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In a world growing more destructive and hopeless by the minute, the politic, debates and chaos of our era have even dripped into WWE, as the company continues down its wildest time, a time that may well be called the COVID year. As we all walk down this uncertain road, the latest coping strategy in WWE the past few weeks, has been the reintroduction of an audience. An audience made up of socially distanced WWE Performance Center trainees, all stood behind behind plexiglass walls. Apparently this was a solution done some time ago in rival promotion AEW but WWE have introduced it rather well and having an vocal select audience in attendance has certainly aided things it has to be said. It may not be back to normal but maybe, just maybe, we’re getting there.
Anyway, back to business and in a standard WWE year unplagued by viruses, we have often witnessed a pre-SummerSlam slump and in the run up to Backlash there has undoubtedly been some slower weekly shows. However, the hype has all been about Edge and Randy Orton, in a singles match that WWE has been billing as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever”, which is not the best promotional slogan but on we go. So, did Backlash deliver on that promise? And what else did this show have in store? Good matches? Bad matches? Mad Moments? Oh, you have no idea…
1. (Kick-Off show) WWE United States Championship Match – Apollo Crews (c) vs. Andrade w/ Zelina Vega and Angel Garza
I’d have liked to see this on the main show actually, as it was rather good. Apollo Crews is slowly becoming a consistent fighting champion figure and it’s nice (and long overdue) to see him finally getting a run with a title and being able to show off his impressive athleticism. A good match here. Kevin Owens joined the RAW commentary team, which was fun and came into play nicely, as he kept the match pure and took out an interfering Angel Garza. Nice win for Crews, after an evenly fought bout, and I look forward to what’s next.
The main show opens with a video package centred strongly on Edge vs. Orton and the ‘ol “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” billing…
2. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match – The IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) vs. Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks and Bayley (c)
Good choice for an opener, that saw all three teams working lightening fast, as there was not a huge time limit given but they did well with what they had. Started off with some nice wrestling, before a few stand-offs and some enjoyably chaotic action took over. Pre-match Bayley and Sasha Banks were interviewed about their friendship, which is leading towards the inevitable future (Summerslam maybe?) break-up. Not tonight though, as Sasha scored the win for the “besties”, to retain the belts in a fast n’ fun three way tag match.
3. Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus
If this is to be Jeff Hardy’s last run, I can’t help but think we’ll look back on this feud with Sheamus and think that some serious time was wasted. Don’t get me wrong, bleeding the product into reality has always been a factor in this business and it yields heated and compelling results (The Outsiders in WCW, Matt Hardy/Edge in 2005) but sometimes WWE do personal angles and they just feel uncomfortable and this “junkie” stuff with Jeff feels that way. What with urine tests and car accidents, it’s been a bit much over the last few weeks but hey ho on to the match we go. This was an up and down affair. Patchy in parts, with a couple of slip ups, the groove eventually got going mid-way, before the heel victory for Sheamus took the wind out of the sails, as it was clearly supposed to. However, Corey Graves’ “Jeff should feel ashamed of himself” (why? For trying?) comment on commentary was just one of many odd decisions made here in this uneasy story, which hopefully will have a triumphant end result. This was not a particularly memorable encounter and a bit jerky at times. Obviously it is leading to an Extreme Rules rematch next month, which I think will fare much much better. Hopefully poor old Jeff won’t be required to recite the alphabet backwards or walk in a straight line on the weekly shows until then!
4. WWE RAW Women’s Championship – Asuke (c) vs. Nia Jax
Asuke is never less than entertaining and her uphill battle against the powerhouse Nia Jax made for some enjoyable action. There was some quick flurries that Asuke unleashed to wear down her monstrous foe and both ladies looked good in a back and forth contest. However, the double countout ending was unsatisfying and rather awkwardly delivered. Nothing spectacular, and the inconclusive finish hurt it, but this battle is set to rage on another month it seems.
5. WWE Universal Championship 2-on-1 Handicap Match – Braun Strowman (c) vs. The Miz and John Morrison
Can I just say that Miz and John Morrison’s music video “HEY! Hey Hey”, is a work of art! As for the match…sadly not. Despite the talent involved, there was really not much to write home about here. Morrison and Miz wore down the big man with regular tags and fast manoeuvres, in fact they nearly had it won except for a breakdown of communications (as it was dropped on them beforehand that whoever got the pin, got the belt (duh!), so inevitably a problem developed), which led to Braun Strowman picking up his pretty obvious win. I expected more here and there was not much energy developing due to the inevitability of how it would all go down (and did). And no “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt appearance either made this one doubly disappointing and utterly forgettable.
