen some of the matches–and finishes–on this card, you weren’t mistaken.
Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre wrestled a rematch of their WrestleMania 35 match. In terms of bell-to-bell action, there is no debate: the match at Stomping Grounds far exceeded their encounter at WrestleMania.
The two men worked extremely hard to deliver the best match possible, but the crowd was not entirely invested. This feud has been nonstop for the past four months, leading to some complacency from the fan base, which was apparent during the ebb and flow of the match.
Naturally, there will be another match involving Reigns and McIntyre tomorrow on Raw, albeit a handicap match with Shane McMahon and McIntyre teaming up against Reigns.
• Another rematch was Kofi Kingston defending the WWE championship against Dolph Ziggler. This took place weeks ago in Saudi Arabia at the Super ShowDown, but the new caveat at Stomping Grounds was a steel cage. Kingston outsmarted Ziggler to jump out the door (not a great finish for a babyface, though Kingston added some excitement to it).
The feud appears set to continue, but Kingston needs a new challenger who poses a more serious threat for his title. And one man fills that role better than anyone: Big E.
WWE’s core fan base is clamoring for new matchups, and this would certainly fit that description. The match would also present a compelling argument to headline SummerSlam.
The traditional heel turn wouldn’t even be necessary, as Kingston and Big E could fight as babyfaces for the WWE title. Xavier Woods would be stuck in the middle between his two partners, adding more intrigue to an already dynamic story. As good as the cage match was between Kingston and Ziggler, it would pale in comparison to the anticipation of a match between Kingston and Big E.
• The main event of Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin was another rematch from Super ShowDown, with the addition of special guest referee Lacey Evans.
The crowd in Tacoma repeatedly showed its disinterest in Corbin, but the match was easily the best one that Rollins has had against Corbin. The inclusion of Evans as referee was a benefit, as she continually stalled Rollins’ chances of winning by changing the match to a no count-out affair once Corbin was about to be counted out, then into a no disqualification match after Corbin was forced to use illegal tactics to win.
Evans even dropped Rollins with a low blow, which appeared to be the end of his run with the Universal title, until Becky Lynch came to make the save.
With Evans out of the picture, referee John Cone counted the 1-2-3 for Rollins, ensuring that this feud will continue with a mixed tag match at the Extreme Rules pay per view this July in Philly.
The match was entertaining, but the finish was never in doubt. WWE has the opportunity to deliver an unforgettable summer during its build and execution with SummerSlam, which comes early this year on August 11. But in order to achieve that, the product is in desperate need of more fresh matchups.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.