By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Backlash Hits
Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest in a San Juan Street Fight: Bad Bunny, Logan Paul, and Pat McAfee have raised the bar for celebrity pro wrestling matches. The fact that WWE trusted Bad Bunny to work a 25-minute match is beyond impressive, even if they did get a break while the cameo appearances took place. Bad Bunny and Priest came through with an excellent brawl in front of an fantastic crowd. As much as Bunny deserves a ton of credit for his performance, I also can’t say enough good things about the way Priest stepped up. He was the low man on the Judgment Day totem pole before this feud started. Priest was given an opportunity and he made the most of it both in terms of his mic work throughout the build and via his in-ring work. Here’s hoping that Priest is rewarded with additional opportunities.
Bianca Belair vs. Iyo Sky for the Raw Women’s Championship: The live crowd was the story of the match in that most of the fans turned on Belair and sided with Sky. There were a few clunky moments, but it was a good match overall, as the wrestlers did a really nice job of adjusting to the crowd. I had to give the finish a second watch to make sense of what they were going for with Bayley’s unnecessary interference slowing Sky down just enough that Belair was able to recover. I’m curious to see whether the crowd turning on Belair will be limited to Puerto Rico of if this is the type of reaction that will spread.
Rhea Ripley vs. Zelina Vega for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: Vega’s homecoming was awesome. Her Puerto Rican flag gear was really cool and the genuine emotion she showed before and after the match was touching. It was no surprise to see Ripley win clean and even that wasn’t enough to tarnish Vega’s big moment in front of friends and family. Good for her.
Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Matt Riddle vs. Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, and Solo Sikoa: It took the live crowd some time to get invested in the match because it was held after Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest . It didn’t help the cause that pride was the only thing on the line given that we’ve seen Owens, Zayn, and The Usos involved in so many high stakes matches in recent months. It became very interesting once Jey and Sikoa started butting heads. The issues between Jey and Solo set the stage for what should be a very interesting appearance by Roman Reigns on Friday’s Smackdown.
Brock Lesnar vs. Cody Rhodes: If WWE trusted Bad Bunny and Damian Priest to go 25 minutes, then I’m not sure why they didn’t have that match close the show. Lesnar and Cody produced a good match with a finish that was clever and also felt a bit underwhelming for the match’s position on the show. Given the way Lesnar lost, it will be interesting to see if they run this back at Night of Champions or simply move on.
Austin Theory vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Bronson Reed in a Triple Threat for the U.S. Championship: While we’ve seen the “heel steals the pin” finish far too many times in WWE’s Triple Threat matches, it was actually a stronger win than they typically give Theory. I really wanted to see Reed win the title. He took the pin instead, but it was done in a way where it looked like he went for broke with the moonsault attempt rather than it being a case of him being inferior to Lashley or Theory. In other words, this wasn’t the type of loss that Reed can’t bounce back from.
Seth Rollins vs. Omos: The build was awful, but the actual match exceeded my low expectations. While it doesn’t hurt to be in the ring with one of the best in the world, Omos continues to show in-ring improvement. But Omos really needs a meaningful win if the company wants fans to take him seriously as a special attraction. The formula of having him destroy local and undercard wrestlers on television only to lose to any high end wrestler he faces has to stop.
WWE Backlash Misses
None: Fun is the best word I can come up with to describe the Backlash event. The live crowd played a massive part by creating a spectacular atmosphere. WWE did a great job of playing the locals in a way that all fans could enjoy by giving Zelina Vega a moment to shine and by having Carlito and Savio Vega show up during the Bad Bunny match. Backlash events often feel like hangover shows coming out of WrestleMania. That wasn’t the case with this time around. Rather, Backlash 2023 felt truly memorable thanks in large part to the fans and the setting.