By Jason Powell
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WWE Battleground Hits
The Usos vs. New Day for the Smackdown Tag Titles: A good match that felt out of place in the opening slot. I’m not opposed to opening pay-per-view events hot, but the match had so many near falls that it felt like it belonged later in the night. I was surprised to see the title change in that I assumed they would save it for SummerSlam. Jake Barnett made the point in our member exclusive audio review that they may have gone with it here so that the title chagne wouldn’t be overshadowed on the bigger show. I also question just how many Smackdown matches will crack the SummerSlam card given that WWE tends to go Raw-heavy on their bigger events. Either way, the wrestlers worked really hard and this was the highlight of a bad night.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens for the U.S. Championship: A minor Hit for a match that didn’t live up to expectations. The finish was flat and confusing in the moment. I’m fine with Owens winning the title back, but I’m ready for his Face of America gimmick to fade away. Owens is a great heel who can generate plenty of heat without this one dimensional gimmick. I was happy to see him change his look and try something new when he was drafted to Smackdown, but it doesn’t feel like there’s anywhere to go with the gimmick. Meanwhile, I’m curious to see where they go with both men now that Owens has the title back. My hope is that creative has realized it’s a bad idea to have the brand’s true top acts feuding over the secondary championship
Aiden English vs. Tye Dillinger: A pleasant surprise in that the heel English went over on the Kickoff Show. English is doing a fine job with his undercard heel gimmick. It was nice to see him get a win over Dillinger, whose entire character is nothing more than trying to get ten chants from the crowd. It served him well and got him to the main roster, but they really need to establish him in a way where fans care about his character and not just chanting ten. My hope is that with English getting the win, the plan is to turn this into an actual feud rather than just something they open pay-per-views with every couple of months.
WWE Battleground Misses
Overall show: This event was the culmination of some questionable creative decisions made in recent months combined with an over reliance on American patriotism. I can’t recall a Philadelphia crowd seeming as disinterested as this one did throughout the majority of the flat show. And I felt the same disinterest leading up to and during the event. It feels like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte, Kevin Owens, and even John Cena are in a holding pattern. I’m all for WWE saving top matches for WrestleMania, but the lack of compelling programs for these talents is damaging them and the brand’s recent quality. I can’t help but wonder how different the show would feel if Jinder Mahal had captured the U.S. Championship while the more popular acts were feuding over the WWE Championship. Here’s hoping that creative intends to shake things up coming out of this show rather than dragging out some of their tired programs for yet another month.
Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton in a Punjabi Prison match for the WWE Championship: Put that hideous structure back in the warehouse and leave it there permanently. All three Punjabi Prison matches have followed the formula of the heel escaping the first cage through the doors only to have the babyface leap or stretch over to the second cage to even things up, presumably because there’s only so much you can with his silly structure. This match overstayed its welcome before the big payoff of Great Khali making his return to help Mahal retain the championship. All of the interference creates the need for a rematch that I pray we don’t see. This feud is tired and it’s time for Mahal to work with other opponents so that the WWE Championship stops feeling like something that only he, Orton, and the Money in the Bank contract holder care about.
John Cena vs. Rusev in a Flag Match: The wrestlers worked hard, but they were saddled with a lousy gimmick match that felt needlessly long. I’m not sure why WWE went on such a patriotic kick for the WWE Battleground show, but it doesn’t help that their foreign menaces represent countries that America has no beef with. It’s bad enough that most American viewers weren’t feeling the patriotism, but I can only imagine how dull this theme was for the rest of the worldwide audience. By the way, let the record show that the same company that once fired Finlay for having a heel interrupt the national anthem at a house show had no problem with the flag falling on the ground repeatedly. Anyway, are they doubling down on Cena’s patriotism by having him challenge Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam?
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin: A disappointing match with an unsatisfying finish. Yet as much as the low blow finish was weak and this was the type of finish that puts heat on the company more than the heel, Corbin’s sly smile after delivering the kick was perfect in terms of moving some of the heat his way. Signs going into the show pointed to Nakamura vs. Styles at the pay-per-view. However, the finish of this match and the U.S. Title match seemingly created the needs for rematches, but do fans really want to see those rematches?
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Tamina vs. Lana in a five-way elimination match: The same brand that once had three women’s matches on a pay-per-view now crams the women into backstage TV segments with Shane McMahon and into the same pay-per-view matches. The early portion of the match put the emphasis on the Tamina and Lana partnership and that was followed by the rapid fire eliminations. The final two felt suspenseful when Charlotte went for the moonsault, but then it was over just seconds later after Natalya put her knees up. While I am happy for veteran Natalya being rewarded with a high profile match, I can’t say the actual match between her and Naomi feels SummerSlam big. How much longer will Charlotte and Lynch be forced to spin their wheels while Naomi faces everyone else on the women’s roster?
Mike Kanellis vs. Sami Zayn: I hope there’s a good reason for Kanellis losing his second televised match with Zayn. For instance, perhaps they want to show his and/or Maria’s mean streak that emerges when things don’t go their way. The match was decent, but it didn’t leave me anxious to see more of the feud. Hopefully they do something to change that on Tuesday because I enjoy the work of all involved parties.
Breezango segment: Even the Breezango skit was a clunker. I needed a good laugh that didn’t come at the expense of the creative work at this point in the show, but there wasn’t one to be found. I’m not sure who attacked the duo, but it’s hard to be excited about it when there’s every reason to suspect that it’s all leading to comedy matches.
The Best of The Boom features Tony Schiavone joining Jason Powell in this May 30, 2018 discussion in which he looks back on when he went to Ric Flair's house for his first pro wrestling assignment, his year with WWE, his one appearance for TNA Impact Wrestling, and more...