The art of professional wrestling is one of the most socially active mediums of entertainment across the world. Millions watch men and women grapple for championships, financial success, accolades, celebrity status, and supposed immortality within the squared circle. The Hype Train provides a glancing review of WWE’s Tuesday night show, SmackDown Live, and their latest pay-per-view of 2017, Battleground, which featured the third ever Punjabi Prison match between WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, and challenger, Randy Orton. All aboard.
WWE Battleground 2017: Predictions and Thoughts
Leading up to the event itself, we would put our anticipation for Battleground at quite low down our usual spectrum of care. As ever, there is a lot of content that the WWE is throwing our way, and we just thought that leading into the event, even though for the superior SmackDown Live brand, it is just a stop gap on the road to Summerslam. There's also a lot of feuds that have carried over to this month from Backlash and Money in the Bank, so there's not a lot of fresh new match ups. We're under the impression, from what we have viewed, that the guys and gals on the roster are just going through the motions with their storylines, with the only wrench thrown into the works being that of AJ Styles dethroning Kevin Owens for the US Championship at a house show. That said, we're usually pleasantly surprised at SDLive PPV entries, as they usually save their boldest and best moments for when more viewers are tuned into the Network. This is where Jinder Mahal is shining as WWE Champion, and with wrestlers like Styles, Nakamura, and Zayn, allowed longer, fleshed out matches, as fans of the grappling art we're most likely sure to come away thinking that the in-ring action was worth staying up for.
That said, this is how @HypeTrainRob and @HypeTrainSam envisioned Battleground playing out. Yes, both set of predictions are eerily similar.
WWE Battleground 2017 Review: 23/07/2017
In writing our thoughts about Battleground, we've dissected each match down to our overall thoughts on proceedings, any stray observations, and if there any takeaways to be had. For the sake of our own sanity, we decided against watching the Kick Off, meaning we didn't have the opportunity to make comments regarding Tyle Dillinger's match against the very vocal Aiden English.
Opening Match: WWE SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships; The Usos (c) vs. The New Day
WWE's version of a patriotic pay-per-view started with all three members of The new Day, Kingston, Woods, and Big E, all coming down to the ring in a star-spangled blue, white, and red, ring attire. The Usos also followed suit, coming to war at Battleground in traditional cargo trousers, signalling that they're in the trenches of battle. Tom Phillips was making several good references that seeded a long history between the teams, and that familiar nature between one another was evident in the ring. Both tag teams put on an entertaining clinic of wrestling, fan interaction, and hot tags, that was at its best when The New Day went to the top rope. When Xavier Woods was at the top rope diving, he was planted with a super-kick that the crowd popped big for. Minutes later Kofi Kingston took an identical kick, which was followed by a splash, but the challengers survived.
Keeping with the theme of top rope action, The New Day's Xavier Woods eventually dived from the top rope, across the ring with a huge elbow drop that would make Randy Savage proud. The pinfall led to an eruption as new Tag Team Champions were crowned. It was a good choice for an event opener, gifting the fans a title change right off the bat, and continues the trend that the Championships on the blue brand have a few month cycle before their moved onto new holders.
So far, no complaints, and a rather entertaining start to proceedings.
- There were 'this is awesome' chants throughout the match.
- A lot of top rope work was evident, particularly by the challengers.
- The arena in Philly was the same as when The New Day set their record for longest reigning Tag Champs in WWE history.
Match 2: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
In the position of the toilet break match, the so called 'Rockstar' of WWE, Shinsuke Nakamura entered the fray. As you'd come to expect with Nakamura, there was a huge emphasis on his biggest (and perhaps only) selling point on the blue brand right now; his entrance. Corbin followed, raising questions that could Corbin be planning to cash in? It's a tested and time old trick that the WWE use. Put the Money in the Bank contract holder on in an early match, with the fans then teased that the briefcase holder will come out later in the night.
The two strikers slogged through a slowed pace match, with lots of back and forth punches, kicks, and a lot of time for both wrestlers with their backs on the mat. Struggling to build up steam, and fan care, the pair took an age to quicken the pace of the match about that of a slow crawl. The commentary team kept referring to the encounter as physical, but it was reflected on the screen as dull for the most part. It took a big clothesline for anything in the match to change, but even that resulted in two minutes of nothing happening on screen. Nakamura repeatedly set his running knee finisher time and time again, but Corbin would reverse time and again.
