The first brand exclusive pay-per-view of WWE’s “new era” took place as SmackDown presented Backlash in Richmond, Virginia. It was a night that ended with AJ Styles defeating Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Title in an outstanding main event match.
Before I get to the matches, there was a change in the lineup based on information that came out on Sunday afternoon. While I was watching NFL games all day, there were stories circulating about Randy Orton missing Backlash because he is not cleared from injury, which was believed to be a concussion. This is going back to the Brock Lesnar match at SummerSlam when Lesnar struck Orton in the head with several hard elbow smashes as a way to cut him open. According to the Wrestling Observer, Orton wasn’t officially cleared to be in a match at Backlash, even though WWE advertised him in a match against Bray Wyatt.
I think it’s a lesson for WWE that they need to learn from. You can’t have a guy like Lesnar throw hard elbows to somebody’s head the way he did. It’s almost a month later and Orton still can’t compete in a match even though he’s likely close to being ready. What Lesnar did was part of the match and Orton agreed to it, but shouldn’t the safety of performers be more important? It was sloppy work on WWE’s part in terms of how they booked that SummerSlam match with Lesnar and Orton. It’s not like they followed it up very well either.
Backlash was one of the shorter main roster WWE pay-per-views with a run time of two hours and 38 minutes, as well as six matches on the main show. It was actually a breath of fresh air compared to SummerSlam, which had 12 matches over six hours counting the pre-show. I liked Backlash more than SummerSlam, even though it had a lot less star power.
Here’s a rundown of everything that happened in the order that it took place.
Baron Corbin defeated Apollo Crews (Kickoff Match)
They are two rising stars on the SmackDown brand, even though neither of them has had much of a storyline since joining the show. Why are they not developing “new” talent better? I can’t answer that. I just wish there was more of an effort on WWE’s part. Corbin won clean after about 10 minutes. The match was fine, but with no story, it’s hard for the crowd to be that invested in the action.
The SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan wasted about five minutes telling us things we already knew about matches that were coming up. It really served no purpose except to fill time.
Becky Lynch defeated Carmella, Nikki Bella, Natalya, Naomi & Alexa Bliss to become the SmackDown Women’s Champion
It was a six pack elimination challenge match to determine the first Women’s Champion on the blue brand. Seeing them get 15 minutes was a great sign because you don’t see that all the time for women’s wrestlers in WWE. As much as they try to tell us there’s a women’s revolution, they don’t always give the performers enough time to have quality matches.
The match was built well because it took them about 10 minutes to do the first elimination. All six women got a chance to get in some significant offense. There were some big spots like Naomi’s dive to the outside onto the five other women, which drew a huge reaction from the crowd. Bliss got eliminated first, then Naomi, then Natalya, Carmella got a surprising rollup on Nikki to eliminate her and then Lynch submitted Carmella with her Disarmer armbar submission.
In my predictions, I picked Nikki because she was the most established name in the group, so would give credibility to the title right away. However, I’m happy with Lynch winning because she hasn’t won any titles in WWE, so it was a big moment for her. The crowd was excited about it.
They did a backstage spot with Bray Wyatt attacking Randy Orton by trapping Randy’s leg behind a door, so the storyline was that Orton had a leg injury.
The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) defeated Hype Bros (Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley)
The Usos had their first televised match as heels. They changed their look by wearing black and white outfits instead of the more colorful gear they had as faces. I thought the change looked good. It made sense because when you change your attitude and you’re not happy-go-lucky faces like they were in the past, then you should change the appearance as well. It was an easy win for The Usos as well. The match was pretty basic. They won with some crafty double team moves and Jimmy made Ryder tap out with a single-leg crab submission.
The win meant that The Usos moved on to face Heath Slater and Rhyno in the Tag Team Title Tournament finals.
— WWE (@WWE) September 12, 2016
Prior to the Intercontinental Title match, The Miz was backstage with his wife Maryse. Miz got in the face of Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan, saying that he wanted a raise and mocked Bryan for not being to have a match anymore. I’m not sure if Bryan will ever be cleared to wrestle again because it’s not like a serious concussion issue can just go away. You never know, though. Why do this angle without any payoff? I’m not sure where it’s going.
The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental Championship
The good thing about a show having just six matches is that a match like this can get more time. They went nearly 20 minutes in a back-and-forth match where it looked like Ziggler might find a way to win the IC Title again. But instead, The Miz won thanks to his wife Maryse. (Speaking about Maryse, her outfit was a highlight of the show as well.) Ziggler came close to winning multiple times. The best moment was when he hit a superkick and Ziggler got his foot on the bottom rope. Shortly after that, they each went for pinfalls, Ziggler was against the ropes, the ref was looking at Miz and Maryse sprayed something in Ziggler’s eye with the idea being that it was perfume or something like that. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale to retain his title. He’s held the IC Title for over five months.
Another noteworthy part of this match is that Ziggler and Miz actually did a parody of CM Punk’s UFC loss to start the match. It was covered by our Matt Yoder here. I noticed it right away. Is it cheap for WWE to do it? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s that big of a shot at Punk. He would probably laugh if he heard about it. Then again, he never seemed fond of The Miz main-eventing a WrestleMania, while Punk never did.
