On 21st May, WWE's SmackDown brand presented Backlash, their first PPV since WrestleMania, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. AJ Styles challenged for Kevin Owens' WWE United States Championship, Jinder Mahal went after Randy Orton's WWE title, Shinsuke Nakamura made his SmackDown debut against Dolph Ziggler, as well as Sami Zayn, Natalya, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Luke Harper and more being in action...but was it any good? Let's take a look.
- Our panel for the evening is hosted by Renee Young with Booker T and Peter Rosenburg as the analysts.
- Dasha Fuentes lets the audience know that Sami Zayn will be in the Social Media Lounge later on, she speaks like an especially patronising CBeebies presenter.
- The first hype package of the evening is for Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler and features a blindfolded woman painting, because Nakkers is an artist now. It somehow manages to make their feud look mildly interesting, but the painting gimmick is still lame.
- The majority of the panel's chatter about Nakamura v Ziggler was focussed on Nakamura's debut and how much anticipation there was for it. They spoke a lot but didn't really tell any new fans why the debut was special or build up Ziggler as a potential spoiler.
- A replay of a WWE.com "Exclusive" with Aiden English interrupting Tye Dillinger's interview with Renee Young, with Dillinger taking the piss out of English for crying a few weeks ago.
- James Ellsworth joined the panel to discuss The Welcoming Committee against Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Naomi. Booker T made a questionable hand gesture when asking Ellsworth about his relationship with Carmella.
- Booker really put over Sami Zayn as the panel discussed his upcoming bout with Baron Corbin.
- Erick Rowan walked in as the panel discussed Breezango v The Usos and just kind of wandered about for a bit.
- Kayla Braxton interviewed Dolph Ziggler backstage, with Ziggler promising to put on a clinic in his match with Shinsuke Nakamura later on.
- An ad for the WWE Network
- A rather cool hype package for AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens, focusing on the "Face of America" gimmick and mixing Owens' promos with various classic American iconography.
- As the Panel discussed Styles v Owens, Rosenburg discussed how he was "calling" it as the match of the night...no shit, Sherlock.
- Sami Zayn joined Dasha Fuentes in the Social Media Lounge, with Fuentes stealing the show with her weird reactions to pretty much anything going on.
Dillinger def. English
The longest of the pair's trilogy over the last month and a half, this was a fairly simple clash that was showed the importance of getting over with an audience. English's pre-match sing-song generated a, perhaps surprisingly, large amount of heat, as he ran down his hometown of Chicago and sang a few nicknames. Put this opposite the "Perfect Ten" gimmick which is still on fire and English singing "You can't help him" when in control and as long as the two didn't slip up they could pretty much coast through eight minutes of action. There was a couple of nice spots here, including a solid near fall for English off the Director's Cut, before Dillinger closed things off with the new version of the Tye Breaker.
- Erick Rowan joined the panel again, stealing Rosenburg's pocket square and looking about a bit. Booker T said "You're looking real jacked, baby" about twenty six times.
- The panel jumped straight into talking about the WWE title match, although this barely got anytime before they through to the final hype video.
- The hype package for Jinder Mahal v Randy Orton detailed Mahal's unlikely rise and Anti-American stance.
- "We choose to show the world one face, but our true face we only show ourselves" - Was the rather awkward theme for the event's opening promo, with a lot of the comparisons not making any real sense.
Nakamura def. Ziggler
This bout needed to start hot, specifically the audience needed to see something from Nakamura that made them sit up and take notice. Instead, we got a few minutes of the pair exchanging holds, a couple of tame strikes from Nakkers, before Ziggler hit a big dropkick. Having waited weeks to see Shinsuke get in the ring, in what was already a questionable piece of booking, this was not what was needed. The pattern continued for most of the match, with Ziggler hitting most of the big moves, including a Fameasser and a Zig Zag, but seeing as it was inevitable that Nakamura would be winning his debut, it was difficult to buy into the majority of the near falls for anyway, especially after having seeing very little from Shinsuke himself. Whilst most of the sequences were well-thought through, which considering they'd have seventeen matches on live events building up to this should come as a given, a lot of the action seemed to be a step or two off the pace.
