The WWE Smackdown brand presents WWE Backlash this Sunday night from Chicago, Illinois. The last Smackdown brand pay-per-view was Elimination Chamber in early February. There was also WrestleMania in between the shows as well. Backlash is a show full of mostly new matchups because of the Superstar Shake-up that took place a few weeks ago.

Normally, I do a breakdown of the main event in five categories. But this feels like a show without a clear main event, so I’ll just focus more on the top three matches and preview the rest as well.

WWE Championship: Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal

If you would’ve told me earlier this year that I would be writing a preview of a WWE pay-per-view event and Jinder Mahal would be getting a WWE Title shot on it, I would have said no way. I may have asked if you were on drugs too! I don’t think anybody saw this coming, but here we are with Mahal on a winning streak heading into Backlash.

To WWE’s credit, they have booked Mahal well since he won the No. 1 Contender’s match on the April 18th show. He’s gotten wins over Sami Zayn and AJ Styles (neither one was clean), as well as pinning Orton in a tag match a few weeks ago. Mahal also cost Orton his match against Bray Wyatt at Payback three weeks ago. Don’t forget about Mahal stealing the WWE Title as well. The point is, WWE has done everything they can to make Mahal look like a believable threat by giving him cheap wins and not booking him to lose a match for the month.

Here’s my problem with Orton vs. Mahal. I just don’t think Mahal is exciting enough or good enough to make people care about this match. His matches with AJ Styles and Sami Zayn – the two best in-ring performers on Smackdown – were very average. If you can’t have a good or great match with them, then it’s going to be worse with Orton. I’m not an Orton hater by any means, but I doubt he’s going to have a better match with Mahal than Styles or Zayn did. They could do some things like kicking out of finishers to increase drama towards the finish, but I have my doubts about this being a memorable match.

I’m going with a victory by Orton. I think it’s more likely that he will lose the WWE Title to Rusev next month at Money in the Bank (if they do that match) or maybe to Baron Corbin at SummerSlam. I think Mahal is there as a guy who Orton can beat and Orton can move on after that. Just because Mahal is getting a title shot doesn’t mean he’s going to win. If Mahal is slotted in as a midcard heel after this with a mild push that’s fine, but I don’t see him as a main event talent.

On a final note with this match, I don’t think this will be the main event of the show. Some people think the WWE Title match should always go on last, but I’m not one of those people. I’d put one of the next two matches on last.

Prediction: Randy Orton retains the WWE Title

United States Championship: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles

The build for this match has been average, but it’s the match that the “smart fans,” aka hardcore internet fans, are going to love the most. That includes me too.

Owens and Styles were major title holders going into 2017, so it’s a pretty big match that should be outstanding as well. Styles is the best wrestler in WWE who had the best 2016. Owens was my runner up, by the way. Any time Styles has a PPV match he’s usually in the best match on the show. I think that’s going to be the case again here because Owens can keep up with him. Their styles tend to mesh well with Owens as a power guy as well.

When talent is as good as these guys, the creative team should just say “go out there for 20 to 25 minutes” and have faith in them having a classic match because they have both earned the trust of the bosses to deliver something memorable.

I’m going with Owens to win because I’m a huge fan of the “Face of America” thing he’s got going right now. That just started in the last month, so let’s see it play out for a few more months at least. I just don’t think Styles needs to win this title or for Owens to lose it less than a month after he won it back. If Owens does retain, as I expect, it probably won’t be clean. It wouldn’t shock me if another wrestler attacked Styles to cost him the win, although I’m not sure who that would be. If Owens wins cleans, that’s okay but it doesn’t fit his current character.

I think it’s possible this match could go on last. However, I’m picking Owens to retain, so I’d choose the next match as the main event.

Prediction: Kevin Owens retains the US Title

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler

This is probably the easiest match to predict this year: Nakamura will win. They are not going to have him lose his main roster debut match after hyping him up as such a big deal for nearly two months. Ziggler’s there to have great matches and put over newer stars, so that’s what his role will be in this match as well. I don’t think the crowd is going to boo him that much because a lot of people still like Ziggler. He’ll try to get those boos, though.

I’m expecting a really good match between them. I’m a huge Nakamura fan and have always liked Ziggler too. They have worked together at live events and dark matches since Nakamura debuted on the main roster in early April, so they should have great chemistry by now.

