The art of professional wrestling is one of the most socially active mediums of entertainment across the world. Millions watch men and women grapple for championships, financial success, accolades, celebrity status, and supposed immortality within the squared circle. The Hype Train provides a glancing review of WWE’s Tuesday night show, SmackDown Live, and their latest pay-per-view of 2017, Backlash, emanating in Chicago, which is a follow up to one of the best wrestling events in 2016.
WWE Backlash 2017 Review: 21/05/2017
Last year, the unexpected rise of Smackdown Live as a proper rand entity was a definite highlight in 2016. Roll the clock back and it is Backlash that put the blue brand on the radar as a better alternative to Monday Night RAW, and for the most part that notion is still true today. Due to the success of Backlash last year, which saw AJ Styles defeat Dean Ambrose to become WWE Champion, there was a lot of expectation ahead of its anticipated follow up, which pitted WWE Champion against the unlikely challenger of Jinder Mahal.
Kicking off with the highly-anticipated debut of Shinsuke Nakamura, the Japanese superstar has been used sparingly for cute entrances, leaving workhorse Dolph Ziggler to drive home the point of the feud: Ziggler didn’t see what the deal with his rival was as he’s not done the deed at the big level, that being on the red or blue brand. In an attempt to get the Chicago crowd buzzing, Ziggler and Nakamura had a very strong encounter, but one that started slowly. Lasting no more than 13 minutes, half of the match was spent with technical grappling sequences to build momentum, before sparking into life in its second act. Ziggler, the disgruntled bad-guy heading into the match, looked dominant, until Nakamura used a knee to Ziggler whilst his beck was perched on the bottom ring rope. As you would come to imagine, given Nakamura was the poster-boy for the event, the debuting wrestler picked up the win with his deadly knee strike, and promptly left after lapping up fan affair.
Prior to Backlash, we imagined that more of an emphasis would be placed of Ziggler’s encounter with Nakamura. Not only did we not expect the match to kick off the show, but we were underwhelmed at its length, and how Ziggler to easily fell as soon as Shinsuke turned up his tempo in the ring. Perhaps the slight feeling of being underwhelmed comes from just how much they hyped Nakamura, only to easily vanquish his opponent in just over ten minutes. Job done, done, now get out of the ring. At least there is room for Nakamura to grow and be given a greater light to showcase his abilities, whereas for Ziggler, it’s just painfully clear that he has been booked to oblivion and it appears as if the show-off is reaching a creative end as a character in the WWE.
Oddly enough, what followed, perhaps outshined the efforts of Nakamura and Ziggler. The comedic value of the Fashion Police at Backlash, was a definite highlight. Leading up to their Tag Team title match with champions, The Usos, Tyler Breeze has been going undercover to criticsed the fashion style of tag teams, and to gather intelligence before their title opportunity. Breeze stole the show by wearing multiple costumes over the course of the match, which featured an elderly lady. What was ingenious in their match tactic was the use of their wardrobe unsettled the super-serious Uso brothers, which made you believe, if even for a moment, that we’d have new Tag Team champions. Breeze rolling back and forth out of the way when the Usos went to the top rope was particularly warming to the heart. Even in defeat, Breeze and Fandango have done a fantastic job of utilising the minutes they’ve been awarded on television, and we’re hoping that this isn’t the end of them in the title picture.
Next up on the card Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin went toe-to-toe in a very physical back and forth, which featured a series of surprising kick-outs in a decent length match, one that we never really asked for in the beginning. A good spectacle yes, but half of the wrestling entertainment business is being entertained and enthralled with the storylines and characters, and that was what was missing from this encounter. Our brains were telling us that Corbin needed this win, given that it was a feud from lastminute.com and seemingly served no other purpose. Zayn, having lost every match on SD Live since moving over from RAW, could eat another defeat, especially against a strong competitor in Corbin, but instead the WWE now have us thinking that both men might be beyond repair at this stage. So yes, good match, but question marks are being raised about both men’s longevity in the business.
The six-women tag team match featuring the Welcoming Committee taking on Charlotte, Becky, and Naomi, served as much purpose as a bicycle partaking in the Indy 500. Natalya submitted Becky Lynch (because she always loses) in a luke-warm encounter that was just a big scrambled mess, and a match that didn’t serve a purpose to begin with, and won’t live long in the memory after Backlash. Enough said on that.