The match spent most of it's time building up to Nakamura hitting his big moves, like the inverted exploder and the Kinshasha, almost at the expense of every other piece of the King of Strong Style's offence. By the time Shinsuke hit his big two for the victory, we'd got a bout that whilst having very few technical faults, hadn't managed to deliver what it needed to. It felt like the lads had about eight minutes of content, that they attempted to stretch over a quarter of an hour, yet even big moments like Ziggler spitting in Nakamura's face felt like they were thrown away. We were never going to get a bout on the level of Nakamura's NXT debut opposite Sami Zayn and that wasn't what this bout needed to be, but it did need to showcase Nakker's as a unique competitor, who has more to him than just an entrance, yet it ended up making him feel like the majority of the SmackDown roster.
- A replay of this week's SmackDown's episode of the Fashion Files, with Tyler Breeze dressing up as a janitor and the wonderful "Day One is H" debut.
Usos def. Breezango to retain SmackDown Tag Team Championship
Breezango took their PPV opportunity and ran with it, as we got to witness Tyler Breeze raiding WWE's dress up box and Chicago fucking loved it (and so did the commentary team). It was super silly, as we saw Breeze dressed initially as a janitor with a mop and then an old lady with a walking stick, but it was a different, didn't take itself too seriously and also allowed the Usos to shine in their role as the straight men. The match moved well towards it's finish as we saw Breeze almost die after being chucked over the barricade and then the Usos rebound from a Fandango tope conhilo to knock 'Dango off the top rope with a superkick to hold onto their belts. The shift from comedy to highspots was done well and those last few moments may have made Breezango as they both ended up looking incredible after holding the crowd with their previously entertaining antics and shenanigans. I hope we get to see these teams battle again as I'm sure this was only the tip of iceberg of what Breezango has to offer comedically, whilst both teams are more than capable of hitting that top gear for longer.
- Another ad for the WWE Network and such.
Zayn def. Corbin
This match was simple storytelling, with two performers in roles that suit them down to the ground and very little else. It was established early on that Sami Zayn had hurt his lower back and from that point on that became the driving force of the clash. Zayn sold his suffering damn well, making sure that he wasn't just grabbing hold of the body part, but showing the pain all across his body, in his face and in his arms and legs. Even when not selling specific moves, all of Zayn's movement was altered because he trying to convey the injury. Corbin's slow and methodical dissection of Zayn, as he laid into his opponent with a spinebuster, a chokebreaker and Deep Six, gave him plenty of chances to jawjack with the crowd. The only thing that was missing was some real heat from the Chicago crowd, who at times rallied behind Zayn, but didn't seem to fully buy into the bout.
The finish saw Zayn nick a victory, managing to push Corbin into a corner and hit a fast Helluva Kick to get the pinfall. The pace of the finish really took me by surprise as the bout leading up to that point, beyond a few flurries early on, had been relatively slow. This contrast made the moment feel completely out of the blue, especially because I'd been fairly certain Corbin would get the win and continue onto a big push heading out. Zayn's selling post-match was arguably even better than what we'd seen during the match, as he threw his arm up into the air, only to bring it straight back down to his lumbar region with a grimace on his face. The Underdog from the Underground may be the best seller in WWE at the moment and I'm hoping this translates into his getting bigger matches and more opportunities.
- Xavier Woods, Ember Moon, Zack Ryder and a dude played Rocket League, a video game that was sponsoring the show.
- Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers arrived, with Mahal cutting a promo straight down the camera in English and then Punjabi.
The Welcoming Committee def. Lynch, Flair & Naomi
A basic six woman tag bout, that would probably have stood out on an episode of SmackDown but didn't do much for anyone on PPV. The majority of the wrestling was done well, with Naomi spending some time as the face in peril and a strong Becky Lynch hot tag standing out, but the themes of unity and teamwork that had previously been brought up in the rivalry, weren't explored as well as they as they could have been. The heels mostly controlled as a unit, working quick tags and switching in and out, but the babyface team didn't look they had any particular issues trying to gel either. There was potential to see tempers flair between the babyfaces as they all looked to gain some revenge on their rivals, but that just wasn't present. This bout wouldn't have looked out of place on a live event, due to it's lack of story development and a general feel that everyone was phoning in their performance.
