Dean Ambrose opens the show to continue his seemingly never-ending feud with the Miz but, who should interrupt, but Seth Rollins. Apparently, Rollins is done with Bray Wyatt and is now free to inject some life and variety into the issues between Ambrose and Miz. Anyway, to hammer home that he’s a changed guy now, Rollins not only apologises for turning against the Shield and being a total dick as a heel but also offers Ambrose a free shot with a chair. Ambrose refuses, probably because they beat the hell out of each other in that cage match that one time, and then Miz and his Miz-tourage attack them and beat them down. I kind of…dislike Rollins mending fences with Ambrose; Ambrose took the Rollins turn so badly and had a real grudge against him for a long time and I’d much rather have seen something like when Triple H and Shawn Michaels got back together. They had separate issues with Vince McMahon, I believe (I forget exactly) and came together through a mutual enemy and I don’t recall them ever apologising to each other for their actions.
Bayley then pinned Alexa Bliss in a non-title match after assistance from Sasha Banks. We get it, Sasha is the golden girl of the Raw women’s division and everyone else is subservient to her position, even the champion. Mustafa Ali and Jack Gallagher then defeated Brian Kendrick and Drew Gulak. You know, I don’t like having to constantly gloss over the women’s and cruiserweight matches like this but i just don’t care about women’s wrestling and the WWE has done very little to motivate me to do so, despite all the forced focus they place on the division now. Similarly, the cruiserweights are seemingly forever on life support, with little interest and investment from the crowd. The WWE’s lame, continually poor integration of the cruiserweights really bugs me but I fully expect the division to just disappear before long so I find it hard to comment too much beyond that.
Enzo Amore then comes out to continue his feud with Big Cass, basically being the pre-match entertainment for Cass’s match against the Big Show. Once this crap with Cass is over with, I’d love to see Enzo transition to the cruiserweight division; his charisma and presence may help to spark some interest in the division! Anyway, the match never really became a match as it was just Cass and Show beating on each other until Enzo got involved and also got taken out. This is a great look for Cass, as he dominated the Big Show, now all he has to do is continue that momentum forwards. Also, can I just say, I love that Big Show is using his remaining time in the company to put over the next generation of big men. I’ve always thought that Show and Kane should have teamed up one last time for one last year or two as these two massive giants who have to be overcome by the next generation; it’d help the tag team division, if nothing else!
Finn Balor then fought Elias Samson…wait, hold on…this match couldn’t happen at Great Balls of Fire but it can happen two weeks in a row on Raw? Riii-iii-ight…anyway, the Drifter thinks he’s Jeff Jarrett or something because he smashes his guitar over Finn’s head and gets himself disqualified. After the match, Bray Wyatt then appears and threatens Balor. So, wait…now Balor is going to feud with Wyatt like they teased a while back? Ooooo-oookay…anyway, it doesn’t exactly seem like the feud with the Drifter is over either so Balor might need some back-up. Hey, maybe Wyatt officially recruits Samson and someone else (Big Cass? No…someone from NXT maybe?) and Balor has to turn to his old Bullet Club buddies to face the New Wyatt Family?
Titus O’Neil then forfeited a match between Akira Tozawa and Ariya Daivari when it looked as though Tozawa was getting hurt, which pissed Tozawa off. So the Titus Worldwide thing, while not exactly fantastic, looks to be splintering apart already (I believe he yelled that his associated with Titus was over afterwards) and just when the fantasy booking I just mentioned would open the door for some stable feuds.
Then Kurt Angle came out to reveal his secret; he hates tag team wrestling and has split up American Alpha to bring his son, Jason Jordan, over to Raw without even trading a Raw superstar to SmackDown! Live to balance things out. This is clearly a good thing for Jordan, who should get quite a push out of this, but my question is why? From what (little) I know, American Alpha were quite the hot tag team in NXT and clearly impressed as a team. Then they came to SmackDown! Live and were heralded as being the face of the Blue Brand’s tag division, only to unceremoniously lose the titles and disappear off television for weeks (maybe even months). So what, exactly, has Jason Jordan (or Chad Gable, for that matter) done to impress as a singles wrestler to justify splitting up a tag team like this? There’s so many teams splitting apart these days that it’s like that stupid time in 2002/2003 when the WWE split every team up and had a shite tag team division; what is the point of having two separate tag team championship belts when there’s maybe four teams between the brands? Ugh, well, anyway, good for Jason Jordan (I guess…)
Speaking of tag team wrestling, the long-awaiting clash between the Revival and the Hardy Boys happened….tonight on a random episode of Raw with little build and barely any fanfare. Yaaaay! On the plus side, the Revival won, and in significant fashion. This is good as it keeps the Hardy Boys out of the title picture but who, exactly, are the number one contenders to Sheamus and Cesaro and isn’t there only one other face tag team on Raw (Heath Slater and Rhyno)?
