The 2016 version of the brand split was enacted in WWE earlier this summer and the two distinct main rosters have been working towards their own pay-per-views since then. SmackDown got the first real attempt at a solo big show with Backlash, an event headlined by a championship match between Dean Ambrose & A.J. Styles.
This show appeared under booked on paper as only seven matches were announced ahead of time and one of the competitors in one of the more prominent matches found out he wasn’t medically cleared prior to the event. What this meant for us the fans is that the matches were given more time than normal, which is a very good thing. Plenty of in-ring talent was on display, leading to several really above average match-ups.
It wasn’t all fun and games though, as there were a few mishaps along the way. An odd child star kept popping up, confusing both the viewers and The Miz alike. There were also a few notable absences as well as an unintended negative reaction from what should’ve been the biggest babyface on the card.
There was lots of good and bad all over this show and that’s what this article is about. Seven Ups as well as seven Downs were found from this SmackDown-only show and we’re about to recap them all. So, barring no further medically uncleared competitors thanks to silly SumerSlam bookings of Brock Lesnar‘s elbows, let’s get on with the recap of the show.
14. At Least They Have The Pre-Show
Baron Corbin recently scored a win against WWE Champion Dean Ambrose on a recent episode of SmackDown Live. Also, Apollo Crews challenged for the Intercontinental Championship against The Miz at last month’s SummerSlam. Now that SmackDown is putting on their first brand exclusive pay-per-view of this New Era, hungry talent like Baron and Apollo should be ready to capitalize on loads of opportunities, right? Not exactly.
Neither wrestler had an announced match on the Backlash card before the pre-show went on the air. They did get a match on that kickoff show but it was only set up earlier in that broadcast. For all intents and purposes, it was a solid match. Both men have potential to be a much bigger player on their brand but for whatever reason they get the afterthought treatment more often than not.
Going forward, it would be nice if Corbin and Crews were featured more prominently. Apollo is exceptional in the ring and Baron has a look that begs for a bit time WWE push. If even SmackDown doesn’t have anything creatively significant for these blue chippers then what was the rush to bring them up from NXT in the first place? They both would’ve been better utilized on that Wednesday show.
13. The GMs Kick Off The Show
To be fair, this is a relatively minor gripe, but it should be said. This is a New Era of WWE in which the wrestling is being put on display, but instead of kicking off the show with either a match or at least a promo from an active competitor, the Commissioner and GM of the show are the first people in the ring.
This should never be the case, especially on SmackDown. WWE has loved the show opening promo for far too long and shouldn’t be afraid to stray away from that crutch, especially on the show that’s supposed to be more so about wrestling that the one on Monday night. More time can be given to matches or better yet, matches can be added to the card. There were likely plenty of wrestlers backstage that would’ve gladly taking ten minutes to put something together.
Once again, this isn’t a major sin because not only are the authority figures two guys that the fans actually enjoy seeing, but his particular segment was relatively short and it lead to them announcing the Women’s Championship Match that immediately followed. Also, there was a major competitor that wasn’t medically cleared so WWE was likely scrambling to fill time at this stage of the night.
12. It’s Time To Revisit The No Blading Policy
Several hours before Backlash went on the air, news was circulating that Randy Orton would in fact not be competing against Bray Wyatt due to not being cleared from the injuries he suffered last month at SummerSlam. WWE never officially acknowledged the Brock elbow to the head as the official reason for Randy being pulled off the card but that was the dirt sheet consensus.
Having Orton bleed from the head was part of the planned ending for Orton vs. Brock, but it wasn’t done via blade job. Apparently that’s way too barbaric. What’s not too barbaric for WWE is for the biggest, baddest, most legitimate athlete on the roster (who happens to be the size of a bus) to use his tree limb of an arm to lay into a skull with the purpose of seeing red.
Bray Wyatt’s substitute match turned out to be pretty decent and there was a surprise RKO anyway, but Randy should’ve been in an actual match here. It’s silly that a quick prick of a razor blade is strictly forbidden but an intentional elbow by a modern day Goliath is fine and dandy. WWE needs to seriously reexamine their policy.
11. No American Alpha Anywhere
American Alpha should’ve been in the finals of the Tag Team Tournament to crown inaugural SmackDown Tag Champions, but instead were thwarted from the match they earned due to some unsportsmanlike conduct from Jimmy & Jey Uso. The storyline makes sense and will give Jason Jordan & Chad Gable plenty of time on the blue brand before they finally get their championship due, so no complaints so far.
The fault with American Alpha and Backlash is that they were literally nowhere to be found. It was speculated that Jason Jordan might play a role in spoiling The Usos at some point to repay their earlier deeds, but that didn’t happen. It might’ve been helpful to have a taped interview in which they give a timetable for their return, but that didn’t happen either.
It’s not like WWE fans will forget about the recent NXT call ups so quickly, but a simple minute or so in front of a camera reminding fans that they’re still upset about what those mean Samoans did to them was a needed element on this show. Considering there was more than enough time to go around for everyone else, this is an absence that was noticeable.
