INTRO: A Punjabi Prison video package aired. We see only the prison, not anyone fighting inside it. A voice asked, “Will Randy Orton be locked inside the prison just five days before Battleground?”
OPENING SEGMENT: We go straight from the video package to the Singh Brothers standing on the entrance ramp. They introduced “YOUR” WWE champion, and really lean into the rolled “rrrr” in Maharaja. Jinder Mahal walked out and stared up at the Punjabi Prison, which was already in place. The structure looked imposing double-stacked in the arena. JBL repeated his line that the prison “dwarfs” Hell in a Cell. Tom Phillips said the prison includes a 16-foot inner structure and a 20-foot outer structure. We get Indian mood music played throughout the arena as the outer structure descends to the ground.
Mahal said the prison would be the final resting place for Randy Orton’s legacy. The Singh Brothers explained the match’s rules. There are four doors in the inner structure. When a competitor calls for a door to be opened, it will remain open for “only” 60 seconds. That seems like a lot of time. Apparently, the door will then shut, and it will “never ever open ever.” Alright. The outer structure has no doors; the only way to escape is to climb out. Mahal said that the most important rule is that there are no rules. No disqualifications, no count outs, no escape for the Viper. Mahal vowed to smash Orton’s mug against the prison “until his face matches the ugliness of the nation that he represents.” He threatened to Khallas-slam Orton off the top of the structure.
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Orton interrupted Mahal as he mocked the crowd’s “USA!” chants in Punjabi. He told Mahal he’s either the bravest SOB he’s ever met or he’s just not all that bright. Orton reasoned that Mahal is choosing to be locked in that prison with him. He then declared that Mahal would be isolated in the structure without the Singh Brothers, even though there’s a decent change you could shove one of them through the giant space in the structure’s bars. Orton climbed a few feet up the prison’s outer wall, and continued his monologue. He said that Mahal took his title, tried to take his dignity, and left him for dead. Orton kept climbing. He said he has nothing to lose, but Mahal has everything to lose. He is the 50th WWE champion, after all, and carried “the weight of 1.3 billion souls on your back.” Orton climbed some more, then asked Mahal what he would do when those 1.3 billion souls consider him a disgrace. Orton straddled the top of the outer structure, and told Mahal this would be the Viper’s view Sunday “right after I leave your jacked-up ass for dead in that ring.”
Phillips said that John Cena would address his Battleground flag match against Rusev tonight. JBL plugged a tag team main event of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin. As the Usos carried their tag team gold backstage, Byron Saxton said that Jimmy Uso would go one-on-one against Kofi Kingston after the commercial break.
Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso
As Kingston pranced to the ring, his bio fact graphic stated that he is a former four-time Intercontinental champion and a three-time U.S. champion. This graphic remained onscreen as Kofi’s partner poured an entire box of Booty-O’s cereal into some guy’s face. Kofi stomped Jimmy down in the corner. He then performed a one-man unicorn stampede by exiting the ring, reentering on the other side of the turnbuckle, then continuing to stomp Uso down. A low dropkick in the corner earned a one-count and a “New Day Rocks” chant from the Birmingham crowd. Kofi twerked directly into Uso’s face, then pulled down the top rope to evade an enraged Uce’s fury. Kingston then pulled off the move of the night. After Uso shifted on the floor to avoid a high-flying maneuver, Kofi balanced himself on the top rope, bounced a few times, then rolled into a somersault to knock down Jimmy at ringside. New Day celebrated as we go to commercial.
Kingston threw his opponent into the ring as we stay with the action during this break. He landed a kick off the ropes, then placed Uso in an arm bar. Uso squirmed out of the ring, got back in when confronted with Xavier Woods’ trombone, then got clotheslined back onto the concrete. Kingston lined up Jimmy on the ring apron, but Uso caught his leg and swung him onto his face. After WWE couldn’t quite book Shaquille O’Neal for WrestleMania 33, he does make this episode of SmackDown Live while appearing in a split-screen commercial for Icy Hot. Uso brought Kingston back inside and punished him near the ropes. He then went to a chinlock with Kofi about four inches from the bottom rope. Kofi fought out, then Uso threw him back down by his hair. And went back to the chinlock.
