by Jason Howard Kelly
After an exciting night of UFC fights in Long Island, New York last night we have the privilege of capping off the weekend with WWE Battleground. This pay-per view didn’t have a whole lot of momentum behind it due to a less than tantalizing match card and the fact that most wrestling fans are already looking ahead to Summerslam next month. However, just like the Great Balls Of Fire pay-per view, Battleground had the potential to sneak up on wrestling fans and exceed our expectations.
The New Day vs. The Usos: WWE Tag Team Championship match
This felt like the perfect pay-per view kickoff match. Two exciting tag teams that have had a nice feud going for a couple of weeks heading into Battleground. The crowd definitely seemed pretty sleepy at the start, but as the match got rolling they started to perk up a bit. Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were the two representatives for The New Day, with Big E patrolling on the outside of the ring.
The Usos did a nice job accentuating the role of the heel tag team, constantly attacking Xavier Woods behind the referee’s back. Woods was the legal man in the ring for a really long time throughout this whole match which was a nice way for him to get some more in-ring exposure. At one point Kofi attempted to take both the Usos out with a trust fall to the outside, but he was caught and then powerbombed onto the floor on the outside of the ring. It was a pretty decent bump for Kofi to take. The best bump of the match, however, came when Xavier Woods attempted to hit a diving elbow on Jey Uso, but Jey rolled out of the way and Jimmy Uso came sliding in with a baseball slide kick that tagged Woods on the way down. It was a pretty move and it woke up the crowd immediately.
Both teams exchanged double teams and finishing moves, and both teams continued to kick out. The back-and-forth towards the end of the match was excellent, and it was definitely surprising to see in a tag match. The New Day finally secured the win with one final double team that ended with Xavier Woods hitting a diving elbow from the top rope.
This match was the perfect way to start Battleground. The crowd was excited, but more importantly both teams came off looking incredibly strong. The Usos looked like legitimate champions that were just outwrestled by The New Day. No cheating, no controversy. Just a really well executed match by both teams.
Winners: The New Day
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
This match held a lot of intrigue because it was a match between two pure strikers. Nakamura has a free-flowing and diverse offense, while Corbin is a straight-up brawler. The feud between these two has been decent, especially for Baron Corbin who is slowly becoming one of the better heels on Smackdown.
The match started off with Corbin getting right in Nakamura’s face and taunting, which Nakamura laughed off and responded to by striking Corbin right in the face. Corbin quickly slowed the match down by locking Nakamura into several bear hugs, draining the energy out of his opponent and the crowd. Both wrestlers showed off some nice offense. Nakamura hit Corbin with some flashy kicks and Corbin landed a devastating inside-out clothesline to show off his power on Nakamura.
The end of this match, however, was the worst part of it. Nakamura hit Corbin in the back of the neck with an axe kick and then waited in the corner to execute his signature flying knee. Corbin didn’t budge which forced Nakamura to walk over and pick him up, presumably for some kind of suplex. As Nakamura held him up Corbin hit him with a low blow with a mule kick and that forced the disqualification. It was an abrupt and somewhat sloppy ending to a pretty decent match. Corbin then followed up by hitting Nakamura with the Money In The Bank briefcase and planting him with this signature, “End of Days” slam.
Despite technically losing Corbin is the only one who comes off as a winner here. He continues to look like a heel who just doesn’t give a damn about anything except beating people up. It’s hard to tell what this match did for Shinsuke Nakamura. It’s unlikely that he continues to feud with Corbin all the way into Summerslam, but then again WWE seems to be unsure about what to do with him at the moment.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura by DQ
Tamina vs. Lana vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Natalya: 5-Way Elimination #1 Contender’s Match
What stood out right away about this match was the fact that Naomi entered the ring first to join the commentary team, and the crowd was either confused as to why she was there or they were still annoyed about the end of the Nakamura-Corbin match. As the five actual participants in the match entered only two of them received noticeable pops from the crowd, and that was for Charlotte and Lana (weirdly).
