At Battleground tonight, the match between AJ Styles and Kevin Owens concluded with WWE fans looking at one another in confusion. What exactly happened? Did AJ Styles have his shoulder up? What was up with that finish?
Towards the end of the United States Championship match at Battleground, the referee got knocked out, and he spent a significant chunk of time recovering in the corner. Styles looked like he was about to get Owens to tap out, locking him into a crossface. But then Owens rolled onto the mat, the referee counted to three, and Owens won the championship. Styles seems to have his shoulder slightly up at the end of the match, but only slightly. The referee gives Owens the win.
Here’s the finish in motion:
Styles’ shoulder was actually up a lot higher before the referee started counting, but he lowered it. It’s possible that this was a botch and that Styles’ shoulders were supposed to remain way up the whole time, resulting in a controversial ending. Compare the position of Styles’ shoulder in this first picture, before the referee started counting, with its position in the second picture, when the call is made.
It was all a bit confusing, but just based on context, this may have been intended as a classic WWE match ending where the referee’s call is in dispute. Quite a few matches have ended with one person being declared the winner, only for video to be played back later showing that the loser had their shoulders up, and so a rematch is scheduled.
Perhaps this was supposed to be a clean win, but there would really be no point to having the referee become disoriented if not to set up the fact that he does not notice AJ Styles’ shoulder being up. The ending would also be fairly strange and anticlimactic if Owens got the clean win and Styles didn’t even attempt to kick out.
Part of the confusion was caused by the fact that the commentary team didn’t make any mention of AJ Styles’ shoulder potentially being up, nor did they even really talk about the fact that the ending could be in dispute. A lot of times, matches like these will end with the commentators arguing among themselves about what happened, but that didn’t occur here. There was also no video replay.
We’ll get a much better sense of what the intended purpose of this ending was this Tuesday on SmackDown Live.