Your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE Battleground (2016)

In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.

Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE THIS IS THE LAST TIME* YOU’RE GOING TO SEE “THIS MATCH” AGAIN!

*For at least a year**, until the next draft shakes things up

**or unless there’s a trade, or someone gets “fired” and shows up on the other show***

***or they have a cross-brand match on Survivor Series, or even SummerSlam (Orton vs Brock, right?)

wwe-battleground-2016-poster

Last time on SO OF COURSE WWE held it’s annual Money in the Bank PPV, headlined by champion Roman Reigns taking on challenger Seth Rollins.

After that all heck broke loose. Reigns lost the title by taking a clean 1-2-3 pin (his first on WWE TV) and then Dean Ambrose cashed-in the briefcase he won earlier in the evening, defeating Rollins in less than a minute and winning his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The next day it was announced that Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins would finally do the much-desired “Shield Triple Threat” match, not at WrestleMania or even at SummerSlam, but at the Battleground PPV in July. It seemed like another example of WWE rushing to do a marquee match instead of having patience to do a slow build to a big show. But with the draft upcoming, many speculated (correctly) that the Shield members would soon be separating and this might be the last time they have the opportunity to step in the ring together for a long while*.

THEN, the next day Roman Reigns was officially suspended by WWE for a wellness policy violation. Speculation was rampant that WWE knew about the violation as early as Sunday afternoon (the day of the MITB PPV) but allowed him to work the show and the Raw-after in order to set up the month’s storyline. Either way, Roman has been MIA this month on WWE TV, missing the Draft (he was placed on RAW, along with Rollins; Ambrose went to Smackdown), and seemingly sliding down the totem pole of importance, although the next month will be the better indicator of that.

Now we come to Battleground, a PPV that’s already four years old but has yet to really find its signature match to define it for future generations. WWE’s July PPV’s were traditionally very subpar, with no one show taking over the month the way Backlash used to be a staple of April, or the way No Way Out was a lock for February years ago. Money in the Bank eventually settled into that role, but then it got moved to June and Battleground moved from October to July, and it’s just kind of there. Not doing anything important.

Even now it’s the last “regular” PPV before the brand split officially kicks in on Monday. From here on out, WWE PPV’s will—except for a few big shows each year—be brand-specific affairs. This might be your last time to see John Cena take on AJ St—wait no, they’re both on Smackdown now. This might be your last time to see Sami Zayn wrestle Kev—oooh right. Raw. Well Rusev vs Zack Ryder has big inter-brand stakes! So…yeah.

On to the show!

SAMI ZAYN vs KEVIN OWENS

These two have been feuding in WWE for as long as they’ve both been in WWE. You’d think the brand-split would have have been a good opportunity to separate them for a time, just to keep things from growing stale, but nope: They both were drafted on RAW. This is one of those rare “Let’s wait and see what WWE has in mind before we assume they’re just incompetent boobs who don’t know what they’re doing” things. It’s a rare thing indeed to actually consider the possibility that WWE may actually have a long-term plan in mind, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief until after the first regular live episode of Smackdown. By then I’ll know if this new brand extension will actually work or if it will just take the small and shrinking WWE live-TV fanbase and split it into two smaller audiences, where neither one watches both shows. If they have a plan, they can make it work and I will watch both shows. If they don’t, and if they’re just keeping KO and Zayn together because they never thought things through beyond Sunday, then I’ll take back what I said and say that WWE is run by incompetent boobs.

What should happen in this match? We should get a blow off to the feud with KO winning (of course). After that we should get the next logical step in their perpetual rivalry: They should team up and eventually challenge for the Raw Tag Titles before winning them, defending them successfully for months, losing them and then feuding again, starting everything back over at zero. That’s the story these two have carried with them for years, across multiple wrestling organizations. Let it be told here, WWE.

SO OF COURSE

01

CHARLOTTE & DANA BROOKE vs SASHA BANKS & A MYSTERY PARTNER

After months of everyone saying “Where’s Sasha Banks?” and “Why isn’t Sasha Banks on TV?” and “Why are we sitting through nine years of Natalya vs Charlotte when Sasha Banks is somewhere in catering not winning the title from Charlotte?” finally Sasha Banks returned. This is her first run in the spotlight since WrestleMania. In the meantime she’s made sporadic appearances on WWE TV doing nothing of consequence. It was most bizarre. But it’s in the past and finally she’s here to claim the championship that should have been hers at WrestleMan—oh it’s just a stupid tag match.

