The return of Backlash to the WWE’s PPV event calendar had a weight of expectation on it given it’s the first WWE event to feature solely the SmackDown brand since the show moved to a live format. No longer the weaker element and now on level footing with RAW the Backlash card and action had to help sell the belief that SmackDown is a level-pegger.
It was a worry going in – a small card, missing at least a match if not two. But in the end I believe there were enough highlights.
The dark match – shown on the pre-Kickoff show was a decent enough match between Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews. It wasn’t super-exciting but both are talented performers and it gave the feel of an extra match even if it was only part of the pre-event buildup. Corbin took the victory.
When the PPV event kicks off it’s a Six Pack Elimination Challenge to determine the inaugural WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship. The line-up is Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Nikki Bella and Natalya. Unfortunately the action is largely one and one and the women take turns pushing themselves and/or someone else out of the ring to leave just two competitors. No one goes for an actual elimination for a while and then very quickly we see the numbers whittled. It’s a bit disappointing – particularly because there are one or two great moves and most of the in-ring talent could have donemore with better writing to support them. The end result is great though – the deserving winner is Becky Lynch and her emotional post-match interview helps to sell her in the role. It’s not a bad way to start the show.
The Usos defeat The Hype Bros (Mojo Rawley and Zach Ryder) next in a qualifier for the Tag Team Tournament Final. An okay match – simply part of the longer story though, a necessary match and one that arguably should have happened on TV screens a week earlier, so there’s a hint there at the lack of Big Event Matches ready for this show.
The Miz takes on Dolph Ziggler next in a singles match and here we have a great battle between two of the most consistent mid/upper-card players from over the last decade. Both can wrestle (Ziggler has the upper hand there of course) and both have charisma and charm and reasons to like (or hate) them outside of their wrestling talent. Obviously The Miz makes up for any wrestling weaknesses with his huge commitment to character. So here he is the heal and with the help of his wife Maryse he cheats to a victory. A great match, told well. Class.
Next up we’re supposed to have Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton – it’s one of the big matches on paper, a big part of the build-up and hype around this event. Randy’s injured though. And the way we’re told this in the show is rather weak, a random backstage glimpse of Wyatt smashing Orton’s leg with a door. It’s unconvincing. Next thing we have Wyatt in the ring asking to be announced winner due to forfeit. Instead a new match is decided, he must take on Kane in a No Holds Barred match. It’s a good pick-up match. But it’s still underwhelming. Better than no replacement match at all but ultimately meaningless.
Heath Slater and Rhyno are in the Tag Team Tournament final against the Second Chance-winners, The Usos. A good tag battle, this. And we get some good storytelling both in the ring and in the wider context too – Slater earns his SmackDown contract as a result of he and Rhyno winning the title; this means he’s now fixed to one brand like every other wrestler. It’s a decent match too – with some humour. The crowd loves Slater.
Our main event had better be good – it’s been an okay PPV but it’s sizzled by and we’re well under the usual three-hour mark and so far so predictable really. Some good action but all very straight forward.
Just as well the main event is a title match between Dean Ambrose, the current WWE World Champ and AJ Styles. Styles was always a reason to watch TNA – for quite a while the only reason. And even when he was buried there he was the guy you watched for a classic match. Ambrose of course is a worker and will put his body on the line for the show too. So the build had been good and the hopeful AJ Styles has been building and building since arriving at WWE. It’s his time.
The match is a classic – a PPV-saver (not that it quite needed saving – it just needed the one big match to seal the deal). AJ Styles defeats Ambrose setting up the chance for a series of great rematches to come. And SmackDown has arrived on the stage to hold head high and nod to RAW. In a perfect world we needed one more (great) match. But hey, we got there. Most of the in-ring action was excellent too.