SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
SAMI ZAYN vs. MIKE KANELLIS
Mike Kanellis is making his PPV debut at Battleground and a good performance is crucial for him against a competitor like Sami Zayn. In their match on Smackdown, Zayn got in about 90% of the offense making Kanellis look weak and unprepared for competition in WWE. He pulled out the win, but it was hardly convincing. Even if he resorts to cheating or relies on Maria for assistance to pick up a win on Sunday, he will need to impress those watching to prove he belongs. If defeated, it would be a huge blow to any momentum he and Maria have built. As a new wrestler on the roster from a different promotion he would be in a really tough position to compete in any major angle in the near future as a believable threat.
Aside from a few wins over Baron Corbin (which were tainted after being beaten senseless afterwards) Sami has not picked up a truly meaningful victory in a while. Even though this isn’t exactly going to be the showcase match of the evening, Sami has an opportunity to get back to winning ways and build some momentum leading into Summerslam. In a crowded card featuring both brands, Sami will most likely find himself on the fringe and is not a shoe-in for a match. A great performance here could help. If defeated by the newcomer Kanellis, it would not be a great look for Zayn. As a guy who has already been painted as a hard-luck loser, he cannot afford another PPV defeat while still trying to remain credible on Smackdown.
Prediction: Mike Kanellis w/ help from Maria
CHARLOTTE FLAIR vs. BECKY LYNCH vs. TAMINA vs. NATALYA vs. LANA
The two most important things to look for in this match is the winner and the woman who comes up short but is booked to look as strong as possible. While Summerslam is a monumental event, they would not want to rush the woman they have planned to be in the Wrestlemania title match but build her starting with this match.
With Naomi being a babyface and no imminent title defense before August 20th, the most probable outcome here would be Natalya. With Lana already losing multiple times to Naomi and Tamina being such an outside shot to win, Natalya presents a fantastic opportunity to execute an entertaining Women’s Championship match at Summerslam while making Naomi look like a million bucks. The only issue that could pose would be two top stars like Becky and Charlotte out of the title picture heading into such a huge PPV.
Working off of that scenario, I would expect one of those two women to be booked incredibly strong in this contest. After their match on Smackdown, Lynch and Flair showed that there is a slight possibility of a breakup leading to neither women winning on Sunday. Charlotte has not exactly worked out as a babyface, and with Becky having so much fan support a heel turn could work tremendously. That would also give WWE the opportunity to showcase them in a grudge match stemming from an encounter in this contest.
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. BARON CORBIN
Both Baron Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura figure to be important pieces of the Smackdown roster moving forward so I would anticipate a finish that allows both to come out looking strong… good ol’ WWE 50/50 booking at its finest. For whatever reason, WWE has a habit of booking their Money in the Bank contract winner to lose more often than not before cashing in, taking for granted that once they cash in that person would be World Champion.
As this point in his main roster run, Nakamura cannot afford to lose clean to Corbin. WWE has done a better job with his presentation and booking as fans have reacted much more positively (after his entrance music ends). A strong performance against someone like Corbin would be a huge step in the right direction. If he were to lose expect Nakamura to be protected, especially if there is a United States Championship match in the near future. If victorious, it would be a big boost for Shinsuke. Corbin has established himself as a legitimate threat, and the briefcase absolutely gives him even more credibility. Nakamura could use the victory as leverage to challenge whomever wins the AJ Styles/Kevin Owens match or even step up for a World Championship opportunity.
For Corbin, this is a huge match. He has been able to execute well performed matches with some of Smackdown’s top stars but has not gone one on one with Shinsuke yet on a big stage. He has attacked Nakamura on multiple occasions and this is his opportunity to show everyone he can compete with him when the playing field is level. Given the run Nakamura has been on, Corbin wouldn’t lose much momentum in defeat so long as he continues his mean streak and shows his ability to stay competitive. If victorious, I would imagine it would not be clean to help preserve Shinsuke. Regardless of the briefcase, Corbin is still vying for a spot on the Summerslam card and a tremendous match with the king of strong style could help quite a bit.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura by DQ
FLAG MATCH: JOHN CENA vs. RUSEV
What better way to reintroduce John Cena on Smackdown than with an Americana storyline, right!? Unfortunately, we have seen this before. While Cena is giving it his all, this is the first time in a while where I find myself feeling like I have heard this promo from Cena before. He isn’t done, he loves WWE, he loves the United States and he hates people like Rusev that disrespect it. That covers everything, right?
It would seem awfully silly to beat Rusev this early in his return here. He is in the prime of his career and has so much untapped potential. He will also w be on television far more than Cena through this calendar year. The brilliant part of this match is, Rusev can win without having to pin Cena. This would be a huge boost to the Bulgarian Brute heading into the end of summer and fall as he moves onto bigger and better things. Lets not forget, though, that the top of the Smackdown card is pretty crowed at the moment. If Rusev does endure a loss it could be a very telling sign that WWE has nothing of importance for him in the near future. Cena always seems to bring out the best in everyone he works with and this could be just the performance Rusev needs to show Vince and his team that he could be a major player moving forward.
