With the WWE Brand Extension once again in full swing, it’s time for the next hurdle in the road, the very first brand-exclusive Pay Per View. Smackdown gets the first kick at the can with Backlash, a PPV name that actually has a long history due to formerly being WWE’s first post-Mania PPV that dealt with the fallout from the largest show of the year (hence the name). Can Smackdown maintain the legacy of Backlash? Well, they’ve actually got a pretty big hill to climb, thanks to a small roster, a show that doesn’t seem to have enough matches announced to fill three hours, and having to introduce two major titles on the same show with only a few weeks of build-up. The talent is there, however, so the show could actually be quite good. And if you want some more thoughts and predictions to get you prepared for Backlash, well, then just keep reading.
10. More Matches, Or…
Headed into the PPV, there are a total of six matches announced. Granted, any number would seem small after the twelve matches that were booked for SummerSlam a few weeks ago, but six seems awfully light for a full Pay Per View, which generally averages seven or eight matches, plus at least one bout on the pre-show. And we only got to six matches due to the injury angle that changed the finals of the Smackdown Tag Team Title tournament from American Alpha vs Slater/Rhyno into a “Second Chance” qualifier between The Usos and The Hype Bros for the right to replace the injured Alphas on the same show. In addition, outside of maybe the WWE Title match, we can’t really see any of the announced matches going excessively long, which is the usual way WWE fills time when they’ve under-booked a show. The only problem is, Smackdown’s roster is so thin that, aside from a likely pre-show match involving the tag teams not still involved in the tournament, there aren’t really a lot of options to add meaningful matches to the PPV. More realistically, let’s look at a second option for Backlash…
9. A Shorter Show?
Granted, going back to a three-hour PPV after the never-ending death march that was SummerSlam (hey, the matches were good, but by the third or fourth hour, even die-hard wrestling fans had mostly tuned out) is technically a shorter show, but we’re talking about actually making it a policy. WWE PPV’s are three hours only because WWE decided at some point that this was the way things were going to be. Back in the mid-90’s, when the “In Your House” shows were introduced to introduce PPVs in between the “Big Five” (at that point, King of the Ring was still a PPV), they were actually only two hour shows, which was good, because just like now, WWE’s roster was very thin and couldn’t sustain a regular schedule of three hour PPVs. Thanks to WWE bringing back single brand PPVs, there are now 19 WWE PPVs in a year, with WrestleMania and SummerSlam already slotted for four-plus hours each (and many suspect that the Rumble and possibly Survivor Series won’t be far behind in moving towards that length). Any month that doesn’t have a dual-brand show (Mania, SummerSlam, the Rumble, Survivor Series, and Money in the Bank) will have two brand-exclusive PPVs, which only adds to the massive overload of WWE programming that we’re currently laboring under. Dropping those shows down to even just 2 and a half hours instead of the usual three (with recent shows even running over that) would help make tighter shows that would allow WWE to book less matches and still have a minimum of useless filler, and more importantly, give exhausted wrestling fans something resembling a break.
8. End Of The Line For Dolph
This has to be it, right? This is the final straw. After nearly losing his mind and failing to win the WWE World Title at SummerSlam, if Dolph Ziggler can’t even beat The Miz for the Intercontinental Title, he has basically two options left to him. Either quit the business entirely (hey, aren’t we due for rumors of Dolph’s contract expiring and him starting a second career as a stand-up comic again?), or snap like a Slim Jim and turn mega-heel due to finally joining the rest of the WWE Universe in being tired of your overly peppy “win or lose, I’m here to have great matches and steal the show” attitude. Not that a heel turn would necessarily turn him back into a main eventer (besides, the position at the top is currently filled by AJ Styles), but Dolph Ziggler as a good guy has basically zero upwards mobility at this point, something which has basically been the case since WWE stubbornly refused to follow up on his whole “Hero of WWE” angle after he eliminated The Authority (well, for three weeks, anyway) at Survivor Series. Should he lose to The Miz (and we’re betting he will), the only successful future in WWE for Dolph Ziggler has to lie along a darker path.
7. It’s Gotta Be Kane, We Suppose…
We’re not going to guarantee that Kane is going to make an appearance and chokeslam someone who is being irritating (or awesome, in the case of Fandango) in the ring, then leave, but it feels like that would absolutely be one thing that WWE would do to fill time on a show with as few matches as this one. This probably isn’t a big surprise, but we’re so over the Demon Kane that we don’t even have the energy to make fun of him anymore. At this point, he’s a big enough name on a Smackdown roster that doesn’t have many, which gives him enough value that WWE feels they have to trot him out on a regular basis, even if they clearly don’t have any particular plans for him at this point in time. Over on Raw, they have the freedom to do things like watch the Dudley Boyz ride off into the sunset, or not put the Big Show on TV at all, because they got 3 picks for every 2 to Smackdown and thus, have a significantly larger roster with more potential stars. Losing a guy like Alberto Del Rio on Smackdown is actually a huge deal, because he was a credible main eventer on a brand that has barely a handful, and a tiny midcard that would basically be nonexistent if they promoted more than two guys out of it. Thus, we get Kane. But speaking of other options…
6. What Time Is It, Mr. Lone Wolf?
Baron Corbin is a guy that WWE continues to seem alternatively hot and cold on. Last week he was in the main event against Dean Ambrose, giving as good as he got before losing. This week, he was nowhere to be found, and at this point, he does not have a feud or match for Backlash. Arguably, he was supposed to face Kalisto, who came down with an injury off TV, leading to that being scrapped, but in the meantime, couldn’t they have come up with a stop-gap feud of some sort? Apollo Crews is right there, doing nothing, and the two of them could even have an issue over both coming up from NXT at the same time and accomplishing virtually nothing, or Baron could just have been a jerk to Crews after he lost yet another match this week on Smackdown. Something to keep Corbin and Crews in the minds of the viewers, because like it or not, they’re going to have to be a big part of Smackdown’s future.
