By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
I love drafts. I once watched an entire MLS draft from a hospital room without knowing a single player (all I know is they trade picks more than hockey does.) I’ve done full, two-round mock drafts and way too many in-depth NBA mock drafts for this site.
The great part of drafts is trying to figure out how the draftees will affect their new teams. The WWE draft gave us the chance to do just that, but also left a ton of questions. The biggest of which is why they did a draft before a pay-per-view. They meant to bring drama to Battleground, but instead just created unnecessary confusion and too much of a desire to look past the show to the “new era” of Raw and Smackdown.
Certainly WWE will find ways to work the draft into tonight’s show, but it could have just waited until after the PPV and made a clean break to the new era. This feels like the last run of a Broadway show right before the new cast takes over, as anyone who got Hamilton tickets now would understand.
We’ll talk about the draft as we go along, but let’s look at what should be an interesting Battleground show, one which probably deserved to stand on its own thanks to a strong card but is being overshadowed by what begins Monday.
The Usos vs. Breezango
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: We’ve stopped listing which matches are on the kickoff show because WWE keeps changing them right before the card. This one is set to be first, and should be the “make sure the lights work” event. The Usos have fallen so far from the title picture it’s hysterical. It’s also quite welcome. These teams are both going to Smackdown, so this could be the start of a longer feud. Oh boy! Anyway, this could be a decent match work wise, but not much else is there to keep you interested. Make sure your path to the fridge is clear and your net connection is working during this one. Breezango needs a win to get going, so I’ll pick them.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: First, I'm not with Matt at all on the importance or the excitement over this show. Anytime you have a bunch of tag teams thrown together to make matches and keep feuds going, you know it's not a good thing. That's the type of stuff that should be on Raw, and it's actually what we've seen on Raw for the past several episodes. The only one that means anything is the New Day vs. the Wyatts. Otherwise, who cares who wins the random six-man tag team matches and the women's tag match? Each match except for the main event, Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn and the New Day vs. Wyatts could go either way and it won't change a thing. There's three matches with great potential, both otherwise, it's a Raw card leading into SummerSlam. Heck, there's even an interview segment on the show. Second, the WWE draft did bring excitement to the company and SmackDown beat Raw in the ratings, but after some early excitement, it was impossible to watch some of the picks being made without shaking your head in disbelief. Why would anyone draft Big Show? The NXT stars that were drafted were more notable for who was snubbed rather than who was picked, which isn't a good thing. Sure, NXT has to continue to build its own brand, but to not have the big stars join WWE doesn't make much sense. Also, splitting up the Club and the Wyatts made no sense, as did splitting up the women's division and the tag team division. There's nowhere near enough depth to have two separate women's divisions and tag team divisions. Raw could have been the home of tag teams and SmackDown the women's division, or vice versa. But it makes no sense the way it's done now. It also proved the roster of the WWE just isn't very deep right now and it will be interesting to see how they fill five hours of TV each week with their group of superstars. But what's done is done. For this opening match, again, who cares? The Usos are terrible and need to go away, while Breezango isn't much better, although it does give both of them so TV and PPV time, rather than getting lost on their own, which is where Tyler Breeze was headed and Fandango already was. I'll go with Breezango winning, but will anyone care?
Becky Lynch vs. Natalya
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: This has actually been set up well from a storyline standpoint, even if it means we have to endure more Natalya. I like when WWE acknowledges their characters aren’t doing well. It’s rare they mention actual results, but since we’re pretending this is a competition, wins and losses should matter. Natalya is appropriately freaked out because she can’t win, and decided to take it out on a former partner, who wants revenge for being betrayed. It makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good match. I feel bad for Becky, she’s tough and mildly entertaining, just a cut below the best female superstars. (Brad correctly reminded me last month I’m not to call them Divas anymore.) I don’t see how Natalya wins this match, and hopefully Becky moves on to something more important after this.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: This feud has been set up well, yes, but imagine if this was the biggest thing going in the women's division on one of the brands? It would be considered a total flop. And that's why splitting the women's division was such a big mistake. There are only three very good women's wrestlers in the division right now, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. Paige is a step below and if Bayley does debut on this show, she would go to the top four of the division. Everyone else is a bit player. There is also the fact there are still women's superstars and Divas, as Matt mentioned above with my critique. Becky Lynch is a women's superstar, while Natalya is a Diva. The Bellas will always be Divas. And the Divas are terrible. Matt writes above he hopes Becky moves on to something more important after this ... but what could that be when she's so far above everyone else on SmackDown already, and with Charlotte and Sasha Banks on Raw? Oh well. Becky Lynch should win, although with the WWE very little makes sense, so it wouldn't surprise if Natalya won to continue the feud.
