The WWE Smackdown brand presents Battleground Sunday night from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. It’s headlined by stipulation matches like the Punjabi Prison and Flag Match.
Battleground doesn’t have as much interest as some of the other Smackdown PPVs this year. It’s not just me saying that either. It was reported in the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter that ticket sales were slow in Philadelphia for the event. That led to WWE reducing prices, which isn’t something they normally do. The $125 seats in the Wells Fargo Center are being sold for $75, the $75 tickets are now $55 and you can get those $55 tickets for $25. There’s not a single person who deserves blame, but I think it’s fair to say the WWE Championship reign of Jinder Mahal is part of the reason. If people lose interest in a main event level feud, then prices will go down and that’s what happened here.
There’s a full lineup for Battleground with seven matches on the main card and a Kickoff Show match as well. Some Smackdown PPV events in the past only had five matches announced, so let’s give WWE some credit for at least announcing a full card this time.
Here’s my closer look at the WWE Title match between Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton in the Punjabi Prison.
Mahal won the WWE Title during his first opportunity at Backlash two months ago. It was a cheap win by Mahal that was aided by the help of the Singh Brothers. When they had the rematch, Mahal won again thanks to the Singh Brothers after they put their hands on Randy Orton’s dad, Bob Orton Jr., at ringside.
Even though Orton lost the title and the rematch, he got himself another title shot because he threatened violence against Mahal. Really? Yes. The whole thing has been lame. Shane McMahon, the Smackdown Commissioner, told Orton that he can get one more shot at the WWE Title, but Mahal gets to pick the stipulation. That led to Mahal announcing it would be a Punjabi Prison match.
My biggest problem with the build is they haven’t made it feel like a personal feud at all. Mahal still does the same promos about how Americans don’t like him. Orton has fired back verbally saying that people don’t like Jinder because he’s a jackass. There hasn’t been much else to it. What this feud needed was to have Orton go after Mahal every week (except for the week Randy missed because he was filming a movie) and try to kick his ass. That would make us care more about the match. Instead, it’s just the same boring promos from two slow talkers. It could have been set up a lot better.
Orton should be cheered quite a bit and Mahal will be booed. The best thing about this feud is at least there’s an obvious face and heel with no doubt about either guy. In WWE right now that’s not always the case, so it’s good to see the face/heel dynamic here.
The rules of the Punjabi Prison match are unique. They explained it well on this week’s Smackdown. Here’s a written explanation from WWE.com:
“To win, a Superstar must escape both cages, a prospect that is far easier said than done. The interior structure contains four doors, all of which are attended by a referee. When a Superstar calls for the door to be opened, they have one minute to walk through it and into the outer structure. If they don’t make it through in time, the door is shut and locked for good. If a Superstar fails to make it through all four of the doors in the allotted time, they must climb out of the inner structure. It makes for good practice, as the only way to escape the outer ring is to climb up and over it. The first Superstar whose feet touch the ground wins the match. That means a Superstar cannot achieve victory inside the Punjabi Prison by something as ordinary as a pinfall or a submission, but must fight his way out.”
The only two Punjabi Prison matches in WWE history were between The Undertaker and Big Show at Great American Bash 2006. It was going to be Undertaker and Khali, but Khali had “elevated liver enzymes.” It was a terrible match. Khali faced Batista at No Mercy 2007 and that was bad too. I haven’t watched either match in a long time because re-watching awful matches isn’t something I like to do with my free time.
The good news is Orton and Mahal are both better than Khali was and should be able to move around better than those big guys too. The bad news is it’s not that interesting watching guys trying to walk out a door to climb a structure before climbing another structure. When guys wrestle for pinfalls, it’s more exciting because a match can end any moment. With this match, it’s going to take a while to get out of the two structures.
I think doing a Punjabi Prison match was a terrible idea. Clearly, based on the slow ticket sales info I shared in the opening, a lot of fans agree with me.
The main reason I’m leaning towards a Mahal victory is because of who could be next: John Cena. With attendance numbers being low, it might mean that Vince McMahon decides to go back to Cena because he’s the one proven draw he has that could win his record-setting 17th WWE Championship at SummerSlam next month. If it’s not Cena, then perhaps AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura would be the opponent. But I think Cena makes the most sense.
I’m not sure what Orton might do after this. The feud he had with Bray Wyatt ended up being bad. This feud hasn’t been very good either. Perhaps Orton will be paired up with Baron Corbin to try to elevate a newer star. It’s tough to book Orton well in 2017 because he’s been featured so much for 15 years. Turning him heel seems like a bad idea since fans pop for the RKO finisher a lot. Orton vs. Corbin could work since they have a similar style.
I picked Mahal as soon as the match was announced. Orton winning is a possibility, of course, but I think Mahal finds a way to win cheap again. The prison is designed to keep the Singh Brothers out although they could climb into the prison too.
I think Mahal’s title reign has been a disappointment. If he loses the title back to Orton two months after winning it, then that doesn’t make Mahal look good at all. They need to have him win at least one feud.