I’m not sure where either guy goes after this. The Miz seems like he’s feuding with Daniel Bryan, who as mentioned before, is retired since February due to concussions. I’m not sure who his next rival may be. Dolph Ziggler has been on a losing streak in big matches even though he wins once in a while. I think Ziggler’s in need a heel turn more than anybody on Raw or SmackDown in terms of needing to turn.
Bray Wyatt asked the referee to count to 10 because Randy Orton wasn’t able to compete. The ref counted to 10, Wyatt was declared the winner by forfeit and was ready to leave. However, he was then put in a No Holds Barred match with Kane.
— WWE (@WWE) September 12, 2016
Kane defeated Bray Wyatt in a No Holds Barred Match
It feels weird saying that Kane won a match on pay-per-view over Bray Wyatt, considering that Wyatt is 20 years younger and should benefit from beating a veteran like Kane. Instead, Kane won the match. The reason is because Randy Orton showed up with a RKO on Wyatt, which was legal because it was a No Holds Barred match.
The most memorable moment of the match was when Wyatt hit a senton splash that drove Kane through the Spanish announce table. Other than that and the finish, it was mostly a forgettable match.
Orton will likely be ready to compete in the near-future, so I think we can pencil in Wyatt vs. Orton at No Mercy next month. I think Wyatt will probably beat Kane in a SmackDown match at some point soon as a way to get his win back.
— WWE (@WWE) September 12, 2016
Heath Slater & Rhyno defeated The Usos to become the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions
The story going into the match was that Slater and Rhyno had to win the Tag Team Title tournament in order for Slater, a free agent, to earn a SmackDown contract. In reality, he already has a contract and has been on the shows more than most people that were actually drafted to SmackDown. To WWE’s credit, the story has worked really well because the crowd was firmly behind Slater & Rhyno in the match.
They went about 10 minutes with the heel Usos working over Slater for most of the match. Rhyno was tagged in, he cleaned house and each side came close to winning after. In the end, Rhyno hid a Gore on Jimmy Uso, Slater put his arm on top to make the cover and the crowd went wild as Slater & Rhyno were presented with the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The ovation that they received was genuine. It’s proof that you can develop any character into a star, even guys that are booked like losers for many years the way Slater was.
This feels like a short-term storyline where they had to pay off the “Slater gets a contract” angle. Now that they’ve won the titles, I think The Usos will win the gold pretty soon. That way, WWE can build up The Usos vs. American Alpha rivalry since The Usos are the ones who injured Chad Gable to prevent American Alpha from winning the titles in the tournament.
AJ Styles defeated Dean Ambrose to win the WWE World Title
I was so happy watching this match because AJ Styles is the WWE Champion as he should be. I picked Styles in the preview I did last week and here’s an excerpt from that:
“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.”
Thank you, WWE, for rewarding Styles because when he won that title and held it up in the air, you could see how happy he was. He probably wanted to cry, but that’s not something a heel character like him should be doing. It’s just pretty amazing when you think about his journey in other promotions like Ring of Honor, TNA Wrestling and New Japan. He just signed with WWE this past January, yet here he is in September as the WWE Title. Calling him a “rookie” is wrong because he’s 39 years old with a lot of experience, but he’s been so impressive in his first year in WWE.
The match was great. They went 25 minutes long with both guys getting in a lot of great offense. They took the fight to the floor a few times. Ambrose used some moves he usually doesn’t do as a way to show that he was going to go all out to retain his title. Styles kept coming back at him, but frustrated that a lot of his great moves (he has the best offense in WWE) failed to keep Ambrose down for the pinfall. It played into the finish very well.
Ambrose was going for the Dirty Deeds, Styles shoved Ambrose into referee Mike Chioda, which knocked him down briefly. Styles noticed it right away, so he did the best heel move there is by kicking Ambrose in the groin without the ref seeing it. Then Styles hit the Styles Clash to win the match. Most of the crowd was cheering, even though Styles just cheated to win. I don’t mind the cheating because that’s what a heel character like him should do. It was a great match by both guys.
What’s next for Styles? I think WWE will likely do Styles vs. Ambrose at No Mercy on Oct. 9 because champions always get rematches. Plus, they’re already talking about the “controversial finish” win with the low blow Styles used before hitting the Styles Clash. After that, Styles could face off with a guy like Randy Orton. It wouldn’t shock me if Styles ends up turning face later this year or early next year because he’s so good that it’s hard for the crowd to boo the man.
AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are holding the two most important titles in WWE. Who would have thought that would happen? I love it. Thank you, WWE. You are doing some things right, that’s for sure.
It was a six-match show with an outstanding main event, a new WWE Champion in AJ Styles and other new champions like Becky Lynch, Heath Slater and Rhyno who are easy to root for. While I wouldn’t call it the best show of the year, it was above-average. I’d prefer a “short” show like this one that goes less than two hours over what we saw at SummerSlam, which was hurt by being too long. At some point, WWE has to find a happy medium in terms of the lengths of these shows.
I recommend Backlash if you want to see some very good in-ring performances all night long. In terms of storylines and angle development, there was nothing shocking. The show was mostly about the matches.
The next WWE PPVs are Clash of Champions on Sept. 25 presented by the Raw brand, while SmackDown returns to PPV with No Mercy on Oct. 9. The next dual branded PPV is Survivor Series in Toronto, which I plan on attending. I’ll be back on Tuesday with a look at Raw and on Thursday with a recap of the Cruiserweight Classic finale.