Sunday May 21st, 2017: the day that Jinder Mahal became WWE Champion.
Yes, with many thinking the WWE wouldn’t be crazy enough to put their biggest prize on uber-jobber Jinder, Vince McMahon out-crazied us all by making the Maharajah the king of the SmackDown brand.
But not only did Backlash see Jinder Mahal defeat Randy Orton to the WWE Title, we were also given Kevin Owens defending his United States Championship against AJ Styles, The Usos putting their Tag Team Titles on the line against Tyler Breeze and Fandango, Shinsuke Nakamura making his in-ring main roster debut against Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn going up against Baron Corbin, a six-person tag team battle for the SmackDown women, and former Wyatt Family brothers Erick Rowan and Luke Harper going one-on-one.
Emanating from Rosemont, Illinois’ Allstate Arena, Backlash didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it certainly had its plus points during a mixed bag of a show. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what the WWE’s latest PPV got right… and what it manage to make a mess of.
Things Backlash Got Right
14. No Authority Presence
You get the feeling that if this was a Raw PPV then there would be a good chance that Stephanie McMahon would be popping up on your screen in backstage segments at a far too frequent rate. Granted, since WrestleMania the red brand has kept Stephanie largely off TV, but you always fear her shrieking return is just around the corner.
What SmackDown Live has done fantastically since the roster split is how it uses its authority figures sparingly and only when it makes sense. And Backlash was yet another show that stuck to this mantra, with not even a second of Daniel Bryan or Shane McMahon live on the PPV bar revisiting how some of the PPV’s matches had come to be.
13. Starting With Shinsuke
When it comes to PPVs – and wrestling shows in general, for the most part – you want to start things off with a bang. And how better to make a bang than by starting Backlash with The King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura, making his in-ring main roster debut?
Where the main card of the PPV was concerned, having Nakamura going up against Dolph Ziggler in the opener was a smart move and a way to excite fans from the get-go, particularly given how the Chicago crowd is generally viewed as one of the more well-versed corners of the WWE Universe – as such, there was a whole lot of love for Shinsuke.
12. Having Ziggler Be Competitive
Many fans thought that the WWE may have Shinsuke Nakamura run through Dolph Ziggler in mere minutes in a bout that was essentially just a squash match. Wisely, that option was avoided, and instead fans were given a 16-minute battle that saw Ziggler look competitive against The King of Strong Style.
Sure, we all knew that Nakamura was going to win, and we all knew that it was just a matter of time before the Japanese icon put Ziggler away, but having Dolph manage to hold his own against Nakamura at certain points of the match certainly helps the former Spirit Squad member.
For Ziggler – a former World Champion – he’s had a rough time of it as of late since turning heel earlier in the year. Despite a new attitude, Dolph has been portrayed poorly when it comes to in-ring action. By going toe-to-toe with Nakamura before ultimately being bested, that at least helps to give fans the idea that Ziggler can indeed still hang with the big boys.
11. The Pacing Of The Show
What SmackDown Live and NXT seem to get perfect with near-enough every show is the pacing of said production. And Backlash was no different.
For this latest PPV, it felt as if every single match was given ample time to get across its story, and nothing at all felt rushed or majorly cut due to time constraints.
To prove this point further, 4 of the 7 main card matches were given over 15 minutes, with Kevin Owens defending his United States Championship against AJ Styles being the longest bout at 21 minutes. As well as this match being given enough time to tell its story, Shinsuke Nakamura was given plenty of time to make his explosive main roster in-ring debut, Sami Zayn’s underdog win over Baron Corbin was allowed to play out, and then obviously the main event for the WWE Championship was well paced for what it needed to be.
10. Natalya Gets The Win
While “The Welcoming Committee” is still not exactly that great of a name for the stable of Natalya, Tamina, Carmella, and James Ellsworth, it was imperative that the group looked strong at Backlash.
Not only that, but it was vital that Natalya – as the figurehead of the team – be made to look impressive and built up like a legitimate competitor who can hold her own against Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and WWE Women’s Champion Naomi.
Seeing the heel team get the win here does wonders for their stock, and likewise having Natalya force Lynch to tap out to the Sharpshooter was the right move. With how the land lies right now, Nattie is the top heel on SmackDown Live, and so her getting the win here makes her look all that more believable should she go up against Naomi for the gold any time soon.
9. Continuing The Owens vs Styles Feud
Beforehand, the smart money was on Kevin Owens to somehow keep hold of the gold in his United States Title match against AJ Styles, but how the match result happened was what had many fans speculating.
With the way that the match concluded, with KO getting a lucky countout victory over The Phenomenal One, that only opens things up for this feud to continue – which is most definitely a good thing! Added to that, Owens’ post-match kick to the fallen Styles only adds more fuel to this particular fire.
Hands-down, these pair are two of the best wrestlers on the planet right now, with AJ Styles arguably the best in the world at this point in time, and letting this rivalry continue is a smart move. Backlash may not have given fans the perfect ending that they wanted, but it gave them the perfect ending that was needed for this stage of the feud.
8. The WWE Championship In The Main Event
Before Backlash, it wasn’t made exactly clear just which match would be main eventing the PPV.
Even though the WWE Championship is the biggest prize on offer, the so-so build to and buzz around Randy Orton vs Jinder Mahal led many fans and industry insiders to suggest that we may actually see Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles close out the SmackDown Live-exclusive show.
