WWE Stomping Grounds represents the start of the summer for WWE. Over the next two months, everything will ramp up on the way to SummerSlam, one of the WWE's signature events.
The past two months have been challenging. WWE has struggled to recapture the energy and excitement of WrestleMania 35, with stories lacking narrative strength and characters appearing and disappearing with little explanation. And yet, as is typically the case during down creative periods in WWE, some wrestlers and moments still shine through.
The weeks leading up to Stomping Grounds on Raw and SmackDown offered some hope of a resurgence, but with a card that looks a lot like Super ShowDown, there will have to be some significant moments to raise the stakes. Whether that's some of the fresh matches, such as Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe, or stipulations like the yet-to-be-named special guest referee for the Universal title rematch between Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin, we'll simply have to wait and see.
Tim Fiorvanti and Marc Raimondi will recap the action throughout the night, with Sean Coyle breaking down each match with an in-depth rating.
Universal championship: Seth Rollins (c) def. Baron Corbin (Corbin's hand-picked special referee: Lacey Evans)
Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch standing victorious at the end of Stomping Grounds as champions standing over their shared kingdom of Monday Night Raw was a fitting way to end a show that had a lot more good than bad.
Even though the bulk of the main event match was slow, clunky and predictable, it gave the payoff of Lynch running out to save the day and ensure justice its maximum impact.
Evans as the choice for special guest referee made a lot of sense because of how Sunday night and the preceding weeks had played out. After Lynch enjoyed a definitive victory over Evans to open the pay-per-view and retain her Raw women's championship, Evans had an axe to grind and wouldn't be met with the same fate Rollins served every other prospective referee -- a steel chair shot.
Unless you thought Corbin was walking out of the Tacoma Dome as Universal champion, though, you saw almost everything that was coming from about a mile away. The audience quickly grew tired of the paint-by-numbers scenario and leaned on all their favorite tired, belligerent chants. If the timeline had been condensed, or deviated a little bit from the type of crooked guest referee matches we've been seeing for decades, perhaps they wouldn't have gone so rogue before coming back for the finale and Lynch's heroic moment.
Rollins had his moments, and did his best with the hand he was dealt. As the match became no count-out to save Corbin, and then no disqualification, Rollins brought the crowd out of its stupor with a power bomb through the commentary table. Slow counts, and no-counts, led up to the fateful moment when Evans went where no man other than "The" Man should tread. With a pair of slaps, a kick and a low blow, Evans brought Rollins to his knees and set up an End of Days from Corbin.
The crowd roared back to life as Lynch ran down the ramp, trampled Evans and took her out of play. John Cone, the referee from Super ShowDown whom Corbin verbally attacked, re-entered the match in a nice callback, and within 20 seconds Rollins landed a super-kick and a stomp to retain his Universal title.
There's nothing wrong, per se, with leaning into a moment that's more story than match, but no matter how good the moment between Lynch and Rollins felt at the end, there has to be a better match in the middle of it. Let's hope the inevitable mixed tag team match happens on Monday Night Raw and isn't stretched out to Extreme Rules, although that show is only three weeks away.
Steel cage match for the WWE championship: Kofi Kingston (c) def. Dolph Ziggler
Who said suicide dives in WWE are just transition moves leading to commercial breaks? Don't tell that to Kofi Kingston.
With Ziggler crawling toward the cage door following a nasty double up-kick, Kingston recovered, charged toward the door and hit the suicide dive through the second rope to the floor for the victory. It was a cool finish to a fair match that did drag at times.
There were some hard impacts here and at times it did feel like more of a fight than a wrestling match, which is a good thing. However, it was also rather deliberate and long. Ziggler spent the latter third of the match or so working on Kingston's leg.
The finishing sequence was a good one. Ziggler caught a Trouble in Paradise kick and turned it into a kind of inverted ankle lock. Kingston reversed that into an ankle lock of his own. Ziggler escaped and landed a Zig Zag for a two count. Both men then went for kicks at the same time, Kingston caught Ziggler's into a front head lock as Ziggler tried to back his way toward the cage door. ingston tried to grab him by the head, but Ziggler landed the upkick leading to the finish.
This should be the end of this program. It was a decisive end and Kingston already beat Ziggler in Saudi Arabia. If this is it, it wasn't a bad transition feud for Kingston heading into SummerSlam season.
It's hard to get a finger on the pulse of what the WWE audience thinks about Roman Reigns at this moment. For long stretches of his match at Stomping Grounds against Drew McIntyre, the crowd seemed largely apathetic or even slightly against Reigns. Then, in the closing moments of a match that really picked up in its latter stages, everyone got behind Reigns with the kind of "Ro-man" chants we haven't heard in quite some time.