Nakamura eventually set up for a running knee out of the corner, but after multiple strikes, Corbin wouldn't get back up. He stayed down and then kicked Nakamura, ending the match as a DQ win for Nakamura. Quite honestly, the entire felt flat, even if that was Corbin's plan all along, as he circled the ring with the briefcase. When WWE do this, you can hear the paying customers, and fans, just shrug their shoulders in unison, and this is the problem with Nakamura. Creative have no idea what to do with their Japanese superstar, except to burn through the mid-card, but they can't even make any party look good in this instance. Dolph Ziggler has faded from television, and Corbin's attempt to rile the crowd with Corbin attacking Nakamura after the match, continues the irrelevance of Nakamura's matches so far in WWE. Are we looking forward to more Corbin/Nakamura in the future? Absolutely not.
It is what it is, a big kick to the nuts.
- JBL compared Nakamura to The Undertaker, stating that he has the same 'you have to see it to believe it' allure.
- Corbin received a lukewarm reaction from the Philly crowd, if that.
Match 3: Five Way Elimination match for SDLive Women's Championship contendership; Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Lana vs. Tamina Snuka vs. Natalya
WWE continue to push the five-women format for SmackDown viewers, this time setting up for Summerslam. We got five women at Money in the Bank, with Lana replacing the Women's Money in the Bank contract holder, Carmella. The match was dominated by Naomi's commentary that Lana isn't good enough to be in the ring with herself or any of the women in their. It's not very often you hear a women say outright that other women just don't deserve to be there at all. It kind of comes across as annoying on Naomi's part that she's trying to betray the better interests of the company and bury a fellow competitor, especially since the first match between Naomi and Lana was actually quite entertaining.
Back and forth between the women continued for the opening minutes, with no more than two or three women in the match at the same time. Affairs started to quicken when Becky put Lana in the dis-armer arm-breaker. Then in a breathless minute Becky submitted both Tamina and Lana, only be to rolled up by Natalya. What was left was the two pre-match favourites to take on Naomi at Summerslam for the SDLive Women's Championship. Then in less than three minutes Charlotte was pinned.
Order of eliminations;
Becky submitted Tamina Snuka
Becky submitted Lana
Natalya pinned Becky
Natalya pinned Charlotte
Highlighting her veteran years in the company with good ring presence, Natalya followed by refusing to shake the hand of Naomi after the match, something most people would have done having just listened to her insufferable, dismissive commentary. Natalya's big heat in the moment was the perfect building blocks for their upcoming match at Summerslam. Overall, the match was the right length, was enjoyable for the most part with a winner that the bookies nailed before the event, but as far as a good wrestling match goes, you were never going to find that here.
- We absolutely hate the SD Live Women's Championship that Naomi wears. It might fit her gimmick of having 'glow', but the belt looks like a six year old has been allowed into the glitter and highlighters. Sets a bad example for future champions changing the belt up, which we'd rather avoid as all the belt looks sub-average as it is.
- Talking of glitter, Natalya must have used all of it for her outfit at Battleground.
- Lana received the biggest pop of all the women, which should say everything about the state of the women's division.
- WWE are afraid to have any standouts in the Women's division on SmackDown, with everyone at an awkward parity. This is not doing any wonders for Charlotte or Becky Lynch, who are miles ahead of Natalya, Tamina, and Lana.
- Naomi just said that Lana 'doesn't deserve' to be in the ring, not with her, or her competitors.
- Lana tried to kick Charlotte in the face twice, when stationary and being held, but missed on both occasions.
Match 4: WWE United States Championship; AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
With only just over an hour of the pay-per-view gone, with no backstage segments, the match that most were looking forward to, the US Title match, was underway. In recent weeks AJ has been pinned as the brands top babyface, and maybe SDLive's top guy, to help offset any pressure put on Jinder Mahal leading the blue brand. They put the US Title on AJ in the most ruthless of ways, at a house show at Madison Square Garden, an act that makes Kevin Owens appear incredibly weak, even before the pay-per-view. This is how we viewed proceeding leading up to the match. If KO wasn't able to retain at a house show, what chance does he have at a big WWE pay-per-view, less than a month away from Summerslam?
