Ten years after winning the WWE’s world heavyweight championship, The Great Khali returned on Sunday to provide an otherwise forgettable pay-per-view with a surprisingly fun moment at the end of WWE Battleground. Khali, 44, came to the aid of WWE champion Jinder Mahal to prevent Randy Orton from exiting the outer cage during their Punjabi Prison Match, allowing Mahal to once again exit with his title.
The match did its best to attempt saving a show that was almost comically bad at times. For a PPV that lacked any sensible buzz coming in due to predictable and tired booking, the payoff never became worth it outside of a fantastic SmackDown tag team championship match between The New Day and The Usos, one of two title changes on the evening.
John Cena’s victory over Rusev in their painfully poor flag match proved to be the low point. But for the low expectations with which the Mahal-Orton match entered the arena, the main event was at least entertaining down the stretch. Even an above-average United States championship match — and title swap — could not save it.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way updating this story with results, grading each match and providing commentary throughout the event. Let’s look back at a night of highs and lows at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
2017 WWE Battleground results
Aiden English def. Tye Dillinger via pinfall (Kickoff Show): It turns out this feud isn’t over quiet yet. Meeting for the first time on pay-per-view since Backlash in May, English gained redemption with a surprise pinfall after dominating the second half of the match. Hitting a variation of his Director’s Cut finishing move — this time transitioning from a full nelson into a face-first slam — English secured the 1-2-3 to the shock of the kickoff show announce team. That doesn’t mean there was much buzz or juice in this one, which ultimately served its purpose as a forgettable time filler. Grade: C-
Tag Team Championship — The New Day def. The Usos (c) via pinfall to win the titles: This one had the potential to be the best match of the night, and it just might turn out that way. With Big E sitting out, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods helped The New Day secure a third reign as tag team champs with a match that relied on dramatic near falls late to keep the crowd at a constant buzz. Kingston spent the majority of the match laid out on the floor after his trust fall from the top rope was reversed into a double powerbomb onto the floor by The Usos. Late in the match, Kingston returned to eat a super kick from Jimmy Uso and a splash off the top rope from Jey that could only get a two count. But after each Uso climbed to opposite turnbuckles to finish him off, Woods pushed Jey off from behind and Kingston avoided a second splash from Jimmy. Kingston then tagged in Woods and hit a Trouble in Paradise on Jimmy to floor him. Woods followed by leaping the entire length of the ring with a beautiful flying elbow from the top rope for the 1-2-3. The New Day is the first tag team to win both the Raw and SmackDown titles. Grade: B+
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin via disqualification: The two superstars did their best to make up for a lack of chemistry and collective athleticism with a stiff match that ended abruptly. As long as this marks the end before they go their separate ways entering SummerSlam (Nakamura vs. AJ Styles, anyone?), the booking seemed to make sense. Corbin came out looking like the despicable heel he is by avoiding a likely defeat with a reverse kick to the groin just as Nakamura looked to set up his finisher. After the DQ loss, Corbin returned to the ring to hit Nakamura with his Money in the Bank briefcase before connecting on an End of Days. Grade: C
Women’s No. 1 Contendership — Natalya def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Lana and Tamina Snuka (Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match): After a flurry of late eliminations (see below), Natalya was the last woman standing in a minor upset which (thankfully) removed the recent stain of predictability and bad booking on the SmackDown women’s side. After catching Flair’s moonsault attempt with a pair of knees, Natalya rolled her up and hit Flair’s head on the bottom turnbuckle. A quick pin followed, clinching Natalya a title shot against Naomi, who was on commentary during the match, at SummerSlam. A brief staredown after the match was interrupted when Natalya refused to shake hands and exited. The match featured decent pace and execution throughout as Snuka and Lana continued to team up throughout the first half of this nearly 11-minute bout to wreak havoc. But Lynch ultimately rallied with a pair of Dis-Arm-Her submissions to eliminate both, setting up a wild sequence that led to the finish. There remained no explanation as to the Snuka-Lana union, but it played a big role in the match and somehow works in an odd way. Overall, the match avoided any clunky moments and told a fine story despite an over saturation of multi-women’s matches on the blue brand of late. Grade: B