The X-factor in that equation? Shane McMahon getting involved. So strong is the level of animosity fans have built up against McMahon at this moment that anyone who stands opposite him enjoys the warm glow of support. Reigns fought off both McIntyre and McMahon with Superman punches and spears; the second spear put McIntyre down for good. In all, it was a significant upgrade on the short, muted match they had at WrestleMania 35.
The reaction late in this match painted over a lot of the issues Reigns has faced in the months since his return, as a lack of evolution has fans starting to feel complacent or even angry when it comes to Reigns' character. At the same time, McIntyre is seemingly in desperate need of a new direction. While those standing opposite McMahon have been getting strong positive reactions, that anger and energy hasn't really transferred to any of his associates.
McIntyre put on a strong performance in this showcase, showing off his strength with moves like his inverted leverage Alabama Slam, which put Reigns' face into the commentary table, as well as a well-earned superplex after an aerial battle on the turnbuckle. But losing to Reigns despite several instances of interference from McMahon doesn't do McIntyre any favors. It's time for him to shake the lackey tag and build his way up into the world title picture.
SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) def. Alexa Bliss
The crowd had been really into everything up until here, but this match dragged a bit. Bayley retained the title when Nikki Cross interfered, which will likely extend this program in some way. Bliss was on the top rope, poised to land a Twisted Bliss, but Cross came in to attack Bayley. The referee pulled Cross out, but that gave Bayley enough time to get her knees up for Bliss' finisher. Bayley then landed the Bayley to Belly for the three count.
Cross was apparently coming into the ring to retaliate against Bayley for hitting a suicide dive on her a few minutes earlier. Afterward, Cross consoled Bliss. The whole thing came off a little weird and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense if Bayley is the baby face. And shouldn't Bliss have been mad at Cross for potentially costing her the title? Perhaps that will be explained on Raw.
The match heated up towards the end. Bayley hit a sunset buckle bomb, sending the back of Bliss' head crashing into the turnbuckle. On the outside, Bayley hit the aforementioned suicide dive, then Bliss sent her into the steps and hit a sunset bomb of her own. That led right into the finish.
The situation with Bayley, Bliss and Cross will surely continue. These two are capable of having a solid match and this one wasn't terrible, it was just cold after what it had been a pretty hot night leading in.
SmackDown tag team championship: Daniel Bryan & Rowan (c) def. Heavy Machinery
On a night when every match to that point had exceeded expectations, exceedingly loud "Daniel Bryan" chants throughout his tag team title defense with Rowan against Heavy Machinery seemingly could have halted all of the momentum at Stomping Grounds.
Otis and Tucker, in their first main roster title shot, did not shrink from the challenge no matter how loud a reaction the Tacoma Dome had for their hometown favorite Daniel Bryan. Bryan may have pulled out a victory in the end, but Heavy Machinery proved they have started to turn a major corner as a long-term player in the tag-team division.
It wasn't an easy task by any means, but they weathered the storm through minutes of "Daniel Bryan" chants, followed by the on-theme "please recycle" and "drive a Prius" calls from the audience. Credit to Bryan and Rowan for setting the plate, but Otis and Tucker hit all their marks once they were there. Otis hit a tremendous sit-out power bomb to counter Bryan's running dropkicks, and then absorbed the full weight of Bryan's "Yes" kicks and standing chest kicks and hulked up -- briefly breaking up the crowd's unanimous support of Bryan.
He even attempted a Vader Bomb, though he missed. Tucker also showed off a previously unseen high-flying arsenal, attempting a moonsault (though he mostly missed) and a flying body press from the top turnbuckle to the outside in the match's closing moments. While we didn't quite see the compactor, as Bryan broke up the attempt at that move, a monkey flip into a spinning belly-to-belly was another nice addition to their tag-team arsenal.
Bryan spent weeks talking about building up the tag team division and making people take it more seriously. Despite Otis' antics, when the chips were down, he and Tucker made the most out of their showcase. Building up stars takes an investment from both sides of any match, and despite walking away from the match with tag titles intact, Bryan and Rowan did a world of good for Heavy Machinery at Stomping Grounds as well.
Ricochet has his first singles gold on the WWE main roster. The former NXT North American champion, IWGP junior heavyweight champion and Lucha Underground champion pinned Samoa Joe after a 630 in a strong match. Ricochet is a guy people have pegged for a long time as a future star and he's definitely getting over. This is a good indication that WWE is very serious about him and his potential.
This match was a fun one that probably would have been outstanding if it went longer. It was hard hitting and Ricochet bumped like a mad man. These two were a great match of styles. Joe landed a uranage, a clothesline and a slingshot power bomb, all of which just absolutely crushed Ricochet. One of Joe's forearms also seemed to be a direct hit to Ricochet's jaw and neck.
