Preparing the Battleground
The six days from July 18th to the 24th have been jam-packed for the WWE. Two WWE World Heavyweight Championship matches, the company’s first draft since 2011, the Cruiserweight Classic and NXT shining- and it’s all capped off with tonight’s Battleground pay-per-view/special event from the Nation’s Capital.
Battleground (along with Summerslam) for all intents and purposes are WWE’s final special events before any changes take place with the brand split. Brand-specific shows have been rumored, even with line-ups reflecting additional shows such as Backlash and Clash of the Champions.
I’m here to break down the card, along with my friend and long-time wrestling fan Shaun Depasquale.
Kickoff Match: The Usos vs.Breezango
Sean: The Usos have seemingly locked the preview show spot. The days of being tag champions may be behind them, and rightfully so as they have never evolved beyond “we’re Rikishi’s sons with bright colors”. They’ll be looked at as veterans to help bring up the younger tag teams, and Breezango could really benefit from it at Battleground.
Sidenote: Breezango hurts to say. It has zero ring to it, and the duo should be called FaBreeze. End of story.
Breeze and Fandango have great chemistry together and can go in the ring. They are entertaining, relatively young and new to fans. If given a legitimate chance with the brand split, they can be something special. The two could use the win here tonight far more than the Usos.
Shaun: Breezango appears to be a favorite of Vince’s- odd since he buried them as singles stars. They’ll get the win here as it would mean a lot more for them than it would for the Usos.
Natalya vs Becky Lynch
Shaun: The definition of filler match. Becky wins via being the babyface.
Sean: Natalya and Becky wandered around most of the past year being plucky, vulnerable babyfaces. The difference now is that Natalya is fed up with it and has turned to the dark side.
The problem? No one really cares about her character at this point. It’s the female equivalent to the Big Show switching sides. Her veteran leadership in the ring is a plus in helping deliver a solid match as Natalya’s in-ring skill has never been questioned. But her career in WWE has been vastly underwhelming, and has shown with the new crop of females from NXT that her best days are behind her.
Lynch, on the other hand, is young and vibrant and can shake off the stink of her character looking dopey by trusting everyone too much. Her moves are crisp and look legitimate, and she has a sweet finisher and unique look/brand (even if they never explained her steampunk obsession). As Smackdown’s #1 female pick, Lynch gets the win here.
Sean– Becky Lynch
United States Championship: Zack Ryder vs. Rusev ©
Sean: Ryder’s renewed push in recent months has been fun to watch, even if not everyone agrees with me. The trouble here is consistently building up Ryder as a threat. He wins matches you think he shouldn’t (IC Title at WM32), then loses ones (vs Sheamus last week on RAW) you think he should. Regardless of this fact, Ryder is not the man to knock Rusev off his perch.
Rusev’s second run with the US title has helped him regain his footing following Cena’s 2015 emasculation of a once-dominant character and the dismal showing of The League of Nations. His improved Accolade submission looks absolutely brutal and believable. After Kalisto’s less-than-stellar run with the US title, Rusev is here to restore the glory to it and maybe down the line drop it to a fresh face (Balor, anyone?).
Shaun: Zack Ryder is being tossed another bone and given a mild title push. Rusev has suddenly been booked strong (just keep him away from Cena!) of late. I safely believe that his reign of midcard terror continues here. Rusev via Accolade.
Intercontinental title match: Darren Young vs. The Miz ©
Shaun: Imagine predicting back in April that by July, the IC title would be down to Miz vs. Darren Young. Mighty big promotion from Main Event for both guys, you’d say. Eventually this belt HAS to find its way onto a truly worthy superstar such as Cesaro or Sami Zayn, but in the meantime I think Young (for whatever reason) is being given a push and finds himself in the right place at the right time, where WWE certainly must be giving serious thought to getting the belt off of Miz. Young wins the title, Backlund carries Young around the ring like a ragdoll.
Sean: A fresh match-up is much welcomed here. Young has always had the singles potential since his 2010 NXT days, but busy tagging with Titus O’Neill and victim of injuries. His alignment with Backlund is entertaining and an interesting jumpstart, but I’m not sure how much distance it has.
Sidenote: Young needs to stop referring to Backlund as “life coach” all the time. It’s like when you have that one friend couple who calls each other pet names constantly.
Young’s recent momentum will make Sunday’s title match competitive and fun, as The Miz can help carry Young to an awesome showing. The Miz is enjoying one of his best runs in the WWE after his tag run with Morrison years ago and his 2010-2011 WWE title run. His chemistry with real-life wife Maryse is palpable, and the two are one of the more underrated things in WWE right now.
