Thoughts on Backlash Weekend

So I’m back to talk about the weekend that just commenced in which WWE aired new programming on the WWE Network for three nights in a row. First, they started off on Friday night with a show which in all honesty was recorded a couple weeks ago from their shows in Norwich, England and it featured talents from the UK Championship Tournament they held back in January along with some cruiserweights from 205 Live. Next up on Saturday night, NXT presented the latest in their TakeOver series of specials, NXT TakeOver: Chicago, which aired live from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. And finally, to cap off the weekend, the Smackdown crew presented the WWE Backlash Pay Per View.

I would expect that the first two shows were produced and run by Triple H, since those are two of his pet projects in WWE, while Backlash was produced by WWE’s head honcho, Vince McMahon. I don’t know that I’ve really made it a secret on here that I prefer Triple H’s attention to detail,  his storytelling and his overall production values. So with that being said, I’ll say it right now…Backlash got blown out of the water by the UK Championship Special and by NXT TakeOver: Chicago. But let’s break these shows down and talk about what was so good that I really believe you should go out of your way to see these shows which was well worth my $9.99 for the month for the WWE Network, shall we?

First up was the UK Championship Special on Friday night. As I wrote a few months ago, I really enjoyed the tournament they held over the course of two nights to crown the first WWE United Kingdom Champion, Tyler Bate. During the course of those two nights though, they got to spotlight some truly excellent talent from the UK who will at some point, be taking part in an eventual UK series they’re planning to run fairly regularly on the WWE Network. They showcased talent that a lot of us wrestling fans stateside had only read about or seen clips of online…guys like Trent Seven, Wolfgang & Danny Burch. However, throughout the course of those two nights, they made stars out of the eventual winner, Tyler Bate and his opponent in the finals, Pete Dunne. (More on those two later on…)

So we get underway with the UK Championship Special and are welcomed with a match between Wolfgang and Joseph Conners which had enough action to ease us into the night nicely. It wasn’t the best match on the card, but it was a good back and forth contest that highlighted both competitors’ strengths nicely. A nice opener to get things started with a good foundation to build upon as the night went on.

Next up was a match featuring stars from the 205 Live group as Brian Kendrick & TJP took on a returning Rich Swann & Dan Moloney (who was also a part of the tournament to crown the first WWE UK Champion). Again, another solid match with some great action to keep the night moving along nicely. Everyone’s talents were highlighted just enough to make you want to see more from everyone. We were cruising along nicely!

Up next was a match which was advertised to decide the #1 Contendership for the UK Championship and will be awarded a title shot vs. Tyler Bate at the following night’s NXT TakeOver: Chicago. The only weird thing here was that since this was recorded a few weeks prior, and the title match had already been announced for the TakeOver Special, we already knew who would walk out the victor of this match. That didn’t stop these two from putting on a heck of a contest though! That was really the only knock against this match…prior to the match, video was shown of Trent Seven nursing a hand injury, which Pete Dunne only made worse by whacking his hand into a wall backstage. From there, Dunne continued to work on the hand the entire match and that became the story of this match as it went on was to how much pain could Trent Seven deal with before finally giving in.

It was the kind of ring psychology that really seems to be absent in a lot of WWE’s matches these days…I think that’s another reason why I’ve found myself as into the UK wrestling group as I have. In the end, Pete Dunne pulls out all the stops and continues to show how much of a piece of garbage bad guy he can be. And don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not knocking the guy…he plays his part PERFECTLY! It’s so rare nowadays that heels get to truly be heels. The Vince McMahon heel is usually a bit of a weasel who will cut any corner and cheat his way to victory who can’t stand up to a babyface no matter how much the odds may be stacked in his favor and in the end, he usually ends up hightailing it out of bad situations. Pete Dunne is anything but this. Sure he’s a piece of garbage who will take liberties in his matches, who isn’t afraid of taking short cuts to get wins, but he certainly isn’t a weasel and isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with his opponent. He’s tough where a lot of the other WWE heels clearly aren’t, and that’s what I really like about him. He may do underhanded things during his matches, but when he defeats his opponents, he typically does it somewhat on the level…and quite decisively.

Finally to close out the show, Tyler Bate defended his WWE UK Championship against Mark Andrews in another great match that showed why WWE put so much stock in it’s 19-year old UK Champion. On top of this being a great match between two well trained, very talented wrestlers, it was also a match that showcased Mark Andrews for the great performer he is. As an X-division wrestler in TNA Wrestling, he seemed to be kind of shoehorned into those matches, just putting out the same types of matches that the other guys wrestling in that division were capable of, thus cheapening his own abilities in the process. What we got was a terrific match to close out an excellent UK Championship Special that should do well to promote the launch of the future series for the WWE Network. Excellent show all around that I think should be sought after for any WWE Network subscriber!