10. Forced Nickelodeon Crossover
Jagger Eaton is apparently a star over on the children’s cable network, Nickelodeon. He also apparently was the youngest ever X-Games competitor, which is cool for him. Maybe the kid is a teen a heartthrob or something but his presence felt incredibly forced and awkward on this wrestling program.
The one positive that can be given to Jagger is the brief interaction he had with The Miz. Miz was miffed that the child stole his dressing room but quickly changed his tune when talk was shifted to some collaboration. Of course, young Jagger told Miz that he was only interested in working together until he realized that he could ask John Cena instead. Miz should be given kudos for this interaction because Jagger still seemed stiff in his delivery.
It’s understandable that WWE would want to partner with other media outlets. Having this kid on WWE likely opens up doors for their stars getting recurring appearances on their awards shows, so it’s win-win in that sense. However, does he need several bits of screen time on a pay-per-view? Can’t this be put on a normal SmackDown broadcast or even Main Event, not a WWE Network broadcast aired exclusively through a subscription wrestling-only channel?
9. Where Was John Cena?
John Cena is the biggest star of whatever WWE show he’s appearing on, so his absence was very noticeable on Backlash. Not only was he not booked on this show, he was a complete non-factor for the blue brand’s big first show.
This is a strange era in this company as John Cena fades more and more out of the limelight. His last big match was against AJ Styles on SummerSlam, a loss that Styles still bragged about even on this very show. He was seen wearing the armband that Cena left in the ring after their match as a headband and made the ring announcer proclaim him as the “New Face That Runs The Place” before his title match. Cena is still putting over AJ even a month after their match ended because he’s nice like that.
Surely John Cena will be back on television soon – he’s the Tuesday night wrestling show’s biggest star. Many WWE viewers will likely rejoice in his absence as he’s been in the spotlight for years longer than just about every other star in the past few decades but considering his body of work in the past year or so, SmackDown would be a far better show with him around. Come back soon, John.
8. Dean Officially Lost The Crowd
Perhaps it’s a Shield thing, but these guys just can’t seem to hold on to babyface sympathy from the WWE fanbase. Roman Reigns has been struggling with getting the fan support that WWE desperately wants for him and at Backlash, Dean Ambrose got his taste of that mixed reaction as well. Seth Rollins never really had a babyface run but it looks like he can test those hostile waters soon.
One problem with Ambrose’s fan reactions at Backlash were likely due to him wrestling a guy like Styles who’s technically a bad guy but is so respected by much of the audience. Some people simply are going to root for AJ no matter what he does because he’s so good. Another problem with Dean and the fans is that his title run has not been received the greatest. Maybe it’s Stone Cold‘s fault for voicing criticisms that many agreed with in the weeks after that infamous interview, but that wouldn’t be fair to the Texas Rattlesnake to put it all on him. It’s only partly being put on him.
Regardless of why the Backlash audience was so loudly booing the Lunatic Fringe, it doesn’t change the fact that they were. He’s not in Roman territory by any means yet but it is an odd direction for the fans to venture off in.
7. The Ladies Tear Down The House
There’s been a Revolution in women’s wrestling over the past year or so, but there’s also been a problem on the main roster in getting it right. It’s felt like it’s been in a pause more often than not. The women need a competitive roster, a division that feels like it’s deep thanks to the in-ring skills of the athletes in involved. As of the conclusion of the Backlash opener, it feels like that very roster has arrived on SmackDown.
Some of the great action in the Backlash Women’s Title Match included a Tower of Doom, a springboard crossbody to the outside of the ring, and an impressive Blockbuster/Powerbomb combination. These ladies were very athletic.
When the elimination match finally concluded, a long overdue coronation happened for Becky Lynch inside the ring. It was great that she was the victor for such a strong match and she reminded everyone of her charm by talking about her “Boulder Shoulders” and referring to herself as “Becky Balboa.”
The Women’s Division on SmackDown all of a sudden feels exciting. It also feels like it has a little bit of depth. Lynch can look forward to a challenge from an experienced performer like Natalya on the short-term then look off in the distance at a Carmella challenge after her feud with Nikki Bella concludes. The future is bright for the ladies on the blue team.
6. The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan
Ever since The Miz cut a passionate promo on Talking Smack a few weeks back that seemed just a tad too personal against the SmackDown GM, interest in Miz has skyrocketed. The problem with that interest is that it seemed to get scaled back quickly, for whatever reason.
During Backlash the feud was reignited as Miz made a point to pick at Bryan on multiple occasions. Before coming out to the ring for his match, he told Daniel Bryan backstage that he was going into the ring to do what the GM couldn’t do. He also demanded contract renegotiations. Even better, Miz purposely took a few of D-Bry’s signature moves during his win over Dolph Zigger, including running dropkicks and a modified surfboard.
It’s still hard to get too excited over this feud because as much as Daniel wants to return to the ring there’s no sign that WWE will budge on his case. We fans can hope, but the odds are extremely narrow. Even so, this is bringing out the best in The Miz and it allows him to be a huge thorn in the side of the beloved authority figures of his show.