As we return from commercial, JBL said that Kofi Kingston has the most cumulative days as tag team champion ever. Another championship reign would only add to his record. Inside the ring, Kingston created separation with a jawbreaker; Uso came back with an enziguri for a two-count. Uso ran at a wounded Kofi in the corner, but Kingston sprang up and grounded Uso with a double stomp. Kofi regained the advantage with chops, a dropkick, and a jumping clothesline. He called for (and hit) the Boom Drop. Kingston set up for Trouble in Paradise, but Uso caught him in a fireman’s carry and rammed his neck into the turnbuckle. This Oklahoma Stampede-esque move earned Uso a near-fall. Kingston again sidestepped an Uso corner charge, this time with a kick to the face. He climbed slowly to the top and got caught. While Uso looked for a superplex, Kofi hung on, knocking Uso off the ropes. Jey Uso interfered by climbing on the apron, causing Kingston to dismount the turnbuckle. Kofi then re-climbed the ropes for a cross-body-block, but Uso rolled through it and cradled Kingston for the three-count. Saxton said this finish put the momentum back in the Usos’ corner. JBL said these are the two best tag teams that WWE has had in the past 5-10 years.
Result: Jimmy Uso pinned Kofi Kingston by reversing a top-rope cross-body-block.
Backstage, Shane McMahon stood flanked by the participants in Battleground’s fatal five-way elimination match. The winner would face the SmackDown women’s champion at SummerSlam. Charlotte Flair told Shane she wanted to fight Lana tonight. Natalya countered by claiming she’d fight Lana, then Becky Lynch threw her hat in the ring. Tamina called Flair and Lynch’s tea-sipping pantomime “stupid”, then said no one is fighting Lana tonight. Natalya recommended that the two faces fight each other. Flair demurred, claiming that Shane wanted “a competitive match.” Lynch took umbrage at that statement. McMahon told Natalya she’s totally right, and booked Flair vs. Lynch for tonight’s show, telling them, “It’s teatime, ladies.”
Viewers will see Kurt Angle’s reveal that Jason Jordan is his son. This coverage would have made more sense if Jordan was still considered a SmackDown competitor, although news like this wouldn’t realistically be limited to one brand’s world. At least they teased a reaction from Jordan’s erstwhile tag team partner (and SmackDown employee) Chad Gable.
Phillips introduced a video package on Angle coming clean with his secret. The announce table heavily sells this “bombshell”, as Saxton said that Jordan has long earned comparisons to Angle. Phillips said that Gable is “left here” on SmackDown, and threw to Renee Young, who sat backstage with a sport-coated Gable. His reaction to the news about his former tag team partner was telling:
Chad Gable: “Yeah. Umm, what?”
Gable said he didn’t expect his life to turn upside-down because he tuned into Raw. Young asked if Jordan told him what was happening. Gable said he did not, and admitted that a little heads-up would have been nice. He said that Jordan called him after Raw, but that Jordan was distant recently and he knew something was wrong before Angle went public. Gable said that Jordan explained everything to him after the show. Young asked what American Alpha splitting up meant for him. Gable said the duo accomplished a lot together, beating Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship. He said Jordan is a great guy, and rhetorically asked why he wouldn’t support Jordan in the same way his partner supported him. Gable said that he and Jordan would each have new chances, and this is the time for everyone to see Chad Gable on his own.
We then enjoy that stirring power ballad introducing Mike and Maria Kanellis. Staying with the bio fact graphics, Mike Kanellis was married on October 10, 2014, and is “bringing the power of love to SmackDown Live.” That’s superb. Kanellis looked like he swiped one of the Heartbreak Kid’s ring jackets circa 1992. The Kanellis couple smiles at each other as we go to break.
The lucky Birmingham audience got to enjoy the Kanellis theme for the entire commercial break. As we return, Philips and JBL give us this exchange:
Tom Phillips: “Do you agree with Sami Zayn that WWE is about matches, and not, quote, ‘love ins’?”
Bradshaw then said that Kanellis’ WWE debut match was the biggest thing to happen in Alabama since Nick Saban got resigned as the college’s football coach.