The number on contender match between Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe ends in a no contest when Braun Strowman comes out and murders both men. The match was progressing really well; it’s great to see Joe stiff the hell out of Reigns and see Reigns take, and match, it blow-for-blow. Strowman’s interference appears to be setting the stage for a fatal four-way at Summerslam between Joe, Reigns, Strowman, and Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. I’m okay with that; the more men in the match, the more likely the match will be longer than ten minutes and we can actually get our money’s worth out of Lesnar.
WWE Champion Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers open the show to show off the Punjabi Prison, in which Jinder will defend the belt against Randy Orton at Battleground. Orton then shows up to claim that nope, he’s going to win. Yeah, whatever. The real story here was the bamboo cages and the rules of the match (the referee’s will open the inner doors for sixty seconds when instructed and then you have to climb out…or something). As I’ve said, the Punjabi Prison might have been lame in its other appearances but it’s a new, fresh match that spices up this feud and will hopefully be a good book end for it. Jinder promises to deliver the Khallas to Orton from the top of the prison; if that happens, then the match might actually be worth watching.
Next, the cycle of singles matches to prolong the feud between the New Day and the Usos continues as Jimmy Uso pinned Kofi Kinston after some interference from Jey Uso. This was a good way to establish that the SmackDown! Live Tag Team Champions have the belts for a reason (shady moves and team work) before the title match at Battleground; it’s also quite a good look for Jimmy as he pinned a former Intercontinental Champion, which automatically is far more meaningful than pinning Xavier Woods (who wrestles maybe four times a year, like some kind of black, smaller, much less talented Undertaker).
In an interesting bit of continuity, Renee Young interviews Chad Gable regarding Jason Jordan’s move to Raw. Honestly, I half-expected the WWE to either not address sit or repackage Gable completely so as to ignore that American Alpha was ever a thing. Instead, Gable predicts big things for himself. Sure mate, win some matches and get your ass involved in the United States Championship scene again.
Mike Kanellis then defeated Sami Zayn after Maria got involved in the match. Was this Mike’s in-ring debut? I forget but I think so. I’m not really a big fan of his; he didn’t exactly wow me in Impact Wrestling but he’s got a good gimmick going on with Maria and would make a pretty decent asshole United States Champion…someone for Gable to feud with over the belt, maybe?
John Cena then comes out and says that the only match we should care about at Battleground is his flag match against Rusev. Right, if you say so, John. Rusev then comes out and beats him up and then chokes him out with the Accolade; please let that be how the flag match ends! If Cena (who is now forty (forty!), if you can believe that) is really winding down due to his schedule then he needs to continue giving people a good rub and taking some competitive losses.
Becky Lynch then tapped out Charlotte Flair. Yay, Becky is pretty and Charlotte deserves to loses after dominating the WWE women’s division for so long. Afterwards, Lana, Tamina, and Natalya attack them all to show that all the women are well into the chase for Naomi’s belt, or something.
Tyler Breeze and fandango’s investigation into who trashed their office ends with an ominous note promising to reveal all at Battleground. Why haven’t Breezango got the big push against the Usos instead of the New Day? There might not be room on SmackDown! Live for two semi-comedic face teams, to be honest, but Breezango have gotten themselves way over despite my doubts about them and deserve that push more than the New day, who are stale as hell these days.
The match ends with a massive main event (you guessed it) tag team match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura and Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin. This was one hell of an exciting match; I am so glad to see Corbin getting to hang with opponents like this as it should help him define his game. Owens and Corbin won by outsmarting the faces, which gives him all the momentum leading into Battleground. Okay, back to fantasy booking: why not pull a Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (gasp, I said his name again!) with AJ and Shinsuke? Say Owens beats Styles; he can go on to face Gable/Dillinger and lose to one of them, that’s fine. Then AJ and Shinsuke can team up officially and win the tag team titles, instantly making the division more credible and exciting. Then, as they dominate, the cracks can appear in their competitive rivalry; when they lose the belts to the Ascension (instantly reinventing them as a credible heel team to go on to feud with Breezango, as I mentioned previously), they can then transition into, say, three masterclass matches that culminates in a show-stealer at WrestleMania. Neither man has to turn heel; just have them be two massively competitive faces who want to settle the hash. I’d also have Shinsuke win that feud and go on to battle for the WWE Championship while AJ feuds with….ooh, let’s say, Mike Kanellis.
