Backlash is typically the kind of PPV that’s hit or miss for WWE. It’s the kind of filler PPV that ends up either producing something compelling because the wrestling itself manages to outshine the storylines, or ends up being a complete flop because WWE has decided that it’s a stepping-stone to other stories. The 2016 version gave us Becky Lynch as the first ever SmackDown Live women’s champion, AJ Styles winning his first ever WWE Championship, and Heath Slater and Rhyno completing their charming underdog run to the SmackDown tag team championships. The 2017 version gave us Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship, and surprisingly disappointing turns from Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s all the evidence you need right there.
Heading into Sunday’s PPV, it was clear that Backlash had the potential to be a lot more than a filler PPV for a few reasons. It was the first of the new co-branded PPVs, featured an interpromotional match for a prestigious title, was the home of Daniel Bryan’s first singles match since returning to the ring, and perhaps most importantly, was the potential reset both Raw and SmackDown needed after they spent so much time spinning their wheels while building to the Greatest Royal Rumble, the house show disguised as a PPV.
Rollins and The Miz deliver the only good match of the night
For the most part though, this year’s Backlash falls flat. Before we get to the bad of the night, which there’s plenty of, let’s start with what works, and that’s basically one match with one simple thought: Seth Rollins and The Miz are both on another level right now. Their match for the Intercontinental Championship kicks off the show, and it steals the show. It’s a thirty-minute classic, yet another in a series of Rollins matches that see the man reach new heights as a babyface. That’s not to take away from The Miz, who’s doing incredible work as a heel character and subtly tweaking his in-ring work to match his move away from the Miztourage, but Rollins is finding another gear and it’s been the best part of both shows for awhile now.
Their match is an incredible escalation of their feud. It’s the payoff we, and they, deserve, as they counter each other’s most familiar moves, and wrestle with an urgency that matches the moment. The Miz has imbued his character with renewed focus following the birth of his child, and Rollins is really finding a groove as the babyface that the crowd adores because of how much fun he’s having while also kicking ass. This is everything you could want from Rollins and Miz. It’s unfortunately the highlight of the night, as the show goes downhill from here.
Truthfully, there’s only so much to say about the rest of the show. While Reigns vs. Joe and Nakamura vs. Styles are important in their own way (I guess), every other match is rather meaningless. Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss ends up being very similar to their WrestleMania match, in that Bliss gets in way too much offense and yet Nia wins. The simple fact is that Bliss and Jax don’t have a ton of chemistry. Their characters and body types call for a specific kind of match, and yet WWE is stuck trying to make Bliss look like a threat while also booking Nia Jax as a dominant monster/babyface. Those things don’t go together, and Backlash once again proves that WWE doesn’t have too many options when it comes to telling a story with Bliss and Jax.
Just about every other match fails to compel as well. Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton is exactly what you’d expect it to be, a perfectly fine match that would feel at home on a weekly episode of SmackDown Live and does little to advance any story. Big Cass vs. Daniel Bryan is exactly what it needs to be, as Cass gets some heat from his offense and a post-match attack, but Bryan still looks like the clearly dominant superstar with better things to do on SmackDown Live. Carmella vs. Charlotte is a decent enough match, but the ending comes out of nowhere, and it’s difficult to shake the surprise of it all. That’s on Carmella and Charlotte, who don’t exactly hit the storytelling beats that would allow for a wonky finish, in which Charlotte’s injured knee is her downfall, to truly land.
The never-ending reign of Reigns
The two “main event” matches don’t do much to revive the show either. Nakamura and Styles put on one hell of a show…until their match ends when both of them can’t recover before the 10 count after simultaneous hits to the dick. Look, I want the Styles-Nakamura program to run for awhile, but this is such a deflating way to keep things going. It’s so dumb, and comes near the end of the night after the crowd has already sat through some really disappointing matches. Joe vs. Reigns works similarly. It’s an okay match, but it’s hindered by, well, an agitated crowd and a continued focus on Roman Reigns as the main event star. How many crowd rebellions can WWE handle? How many times can they force-feed us the same stuff while hoping for a different result? We’ll have to wait until the next co-branded PPV to find out.
- Bobby Roode was likeable in a segment. What a victory.
- You know that Rollins and Miz are in complete control of the crowd when their goofy Figure Four spot gets the crowd going.
- Rusev Day, forever and always, deserve every accolade you can hand them.
- Great comedy segment with Elias, New Day, Rusev Day, No Way Jose, and Bobby Roode in the middle of the show. It hit all the right notes.
- Are Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn breaking up again?
- Roman Reigns winning his PPV main event match a full 30 minutes after the scheduled end of the show is truly the embodiment of everything most of us hate about WWE at the moment.
Results: Seth Rollins (c) defeated The Miz (Intercontinental Championship match); Nia Jax (c) defeated Alexa Bliss (Raw Women’s Championship match); Jeff Hardy (c) defeated Randy Orton (United States Championship match); Daniel Bryan defeated Big Cass; Carmella (c) defeated Charlotte (SmackDown Live Women’s Championship match); AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura ended in a No Contest (No DQ match for the WWE Championship); Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn; Roman Reigns defeated Samoa Joe.
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