WWE Battleground 2017 Matches: Grading Hype Level for Each Match on the Card
To say that WWE Battleground is a pay-per-view limping into Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, a lack of excitement and intrigue to resuscitate it ahead of showtime, would be an understatement.
After a year of stellar storytelling and television, the SmackDown Live brand hit a wall over the last month or so and Sunday's extravaganza feels more like a placeholder than an event deserving of pay-per-view time.
Nonetheless, the blue brand has put together a card of immensely talented individuals that should help to make up for the creative disappointment.
Ahead of a Sunday's show, which features the return of the Punjabi Prison, a United States Championship match that may very well steal the entire broadcast and a Fatal 5-Way Elimination match featuring some of the most talented women in the industry, find out which matches have managed to generate the most hype and which ones failed miserably, lending credibility to the apathy surrounding the card.
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English
The hype behind Sunday's Kickoff Show match between Tye Dillinger and Aiden English is non-existent, thanks to some truly putrid booking by WWE Creative.
Despite arriving at the main roster amid a ton of support from the fan base, Dillinger has faded into the background, rarely appearing on SmackDown Live over the last two months. English, on the other hand, has earned television time (most notably against Randy Orton) but has assumed the role of resident punching bag.
The Superstars worked with each other during the Money in the Bank Kickoff Show, where Dillinger scored the win. A lack of follow-up, though, rendered that match meaningless. Sunday's match is likely to follow suit as WWE Creative inexplicably struggles to utilize Dillinger in a way that is reflective of his immense popularity.
WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The New Day vs. The Usos
The single best thing to happen to The New Day and The Usos on their road to Battleground was the Battle Rap that saw each team take personal shots at each other. It was during that segment that the teams generated the most heat and elevated their program beyond the typical, one-dimensional tag team rivalry.
Unfortunately in the wake of that segment, WWE Creative failed to follow up with anything remotely interesting or unique.
Two singles bouts featuring the Superstars who will do battle Sunday night descended the program into the monotony and repetition fans so often speak out against. It killed the heat and nearly extinguished the hype, which is disappointing given the talent involved.
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis (with Maria Kanellis)
One of the better-built matches on the Battleground card will see Sami Zayn battle Mike Kanellis, who will surely have scheming wife Maria by his side.
After Zayn interrupted a declaration of their love, the Kanellises engaged The Underdog from the Underground in a steadily intensifying rivalry. On the July 11 episode of SmackDown Live, Mike blasted Zayn with a flower vase, breaking it over his head.
One week later, Kanellis defeated the popular babyface after Maria prevented Zayn from delivering the Helluva Kick and provided just enough of a distraction to allow her husband to recover and score the victory.
Zayn will be looking for vengeance in Philadelphia, a city he frequented during his time in Ring of Honor, and fans will certainly be behind him to pick up the win against the love-obsessed newcomer.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
A series of brawls has helped establish Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin as one of the most anticipated matches of the Battleground card.
Corbin attacked The King of Strong Style prior to the Money in the Bank Ladder match a month ago, beating him down on the entrance stage and ruining his chances of earning a guaranteed title opportunity. From there, he should shove over the ladder Nakamura and AJ Styles were standing atop before climbing it himself and retrieving the briefcase.
Nakamura sought vengeance in the weeks that followed, leading to several intense brawls that popped the audience and left them wanting more.
Sunday night, Nakamura and Corbin will look to build upon the foundation they have laid in hopes of producing a match deserving of the hype that preceded it.
Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match
Since Charlotte's arrival to SmackDown Live during the Superstar Shake-Up, the women's division on Tuesday night has been a mangled mess of potential No. 1 contenders with little resolution.
Sure, Carmella won Money in the Bank and set herself up for a guaranteed title opportunity at any point in the next year. Without Carmella actually engaging Naomi in a rivalry though, the brand is left without an ongoing women's title feud, leaving it to determine a top challenger Sunday night at Battleground.
While that would seem to shine a spotlight on the female Superstars of SmackDown Live, it also illuminates the poor booking behind the Fatal 5-Way Elimination match. Since the Superstar Shake-Up, character development and individual stories have been de-emphasized in favor of multi-women matches that never really allow any of the women to get over at a level greater than they already are (or are not).
What once made the women's division on Tuesday nights such a joy to watch, and a significant part of the broadcast, has descended it into mediocrity in its absence. Thus, the hype surrounding Sunday's match is nowhere near what it was at this time last month, where multiple women took to the popular Money in the Bank Ladder match.
United States Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
At Backlash in May, then-United States champion Kevin Owens defeated No. 1 contender AJ Styles via countout to retain his title. Citing the "a win is a win" mentality, he denied Styles a rematch.
Both Superstars were part of the Money in the Bank Ladder match, won by Baron Corbin. The Phenomenal One wasted zero time re-instigating the rivalry between himself and Owens. On the July 4 episode of SmackDown Live, he first defeated Chad Gable to earn his way into the Independence Day Battle Royal, then proceeded to win that match, earning a title match against Owens.
Then, on July 7 inside the famed Madison Square Garden in New York, Styles defeated Owens during a live event and captured the title. Suddenly, what was once a story revolving around Styles' redemption evolved into Owens' quest to regain the strap.
Sunday night, they will wage war in a match that figures to be the best on the card.
Flag Match: John Cena vs. Rusev
John Cena returned on the July 4 episode of SmackDown Live.
Rusev interrupted him.
Yay, America! Boo, Bulgaria!
Presto change-o, we suddenly had a Flag match on tap for the Battleground pay-per-view.
That is the extent of the backstory to this one, which feels very much like a desperation booking to get Cena on the card and bolster it with a little of his unmatched star power. Rusev is a placeholder, nothing more or less. He exists solely to put Cena over and prepare him for an almost inevitable showdown with Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam.
There is no considerable hype or excitement for the match because no one truly expects one-half of it to actually win. It is simply...there.
Punjabi Prison Match for the WWE Championship: Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal
The Punjabi Prison will return to WWE pay-per-view for the first time since October 2007 Sunday night when Randy Orton challenges Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship inside the unforgiving structure.
The match, almost four months in the making, is the culmination of an increasingly personal rivalry.
At Money in the Bank, The Singh Brothers disrespected Orton's father, Cowboy Bob, by putting their hands on him and threatening bodily harm. It unleashed an animalistic rage in Randy that led to him obliterating the Singhs and the distraction allowed Mahal to deliver the Khallas and retain his title.
In the wake of that match, Mahal revealed that if Orton wanted one more shot at regaining his strap, he would have to do so inside the Punjabi Prison.
A notorious gimmick bout with a laughably bad history, the match's reputation alone presents a hurdle for the Superstars to overcome. The rabid Philadelphia fan base, which does not react well to nonsense, is another.
If Orton channels the aggression he has demonstrated on recent episodes of SmackDown Live, though, the Superstars have a very real opportunity to deliver a quality, suitably violent and compelling main event.
It will be up to Mahal to match his aggression.
The pre-match hype is considerable, though most of it revolves around the gimmick. Mahal needs a strong victory Sunday night and fans know it. His performance will be the most scruitinized element of the entire ordeal.