'The Highlight Reel with Randy Orton
Matt’s Breakdown: Randy Orton is the guy who gets drafted because he’s the son of a great player who puts up huge numbers at the combine, but never plays the way he looks. He’s the guy rated highly in your video game, and always does better for your Madden team than he does for your NFL squad. Smackdown took him in the second round hoping his return comes with some momentum and the fans actually miss him a little because he’s been gone so long. In reality it was one of the worst moves of the draft (and there were many). Will this segment be interesting? Probably not, but this is more than a bathroom break because of what it represents. What does WWE do with Orton’s opponent at SummerSlam in Brooklyn, Brock Lesnar? Vince watched UFC 200 in fear his prized athlete would lose or get hurt, since both would hurt his WWE value. Instead, he won impressively, surprising many MMA pundits. There was all kinds of buzz around Lesnar, and WWE was set to really capitalize. Then, Lesnar failed a drug test taken in the days before his fight, and failed another taken after. Now, Lesnar has about as much value in UFC as Holly Holm. Where Lesnar’s plight gets more interesting is in relation to Roman Reigns, who is coming back tonight after being out a month because he reportedly took Adderall. We haven’t heard officially what Lesnar took, but it is believed to be a more potent steroid-type substance. Since Lesnar didn’t fail a WWE test, the company could in theory throw him right out there with no problem. But what does that say to fans and the other wrestlers? Reigns deserved his punishment, but would likely legitimately be upset if Lesnar shows up during this segment tonight. Lesnar could get a month off and still make Brooklyn the way Reigns was used for tonight’s show, but WWE at the very least is taking a big hit with two of its big stars getting in trouble. It’s not quite the 1980s, but it’s a bigger deal than you might think now that the company is so big on getting kids to watch and is publicly traded. I’m going to say there’s no Lesnar tonight, and this bit is used to reintroduce Orton while WWE figures out what to do with Lesnar. On a side note, both are set to be on different shows starting tomorrow, so I’m fascinated to see what kind of interaction they have over the next month leading up to the match. Of course, this detail would make it easy for WWE to keep them apart until Brooklyn and keep Lesnar off TV.
Brad's Breakdown: Matt did a solid job breaking down this segment and what it means, so there's no need to rehash. It makes sense for Brock Lesnar to make his return tonight, but there is no way that can happen now. He has to be kept off TV, something he's probably more than OK with, until the news of his failed drug test dies down. And it will rather quickly. So, this makes what could have been a nice spot for a big pop with Lesnar's return, into a boring interview with someone else possibly interrupting. If the match at SummerSlam wasn't already set this could have been a good spot to bring back Kurt Angle, although maybe he's the guy to take out Rusev. If he comes back at all. If it's just an interview, it will be a waste of time. If something happens, great. No idea what that can be now, though.
