WWE – Backlash 2018 (Cert 12)

1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 197 minutes approx.

Release Date: July 23rd

Coming hot on the heels of a very long Wrestlemania 34 at which Roman Reigns once again failed to dethrone Brock Lesnar as Universal champion, which he then failed to do AGAIN at the men-only disaster that was the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, Backlash takes us right back to that awkward position of not having the top title on RAW being defended as Lesnar buggered off with the belt and began negotiating a return to UFC.

And with the Superstar Shakeup occurring the week after WM 34, the rosters were given  a bit of a jumble to freshen things up a bit, but in true WWE fashion they did this AFTER they signed matches for this PPV, so we get “inter-brand” title bouts where the outcome of the match is never in doubt as a result of this. Doh!

This is also the first dual branded PPV outside of the Big Four since 2016 which is being heralded as a huge selling point for this show which not only makes little sense because it is hardly revolutionary as ALL shows were once like this, but also there is the small detail of the two previous events (WM 34 and GRR) also being dual branded affairs, so big whoop right?

Oh and all shows going forward are now in the four hour range so have a pillow handy.

Backlash event took place on May 6th at the Prudential Centre in Newark, New Jersey before 12,000 fans with commentary from Tom Phillips, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton for the SD Live matches and Graves with Michael Cole and the insufferable Jonathan Coachman for the RAW matches.

As ever, while my match reviews won’t contain any results or major spoilers, expect plenty of opinion and backstory to the matches.

 

WWE IC Title Match – Seth Rollins (c) vs. The Miz

This is one of the “inter-brand” matches in question, with Rollins having become a Grand Slam champion at Miz’s expense at WM 34 only for Miz to be drafted across to SD while Rollins stayed on RAW. And with one champ having already jumped across to another show, chances of this happening again were very slim, so the intrigue about how this was play out was rather lost.

However, both guys worked hard and had a great match, with a number of near falls to keep the illusion alive long enough for us to forget the folly of the booking and be temporarily convinced an upset may actually happen. The crowd was red hot too which helped and Rollins has usurped Reigns in popularity of late (not a difficult achievement but bear with me) which also works in his favour. Top notch opener and one the rest of the show couldn’t follow.

WWE RAW Women’s Title Match –  Nia Jax (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

For reasons known only to Vince McSenile and his cronies, the match these two had at WM 34 wasn’t a 30-second squash leading to a competitive rematch – instead they went ten minutes making this second outing even less appealing than before. The build up consisted of Alexa accusing Nia of being a bully in reverse of the story setting up the first match, but Bliss was so entertaining in this role the fans enjoyed her Anti-bullying videos and nearly turned her face!

Match was okay but the size dynamic of the smaller Alexa dominating the larger Nia is too overt to be believable which harms the drama and credibility. The pace was slower and you can tell bliss doesn’t like taking bumps. What really killed the crowd was the post match promo from Nia, a poorly scripted collection of corporate anti-bullying buzzwords that saw the fans turning on the supposedly sympathetic Nia.

WWE US Title Match – Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Randy Orton

So, Jinder Mahal won the US title at WM 34, then got drafted to RAW in the shake-up; he lost the US title to Jeff Hardy on his first night then lost a rematch at the GRR after Hardy was moved to SD, where he took over a match originally between Orton and Shelton Benjamin to set up a rivalry with Orton.

Anyway, stuff happened, Orton did his thing, Hardy did his, the crowd was dead, Orton disappeared to deal with injuries afterwards and no-one misses him.  The only benefit of this match was getting a break from having to listen to the inane drivel coming out of Coachman’s mouth.

 

Since 4 hours is a long time, Elias was sent out to entertain the crowd with his usual three chords, two blues licks and carefully scripted withering put downs that earn him cheers and not boos. To drag this out beyond its usefulness The New Day come out, followed by Rusev and Aiden English, No Way Jose and his conga line featuring jobbers like Titus Worldwide and Breezango, and Bobby Roode. And this my friends, is why God invented the skip button.

 

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass

Apparently being 7 ft tall (6’8 in reality) is not the only thing you can’t teach Big Cass – there is also humility, moderating your alcohol intake, treating your co-workers with respect and obeying orders. With former partner Enzo Amore now irritating people in the rap business, Cass returned from injury by joining SD where he started a big man-little man feud with Daniel Bryan.

During a skit on TV Cass beat up a midget dressed as Bryan to get heat for the match – except he was told explicitly to only hit the midget with the big boot. Maybe that had some influence on the outcome of this match, which was better than it had any right to be because of Bryan and his popularity. Cass did his two moves badly and even botched the finish which suggests he can’t be taught anything!

WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Match – Carmella (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

One of the victims of Cass’ objectionable backstage behaviour was his ex Carmella, who finally relieved herself of her MITB briefcase on the SD after WM 34 by cashing in on Charlotte, with a little assistance from the debuting Aussie duo of the IIconics (Billy Kay and Peyton Royce). So Asuka’s streak ended at Charlotte’s hands for this?

Admittedly, Carmella has improved since her NXT days but not enough that she can hang with the likes of Charlotte or indeed be the blue brand’s champion. It’s not just that she is a sloppy wrestler but she doesn’t sell, instead concentrating too much on getting into position for the next spot, a symptom of planning matches sport-by-spot rather than improvising them.

The result is Charlotte having to rein in her usual high impact athleticism and storytelling to accommodate Carmella’s chin locks, rest holds and lack of ring awareness in a slog of a match that set women’s wrestling back 10 years. The Bayley vs. Ruby Riott match in the extras from the pre-show is superior so watch that instead.

WWE Championship No DQ Match – AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This has been an underwhelming feud for what should have been a can’t miss prospect. The “dream match” at WM 34 failed to match the hype, ending with the shock heel turn by Nakamura, and starting his new “low blow meister” gimmick. A rematch at the GRR ended in a double count out so SD GM Paige declared this second rematch No DQ so we’d have “a definitive winner”.

You can guess how that worked out. Again, they had a good match but not a great one. Something is missing that is stopping them from tearing the house like they should be able to. The booking doesn’t help but maybe it is the “WWE Style” of wrestling that is holding them back. Vince has a distinct main event style that he likes which maybe it is too restrictive for them when we know if they went full New Japan this would have been a real show stealer.

Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

The crowd was very tired by this point and couldn’t even muster their usual big pop for Strowman and his monster shtick. Lashley returned to WWE after 10 years away where he “forged a career in MMA” and absolutely did NOT appear in TNA/Impact Wrestling where he did NOT have a stellar run as their champion under the dominant and intimidating “Walking Armageddon” gimmick.

Now a smiling babyface Lashley found himself interjected in a feud Strowman with sort of having with Zayn and Owens, having already beaten them on RAW so this rematch is completely redundant. Nothing to see here.

Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns

Yes, despite nothing being at stake here and the fact Joe was drafted to SD so he and Roman won’t face off again, Reigns being in the headline match didn’t sit well with many fans, some of whom left the building after Styles vs. Nakamura. The ones that stayed did so long enough to boo Reigns out of the arena (covered by the audio suddenly dropping to try and disguise this) then they left!

As they made their way to the exits, the remaining fans did their bit to crap all over this match with the usual unrelated sing-along chants of “CM Punk”, “Boring”, “This Match Sucks”, “Rusev Day”, etc. Had the show been an hour shorter this wouldn’t have been the case and it certainly wouldn’t have been so bad had this not been the main event either. Like the last few Reigns main events, a disaster of epic proportions.

 

Bottom Line:

Where to begin? Having Roman Reigns in the main event was really the least of this show’s problems yet it also crystallises everything that is wrong with this futile Vince vs. The Fans. There is no point going over the same old ground on this issue but the lack lustre crowd, the deliberate hijacking of the match and the exodus during it would send a clear message to anyone not so obtusely arrogant and self-absorbed.

As ever the booking remains a problem with some questionable finishes (one that pretty much gifted Reigns the main event) and the continual misuse of talent. The SD women’s title picture is a sham at the moment as the match here demonstrated whilst the RAW women’s match was a victim of tone deaf and misjudged fan assimilation of their corporate endeavours.

One interesting revelation that appeared on the internet the day after this show was a backstage production note listing the “producers” for each match. It told an interesting tale – the hottest match was “produced” by TJ Wilson (Tyson Kidd); the worst matches were put together by the like of John Laryngitis, Mike “IRS” Rotunda, Arn Anderson,  and Michael Hayes (Reigns vs. Joe).  In other words, the younger guys with their fingers on the pulse are being kept at bay by Vince’s safe inner circle of old hats and yes men.

Whither WWE? Well, as long as Vince is in charge the status quo as we know it will be the state of play for the foreseeable future, which WILL include Reigns finally dethroning Lesnar for the Universal Title to the delight and benefit of no-one not named McMahon. You have been warned!

 

Best Match – Seth Rollins vs. The Miz

 

Extras:

German Language

Backlash Kick-Off Match – Bayley vs. Ruby Riott

 

Rating – ** ½

Man In Black

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