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What we learned from WWE Battleground 2016

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The directions of both RAW and SmackDown are more set today than they were, thanks to a largely entertaining Sunday night.

Dean Ambrose reacts during the WWE Championship triple threat WWE.com

Battleground has come and gone, and the stacked card didn’t disappoint. Somehow, a match with no title changes managed to advance multiple stories, generate excitement for the now separate brands of RAW and SmackDown, and help plant the first few seeds for WWE’s largest remaining show of 2016: SummerSlam. Let’s dive into this successful event.

Breezango defeats The Usos

Occasionally, WWE will feature tag matches on the pre-show that lack energy or purpose. This was not one of those tags, as Breezango (Tyler Breeze and Fandango) and Usos Jimmy and Jey showed off some new moves, fantastic teamwork, and drama not often seen on the kickoff show.

What we learned: It’s a good sign going forward for SmackDown’s tag division — and not just because the newer, fresher team, Breezango, picked up the victory against the established Usos. SmackDown doesn’t have the tag titles (or any tag titles) yet, but building a competitive division from the ground up will help generate interest in such a championship.

Sasha Banks and Bayley defeat Charlotte (c) and Dana Brooke

Sasha Banks had a mystery partner coming into the night, and the smile on her face let everyone who could see it know that said partner was going to be Bayley. This was maybe the moment of the entire night, as Bayley — whose call-up to WWE was at first delayed by injury and then by a lengthy run as NXT’s Women’s Champion to help anchor the burgeoning touring brand — finally made it to the main roster. The match itself was great, too, with hard-hitting attacks coming from both sides, plenty of drama to be found, and Sasha tapping out Women’s Champion Charlotte to likely setup a championship match at SummerSlam.

What we learned: We are all this young lady when Bayley shows up on our televisions.

Six-Man Tag Match: The Wyatts defeat The New Day (c)

The Wyatt Family tried to warn The New Day repeatedly that they were to be taken seriously, and outside of Xavier Woods, no one was listening. It became apparent to Big E and Kofi Kingston as the match went on and Bray Wyatt and crew proved difficult to put away, though. New Day would eventually succumb in this non-title match, maybe finishing off this feud and raising questions on both sides.

What we learned: Bray Wyatt is still super dope in the ring, and might have helped create a situation where The New Day needs to evolve — they’re the longest-reigning WWE tag champs, sure, but now what? With Braun Strowman on RAW while Bray and Erick Rowan are on SmackDown, it’s to be seen how this victory is used to enhance the Wyatts for more than just the one night.

United States Championship Match: Rusev (c) crushes Zack Ryder

Zack Ryder put up a good fight, even coming out in a super pro-American getup, but nothing we know of can stop Rusev from crushing at this point. Ryder even made a valiant effort to break out of the Accolade — something only a handful of wrestlers have managed — but Rusev wrenched backward and put even more force into the submission, making it so Ryder had no chance but to tap.

What we learned: WWE is taking Zack Ryder’s resurgence seriously, and are also using it as a way to launch the main roster career of Mojo Rawley — Ryder’s tag team partner from NXT. Mojo came out for the save of Ryder after Rusev decided to keep attacking the defeated challenger post-match. Rusev seemed unimpressed by Mojo’s energy and hype, and the idea of these two big dudes throwing each other around is the kind of thing we didn’t even know we wanted until it was presented to us as a possibility.

Sami Zayn defeats Kevin Owens

This was billed as the match to end the Zayn-Owens feud for good. You know that’s a lie, but given how the two pulled out every stop and then some more we didn’t even know they had, they might have earned a little break from destroying each other week in and week out, as Zayn seems to finally have gotten revenge for Owens’ taking him out and betraying him back in NXT.

What we learned: There might not be better chemistry in all of wrestling than what Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens share, and the fruits of that relationship were plain to see on Sunday. We didn’t necessarily learn that for the first time, but it feels amazing every time they remind us.

Natalya defeats Becky Lynch

This match took a little bit of time to get going, but that was mostly because it followed the emotionally draining Zayn vs. Owens. Natalya picked up the victory after the two traded submissions back and forth, and now gets to taunt Becky repeatedly for her defeat. Of course, if you come at Becky on Twitter, you best not miss:

What we learned: This had a surprising outcome, but only at first: when you stop and think about the shape of the women’s division on SmackDown and what else you can get out of a lengthy Natalya vs. Becky Lynch feud, Natalya picking up the first victory makes all kinds of sense. Natalya doesn’t have to be a cheating heel to be a successful heel: she can just be a jerk who shows off and has legitimate talent that Becky needs to contend with — and lose clean to. Becky will eventually rise to the level she needs to in order to defeat Natalya and win this feud, and the matches that get us there will power SmackDown’s women’s division in the meantime.

Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) retains against Darren Young via double disqualification

This match had its stumbles, but it was more of a building block for a much more significant showdown between the two in the future, anyway. The Miz is so easy to root against, and continued to be so here, while Darren Young’s current character arc of being made into something great once again is one that fans seem to be getting behind. A double DQ is a shame in the sense you wanted some closure, but we’ll appreciate it when we see where these two go next against each other.

Darren Young prepares to apply his finisher on The Miz WWE.com

What we learned: More like what Darren Young learned, as he came to the realization that the Crossface Chicken Wing submission gives him a serious tool to pull out whenever he needs to dismantle an opponent. Young’s mentor, Bob Backlund, might be teaching him about the more dangerous parts of being like Backlund, too, and it’s going to be great when Young completely snaps on Miz and Miz can’t do anything but tap.

Six-Man Tag Match: John Cena, Enzo and Big Cass defeat The Club

Cena lost to AJ Styles at Money in the Bank when The Club (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) interrupted the match, but this time, with Enzo and Big Cass there to help, Cena was able to get his win back. This won’t be the last match between Cena and Styles — nor should it be — but it was a great way to prove Cena right while also giving Styles motivation to evolve in the future so he can continue to torment the face that runs the place.

What we learned: Enzo and Big Cass are already huge stars, with John Cena even giving them deferential treatment and appearing honored by their praise for him. This team defeating The Club makes sense given the split directions of the groups — AJ Styles and Cena are on SmackDown, where neither team can call on their boys to help given that the two tag teams are on RAW post-draft. Two feuds turn into one and elegantly back into two again.

WWE Championship Triple-Threat Match: Dean Ambrose defeats Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins

The expectation from many was that Ambrose was a temporary, short-term champion who was just holding the belt while Roman Reigns came back from his suspension. Seth Rollins didn’t get the title back from Ambrose, though, meaning Reigns can’t try to get it back from Seth, and SmackDown is now the show with WWE’s most prestigious belt. The Shield triple-threat we’ve all been waiting for didn’t happen at one of WWE’s largest shows, but it was important for the performers and the direction of the company all the same.

Roman Reigns took the pin — maybe a sign that his push is going to slow down enough for fans to stop resenting him so hard — and Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins worked together in a way that harms my Shield-loving heart. Even if it was to take Reigns out of the equation.

What we learned: Ambrose and the WWE Championship remaining on SmackDown is huge for both the wrestler and the brand, as SmackDown is trying to stop being considered the B-show as it goes live and splits off from RAW. Now, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley — the authority figures on RAW — are going to have to figure out how to introduce their own primary championship on the show. Whether they just give it to Rollins because he’s their top draft pick and it will make people furious, or they setup a tournament that finds RAW’s champion at SummerSlam next month barely matters: either way is going to help draw attention to the show.