United States Champion Rusev vs. Zack Ryder
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: I feel bad for Ryder. It doesn’t seem as though he’s ever really gotten a fair shot, though you could argue he’s gotten as many shots as he has because he’s tight with John Cena. He seems to be a hard worker who truly loves wrestling, but just will never be a big start. Tonight, he is someone for Rusev to pummel and look strong heading to a big show.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: This is the first of two secondary title matchups that are boring and have no cache to them. In fact, this match was set up after Ryder lost a match in about two minutes, and then Rusev said he will reward Ryder's loss with a title shot. Yes, this is supposed to make sense. Anyway, Rusev wins.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Darren Young
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Can we talk about how great Bob Backlund is for a second? He’s pushing 70, and there’s recent video out there of him going down an escalator while holding his legs up in the air by hanging on the railings. The abs strength required to do this is indescribable. He’s still funny, and could probably work a better match than Reigns tonight. He has made Darren Young relevant, if not truly great. On paper this seems like an easy win for the Miz, who’s finally getting a push again, but I can’t think they did all that work on the vignettes for Young if he wasn’t getting a big push. I’m picking Young in an upset.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: With everything they've done to promote Darren Young there is no way he doesn't win the title tonight. If he loses clean, then there was no point to anything they've done over the many, many weeks leading to his return. Now, The Miz should win and continue to elevate the title on SmackDown, but I can't see it happening considering the opponent. But again, they've downplayed a title for the second straight time here.
Sasha Banks and a partner to be named
vs. Charlotte & Dana Brooke
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: This, as Brad called two weeks ago, feels like the perfect spot for Bayley, who got snubbed at the draft. It’s also an excuse to push the long-awaited Banks-Flair match we’ve been talking about in these previews for months back until the bigger PPV, SummerSlam and give it a proper buildup. All this makes sense, but makes the match itself hard to pick. I’ll take the faces to set up the next match, with Bayley and Brooke feuding after this as well. I’ll take Charlotte and her version of Arn Anderson to win the match, but this is just the start of this program.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: The place will explode if the mystery partner is Bayley, which means the mystery partner will be Paige. It's WWE's boring logic. The only thing that saves the match and makes it interesting is if Bayley makes her debut, otherwise it's a match designed to set up a SummerSlam match between Banks and Charlotte, which is fine, except when it's one PPV setting up another. Banks will pin Brooke to win the match.
The New Day vs. The Wyatt Family
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: This feud has been great, even if they totally ripped off the TNA Final Deletion skit without every building it up or mentioning it again. At some point we’ll have to talk about that Hardy skit just because of the pure insanity, but at least WWE’s was done well. This is a match affected by the draft, as the Wyatt’s break up after tonight, which means the belts aren’t on the line. This was actually important because if they were, we’d know the New Day was going to win. They’ve teased the New Day breaking up, but I can’t imagine WWE breaking up a team which sells so much merchandise. It’s much more likely Bray Wyatt disowns his family in some way, setting him up to go back to singles wrestling and maybe, just maybe, get a push, which would make Brad happy. This one has been so solid from a psychology standpoint, with Xavier Woods being scared of the Wyatts, I’ve been really entertained. New Day wins and something happens with the Wyatts.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: The WWE has done almost everything right with this feud, although the visit to the compound was a little weird and didn't really accomplish anything. I don't think the New Day splits up, and we already know Braun Stroman is leaving the Wyatts, which again, is stupid. Vince probably sees dollar signs when Stroman stands tall. Bray Wyatt could be a top of the card guy and maybe now he will be with the brand split. New Day wins as the Wyatts kick Stroman out of the family. It doesn't make sense, but it's what needs to be done.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Speaking of great feuds, this is my favorite in some time. It’s great when you have two guys who are legitimately best friends and know each other so well, which allows them to have a chemistry you can’t teach. Also, it’s the first rivalry in a while which follows some logic. Too often wrestlers “hate” each other but almost never interact. If two guys hate each other as much as these two are supposed to, they should fight want to fight all the time. I’ve loved how one has randomly come out to attack the other because they can’t wait to fight. There’s no more “I hate you, wait three weeks and I’ll get you!”. They’ve demonstrated the respect between the two, but also the hatred. From an emotional standpoint, it’s the best work WWE has done in a while. The problem is, Zayn just isn’t a compelling character on his own. Owens feels like he’s lowering himself to fight with Zayn. This will be a great match and has been an incredible rivalry, but hasn’t done anything for Owens as a contender. Hopefully after he wins this match he moves on to something bigger.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: This could be just the beginning of the feud, with the likely finish coming at SummerSlam. That means Zayn will get the pinfall victory, Owens will flip out, and the final showdown will come in Brooklyn. Owens will win that one, but for now, it's Zayn's time for a push up the card.
