This Sunday night on WWE Network, WWE’s SmackDown Live brand presents Backlash. It’s the first brand exclusive pay-per-view since the “new era” brand split started in July and features an anticipated main event as Dean Ambrose defends the WWE World Title against AJ Styles.
When I say it’s an anticipated main event, I mean in the sense that the match is fresh and new for a pay-per-view. But in terms of the build, WWE could have done a better job of getting people excited about it.
Styles was awarded the WWE Title shot due to his victory over John Cena at SummerSlam, which was a spectacular match. Before that Styles/Cena SummerSlam match, they should have announced it as a number one contender’s match. Yet they didn’t do so, even though that’s what it essentially was. Long-term booking is a good thing, WWE. Use it to your advantage.
During the last two weeks, each man had the upper hand as SmackDown went off the air, but it wasn’t that interesting.
Two weeks ago, after Ambrose was in a match, Styles went for an attack off the top rope. Ambrose ended up tripping him up and Styles spent over a minute being crotched on the top rope. It was a goofy way to promote a match for what is the perceived to be the most important championship in WWE.
This past week on SmackDown, they had a “face-to-face” showdown. Both guys talked trash, with Styles bragging about his clean win over Cena while Ambrose talked about how he takes guys to his level and is able to overcome everything thrown in his way. At the end of their back-and-forth discussion, Styles kicked Ambrose in the groin because he’s the heel in the match (even though a lot of people cheer Styles). Ambrose crumpled in a heap as the show went off the air. It’s what WWE does when they can’t think of something actually creative.
It would have been better if the heel Styles set Ambrose off in a way that led to Ambrose throwing the first punch, then they could have brawled around ringside and had other wrestlers go down to the ring to break it. If they went off the air doing that, then fans would have a lot more anticipation for this match instead of wondering if Ambrose could get revenge on a guy that hit a low blow on him.
If you want to check out an Ambrose vs. Styles match from the past, I inserted the clip from the June 27 Raw when Ambrose beat Styles clean. Ambrose referenced beating Styles during his promo on SmackDown this week, but they didn’t say when the match was.
As for their match at Backlash, I could see either guy winning, but I hope Styles wins.
The main reason I want Styles to win is because I think he’s the best performer in WWE. Styles is my wrestler of the year after the first eight months of 2016. Ambrose is really good too and probably in the top five for 2016, but Styles is on another level at this point. When you reach the level of greatness that Styles is at right now, it should be rewarded with a major championship.
As I mentioned earlier, Backlash is also the first pay-per-view of WWE’s “new era” and I think that’s significant. If you really want fans to care about the brand exclusive PPVs like Raw’s Clash of Champions on Sept. 25, you need to do something big at Backlash. That’s why a WWE Title change makes sense. Casual WWE viewers that are already subscribed to WWE Network may not be that excited for this show, but if there’s something special like a title change, then suddenly it raises the importance of the event.
Ambrose won the WWE Championship via Money in the Bank cash-in back in June. Since then, he’s defeated his former Shield buddies Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns as well as Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam. As much as I like him, he’s lost some steam in the past few months. I think he was more entertaining as a performer when he was chasing the title. That’s what happens sometimes with babyface performers. The chase is a lot of fun, then they get the title and the character just doesn’t have the same appeal that was there before.
I’m going with the Styles win because this is his third time this year going after the title. Remember those two awesome matches he had with Roman Reigns? Now it’s time to put Styles over in the biggest way possible because, as I said earlier, the man deserves it. With Styles on top, you know that the matches are always going to be great. If Styles does win, they can have him feud with Ambrose in a rematch, Randy Orton is there and John Cena should be back in the picture after he’s done filming the Fox TV show American Grit later this year.
It should be a good match and if they get 20-25 minutes like I expect, it could be one of the better matches of the year. I have a lot of faith in Styles and I think WWE does too. That’s why he’s going to leave Backlash as the WWE Champion.
The Pick: AJ Styles Wins The WWE World Championship
Here’s the rest of the Backlash card, which has only six total matches as of this writing.
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
This is the second biggest match on the show. It feels like a matchup where both guys need to win, yet it’s hard to pick the winner. Orton is coming off an ass-kicking at SummerSlam where he was left in a bloody mess by Brock Lesnar. He hasn’t had a televised match since then. Bray Wyatt capitalized on the situation by talking trash to Orton to set up this match. Interestingly, they haven’t had any physical interaction leading up to the match. I like when WWE does that because it makes the match feel more important.
