Backlash roared in Richmond, Virginia last night for SmackDown Live’s first solo pay-per-view in years. With only six matches announced, the blue brand built the show around a solid main event and the spectacle of crowning two new champions. A thinner roster than Raw made filling three hours with quality content a challenge, but the WWE did well with only a few weeks to build with.
The problem with Ambrose; Styles is the 2016 MVP
Of course, the main draw featured a WWE World Championship match pitting Ambrose (c) against AJ Styles. Ambrose has been a steady presence atop the WWE in 2016, delivering quality, lengthy main events. Look back at his body of work – outside of the hiccup that was Wrestlemania 32, Ambrose has electrified in matches against Kevin Owens, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins. Still, despite only being champion for around three months, the act was growing stale. Ambrose is a character that needs to be turned loose – not given hokey comedy bits. That’s on WWE’s creative team. The boo birds started to materialize in Richmond, as a good portion of the crowd seemed to be behind Styles. That can’t bode well for a guy who could (and should) be one of Smackdown’s cornerstones.
Ambrose-Styles went for 25 minutes in a match that will definitely be remembered come year’s end, when writers everywhere begin to compile their “best of” lists. The two showed exactly why they’ve earned main event workhorse status. After a Styles Clash that made the collective world nervous, “The Phenomenal One” captured his first WWE Championship – the icing on the cake of a career year. No one is touching heel Styles. The most despicable part of the persona is that Styles can actually back up his arrogance in the ring. There was a guy who used to be pretty good at that in the 1980s and 90s. That guy’s name is Ric Flair.
The “cockroach” booking is fine for Ambrose. As JBL said, “He’s a survivor!” Still, what has Ambrose done of late to warrant Mauro Ranallo’s comparison to Steve Austin? Handing out old bowling trophies? Groin shots? This feud happening just weeks after Ambrose offered gritty promos on Dolph Ziggler? The poor attempts at humor need to stop if the WWE truly wants Ambrose to shine. “The Lunatic Fringe” is a solid moniker for an unpredictable character with a violent mean streak. Not so much for a guy who hijacked a hot dog stand and sprayed opponents down with mustard.
It may be lofty, but Styles has proven to be one of the best workers in the world. So far, he’s shown he can be the guy who carries the brand a lot like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart did in the 90s.
This program will likely continue through the fall and could be one for the ages.
The Miz & Ziggler are unsung heroes
Obviously, the talk of Backlash is going to be Styles winning the WWE Championship, but, The Miz and Ziggler delivered an exciting Intercontinental Championship match. For 18 minutes, the two future Hall of Famers battled it out. At times, the finish seemed completely unpredictable.
The Miz continues his career year. Hopefully, this loss will bring Ziggler to a crossroad that could invigorate his career (read: heel turn). All in all, this was a strong showing, and how about that subtle nod to the CM Punk fight?
How else can they screw up Bray Wyatt?
Randy Orton wasn’t cleared to compete, so technically Wyatt earned a count-out victory. Afterwards, he was informed that he would be competing in a No Holds Barred match opposite Kane. That’s not a bad call. The two put on a surprisingly entertaining match. Still, Kane did not need the win. Wyatt did. Despite the quality of the match, the finish completely unravelled what little momentum Wyatt had before it. WWE continues to demonstrate a complete lack of commitment to one of its greatest talents.
The crowd was bored with a great show
At times, the crowd seemed downright quiet. Such a solid show deserved better. Becky Lynch, Heath Slater, & Rhyno earned “you deserve it” chants after significant wins. A couple of mild “this is awesome” chants broke out throughout the evening. The audience was hot off and on throughout the main event. If the show was held in Brooklyn, a raucous crowd would have made Backlash the best show of the year.
Overall, Backlash was an excellent show. Given limited time and a smaller roster, Smackdown showed exactly what a wrestling-centric pay-per-view should look like. From the time Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews kicked off the action, to Styles raising the WWE Championship to close the show, the focus was in the ring. The Usos look to be an excellent heel tag team.
Like it or not, Heath Slater and Rhyno made winning the Smackdown Tag Team Championship mean something. That program has been one of the most interesting tag team storylines in recent memory. Slater is super over, while Rhyno has shown that he’s still got it. Mojo Rawley wrestled one of his finer matches.
The women put together a fine contest. Carmella and Alexa Bliss showed their potential. Ultimately, Lynch lived a moment she earned months ago, and no one is forced to sit through another Nikki Bella championship reign.
Backlash was an excellent show – one of the finer offerings from WWE this year.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, covers the NFL’s Tennessee Titans for Pro Football Spot, and is the Editor of The SoBros Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.