My main takeaway's from the finish was the dominance of Tamina, who managed to take out Charlotte Flair with a superkick and Naomi with a headbutt and Lynch tapping out to Natalya's Sharpshooter. Considering how Lynch was initially positioned as the top female face of the brand, it was a big moment for Natalya, but almost felt like it was thrown away. Overall, I feel like the contest didn't manage to provide the division with anything resembling an overall direction and especially after the multi-woman bout at WrestleMania didn't feel like the SmackDown Women's division was being used to anything resembling it's full potential with Charlotte Flair in particularly feeling like she was barely involved in the match at all.
- The same promo we saw on the Kickoff show for Kevin Owens v AJ Styles aired, which means Jinder Mahal v Randy Orton will be our main event!
Owens def. Styles via countout to retain WWE United States Championship
Between September 2016 and January 2017 AJ Styles and Kevin Owens were the top champions on their respective brands and here we are in May and both men are battling over the United States Championship. That's not a knock on anyone, I just thought it was worth pointing out. Maybe because it would've been easy for the pair to phone this in, lose motivation and just not put the effort into this bout. There's plenty of wrestlers throughout history who would've done just that. That isn't AJ Styles and Kevin Owens though. They took their slot on the card (still the longest bout of the evening) and made it work. The two built their story, allowed the crowd to become invested and peppered in some big moves like Owens' swinging fisherman superplex and a suplex on the apron from Styles. The bout lacked any convincing near falls, which would have propelled it to the next level, but I'll get onto the finish in a moment.
The story of the bout was set up by Owens attacking Styles' leg on SmackDown earlier in the week, but didn't become apparent until Styles hit his Ushigoroshi signature onto the leg. From here we got some strong work on both sides of the coin as AJ sold the injury well, whilst Owens made the body part his focus. Owens has a good knack for altering his offence to suit the story of the bout and that was clear here as he altered his cannonball to connect on the leg, as well locking on an Ankle Lock (perhaps mimicking Kurt Angle as part of his "Face of America" gimmick). Styles' leg would often result in him being unable to take control after a hope spot or being to slow when on the offence (causing the aforementioned swinging fisherman superplex) and whilst this often caused the pace of the bout to slow, the two utilised their large arsenal of moves well and made the most of the slower pacing as the crowd grew into the contest with them.
I mentioned earlier that the bout lacked any convincing near falls and the finish itself was, of course, more than a little disappointing. Owens' escaped a Styles Clash attempt on the announce table, simultaneously trapping Styles' injured leg in the hole in the announce table, resulting in a count out victory when AJ was unable to escape from the various wires and what have you. It's difficult to wholly criticise a finish like this, because it followed the arc of the match and made Owens look like a bit of a shit, which will only help his Face of America character as it develops. Yet it's also difficult to not feel disappointing that we didn't get to see Owens and Styles hit top gear and we didn't get to see Styles battling out more convincing submission holds and really sell the drama of the injury and develop the Phenomenal One's new babyface persona. Let's hope we get to see these two have another PPV bout down the road as they could have torn the Allstate Arena apart and didn't.
- Highlights of Tye Dillinger's victory over Aiden English from Kickoff played
Harper def. Rowan
Considering there's so much history between Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, you wouldn't have known it from what the match alone as there was no sign of hatred or even dislike between the pair. The crowd clearly hadn't bought into the story as their main involvement in the bout was to chant "Fire Bradshaw" for a little while at the start. The bout had it's moments like Harper's suicide dive and a big boy Powerbomb from Rowan and remained watchable, but I'm not quite sure what anyone was trying to achieve. There was some weird stuff with Rowan reaching for his mask, but it wasn't clear enough for a live audience to pick up and didn't actually go anywhere anyway. The finish was unfortunately the sloppiest part of the bout with Harper turning a Powerbomb into an awkward rana, before hitting a pair of unconvincing superkicks and a discus thing for the win.
- Jinder Mahal v Randy Orton hype package, it's time!
Mahal def. Orton to win WWE Championship
I feel like some time next year, I'll turn to one of my wrassle pals and say "Do you remember when Jinder Mahal won the WWE title?" and they'll turn to me and say "Halcyon days, mate, halcyon days" as we watch Mojo Rawley battle Gronk for the title in the main event of whatever that month's PPV happens to be called. All that we once believed to be right and true has been turned on it's head in the space of a month. Jinder Mahal and the Bollywood Boyz are on top of SmackDown and there's not a damn thing any of us can do about it. I think Mahal's accession could have been handled with a little more precision and I'm not sure he really deserves the spot, but there's no denying that he has ascended and he does have that spot.