When Nakamura wrestled in major NXT matches against the likes of Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode, most of the time they went over 25 minutes. I don’t think this match will be that long. Nakamura’s great at selling and Ziggler’s going to be in control for much of it, but I think they go closer to 15 minutes rather than over 20 minutes. I could be wrong on that and that’s okay.

I think this should be the main event. The big selling point for a lot of people is Nakamura making his main roster debut. If they end the show with his music playing and the crowd going wild for him, then that’s going to send the crowd home happy. It’s a better move than to end with a Jinder Mahal match.

Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura wins

Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos vs. Breezango

I’m happy for Breezango finally getting a Tag Team Title push. They are good performers capable of good matches with anybody. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity, which they finally have. Turning them face was smart because the “Fashion Files” videos they’ve done have really showed off their personalities.

The Usos have done a great job as heels. Their promos are a lot of fun as they talk about how it’s not paranoia people should be worried about, they should worry about The Usos. When they were faces, they barely got to talk. As heels, they get more time to talk and it works for them.

My pick here is The Usos retaining because The New Day should be on Smackdown soon to feud with them. There’s also American Alpha still waiting in the wings. If Breezango wins, then what? Not enough heel teams to feud with. This will be about Breezango coming close to winning while making the crowd believe in them, but I’m going with the champs to retain.

Prediction: The Usos retain the tag titles

Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair & Naomi vs. Natalya, Carmella & Tamina

The booking has been good here. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to turn Charlotte face, but they have told the story well. It’s easy to see why the heel trio of Natalya, Carmella & Tamina (the poorly named “Welcoming Committee”) would hate Charlotte because of her success. I also like that Charlotte hasn’t become best friends with Becky and Naomi quickly. Charlotte is still cocky, which is how her character should be.

The normal thinking for a match like this is to pick the heel side to win because Naomi is the Smackdown Women’s Champion who should get pinned to build up a contender, but I’m going with the faces. The reason for that is because Carmella has pinned Naomi twice in the last month, so they can already say she’s going to be the next contender. (I would prefer Natalya.)

This match will be designed to push Charlotte Flair as the biggest star among WWE’s women. The other two women on her team will get beat up for most of the match, Charlotte will get the hot tag and get the win for the team while the announcers gush about how great she is.

Prediction: Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair & Naomi win

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin

I would love it if Zayn got the win, but that’s unlikely. If they were to go with that finish, then it would probably be an inside cradle type win by Zayn. I just don’t think WWE wants to push Zayn over Corbin, who is likely going to be main eventing PPVs within a few months. In terms of talent, Zayn is the much better performer. However, Corbin is taller and fits the look of who WWE wants to push more, so that’s why Zayn is there to put over Corbin.

Zayn is exactly the type of guy that WWE should be pushing. Instead, he feels like a younger version of Ziggler that is there to lose matches even though he gets a louder ovation than 80 percent of the roster. Listen to the fans, please. They want to see more of Zayn.

Prediction: Baron Corbin wins

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

This was added on Talking Smack last week since both guys weren’t on Smackdown. They had a match two weeks ago with Rowan beating Harper in about five minutes, thanks to an eye poke and a spinning slam. I like Harper more than Rowan and think he’s the better performer. I want to see Harper used better, but they really haven’t done much with him as a character. I’ll go with Harper getting the win back.

Prediction: Luke Harper wins

Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English (Kickoff Show)

Dillinger is 2-0 against English on the main roster, so the (weak) story is about whether or not English can get a win against Dillinger. The crowd should come alive for this match since Dillinger’s “Perfect Ten” gimmick elicits a big reaction with the “yes” chants. I like both guys a lot and think they both need ones. I think Dillinger is going to win because he’s more over with the fans and putting the face over is a good way to start the show on a positive note.

Prediction: Tye Dillinger wins

In Closing

It feels like a predictable show with a lot of fresh matchups that I’m interested in. If they placed some people in different spots, it would be more compelling. I don’t know anybody watching this show who’s going to be that excited about Jinder Mahal getting a WWE Title match, but if he wins then that’s going to get a lot of attention. Even though some of it may be negative.

I’m most interested in Nakamura/Ziggler and Styles/Owens. Give those matches around 20 minutes and we’ll be talking about them on Monday as two of the better matches this year. I also think the Tag Title match and the women’s tag matches both have a chance to be really good if they get time.

You can watch WWE Backlash on WWE Network this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET with an expected run time of three hours. There’s a Kickoff Show starting at 7 p.m. ET as well. I’ll be back on Monday with a Backlash review.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.