By Jason Powell
WWE Backlash Hits
AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship: A very good main event and I can’t wait for the big showdown match between Styles and WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens. Okay, so that’s not happening anytime soon, but I applaud WWE for putting their titles on the right guys. Ambrose never clicked as a champion for me. His title reign peaked with him winning the belt for me, as I just wasn’t invested in terms of hoping his character would keep the championship. He’s a guy who doesn’t need the belt, though he does need fresh opponents, which will be tough to come by on the thin Smackdown brand. Styles is the best thing going on Smackdown and is the best worker on the brand. He has the obvious rematch with Ambrose, and they are clearly building up to a big showdown match with John Cena. Styles can also work with Randy Orton if he’s healthy, and he could have entertaining television matches with everyone from Heath Slater to Apollo Crews. There’s nothing to dislike about Styles as champion. Here’s hoping they spotlight him as a strong champion and focus on his in-ring excellence rather than play him up as a fluky pest champion.
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental Championship: I didn’t even pick up on it while watching the match, but the opening seconds appear to be a case of the two mimicking the C.M. Punk vs. Mickey Gall from from UFC 203. We’ve seen Punk and Ziggler work against one another countless times, yet it didn’t feel like we were watching a rerun. I loved the look that Miz flashed before he mimicked Daniel Bryan’s moves. He wasn’t over the top or mugging for the cameras. Rather, it felt like the camera just happened to catch him flashing a devious smile. The interference of Maryse protects Ziggler, though I’m not even sure why in that I was hopeful that Ziggler would reach his breaking point after losing clean to Miz before turning heel.
Becky Lynch vs. Nikki Bella vs. Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Natalya vs. Carmella for the new Smackdown Women’s Championship: A good main show opening effort from the women. The big spots were executed well and were not overly dangerous. It was smart to save the eliminations for late in the match. Smackdown has six female wrestlers. There’s no reason to establish a pecking order in terms of the eliminations. In a perfect world, the division would have enough depth that they could have held off on Lynch’s win for a bigger moment somewhere down the road. That said, she was the best of the available options to hold the title in that she is over, gives the belt credibility, and she can have good matches with any of the other five women.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt: A strong case can be made against WWE for pulling a bait and switch by not removing Orton from the show once they knew he would not be wrestling. In fairness, Orton did appear on the show and even performed his RKO finisher, so it’s not like he was completely absent even though the advertised match didn’t not occur. Kane going over with help from Orton was a perfectly logical make good finish. The big question is why Orton was allowed to perform the RKO if he’s out due to a concussion. It got the company out of a jam, but it’s strange protocol for a company that seems very paranoid about head trauma related issues. And how bad does it look in retrospect if the planned Brock Lesnar elbows to Orton’s head caused the damage?
The Usos vs. Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley: A solid tag match with the Usos working over Ryder for the bulk of the match. Mojo got his hyperactive hot tag moment, but it seems like the fans are not into his act at this point. The Usos are going to be terrific heels. Their new look was a nice contrast to their colorful babyface attire. Here’s hoping they get a new entrance theme that fits better with what their heel personas than their longtime babyface theme.
Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews: Can we go back to the 30-minute Kickoff Shows for the brand specific pay-per-views? With that request out of the way, Corbin vs. Crews was a solid opening match between two of the better prospect types on the Smackdown side. I suspect that Corbin is being elevated into a more prominent role, so having him go over was a logical move.
Overall show: Jake Barnett and I both gave Backlash a solid B in the 74-minute audio review recorded exclusively for Dot Net Members. Styles winning the WWE Championship combined with two new championships being decided made the first Smackdown exclusive pay-per-view of the new era a newsworthy show. They reached my personal minimum for filling pay-per-view time without it coming across like they were short changing anyone who paid $49.95 (yes, pay-per-view is still a thing for some fans). They had to go with longer matches to get there, but most of those matches were entertaining and it never felt like the extra time they gave to the matches worked against the match quality in any way.
WWE Backlash Misses
Heath Slater and Rhyno beat The Usos for the new Smackdown Tag Titles: A Miss for now. The positive of the move is that it gave fans a happy finish and put an end to Slater’s quest for a new contract. The negative is that the Usos lost to a makeshift undercard team at a time when they should be looking dominant. It’s a “Miss for now” in the sense that this will all be forgotten quickly if the Usos win the tag titles on Tuesday’s Smackdown or at some point in the near future. Slater and Rhyno are fun, but the money is in American Alpha chasing the Usos for the tag straps. If nothing else, I am surprised that they didn’t have American Alpha play some part in the Usos losing this match.