Order of elimination: 1. Snuka (submitted by Lynch), 2. Lana (submitted by Lynch), 3. Lynch (pinned by Natalya), 4. Flair (pinned by Natalya)
United States Championship — Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles (c) via pinfall to win the title: A night of surprise upsets and booking turns continued as KO begins a third reign of the U.S. title. After a slow start which produced a dead crowd, business picked up considerably late. Styles set Owens up for a Styles Clash, but KO countered by standing up and blindly tossing Styles into the referee, which knocked him out. The two wrestlers traded submission attempts to no avail without a conscious official present. But Owens reversed out of Styles’ cross-face submission attempt at just the right moment, and with the referee stirring, Owens rolled Styles backward and bridged his back for the 1-2-3. The match was a slight step down from the pace of their Backlash meeting and, for now, appeared to extend the feud to another chapter just as it appeared Styles was heading into a program with Nakamura. Grade: B-
John Cena def. Rusev (Flag Match): It’s easy to forgive the Philadelphia crowd for keeping silent throughout most of this painfully predictable match. It’s just as hard to imagine anyone was anticipating this one considering the mailed-in buildup. The only redeeming elements were a series of physical spots outside the ring, including Cena landing an Attitude Adjustment on Rusev from the top of a flag podium and through a table before planting his flag in the stand to end the match. At just over 13 minutes, the match felt like it lasted much longer. The only thing worse than WWE continuing to send Rusev out to the ring without explaining why Lana is no longer with him was the lack of attention in having Rusev wear the colors of the American (and Russian) flag on his trunks while holding a Bulgarian flag. Cena tried his best to save this one but he simply couldn’t. Let’s forget this ever happened. Grade: D-
The Fashion X-Files: Breezango prepared to learn their attackers, and The Ascension entered the office to declare it was them the whole time. However, Breezango soon figured out that Ascension was at the Eddie Money concert last week and could not have decapitated the horse. Ascension denied they were at the concert, and as Breezango began to discuss the revelation, the lights went out twice with first Tyler Breeze and then Fandango being attacked. Fandango was then dragged off.
Sami Zayn def. Mike Kanellis via pinfall: In what served as the popcorn match before the main event, Zayn overcame a pair of distractions from Kanellis’ wife, Maria, to gain revenge. Though Maria rescued Mike from a Tope Con Hilo early and an exploder suplex late (by jumping into the ring in a repeat of what happened on SmackDown), this time Zayn was able to reverse matters. He hit an exploder suplex to set up a Helluva kick to get the pin in a largely forgettable match, save for Kanellis’ incredible theme song and tights combo. Grade: C-
WWE Championship — Jinder Mahal (c) def. Randy Orton (Punjabi Prison Match): If constant interference from his sidekicks, the Singh Brothers, weren’t enough to help Mahal keep his title, he had one more trick up his sleeve. A surprising return from The Great Khali, three years removed from his last WWE appearance, physically prevented Orton from exiting the outer structure with a shoke through the bamboo rungs, allowing Mahal to climb and exit for yet another controversial victory. In a match that was mostly so bad it was kind of good, Orton and Mahal traded big spots and plenty of physicality to somehow extend matters beyond 26 minutes. The ending, however, wasn’t half bad thanks to Khali’s return.
Speaking of big spots, in the end there was none bigger than Samir Singh, who took a bump from the top of the outer cage after a punch from Orton and crashed hard through the announce table below. The match was largely a painful grind for the first half with Mahal ultimately escaping through the fourth and final door of the inner cage thanks to the Singhs appearing from under the ring and dragging him off the mat. But Mahal ate a DDT and RKO (Orton reversed a Khallas) before finding his way outside, leaving him dragging his way up the second structure as Orton eventually caught up and jumped from the first two second structure. Nursing an injured left arm that was cut during the match, Orton went on to use a chair and kendo stick to fight off Mahal and the Singhs. He appeared to have the match finally won until Khali intercepted him and shook the cage, causing Orton to drop a few rungs before Khali choked him and Mahal climbed to victory. Grade: C+