For the third time in as many SmackDown Live pay-per-view events, the WWE championship will be on the line in a bout between champion Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton at Battleground. While the rivalry has had its moments including a fantastic match at the Money in the Bank event last month, it and the accompanying WWE championship have felt like secondary pieces to SmackDown Live often being overshadowed by feuds surrounding the United States Championship.
It was crucial to spice things up and WWE did that announcing Sunday's contest will take place inside a Punjabi Prison, a match type we haven't seen in a decade. But was this stipulation the right choice?
There have only been two Punjabi Prison matches in WWE history, and neither was particularly memorable. At the Great American Bash in 2006, The Undertaker defeated the Big Show in a very disappointing inaugural Punjabi Prison match and at No Mercy in 2007, Batista and The Great Khali only slightly improved upon it.
In addition to that, as Orton alluded to on Tuesday, Mahal's selection of the stipulation was a bit of a head-scratcher from a storyline perspective. Mahal's utilization of the Singh Brothers during his rise to prominence has been his calling card, so why would he choose a match type that prevents their interference?
All question marks aside, both Mahal and Orton are certainly capable of delivering a quality performance on Sunday inside the unique looking structure, a structure we got a look at on Tuesday night.
With the Punjabi Prison surrounding the ring, both men offer their final promo before their big match. As he stood inside the prison the champion claimed, "This colossal structure will be the final resting place of Randy Orton's legacy."
This prompted Orton to approach the prison and as he climbed to the top, he reminded Mahal, "I have nothing to lose. You took my title. You embarrassed my family. You tried to take my dignity and you left me for dead. I have nothing to lose, but you have everything to lose."
Two Battleground matches previewed in Tuesday's main event
In addition to the Punjabi Prison match, two other premier matches on the Battleground card will see AJ Styles defend his newly won United States Championship against Kevin Owens, as well as the first one-on-one bout between Shinsuke Nakamura and Mr. Money in the Bank, Baron Corbin.
In what has become one of the standard go-home show templates, the matchups were efficiently combined in this week's main event as Styles and Nakamura took on Owens and Corbin. As generic as the format has become, the match was quite good beginning with a fierce brawl atop the entrance ramp before the bell sounded.
When the match began, all four men did just enough to whet the appetite of the audience for Sunday. Nakamura and Corbin continued to display the intensity that has been the major selling point of their rivalry while Styles and Owens flashed shades of the excellence they have created in previous battles.
Owens got the better of Styles on Tuesday, ending the match with a stiff superkick followed by a pop-up powerbomb. Both of these matchups have show-stealing potential on Sunday.
As The New Day heads into Battleground to take on The Usos in their quest to become the first team to obtain both the RAW and SmackDown Live tag team championships, they got a warm-up of sorts as Kofi Kingston faced Jimmy Uso. Both Kofi and Jimmy are excellent workers and if given enough time, they have the ability to produce a solid match on any given night. They did just that on Tuesday night and put forth a fine 10-minute effort that saw Jimmy roll through a cross body block by Kofi and pick up a sneaky win. It was a nice preview for what should be a fun championship match at Battleground.
Coming off the unexpected announcement by Kurt Angle on Monday that former American Alpha member Jason Jordan was his son and the newest member of the RAW roster, his former partner Chad Gable sat down with Renee Young and explained, "This didn't just change Jason and Kurt's life. It changed my life too." When asked what's next for him and his career as a singles performer, he responded with, "I've got some ideas." Coming off a wonderful match with Styles two weeks ago, Gable's singles run on SmackDown Live looks to be a promising endeavor.
After multiple run-ins with Sami Zayn, Mike Kanellis, with his wife Maria by his side, finally made his in-ring debut. I'm still not completely sold on the "power of love" gimmick, but they used it to their advantage this week. As Zayn was about to deliver his patented Helluva kick, Maria entered the ring to protect her man. She provided enough of a distraction to allow Mike to hit a sit-down Samoan driver for a win in his first WWE match. Though not officially announced, there's a chance a rematch ends up on the Battleground card. I was hesitant at first, but I'm a bit intrigued to see where this goes.
Despite there being a singular women's division program heading into Battleground, a division capable of producing two or three quality feuds, Charlotte and Becky Lynch took to the ring foreshadowing a potential future rivalry in a very good match full of reversals and near falls. The chemistry was evident as Becky eventually locked in the Dis-Arm-Her for the submission victory. This is a match I'd love to see on a much bigger stage at some point.
Cena took the microphone this week to promote his flag match with Rusev at Battleground and as usual, did a nice job delivering a fiery promo rich with American pride. Rusev answered by blindsiding the 16-time WWE champ, incapacitating him with his accolade finisher and proudly raised his Bulgarian flag.
Having said all of that, this does not seem like the best position for Rusev to be placed in. Being paired with Cena is great in the sense that the spotlight will be shining brightly, but it's a spot we've seen Rusev in before as the two prepared to square off at WrestleMania 31. It was Rusev's clean loss to Cena at that event that weakened the unstoppable force that they initially created with him.
The build to their match at Battleground feels eerily similar to that of their WrestleMania 31 encounter. Should Rusev be used as a stepping-stone for Cena to rise back into the WWE championship picture, it would be a missed opportunity in capitalizing on the return of the ultra-talented Bulgarian brute.
The future is bright for Rusev, no doubt, but we'll find out on Sunday whether he'll run into yet another hurdle as he embarks on this phase of his career.