John Cena, Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. The Club
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: First, a word on The Club. A.J. Styles is being wildly underutilized, and whoever wrote the bit for them about beating up John Cena daily should get a raise. The Cena-Styles feud was really well done at first, but it’s starting to get convoluted. It makes sense for Cena to go out and get some help so he stops getting beat up 3-on-1 every day, but Enzo and Cass just feel too random in this spot. The fans love them, even if I don’t, so they deserve to be in a big spot on the card, but this feels forced. Still, this will be fun for the fans who love promos and interesting to see how the Cena-Styles aspect continues. I’ll take the faces.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: The beat up Jon Cena was a tremendous way to get the Club over, but then they dropped it quick with the introduction of Big Cass and Enzo into the feud. At least they are making Cena the old guy who doesn't get their jokes, which works very well. Too bad the Club isn't being given the same treatment as they will split up after the show. This is a waste of a match, as it will only set up SummerSlam matches, which again, is something to be done on Raw. The good guys win to give the crowd something to cheer about.
WWE Champion Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns
vs. Seth Rollins (Triple Threat Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: The draft caused all kinds of questions heading into this match. It seems obvious each brand will have a world champion. Ambrose is going to Smackdown and either has to win this match or win some kind of tournament for the new belt to keep his credibility as a champion. If he loses tonight and then is given a new belt, that makes him look weak. I could see Rollins going through that type of scenario where he gets handed a belt by his adoring boss, but now that the Authority was replaced by Stephanie and Mick Foley, it’s unclear how that dynamic will work. Both brands have two people in charge like a baseball team with too many cooks in the kitchen, which I’m sure will set up some feuds between the leaders as much as the wrestlers, which I’m not looking forward to. This is especially true on Smackdown, where Shane and Daniel Bryan are both big fan favorites and likely won’t feud, which makes having both of them even more unnecessary. The draft also ruined what was left of Roman’s reputation. He got picked after a guy in NXT Brad assures me is fantastic, but it’s still an awful look for the guy WWE has tried to get over harder than they have anyone in a long time. Was it a punishment or an indication WWE is ready to move on from the Roman Empire? Rollins is the only one here who doesn’t need the belt to stay on top. Ambrose isn’t big enough yet on his own, and Reigns doesn’t have a place on top without the belt because the fans won’t keep him strong. Rollins can go into any feud and make it work. For those reasons, I think Ambrose wins tonight. He needs it, Roman isn’t in a good place in or out of the ring, and Rollins can end up with the Raw belt one way or another starting Monday. It’s interesting to me that they’re breaking the three guys up, as I think there was still a lot of ways to go with their rivalries and title matches. If you’re one of those like me who remembers when WWE at least tried to follow its own rules, there are still some rematches owed between the three in one-on-one matches we might not get now. The beauty of the new era, however, is that new directions can be followed which will make for something fresh to write about next month. It’s just a shame they’ve created a scenario which makes this show feel glossed over.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: Dean Ambrose got the surprising, clean pinfall victory over Seth Rollins on SmackDown, which ruined Rollins' momentum leading into this match. Ambrose needed the win in the worst way, as he was the least convincing world champion in quite a while, even less than Roman Reigns. Ambrose has stepped up his game and given himself some legitimacy, though. So, it would be good move for the WWE and SmackDown to have him keep the belt and head over to SmackDown, pinning Reigns in the process. That will set up a WWE title tournament on Raw the next night for that world title. Rollins would be the easy choice to win, but somebody like Finn Balor would be a great surprise. Anyway, for this match, I've already given my prediction, as I see Ambrose pinning Reigns to win the belt, which keeps Ambrose and Rollins strong heading to their respective shows. And nobody cares about Reigns at this point, so he can take the loss, while the announcers credit it to ring rust. This is one of the few bright spots of the card, and could have easily been SummerSlam's main event, so Battleground does have that going for itself. Hopefully it can save the show.