One show down, two left to go. With Friday night’s show out of the way, it was onto the latest installment of NXT’s TakeOver series of WWE Network Specials. As we saw back in Orlando, NXT has been going through a bit of a rebuilding period since a lot of it’s top talent have been promoted to the main roster. In the places of guys like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tye Dillinger, Austin Aries, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder are now guys like Bobby Roode, Drew McIntyre, Hideo Itami, Andrade “Cien” Almas and Akam & Rezar, the Authors of Pain. I’m certainly not saying these guys listed aren’t any good, it’s just that they lack some of the “oomph” that the previous names present when filling out a wrestling card strictly from a drawing perspective. However, now as this TakeOver special has rolled into town, the new crop has really stepped it up so much so that a number of talents who have been the center of some storylines on the weekly NXT show weren’t able to make it onto the show…and that’s really a testament to not only the quality of the performers they continue to sign for NXT, but also the hard work put in by not only those talents, but also the trainers and the writing staff of that brand.

And for as much love as I just gave the whole NXT troup in that last paragraph, I’m going to have to go somewhat in another direction here with the opening match. Now don’t get me wrong…I think Eric Young and Roderick Strong are both great performers. Especially Young, who has been somewhat of a chameleon over the course of his career here in the states, working for TNA and now NXT. He’s done absolutely everything that has been asked of him and done it quite well. With me, where the disconnect for this match comes is with Roderick Strong. I know NXT just did a nice piece on him, trying to get fans more in touch with him as a competitor, touching more on the man, his career, family life and such…but I’m just still having a problem getting to care enough about him and making that connection. I mean I see him as a hard working guy who goes out there and consistently gives us decent matches, but he lacks personality as far as I’m concerned, so I tend to more glaze over his matches. The guy’s a decent worker, but he’s just missing something with me. You may think I’m crazy with the way I feel here, but it’s because of my disconnect with Roderick Strong that I just have a problem getting into his matches.

With that being said, I will say that I did enjoy how for once it appeared that someone had a leg up on Sanity, and that the numbers game didn’t come back to bite him and cost him a victory in his match against Young at TakeOver: Chicago. In fact, I kind of enjoyed the fact that he sort of kept a step ahead of them instead of being the next Tye Dillinger who didn’t defeat Young/Sanity until exiting NXT. So decent match overall, I just have problems connecting with Strong as a performer.

Next up on the TakeOver: Chicago card was what I believe to be the best match all weekend as Pete Dunne defeated Tyler Bate for the WWE United Kingdom Championship. Up until this match, Tyler Bate had been showcased in the tournament to crown the champion, then was brought in occasionally on the weekly NXT shows to defend his title. He also had successfully defended against Mark Andrews on the UK Championship Special the night before, so in my eyes, as a loyal WWE Network subscriber, Tyler Bate has been established well as a fighting champion…which is why I was completely cool with them moving the title over to Pete Dunne on this show. These two really tore down the house, they sold each other’s offense so well while also showing that they had faced off previously and had sort of scouted their opponent’s offense. What we were left with was a very well put together match in which Pete Dunne went over by capitalizing on a missed dive to the outside after jumping on the prone Champion immediately and nailing his finisher in the ring. Like I said earlier, Pete Dunne takes advantage of situations, capitalizes on them and usually does it somewhat on the level. Excellent match all around, if you haven’t seen this one…please go out of your way to seek this one out!

Next up, the NXT Womens’ Championship was defended by Asuka in a triple threat match with Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross. So basically, Asuka and the Womens’ title was thrust into the middle of Ruby & Nikki’s already ongoing feud. For as much as this match had some really good action, I can’t help but feel sorry for the girls here as I know I was pretty spent emotionally after that Bate/Dunne match. They all certainly did their best in this match and put on a good show for the masses, sometimes it’s just hard to follow a match like Bate & Dunne had with the amount of drama they built up. In the end, Asuka goes over fairly decisively by pinning both Riot & Cross.

In a surprising twist, the NXT Championship match followed with The Glorious Bobby Roode defending against Hideo Itami. The real story here was whether Itami could hold up his end of the match here as he had up until recently been a talent who came over from Japan with a lot of promise and through a number of injuries and probably feeling a bit out of his element here in the states, had failed to really catch on with the NXT crowd. So he had a lot on the line in this match from a professional standpoint and I think Bobby Roode did his best to help Itami get where he needed to be in this match. Unfortunately, it seemed that just as things really started getting going with some stiff looking offense, here we were heading to the finish with Bobby Roode hitting a series of Glorious DDTs to score the victory.

Finally to close out the night, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, affectionately known as DIY took on Akam & Rezar, the Authors of Pain in a Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championships. Now don’t get me wrong here, I can definitely appreciate the amount of pain these guys put themselves through in bumping during these ladder matches, but for me…I’m not really all that into ladder matches. I mean the concept is great…two guys/teams fight to climb a ladder to retrieve the title to win. I just don’t like some of the hokey finishes we’ve been treated to in recent years with these matches where one guy gets duct taped to the bottom rope and is unable to stand to stop his opponent from ascending up the ladder. I also tend to prefer more straightforward, traditional one on one or tag team matchups. I think that with the right workers, you can certainly build the drama and suspense by simply putting on a good match without having to go crazy and relying on the storytelling aspects more than the over the top, physically demanding stuntman work. So for what it was, this was a very good ladder match with a lot of really well done spots that in the end, DIY came up short in.