Kick-Off Match: Aiden English vs. Tye Dillinger
Hey, remember Tye Dillinger? That guy with the whole “ten” thing? Yeah, well, if he really is pegged to be a proper star in the WWE he can’t be losing matches to Aiden English, who would probably be better served in the cruiserweight division. Given that my fantasy booking places Tye in the United States Championship scene, I’m picking Dillinger for the win here.
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis
Poor Sami, he just cannot catch a break! First he feuds with Baron Corbin, a kick-ass big man heel on the rise to the top who needs to be winning matches and being dominant, now he’s feuding with new-heel-on-the-block Mike Bennett (er, I mean, Kanellis). Kanellis is still new to WWE audiences and it wouldn’t be a great look for him to lose his first match. However, we can make Sami look cheated and strong by having Maria interfere and allow Kanellis to win. That sets up a rematch later down the line which Sami can maybe win, but Kanellis needs to win here to align with my fantasy booking for the United States Championship. Maybe Sami needs to partner up with another plucky underdog face and challenge for the tag team titles for a bit?
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
Another tough match; you want Corbin, who has the Money in the Bank briefcase, to look strong and viable but Shinsuke is being primed as SmackDown! Live’s top face. However, I think Shinsuke is bulletproof; he’s not be around for too long but the crowd really digs him and he always puts on a great show and a good innings so I’m going to pick Corbin to win. Maybe he catches Shinsuke in mid-air or out of nowhere with the End of Days, putting over that Shinsuke could have won but Corbin took advantage with his power, or something.
Fatal Five-Way Elimination Number One Contendership Match: Charlotte Flair vs. Lana vs. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina vs. Natalya
So Naomi isn’t actually defending the belt at Battleground? Okay….I wonder if that’s because these are literally all the women on SmackDown! Live? Ugh, well…Carmella has the briefcase and is a heel. Naomi is a face, I think? A bitchy one, anyway…so I guess a face needs to win here in case Carmella needs to cash in sometime. I’ll just pick Charlotte Flair to win because, you know, why not?
Flag Match: Rusev vs. John Cena
Somewhere out there, Vince Russo has got one major hard on for this match. Anyway, apparently the WWE has got a sudden patriot urge going on and is returning to the played out America vs. Russia thing that happened between Cena and Rusev a while back. We haven’t seen either of these men for a while and neither can afford to lose this match….except that Cena can afford to lose it. He’s also bulletproof and needs to be putting over his opponents now; but then again, can a non-American really win a flag match? We’ll see it happen Sunday when Rusev wins and uses the momentum to carry on to feuds against new faces, while Cena maybe part-times his ass over to Raw to build up towards Cena/Reigns at WrestleMania.
United States Championship Match: AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
AJ got his big title win on a hose show the other week, so logically he’s going to repeat that victory here. Owens has seen a slight change in his character and trajectory lately because SmackDown! Live has too many anti-American heels but he cuts a dominating figure when he has a belt around his shoulder. I know I just fantasy-booked Owens to win to then drop the belt to a new face but I’ve been picking a lot of heels to win on this card and I don’t think Styles will lose here; let’s say AJ Styles retains and then Owens takes the belt back a week or two after.
SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (c) vs. The New Day
I am so sick of talking about how much I hate that the New Day are getting this push. I’d much rather they were feuding with the Ascension and helping to make them a credible heel team while Breezango got the serious push towards the tag team titles. Instead, it looks like the WWE is going to want to keep those merchandise sales up and have the New Day win here so they can go on and on about being the first team to hold both sets of tag team titles. Maybe the ascension will get rebuilt to defeat them and my fantasy booking can play out anyway, though, but I doubt it.
WWE Championship Punjabi Prison Match: Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy OrtonThis feud seems to have been going on for a long time but it’s relatively fresh as these guys haven’t really fought each other that match. Plus, I think it was necessary in this case for Jinder to constantly and consistently get wins over Randy Orton to solidify him as a top heel champion. This will hopefully mark the conclusion of their issues though and see Mahal get a definitive, aggressive victory. Maybe the WWE will throw a complete curveball at us and have Sami Zayn go on to become the number one contender, dethrone Mahal, and then get destroyed when Corbin cashes in. that’d suck for Mahal but be an awesome moment for Zayn, who instantly gets elevated into the main event. As for Jinder…tag team with Kevin Owens?