For the first time in nearly 10 years, the WWE will be hosting brand-exclusive pay-per-views. That all starts Sunday with SmackDown Live’s Backlash.
A quick look at the card offers a glimpse at why the WWE stopped having single-brand pay-per-views in the first place. Backlash’s card is strong at the top, its top few matches being ones that fit in on any pay-per-view. But, with depth at a premium, the undercard suffers.
Of course, it was much easier to criticize the WWE for these lackluster cards when it expected fans to pay $60 to see them.
At $9.99 a month, it’s much easier to justify spending for a so-so pay-per-view. Especially when the top few matches on the card border on must-see. That said, let’s take a look at each match at Backlash and rank it based on expectations heading in and whether or not we expect it to meet, exceed or fall short of those expectations.
6. Tag Team Championship Qualifier: The Usos vs. Hype Bros
Not much to be said for this match. The Usos recently turned heel by attacking and injuring Chad Gable of American Alpha. As a result, Alpha will be forced to miss their chance at becoming the first SmackDown tag champs. Of course, Gable’s recovery timeline is all of two to four weeks, a strong indication that his injury is simply to progress the feud between The Usos and American Alpha.
It’s fairly obvious that The Usos will win this semi-final matchup against the Hype Bros. The latter team already lost to Heath Slater and Rhyno and having The Usos fall so soon would take a lot of heat off their heel turn. There’s nothing necessarily wrong this matchup. It fills space, serves a purpose and will probably be fine from an in-ring standpoint. Still, most would agree that it’s a SmackDown-quality bout.
5. SmackDown Women’s Championship Six Pack Challenge
It’s hard to get too excited about this matchup. Especially upon considering that Raw will be offering up some combination of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley in just a few weeks time. SmackDown, meanwhile, can’t come up with a compelling program and so, instead, is making the entirety of its women’s division duke it out.
It seems fair to say that the blue brand is hoping that mayhem will pass for entertainment. And, hey, it probably will. But expecting it to surpass any of the other announced matches on the card seems unwise.
4. Tag Team Championship: Heath Slater & Rhyno vs TBD
This match once seemed destined to come down to American Alpha against Heath Slater and Rhyno. As the clock kept ticking, however, it seemed like SmackDown’s booking team ran into a brick wall.
Heath Slater’s efforts to get a SmackDown contract have been a highlight of the show. They’ve revitalized a stagnant character and the fans have bought in. Slater’s opportunity at tag team gold as well as a SmackDown contract could see his months-long odyssey reach a satisfying end.
However, the WWE couldn’t do that at the expense of American Alpha. That team has been built as the torch-bearers for SmackDown’s tag division since debuting. And so we’ve moved to an alternative. Either The Hype Bros or (most likely) The Usos will take on Slater and Rhyno. It’ll be weird not seeing American Alpha compete, but Slater’s moment, presuming he gets it, will most likely make up for that.
3. Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs Dolph Ziggler
One of the primary goals of the brand split was to elevate misused Superstars. You can debate how well that’s worked as a whole, but two talents who’ve made the most of the opportunity — The Miz and Dolph Ziggler — will butt heads on Sunday night.
The Miz has been doing top-flight heel work all year, but his impassioned promo on Daniel Bryan has taken him to new heights. Wanting to disprove this notion that he’s a coward looks like it could consume him. Ziggler, meanwhile, has renewed passion of his own after Dean Ambrose planted it in his head that he couldn’t “win the big one.”
The match itself pits two solid workers against one another and should be a good, if not quite spectacular, one. And, whether it’s Miz shaking off the coward label or Ziggler rebounding to capture gold, the victor of this match should benefit.
2. Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt
There are admittedly some reasons that work against slotting Randy Orton’s matchup with Bray Wyatt so highly. The build to it has been fine thus far, albeit not necessarily groundbreaking. And, while the in-ring work should be OK, there are probably some better pure wrestling matches on the card.
But, like with Orton and Lesnar last month, this is a showdown that’s been a long time coming. Not a dream match in the prototypical sense, but one that many WWE fans have long wanted to see. Orton and Wyatt probably won’t tear the house down, but they’re more than capable of a compelling brawl.
Not to mention that a Sister Abigail reversed into an RKO would be a nice consolation after not seeing an F-5 reversed into one last month.
1. WWE World Championship: Dean Ambrose (c) vs AJ Styles
Dean Ambrose has taken some flak for what’s been a largely underwhelming title reign thus far, but he has a chance to reverse that narrative on Sunday’s special. And he couldn’t ask for a better dancing partner.
AJ Styles has been putting on Match of the Night contenders with every opponent he comes across, most notably stealing the show against Roman Reigns and John Cena. Ambrose’s in-ring work has been criticized in recent months, but he’s certainly not incapable of having a standout match. Styles is the ideal foe to get one out of him.
With two victories over John Cena in recent months, the WWE seems to be all in on Styles. It’s a matter of when, and not if, he captures the WWE Championship. As such, the very real possibility of a title change in what should be a strong outing puts this main event match atop these rankings.