In what was a match that lived up to its billing, with lots of near-falls and twists, we had to wait until the end for another major twist. To close, AJ's submission roulette turned again him and Kevin Owens turned it into a pin, and AJ's reaction after the three-count was as if he had no idea what was going on, and made no effort to kick out, which was incredibly bizarre to watch. It's one of those moments that makes your head turn, and another way to make AJ Styles seemingly look strong in defeat. AJ must have thought that he had the pin locked in, but it took a hell of a long time to happen. What we expected was an assured match finish, with a phenomenal forearm or the pop-up powerbomb, instead we got a sloppy finish that had every intention to continue this feud onto a rubber match down the line.
What a bizarre finish to Battleground's US Title match, and we're actually quite excited to see where this goes. WWE even proved us wrong on the above statement that they didn't have KO's best interests at heart with this match, given that he was built so poorly leading up to the event This match and feud can definitely be approved upon at Summerslam, and we're hoping that's what we get.
- AJ Styles was only the second wrestler to win the US Championship at Madison Square Garden, the first being John Cena, which was highlighted by Tom Phillips.
- Take a drink every time KO says 'this is my title' - you'll be drunk after five minutes.
- It took AJ Styles a while to figure out what had happened.
- Considering that the match was on just after the hour mark, we thought that the match and the aftermath would have been a bit longer. Instead, they were quick to get everything out of the way, including KO's celebration, who just walked back up the ramp with the gold.
- The biggest takeaway is that AJ's win at Madison Square garden was well and truly just for the moment, with no long term planning involved as we're back to square one with KO as champion.
Match 5: Flag Match; John Cena vs. Rusev
Ready to have patriotism shoved down your throat? Ready for a John Cena packed with national pride state every generic reason why the US is the greatest country in the world? Ready for flags and the brilliant Rusev get destroyed and humiliated in his first pay-per-view back? Battleground might just be the place to be. Just to set the scene in place that this is a match of international flavour, the commentary teams from around the world are shown.
The best insight regarding the match was Byron Saxton's insight that Rusev never got over the defeat to John Cena at Wrestlemania, the night that Cena ended the undefeated streak of the Bulgarian Brute. It is of course the night that buried Rusev, and a night that he's never been able to get over. The past two years since since, despite becoming US Champion again for a second time, has been a write off for the character. On the surface the flag match doesn't offer anything to Rusev whatsoever unless he was able to claim a decisive victory over John Cena. A victory might propel Rusev, who was previously ignored for a title match at Money in the Bank, could kick-start a new and valuable Rusev on the blue brand.
Much of the match was the pair being taken down in the middle of the ring, reaching up for their respective flags on the canvas and on the top-rope. It could five or so minutes before Cena hit the five-knuckle shuffle. Rusev was the first to get his flag down, but then stereotypically slowed his movement. Cena then struggled to get to his flag, waving his fingers in the air before hitting Rusev with the Attitude Adjustment. Rather predictable viewing at this point, with numerous panned sots of both men downed with their flags hanging, Cena then was moments to claiming the USA flag before Rusev was put in John Cena's main submission hold, and even tapped, once again highlighting that Cena is just invincible in the ring. Moments later he claimed the USA flag. A struggle on the ramp ensued as both men tried to get their flag up to the podium.
Then to finish the job, and potentially the career of Rusev, the USA flag flies high, with camera cuts to some patriotic American fans, ending the spectacle. Cena AA'd Rusev through the table and the 16 time World Champion was left standing with Rusev crumbled beneath two tables next to the American podium.
It's everything we thought it would be, a patriotic mess that would refuse to have anything other than one ending.
- The promo package for this event, despite being highly nationalistic, was well put together, especially when Rusev's ominous music changes the tone of the match altogether.
- The international commentary team are obviously shown whilst the international Rusev comes out.
- Cena, the hero and American nationalist comes out, and guess what? He's booed.
- Cena is still listed as a 'free agent' but has only been on SmackDown Live. Why don't they just keep him on the blue brand?
- Heel JBL is cheering for John Cena to win the match, which goes against what his job is supposed to be.