Prediction: Jinder Mahal retains the WWE Championship
Flag Match: John Cena vs. Rusev
The Flag Match stipulation isn’t very exciting, just like the Punjabi Prison. It’s funny how WWE tries to sell these matches as a big deal because of how rare they are. You know why they are rare? Because the stipulations aren’t good. Cena will be going for the US flag, while Rusev will be going for the Bulgaria flag. It’s not like Bulgaria is at odds with the US or people watching have any strong feelings against Bulgaria. The only thing is that Rusev is from there, so that’s why it is represented. Exciting? Nope. Not at all.
It’s a lame stipulation to put on a rivalry that died two years ago and is back again because Cena needs somebody to beat.
Prediction: John Cena wins
United States Championship: AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
They are two of my favorite guys that have been feuding for a couple of months. Styles won the US Title from Owens less than two weeks ago, so it would be a big surprise if Styles lost the title. The win/loss doesn’t matter here. It’s match quality. They are likely going to have the best match of the night because any time Styles is on a show, it’s usually the best. The chemistry is there and as long as they get 15-20 matches it should be great. Story-wise, the rivalry could be better, but really it’s just about the in-ring performance here.
I really hope WWE goes ahead with the US Open Challenge with Styles every week. He could do a great job in elevating other wrestlers the way Cena did two years ago.
Prediction: AJ Styles retains the US Title
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
The typical booking that WWE does for Money in the Bank winners is to have the winner lose some matches before cashing in. They think that if the person still has the contract they are fine, so might as well have them lose. Would I book them like that? No, but it’s how WWE has done it most of the time. Nakamura is still undefeated in singles matches on the main roster and I think that streak will continue. Out of every match on the card, this one is most likely to have a disqualification or countout ending.
I’m going with a Nakamura win, leading to him facing Styles for the US Title at SummerSlam. I’ve said in the past that I’d rather save Nakamura vs. Styles until WrestleMania next year, but I’m not going to complain about a potential match of the year. I saw them wrestle in Japan and loved it. It could be even better in a WWE ring.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura wins
Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos vs. The New Day
I’m going with a title change here. I don’t have a strong reason for it, other than I predict the other champions to keep their titles, so might as well do something to pop the crowd. If they get over 15 minutes, it should be better than that last match at Money in the Bank too. I’m disappointed that there’s not a stipulation on this match. The Usos lost by countout in their last televised match, so there should have been a rule in place saying there are no countouts in this match. Instead, it’s just another regular match between two of the best teams.
There is a lack of teams on the Smackdown side right now. Other than Breezango waiting in the wings, who else is there? That’s why The Usos may retain because WWE might want Breezango to beat them, perhaps at SummerSlam. I think New Day winning would give them even more credibility as one of WWE’s best teams ever and they would be the first team to win the Raw and Smackdown titles too.
Prediction: The New Day wins the Smackdown Tag Team Titles
Five-Way Elimination Match: Tamina vs. Natalya vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Lana vs. Becky Lynch
The winner of this match will earn a Smackdown Women’s Title shot against Naomi at SummerSlam on August 20.
Welcome to Smackdown, the show that loves the multi-person women matches. Since the winner is facing Naomi at SummerSlam, logic might dictate that a heel wrestler like Tamina, Natalya or Lana will win. I don’t think it’s going to happen, though. An elimination style match could get more than 10 minutes, which means it could be awesome.
I think it’s going to come down to the “tea time” friends Becky and Charlotte as the final two with Charlotte finding a way to overcome her friend to get the win. It would set up Charlotte vs. Naomi at SummerSlam, which was interrupted by the other girls the last time they had a televised title match.
Prediction: Charlotte Flair wins
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis (w/Maria Kanellis)
Poor Sami Zayn. He should be used so much better, yet here he is in one of the least important matches on the show. Kanellis got the win over Zayn on this week’s Smackdown, thanks to a distraction from Maria. I feel like it’s going to be the same result in this match. Since Kanellis is wrestling in his second televised match, it would be too soon to have him lose.
Prediction: Mike Kanellis cheats to win
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English (Kickoff Match)
There’s not much of a build to this match that was also the Kickoff Match at Backlash two months ago. The easy pick would be to go with Dillinger because faces tend to win matches like this. I just think English could really use some positive momentum with a win, so I hope he does something cheap to get the victory. Both of them have so much potential. It’s up to the creative team to use them right.
Prediction: Aiden English finds a way to win
Battleground feels like an average show. There aren’t any matches that really stand out because so many of them are rematches. Styles vs. Owens should be the best in terms of quality, but I don’t expect anything that will really get people talking about Battleground as one of the better shows in the year. The quality of the performers on the card will prevent it from being a stinker. The talent is there. Creative could be a lot better.
You can watch WWE Battleground this Sunday on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET with a Kickoff Show starting at 7 p.m. ET as well. I’ll be back on Monday with a review of the show.