The only reason John Cena would need to win this match is if WWE has plans to push him to the WWE Championship picture following Battleground. If he were to come out victorious it will be very interesting to see what Cena does with that momentum on Smackdown, or if he takes his talents to Raw. He has played up the free agent angle in many interviews and has not ruled out competing on Mondays. Cena is at a point in his career where he can overcome just about any defeat, especially one in which he doesn’t need to get pinned. Win or lose, big match John will be prominently featured on the Summerslam card which makes a loss here much more likely.
SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: THE USOS vs. THE NEW DAY
It is somewhat hard to get excited to see what these two teams will do in this match after 8 weeks straight of both verbal and physical interaction. Yes, you heard that correctly – The New Day and The Usos have been involved in a segment or match together every week (plus PPV) since June 6th. Takes something away from the anticipation, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, these teams will square off once again to see who (who? who? who?) will walk into Summerslam as the Smackdown Tag Team Champions.
The Usos have performed so incredibly well since turning heel and while it has gotten a bit repetitive, they have worked really well with New Day and still have something to prove. Since no other Smackdown tag teams have been heated up nearly enough to be featured in a title match at Barclays Center it seems most likely that The Usos come up short on Sunday. This would allow the feud to continue and hopefully WWE finds different ways to keep this interesting. A win here, on the other hand, would be massive for Jimmy and Jey. Sure, they have defended their titles against other teams, but The New Day are the current gold standard. Victory here would be a massive statement for these brothers while they continue their dominance.
It is easy to make a statement like “The New Day are so entertaining they don’t need championships,” but boy are they much more fun when they have gold (or silver). If New Day take the titles from The Usos they would be as confident as ever and would be able to talk themselves up week after week before their inevitable rematch at Summerslam. New Day coming up short just wouldn’t make sense, unless there was blatant cheating involved that warranted yet another opportunity against Jimmy and Jey. As much as I would love to see Breezango have another go, this match will be booked to set up another contest between these teams. You can take that to the bank.
Prediction: New Day
UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: AJ STYLES vs. KEVIN OWENS
After the unexpected title switch at Madison Square Garden this match is certainly one of the most anticipated at Battleground. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens look like they have tremendous chemistry in the ring and based on their last match, they look to be saving something for a bigger moment. Maybe this will be it.
AJ cut a fantastic promo after winning the United States Championship. While it did seem like a direct response to Kenny Omega winning New Japan’s US Title, he did vow to make the WWE’s version the symbol of excellence in wrestling and it looks like he will be holding this for long time. It would be terrible for AJ to lose so soon into his reign as champion, but could set up a big rematch at Summerslam. Given that the match will probably be fantastic, Styles would not lose much in defeat but will have some explaining to do after his proclamation. If he is victorious, it will be interesting to see who they have lined up for him at Summerslam. There has been a tease of he and Nakamura having a match, but that has also been rumored to be saved for Wrestlemania so we shall see. Either way, AJ will be competing for the United States Championship at Barclays Center as the champion or challenger.
This match is much more important for Kevin Owens. Still being built as the new face of America, a loss to AJ Styles will ultimately take him out of the US Title picture for the foreseeable future and may call for a character adjustment. Like I wrote above, both men will certainly perform at a high level so Owens will still look strong moving forward, but where would KO go from there? If victorious, it would be a huge boost for Owens. Anyone who beats AJ, especially at a PPV, instantly has more credibility. This would pit them at a 1-1 tie and the blow-off would come at Summerslam where we will ultimately find out who WWE will move forward with as US Champion.
Prediction: AJ Styles
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP PUNJABI PRISON MATCH: JINDER MAHAL vs. RANDY ORTON
In what seems to be the blow-off of a multi-month rivalry, Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton will compete inside of a Punjabi Prison. This could be an extremely hard match to map out and Orton will be heavily relied upon with Mahal’s lack of experience in big time matches such as this. I just wish they explained it more clearly on Tuesday.
Randy Orton, much like John Cena, is at a point in his career where he can can endure just about any losing scenario without losing any credibility. While he has turned up the intensity in the past few weeks he hasn’t necessarily come off as overly invested in this storyline. If Orton were to lose this match it would get him out of the tough task of retorting the same argument from Jinder week after week and free him up to work another fresh matchup. The only downside to this would be his standing for Summerslam. Without a championship program to work, Orton will have to heat up a conflict with someone else awfully fast. You can never rule out Orton winning the title though. He is a bonafide superstar that will garner a reaction wherever he goes. The problem there is, we get another month of he and Jinder.
This match truly is make or break for Mahal. He has now held the WWE Championship for two months and has cut the same promo for eight weeks straight. The outcome of this match show fans exactly how much trust WWE has in Mahal as WWE Champion. A victory on Sunday will almost ensure that Jinder will walk into the second biggest PPV of the year as one of the top wrestlers in the company, which awfully crazy to say out loud. Sure, WWE has the opportunity to protect both he and Orton with how unpredictable this match will be but this was Mahal’s protection when trying to explain away the loss. Very, very interesting to see how the finish is booked here. It could be the end of the reign of the Maharaja.
Prediction: Jinder Mahal
Thanks so much for reading. Hope everyone enjoys Battleground!
Follow Michael Souza on Twitter @TheWrestlingFix.