By Will Pruett
On the night of the WWE draft, and more many days and nights after, a common refrain was “What’s going to happen when Smackdown has its own pay-per-view?” People were afraid, when they saw the initial shallowness of the Smackdown roster, of watching a major show put together by this brand. I’ll admit that I was one of these people. I didn’t understand how WWE would create something compelling with this mix of talent. Now, sitting on my porch sipping coffee and writing the morning after WWE Backlash, I’m delighted. Backlash was a wonderful exercise in creating more with less.
First off, lets look at the main event. AJ Styles gave Dean Ambrose the best match of Ambrose’s career. It’s almost absurd to think of how many times we’ve said this about Styles. He continuously has a wrestler’s best match. Styles is truly one of the best in the world and if I had to pick a wrestler to structure a shallow roster around, it would be him. Styles can make ordinary talent seem extraordinary on a nightly basis.
Ambrose was never the right guy to build Smackdown around. He was never the right character to hold the biggest title on the brand. He tells too many jokes. He relies too heavily on a reputation from two years ago. He isn’t delivering on a consistent basis on a wrestling level or an entertainment level. Ambrose needed a change and he was dragging the WWE Championship down with him. At SummerSlam, Smackdown seemed like the mid-card brand. At Backlash, Smackdown became a main event brand.
I was quite surprised by the match Dolph Ziggler and The Miz put together on this show. It was the second best match on the show and an unexpected treat. Mauro Ranallo highlighted how many times Miz and Ziggler had fought on pay-per-view for the Intercontinental Championship and I was ready to walk away. As the match started shifting into gear, I was glad I didn’t.
I don’t see Dolph Ziggler as a major star. I see him as a decent wrestler whose support maxed out in 2013. WWE either doesn’t realize or is playing a long game based around this. Either way, Ziggler doesn’t incite excitement in me. The Miz, on the other hand, has been a delight since regaining the Intercontinental Championship the night after WrestleMania. It would have been easy to write this off as Miz working with great talent at first, but his promos and matches have been off the charts. The Miz has been routinely great for months and the Smackdown roster is getting the most out of him and the Intercontinental Championship.
Ziggler vs. Miz was a main event style match for a mid-card title and, thus, elevated the title.
The tag team scene on this show was another place where Smackdown got more from less. They handicapped themselves by not using their best team (and the team the entire division is built to showcase), American Alpha. With Alpha “injured” they were free to spotlight a newly turned heel team and a crowd-favorite comedy team.
The Usos turning heel (as evidenced by their evil black attire) is a much-needed move. They may have walked away from this show as losers, but they should eventually win the Smackdown Tag Team Championships from Heath Slater and Rhyno. When they do, a ready-made feud with American Alpha will delight everyone. It’s easy to see where this is going, but the matches along the way will make it entertaining. This is getting more with less.
On the Heath Slater front, he’s basically a top five most popular guy in WWE right now. Wow.
The Women’s Championship scene on Smackdown continues to provide a space for all six women in the division to shine. Becky Lynch getting her big championship moment wasn’t my ideal scenario going into this show, but I understand why WWE did this. The feud between Carmella and Nikki Bella is the best Women’s feud in WWE right now. Natalya and Naomi continue to play their veteran gatekeeper roles well. Heck, even Alexa Bliss is shining as a heel on this brand. The Smackdown roster is using everything they have as far as women’s wrestling goes and it’s wonderful.
WWE Backlash provided a strong contrast to SummerSlam. SummerSlam was a bloated show without any sense of flow. There was no rhyme or reason to the construction of the show and it went far longer than it needed to. Backlash was over after two and a half hours and it provided a few delightful moments. Even without some top acts (Randy Orton and American Alpha come to mind), Backlash was an excellent special event.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Speaking of Randy Orton, what is WWE’s policy on reporting concussions? What is WWE’s policy on protecting the health of their stars when asking them to take back bumps (the RKO is a back bump). This was odd.
– The worst part of this show was Bray Wyatt vs. Kane. It was not a bad match, but it was pointless.
– 2016 is a truly awesome year for wrestling. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are our top WWE Champions. Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.