The real story here is what came afterwards as Tomasso Ciampa turned on Johnny Gargano and really put an exclamation point on the end of DIY as a tag team. Again, the storytelling here was phenomenal as Johnny had actually saved Tomasso during the match and taken some pretty devastating offense from the Authors of Pain as a result, and here after losing the match, Tomasso loses it and goes absolutely nuts in destroying Gargano. Really great angle that now gives Gargano & Ciampa something to do following wrapping up their feud over the tag titles.

So with two shows out of the way, it was on to the third and final show of the weekend as the Smackdown troup put on Backlash on Sunday night. Promoted for the show was AJ Styles challenging Kevin Owens for the United States Title, the main roster in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura as he faced Dolph Ziggler, and Randy Orton defending his WWE Championship against the unlikely #1 contender, Jinder Mahal.

As I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading this by now, I’m not going to go to a match by match rundown of Backlash since we’re already pages and pages into this blog, but what I will say is this: this show certainly didn’t hold up to the rest of the festivities of the prior couple of nights.

There were other matches involved, obviously…and some of the storytelling really didn’t make a lot of sense. From the unlikely #1 contenders to the Smackdown Tag Team Titles, Breezango (I can’t believe I just had to type that) taking on the Usos and treating the whole match like a big joke with Tyler Breeze first dressed like a janitor, then an old grandmother, I’m really not sure what they were aiming for with this one…the end result was not good.

AJ Styles and Kevin Owens took home match of the night honors as they put on an excellent contest for the United States Title and since it ended in a count out victory for Kevin Owens, it leaves things wide open for these two to continue to feud over that title. Good stuff here, well worth seeking out!

To main event the show, Randy Orton defended his WWE Championship against the unlikely #1 contender,  Jinder Mahal. Now here, there has been a lot of flack against WWE for putting Jinder into this match and especially putting the WWE Title on him following this match. Personally, I don’t really have an issue with the guy or the company’s decision to give him the title. Where I do have a problem is back with the storytelling again. Up until about a month before this match, Jinder had been the weekly enhancement talent who would put over the bigger stars while never being taken as a serious competitor for anything while he was also a comedy act during his previous run with the company. So he’s thrown into a 6-pack challenge match to earn the title shot, and while he had to be the one guy in the match nobody expected to see win, it also did change the perception of matches like these going forward where you look over the guys listed and can pick out who is there to lose the match. Now…there should always be the question going forward of “I figure X will lose this match, but then there’s the way they had Jinder go over, so who knows now!” The same way how the Royal Rumble matches of late have been anything but suspenseful since it’s known well in advance who is being pushed to the main event of WrestleMania. Now had they taken their time in elevating the guy instead of haphazardly just thrusting him from the basement to the penthouse, I wouldn’t have an issue with it. In fact, I’m kind of interested to see how he does with the title. At the very least, because of his history, it’ll always be a question while he’s defending the title if this is going to be the match he drops it since he’s not well established as a credible champion and won’t be for some time.

And finally, Backlash was the main roster in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura as he took on Dolph Ziggler. Now one would think that Dolph would probably be a pretty good talent to debut against…someone who is good at selling his opponent’s devastating moves, who can really make the other guy look like a million bucks. And while on most occasions, you’d be right in thinking so…except that’s not how this match was booked to go at all. No, they decided to have Dolph dominate Nakamura for 90 percent of the match and then finally have Nakamura come back with his strong style knees to punish Ziggler and then finish him off with the Kinshasa. For this being the one thing featured the most in all the Backlash advertisements, this sure was a funny way to debut the new guy. I really can’t fathom why this is what was decided upon as a way to showcase your newest main roster star who in my opinion is really a once in a lifetime superstar that you need to see perform live!

So while WWE hit home runs early on in the weekend, they really struck out looking and committed a number of errors on defense here in the finale. One can only hope that at some point soon, a discussion is held with Vince to start to put into motion his eventual removal from the everyday workings of WWE. For as much as he was an integral part of getting the company to where it is now, just as I’ve said on the various audio recordings I’ve done, he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what’s cool today or what appeals to fans a fraction of his age. I just hope there are people in power in WWE who may be able to approach him to have the conversation that needs to be had and that the conversation happens sooner rather than later. Because for as much as I love what Vince has created for us all to follow now for decades, I worry for the product’s longevity if something isn’t done at the top in regards to correcting a lot of the storytelling flaws that are becoming the norm on the main roster in WWE in recent years.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve quit reading by now…if you’re still here at the end of this, I thank you. I had hoped for this to be completed a lot sooner than a week after that weekend, but truth be told, I’ve been writing this bit by bit as I’ve found time throughout the week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, I’ll try to make my next entry substantially shorter. Thanks for reading!

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