SmackDown Live makes a statement in their first PPV post brand-split.
Posted by Billy Carpenter
Two months after WWE’s second attempt at a brand split comes Backlash, the first brand specific PPV in this new era. The SmackDown Live crew was tasked with creating a memorable show, which honestly, had very little buzz in comparison to most other shows this year. There were certainly concerns about filling a three hour PPV with just six matches, even with the promise of at least two newly crowned champions. But there was also the stigma that the blue brand has carried for so long; that the battles waged & contests decided on SmackDown didn’t really mean anything. Sunday night in Richmond, VA was a chance to not only prove that the happenings on Tuesday nights do in fact matter but a chance to set the bar for brand specific shows in WWE’s new era.
Daniel Bryan made a match during the kickoff show for later on in said kickoff show, pitting Apollo Crews against Baron Corbin. Crews & Corbin have both been meandering about since being called up from NXT, most of the time just finding themselves “there” with no real direction. In what could very well have been just a throwaway match, Crews & Corbin worked really hard and put forth a pretty solid contest. Big Banter scored the pinfall victory in a match that got a somewhat surprising amount of time for the kickoff show. I don’t think a loss here necessarily hurts Cruise, I just believe that the powers that be may have something in store for Corbin as far as his next program. As for Apollo, the song remains the same; he’s in desperate need of something outside of being a solid wrestler. He’s a great in-ring talent but that will only go so far on the grand stage of WWE. Maybe being jettisoned back to NXT and an overhaul–or better yet, an installation of a character–is the answer.
When the women’s division was split between both RAW and SmackDown, I had some doubts as to whether the ladies on Tuesday nights would be able to create an immediate impact and rival the strength of the RAW division. It took a few weeks for the blue brand to flesh out storylines for the competitors in its women’s division but once they introduced a championship, things seem to fall in place. Now there was a goal to focus on & work towards and this division suddenly got more interesting. The first champion was decided in a six pack challenge and they made the right–albeit still kind of surprising–call and had Becky Lynch go over and become the female lead of SmackDown. For the match itself, all six ladies should be commended for their work here. During the show, I tweeted that this was the best main roster women’s match this year and a few days later, I’ll stick to that sentiment. Virtually everything clicked and Naomi, Alexa Bliss, Natalya, Carmella, Nikki Bella and the new champ should be proud of this match. The match wasn’t without it’s faults; however, nitpicking at the little things shouldn’t take away from the enjoyment I got from the hard work put in here. I’m thrilled to see what Becky Lynch can do going forward as the anchor of this fledgling women’s division on SmackDown, and no one deserves this time to shine more than the Irish Lass Kicker.
The Miz is in a bit of a career renaissance, stretching back to the post-WrestleMania 32 RAW. His character work has been fantastic, especially since Maryse has been reintroduced to the WWE Universe and paired with her husband. Much has been said about his recent interactions with Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack but Miz has kind of quietly been doing his best to re-elevate a once prized Intercontinental championship. His opponent here, Dolph Ziggler, is coming off a program with Dean Ambrose where he fell short in his quest to become WWE champion at SummerSlam. Some questioned Dolph being placed in this spot but I didn’t mind it at all; he & Miz have always been somewhat linked throughout their time in the company and Dolph is arguably one of the top faces of the blue brand. These two put on a fantastic match and if you called this ‘match of the night’, I probably wouldn’t argue too much. Their chemistry here was fantastic and they were able to tell a good story from bell to bell. Miz was maybe even more impressive than Dolph here, pulling out some new moves and finding ways to taunt Daniel Bryan as well. These guys came to steal the show and damn near did just that; in fact, I’d maybe only put the main event above this. I did feel that there was a bit of a shadow hanging over this match, that being whatever is to come of this Miz/Daniel Bryan story. They furthered the story even more just before this match, as Miz threatened to hold up the show until his contract was renegotiated. I’m finding myself more & more intrigued at what the payoff will be and if that payoff will actually be Daniel getting back in the ring. In that, I have some very mixed feelings. For Dolph, a rematch is almost a certainty considering Maryse’s involvement in the outcome of the match. Where he goes after this though is another matter in and of itself though, especially if his journey after this feud doesn’t involve him carrying the IC title.
