It’s been a very busy couple of weeks for WWE. After the effective season finale that is WrestleMania, they introduced a lot of new stars on the ensuing episodes of Raw and SmackDown, immediately jumbled the rosters in the Superstar Shake-Up, then headed off to South Africa for a few weeks before hosting a controversial mega-house show dubbed “the Greatest Royal Rumble” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The dust had hardly settled from that stake-less nonsense before it was off to Canada for Raw and SmackDown tapings, and back to Newark, New Jersey, for this Sunday’s Backlash PPV.
If that sounds like an exhausting schedule, you’d be right — and nowhere is that fatigue more evident than the creative and booking decisions last night. Whether it was the mental drain that comes with booking three major shows within a month, the concern over the looming European tour or the stress of booking a bloated roster of over 220 wrestlers, this was one of the company’s weakest outings in recent memory, with one good match, two decent matches ruined by s--t endings, and a whole lot of filler designed to get people on the card rather than advance any narrative or creative stories. How bad was Backlash exactly? Well…
- Early in the show The Miz shows up to try and re-recruit Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel ahead of his IC title match with Rollins, only for the (still called) Miztourage to shun their former leader by saying they “aren’t the supporting cast in (Miz’s) story anymore.” I know they can’t be together because they’re on different shows, but if Bo and Curtis are going to continue to be goons looking for someone to boss them around like some sort of Cypress Creek Millhouse, I don’t think they would say no to the Miz in this situation.
- There’s another backstage segment where Bayley asks Sasha to be in her corner for her pre-show match with Ruby Riott, only for Banks to refute her. Like, why is she still trying? They’ve been feuding/not feuding for the past few months, so why not ask someone who doesn’t want to kick your ass, like Ember Moon? I get that we’re just reminding people that this feud is still going on, but why are they still writing Bayley as the dumbest character on the show?
- The IIconics show up to help promote the SmackDown Women’s title match but they don’t actually interject in the match. They do a great (bad) impression of Peter Rosenberg that cracks up the panel, but nothing really comes of it.
- The only match in the pre-show is the aforementioned tiff between Bayley and Ruby Riott. Overall it’s a decent effort, but it was a total Raw match. Riott eventually wins off a distraction by Liv Morgan and nothing really comes of it (that’s going to be a theme in this PPV). Side note, they really need to change Riott’s theme song. It’s totally a babyface theme, but even then, it’s just a s----y muzak Ramones track. Do better, CFO$.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship
It’s becoming something of a trend for the best match of the show to go on first, especially when that match features WWE’s MVP of the past year, Seth Freakin’ Rollins. As such, it’s no surprise that the Kingslayer’s tilt with one of his favorite dance partners, the Miz, turned out to be a pretty great match. There was a lot of action, and unlike the other matches on the card that attempted the “hero tweeks their knee” trope, this injury angle actually made sense. While going for a Revolution Knee on the ring apron, Seth misses and drives his knee right into the ring post, which Miz follows up with a figure four. As such, his selling of the knee for the rest of the match at least made some sense and created a believable avenue for Miz to potentially win the match, even if the narrative of that move wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
Eventually Seth would reverse two rollups into the Stomp for the win, but not before kicking out of two Skull Crushing Finales. I would complain that it made Miz look weak, but the rest of the match did a good job of showing him as competitive with Seth Rollins, so it can be excused away as means to an end. Honestly, both guys looked great in this one, and it’s the match of the night by leaps and bounds. While we’ve come to expect this sort of performance from Rollins, I remain happily surprised with the growth of the Miz as a performer. Whether it’s on the mic or in the ring, he has been the highlight of the show for a while now, and it’s great to see someone who feels like a genuine fan getting to the top of the profession. If there’s a negative thing to say (because I can’t help myself) it’s got to be about Miz’s red and gold jacket. It didn’t look good among the grandeur of WrestleMania and it looks genuinely silly on these regular C shows — and not in the good way his old weird collared gown thing used to look silly. You’re an A-lister, Miz, you deserve better than this ugly ass Cobra Kai dogi.
Nia Jax (c) vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship
This match was far longer than it needed to be, and though it was mostly fine, it really reaffirmed my opinions of Bliss as an in-ring performer. Most of her offense are pretty simple strikes, and though they can be believable against someone closer to her size (your Sashas and Bayleys of the world), against Nia Jax it looks a bit like a child fighting an adult. They do manage to add some bigger spots to make her offense somewhat believable (Dumping Nia over the ropes was a nice touch, as was the DDT onto the steps that followed), but at no point do you really feel like Alexa’s going to win. Within a few minutes Nia catches Alexa mid-Twisted Bliss and Samoan Drops her for the quick win.