5. They Could Rebuild Him, But Are They?
Remember at Battleground, when Bray Wyatt actually pinned the WWE World (now Raw) Tag Team Champions, The New Day, and everyone figured that the brand split was going to mean the next chance to rebuild his damaged character, who had lost far too many times for someone who’s supposed to be an otherworldly supernatural force in human skin? Well, now he’s in a feud with Randy Orton that feels basically like every feud he’s had since he debuted. Bray has cut mysterious promos where he alludes to having insane powers and higher goals, he has appeared and disappeared from the darkness, and ultimately, he’s probably going to lose because Randy Orton is a top guy and Bray Wyatt, it seems, is not. Why Bray Wyatt continues to be placed in feuds that he must ultimately lose and have whatever vague plans he had foiled will always baffle us. With a roster as thin as Smackdown is, especially on top, why isn’t someone like Bray Wyatt being turned into a bigger deal, instead of as a glorified jobber?
4. Slater Gets Denied Yet Again
It seems like the whole world has gotten on board with the plight of Heath Slater, his current wife and his seven (known) children, and the humorously awkward Uncle Rhyno, and it would be lovely to think that this is leading to Heath Slater finally getting a big win and moment in the sun, on the path to a brighter future on Smackdown. But let’s be real, Slater’s team is not going to win the Smackdown Tag Team titles, because that prize is almost certainly going to the newly evil Usos (we’d also like to apologize for disappointing fans of the Hype Bros, but Gronk wouldn’t return our calls). As a result, that also means no contract for Slater, and we’re back to where we started. It’s very hard to be a loveable loser in pro wrestling, because at some point, you only stay loveable if you keep losing, which means that there may never be a happy ending for the One Man Band, and no matter how popular he gets, we just don’t see any big wins or titles in his future. On the bright side, contract or no, he’s still one of the best parts of Smackdown.
3. Can Somebody Stand Out, Please?
We’ll give credit to Smackdown for at least managing to get the entire Women’s Division on television on a weekly basis since the brand split. Certainly, Raw is top-heavy with the best women in the company, but Alicia Fox was a non-entity until accidentally braining Nia Jax with a box of napkins on Raw this week, and we almost forgot Summer Rae was even on the roster. With that said, it seems like the women of Smackdown have basically spent the first month of the brand extension as one giant amorphous blob, with nobody doing anything to separate themselves from the pack (outside of the suspended Eva Marie, who is unique for all the wrong reasons). Granted, part of that is because until Backlash, there wasn’t a title to fight over, and they clearly wanted to make it seem like everyone has an equal chance, but it has made the division largely unmemorable outside of Nikki’s big return (and you’ll notice she hasn’t done a lot of actual wrestling since then, for obvious reasons). At Backlash, somebody needs to step up and become the face of the division, and as much as we want it to be Becky Lynch, we can’t help but feel that someone else is going to be the woman walking away with the title. Honestly, if Eva Marie was in the match, we would have picked her to win, but as it is, we’re going to have to go with the Total Diva, Nikki.
2. The Face That Should Run The Place
We’re big fans of Dean Ambrose, but there is no way he can walk out of Backlash holding the WWE Title when AJ Styles is primed and ready to carry the brand in the absence of John Cena (who, lest we forget, he beat cleanly at SummerSlam). Ambrose has done an admirable job as champion, and it was a well-deserved title reign, but at no point was he ever really anything more than a temporary solution, a guy who the fans sort of like who could hold the belt while WWE shuffled the deck to find their next top guy, in the wake of Roman Reigns flaming out so spectacularly. And make no mistake, unlike Reigns, AJ Styles is “The Guy”, in every way necessary to head an entire brand of WWE. Of course, he’s also a bad guy, and like Kevin Owens, he’s doing it by actually being unlikable instead of being that dreaded “cool heel” that still sells t-shirts but is death for creating compelling storylines. Styles brags endlessly about being phenomenal, and then backs it up in the ring by doing things like beating John Cena. Then, he gets upset that people still don’t show him the respect he thinks he deserves. It’s the kind of strong heel we’ve not seen since Kurt Angle was talking about the “Three I’s” and breaking people’s ankles at the same time. Not all heels need to be cowards who win by cheating, and Styles is a perfect example of a different archetype: you can’t beat him, he’s just too good, and even worse, he knows it.
1. Evil Always Wins, Because Good Is Dumb
You might have noticed that we went a little heel-heavy in our predictions, which is something we only noticed when we looked back at our picks. The Usos (who would have to win twice), The Miz, and Styles winning their title matches seems obvious, and the only one that might be delayed is if WWE decides to prolong Styles’ eventual victory a month by having a screwy finish that likely involves someone getting kicked in the crotch (any WWE writers reading this, please note, do not do any of this). We suppose Orton counts as a face, but it’s not like his win is going to be one of those uplifting, crowd-pleasing victories (aside from popping for the RKO, of course). Perhaps the only place for a feel-good victory comes from the Women’s match, and if it’s Becky Lynch, that would suffice, but if it’s Nikki Bella, your mileage may vary. Yes, it does look like dark times ahead for Smackdown, which kind of makes sense, because it puts a lot of people in strong positions to oppose the face GM and Commissioner, giving WWE storytelling options for the fall. Don’t despair though, American Alpha will almost certainly return and put the Usos in their place, and somebody, eventually, will dethrone the Miz, so dark as it might be, this is only the first chapter in the New Era of Smackdown.