I feel that Miz should retain due to his adding extra shine to the IC belt, but feel WWE is going to pull the trigger too early on a Young title win.
Shaun: Darren Young
Sean: Darren Young
The New Day vs. The Wyatts
Sean: There is a lot wrong with this “feud”. It’s seemingly thrown together, with literally nothing on the line if either team wins or loses. That fact is only compounded by Tuesday’s developments, with RAW drafting Braun Strowman and the New Day, while Smackdown took Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan.
What was interesting about this at first was Xavier Woods playing the serious role for once, informing both Kofi and Big E that the Wyatts were a threat to their existence. Now, once again- we have no idea what either team was fighting for (even before the draft happenings). But any interest the feud garnered died after the group’s visit to the Wyatts’ compound:
A location mentioned many times on television turned out to be a grassy area….surrounded by cars. That’s…it? It was an admirable effort at first, but execution fell flat. New Day tucking their tails between their legs only to no sell the attack the very next week destroyed any momentum the two groups had.
Then to add insult to injury, the New Day’s tag team titles aren’t even on the line. WWE bragged recently about the length of their title run, but what does it mean when said titles are defended once every few months? This only shows the group is far beyond the belts, and could stand to drop them in the near future. New Day wins here as they have more of a following (pun intended) and are merchandise machines.
Shaun: Can we just see the Final Deletion again instead? Since blatantly copying TNA with their “compound” angle, all this match makes me want to do is see “Broken” Matt Hardy and his dilapidated boat. I couldn’t care less what happens here as nothing is truly at stake, and the Wyatt Family has already been split up, so I guess the New Day get the win here.
Sean- The New Day
Shaun- The New Day
Sasha Banks and TBD vs Charlotte and Dana Brooke
Shaun: One of the few interesting matches of the night for me, because I predict Banks’ partner will be Carmella. Seeing her debut at a PPV would be extremely pleasing to me and the alliance makes sense. Rumors of Nia Jax make no sense as she’s a heel and lacks the respect of WWE crowds. She wouldn’t be able to enhance this feud whatsoever. Sasha and Carmella can relate with their more urban gimmicks and play extremely well off each other. I give the win to them here.
Sean: Another inexcusable display of not defending a title at a pay-per-view here. This isn’t the first time the WWE has done this with Charlotte’s belt in recent months, either. Instead we get more of a holding pattern match before anything “big” happens at Summerslam. The trouble with this match is that we have seen every possible combination of it over the last month or so. I said this after Tuesday’s draft show:
“The most egregious of those is Sasha Banks versus Charlotte and Dana a night after tagging with Becky Lynch to face the same foes. Last week, she faced Dana on both RAW and Smackdown. It’s just lazy booking and gives fans no reason to look forward to matches that occur at special events.”
The intrigue of this match centers around Banks’ partner. Is it Bayley? As much as fans want it to be, I feel WWE will go another route here- possibly even Carmella. I believe they save Bayley’s debut for after NXT: Brooklyn. But their first mistake was not drafting her Tuesday ahead of Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Eva Marie.
The result won’t have any impact on the future of the women’s division for either brand. After Tuesday’s beatdown, I see Banks and her mystery partner getting the win here.
Sidenote: If Banks’ partner is Eva Marie, DC riots undoubtedly.
Shaun- Sasha Banks and Carmella
Sean- Sasha Banks and Carmella
Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens
Sean: As many believe, these two are destined to feud forever, ala Batman and the Joker. Two rules should have been made before the draft. No Ziggler/Corbin on the same show, and the same for Owens/Zayn. While the latter have more mileage than the former in regards to feuding, we’ve gone to this well quite often so early. Instead of making Battleground a blow-off of sorts, it’s just another match between the two.
That being said, I expect a classic from them on Sunday. There will be plenty of drama and storytelling inside the ring. But regardless who wins, where do the two go from here? Possibly a gimmick match at Summerslam? After being slighted at going #18 in the draft (7 spots after Zayn), Owens will be in a surlier mood than usual and want to beat Zayn in the worst way.
Shaun: This match is likely to steal the show, again. WWE is stressing that this is the final match of the Owens/Zayn feud so expect high spots, ruthless aggression, and false finishes. If we can read anything into the high selection of Zayn onto Raw, you can say WWE may be planning to push Zayn as one of their top babyfaces. Zayn gets the clean win in this send-off match.