Joe had most of the offense early on as expected, as Ricochet worked from underneath. Ricochet got momentum back after an enziguiri and spinning, over-the-shoulder kick that looked to legitimately crack Joe in the jaw. Ricochet then hit a huracanrana, Fosbury flop dive and a Lionsault to get the crowd really going.
Joe halted Ricochet's run by catching a kick and throwing Ricochet in the air, where Ricochet did a 360 and landed hard on his back. Ricochet then evaded a Joe clothesline with a handspring and hit a one-legged Codebreaker to set up the 630 from the top. Good stuff all around. Ricochet was greeted afterward backstage by a celebration that included Seth Rollins, Carmella, Heavy Machinery and Triple H, then man that helped recruit him to NXT.
Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens def. Big E & Xavier Woods
Put four of the best tag team wrestlers in the world in a ring, give them a solid amount of time, and let them do their thing. For all of the complicated ways people think about professional wrestling, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn taking on The New Day's Xavier Woods and Big E was as simple and straightforward as a match can get, and yet it worked in every way.
From Woods eating all of the damage early -- and there was a lot of it -- from super-kicks, to Blue Thunder Bombs, to sentons and frog splashes, the crowd was going enough so that by the time that Big E got into the ring, the energy was way up. That's a credit to all four men, but specifically Zayn and Owens, who got the crowd riled up in all the right ways by leaning into all of the old-school bad-guy tag team tactics when the ref's back was turned.
There was double-team offense aplenty, highlighted by Zayn fighting his way out of Big E's grip and landing a big boot to a flying Woods. That set up a Helluva kick and a pop-up power bomb, but when Big E broke up the pinfall, it seemed like it would be another case of New Day getting the better of a team and sending them on their way. But that simply wasn't the case on Sunday night. A Big E suicide dive spear to Zayn took out both men, and once Owens knocked Woods off the top rope, he nailed a stunner and sealed the victory for his team.
For all the time they've worked together in WWE in a few different stretches, establishing Owens and Zayn as a powerhouse tag team -- something they're clearly well suited to do -- would do wonders for either the Raw or SmackDown tag team divisions. On a night when Daniel Bryan had an impassioned promo talking about bringing respect back to tag team wrestling, KO & Sami made a big statement.
Raw women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) def. Lacey Evans
This was a solid effort with very good heat throughout. The crowd was very into Lynch and booing Evans - in a positive way. The finish came for Lynch after she ripped Evans off the second rope and applied the Dis-arm-her for a very quick tap. Right before that, Evans hit a Sliced Bread-like stunner from the second rope and a knee to the body for a two-count.
This was a fairly hard-hitting affair. Lynch landed a nice baseball slide to Evans on the outside and showed off some improved striking, including a high kick and a better spinning back kick to the body. She had some moments where she was very loud in calling spots, but that wasn't entirely surprising considering Evans' inexperience. Evans missed a corner spot where Lynch was supposed to kick her from the second rope.
All in all, this was not bad at all and one of Evans' best matches to this point. It was a clean finish for Lynch, so it's unclear if this program will continue into the summer. Lynch remains protected - smartly - and still has momentum, though not nearly as much as she did during WresltleMania season.
Triple threat Cruiserweight championship: Drew Gulak def. Tony Nese (c) and Akira Tozawa
If you didn't have an inclination of just how hard the cruiserweight division has been going on 205 Live in recent months, the whirlwind triple threat title match on the Stomping Grounds Kickoff Show was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
After three years spent chasing after the WWE cruiserweight championship, Drew Gulak finally reached the top of the division Sunday night by pinning Akira Tozawa.
The torture rack neck-breaker may have been the final straw, but nothing was left to chance in this match as Gulak, Tozawa and defending champion Tony Nese each showed off the best of what they were capable of.
Each had their moments to shine and claimed them within a strong central narrative. Nese nearly pinned both of his opponents at once early on in the match with a simultaneous leg bridge and a bridging German suplex. Tozawa landed a no-handed suicide dive and immediately followed it up with a running cannonball that drove Gulak into the guardrail. Later, as Gulak had Nese locked into the Gu-lock, Tozawa got way up in the air and landed a senton onto both of his opponents.
But this match, in the end, was centered around Gulak. He showed agility by hitting a jump-up superplex, and an ability to absorb damage as he survived a Nese modified pile driver and running knee(se), and finally a German suplex in which his head hit the middle turnbuckle. After trying, and missing, a torture rack neck-breaker on Nese, who was driven to the outside, Gulak hit Tozawa with the same move to lock up the pinfall and the ultimate victory that had long escaped him.