By Matt Straub
Brad and I often argue about what makes a good wrestler in 2015, but there are a couple of must-haves for any wrestling pay-per-view I think we can all agree on. If the feuds are well done leading up to the show, the card can be a good one. Give us a reason to care about the matches and leave us unsure of who will win, and we’ll probably enjoy the show as long as the matches themselves aren’t total botchfests.
If this theory holds true, tonight’s WWE Battleground show could be a good one. There are interesting feuds and some unpredictable matches.
The fear, however, which can’t be ignored is what lies ahead. SummerSlam is up next, meaning this show could very well be used to set up next month. From a long-term perspective, Battleground should be the vehicle which starts us toward Brooklyn next month, but setting up the future could make the present boring. If tonight ends up being simply a prelude to next month, with cliffhangers instead of finishes, it could hurt tonight’s card.
Still, there is too much on the card tonight to believe this will be a total disaster, even if I do have some questions and concerns about what’s being left out. The advertised card is light, making me think some things will be added. For example, with so much put into the new Divas last week on Raw, how is there not some kind of payoff tonight? Not that I want more Divas matches, but the booking doesn’t make sense. And if it’s building to SummerSlam instead, why didn’t they wait until tomorrow night to debut the new Divas? Why get us so far down the road with Dolph Ziggler and Rusev if we have to wait another month for the fight? Good angles can be built over time, but typical wrestling feuds need to be paid off.
The good news is WWE has a lot going on to talk about. For now, however, let’s not waste time with angles which might still be a month away. Let’s talk about what we know is taking place tonight, with the caveat that this lineup might be incomplete.
Kickoff Match: R-Truth vs. King Barrett
Remember when winning the King of the Ring was the start of your huge push? Has anyone else ever fallen so fast after winning the King of the Ring than Barrett, who claims his now typical pre-show spot against a perennial undercard performer? Barrett wins this one but continues to disappoint during what should have been a much bigger career.
Matt’s Prediction: Barrett wins and the lights work for the real show.
Brad's Prediction: What Matt sees as his worst fear for this entire PPV, that it's all a set up for SummerSlam next month, is exactly what I see happening. The two big matches on the card could easily take place at the WWE's second biggest PPV of the year, so shenanigans are more than likely in the main event and Rusev will most likely ruin Kevin Owens' chance to win the belt against John Cena, setting up a new feud for both. Cena will find another challenger, because he's not going to lose twice to a guy from NXT. Heck, anyone from anywhere. But more on both of those matches later. For the kickoff match, King Barrett was much better as Bad News Barrett, as winning the King of the Ring ruined his momentum. Yes, it should be validation for moving toward the top of the card, but nobody cared about the tournament to begin with, with a bunch of mid-carders battling for the crown. So, Barrett won, but who cared? Who cares about a King with absolutely no power? Nobody. So, Barrett is buried. R-Truth seemingly always has a spot on PPVs, which is good for a guy without his own direction. But he's here to play the role of modern-day jobber. Barrett wins a match few will watch, so he'll stay irrelevant.
Randy Orton vs. Sheamus
Speaking of falling fast, Orton was in the title picture before his most recent break. Now he’s fighting another guy who’s wondering where his push went in Sheamus. They’ve done well to build hatred in this angle, with both men attacking the other, and this match could go either way, which is all you can really ask for in a good feud. Both guys can deliver decent matches when motivated as well, though their styles don’t really lend themselves to a classic. Still, this one should be fun.
Matt’s Prediction: It’s not Steamboat-Flair, but Sheamus wins an entertaining brawl.
Brad's Prediction: Randy Orton is John Cena without the full-backing of Vince McMahon and the WWE. Orton always has big matches on PPV. He's always in a feud. He's always close to winning the world championship. But unlike Cena, the WWE has no problem sending Orton out to the ring to lose. Cena, of course, only loses if he gets to look strong off it, which is one big reason why most fans over the age of 13 hate him. Sheamus I would have never guessed would win Money in the Bank, as the WWE was doing everything but making him a title contender after his return to the ring. But Sheamus has the briefcase and the WWE has about a year to make him a beast who would be believable to hold the big title. Right now, does anyone believe he could beat Brock Lesnar? I don't think so. That means the WWE has its work ahead of it, but the first and easiest thing to do is have Sheamus beat Orton to reestablish himself as a main player on the big stage.
Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt
I’ve talked repeatedly about my one problem with Wyatt’s character. He is incredible on the mic and does really well to sell emotion in his angles, but I can’t get past how quickly and randomly he builds up hatred for people. Anyone but Roman? Sure, that’s what most of the fans said at the start of Roman’s title picture run, but there’s no reason for Wyatt to hate him that much. Still he has pulled it off, as usual, and Reigns’ acting has improved enough to make this an interesting angle. More importantly, this is one of those matches where I can’t instantly figure out who will win, which is even more important. Wyatt doesn’t have a good PPV record, and Reigns is being worked back toward another eventual title picture push. Still, I can’t shake the idea of Wyatt pulling an upset. It would be an upset, but he’s a live underdog.
Matt Prediction: Reigns wins after a number of false finishes and help from Dean Ambrose.
Brad's Prediction: I'm with Matt on Wyatt's character ... it's getting old and stale, which is a horrible turn of events for a guy who has the ability on the mic and in the ring, not to mention the fanbase, to be a world champion. There are few entrances better than his, either. But Wyatt is stuck in feuds that he has no chance of ever winning. He wasn't going to beat Cena, as good was always going to prevail over evil in that scenario. Plus, Cena wouldn't let himself lose anyway. Here, Wyatt can't win either, as Roman Reigns is the company's choice to be future champion, even if that took a major hit when Wyatt cost Reigns the Money in the Bank match. Reigns isn't liked by the more in-tune fans for reasons everyone who reads this already knows. But he's not going to lose by pinfall or submission. It's too bad because the WWE is missing a golden opportunity to have Wyatt become a huge star, one capable of going head-to-head with Brock Lesnar with the believability he could actually win.
WWE Tag Team Title Match
New Day vs. Prime Time Players (Champion)
I don’t get why WWE took the titles off New Day unless it was to build this up so they can take them back. If it plans on building the division around the Prime Time Players, especially after New Day was just starting to draw some heat, then, well…yeah I don’t know.
Matt’s Prediction: New Day doesn’t rock, but it wins.
Brad's Prediction: It made no sense to me when Prime Time Players won the titles, so I couldn't even venture a guess as to where this match will go. I recently watched an interview with Demolition, Ax and Smash, and they talked about the good old days when tag team wrestling was actually king. Better in the ring than even the main events of the time. Looking back to that era, with Demoltion ruling the WWF and being chased by the Hart Foundation, the Rockers, the Powers of Pain and so on, they were right. The tag titles were huge and Demoltion were two of the biggest stars in the company. Today, the tag titles aren't even a secondary concern of the company nor the fans, and it's the WWE's fault. Wrestling doesn't work that way anymore, but just imagine what could be done if the tag titles were elevated and more interesting tag teams existed. It would be yet another match on a PPV card people would care about. For those old enough, just remember when Demolition's music hit and they came down the aisle to the ring. It was a happening. Instead, we get New Day vs. the Prime Time Players, which nobody cares about. But for predicting purposes, I'll go New Day.
U.S. Title match
Kevin Owens vs. John Cena (champion)
Few wrestlers have gotten themselves over faster than Owens, who didn’t need a fancy gimmick or clever angle to do it. He just came in, performed well and improved every week on the mic with strong, intelligent promos which made sense. Even if his reasons for wanting to beat Cena seem to change, he explains them well and they’re all reasonable. Cena has done well in response, and the possibility of this match going either way makes it even better. The two also have good in-ring chemistry, as Owens, like CM Punk once did, brings out the best in Cena. Cena will never be a great technical wrestler, but when he’s motivated by someone who can truly push him to feel like he needs to be good, he can hold up his end decently. Put a strong angle with the chance at solid work and this match’s ability to go either way, and all the ingredients are there for a really good match. It’s rare for a match to have all the things necessary to succeed at once, meaning it’s hard to see this one not delivering.
Matt’s Prediction: Cena wins, Owens goes on to bigger things, and everyone is surprised this one wasn’t at SummerSlam.