At this point in the show we’ve had a lull, with half an hour of pay-per-view that nobody asked for, and that nobody really wanted. The United Stated Championship match with Kevin Owens and AJ Styles redeemed and lifted the night yet again. Heading into the match with a storyline injury to his knee, there is a great back and forth between the pair before a top-rove move deems AJ’s knee a heap, and unable to perform the Phenomenal forearm. A match of domination from Owens long continued, with the challenger trying to stay out of the line of fire, until a suplex, spine first onto the apron, changed the fortunes of the title match in AJ’s favour. In an exhausting match, AJ ultimately got his leg stuck in the announce table after attempting the Styles Clash, leaving Owens to pick up the cheap win via count-out. Expectedly so, this was done to keep the feud heading into Smackdown’s next PPV outing, even though the audience were heavily chanting their disapproval immediately after the match. The exclamation mark on the feuds continuation with Owens hitting AJ with the title behind the head whilst his leg is caught in the announce desk still. It’s been a long time since AJ last stole the show at Backlash last year, and at this point, something miraculous must happen for this year’s even to have the same feeling.
Right off the bat, the idea of the show improving didn’t improve, with Erick Rowen and Luke Harper acting as the toilet match before the WWE Championship match, with the feud surrounding Luke Harper leaving the Wyatt Family (as if the story wasn’t played out enough at this point). The match made about as much sense as a Bray Wyatt promo, and ended with the predictable winner, Harper, vanquishing another Wyatt threat easily enough. We won’t talk too much about this match as we know what it was – filler.
Lastly, there was a long pause between the previous paragraph and this one, because quite truthfully, we were shocked at what happened. After a highly competitive fight, mega-heel Jinder Mahal did the unthinkable. The Singh Brothers, saving Mahal from destruction on the outside of the ring, each ate a suplex from Orton on the foreign announce desks, which was quickly followed by a double DDT. Then, in the background you see Jinder Mahal, intent in his eyes. Slinking into the ring and ending Orton with the Khallas (cobra-clutch slam), Jinder set in motion a series of fan reactions that make you believe that there are true bad guys in wrestling. Once a jobber, incapable of victory, a remarkable moment of Jinder winning the WWE Championship is truly deserved against a champion in Randy Orton who has offered little entertainment in his several months reign as champion. Yes JBL, hell has frozen over, and it’s brilliant. Moments like this are why SmackDown Live in the premiere show within the WWE Universe, because it reflects what the company is in its current state. A mess, an absolute mess that is occasionally through something that is making people lose their minds, be it for the good of the business, or the bad.
Regardless of opinion, history has been made, and once again Backlash will not be forgotten. Incredible.
Backlash 2017 Results: 21/05/2017
Kick-Off: Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Dolph Ziggler
WWE Tag Team Championships: The Usos (c) def. Tyler Breeze & Fandango
Sami Zayn def. Baron Corbin
Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi (Natalya submitted Lynch)
WWE United States Championship: Kevin Owens (c) def. AJ Syles (via count-out)
Luke Harper def. Erick Rowan
WWE Championship: Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton (c)
Who’s on SmackDown’s Hype Train?
Shinesuke Nakamura: Good debut, and good win to keep momentum on Nakamura, even if it was a quick victory over Ziggler
The Fashion Police: Breeze and Fandango were highly entertaining in their Tag Team title match against the Usos, utilising every second of screen time to become relevant. Breeze rolling away.
Kevin Owens: KO has looked strong since moving to SmackDown Live, destroying Jericho, and now surviving against AJ Styles. The New Face of America gimmick is still taking time to settle, but it’s got room to grow.
Jinder Mahal: A deserving WWE Champion has been the talk of the town since becoming number one contender. It’s so good to see WWE pull the trigger with Jinder.
The first thing you see when Backlash cuts to the titantron is a member of the audience shaking in their boots with fear once the pyro fireworks kick the show off. Priceless reaction.
The Chicago crowd absolutely loved Tyler Breeze and his multiple costume changes on the show.
AJ Styles was lucky not to break his left ankle after hitting Kevin Owens with the power-bomb from the top-rope.
This is the first SmackDown exclusive pay-per-view without Mauro Ranallo, and his absence was felt. Badly.
The moment Byron Saxton had no idea who the Talking Smack host was, and it was JBL who had to correct him. What has the world come to.
The promo package for Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship music, with the native music, was perfect.
Randy Orton’s whole summation of the feud with Jinder Mahal: “He’s an ass.”
Fan reaction at the close of the WWE Championship match is why professional wrestling is among the greatest mediums of entertainment.
Brock Lesney Guy needs to just go away.
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The Hype Train is an entertainment website founded in 2015 specialising in the Fantasy Premier League (#FPL), and professional Wrestling, providing beautiful graphics and weekly insight for hopeful players attempting to climb ranking tables. We are also occasional media reviewers, with a keen interest to review movies, television, live music, festivals, and any relevant topic in the public eye.
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