Since I last wrote about WWE in June the entire landscape has changed.
WWE split their roster into two exclusive groups on Monday Night Raw and Tuesday night’s Smackdown Live. Smackdown moved to Tuesday Nights and is now live television.
With the brand split additional pay-per-views have been added to the annual schedule with Raw and Smackdown Live getting their own brand-specific shows. As the summer came to an end, WWE presented their first brand-exclusive pay-per-view show, Smackdown’s Backlash.
Smackdown’s roster is spread thin. 6 matches were announced before the show, which is small for a typical WWE pay per view as of late. Smackdown Live was able to build to Backlash much better than most recent WWE pay-per-views. Characters and feuds were allowed more time to breathe thanks to having less things to fill out their show with, as compared to the three-hour Raw.
Admittedly, I don’t get to watch Smackdown Live, well, live, as much as I would like since I normally work Tuesday evenings. However, Smackdown is an easy show to catch up with on Hulu or YouTube later in the week. It’s short and concise and it feels different than Monday Night Raw. I’ve enjoyed plenty of parts of Monday Night Raw since the brand split happened, but more often than not I’m enjoying Smackdown more.
With some of the champions being drafted to Raw while some ended up on Smackdown Live, new championship titles had to be created. Smackdown Live introduced a new Women’s title and new tag team championships, while Raw introduced a new main event heavyweight title. Backlash would be the championship crowning for their new respective titles.
Backlash opened up with the Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan coming out to hype up the show and introduce the first match. I give Raw flak for meaningless filler, but this was a prime example of killing time, and I generally enjoy seeing Daniel Bryan on my TV.
Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Nikki Bella vs. Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss
6 Pack Elimination Match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship
Nikki Bella returned at Summerslam after a near career-ending neck surgery. Carmella and Alexa Bliss were called up from NXT as a result of the draft. What better way to decide the inaugural champion than to put the entire division into one match?
This match was fast-paced and high energy. It felt to me like WWE was trying to prove that Smackdown has a women’s division on par with Raw’s. Carmella’s still fairly green and inexperienced but her weaknesses can be well hidden in a match like this. Alexa Bliss has a lock on her heel character and came out looking like Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. There were a few clunky spots here and there from the chaos of having 6 people working a match, but overall this match was pretty decent. After a year of chasing titles, Becky Lynch picks up the win to open the show with a feel-good moment for the crowd. Match Rating: 3/5
The Usos vs. The Hype Bros (Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley)
Semifinal Tournament Match for the Smackdown Tag Team Championships
Smackdown has been holding a tournament to crown their inaugural Tag Team Championships. The finals were almost set to be NXT call-ups American Alpha vs. Rhyno and Heath Slater until The Usos turned heel (finally) by taking American Alpha out of the match. As a result, the tournament was reset by a round and this was the match to determine who would face Slater and Rhyno instead.
American Alpha tore the house down in NXT but haven’t quite had their time to shine on Smackdown yet. Using them as a catalyst for The Usos turning heel makes sense to prolong that so the fans want to see it even more, and prevents two babyface teams from meeting in the finals. Good and logical booking.
So while I enjoy the character refresh that The Usos are having, this match didn’t do anything for me. Completely solid ringwork and the crowd wasn’t asleep, but ultimately forgettable. Match Rating: 2/5
The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Intercontinental Championship Match
Another character who has had a refresh is The Miz, of all people. He’s ramped up his heel persona after pseudo-shooting on Daniel Bryan on the Smackdown post-show, cutting a passionate promo. Since the Smackdown roster is so thin, The Miz ends up being at least one of their top 5 heels on the show and I think he’s been working hard to cement himself as a main character on the show. Dolph Ziggler on the other hand is still presented as the same old guy. He lost to Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam but somehow managed wins over AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt along the way. His credibility goes up and is instantly cancelled out, and the cycle repeats.
I completely expected this match to be a snoozefest since I’ve seen these two wrestle what feels like 20 times. Somehow, thanks to Miz’s character refresh and new energy in the ring, this match was pretty good. Miz pulled out all sorts of new moves and submissions and even alluded to his feud with Daniel Bryan by stealing some of his moves. Dolph was…Dolph. It helps that the two are good friends and can work well with each other. The Miz gets the dirty win after his wife Maryse sprays Dolph Ziggler in the face with hairspray. I can’t believe I’m impressed with The Miz in 2016 but he got a classic heel finish get over with the crowd. I’m interested to see where he goes next. Match Rating: 3.5/5
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton
Earlier in the day news got out that Randy Orton suffered a concussion during his brutal match against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, and would not be cleared to compete tonight. I was disappointed since this is a fresh matchup I haven’t seen before, and this was the co-main event of the night. Interestingly enough, WWE kept advertising this match until the show started.
