Viewers of Tuesday’s SmackDown Live may be surprised to learn that it was a go-home show for Backlash this Sunday night. Bearing in mind that it has been little over two weeks since SmackDown’s first post-separation feuds were blown out on SummerSlam, it is little wonder that a mere two weeks of buildup has left SmackDown’s first exclusive PPV feels half baked and un-enthralling.
Two weeks is a very short amount of time in wrestling, especially when the WWE has two rosters that are so stacked that it has to use its stars on a rotational basis, week by week, to ensure that everyone is getting a spotlight.
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
This one started explosively enough, with Daniel Bryan likening The Miz to a coward and evoking an explosive, defensive reaction in the “Awesome One.” Aside from a brief, pre-show exchange between Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, no mention or big deal has been made of the tensions between the general manager and the IC Champion, with Dolph Ziggler arbitrarily continuing the jibes to give him something to do since failing to win the WWE World Championship.
It’s been all Dolph, accosting Miz after his matches, rubbing salt into the wound, that has advanced this feud. At no point has The Miz taken his own initiative and suckered Dolph Ziggler out of the blue, and at no point have the two of them come face to face on the mic. Given a little more time, both of these things could have happened, and The Miz’s clear attachment to the Intercontinental Championship could have been a far more prominent feature in this feud.
As it stands, it’s difficult to get the impression that Dolph Ziggler is interested in getting the gold, nor do they get any sense of resentment for Dolph from The Miz. The intensity between the two is not boiling over as it should on the eve of a PPV, merely lightly simmering.
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
“The Eater of Worlds” is at his best when his opponent seems at his weakest, and they only reach that stage after several weeks over mind games and torment. Granted, Bray Wyatt’s M.O. is that he pursues people just because he can, but usually there’s some highfalutin motivation for his ire.
Instead, he delivers an ad-hoc sermon to tell Randy Orton that he’s weak because Brock Lesnar made him bleed, and Orton has responded by doing serious faces during interviews.
That this match is a mere cobbled together stepping stone to the rematch between Lesnar and Orton doesn’t help its importance, but it could still have worked if Wyatt had screwed Orton out of a few victories and set himself up as a formidable foe. Instead, there has been no time for Wyatt to really explain why he’s pursuing Randy Orton, and their rivalry feels like it is only half boiled before the PPV.
The women’s division on SmackDown has soared to Raw’s heights in recent weeks, and all six of the ladies in the class are churning out solid matches and allowing their personalities to emerge. In the last couple of weeks, an intriguing tension between Carmella and Nikki Bella has started to emerge.
The problem is, like the playoffs between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler, it’s been a one-sided affair in which Nikki Bella hasn’t clawed back any heat from the random attacks that she has endured from the “Princess of Staten Island.” And, while Becky Lynch might seem perfectly prepared to be a serious odds-on favorite to pick up the Women’s Championship, don’t forget that Naomi and Alexa Bliss are essentially new faces to mainstream WWE audiences, and are reduced to being meat in the room when they should have been allowed to pick their own target in the buildup to the six-pack match.
From where we’re sitting, it looks like Carmella and Bella will blow off some tension in that multi-woman match, but the others are likely to seem a bit aimless in the crowd.
Tag Team Championship
The SmackDown Tag Team Championship is basically a side-show to Heath Slater’s contract quest at this stage, and while the skits are fun, the in-ring work from Slater and Rhyno leaves a lot to be desired. What could have been the most well prepared match on the show is instead likely to be the weakest, and it doesn’t help that an additional qualifying match is set to take place at the bottom of the card. A sense of animosity between Slater and Rhyno and whoever ends up joining them in the final isn’t likely to develop over the course of a couple of hours, and it’s hard to see how anyone will actually care enough to bet on a winner of this one.
And then there’s the main event. While the showdown between Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles is unlikely to stop short of being match of the night, there just hasn’t been an adequate chance to see how the two interact with each other. This is a surprise when you consider just how intense things got between Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose, a feud which was amped up week by week, and became more on more personal with every promo. As far as Ambrose-Styles is concerned, we’ve had a quick kick in the nuts one week, and a quick nuts on the rope in another. It’s a ready meal feud — quick and easy to cook, but lacking the flavor that comes with delicacy and long preparation.
Today’s Powerbomb has already advocated for the brand-exclusive PPV structure to more closely mirror the sort of schedule used during the original brand extension — where Raw and SmackDown would alternate and have their own shows every two months, with a cross-promotional free-for-all for the big four events.
That Backlash feels like an afterthought proves that we were right.