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WWE Backlash 2023 recap & reactions: Puerto Rico forever

One night after an awesome episode of Friday Night SmackDown, WWE returned to San Juan, Puerto Rico for its Backlash event. The crowd once again treated us to a special atmosphere and WWE paid them off with one hell of a show.

Click here to read a detailed live blog of all the night’s events. Now let’s get into recapping and reacting to how it all went down.

My thinking after the Cody Rhodes vs. Brock Lesnar match was announced was that by the end of it, we would know pretty much everything about how WWE truly views the former and his place in the pecking order. If you thought he should have defeated Roman Reigns to win the WWE Universal championship in the main event of WrestleMania 39, and the powers that be were wrong for not doing so, he absolutely had to win here, and maybe even win clean. Pretty much any other result would have put him into a box he clearly shouldn’t be in.

Thankfully, they made the right call.

Rhodes pinned Lesnar.

How it happened absolutely matters, but this was as clean a win as you could reasonably expect Cody to get.

He was an actually smart babyface and attacked Lesnar before the bell, blasting him with chair shots while it was still legal and only stopping once the match officially got underway. He did as much damage as he could, before he started taking damage of his own.

Once he did, Lesnar well and truly made him “earn it,” as he put it, although not to such a degree that it was a clear mismatch. Lesnar didn’t treat him like a lower level guy to be squashed but rather an equal.

Late in the match, Lesnar suffered a cut that left his face, the mat, and even Cody covered in blood. I don’t know if it was planned but it made for some memorable visuals, notably a bloodied Lesnar screaming as he had Rhodes in a Kimura. And that’s where the finish came, with Cody countering by stacking Brock and pinning his shoulders to the mat while in the submission, improbably scoring the three count there.

It was fast, and unexpected, but it was a clean pinfall victory.

Again, I don’t think you could have gotten much more for Rhodes here. They knew what they had for the insanely hot Bad Bunny match and still chose to close the show with Cody scoring this win. That’s pretty damn meaningful overall, especially considering he’s the guy they’re going to be counting on to sell shows back home.

The match may not have been a classic, but they absolutely did the right thing with it.

The greatest and best match ever

When I tell you the atmosphere for this match felt like a WrestleMania main event, I mean I genuinely got that feeling I used to only ever get for major UFC main event fights. That kind of nervous energy that makes you stand up at attention and start shadow boxing and shit.

When Bad Bunny’s music hit, the pop was thunderous, an all timer of a reaction. They started singing his song as he danced to the ring with a kendo stick and he felt like the biggest star on Earth in that moment.

You almost felt lucky to have him here for this.

Then, of course, he went out and performed his ass off like he does everywhere in his life. This man sells better than half the current WWE roster. His timing is good, his instincts are good, even his punches are solid! At one point, he hit a Falcon Arrow and it looked every bit as good as if it was Priest doing it.

He’s also an absolute mad lad, willing to take bumps you wouldn’t think a world famous music star would be. Priest — who did a fantastic job protecting him and making sure he was safe while still making it look great — hit him with a Falcon Arrow of his own off a rig through a table out in the crowd.

Let’s throw in psychology while we’re at it, as he injured Priest’s leg and then put all his focus on that.

Okay, I’m going pretty far here but he legitimately showcased so much in this match.

It was a brilliantly done match even before it broke down with The Judgment Day and Rey Mysterio getting involved. And then it really went over the top when none other than Carlito’s music hit for one hell of a great surprise.

He teamed with Mysterio to fight off Finn Balor and Dominik Mysterio. Then, Savio Vega showed up to get involved too.

The response to all of this in San Juan was something truly special. You had to see it and hear it to believe it.

Somehow, the rest of the match was even better than the first half. They teased Bunny winning with the Figure Four — that bad leg! — but ultimately had him hit Priest with the Canadian Destroyer for the pinfall and the victory. After, he was joined by all the babyfaces who had come out previously and hoisted on their shoulders in celebration while the crowd continued going insane for all of it.

This was legitimately some of the most fun I’ve ever had watching a pro wrestling match.

The unexpected breather

In a strange change of pace, a match involving The Bloodline, against the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Matt Riddle no less, was put in something of a cool down spot, sandwiched between the bonkers Street Fight and Rhodes vs. Lesnar. It was a breather for a crowd that never seemed to need to find a second wind.