That would be all well and good, even it was entirely forgettable (as most of Raw’s women’s division has been for the past few weeks), but then Nia launches into a post-match speech to drive home her anti-bullying gimmick. While I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a character that does this, this was an overly long and hollow promo that didn’t really add anything to the moment, and felt more like a lecture than something a conquering hero would say. Nia already isn’t much of a talker, and having her cut these after school special promos isn’t helping her.
It also came through that Alexa Bliss may have sustained an injury during this match, and while I wish her a speedy recovery, this could be a blessing in disguise. Bliss had become sort of stale over the past several weeks, and it’ll probably do her career some good to go away for a few weeks while she heals up. As for Nia, it’s time to move on to new opponents, and with Raw’s women’s division currently pretty light on heels, Jax will either be starting a program with the Riott Squad or spend some time as the third wheel in the Bayley/Sasha feud.
Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Randy Orton for the United States Championship
Hardy wins clean in a fine but boring match that Randy essentially slept walked through. The story here is that Orton worked a light heel style in the match, but didn’t really do anything too outright villainous. Randy is a guy that could use some time out of the spotlight. He’s a great performer but doesn’t seem to care and, as a result, neither do most fans. Maybe some time away would help refresh the Viper. Also a music change. It’s not 2003 anymore, leave the nu metal dad rock in the past where it belongs. Most of that applies to Hardy too, but there’s still some nostalgia to the act that allows his matches that slight edge. Still, I am not particularly fond of Hardy’s matches, and the fact that he’s still working the same style (and look) that he did when he was 22 only leads to slower, more drawn out spots that don’t work. It’s time for an update on Jeff.
So hey, did you know that the WWE employs around 220 active performers across its three main roster brands and developmental system? They do, and now that every PPV is going to be dual branded, A LOT fewer of them are going to make the match card on these shows. Think about it: we made it through Backlash without mentions or appearances from Asuka, Finn Balor, Ronda Rousey, either set of tag champions, or any cruiserweights, among the panoply of talent that didn’t make the show. As such, it’s not TOO surprising that WWE decided to drop all of its musical acts in the same questionable segment.
What started ostensibly as an Elias concert was eventually interrupted by the New Day, Rusev Day, No Way Jose and…Bobby Roode, ruining my rhyme scheme. Roode also takes the opportunity to DDT Elias for beating him up in previous weeks then booty pop on Rusev as he danced to the back with the rest of the faces. I normally would’ve thought nothing more of this if not for the fact that the PPV went a half hour later than anticipated because of this silliness. You could have done something (anything) to advance some character progression instead, but here we are. Rusev calling Elias and the New Day “Bootleg Bob Dylan and the Booty Boys” was maybe the second best thing that happened all night.
Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass
Replace the word rollup with “submit” and my prediction for this match would be pretty much spot on. Big Cass did a lot of lazy power moves, then Bryan fired up and eventually locked in the Yes Lock for the win. Cass was supposed to at least try to fight out of the hold, but kinda forgot how to do that, so you can actually see Bryan moving the bigger man’s arms into position before moving them out of the way to slap on the crossface. Anyway, Cass taps very quickly then proceeds to beat Bryan down after the bell. This feud will go on and I honestly don’t know that the next matches will be that much better. Bryan will continue to be the plucky underdog, but I hope WWE realizes that they can’t go to the beatdown well with him every time if they still want people to invest in D-Bry. As for Cass, he really doesn’t have a lot to offer other than being big. His move set is bland, his promos are dull, and his presentation still needs some rethinking.
It’s so bad the crowd actually chants “we want Enzo” at one point, which is both damning and wholly false. Even divorcing Enzo from the rape allegations that sank his career, do you remember Zo in the ring? Do you really want to see that guy struggle through every move like he’s trying to remember steps to a basic dance routine all en route to a finisher that both Gail Kim and Xavier Woods did better? If you want to be an a-----e (and clearly you do) why not just chant for Carmella? Speaking of which…
Carmella (c) vs. Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
One thing this match made clear is how badly WWE shot themselves in the foot with the way the women’s Money in the Bank match played out last year. They’ve taken to showing clips from the SmackDown after Carmella won the briefcase so they can avoid mentioning James Ellsworth, which is not a good sign since they a). now have a champ that has an asterisk next to her name, b). have another women’s MITB match coming up that will have clumsy and heavily edited video packages and c). will probably always have to dance around the fact that a man won the first women’s MITB match, meaning they had to do it again. Anyway, Carmella is a weak champion in her first defense against the woman who ended Asuka’s undefeated streak and she wins this thing clean.
Yep, clean as a whistle. WWE turns to what is one of my least favorite tropes in modern booking where the dominant babyface somehow tweaks their knee landing one of their moves, allowing the heels to take advantage and win. This time it’s even stupider because after Charlotte misses her moonsault and lands on her feet, her knee buckles and all it takes is a kick to the back of the leg to pin her. Asuka dished out a lot more damage to the Queen and Charlotte just kept on trucking, but here a knock to the back of the knee is enough to put down the greatest (in canon) female performer in the company. I feel like this means the feud will continue, which is absolutely not something that should happen. Charlotte needs to be kept away from the title scene for a while, perhaps teaming with Becky (or Asuka) to face off with the IIconics or something. As for Carmella, my guess is that it’s her turn to bury Becky Lynch in another forgettable program.