6. WWE Championship – Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Lashley w/MVP
This one hit the ground running as Lashley slapped on the the full nelson just before the opening bell and gave Drew McIntyre an uphill battle from the off. As the match began, Lashley was like a true beast and that continued throughout in this exciting war, which at points had me thinking it could go either way. I was momentarily taken out of it by a scary botch early doors, on the outside of the ring, that saw Drew slip from Lashley’s grasp and land square on his head but thankfully everyone seemed fine and they regrouped and continued. And it was not hard to get back into this well matched battle, especially as we had Samoa Joe on commentary for it, which made it all the better, he is absolutely awesome calling the action at that RAW desk. Sadly the ending shenanigans soured things a bit, as we saw Lana come down to ringside and attempt to…well, frankly I don’t know what she was attempting to do but the ensuing distraction got her Bobby claymored and got Drew a hard earned win. Shame about the terrible and awkward finish but a great match overall. I’d like to see this rivalry continue but I get an awful feeling we’re going back into the Lana/Lashley love tiff scenario and this feud clearly does not require such nonsense.
At this point we had a scheduled match between The Street Profits and The Viking Raiders for the WWE RAW Tag Team Championships, after weeks of basketball, golfing, bowling games and whatnot to see which team was superior. So settle it in the ring right? Oh contraire viewers, as we instead headed backstage, where the two teams were brawling outside in the Performance Center parking lot, where they smashed Braun Strowman’s car (that’s twice in 2 weeks that car has got those hands!!) accidentally and took off. What followed was an unexpected cinematic match or rather fight, and I tell you dear readers, what went down last night has to be seen to be believed! I thought I’d dreamt most of it or had one too many vodkas! Akira Tozawa arriving on the scene with motorcycling ninjas, Power Rangers style team uniting, lightening in a red solo cup, a monster in a garbage disposal unit, Ivar and his romantic and turkey leg flashbacks and bowling balls to the nuts, this was like WWE’s answer to a wild genre-spliced ‘80s B-Movie crossed with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel. I laughed, I looked on in confused awe, I…I have no idea what it was but it was oddly hypnotic in its dedication to cartoonish mayhem! As Matt Berry’s Laszlo Cravensworth (from the awesome What We Do in the Shadows TV series) might say, it was “as mad as a wax banana”!
7. Randy Orton vs. Edge
This was the main selling point of Backlash and before it began we were told that there would be audio and unique camerawork deployed to “enhance” the experience. What this ended up meaning was that the live PC trainee crowd was amplified with arena style crowd noise sound effects and there were some unusual camera angles deployed. It was strange but I eventually accepted it fine. Even before the bell, this was rather the spectacle, with an old fashioned lowered microphone in the ring and the voice of the late great Howard Finkel introducing both men, while referee Charles Robinson was adorned in old school shirt and dickie bow referee attire. It had a mid ‘80s WWF feel and added a further some sense of grandness. Mind you, even without all these bells and whistles, when it came down to it, Edge and Randy Orton delivered an amazing encounter. Across 45 minutes, these guys – despite being given an unfair tagline to place on anything – put on an incredible main event. An old school epic that was a homage to some of the greatest to ever do it (with references to Eddie Guerrero, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and The Rock) and a throwback ring story spectacle. The action was a masterclass in storytelling, as Edge really was remarkable in a performance that defiantly kicked away those nine years, while Orton delivered his best match in yonks. The ending felt daring (with Orton’s banned punt kick making a return), as did moments within (there was even bloodshed), with Orton earning the victory in an emotive moment that felt very akin to a Ric Flair encounter of yesteryear. “Greatest wrestling match ever”? That’s up for debate obviously and you can’t force such things. Personally I’d say it wasn’t but had WWE not have had this rather silly aggrandised billing unfairly held over these guys heads, many would be proclaiming this as the spectacular feat that it was, rather than having to preface it with comparisons to past classics. Point is Edge and Orton showed up with a main event that made their WrestleMania 36 Last Man Standing match (which I am in a minority of really enjoying) look restrained. Wonderful stuff. Apparently Edge was injured during the match and may be out of action for a few months, which is really sad because he is still very much The rated R Superstar and clearly has a lot more stories to tell and chapters to write. Get well soon Edge, I’m intrigued to see where Orton goes from here.
Overall, Backlash was a wildly up and down show. Some of the first hour was all over the shop and disappointing but things kicked into gear with Lashley and Drew McIntyre before descending into down right madness with that cinematic segment. However, in judging the show many will ask did the main event live up to the hype? Well, that hype was ridiculous because calling something the greatest thing ever is a statement that you cannot make in advance or of something you are creating but whatever people’s opinions are, Edge and Randy Orton had overwhelming expectations to meet and they did, with an incredible legends of wrestling style showcase. So was the hype met? I suppose you could say it was. Far from a perfect show but the main event shone, while there was fun to be had in other areas of this show’s 3 hour duration.