Monday Night RAW is done with their PPV for the month, and now it’s time for SmackDown’s shot at it. This Monday morning in Manila, SmackDown will be presenting Battleground, with the third and last WWE Championship match between champion Jinder Mahal and challenger Randy Orton taking place inside a returning Punjabi Prison match.
Interestingly, Battleground is propped up by two big matches (okay, one big match and one semi-relevant match, just because John Cena is in it) that involve a misguided babyface sense of xenophobia. It’s not outright racism because no one ever came out and said they were oppressing the foreigners on the show—although they’re strangely portrayed as evil despite espousing no truly evil characteristics—but instead, people just hate the fact that they hate America.
It’s a backward view to take, especially in an ever-increasingly tolerant and inclusive society and mainstream. Because WWE’s still run by a rich old white man (in a country run by another rich old white man, who happened to be involved with the company once) it’s still okay for them to be left behind when it comes to principles like these. Eventually, however, they’re going to have to do much better. Yes, they do have characters like Mustafa Ali and Sami Zayn, who fight back against prejudice, but they’re still largely whitewashed, and those efforts are still of their own volition.
Anyway, while SmackDown is still a fun show to watch, its bigger brother RAW is starting to catch up. SmackDown’s starting to lag a little bit, especially when it has such a deep roster to cram in only two hours, and now is not the time for them to decrease their quality at all. (There’s news claiming that Battleground has yet to sell out tickets, with the arena selling them now at a discount.) They have to use Battleground as a climax that would set up better stories on the way to SummerSlam; if not, they’re going to find themselves in RAW’s rearview for the first time since the Draft last year.
Let’s take a look at how I think the show is going down.
Tye Dillinger vs Aiden English in a kickoff match
These two NXT callus, who have no clear direction on SmackDown right now, are facing each other for the second or so time just to have something to do. At the very least, it’s going to be a decent match in the kickoff, but either Dillinger wins to propel himself forward or English wins to start an actual story. I have a feeling that the Dillinger victory is not so foregone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just give it to him. This is SmackDown, though, so there’s a chance.
Winner: Aiden English
Sami Zayn vs Mike Kanellis (with Maria Kanellis)
The debuting Mike Kanellis actually had his first SmackDown match this week on the show, where he won against Sami Zayn. I have a feeling this story won’t be long; if they already had him win on TV, it’s probably them getting that first chapter of the story over with. Zayn wins here and the victory may or may not end the feud; if not, expect Kanellis to attack Zayn afterward.
Winner: Sami Zayn
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Baron Corbin
This feud is entertaining in theory, but is happening at the wrong time. With SummerSlam up ahead, the stakes need to be bigger for Nakamura. While Corbin is a fine young up-and-coming opponent, he won’t be putting out 5-star matches with the King of Strong Style just yet. I feel like they’ll be wrapping this one up for Nakamura to move on to a new feud, possibly with Kevin Owens.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch vs Natalya vs Tamina vs Lana in a fatal 5-way elimination match to determine the #1 contender to the SmackDown Women’s Championship
This is a tough one. Champion Naomi will need a heel challenger come SummerSlam, but the pickings are slim, with only Natalya being the most experienced villainess in this pool. Theoretically, Flair and Lynch could have some sort of draw to necessitate a triple threat match on the show, but there are already rumors of RAW having a fatal four-way match for their women’s title at SummerSlam. My gut tells me that either Flair or Lynch will win, and Carmella will cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase sometime soon.
Winner: Charlotte Flair
The New Day vs The Usos (c) for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships
It’s been an entertaining feud, but it’s finally time to give the New Day their due as tag champions. The Usos are out of excuses to prolong this feud (although they could’ve used a stipulation for this title match). The SmackDown tag division needs a soft reboot anyway, as well as a new heel team, and we’d love to see how New Day helps everyone else in their division moving forward.
Winner: The New Day (new SmackDown Tag Team Champions)
Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles (c) for the United States Championship
The surprise title win at the house show was exactly that—surprising, but it’s the kind of surprise you don’t need to look for an explanation for. It was eventually bound to happen, it made the Madison Square Garden show special, and it slightly reignited a feud that was starting to sag. It’s time for them to wrap it up, as they’ve been feuding since the Superstar Shake-Up. Both men need to move on, especially Owens.
Winner: AJ Styles
John Cena vs Rusev in a flag match
I’m not sure people will really want to see a flag match, as it’s not a straight up wrestling match. These two have the talent to make it compelling, though—but will they? It’s one of those xenophobic stories that’s disappointing, because they’re wasting two good wrestlers in Rusev and Cena. Anyway, Cena’s winning, because Cena, and they’re building up toward a United States title match at SummerSlam.
Winner: John Cena
Randy Orton vs Jinder Mahal (with the Singh Brothers) (c) in a Punjabi Prison match for the WWE Championship
Although Mahal has been putting up an objectively middling performance as champion (by the championship’s standards; as a wrestler, however, he’s been improving) they’re going to keep the title on him just to keep people talking about SmackDown. Orton has been putting in the work of his career, because clearly he’s inspired by something—whether actual inspiration or pure anger, we’ll never know just yet—and in doing so he’s been holding up his end of the deal.
The Punjabi Prison match plays a lot to Mahal’s pro wrestling strengths. He’s clearly more comfortable as a heavy-handed brawler and striker, and in a match with a huge wooden cage, all you need to do to make it compelling is beat your opponent up. The true test is whether Orton will do his part in carrying Mahal in the actual match; we’ll have to see on Monday.
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