Well there’s some intrigue here at least. Sasha is going to be joined by a mystery partner. This being WWE, those never disappoint. Everyone is saying “It’s gotta be Kane Bayley” and that would be so wonderful if true. But it’s telling that no NXT champion or Takeover: Brooklyn title challenger was drafted to Raw/Smackdown this week. Bayley is—spoilerz—challenging Asuka for the Women’s Title at Takeover next month so she would be the exception. Her being called up would also kind of give away the finish to her NXT title match, which is probably why none of the champs/challengers were called up in the first place. On the other hand, they could handwave it by saying Bayley is not officially called up and is only in the match as a one-off appearance. This can be just a tease the way Sami Zayn’s original call-up ended up being cancelled when he hurt his shoulder in the Cena match last year. So yeah, bring up Bayley for one night only, have her help Sasha win the match, send her back to NXT, have her put on a classic match with (and lose to) Asuka, and the officially debut on the night after SummerSlam looking for a title shot against new champion Sasha Banks. That’s the best possible scenario.

SO OF COURSE

02

NEW DAY vs WYATT FAMILY

The climax of this feud has been WWE aping a “so bad it’s good…no just kidding, it’s just bad” TNA segment between two guys who will always be more famous for what they did in WWE than they will be for anything they do in TNA. The New Day went to the Wyatt’s compound and did their version of The Final Deletion. And they managed to outsuck it…but maybe that was the goal? The real question is whether there will be any kind of big payoff to the “Is Bray Wyatt mind-controlling Xavier Woods” story that began in this feud’s simpler, pre-compound days. If there is, it could lead to Bray Wyatt actually becoming a menacing character for the first time in three years. It can also give New Day some new material to work with for the next couple of months. On the other hand, it could just as easily be forgotten on a Vince McMahon whim, or paid off only half-heartedly with Xavier Woods revealing that he was just pretending the whole time. Never underestimate WWE’s capacity for doing the wrong thing.

So what should happen? I spent months saying that the big Tag Title match to build to was New Day vs Enzo & Cass, and even though both teams were drafted to Raw, it actually feels like New Day needs to lose here. At the same time it feels like the Wyatts need to win. It would be their first gold (as a team; Harper won the IC title during his split from the family) and would set a new tone for the new division in the new Raw-only era. New Day can evolve to their next phase, Enzo and Cass can begin their ascent to the title, and in the meantime the Wyatts can run roughshod over the rest of the Tag division.

SO OF COURSE

03

RUSEV vs ZACK RYDER

lol Ryder’s going to lose.

SO OF COURSE

04

JOHN CENA AND ENZO & CASS vs THE CLUB

Expect to hear how this will be the last time John Cena (now of Smackdown) teams up with Enzo & Cass (now of Raw) despite this being their first team-up. Expect also to hear how this will be the last time AJ Styles (now of Smackdown) will team up with his club members Gallows and Anderson (now of Raw). Expect also to see John Cena get the pin on Gallows, preserving the heat on AJ Styles (until their inevitable final battle at SummerSlam next month). In fact, this match has the potential to set up two SummerSlam matches, as Enzo and Cass could easily continue feud with what’s left of The Club on Raw the next night.

WWE will probably be careful to accomplish a few key things in this match: Cena will look strong, AJ will avoid the pin, Enzo and Cass will work their magic before and during the match, and Gallows will eat the pin. The brave thing to do would be to have the Club’s final act together before splitting be to lay a beatdown on Cena at the end of the match. Sometimes the bad guy wins to make the bigger victory for the hero that much sweeter. The Club beating up John Cena and then going their separate ways would be an “unfair” ending to that chapter of the story; but it wouldn’t be the final chapter (that’s SummerSlam). This is WWE though, so you can be sure long-term storytelling like that will be out the window. Instead, Cena will get the pin on Gallows, the heels will attack, and the heroes will drive them away. AJ will then play cowardly solo heel for the next month on Smackdown before Cena finally gets his hands on him at SummerSlam. After a four-star match, Cena will win. We’ll all praise the match and hate the finish. Rinse and repeat.

