The final Smackdown Live pay-per-view stop before Summerslam comes in the form of WWE Battleground on Sunday with plenty of gold on the line.
WWE Champion Jinder Mahal defends his title against number one contender Randy Orton inside the demonic Punjabi Prison, while Kevin Owens looks to regain the United States Championship as he goes up against AJ Styles.
The New Day will hope to become tag team champions at the expense of The Usos, while five women will vie to become top challenger to Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi.
The card is rounded off with some intriguing singles matches; Baron Corbin facing Shinsuke Nakamura, John Cena battling Rusev and Sami Zayn challenging Mike Kanellis – though there are some notable absentees, too.
In plain sight, this is a line-up that threatens very little change ahead of the company’s second biggest event of the year – the 30th instalment of Summerslam emanates from New York in August and is already clearly the focal point of weekly programming.
Perhaps the title most likely to change hands is the tag team gold – The New Day have been on a hot streak since their recent return and the Usos have already dodged them once at last month’s Money in the Bank event and momentum is clearly with the challengers.
It’s hard to see how Mahal will surrender his WWE Championship on Sunday – and nor should he, really. His villainous character is a little paint-by-numbers in terms of its originality, but as something of a breakout star of the last 12 months he thoroughly deserves to be where he is right now. He needs to see off Orton this time around to cement his reign in history and it’d be disappointing to see him usurped after such a short space of time – certainly by Orton who just doesn’t need the WWE title at this stage in his career.
Styles and Nakamura are two of the top Smackdown talents at the moment and their matches against Owens and Corbin respectively should be the night’s highlights. Styles taking over as the incumbent by downing Owens for the US title at Madison Square Garden last week was a pleasant surprise and this Sunday might make a good end to that feud, allowing both to move on to Summerslam – Styles and Nakamura in New York, anyone?
The women’s division on Smackdown has become a little stale owing to a lack of originality when it comes to booking at the moment – great athletes seem to be locked in a continuous cycle at the moment; five-way after four-way after six-pack. This latest group affair will determine a new number one contender for Summerslam. We can only hope this will see the stars branch out into some actual feuds. Charlotte and Becky Lynch put on a great singles match on Smackdown Live this week and I wouldn’t be too upset to see them go at it again for a while.
Cena, fresh from yet another return, should make reasonably swift work of Rusev in their Flag Match. These two have duelled often before and it’s not a new rivalry – it would make no sense to see Cena trampled so quickly after a much-lauded comeback, so stand ready for a celebration of feel-good Americana on Sunday.
Ty Dillinger, for some reason, is paired with Aiden English in a Kickoff Show rematch from May’s Backlash Kickoff contest, despite neither of them really having been seen since – it’s a bout that might fare better on the main show than a needless affair between Kanellis and Zayn that only seems to be aimed at giving them television time at any cost.
Hints suggest there is more to come, too – Naomi is bizarrely without any action at all as we speak while Breezango look set to do battle with another nemesis. Loose ends indeed – Battleground looks to be the setting to firm them up ahead of one of WWE’s marquee events.
WWE Battleground is streamed live on WWE Network on Sunday night – visit wwe.com for more details.
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