Earlier in the night a backstage clip showed Bray Wyatt smashing Orton’s leg in a door, taking him out of the match. Wyatt came out and demanded that Orton be counted out and lose via forfeit. Match Rating: 0/5
Bray Wyatt vs. Kane – No Hold Barred Match
Until of course, Kane comes out and a new match was signed. The good fans in Richmond, Virginia paid their hard earned money to see Bray Wyatt get his ass kicked by a good guy and by god, they were going to get it.
They proceeded to have the most typical paint-by-numbers house show match. A steel chair was brought out, Bray put Kane through a table, and just before Bray had the match won, Randy Orton appeared and delivered the RKO to Bray allowing Kane to get the win. Orton’s recovering from a concussion but WWE still allowed him to do his finishing move, I guess. Wyatt eats another loss while I laughed at the absurdity of everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bray and Kane had this same match the night before in Chapel Hill or whatever. Match Rating: 2/5
Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. The Usos
Tournament Finals for the Smackdown Tag Team Championships
When the draft show took place, all active roster characters were drafted to both shows except for one man: Heath Slater. Heath’s the lowest of the low-card comedy jobbers. He popped up on both Raw and Smackdown as a free agent lobbying to get signed to a contract and failed every time. After losing a contract opportunity to ECW-alum Rhyno, he was offered one last chance at a Smackdown contract if he could win the tag belts with a partner of his choosing, so he partnered up with Rhyno.
Somewhere along the way the crowd got behind the journey of Heath getting a contract and WWE accidentally made a sympathetic babyface. And it worked. Heath plays a bumbling southern boy with a large family who’s just trying to put some food on the table, and it got over big time in Virginia.
The match itself was once again forgettable and nothing special, but the storyline and the results involved made this moment great. A babyface character got over organically and WWE did the right thing and went with it. Rhyno and Slater win with Slater pinning Jimmy Uso. Slater is signed to Smackdown and is going to buy his wife Beulah a double wide. It’s ridiculous and dumb but it’s one of the most compelling storylines Smackdown has done since the brand split. Match Rating: 3/5
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. AJ Styles
WWE World Championship Match
Ambrose held on to the belt since Money in the Bank and was drafted to Smackdown with the original WWE Championship. The same one Ric Flair and The Rock and Stone Cold all held. Raw introduced the Universal Championship as their new top championship, while Smackdown got a little bit of a boost by getting the belt with the lineage.
I like Dean Ambrose. He has a great character and always delivers on promos. Unfortunately, I feel like his ringwork has regressed since becoming champion. It’s proven that he can go in the ring with stellar matches against Seth Rollins and Triple H, but lately it feels like he’s been playing it too safe, as if he doesn’t want to mess up his championship reign by getting injured.
Which is fair. I’ve enjoyed his run as champion and he was a good way to kick off Smackdown Live, but tonight was the night for him to drop it.
I looked forward to this match to see how Ambrose could work with AJ Styles, and hopefully to see Styles pick up the win. Styles and Ambrose over-delivered.
AJ Styles brings his A-Game every pay per view and he is such a treat to watch. He can pull a great match out of anybody, as proven in his time in TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He’s great on the TV shows too, but on pay per view he steps it up a notch and goes all out. Styles has a close running with Kenny Omega for my wrestler of the year.
Ambrose and Styles had a killer match that could probably end up on a lot of end year Top 10 lists. Styles bumped like a madman and really helped make Ambrose look like a legitimate champion, while Ambrose looked like he was rejuvenated and made me wish he had been like this his entire run on top.
Unlike Styles’ match with John Cena at SummerSlam, they avoided the big finishing move kickout trading sequences and instead opted for more brawling and high flying. Styles and Cena was a great match as well, but this was different.
The end of the match came when the referee got knocked down, Styles lands a low-blow on Ambrose and pins him with the Styles Clash. The crowd was more than ready for Styles to win and this match even saw Ambrose getting booed by the crowd. AJ Styles wins the WWE World Championship and is now amongst the ranks of Macho Man Randy Savage and The Undertaker. Styles has now held the top championship in the biggest promotions in America and Japan, and he absolutely deserves it. Match Rating: 4/5
Backlash was an easy to digest show on a lazy Sunday that clocked in around 2 ½ hours. This show was a solid start for the brand-split era even with some lackluster matches. Overall the show was a B- but I feel like they can only get better from here with Randy Orton and John Cena coming back into the fold. It will be interesting to see if Raw’s Clash of Champions can top this in a couple weeks.
by Nathan Dimit (@ndimit)