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanellis
Zayn threw right hands at Kanellis, who sports a big pair of pink lips on the posterior of his tights. While his gear leaned more towards Rick Rude than Mr. Ass, that look may be too cheesy even for this gimmick. Zayn mounted the middle rope and threw more punches at Kanellis, who bailed to ringside. Sami caught him with a running clothesline outside the ring, did the same inside the ring, then clobbered Kanellis with a third clothesline that took him over the top rope. Zayn pressed the advantage, throwing Kanellis back-first into the barricade. Back inside, Kanellis finally got some offense by diving on top of Zayn as Sami reentered the ring. Maria grinned devilishly at ringside. Kanellis bounded off the ropes directly into Zayn’s stiff clothesline. Zayn threw Kanellis into the turnbuckle with an exploder. Precious little offense from the debuting superstar in this match.
As Sami set up for the Helluva Kick, Maria got into the ring and stood in front of her man. She screamed at the referee to keep Sami back … and the referee actually did it. That’s horrible officiating. The ref then politely asked Maria to leave the ring. This interference is far more blatant than you’d typically see from, say, Maryse on Raw. Mike took advantage of this ridiculous scenario by landing a straight right hand on Zayn, then hitting a Samoan Driver for the win. Maria beckoned her man to come to her at ringside, then stared grinning at Zayn as they departed. Ms. Kanellis is doing the heavy lifting to keep their power of love pumping.
Result: Mike Kanellis pinned Sami Zayn with a Samoan Driver.
After the break, John Cena came to the ring to discuss his impending flag match. He touted the other matches that viewers would see at Battleground. But, Cena asked, what would they remember? He moved on to promoting his flag match, pointing at the Bulgarian and American flags that hung on opposite corners of the ring. American Flag received a much bigger pop and a lusty chant. Cena said that the match ended when one man secured his flag and planted it “at the finish line.” That seems like a new wrinkle. Cena said the flag match would be memorable because someone’s flag would be waved triumphantly. More boos directed toward the flag of Bulgaria. While some fans don’t like him, Cena said, they can agree that all of us love American Flag. More cheers for American Flag. Gesturing toward American Flag, Cena asked whether it would fly or fall on Sunday. He promised the crowd that he is ready. Cena told the crowd that the U.S. is a nation of fighters, and “we never give up.” Another “USA” chant. American Flag is really over here. Cena referenced the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and the D-Day Invasion, noting that American Flag flew high after all was said and done. Then he upped the ante.
John Cena: “When the towers fell, in the end, the flag flew high.”
Cena wrapped this promo up with a trash-binned Toby Keith lyric, intoning, “These colors do not run. These colors kick ass.” He then climbed the ropes and grabbed American Flag. He waved American Flag to cheers. American F lag is going to pin Sami Zayn on next week’s broadcast.
Suddenly, Rusev ambushed Cena, dropping him and American Flag. He repeatedly stomped Cena as American Flag lay prone on the mat. Big thrust kick from Rusev, then a stomp to the back prior to Rusev locking in the Accolade. JBL acknowledged that Rusev has the same pride in his country as Cena does in his nation. Cena powered up to his feet, slamming Rusev into the turnbuckle. But Rusev maintained the hold, forcing Cena down twice. With Cena passed out, Rusev seized the flag of Bulgaria. The crowd responded tepidly to Rusev waving it on the entrance ramp.
Back from the break, Styles and Nakamura converse in their locker room. AJ wanted to talk strategy, then said they didn’t need it last time, so no worries. He tried to engage Nakamura on what he missed about Japan, but Shinsuke’s focus was trained on Styles’ U.S. Championship. Nakamura said that, one day, Styles would call, and the King of Strong Style would answer.
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch
Charlotte kicked off this match with a “Wooo”. The action itself started slowly, with Lynch and Flair exchanging mat wrestling moves. Lynch executed two arm drags and a dropkick. She offered a handshake to her friend, then missed a strike when she didn’t get it. Charlotte outmaneuvered Lynch in the corner, then celebrated with two backflips. The two traded counters until Becky took Charlotte down for the Dis-arm-her. The Queen rolled out of the ring as we go to split-screen for commercials.
Back in the ring, Charlotte foiled Becky’s attempted move off the middle rope, then wrapped Lynch’s back over her shoulder and dropped to her knees. Flair targeted Lynch’s lower back with knee drops, then locked her into a modified camel clutch. When Lynch fought out of it, Charlotte buried more knees into her spine. When she fought out of another hold, Charlotte just threw her to the mat by her hair for a two-count. Good to see the Queen keep playing dirty. Charlotte smiled, then threw more kicks into Becky’s back. But she wasted time stink-eyeing the referee, and Lynch lifted Flair over the top rope, then hit her jumping kick (using the bottom rope) to knock Charlotte off the ring apron. A baseball slide knocked Flair to the concrete floor, and Lynch followed by leaping off the apron with a forearm.
