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The July 18 episode of SmackDown Live was faced with the unenviable task of putting the final touches on the hype to what many are considering a lackluster pay-per-view event, Battleground.
It tried its damndest but found little success.
Randy Orton confronted Jinder Mahal, warning the WWE champion of the pain and suffering that awaits him Sunday night.
John Cena was sent a message loud and clear by Rusev, who left the franchise star lying in a heap, the Bulgarian flag flying high.
Tamina got the last laugh on the women’s division and Kevin Owens pinned AJ Styles ahead of their United States Championship match Sunday.
With Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis and Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso rounding out the card, the brand presented a show that did an admirable job of shining a spotlight on the Superstars and feuds that will be prominent on Sunday’s card but it may have been too little, too late to inspire the WWE Universe.
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Ahead of the Punjabi Prison match Sunday night, WWE champion Jinder Mahal kicked off Tuesday’s show, flanked by The Singh Brothers. The Modern Day Maharaja made his way to the ring and looked ominously at The Punjabi Prison that enclosed it.
Mahal promised to smash Orton’s face into the structure and vowed to leave Sunday’s show champion.
Orton interrupted the promo and climbed to the top of the prison, staring down at his Battleground opponent. He warned Mahal that there will be no Singh Brothers to help him retain his title and reminded the champion that the only reason he has that title is because of them.
The segment ended with Orton vowing to leave Mahal lying in the ring while he sits perched atop the structure, the new WWE champion.
There were worse ways to go about accomplishing the final hype for Sunday’s title bout but one cannot help but feel as though something should have been done to demonstrate just how dangerous the Punjabi Prison can actually be.
To this point, the match has been home to two wildly disappointing bouts that have not fully explored the career-altering contest it can be.
Perhaps an angle featuring Orton bashing Mahal into the bamboo or a three-on-one beatdown inside the cage would have been apropos.
As it stands, WWE is banking on a gimmick match fans largely consider a joke without doing anything to change their opinion.
Thankfully, Orton’s promo was strong enough to sell the intense dislike between the two.
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Last week, Xavier Woods earned momentum for The New Day, defeating Jey Uso in singles competition. Jimmy looked to even the score as he squared off with Kofi Kingston.
Kingston had control of the match heading into the break, wiping Uso out at ringside with a dive. During the commercial break, though, the tag team champion dropped Kingston on the ring apron and seized control for himself.
Kingston fought his way back into the match, running through his signature offense and fighting his way out of a superplex.
Jey provided a momentary distraction by hopping on the apron, drawing Big E and Woods in his direction. Kingston launched himself off the top but Jimmy used his momentum against him, rolling through and scoring the pinfall victory.
Jimmy Uso defeated Kofi Kingston
This felt entirely too much like “been here, done this” and the result is a tag team feud that has failed to maintain the heat it had for it in the wake of the rap battle two weeks ago.
As it stands, the tag title match may be the least heated on a card seriously lacking a red-hot rivalry to give it substance.
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After weeks of interactions that turned physical last week with Mike Kanellis blasting Sami Zayn with a vase in the backstage area, the Ring of Honor exports squared off in singles competition, the former accompanied by wife Maria.
The action was back and forth, with Zayn answering everything Kanellis threw at him.
Sensing danger, and a potential loss in her husband’s first WWE match, Maria jumped in the ring and broke up an attempt at a Helluva Kick.
The distraction was just what her hubby needed to catch Zayn with a fireman’s carry sit-out slam for a tainted first victory.
Mike Kanellis defeated Sami Zayn
As a match, there was not much to this one. The guys traded strikes and a few moves but in reality, this was all about the finish.
Maria was established as being absolutely essential to her husband’s success. Her interference spared him defeat and prevented an embarrassing outcome in his first opportunity to make an impact between the ropes.
More importantly is the fact that the outcome allows the story to continue without damaging either Superstar. Considering the numerous booking missteps that have plagued WWE programming over the last year, particularly in relation to new talent, that is a significant accomplishment.
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Just 24 hours removed from the shocking revelation that Jason Jordan is Raw general manager Kurt Angle’s illegitimate child, Renee Young sat down with Jordan’s former tag team partner Chad Gable.