Orton winning makes sense if they want to get him ready for a future title shot against Styles. I just think this is the first match in a series between these guys, so with that in mind I lean more towards Wyatt. He could use the win too, just because he’s not booked that well to begin with.
The Pick: Bray Wyatt
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament Semifinals (Part Two): The Usos vs. Hype Bros (Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley)
The best part of SmackDown this week was when The Usos turned heel by attacking American Alpha after their tag team title tournament match. American Alpha won a quick match in about one minute and then Jimmy & Jey destroyed Chad Gable’s left knee. They nailed him with a hard kick to the back of the leg as well as a splash to the leg. The attack led to a worked injury for Gable as they said he’s out for 2-4 weeks with a knee injury. Due to that, both The Usos and Hype Bros are back in the tournament since they were both in the semifinals.
I think The Usos will win the match because they just turned heel and caused an injury to Gable, so it makes a lot of sense to put them over the Hype Bros. There’s really not much reason to put the Hype Bros over.
The Pick: The Usos
SmackDown Tag Team Title Championship Finals: The Usos vs. Heath Slater & Rhyno
The Slater storyline has been a lot of fun because the crowd has gotten behind him as a “free agent” that has a wife and seven kids. It’s all a work, but it’s working well. The story is that Slater has to win the tag team titles in order to earn a full time SmackDown contract. I think it’s going to happen because there has to be a payoff as well as an end to the story. They can do something where it looks like The Usos are going to win, but then Jason Jordan shows up, costs The Usos the win as revenge for what The Usos did to Gable and that would give Slater & Rhyno the win. I think The Usos can win the titles soon after leading to a much anticipated feud with American Alpha, but for right now I think Slater & Rhyno are the better choice.
The Pick: Heath Slater & Rhyno are the new Smackdown Tag Team Champions
SmackDown Women’s Championship Six-Pack Challenge Elimination Match: Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Becky Lynch vs. Nikki Bella vs. Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss
It was announced on SmackDown this week that it’s going to be an elimination match meaning there will be five eliminations in the match. I like that addition because it will likely mean they will get 10-15 minutes of in-ring time at least, which is good for the women’s division that often times features rushed matches.
There are a lot of ways they can go with the winner. They can pick Nikki Bella since she’s an established wrestler that had a long Divas Title reign last year. Natalya’s another veteran that has only had one title reign, but that was six years ago, so she deserves another. Becky Lynch is arguably the top woman on SmackDown and has yet to win a title in WWE, which makes her a possibility as well. Naomi is back in the babyface role as somebody that has a lot of potential. Carmella and Alexa are new heels that are probably not ready for a title yet. I think it’s going to be Nikki winning the title because she’s perceived to be the biggest star in the match even though I’d pick Natalya. It’s not up to me, though. It’s what I think WWE is going to do.
The Pick: Nikki Bella is the new Smackdown Women’s Champion
Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
I like both guys, but it’s a match they have done a lot since they started in WWE over a decade ago. They have a lot of history together and they’re also both from the Cleveland area. The story going in is that Miz talks a big game, but he has been called a coward by SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan as well as Ziggler. Can he prove he’s tough or is he really a coward? I’m not sure anybody thinks of him as tough although Miz deserves a lot of credit for being an excellent promo man.
Miz will probably win because he’s done very well as the IC Champion for about six months now. Ziggler’s on a bit of a losing streak, which makes me think that WWE might turn him heel like they should because his face run is losing a lot of steam at this point.
The Pick: The Miz retains the Intercontinental Championship
Backlash has a pretty good card, but it definitely doesn’t have the feel of a show that is going to be the best pay-per-view of the year. There just isn’t enough depth or star power after the top two matches. They could have done a better job of setting up some midcard matches as well. Where are guys like Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews, who are supposed to be the future of WWE? They are missing from the show, as well as many others.
If you’re wondering about John Cena, he’s been kept off SmackDown since SummerSlam because they have no feud for him. He also was part of some Raw live events this week in England and Asia, so he may not have been back in time for the show anyway. He’s expected be off for most of the rest of 2016 because of filming season two of the American Grit show on Fox. Of course, WWE hasn’t even addressed any of this on their broadcasts. It would be nice if they made up something to explain his absence from television because he is important.
Backlash takes place this Sunday in Richmond, Virginia on WWE Network. The Kickoff Show starts at 7 p.m. ET and the main pay-per-view starts at 8 p.m. ET with an expected run time of three hours or maybe a bit longer. You never know what WWE might do this year. I’ll be back on Monday with a reaction to Backlash.