As it happens, we obviously got Orton against Mahal as the final match on the card, and rightly so. Regardless of how flat the build up may have felt, if the WWE Championship is being defended on a show then said title match should always be closing out the PPV – bar any rare, one-off special attraction matches.
7. Jinder Mahal, WWE Champion!
I know, I know. Like you, I too would have groaned and gasped in shock several months ago if you’d have told me that Jinder Mahal would somehow become the WWE Champion. But Jinder winning the gold here was the right call to make in the circumstances.
I’m not talking about the fact that the WWE is pushing hard to branch out into India right now, but Mahal winning the WWE Title was the right move purely because it’s a better alternative than the other option: to have kept the belt on Randy Orton.
Let’s face it, the whole Bray Wyatt feud and subsequent House of Horrors match hurt Orton massively, and his latest run with the WWE Championship has been nothing but dull. As ratings tumble and people tune out to Randy, making the call to put the belt on Jinder is at least something new and will get people talking.
And if Jinder does bomb as Champ, at least you can hotshot the belt off of him to a popular babyface challenger such as AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura.
6. No Tye Dillinger
Sure, The Perfect 10 may have battled Aiden English on the Backlash pre-show, but it would’ve been nice to have seen Tye Dillinger actually featured on the main card of the WWE’s latest PPV.
Dillinger has proved to be a hugely popular figure on SmackDown Live – much like he was in NXT – but it’s not a great indicator to see him already not making the cut when it comes to the meat of the blue brand’s PPVs.
Maybe I’m a little biased or have gone a little crazy from one too many “10! 10! 10!” chants, but it would’ve been nice to see the supremely talented Canadian become a staple of SmackDown Live PPVs upon receiving his call up to the main roster.
I guess the pre-show is better than nothing, but it just means that a lot of people will miss out on seeing Dillinger in action. Here’s hoping that Tye will at least be good for a spot at next month’s Money in the Bank, though.
5. Too Much Tag Team Comedy
Like some of you out there, I’m massively happy to see Tyler Breeze and Fandango given some time in the spotlight lately, be it their Fashion Files skits, their appearance on PPV, or even just the fact that, shock horror, they’ve actually won some matches recently.
Now while The Fashion Police as an act are clearly drenched in humour, it felt as if there was a little too much comedy in their Backlash bout against The Usos.
Sure, comedy in wrestling is part and parcel of the business, and there’s certainly a place for it, but it just felt as if the WWE Tag Team Title match on this show was played purely for laughs. After all, there is a championship on the line here, and so it would’ve been nice to maybe see the bout having more of a serious edge.
4. Corbin Losing
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Sami Zayn guy, too, but going in to Backlash many expected Sami to be a stepping stone on Baron Corbin’s push to the top of the card – with it seeming like only a matter of time before Corbin gets his hands on the WWE Title, potentially via a Money in the Bank win.
As such, most fans thought Baron would defeat the plucky Zayn in pretty comprehensive fashion. Instead, whilst Corbin did dominate the majority of the match, he ultimately lost cleanly to the former NXT Champion.
By WWE logic, if The Lone Wolf is indeed to win the briefcase at Money in the Bank then they feel the need to have him lose a few matches first.
Could this be a further indication of Corbin getting the briefcase at next month’s SmackDown Live PPV? That seems to be the only logical reason for him losing here, although a lengthy feud between Corbin and Zayn could do wonders for both men if handled correctly.
3. Charlotte Not Reinforcing Her Edge
Over the past year or more, Charlotte Flair has proved herself to be one of the greatest heels in the wrestling business today. So with that in mind, it felt like a ridiculous idea to turn her babyface upon her debuting on SmackDown Live following the superstar shake-up.
Many were hoping that Backlash would see The Queen turn back to the dark side somehow, with her whole good guy routine having been nothing but a crafty ruse. Sadly not.
Now while that was maybe wishful thinking from a lot of us, a more realistic suggestion would have been to have Charlotte show some more edge to her during and after the match; have a bit of attitude, and make it clear that despite being an apparent “good guy”, she still has her eyes on her own business and on the Women’s Championship.
2. The Build To Harper vs Rowan
So many people see such a bright future for Luke Harper, but things like Backlash make it hard to ever see the WWE really giving the talented big man anything of real note to sink his teeth in to.
Obviously Harper and Erick Rowan are both former members of The Wyatt Family, but the way that their Backlash match was set up was pitiful. There was no story, no build, no reason for this bout to even take place if you were going purely on what the WWE was showing on TV.
Of course, there was a last minute call to have Rowan turn up on Talking Smack to demand the match, but that was too little too late. Both performers deserved better, as do the fans – fans who had no interest in this battle due to the horrendous lack of build to it.
1. Merely Kept The Wheels Turning
Obviously Jinder Mahal becoming the WWE Champion was a huge deal and something totally new for the company, but the rest of Backlash felt like it was largely a filler show that was merely keeping the wheels spinning until something bigger comes along.
For instance, Breezango going up against The Usos was done purely to keep Jimmy and Jey busy until The New Day debut on SmackDown Live. Then there was the Baron Corbin vs Sami Zayn match, which seemingly had Baron eat the defeat as a setup for next month’s Money in the Bank PPV. As for Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles, the Backlash match was simply a way of keeping this feud going for another PPV or two.
Such shows are always going to be part of the wrestling calendar, and not every PPV can be full of epic matches, shocking moments, or the blow-offs of feuds, but Backlash ultimately felt like an average show that will only be thought back on for “Remember that time that they put the title on Jinder Mahal? Crazy, right?!”