Match 6: Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis
At this point of the show it was widely expected that this match would be the toilet break match before the main event Punjabi Prison match, and it had the build and the trimmings for such an encounter, one that the commentary team informed us was already played out on SmackDown Live this past Tuesday. We're going to spare over analysing this match because it was short, full of antics from Maria, and ended quite swiftly with Maria's interfierence back-firing, allowing Sami Zayn to hit the Helluva Kick, and a quick pin. This match was nothing more than a stop gap before the main event and it doesn't really do anything for either guy propelling themselves up the roster and into championship opportunities. That said, if Jinder is champion right now heading into the main event, why can't Mike or Sami?
- This was the pay-per-view debut of Mike Kanellis.
- JBL said that Mike would be successful because he was in the city of live...
- Sami Zayn's pop for the "let's go" vocals of his entrance received a huge pop.
- JBL also referred to the Kanellis's as a hallmark card.
- This was a field day for JBL comments. Tom Phillips asked if he would watch love stories at the cinema if that's all that was on. JBL said he was a man of love. JBL also then said, "who goes to the movies anymore?"
Match 7: Punjabi Prison Match for the WWE Championship; Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton
Evil, ominous music? Check. A scared commentary team telling us the horrors of this match? Check. A promo package that actually build the match brilliantly? Check. If we're being truthful, we've actually thought the build up to the Punjabi Prison match was quite tame. It was all about the concept, rather than Orton and Mahal getting in each other's faces. Orton actually cut a decent promo, and since then it has been Jinder hiding behind the match stipulation. Where the WWE has shined though is how they've edited together the spectacle, making it feel bigger than the build we got. It's interesting that just months after Wrestlemania, this is the state we have for the WWE Championship on SmackDown, and we're happy with it. Finally, a surprise. Finally, a new and unexpected champion. Finally, a man that everyone in professional wrestling despises enough. Jinder's been brilliant in dragging Orton through a feud, though in recent weeks has come out of his shell, allowing Jinder to have his moment in the sun.
Spending the first 20 minutes inside the first cell structure, Orton and Mahal battled back and forth, trying to get out of the four doors, only for the Singh Brothers to enter the Prison to help their guy, Jinder. A race then ensued to leave both structures, with both battling on the bamboo on the second structure. The brothers than proceeded to beat down on Orton, just moments away from victory, allowing the Modern Day Maharaja an opportunity to reclaim the belt. Bamboo sticks and an all out hustle and bustle then occupied the next five minutes of airtime, before a massive surprise return. In what was quite a dull spectacle to watch up until this point, the match was too long for what it had to be, which took some of the excitement away from the live audience. WWE though persisted to have the bamboo prison on TV as much as possible, which is understandable. We'd like to see the match not return for a very long time, if ever, in a feud that had a pay-off of the Singh brothers entering a match that they didn't need to be a part of. The Great Khali's return would have been enough, and it would have been better if Jinder had just done it all himself.
Jinder's music played and of all people The Great Khali came out to a huge pop, with the returning giant then gripping Orton, who was about to escape, by the throat. Mahal then was on easy-street as he escaped the cage. Unexpected, and highly welcomed. Jinder Mahal is quickly becoming one of the best WWE Champions in a very long time. He's doing everything that's asked of him as a heel champion; pissing everybody off.
The PPV ended with both Mahal and The Great Khali lifting the WWE Championship. Unbelievable.
- The promo package leading up to the match was superb.
- Something new was the cut-away to the Indian commentary team during Jinder's entrance. One part of Battleground that made sense given the nationalistic feeling to the PPV.
- It was difficult seeing what was actually going on in the ring when both were inside the first structure.
- The Great Khali's appearance was a brilliant addition to the match.
- Is there one more match with Orton/Mahal at Summerslam?
