WWE shocked the world with its Backlash pay-per-view last night (May 21, 2017) in Chicago.
Let’s get right to it.
For a blow-by-blow analysis, read Kyle Decker’s liveblog here.
The Maharaja’s moment
Jinder Mahal is WWE Champion. He pinned Randy Orton after interference from The Singh Brothers. This match was long and not very good.
All things serious, this is a rapid elevation for a former enhancement talent who, outside of a small oddball ironic following, is nowhere near deserving the position on merit. Business metrics, yada yada, but if “the brand is the star” in the United States, then surely the same would also be true in foreign markets.
For the record, there are approximately 121 million Punjabi speakers in the world, and only 30 million or so in India. The notion that Mahal is someone that a country of 1.3 billion people and an enormous number of ethno-linguistic groups can universally identify with is shockingly ignorant.
Par the course, really.
To be continued
Kevin Owens retained the United States Championship via countout when AJ Styles got caught in the announcer’s table.
For a lot of people this was expected to be the Match of the Night, and perhaps many felt that way. What the match did feel like was a very indieriffic, spot-rest, spot-rest, spot-rest, contest. Owens’ work on Styles injured knee was inconsistent, and should have been more heavily focused—and stressed greater on commentary—for the story they apparently wanted to tell. Instead it was a bomb throwing match.
Owens was terrific on Talking Smack, completely belittling Renee Young and Peter Rosenberg. More of that KO, please and thank you.
Hopefully this feud kicks into another gear starting on Tuesday, because the blue brand desperately needs this program to draw eyeballs.
That’s ... it?
Of all the possible routes to take The Welcoming Committee versus Naomi, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch, having the faces tap out clean was ... an interesting idea. But it’s exactly what Lynch did, submitting to Natalya’s sharpshooter.
This match was dull, any semblance of story has completely dissipated from the division, and having three lower-card talents in Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina win clean over three clearly greater women was, well, dumb.
Perhaps SmackDown will run an angle on Tuesday that plays on this result, but surely there could have been a better way to get to that point than this.
How badly has this story fizzled out?
In his in ring main roster debut, Shinsuke Nakamura worked underneath Dolph Ziggler for 15 minutes before finally winning with his finisher.
Let’s think about this. You’ve built up a guy as a unique talent, a force of will, and to introduce him to a wider audience you have him work a standard WWE babyface match. Nakamura’s speciality is strong style offense, and Ziggler’s speciality is bumping all over the place. How on earth could they get it this wrong?
Removed from context, this was probably a fine match. But context matters, making this a big failure. The structure is symptomatic of the desire to place every babyface in the same cookie-cutter box, and it’s just downright brainless.
Nakamura did nearly end up taking Ziggler’s head off with the Kinshasa, but otherwise, this was all wrong.
Let’s all take a moment to bask in the glory of Breezango. Tyler Breeze and Fandango have been a revelation over the last month, and tonight was no different, with Breeze reprising his janitor “disguise,” going so far as to pretend to mop the ring apron during the match. The SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos played off the gimmick perfectly, bemused at first and increasingly agitated as the match unfolded. The champions retained, but the real winners of the night were Breeze and Fandango.
Breeze even worked in disguise during the match (even changing into an old Grandma costume at one point), and the antics had Chicago both in stitches and, increasingly so, massively hoping that the challengers would emerge victorious. As the Cageside Twitter account noted:
Been a long time since I've wanted anyone to win anything as bad as I want Breezango to win this match— Cageside Seats (@cagesideseats) May 22, 2017
The only fear here is if WWE has already decided that Breezango were a filler feud and not destined for anything more. Such a decision would be a horrible mistake, because right now The Fashion Police are far and away the most entertaining thing on the main roster. That the Usos won with a bit of heel chicanery hopefully means we haven’t seen the last of these two teams battling for the gold.
Congratulations on the briefcase, Mr. Corbin
Money in the Bank is a SmackDown pay-per-view this year, and is less than a month away on June 18. So Baron Corbin’s loss to Sami Zayn tonight—a legitimate upset, given that it has been apparent Corbin is headed for a main event push and Zayn’s arc seemed destined to have him repeatedly come up short—could perhaps be a canary in the coal mine as to the identity of this year’s “Mr. Money in the Bank.”
This was the match of the night, centered around Zayn just. not. staying. down. despite Corbin continuously working over his back. Zayn eventually won with a shock Helluva Kick. There are few people in the world that get “babyface” just like Sami Zayn does.
All the rest
Luke Harper defeated Erick Rowan in the death spot between the United States and WWE Championship matches. There isn’t a whole lot to speak about on this, though Rowan put in another entertaining bit earlier in the night by spooking the pre-show panel. Hopefully Harper will have similar chances to shine in the coming weeks, as this feud seems likely to continue.
Tye Dillinger beat Aiden English on the kickoff show. English’s signing gimmick is downright insufferable and therefore a big hit. He’s a really solid character in that you want to see someone shut him up badly. Dillinger did that last night, winning with the Tyebreaker.
Not even sure what to say anymore. SmackDown Live has now completed its transformation from “utterly compelling wrestling program” to “giant trolljob.” WWE management has seemingly taken “The Land of Opportunity” idea and stretched it as far as possible for their own amusement.
For the record, the grade isn’t even noted in anger, but disappointment. This show has rapidly and totally devolved in quality over the last two months.