In addition to a new women’s champion, SmackDown Live needed tag champs of their own, and they would be crowned on this night. At first glance, it looked as though this tournament for the new SD tag team titles was constructed to crown American Alpha as the new kings of the tag scene but a most interesting side story developed along the way involving the most unlikely of Superstars. Heath Slater’s star has almost inexplicably been on the rise since being left in the dark (literally) during the WWE Draft. The role he was given, he has excelled in and the crowd has given him their support in exchange. After losing a contract opportunity to Rhyno a few weeks back, Heath found himself partnering with the Man Beast as they were declared the last entrants in the eight team tournament. They’ve become a most entertaining part of Tuesday nights and the tournament became about Heath’s last chance at making the SmackDown roster. On the other side of the ring stood the newly turned Usos, who took out American Alpha after losing to them and were rewarded for some reason with an opportunity to get back to the title match. They dispatched of the Hype Bros earlier in the show to get here. It seems that Jimmy & Jey have taken to their new personas quite nicely already, ditching some of their high-octane offense for a more punishing style. Also, they wisely ditched the face paint altogether; I feared that they would simply go from a neon palette to a monochrome color scheme. This was more about the moment here than the match itself, as despite the Usos best efforts, Lady Luck was smiling upon Heath Slater & Rhyno on this night. In all honesty, it had to be them to win this thing. It would’ve been easy to just have them come up short and give the Usos another reign en route to a showdown with a returning Chad Gable & Jason Jordan. No doubt, that will come sooner rather than later. But WWE did the right thing–and the smart thing–and gave us the outcome that we wanted to see. Why not see how far this ride with Heath Slater can go?
Bray Wyatt was scheduled to face Randy Orton but rumors begin to circulate that The Viper wouldn’t be able to compete, stemming from his SummerSlam encounter with Brock Lesnar. An angle earlier in the show all but cemented that, as Bray attacked backstage and leaving Orton laying. The Eater of Worlds took the win via forfeit over Randy but was put into a No Holds Barred match moments later with Kane. I don’t care how surprisingly solid the match was, Kane had no business going over here–regardless if Orton interfered to set up the win. Bray Wyatt as a character is dead in the water now. Fact is, to most people he’s been that way for a long time now. He should be a top act but he’s just barely keeping his head above water in the mid-card. This was terrible booking from a creative team that clearly has no idea what to with the Bray Wyatt character–and quite frankly, probably never will. This should’ve been Bray tearing through Kane, keeping momentum until Randy is able to compete in the ring. But instead, we got a horrible blunder in the booking of this and it’s a feud that I’ve already lost interest in.
AJ Styles has had a most remarkable year since being a surprise entrant in this year’s Royal Rumble match. He’s been WWE’s most consistent performer in 2016 and has become a legit main event star in the biggest company in the world. Coming off what is arguably the WWE match of the year against John Cena at SummerSlam, the time was right for AJ to not only challenge for the WWE title once more, but to claim the throne and cement his place as the man on SmackDown. Dean Ambrose comes into this match with a longer reign than I honestly thought he’d have when he won the belt. His work has been kind of uninspired lately but when in the ring with AJ, the expectations went way up. Those expectations were definitely met and what we got was an excellent main event to close out the first SmackDown only PPV. AJ & Dean told a tried & true story; challenger throws everything he has at the champion, who finds a way to overcome and just keep coming. We also got a few different spots here, like the slingshot into the ring post among other from Dean. In the end, it took a low blow followed by a Styles Clash to finish off Ambrose. The finish works here as it gives Ambrose an opportunity for a rematch and also caps off the story they were telling as AJ just had to finally go outside of the rules in order to achieve his ultimate goal. Dean Ambrose leaves here strong and AJ Styles ascends to the top of the mountain on Tuesday nights. Not only that, but AJ has all but locked up wrestler of the year once again. Look at the catalog he’s put together just 8 months into his WWE career; from Roman Reigns to John Cena and everyone he’s faced in between, no one has had half the number of quality matches that Styles has produced this year. He works on a different level than anyone else on the roster and WWE has wisely put their chips on him when it comes to reinvigorating the SmackDown brand. AJ Styles is your WWE World Champion in the year 2016…what a time.
It was on the SmackDown roster to deliver a quality start to brand specific PPV’s and they more than met the challenge. Everyone worked hard, from the kickoff to the main event. Outside of the Bray Wyatt debacle, everything worked and set things in motion for the immediate future on SmackDown. Feel good moments, great wrestling and solid storytelling throughout powered this show which, on paper, didn’t look to be much more than an afterthought. By the end of the show, Backlash had proven to be one of the stronger PPV outings put forth from WWE this year. On this night, SmackDown proved that they do indeed matter and for those who haven’t been paying attention, it’s time to tune in on Tuesday nights.