SO OF COURSE

05

BECKY LYNCH vs NATALYA

They turned Natalya into a bad heel-Owen Hart parody, complete with “enough’s enough and it’s time for a change.” So that’s the downside. On the upside, she’s wrestling Becky Lynch, and the women’s division has two(!) matches on a B-PPV for the first time in a long time. No heel turn, or feud with a pun-slinging Irish goddess can give Natalya a personality though. She’s just the same white bread nothing burger she’s always been. Her greatest claim to fame was being the third wheel in the love triangle that was in everyone’s head canon between she and Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. Her own husband prefers the company of Burger King over her.

What should happen? The fair redheaded goddess of the Irish Isles should win and win convincingly. She should be the keystone around which the Smackdown Women’s Divisionis built. Natalya should continue to be the Big Show/Kane of the women’s division: The old vet that hangs around and loses and mostly stays out of the way while Becky does her thing atop the Smackdown Women’s Division.

SO OF COURSE

06

THE MIZ vs DARREN YOUNG

I’m going to predict Darren Young wins the title right off the bat, even though I know—logistically—it makes no sense. Since I’ve already predicted Rusev (a Raw guy) to retain the US title over Zack Ryder (a Smackdown guy), that means that Miz (a Smackdown guy) should retain the IC title over Darren Young (a Raw guy), that way both shows have one mid-card title a piece. But in this case, I think WWE cares more about justifying the push Darren Young has received (and one which the fans seem willing to get behind) than they do figuring out the internal mechanics of their own brand-split. In short, both Rusev and Young win and WWE figures out how to move one of the titles to Smackdown later. You might be thinking “the easy solution, then, is for Zack Ryder to win the US title.” And to that I say

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Besides it will make for an even more surprising ending if they put the Miz/Young match after the Rusev/Ryder match, since everyone will be expecting Miz to retain. That will maximize the pop Young will get when he actually wins the belt, setting his title run off on the right foot. On the other hand, it would be very WWE of them to have commentary harp all match about how Miz has to win so that Smackdown can retain a championship…which would completely give away a title change (the same way commentary shouting “it’s over!” during a pin-attempt always assures a kick-out). On the other other hand, Corey Graves has joined the commentary team and JBL has been bumped to to Smackdown, so maybe—just maybe—we’ll get some actual high-quality PPV commentary for the first time in years.

SO OF COURSE

07

DEAN AMBROSE vs SETH ROLLINS vs ROMAN REIGNS

This is another one of those “Wait and See” things. Ambrose and Rollins had a weird finish on their Raw title match, where it seemed Rollins won the title, but they reversed it and said Ambrose won. Then on Smackdown they rematched and Ambrose won clean. It was so strange and made the Monday finish so unnecessary you have to think they have a big picture in mind and those two matches are just a piece of the puzzle.

There’s also the idea that, since one of the men is going off to a different show (Ambrose, the champion) there’s really no way to work a finish that makes everyone look good. Ambrose needs to look good heading off—solo—to Smackdown, either as champion or as a loser with a grievance that puts him at the front of the line for the new SD world title. Rollins needs to look good because he’s expected to be a big part of Raw going forward, especially with reports that Vince was already cooling on Reigns before his drug bust. And then there’s Reigns, who is returning in a much more fragile state than ever before. He was basically last seen eating a pin. Eating another one would be devastating for fan-perception. Whether or not Vince has cooled on him, he’s still going to be one of the top guys going forward. And then there’s the match itself, which has been one of the most anticipated matches for years. If they try to make everyone look good, and go with some kind of a cheap ending, it will really anger fans (fans that they hope to tune in to at least five hours of new material every week). So who eats the pin? Who looks bad? It’s a real tight rope to walk.

I have to believe WWE has a plan here and has something in store for (1) the title match at Battleground, (2) the expected split world titles on Raw/SD and (3) the three men involved in the match on Sunday (Ambrose, Rollins, Reigns). We just have to wait and see if their plan works out. Fans can sometimes get TOO hasty in condemning something because they don’t see where Vince is going with it. Sometimes that’s justified, because sometimes Vince isn’t going anywhere with anything and is just winging it. I have to believe he’s got a plan this time, though.

SO OF COURSE

08

Oh well, there’s always NXT.

Here’s to Sunday!

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