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship
Going into Backlash, most people assumed that this matchup for the WWE Championship would be the main event of the show. It was the biggest title on the card, had a great stipulation attached to it, and featured two performers looking to make up for a pair of underwhelming performances at the last two network events. To their credit, they almost did that…but then that finish…ooh, that finish. This no disqualification contest ended on a double countout following dueling kicks to the dick. I’m honestly not entirely sure that you can be counted out in a no DQ match, but even so, what a stupid-ass way to end a match. It’s made even stupider by the fact that this is their second encounter in a row that ended this way. Like…what the hell? I’ve seen a lot of people say “oh so that’s why it’s not the main event.” but like…that’s not really an excuse. If you move your main event because it has a s----y ending, just change the s----y ending. Maybe there’s a reason why you don’t want to wrap the show with this finish: MAYBE IT’S A GOOD ENOUGH REASON NOT TO DO THAT FINISH IN THE FIRST PLACE.
It’s a huge shame, too, because this had been their best outing in WWE up until that point. The blows were crisp, the pace started slow but built to a decent crescendo, and the near falls were super close. Of course, we have to take a minute to talk about the chair botch. With Nak rushing in for a Kinshasa, AJ chucked a steel chair right into his knee. Unfortunately, that chair then bounced off of Shin’s…shin, and caught Styles right in the cheek, busting the champ open for the rest of the match. A lot has been made about whether or not that spot was too dangerous to be included in the match, but honestly I think that’s much ado about nothing. Yeah the spot doesn’t look all that devastating (especially when thrown at someone’s legs), but is it any more dangerous than dives to the outside or table spots?
But I digress. I don’t expect this to be the blowoff for this feud at this point, but hopefully the next one will be. Sadly that means Shin likely won’t be wearing the gold anytime soon. At least he got that great theme song out of this though… Elsewhere, I think Styles moves on to greener pastures after MITB. I’m going to assume he’ll find himself in a feud with the man that should be the top heel on the Blue Brand, though given how HIS match turned out last night…
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman
Less a match than angle, this bout saw KO and Sami completely outclassed by two enormous men without storylines. There really wasn’t much to write about between the bells until Sami attempted to walk out of the match. KO tried to talk his buddy into staying so Sami eventually tricked him back into the ropes to eat Lashley’s (terrible) finisher and the loss for the team. Sami hung around long enough to see big Kev eat a running powerslam from Braun and (eventually) take one of his own. The faces mow down our Quebecois comrades and the crowd absolutely does not care. Honestly, the crowd was pretty rough all night, but after the end of the WWE Championship match, they actively turned on the rest of the night. This match didn’t really do anything to help them forget about all the nonsense they sat through over the night, but when even Braun — one of your most over characters — can’t rouse the crowd, you f----d up.
Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe
And boy did they, because for the second time in a month, the crowd has reacted to a Roman Reigns main event with violent ambivalence. Within seconds there were chants for CM Punk, and it didn’t take long before the “Beat the traffic” chorus took over the city of Newark, inspiring plenty of people to do just that and walk out before the final bell. The thing is, the match itself wasn’t that bad…for the most part. Joe and Roman worked a pretty standard “big man beats down the face” match. Sure it was a little heavy on rest holds, but there was some good in there. Joe plucking Roman out of the air mid drive-by and throwing him in the Coquina Clutch was particularly awesome. But alas, much like Styles/Nakamura, any positivity we may have about the match itself are considerably weakened by its ending. Yes, after about 12 minutes of being beat mercilessly, including being literally choked out cold late in the match (something the ref absolutely should have called the match for), Roman avoids a Muscle Buster, hits a Spear and wins clean. Admittedly it was the second one, but the first had happened like eight minutes earlier and Joe had taken little offense in the interim.
This booking just needs to stop. Yes it’s the Cena formula that worked for so long, except that it didn’t really work. WWE loves to talk about how Cena is the “most divisive Superstar ever,” but he didn’t used to be. When he was the Doctor of Thuganomics, he was so popular that he had to be turned face. Once he did, he remained insanely over for years before the whole “Cena Wins LOL” thing became a joke. You can’t just change the name and think people will get on board with it just because the same Super Cena bullshit is now coming out with super wet hair. Roman is a great performer and has a huge upside, but this booking does him no favors. He’s supposed to be your top star, and yet this is now his second consecutive (in this country) main event bout that was booed to the point of undeniable disruption. There’s no way to ignore the failure to get him over at this point, and AiPT’s own Nathaniel Muir may be right. The Big Dog may be beyond saving.