WWE – Backlash 2020 (Cert 12)

1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 181 minutes approx.

As we arrive at the third WWE PPV of the Lockdown era, there has been a major change in how the show is presented, vis-à-vis the presence of an actual crowd! No, the fans haven’t been allowed back into the building yet but since this everything has been held at the WWE Performance Centre, they simply took members of the NXT roster and other trainees and sued them as an audience instead.

Not that this was an original idea – from the first week of Lockdown, AEW did the same thing with wrestlers not working the shows and other staff to create an atmosphere at ringside. Of course, Vince McMahon won’t admit to paying attention to what AEW are doing which is probably why he waited two months before pinching their idea! More worrying though is that despite someone at the centre testing positive for COVID-19 (interviewer Kyla Braxton), nobody was wearing a mask (allegedly because it “looked bad” on TV), though that has since changed.

The other notable thing about this year’s Backlash is the billing for the main event as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever”. If Vince using the word “wrestling” wasn’t enough of a shock, making such a bold proclamation BEFORE the match has even happened is hubristic promotional hyperbole at its worst, even for WWE – not to mention the impossible weight of expectation on the two competitors.

So, did it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.

Backlash took place on June 14th 2020 at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida with an attendance of approximately 25 members of the NXT and WWE trainees while the main event was taped on June 7th also at the same venue. Commentary is provided by Michael Cole and Corey Graves for SD and Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Samoa Joe for RAW.

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

 

WWE Women’s Tag Title Triple Threat Match – Sasha Banks & Bayley (c) vs. The Iiconics vs. Nikki Cross & Alexa Bliss

Bayley is still SD Women’s champ, and with her and Sasha one of the few acts making the shows watchable these days, they won the tag titles from Bliss and Cross then got into a scrape with The Iiconics on RAW, who returned from the wilderness (or Australia for Kaye and honeymoon with AEW’s Shawn Spears for Royce).

Fast paced opener, the Boss and Bayley Dos Straps mixed it up with both teams rather than trying to side with fellow heels The Iiconics, true to their arrogant beliefs of being the best duo in WWE, and aside from the Kabuki Warriors, that is hard to dispute. Lots of action, fewer botches than expected, good work all round, with Nikki Cross doing a great job of putting herself out there as being more than Bliss’ excitable sidekick. Nice start to the show.

Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus

You know how Vince seems to be ignorant of the word “subtle”? The build up to this match exemplifies that. For weeks Sheamus would get angry about the video packages hyping Hardy’s return, in which he discussed his addiction issues, and called Jeff out for being a junkie and not worthy of adulation. Hardy won their match as part of the IC title tournament but Sheamus wasn’t done. 

To get revenge, Sheamus ran over Elias in Jeff’s rental car, leaving a bottle of booze on the driver’s seat thus framing Jeff for the hit and run. Jeff returned from being arrested to distract Sheamus into losing against Daniel Bryan on SD to set up this rematch. The work wasn’t bad for what it was but the match was a bit too long for someone like Sheamus who isn’t a long match guy, but the OTT backstory took away interest in the match.

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

When Asuka won the Women’s MITB match, she didn’t just win a title shot, she actually won the RAW Women’s title! Becky Lynch had to forfeit the belt having discovered she was pregnant (meaning she worked Wrestlemania against Shayna Baszler with child!), so Asuka is the new champ, turning face in the process.

Everyone expected Baszler to be the first challenger but Vince took her off TV because he doesn’t get her MMA style of working (yet paid Ronda Rousey millions to do the exact same thing!). After winning a triple threat against Charlotte and Natalya to challenge Asuka, Nia Jax then almost killed Kairi Sane in a match to fuel Asuka’s revenge.

I’ve waffled on a bit because the match was short and as hard as Asuka worked, Nia just didn’t seem motivated. The lame finish didn’t help either woman either, which turned out to be a ruse to get viewers to tune into RAW the next night.

WWE Universal Title Handicap Match – Braun Strowman (c) vs. The Miz & John Morrison

I bet John Morrison wish he stayed with Impact Wrestling with his wife Taya Valkyrie, going from world champion to comedy feuds as Miz’s tag partner. This came about after a loss to Strowman in a 6 man tag, when Morrison volunteered Miz to face Braun one on one which he lost. The handicap match challenge was then accepted and the next couple of week were built around the challenger playing pranks on Strowman on SD.

Prior to the match, the challengers were informed that if they won, they would not be co-champions – the one who scores the pin will be sole champ. You can guess how that affected the dynamic of the match. Bearing in mind just a month before, M&M were the SD tag champs and now they are getting destroyed by one man. How much lower can they fall?  Well, if the cheesy boy band music video they debuted before the match is any indication, not far enough…

WWE Title Match – Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Bobby Lashley

Lashley is now under the guidance of MVP, who has become a focal point of RAW since the Lockdown era. He has been goading Lashley into upping his game, convincing him to ditch Lana as his manager, and challenge McIntyre for the title. Remarkably, this seems to have worked, and in changing his finisher to a Full Nelson, Lashley is something of a threat again.

Match was pretty hard hitting as you’d expect from two big hosses colliding, and aside from one sloppy spot quite well executed. However, it’s too early to take the belt of Drew, especially as he hasn’t been able to prove himself as a draw with no audience, so we get some more McBooking for the finish to keep both guys strong, but sacrificing the integrity of the match in the process, as per normal. Decent bout otherwise.