I think the most shocking part of the whole story was that Jinder and Randy actually had a decent match. No, it wasn't a technical classic, but it told a story and told it pretty well. Orton jumping Mahal before the bell grabbed the crowd from the beginning and managed to keep them on side through the pedestrian first half of the bout. Mahal initially targeted Orton's shoulder, when that looked to be unsuccessful the Singh Brothers got involved, saving Mahal's arse on a number of occasions. The ringwork was solid, if unimaginative in the early going and whilst Orton didn't look particularly motivated, he still sold his shoulder well for Jinder. I would have liked to have seen Mahal take a leaf from Kevin Owens' book and vary some of his offence to make a real focus of the injury as apart from wear-down there wasn't much else. There were opportunities for Mahal to up the aggression and really go to town on Orton's shoulder that could have made the earlier part of the bout a little more dynamic.
The last couple of minutes however were executed particularly well. Orton's frustration at the Singh Brothers constant interference lead to Orton attempting to murder Sunil and Samir by delivering a pair of belly to back suplexes onto announce tables that looked completely reckless. It sold the moment, but I'm not sure Orton needed to actually try to kill the lads. With Orton distracted trying to destroy the Bollywood Boyz with a double rope-hung DDT, Mahal took his opportunity, slithered in behind the Viper and nailed Khallas (Cobra Clutch Slam) to cap off one of the most improbable and illogical title ascensions in WWE history. The conclusion was exactly what it needed to be, bought the matches arc to it's conclusion and seemed to jump from one moment to the next at a reasonable pace. The strongest part of Jinder's run to the title has been the Singh Brothers involvement and how they've been positioned to allow the act to stand out, so it was fitting that the pair played a major part in their fellow Canadian taking the belt.
Talking Smack: Backlash
- Renee Young and Peter Rosenberg welcomed us to the show, giving their initial reactions to the madness of Jinder Mahal being WWE Champion.
- Sami Zayn joined the panel for a quick interview, that never really got into his victory over Baron Corbin earlier in the night. The interview instead focused on Zayn's jump to SmackDown, Jinder Mahal's title win and the potential of being involved in Money in the Bank.
- The next interviewee Tye Dillinger followed some similar themes to Zayn's interview, in that there was no real discussion of his victory over Aiden English earlier on. There was some cool focus on Dillinger's journey back to WWE, alongside some parallels between Dillinger and Mahal's careers, before Dillinger also made a claim to a spot in next month's Money in the Bank ladder match.
- Young and Rosenberg went back over the finish of the main event, to remind us all that Jinder Mahal is WWE Champion and Randy Orton almost murdered some lads. They then moved onto looking at Shinsuke Nakamura's win over Dolph Ziggler, discussing how Ziggler could potentially bounce back.
Kevin Owens Interview
The United States Champion joined the panel for absolute cracker of interview that remained captivating from start to finish as he would go on to close the show after repeatedly shutting down questions from Young and Rosenberg. Owens initially refused to speak to Rosenberg because he was new, got confrontational when Young claimed he hadn't won "fair and square", got asked about Jinder Mahal, then repeatedly walked off the set, only to return once again. The moment when Rosenberg brought up that he felt AJ Styles was the best in the world felt like Owens was about to Machine Gun Kelly the shit out of Rosenberg right on that big glass desk. The Face of America brings an energy and passion to each of his performances that make you sit up and take notice and this was no different.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.78/10
Backlash 2017 will be remembered as the show where Jinder Mahal won the WWE title. If nothing else, that was certainly a thing that happened. We also got some very good action out of AJ Styles v Kevin Owens, even if the finish didn't provide anything satisfactory, whilst Sami Zayn v Baron Corbin also more than held it's own on the card. The main event perhaps provided the most complete story bell-to-bell and had a great final stretch, with the reaction to Jinder winning being something we may have to wait a long time to see again. Shinsuke Nakamura v Dolph Ziggler didn't provide the impactful debut that many hoped for, but still had it's merits. Unfortunately, bouts like Erick Rowan v Luke Harper and The Welcoming Committee v Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair & Naomi weren't near PPV quality and dragged a potentially strong event down a few slots.
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