Back from break, the crowd launches into a “Becky!” chant as Charlotte responds with some hard forearms. Flair whipped Lynch into the corner, then knocked her down with a chop as she bounded off the turnbuckle. She followed up with a running knee into Lynch’s face, then strutted her stuff into a falling knee drop. Two-count for Charlotte as a concerned Naomi watched the match on a backstage monitor. Lynch countered a figure-four attempt by whipping Charlotte to the mat by her arm. Becky took down Charlotte with a forearm off the middle turnbuckle, then executed the Becksploder. Lynch hit Flair with the Firearm for a near-fall. Charlotte again countered the Dis-arm-her, this time with a chop block. But Lynch avoided Natural Selection, catching Charlotte’s arm and nearly locking in the Dis-arm-her. Charlotte countered with a schoolboy for a two-count, then clocked Lynch with a big boot for another near-fall.
Charlotte stepped on Lynch’s stomach on her way to the top rope. But her moonsault missed, and Lynch finally locked in the Dis-arm-her. Charlotte yelled in pain. She placed her boot on the rope to break the hold, but Lynch reapplied it mid-ring. Charlotte tapped out and Lynch celebrated her upset victory.
Result: Becky Lynch beat Charlotte Flair by submission with the Dis-arm-her.
After the match, Lynch and Flair shook hands as Tamina and Lana made their way to the ring. Natalya left her guest-announcing gig to bash Lynch. Natalya and Tamina beat down Flair, but Natalya turned on her former Welcoming Committee member and tried to lock in the Sharpshooter. Lana saved her newfound friend by tossing Natalya to the mat by her hair. Natalya got in Lana’s face, then ate a superkick from Tamina.
The announce team again promoted the Battleground matches, then told us another episode of Fashion Files was up next.
Renee Young stood by with SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi, holding her glowing title belt. Although she won’t defend her championship at Battleground, Naomi said she’d be the first person to congratulate the winner. She said she didn’t come here to play, she’s here to glow. Naomi was interrupted by Carmella’s Money in the Bank briefcase. Carmella herself ejected Renee from the proceedings. She told Naomi that, wherever she went, she’d follow with her contract. Carmella said she (and the briefcase) would see her at Battleground. Good way to reinforce that the Money in the Bank contract-holder represents a constant threat.
Time for The Fashion X Files. We get some super-hokey ghost and flying saucer graphics. Bulletin board material includes a saucer picture that carries the caption, “I want to Bo-lieve”, a Tony Chimel photo marked “Unintelligent Life Form”, and the notation “R Truth is Out There”. Fandango is Agent Mulder and Breeze is … his female partner. He asked Muldango if he’s still looking for the missing “Tully”, causing Dango to warn him, “Don’t sully my search for Tully, Agent Scully.” The red-wigged Scully told him that the Hype Bros were right, and they need to get real. There are no aliens or ghosts – they just needed to believe in a little thing called “sky-ience.” Muldango reminded him that he was there when Tully (the hobby horse) disappeared last week, and broadened the suspects to include the Illuminati. When Scully further objected, an old-timey ghost sound spooked the duo. They investigated the source of the cry – which turned out to be Aiden English exercising his vocal cords behind a curtain.
Scully reiterated that there are no ghosts or aliens, at which time a glowing light engulfed the agents. Ready for his close encounter, Scully said he wanted to meet Chewbacca, ALF, and Max Moon. The two were approached by a delivery guy, whom Muldango termed a “little green man.” The delivery guy admitted to turning the bright light on, as well as to breathing air. Scully took the delivery box, then warned Muldango not to look inside it. Muldango ignored his partner, reaching into the box and pulling out Tully’s severed head (pretty creepy call back to Seven). Scully perused the accompanying note, which read only “Battleground.”
Drew Gulak told his constituents he’d prove to them that his mat-based style would persevere in these trying times. He said wrestlers like Mustafa Ali would try to fool fans into thinking that high-flying moves were awe-inspiring. But Gulak (sporting a political button that promised a better 205 Live) said he’d ground Ali for good in their two-out-of-three falls match.
Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin
Corbin attempted to blindside Nakamura during his entrance (just as he did at Money in the Bank). This time, Shinsuke avoided the attack, and the two men traded forearms. Styles and Owens joined the brawl on the entrance ramp. The faces took the ring and invited their foes to join them.
As we return from commercial, Corbin stomped Styles while taunting Nakamura. A replay showed Corbin scoring with a sweet punch on Styles as AJ leapt over the top rope. Owens draped Styles’ head over the bottom rope, tagged Owens, then both men landed concurrent strikes on Styles. Owens approvingly noted, “Simultaneous, did you see that?” He stomped on Styles, then told Styles he had nothing as he threw right hands. AJ responded with a dropkick to a charging Owens. He tagged Nakamura, who alternated between forearms and punches before playing Good Vibrations in the corner. Owens tried to counter this move by grabbing Nakamura’s leg, but Shinsuke countered back with a step-up enziguri. Nakamura snapmared Owens and dropped a big knee. He threw additional knee strikes, but Owens reversed an Irish whip, and Nakamura fell outside the ring when Corbin pulled down the top rope.
Corbin threw Nakamura back into the ring, where Owens quickly hit a senton for a two-count. Corbin kicked Nakamura down in his corner, then shouted down the referee for ordering him to stop. Owens reentered to throw punches, then booted Nakamura down. Corbin tagged back in, and cut off a Nakamura comeback with a bear hug. Nakamura countered the hold, dodged a Corbin charge in the corner, and rebounded with a flying kick. Corbin cut off the tag, then knocked Styles off the apron. Nakamura hit Corbin with several kicks to the midsection. He hung Corbin over the top turnbuckle for his running knee strike, but Owens interfered to save his partner. Nakamura booted him the face, then ran directly into a Deep Six. Styles broke up that pin.
Corbin let his anger drive him, mounting Nakamura and throwing forearms. He pulled Nakamura to his feet and went for the End of Days, but Nakamura countered with a knee and hit Corbin with a spin heel kick. Owens and Styles tagged in, with AJ double-legging Owens and battering him with rights. AJ clotheslined Owens and hit his seated opponent with a running forearm. Styles missed a Stinger Splash in the corner, but came back, dumping Owens on his face for a near-fall. Owens responded by escaping a fireman’s carry and turning AJ inside out with a clothesline. Corbin tagged into the match, and countered a Calf Crusher attempt by beel-throwing Styles across the ring. But Styles would not be deterred, taking Corbin down and locking in the Calf Crusher. Corbin crawled to the bottom rope, breaking the hold. AJ geared up for the Phenomenal Firearm, but was wiped out by Owens, crashing down on the ring apron. Nakamura evened the odds, but was dumped into the timekeeper’s area by Corbin.
Back in the ring, Styles countered an Ends of Days attempt with an enziguri. A Pele kick sent Corbin into his own corner. Owens made a blind tag, then blasted Styles with a superkick as he set up Corbin for the Styles Clash. He held up Styles’ limp body, then sent him into the ropes for a Pop-up Powerbomb for the win.
Result: Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin beat Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles when Owens pinned Styles after a Pop-up Powerbomb.
Lynch fires up
After months of coming up short in big matches, Becky got a much-needed clean victory over a top competitor. This bout reminded fans that Lynch is still a fighter worth of their belief, even if she can’t stand tall at Sunday’s five-way elimination match. Charlotte wasn’t weakened even by the tap-out finish.
Orton and Gable go up where they belong
The two faces made the most of their promo time in far different environments. Orton cut a strong promo to sell his pay-per-view match and show off the Punjabi Prison’s dimensions. Gable spoke believably in an environment that complemented his composed, low-key demeanor.
John Cena remembers “when the towers fell…”
If you’re going to invoke 9/11 in a pro wrestling ring, do it for an occasion more fitting than a mid-card flag match at a third-tier pay-per-view.
WWE successfully put over the size and scope of the Punjabi Prison, while Orton brought the money promo in summarizing his feud with Mahal. Looks like one or both of the Singhs will be flying off that structure on Sunday. I will try not to remember Cena’s 9/11 reference, which seemed silly given that Americans do not harbor antagonism (or care at all) about Bulgaria. The Usos/New Day match may steal the show at Battleground. These two teams, at this point in their careers, have the chance to do something special on Sunday – unless WWE wants to blow this feud off at SummerSlam.