Gable admitted that Jordan appeared to have his mind elsewhere as if something was weighing on him.
Citing Jordan and Angle’s new beginning, Gable promised he was eyeing a new start but would not elude to what that meant, preserving the surprise.
This was short, sweet and to the point.
Gable recognized something was up with Jordan but did not know what, proving he was not entirely oblivious. It also set Gable up for a big second-half of 2017. What does he have in store for the SmackDown Live audience going forward?
That answer is out of reach at this point but will make for intriguing television going forward as the WWE Universe tracks the ready, willing and Gable Superstar.
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John Cena hit the ring to his typically mixed reaction and wasted little time turning his attention to Sunday’s Battleground pay-per-view.
He ran down some of the night’s most anticipated bouts, going full-on hype machine in the process, before settling on his Flag match with Rusev. He rallied the troops, admitted he had his work cut out for him but exclaimed that he was ready to represent America this Sunday.
Rusev attacked from out of nowhere.
He trapped Cena in The Accolade and ultimately left his longtime rival lying. He waved the Bulgarian flag to close out the segment.
If this segment taught us anything, it is just how uninvested Cena himself is in this feud.
His promo was, like the segment itself, was an uninspired mess that did nothing to suggest to an already skeptical audience that the match is meaningful in any way. Rusev feels every bit the placeholder he is while Cena is clearly the object of the creative team’s attention.
The entire purpose of this program is to reintroduce Cena and prepare him for his SummerSlam program. To do so, Rusev will be sacrificed because he can endure another loss and not be any worse or more irrelevant than he already was.
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Two of the best female performers in all of professional wrestling squared off in a preview of Sunday’s Fatal 5-Way Elimination match as Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch set aside friendship and rekindled their competitive rivalry Tuesday night.
The former women’s champions exchanged counters and reversals early before Lynch nearly trapped Charlotte in the Disarmer, sending the second-generation star to the safety of the arena floor ahead of the commercial break.
The women continued to trade strikes until Charlotte momentarily gained the upper hand.
Lynch fired off a comeback, delivering a Bexploder suplex and a Firearm. Unlike earlier in the bout, where Charlotte thwarted an attempt at The Disarmer, she could not escape Lynch’s grasp and found herself tapping out.
After the match, Tamina and Lana hit the ring and Natalya rose from the announce position to join in on the three-on-two beatdown of the babyfaces.
Tamina was ultimately the last woman standing, establishing herself as a legitimate threat to leave Sunday’s pay-per-view with the victory and a championship opportunity.
Becky Lynch defeated Charlotte
This felt like a match Lynch and Charlotte have probably had a dozen times at live events across the country rather than a genuine attempt to steal the show. They have better matches in them and have proven as much numerous times in the past.
The post-match angle was nothing we have not seen countless times before and, to be honest, better executed.
Tamina can stand tall on Tuesday all she wants because there is little chance she actually leaves Philadelphia with the title shot.
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As Shinsuke Nakamura made his way to the ring, looking to join partner AJ Styles in the squared circle, Baron Corbin attempted an attack from behind. The King of Strong Style fought him off but Kevin Owens joined in on the attack, instigating a huge brawl to start the tag team main event.
The heels isolated Nakamura and worked him over until a hot tag to Styles late in the match sparked excitement.
Styles rolled, poised to soar through the air with The Phenomenal Forearm. Corbin pulled him off the ropes, sending him crashing to the ring apron. After joining Owens to dump Nakamura into the stands, Corbin grabbed a prone Styles for End of Days.
Instead, Styles countered and set him up for the Styles Clash.
He missed a blind tag to Owens, though, and the self-proclaimed New Face of America caught him with a superkick and the Popup Powerbomb for the victory.
Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin defeated AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura
The fun start to the match, with the brawl at the top of the ramp, was a refreshing start to an otherwise pedestrian tag match.
The action was solid enough and Owens getting heat on Styles ahead of what should be the best match on the Battleground card was the right move.
Preserving Nakamura and Corbin’s constantly intensifying rivalry for Sunday in Philadelphia was also a solid booking decision.
Nothing really happened, though, to convince fans that either rivalry is worth going out of your way to tune into Battleground. Given the fact that this was the final segment on a go-home show, that is hardly the impression this needed to leave.