Brad's Prediction: I'll start with my monthly ripping of the Cena character by bringing up the Raw matchup between Cena and Rusev. When Rusev reversed Cena's finisher and put him in the camel clutch, it was such a great turn of events that it should have ended the match. Should have. Of course, Cena can't lose, so Kevin Owens came in and stopped the match because he says he wants to be the one who takes the US title from Cena. Cena already should have given Owens the belt once, after the first matchup, which Owens won, but didn't, proving his whole All-American, doer of right shtick is a bunch of bunk. So, again, that reason is dumb. If Rusev won the belt, it could have set up a triple threat match for this PPV. But that's all just my thoughts; it was never going to happen. And I won't bring up the fact Cena would never "give up" to Rusev's finisher anyway, because it's his character. Imagine that, a wrestling character that refuses to lose in one half of the ways a champion could lose the belt. Only Cena. For two matches between Cena and Owens, everyone should realize Owens is head and shoulders better than Cena in the ring. It's not even close. If this was wrestling, Owens would win every single time. Cena wouldn't have a chance. But this is sports entertainment, so Cena is the head and shoulders favorite to win this match. Cena did his one good thing for the business by losing to Owens and elevating the young star. But Cena got his character over again quickly the next night on Raw and then at the next PPV and will take the two out of three series at Battleground, so the first loss never really happened. Thanks Cena. Where does Owens go from here? No idea. Maybe he goes back to NXT for making Cena look like the rookie. Either way, both will have a hard time making this match better than the first or second, which were admittedly epic. In the end, it's the same old story, however. Cena wins.
WWE World Heavyweight Title Match
Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins
It is so refreshing to see a well-built angle at the top of the card for long stretches at a time, which is the run WWE is on. Most of the main events lately have been well thought out, even if they haven’t delivered in the ring. Maybe it’s because it’s someone other than Same Old Cena at the top, but those who were given the chance to shine had to run with it, and Seth Rollins is one who has. I still don’t like how frequently he switches from mastermind to coward, but he has finally reached the point where he can be believed as champion.
Brock Lesnar needs no introduction or explanation. He’s a physical freak who gets helped from the greatest manager…excuse me, advocate, of all time. The only thing wrong with this feud is it shows how much Rollins needs to get away from the Authority if he’s ever going to be a true top heel. Right now he’s the Authority’s champion, and his role could have been switched with Orton when they had their feud and nothing would have changed since. As much as I like Rollins, he needs to show us we’re watching him for him and not because of the spot he’s in.
As for the match itself, this one feels like a buildup to Summerslam. The Authority has been taken out one-by-one by Lesnar, but I could see them finding a way to screw Lesnar and set up a bigger match at Summerslam. While it may be best for business, it would be a shame after what has been a good feud to have a pointless main event match.
Matt’s Prediction: Rollins wins with help, Lesnar gets rematch in a cage next month.
Brad's Prediction: It wouldn't be a WWE column without a disagreement between me and Matt. Paul Heyman may be great, but he's simply a mouthpiece for Brock Lesnar, not a great manager of Lesnar. Bobby Heenan was and is the greatest manager of all time. Whether advocate or manager, Heyman isn't in the same class Heenan was. But I'll forgive Matt for forgetting the history. This match between Rollins and Lesnar is going to happen again at SummerSlam. It has to. There's no way they are going to have a new feud set up between then and now for either Rollins or Lesnar. And with that known, it doesn't make sense for Lesnar to get the payoff of becoming the champion here and not at the WWE's second marquee PPV of the year next month. So, Rollins is going to keep the belt, probably by disqualification, or through interference. It would be the perfect set up for SummerSlam if Rollins pinned Lesnar in the middle of the ring, even if it did come after help from Kane or the Authority. It would still be a pinfall victory over Lesnar and would elevate the match at SummerSlam with Rollins having that fact as something he can use to make everyone believe he can pin Lesnar, maybe this time without any help. Either way, Rollins has to look strong. He can't be seen just getting thrown around and suplexed by Lesnar throughout the match. He has to impress. Then SummerSlam is set up perfectly.