Friday, 15 September 2017

DVD Review: WWE Double Feature: Great Balls Of Fire 2017 & Battleground 2017

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 363 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 18 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

For the third time, the Double Feature PPV sets demonstrate which is the superior brand in WWE right now. The Raw show Great Balls Of Fire is a real thrill-ride (but not the Ultimate Thrill Ride; that was WrestleMania 33, remember?), whereas the SmackDown show Battleground is pretty poor. The way in which Raw has gained momentum and SmackDown has lost momentum since the Superstar Shake-Up is fascinating, and yet the evidence is clearly on show here, with big matches and star power carrying the red brand, whereas baffling pushes, strange booking and disappointing performances mostly define the blue brand.

Great Balls Of Fire starts with a decent battle between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. It's not the greatest match you'll see this year, nor is it backed up by a particularly strong storyline, but it's worth watching nonetheless. Next up is Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass as part of their well-booked divorce of sorts. Cass looks totally dominant here, which he needed to be if he is to succeed as a heel going forward. Up third is an excellent doubles encounter: a 30-minute Iron Man Match between Sheamus & Cesaro and The Hardy Boyz for the Raw Tag Team Championships. It favours storytelling and believable action over spots, which is refreshing, and the final moments are as dramatic as any finish that you'll see.

Sasha Banks' challenge for Alexa Bliss' Raw Women's crown is a little disappointing; the action is fine, but the finish sucks, if I'm being honest. The Miz' Intercontinental Title defence against Dean Ambrose is also underwhelming, at least compared to their longer and superior effort at Extreme Rules a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, things pick up big-time with the Ambulance match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman: this is an incredible match presentation, with some great brawling throughout leading to a surprise finish, and a memorable post-match angle that sees Reigns ram an ambulance with Strowman (who won, by the way) inside into an 18-wheeler truck.

The shenanigans from this continue into the abruptly-staged Heath Slater vs. Curt Hawkins match, for which we don't even see the finish due to the focus on Strowman. The only downside to this huge angle is that, within two weeks, it was essentially abandoned, though it did help move Braun even further up the card as a true monster. Finally, Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship defence against Samoa Joe could have benefitted from lasting a few more minutes, but it's still a gripping fight to see, and fans are on their feet throughout for this epic dream match. Overall, then, it's not without its flaws, but Great Balls Of Fire is a strong show that leaves a positive lasting impression on the viewer.

If only the same could be said for Battleground. It starts in grand fashion with a fantastic SmackDown Tag Team Title match between The Usos and The New Day, which is the underrated feud of the year in my opinion. But the show falls off a cliff from there, starting with Shinsuke Nakamura's disappointing clash with Baron Corbin. As things stand, Nakamura's main roster run is the let-down of the year, and despite what some fans may say, you have to put some of this down to Shinsuke; do you think WWE would tell him to basically wrestle in second-gear for months on end, as he has mostly done? Corbin wasn't an ideal opponent at this point, and the crap finish does nothing to help matters.

The problem with the subsequent Fatal Five Way to determine Naomi's next contender to the SmackDown Women's Championship isn't the action, but the fact that it's the fourth PPV running where the blue brand ladies are thrown into a multi-person affair, making this feel like incredibly lazy booking. It would have been better if Naomi had at least faced someone else (say, Tamina), but with the champion on commentary, it just feels second-rate. Speaking of which, AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens for the United States Championship is a big disappointment, and the finish feels like something from Botchamania as something clearly goes wrong which leads to Owens becoming champion, mere weeks after AJ won the title on a house show at Madison Square Garden. In fact, Chris Jericho even admitted on a recent podcast that the finish was a balls-up, which is why AJ would regain the title days later by beating Owens and Jericho himself.

John Cena vs. Rusev in a Flag match isn't bad, but it's a re-run of a feud which had covered four supershows in 2015, and it reverts Cena, who rediscovered his edge earlier this year with shoot-style promos, into his former, bland, patriotic self. Plus, due to the stipulation, the outcome is very predictable. The same cannot be said of Sami Zayn against main roster newcomer Mike Kanellis, but the action is just average (which may explain why Kanellis hasn't featured on SmackDown very much since).

Finally, the Punjabi Prison match between Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton starts very slow, to the point that fans soon turn on the match. Things improve as the match progresses, with The Singh Brothers taking some insane punishment, and a surprise appearance by The Great Khali forming a big part of the finish. But the stipulation lets the participants down here; take away the trap door stuff and it would have been easier to create drama but, with the four doors that required a minute of what amounts to non-action, plus the two bamboo cages making it hard for fans in the arena to see, and with Jinder not being the greatest champion from an in-ring standpoint (plus Orton not always shining in long matches regardless of the opponent), this match is likely to top Worst-Of lists at the end of 2017. There have been far worse matches this year, but when you consider all the factors, this is a fitting end to a damp squib of a PPV. It speaks volumes that this lasted more than four times as long as Lesnar vs. Joe from GBOF, yet that match was far better than this one.

For some reason, the Kick-Off Show matches from both cards (Neville vs. Akira Tozawa and Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English) are omitted; hopefully, this is a one-off, because otherwise these Double Feature sets would have no extras going forward. Also strange is that the Great Balls Of Fire song by Jerry Lee Lewis, used as the theme for the Raw PPV and is obviously the whole point of using that PPV name in the first place, is not included here. Note to WWE: if you're going to base a PPV name around a very famous song, make sure you can use it in all formats before giving it the go-ahead.

That aside, Great Balls Of Fire is by far the best of the two shows here. Great Balls merits a purchase on its own, whereas Battleground's opening contest is the only reason I would suggest to invest in that particular card. If I were ranking these separately, I would give Great Balls an 8 and, for Battleground, either a 5 or maybe a generous 5.5. With the two blended together, I've roughly gone halfway and awarded this set a 6.5.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

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