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Coming on the heels of the Greatest Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, Backlash had big shoes to fill. While the crowd was hot for the opening match, a great fight between The Miz and Seth Rollins, the crowd was then treated to a slew of mediocre of matches, only really popping up again when Daniel Bryan came out. The show wasn't horrible, there was some good wrestling on the card, but having a show in the wake of two events that WWE went all-out in promoting, Backlash felt very much like the B PPV that it was supposed to be.
One of the reoccurring themes of WrestleMania season, which is now firmly in the rear-view, is that the show is buoyed by star power. Any part-time star or legend WWE employs sheds the cobwebs and takes up a spot on the card. With guys like The Undertaker, Triple H, John Cena and Brock Lesnar on vacation, WWE is left to build a card around the full-time roster, some of whom barely had a program for WrestleMania. The result is that WWE is going to need to build back those forgotten talents so the fans are not bored for large portions of the show. Then of course, when January rolls around the part time guys will all cut ahead in line once more.
The show was also hurt by a series of flat finishes that felt like they came out of nowhere. After a superb build to the finish in the opener; the rest of the card failed to keep pace. Alexa Bliss was in control of Nia Jax but quickly got scooped up and pinned. Bobby Lashley unceremoniously pinned Kevin Owens after a suplex. Carmella got a quick victory over Charlotte. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura were on their way to a great match, until they had a count-out finish that the fans loudly booed. It made Backlash feel like less of a real show and more of placeholder for future shows down the road. If you skipped Backlash, you really missed nothing of consequence. There were no title changes, and every finish seemed to just be to extend the current feud. I don't know about you guys; but if I'm dedicating three and a half hours of my Sunday night to watching wrestling, I want to feel like it was worth watching the show and not that I should have just watched the YouTube highlights.
Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe: **3/4
The crowd liked Samoa Joe in the beginning but didn't care for much else. They started out really hot, with Joe giving Reigns the huge uranage through the table, but then things quieted down. Joe began locking in rest holds while everyone waited for Reigns to make a comeback that the fans didn't want to see. It's hard to build a match around a babyface comeback that the fans are going to either boo, or not react at all. There was some decent back and forth exchanges, but after the opening the crowd didn't care.
I know they'll never learn, but WWE has got to be concerned with the reactions Reigns is getting. His WrestleMania match with Lesnar got little reaction, despite being the main event of WrestleMania. Tonight it was more of the same, the crowd hardly popped for anything he did, and if you want to go by who was over, the reactions Rollins got were significantly bigger than the reactions Reigns got. You could argue that the WrestleMania crowd is mostly die-hard fans, so the reactions might be off, but the crowd tonight in Newark was the typical WWE crowd in every way, and they didn't care about Reigns. The argument that Reigns got the biggest reaction on the show, and it didn't matter if they cheered or boos, doesn't exist right now. The fans don't give a crap about whether he wins or loses.
Since Samoa Joe spent this entire feud burying Reigns and calling him a loser, it's not a good look that he just lost clean to a guy he repeatedly called a failure. WWE did at least try and get him over by having the commentary push him hard as a beast; and he will be on SmackDown so at least he won't be working with Reigns again. They'll have to put him in a program he can win to re-establish his character.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura: ***1/2
Physical, violent match that was looking like it could have been the best match of the show but was hurt by another flat, unsatisfying finish. The crowd perked up for this one and both guys were on their game from the get-go. One of the things I really liked about what they did was that they had an intense, no-disqualification match, without having to rely on high spots and table bumps. Nakamura has been very good as a heel and feels like a natural fit as a rival for AJ, who turned out another strong performance tonight. The flat finish would hurt more if it didn't likely mean these guys are going to have a blow-off match at the next show. Hopefully that one will get to be the main event.
The Miz vs Seth Rollins: ****
A really good opener that the crowd really got into late. The crowd was quiet in the early stages when The Miz took control, but that was necessary as both men did a good job building the mach to an exciting crescendo. There was an excellent near-fall after The Miz hit a second Skull Crushing Finale after a cool exchange that got the crowd really rocking. The announce team really pushed that Rollins was on a roll, and he has been, having very good matches and retaining his championship. The crowd digs him and he's an excellent wrestler; I don't see why he couldn't get pushed back into the championship picture soon.
Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass: **3/4
A decent match that was carried by Bryan's popularity with the people; this was a very simple bout,but unlike some of the other simplistic matches on the card, the crowd loves Bryan so much that the ordinary feels extraordinary. Even the post-match beatdown from Cass had some extra oomph because Cass wasn't just beating up a generic babyface; he was beating up the populist icon of WWE. It's funny what can be accomplished when the babyfaces are actually over with the fans.
This match was very disappointing. I figured that the way to go would be to have Lashley, a directionless and bland babyface, turning on Strowman and allowing Owens and Zayn to get a win. Instead, Lashley remains boring, Strowman lacks an opponent to feud with, and Owens and Zayn were jobbed out, never being presented as a real threat to Lashley or Strowman. The match ended with WWE strongly hinting that Owens and Zayn are going to break up, which would suck because they have been great as a heel team. However, if the Sasha Banks vs Bayley feud is an indicator of anything, WWE could just act like their little spat never happened and Owens and Zayn will be best friends on RAW tomorrow.
Carmella vs Charlotte: *3/4
The crowd was dead for this one. Carmella is the champion, but I think because she went from rarely being in programs to suddenly being the SmackDown Women's Champion, the fans don't buy her going toe-to-toe in the ring with Charlotte, who has been the face of the women's division in WWE. Carmella worked hard and was in control for most of the match, but the crowd was silent. The finish was flat and came out of nowhere, but it wasn't the worse idea in the world. WWE clearly wants to protect Charlotte, so Carmella wasn't just going to hit her finisher and pin her; but she still got a legit pinfall on Charlotte so hopefully that will help establish Carmella as a credible champion.
Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss: *1/2
This was pretty bad. The match was basic and focused mainly on Jax taking bumps and selling for Bliss, which she admittedly did a good job of doing. To me, the storyline kind of fell apart here, with WWE HEAVILY pushing that Jax is a symbol of their anti-bullying campaign and consistently referring to her as "The Irresistible Force" which feels hyperbolic but hey, it's wrestling. The crowd didn't care about the match and they even booed Jax in her post-match promo, which came across as very fake and forced.
Jeff Hardy vs Randy Orton: **
Early in this match, Corey Graves mentioned that Orton would look to slow the match down and enact his "infamous methodical style." Orton didn't disappoint, as most of this match seemed to be Orton locking in a chinlock on Hardy. It is one thing to work at a slow pace if you are telling a story, but in a match without much of a build that was going to have a clean finish and nothing that would indicate a follow-up match; it's probably better to have a more exciting match. Orton to me rarely feels challenged to go all-out or to change what he does in the ring; he is like the anti-Chris Jericho in that regard. He's smooth as hell in the ring; but that is fairly worthless when your matches are so boring the crowd is chanting for other wrestlers in the middle of them. Hardy is still a fan favorite and probably could go into the main event picture on SmackDown if they needed him to.
Must Watch Matches
Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA: ****1/2 - NJPW Pro Wrestling Dontaku Night 2
Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanhashi: ****1/2 - NJPW Pro Wrestling Dontaku Night 2
Toa Henare vs Tomohiro Ishii: **** - NJPW Road to Dontaku Night 10