5. Kane Fills In For Randy
One man’s loss is another man’s gain, it seems. It was a bummer that Randy Orton wasn’t cleared to compete in his originally scheduled match against Bray Wyatt but the reliable veteran Kane was there to fill in as needed. What might’ve initially been a groan for the Big Red Machine ended up becoming a sigh of relief because the match was way better than we could’ve been hoped for.
Both Bray Wyatt and Kane wrestled a fairly physical match against each, delivering stiff shots and using steel chairs against each other’s bodies. The big spot of the match, however, was when the Eater of Worlds hit a running senton onto Kane atop an announce table, crushing themselves and the furniture beneath them.
Orton snuck in for an out of nowhere RKO to assist Kane with the finish of the match, which popped the already excited crowd. Kane didn’t need the win but having Randy interfere helped Bray from looking like a chump in defeat. It was a solid match that furthers the Orton/Wyatt feud while also giving The Devil’s Favorite Demon a win if were to use that for anything significant. Perhaps he can put over somebody else on the SmackDown roster and an upcoming pay-per-view.
4. The Usos Get A Much Needed Change
There are probably a handful of wrestlers on the WWE roster that are overdue for some sort of tweak in their presentation. Whether it’s a heel/face turn, a change in look, or maybe a complete overhaul. The Usos have been in need of a change for far too long and at Backlash, they got just that.
What’s out for the Usos is the bright colors, the facepaint, and happy-go-lucky attitudes. They also didn’t do the tribal chants at the beginning of their entrance. What’s in for The Usos is more black clothing, a Roman-ish shirt for Jimmy, and a way more serious and mean attitude. All in all, they traded up in this gimmick switch.
Jimmy & Jey are now made, which should work in their favor. They seem way cooler and are possibly no longer being marketed as your children’s favorite wrestler. This is the style of change that if the trigger was fully pulled would work wonders for their very own cousin Roman. With babyface title holders now on SmackDown, they’re positioned just right to enter into a championship feud in the near future.
3. Heath Slater & Rhyno Win
One of the best stories that WWE has going right now is the Free Agent storyline that Heath Slater has been going through since the draft occurred many weeks back. Heath has come a long way since the days of being in perpetual loser-factions. This former Social Outcast found himself to be the outcast of all GMs and Commissioners, forcing him to keep jumping through hoops as he inched closer and closer to a contract.
The match that he and Rhyno were victorious in on Backlash was a well-built contest that say them slaying the heel Usos, causing an uproar from the crowd who wanted to see this underdog finally succeed. A Gore from the not-legal Rhyno set up Heath to roll over and score the winning pin fall in one of the feel good moments of 2016.
Slater even got a laugh from the crowd when he said that this was the happiest moment of his left, then almost forgot to add “next to two of my kids being born.” Rhyno & Heath Slater have turned into unlikely heroes of SmackDown and it’s fun to see where they go from here. Wherever that may be, Heath’s Kids (both biological and the figurative ones) have has back throughout this journey.
2. A Main Event That Delivered
Before even addressing the outcome to the Backlash main event, it should simply be stated that it was a darn good match. With the WWE World Championship on the line, Champion Dean Ambrose took on challenger AJ Styles in a big matchup. Styles is coming off that big John Cena victory while Ambrose has had pin fall victories over Dolph Ziggler, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins to define his title reign.
The hype for this battle involved Dean telling AJ that WWE doesn’t give out trophies for nothing, which was a decent verbal jab at The Phenomenal One. On AJ’s side of the feud, his arrogance has been unmatched on his brand. He’s such a good cocky heel and it’s only natural that he got this opportunity so soon into his WWE tenure.
The match was long but well-paced. Big spots like a catapult into the ring post, a 450 Splash that delivered an exciting near fall, and a dive into the crowd after a sprint across the announce tables were several of the more memorable maneuvers from this contest. The two stars got the crowd into the match easily, helping the live crowd get ready for the finish that was to come…
1. AJ Is The WWE World Champion
Who would’ve ever guessed that AJ Styles would one day be champion in Vince McMahon’s WWE? The times sure are changing, especially considering that Shinsuke Nakamura is NXT Champion and Kevin Owens is WWE Universal Champion. Have we all slipped into some alternative dimension in which the universe now actually favors pro wrestling?
Even though he was the heel in this title challenge at Backlash, many of the fans in attendance loudly cheered in his favor. It’s hard to boo against the man that many regard as the absolute best wrestler on the planet. With this victory, Styles became the only man in history to have held the TNA, NWA, IWGP Heavyweight, and WWE Championships in his career.
Who’s next for AJ? Maybe he’ll move on to Randy Orton once he’s cleared or maybe he can get his own challenge from Dolph Ziggler. Likely there will be a rematch with Dean in the short-term due to the low blow at the end. Regardless of who he steps in the ring with next, AJ will enter as Champion and that’s amazing. Backlash will forever be the show in which AJ Styles won his first ever WWE Championship.