The match started out as one might expect with the partnership of Lana and Tamina taking over and slowly picking apart the other three competitors. At one point Tamina and Lana had Charlotte cornered in the ring. Tamina, who had been knocked down by Charlotte moments earlier, grabbed Charlotte’s leg as she stared down Lana. Lana then went in for a roundhouse kick and could not possibly have botched it worse. She completely whiffed as she flailed her leg vaguely in Charlotte’s direction. Mercifully, Becky Lynch re-entered the match and helped Charlotte to knock Tamina and Lana out of the ring. Becky and Charlotte had a good back-and-forth wrestling exchange in the ring, and Natalya joined them shortly after.
Side note: it can’t be understated how much the match quality was raised as soon as Tamina and Lana were out of the ring….
The eliminations then came fast and furious. Becky managed to avoid yet another double team effort from Tamina and Lana as she slapped the, “Disarm Her” on Tamina, forcing her to tap. She then did the same to Lana and forced her to tap out as well. Immediately after Natalya snuck up from behind and rolled Becky up for a surprise pin fall. It was now down to Charlotte and Natalya for a chance to face Naomi at Summerslam. Charlotte attempted a moonsault from the top rope but was countered by Natalya raising her knees and hitting Charlotte in the gut. Natalya then grabbed Charlotte and whipped her head into the turnbuckle, dragged her away from the ropes, and pinned her for a three count.
The ending was unorthodox but certainly not unwelcome. Natalya has been held out of the title picture for quite some time, and fans were beginning to grow tired of Charlotte constantly fighting for championships on pay-per views. Naomi entered the ring after the match and extender her hand to Natalya to congratulate her. Naturally, Natalya did not accept and walked away. Natalya and Naomi are both incredibly athletic and could put on one hell of a match at Summerslam. This also opens the door for a Becky & Charlotte vs. Tamina & Lana feud heading into Summerslam.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens: United States Championship
This match had the potential to steal the show given how exceptional both Styles and Owens are at telling a story in the ring. Owens and Styles also benefited from the Philadelphia crowd feeling more alive and invested in the event after a good women’s match.
The match quickly turned into a brawl as the animosity between Styles and Owens came to fruition in the ring. At one point it spilled to the outside of the ring and that’s where Owens took the advantage. He literally picked up Styles and launched him balls first into the steel ring post. Owens then tossed AJ back into the ring and began to wear him down with a headlock while simultaneously taunting the crowd, as per usual.
Styles eventually fought his way back into the match, exchanging good offensive series and counters with Owens. Styles would later attempt the, “Styles Clash” but was countered by Owens lifting him up and flinging him into the referee. With the referee incapacitated both Styles and Owens began to exchange submission attempts on the ground. Styles applied the, “Calf Crusher” but Owens would roll out of it and lock Styles into a crossface submission. Styles revered and locked Owens into a crossface of his own. As the referee was regaining his senses Owens rolled Styles onto his back and had both his shoulders down. The referee slowly counted to three and the match was over.
This finish was odd, to say the very least. It seemed like an incredibly slow pin fall for Styles to not kick out of, given that moments prior he was actively countering back and forth with Owens. The crowd was just as incredulous as Styles as the energy was rapidly sapped from the arena. Kevin Owens is once again United States Champion, and hopefully there will be a stronger follow-up to this feud after a lackluster finish in this match.
Winner: Kevin Owens
John Cena vs. Rusev: Flag Match
Now it was time for the match that WWE tried desperately to convince its audience was important enough to promote the ever living hell out of it. John Cena returned from a lengthy absence to battle Rusev in a flag match because…. Yay America? Who knows?
The crowd seemingly felt the same way because they were utterly lifeless. The reason for this is extremely simple: the outcome of this match was never in doubt. John Cena, WWE’s Superman, was not going to lose with American pride on the line. Perhaps the other reason why the crowd was so subdued was because the match itself was rather uninspiring. Both Rusev and Cena looked stiff in the ring, and it was moving at an incredibly slow pace.
