The first SmackDown PPV since WrestleMania is upon us as Backlash takes place in the Allstate Arena in Chicago this evening. The seven weeks since the Grandaddy of them All has been interesting for the blue brand to say the very least, but what can we expect tonight from the SmackDown crew? Let's take a look.
United States Championship - AJ Styles v Kevin Owens (C)
The US title appears to be being positioned a lot higher up the card than we've seen in previous years, as Styles and Owens look set to main event Backlash with the red, white and blue strap on the line. The feud between the pair hasn't had much time to get into full swing, with Owens still focused on his old rival Chris Jericho, however I doubt that will have much effect on what should be an incredible match between two of WWE's top performers over the last twelve months. There was a time when Styles and Owens held the top two titles in WWE last year, so they'll both be looking to prove that they deserve to be back in contention for the top belts and should push each other even harder than usual. Owens could do with a prolonged spell with a belt, as trading the title back and forth with Jericho heading out of WrestleMania and the belt itself could do with a period of time around one guys waist, so I'm expecting Owens to walk in and out of Chicago as champion. The notoriously vocal Chicago audience should add an extra dimension and help produce a match that we'll be talking about for quite some time.
Owens - 8/15
Styles - 11/8
Dolph Ziggler v Shinsuke Nakamura
Personally, I've not been a massive fan of how Shinsuke Nakamura's call-up has been handled. Him turning up on the post-WrestleMania SmackDown to interrupt The Miz produced a very cool moment, but since then as he's been shifted into a feud with Dolph Ziggler that hasn't exactly caught the imagination, with a series of segments involved Nakkers coming out and doing his entrance and not a whole lot else. If the plan wasn't to showcase Nakamura's real strength, his in-ring ability, until Backlash, I would have preferred to have seen a match announced between the two and then had Ziggler carry the programme on the strength of his mic-work, whilst ploughing through some lower card fodder or even local competitors. The quality of this bout will hinge on how much of a showcase it is for Nakamura. I'd like to see a much more balanced bout with Ziggler allowed to get some heat on the former NXT Champion, but I fear we may just a get a simple squash bout, which won't allow anyone unfamiliar with the Japanese star to fully grasp why Shinsuke is such a special talent.
Ziggler - 10/1
Nakamura - 1/33
Sami Zayn v Baron Corbin
Perhaps surprisingly, this will be the first Zayn v Corbin bout that the WWE has aired, as despite numerous matches on live events in NXT and WWE since 2015, the two have never squared off in front of the cameras. The feud has been pretty simple since Zayn's move to SmackDown, with Corbin assaulting Sami on Talking Smack and building from there. Zayn has always worked best when fighting from underneath and this contest will give him plenty of opportunity to do so against an opponent almost half a foot taller and over 60 lbs heavier. Corbin has come into his own as a wrestler since moving up from NXT, but has yet to have a memorable singles bout that could potentially push him to the next level, so I'm interested to see if he takes the opportunity that is presented to him here. These two are more than capable of putting on a good match and with the right balance and attention they should be able to shine at Backlash. I'm expecting a Corbin victory, ahead of a big push, that could see the Lone Wolf grab the Money in the Bank briefcase next month.
Corbin - 1/5
Zayn - 100/30
Luke Harper v Erick Rowan
We saw these two lads feud back in late 2014/early 2015, as part of the larger Authority angle, with Rowan bizarrely taking on the babyface role of "Big Red". This most recent development seems to have come out of WWE having nothing much else for the two after Bray Wyatt moved to RAW and hasn't been particularly inspiring, beyond Rowan's creepy appearance on Talking Smack last week. Rowan picked up a win over Harper in four minutes a few week's ago on SmackDown, with very few signs that we should get excited about a potential rematch. Harper has shown against Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler that he could be much more useful to WWE, so maybe we'll see Rowan step up to provide a big hoss battle against his more accomplished former Wyatt Family brother. Luke should get his win back here and I expect both will be slotted into the Money in the Bank Ladder match next month.
Harper - 1/5
Rowan - 100/30
SmackDown Tag Team Championship - Breezango v The Usos (C)
The spotlight that Tyler Breeze and Fandango have been given since becoming #1 Contenders in a Beat the Clock Challenge at the end of April has finally given both men the opportunity to show-off their character work and entertain the masses and the pair have ran with it, creating a series of comedic skits involving their Fashion Police gimmick. The Usos have also upped their game on the mic, bringing their thuggish gimmick up a notch, in a series of promos. Now it's time for the two teams to show us what they can do in a match together. Both duos have the talent to put on a belter of a match and with Chicago expected to be well behind Breezango, this match could give the talent strong, but investment weak, tag team division a much needed boost. I'd love to see Tyler Breeze and Fandango give the blue leather titles a makeover, but I think we'll see The Usos hold onto them for the time being.
Breezango - 100/30
Usos - 1/5
WWE Championship - Randy Orton (C) v Jinder Mahal
The WWE Championship match finds itself towards the end of this preview, because the thing I'm most interested in seeing is how Chicago reacts to it, even more so after Orton's Twitter rants. Jinder Mahal got a title shot outta nowhere, winning a random Six Man bout on SmackDown and then being joined by the Singh Brothers to perform an anti-American gimmick. After spending most of 2017 to that point putting over the New Day, Enzo & Cass and Mojo Rawley it was certainly a bolt from the blue and the brand has worked hard to make Jinder seem like a threat as he's almost wholly got the upperhand on Orton, as well as picked up victories over AJ Styles and Sami Zayn since. If either Orton or Mahal put a foot wrong here, Chicago will be all over them, so Mahal better hope for a career performance or at least some help from his more polished opponent. With so much talent on SmackDown, I'm not quite sure what is achieved by giving Mahal the WWE title, other than to really push the Land of Opportunity situation...however if you only watched RAW and saw that someone you were used to seeing losing in minutes was the other brands top champion (especially so quickly), you'd surely consider that brand a bit of joke? I hope I'm surprised by this bout, but I'm not holding out much hope.
Orton - 8/11
Mahal - 1/1
Tye Dillinger v Aiden English
The events opener will warm up the crowd as they get to see the popular "Perfect Ten" and shout "Ten" a lot for a bit, whilst English continues his singing cry-baby gimmick (which is apparently a shot at Mauro Ranallo #lolmentalhealth). There's not much of a feud here, beyond Dillinger picking up a couple of wins over English on SmackDown, so I'm thinking we'll get a relatively straight forward singles match here with a clean win for Dillinger.
Dillinger - 1/8
English - 9/2
The Welcoming Committee v Charlotte Flair, Naomi & Becky Lynch
Rounding off the card we have a tag match featuring the entirety of SmackDown's female division. The Welcoming Committee gimmick for Natalya, Tamina & Carmella has had it's moments, mostly involving James Ellsworth and what seemed like an initially one dimensional gimmick as the group targeted Charlotte Flair has branched out and worked relatively well. For me, the majority of the in-ring talent is on the babyface side, which could lend itself well for hot tags and face in peril spots, giving the heels chance to work the crowd and build. That's where the potential in the bout is for me, however a lot of it depends on if the bout is allowed the time it needs (over ten minutes, at least) and if the demanding audience allows the six women to build towards something. I think we could see a heel turn from one of the face team, most likely Flair, but more interestingly Becky Lynch, as either of those two would produce stronger opponents for Naomi and arguably stronger storylines to play with.
The Welcoming Committee - 1/10
Flair, Naomi & Lynch - 11/2
That's your lot. Check out the event on the WWE Network from 7ET or 12am BST.