Sean- Kevin Owens
Shaun- Sami Zayn
The Club vs. John Cena, Enzo and Big Cass
Shaun: The usual “Keep Cena Relevant” match. I have nothing good to say about this match. Five of the best in the business, and then Cena. I know, Cena works hard but he simply isn’t a great wrestler, and we’ve known that for 10 years now. It’s time for Cena to stop enhancing himself and enhance others. In a perfect world, Cena has very little to do with the outcome of this match, or he takes the pinfall. But we will get neither. We will get the usual cutesy stuff in the ring from him: Five knuckle shuffles. STF. Five or six Attitude Adjustments… and false finishes for years. My prediction: John Cena takes buries The Club.
Sean: I know many are put off by the fact we don’t get Cena/AJ III, but by both being drafted to Smackdown- there will be plenty of time for more singles bouts between the two. I’m excited to see not only them but Big Cass and Enzo get elevated by aligning themselves with Cena. It’s a very natural grouping, but the age divide was very apparent on RAW when Cena seemed perplexed by some of the terms used by Enzo and New Day.
Cena is officially a more active version of the Undertaker- an act who is above championship belts and can make any segment or match a big deal. His schedule allows him to dabble in entertainment while staying around to help usher in the New Era.
On the flip side, The Club is in a state of flux post-draft. AJ will go to Smackdown, Anderson and Gallows to RAW. I feel it was too early for this to happen. They had just caught a rhythm with #BEATUPJOHNCENA and Karl Anderson’s “hot asian wife”. Now it looks like they will reunite with Finn Balor at some point. Similar to the New Day beating a splintering Wyatts faction, Cena , Enzo and Cass will pick up the win here. Look for either Cass or Enzo to score the pin.
Shaun- Cena, Enzo and Cass
Sean- Cena, Enzo and Cass
WWE World Heavyeight Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose ©
Sean: The main event. The crème de la crème. This is the match that might have been the deciding factor in people deciding to watch this show on the Network or purchase a ticket to see it in person. These three will forever be tied together and have a ton of history over the past four years in WWE.
Now is the perfect time for this match. All three are main event talents, and you can make a case for any of them winning tonight’s match. A triple threat offers a unique dynamic, with the champion not even having to be pinned to lose his title.
Rollins is the #1 pick of the draft and Stephanie’s golden boy. He’s a can’t miss talent and the new foundation of RAW. Upon his return to the WWE, they made a very impressive WWE24 documentary about him chronicling his comeback. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It looked grueling with setbacks only setting up the eventual comeback. He seemed likeable and someone you could pull for- not the whiny heel that weaseled his way through most of 2015-2016. Yet despite the documentary, WWE plugged Rollins right back in as the same whiny heel with no character evolution- a big mistake in my opinion. Rollins is ready to deliver as a good guy and the face of RAW. His moveset only makes it easier to cheer him. He’s no coward. He’s a thoroughbred and should be treated as such.
Ambrose’s highest peak before winning the belt at Money in the Bank was his run prior to Wrestlemania as he received reactions WWE craved for Reigns. Despite the audience wanting Ambrose in the title picture, WWE ignored it and here we are. Now Ambrose is the face of Smackdown and heads into the show with the title around his waist. Rumors about WWE’s lack of confidence in him lead me to believe he will not leave Battleground as champion.
And that brings us to Roman Reigns. The former champion and punching bag for the IWC is coming back fresh of his suspension, complete with a very imposing beard:
— WWE (@WWE) July 24, 2016
This is the great divide for WWE where the audience is at a boiling point with Reigns. He isn’t John Cena, a talent dynamic on the mic who was seen in 2002-2005 as a cool, edgy face. I’ve written about it before, but this is the time to pull the plug on Reigns as a good guy and make him the intriguing heel he is destined to be. And what else does that mean? Reigns wins the belt on his first night back. I’m sure it wouldn’t be popular within the company and it sure wouldn’t be popular amongst fans. But the latter part is the point. Reigns would have heat off the charts, and could carry that momentum as the heel champion for months. Change his attire, his music…everything- and Battleground may be the rebirth of Roman Reigns as a viable main eventer for WWE.
Shaun: The real intrigue to this match, is whether WWE decides to completely embarrass themselves and put the belt back on Roman Reigns to a chorus of boos. It’s bad enough Reigns is even still allowed in this match. You want to punish Roman Reigns? Put him on the pre-show pitted up against Curtis Axel. In the end, I predict WWE opts to put the belt on Seth Rollins, setting up a possible double-turn before Summerslam and an intriguing heel Roman vs. face Seth match in Brooklyn. The odd man out here would be Dean Ambrose- a familiar role for him, unfortunately.
Sean: Roman Reigns
Shaun: Seth Rollins
Bonus prediction: Randy Orton’s appearance on the Highlight Reel will end with Lesnar attacking him and maybe even Chris Jericho.