WWE Battleground 2017: Overall Thoughts and Opinions
Hit and miss. Hit and miss. Hit and miss. On the most part, Battleground succeeded in an entertaining pay-per-view event, perhaps salvaged by the Punjabi Prison match to close the event. Without it, and the return of The Great Khali, the event, despite two new champions, would have ultimately fallen flat. Their would have been a lack of genuine talking points. We'll be bashed to the ends of the earth for stating this, but we actually thought the one part people despise, and are calling the worst PPV of the year, was actually a highlight. Battleground is not up to par with SmackDown's recent PPV's, but with Jinder's continued reign as WWE Champion - come on, he was never losing this match to Orton - the WWE are going full measures with Mahal as they continue to push into new commercial markets. It's just utterly unbelievable what is going on right now in the main event picture, including Corbin as the MITB holder, which is always welcome. Jinder's not half as bad as what a lot of wrestling commentators would have you believe, so if you enjoy watching him, don't be afraid to speak up. Randy doesn't offer anything new or exciting, or at least different, with the belt, so you can't blame a company for going out of their comfort zone with their current storyline with Mahal.
Everything else at the event we'll quickly forget, except for a very good Tag Team Championship match with The Usos and The New Day. Rusev was buried. We're not too fond of Natalya. Sami Zayn winning feels unnatural. A sloppy finish to the US Title match. A dull match with Nakamura and Corbin. Sometimes when WWE pushes too many stipulation matches it doesn't bode well with audiences, so we appreciate that this will be the case for a lot of viewers who would have found a lot of the match tiring - especially the flag match and the main event. A large part of wrestling fans now just don't want to be seeing what we're seeing when the alternatives on paper are just so much more appealing. You'd be hard pressed already to remember that Nakamura was on this show, as was AJ Styles, but yet there is a returning Indian giant, that on the most part was loathed because he couldn't talk or wrestle, or do much of anything to aid people's viewing. That's what is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way right now, and Battleground will take the brunt of this criticism for the time being until something else comes across to galvanise the continued hate of fans. Basically, the next time Roman Reigns wins a match.
In terms of this being a contender for the Worst pay-per-view of 2017? Not a chance. One word; Fastlane.
One other thought we'd like to bring up is the two backstage segments that were aired. The first feautred WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal, being told by the Singh Brothers that neither could be involved in the match. Jinder then said he had the backing of 1.3 billion Indians. The segment was good, short, and helped build the main event. The second was a beautiful segment involving the Fashion Police. The biggest jeer of the night was when the attackers were never revealed, even though we were told the case would be closed at Battleground. The entire segment was over with the crowd and Fandango being carried off into the night like in a horror movie was spectacular viewing. We're looking forward to where the feud goes, as it might be introducing a new tag team into SmackDown Live's mix, so we're looking forward to weeks of speculation, and a potential match at Summerslam if WWE have the balls to press ahead with the angle.
What we think this is setting up for at Summerslam might be there things gets messy. Rumours are that John Cena will be next to challenge Mahal for the WWE Championship. That will no doubt end Mahal and his reign as champion.
WWE Battleground 2017 Results: 23/07/2017
Kick-Off: Aiden English def. Tye Dillinger
WWE SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships: The New Day def. The Usos (c)
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin (via DQ)
Number #1 Contendership for the SmackDown Live Women's Championship: Natalya def. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Lana, and Tamina Snuka
WWE United States Championship: Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles (c)
Flag Match; John Cena def. Rusev
Sami Zayn def. Mike Kanellis (w/ Maria)
Punjabi Prison match for the WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal (c) def. Randy Orton
Who’s on SmackDown’s Hype Train?
Jinder Mahal: Everyone loves to hate him, Jinder is the man. His main events have been noteworthy, even if his wrestling ability isn't up to scratch. His programme as WWE Champion has been a shock, and another layer of the story has been added, with The Great Khali's arrival.
The Fashion Police: A well received segment, the charismatic duo of Tyler Breeze and Fandango, are making something out of nothing with the Fashion Files. They had one of the best received segments of the night.
The New Day & The Usos: Producing match of the night, the finish for the match with the wild top rope elbow from Xavier Woods was brilliant.
Want to know more about The Hype Train?
The Hype Train is an entertainment website founded in 2015, specialising in the Fantasy Premier League (#FPL), providing beautiful graphics and weekly insight for hopeful players attempting to climb ranking tables. We are also occasional media reviewers, with a keen interest to review movies, live sport, and professional wrestling.
The Hype Train were nominated and shortlisted for the 'Best Football Blog 2016' by the Football Bloggers Association at their annual Football Blogging Awards (The FBA's), with the final presentation held at Old Trafford in Manchester.
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