 

Now it’s bleach your eyes time. In my Wrestlemania 36 review I pondered if Vince would use the cinematic match format sparingly following positive reactions to the Boneyard Match, or milk it to death. For the third PPV in a row, we have our answer.

Hours before the show a Raw Tag Title Match between Street Profits vs. Viking Raiders was announced. The build for this saw both teams competing in silly games like bowling, axe throwing, and other stuff I skipped on RAW, basically painfully inept “comedy” skits that only Vince and hyena on acid find funny. Yup, Vince turned the burly Vikings into a comedy act. As the kids say I can’t even…

Come this PPV, the tag title match is supposed to happen but instead both teams are embroiled in a silly brawl outside the building until confronted by Akira Tozawa, who up until recently was a top contender in the Cruiserweight title tournament in NXT. His reward it seems is to turn him into a comedy ninja master (cos he’s Japanese and Vince just HAS to stereotype), with a group of black mask clad ninjas following him, none of whom are actually Japanese (hence the masks).    

To top it off, there is a giant ninja (7ft 3in Nigerian trainee Jordan Omogbehin) wielding a wooden sword, forcing the two teams to join forces in battle before fleeing across the car park and more stupidity ensues. Anyway, this was more silly nonsense and you can imagine Vince splitting his sides to this but for anyone waiting for an actual wrestling match to happen, you weren’t going to get it here. Remember, the skip button is your friend.

 

Greatest Wrestling Match Ever – Edge vs. Randy Orton

When they were told about the marketing for this match, both Edge and Orton thought it was a rib but both Vince and then head-booker Paul Heyman were serious. To set the match up on TV, Orton confronted Edge on RAW and demanded a rematch from Wrestlemania but demanded a straight up wrestling match, claiming Edge couldn’t beat him without either weapons or a gimmick stipulation.

Taped a week before the PPV then reshot from additional camera angles to give it a big time feel, they added piped-in crowd noises because “it wouldn’t be fair for them to perform before an empty building”, but is okay for everyone else to do so apparently, including the two world champions. In fact, this became a huge distraction since none of it felt real of spontaneous; hearing ”this is awesome” being chanted for no reason whilst the sedate NXT trainees look on makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Before the match, in which referee Charles Robinson wore an old school blue shirt and bow tie, they used taped introductions from the late great Howard Finkel, with the old MSG microphone hanging from the ceiling. This proved a divisive trick – some found it a touching tribute, others disrespectful. Like the piped in crowd noises, the multi-camera cuts and edits also took way from the match but I can see how some might like it.

Anyway the match was good. Very good in fact. They worked a steady pace, very old school in making each move count, locking and breaking over and over again. No high flying, excessive flips, gravity defying moves that are no sold to set up the next big move, this was a deliberately built wrestling match. Orton got busted open early but thanks to editing, the blood was gone a second later. 

The match ran for just under 45 minutes, longer than their WM 36 disaster, but still long though considerably more entertaining. It started to get a bit hokey near the end when they would use other wrestler’s finishers – some might see it as them being desperate to win and their own arsenal isn’t cutting it, so why not use proven moves, others might think it too gimmicky, since it has previously been used in comedy matches.

Kudos to Edge for going that long aged 46 in his third match in 11 years but he paid the price, when during the reshoot he tore his triceps off the bone. The irony of course is that had this been a live match, Edge would be fine and their planned rubber match at Summerslam would have gone ahead. Now, it will have to wait until next year.

Greatest Wrestling Match Ever? Not really but a good effort. I doubt fans will remember this as fondly or for as long as they do Flair vs. Steamboat, Savage vs. Steamboat, Misawa vs. Kawada, or any other bona fide classics you care to mention, but on this night it was the best match. 

 

Bottom Line:

The very definition of a one-match show, Backlash continues the evident holding pattern Vince is in as he waits obstinately for the lockdown to end and he get back to running his big angles for arena crowd again. And I bet he still believes in Santa Claus too. Short term fixes like promising the “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” knowing you can’t deliver on it, are always destined to fail as falling TV ratings and WWE Network subscriptions will attest.

Even the cinematic match gimmick has already jumped the shark after two months, but in fairness, there is a case for how it helps fill a gap and circumvent logistical issues due to the Pandemic (which WWE STILL hasn’t acknowledged on TV at all), but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

But Vince will always book to please himself first before pleasing the fans and as long as his TV deals keep paying, he feels immune to the mass exodus of his audience. Handing over the creative reins to 80s relic and professional brownnoser Bruce Prichard isn’t going to help either as we have seen but Vince is one stubborn septuagenarian and like Verne Gagne before him, will carry on until the building has collapsed around his feet before he gets the message.  

Maybe it’s me but in 2020 with the fantastic roster the WWE has, you shouldn’t have stars from 20 years ago still headlining your PPVs. This may be a “one off” because of their star power but think WHY they have that star power in the first place? The well is already running dry yet there is plenty of fresh water ready to fill it, but from watching this show you wouldn’t know it.

 

Best Match – Edge vs. Randy Orton

 

Extras:

German Language

Backlash Kick-Off Match: WWE US Title Match – Apollo Crews (c) vs. Andrade

 

Rating – **     

Man In Black