Once the match spilled out to the entrance ramp where the flag stations were it became a tad more violent, but still nothing overly exciting. Cena won the match (duh) after throwing Rusev through two tables that were set up behind his flag station. By this point the crowd seemed fairly aggravated and desperate to just get to the main event.
Winner: John Cena
Mike Kanellis vs. Sami Zayn
This was a great bridge match to the main event. A tired and annoyed crowd was perked back up by one of the best theme songs in the WWE right now. The Mike & Maria Kanellis gimmick has been working great so far, and a match against a fan favorite like Sami Zayn was sure to deliver.
The match had a really nice pace to it, as most Sami Zayn matches do. Mike Kanellis also impressed, however, as he stayed stride for stride with Sami the whole way through. The dynamic between him and Maria was working really well, too, making her enough of factor in the match without disrupting the pace too much. Maria would eventually enter the ring and interfere, preventing Sami from executing an exploder suplex on Mike into the corner turnbuckle. This opened the door for Mike to take advantage and hit Sami with his finisher. However, Sami countered and would eventually pick up the win after hitting Mike with the Helluva Kick.
It was a nice win for Sami over one of the more popular new superstars. The match also really helped the crowd get back into things. It was an exciting match that had a great pace to it, so the crowd was nice and buttered up for the main event now.
Winner: Sami Zayn
Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton: Punjabi Prison Match for the WWE Championship
There has not been a Punjabi Prison match in the WWE in over 10 years, and as soon as the structure was lowered around the ring it was easy to see why. This thing is an eyesore, and it’s annoyingly difficult to see what’s going on in the ring with all the bamboo in the way. That being said there was one small thing that WWE did that stood out. As Jinder Mahal made his way to the ring they cut to the Hindi commentary team and let them speak in Hindi about Mahal and the pressure he faces as champion to 1.3 billion people in India. It was a cool moment that showed off the diversity of the WWE roster.
The match was fairly slow-moving at the start, and both Mahal and Orton were pretty stiff with each other in some spots. After failing to escape through any of the first three doors Mahal finally made it out of the last available door thanks to the Singh brothers, who had been hiding under the ring. Orton eventually joined Mahal in the second layer of the Punjabi Prison and battled him, as well as the Singh brothers, out there. At one point Samir Singh took an impressive bump as he climbed to the outside of the second cage to prevent Orton from climbing out and escaping. Orton fought him off and Singh ended up falling through the announce table below. After the Singh brothers were taken out it went back to Orton vs. Mahal as they started wailing away on each other with kendo sticks. Orton was sporting some nasty-looking slash marks from the kendo stick, but he ultimately ended up with the advantage and began to climb out.
As Orton made his way up the cage Jinder Mahal’s entrance music began playing, which suggested that Mahal had yet another ally coming down to the ring to help him. That ally turned out to be none other than The Great Khali, the originator of the Punjabi Prison match. Khali had been away from the WWE for three years so it was legitimately surprising to see him. The 7’1 monster marched down to the cage and began to shake it in order to make Randy Orton lose his balance. He then climbed up and grabbed Orton by the throat through the bamboo and commenced choking him out. This allowed Mahal to scale the cage and escape in order to retain the WWE Championship.
The surprise appearance of The Great Khali gave the crowd that, “Oh my god!” factor they needed, and it makes total sense. Mahal earning yet another clean win over Orton wasn’t likely, but bringing back a former Indian-born champion to aide him adds to his clout. Mahal now has a stable of three sidekicks to protect him and his championship.
Sadly, John Cena’s “big” win over Rusev earlier tonight is a potential signal that Cena is going to reenter the title picture. It could very likely be Cena vs. Mahal at Summerslam for the belt, and WWE’s Superman doesn’t usually lose big matches at Summerslam…
Winner: Jinder Mahal