Still, they worked so slow it felt as though they were trying to calm everyone down after they were so very hyped for the match before it. Hell, at one point during an extended beatdown of Zayn, they started chanting “We Want Reigns.”


They eventually got the crowd going and into it well enough, even if they didn’t have the same energy as they did prior. Part of that was the nature of the match itself, which was heavily based around the ongoing story of how well The Bloodline would be able to get along.

To that end, Solo Sikoa and Jey Uso ramped up their issues with each other in a big way, arguing over who should be in the match and damn near coming to blows just before nearly losing the match. It also looked as though when Sikoa had the chance to go after either Zayn or Jey, he was about to choose the latter.

Soon after, he very nearly hit him with a Samoan Spike. It once again nearly cost them.

In the end, though, they managed to overcome their issues and win the match, with Sikoa pinning Riddle after the Spike when he snuck a tag that Riddle didn’t see.

They did a good job advancing the story here, but it came at the expense of a better match. Considering what they were going to be doing, though, it makes a lot of sense why they put it where they did.

Hey, they can’t all be absolute bangers, right?

Brutality > Emotions

This one was emotionally charged right from the start. Zelina Vega was given a hero’s welcome, and before she ever got in the ring for introductions she was ringside hugging her family, who were in the front row to watch her challenge for the SmackDown women’s championship. When she was introduced shortly after, she was openly crying.

Credit to whoever decided to let that moment breathe before introducing Rhea Ripley, because the crowd responded with a standing ovation as Vega’s tears flowed freely. It made it feel so much more special.

It was so well done, with Vega so emotional, and Michael Cole mentioning she was dedicating this to her father, who she lost on 9/11, I started wondering if WWE was planning a surprise and doing a switch here. The way they laid out the match furthered the thought of that as a possibility, with Vega paying homage to Eddie Guerrero and getting a nice flurry that seemed to build to the potential of something more.

But Ripley, the dominant champion she is, snuffed that out in a hurry. She used one kick, and a powerful Riptide to emphatically win the match to retain her title. In hindsight, it was always going to be this way.

And that’s how it should be, all things considered.


The story going into this match was all about the cracks forming in Damage CTRL and what kind of effect that has had on SKY, or would possibly have in her shot against Bianca Belair and the Raw women’s championship.

To that end, SKY came out for the match by herself, with Bayley and Dakota Kai nowhere to be seen. This was a point of reference for commentary, who played up the fact that there have been issues and “some on social media believe Bayley is holding IYO back.”

Meanwhile, the live crowd was 100-percent by her, cheering every time she got any bit of offense in and booing anytime Belair returned fire. It felt a bit strange at first, considering they were cheering the heel and booing the babyface, but Bianca did a great job of rolling with the punches.

They also proceeded to deliver an insanely strong opener. I can’t say enough about the work these two put in. They were snug but still smooth and able to remain physical without slowing down one bit.

There were a couple of near falls in there that felt like WrestleMania with how invested the crowd was. It even started to feel possible SKY would steal the victory.

But, as I mentioned, this story is about Damage CTRL’s fracture and the cracks grew much bigger thanks to Bayley more or less costing SKY the championship, even though she was only trying to help. This match did a great job of making clear that SKY no longer needs to be in the group to see great success, if she ever did before, and in fact remaining in it is actively holding her back.

The other story is Belair becoming “the longest reigning women’s champion of the modern era.” This victory allows WWE to call her as much, so she was always going to win, even if it started feeling like maybe she shouldn’t.

The good news is these two are on the same brand going forward.

We definitely need to see this again sometime.

David Stomps Goliath

Seth Rollins, predictably enough, was insanely over the moment his music hit the loud speakers. Yes, they sang. And they kept right on singing when the loud speakers got quiet. Rollins stood in the ring, bathed in a spotlight, getting showered with his tune while Omos stood in the corner and waited.

Until he didn’t.

I wondered how they would handle this match, considering not just the size difference but the general apathy towards Omos in general. Brock Lesnar got over by lifting him up for the F-5. That was all he needed. Rollins would have no such advantage.

So I thought it was brilliant to have Omos interrupt that special musical moment by booting Rollins in the head. The crowd despised him for it. This crowd was such that they made it easy on him, but there won’t be many opportunities to get over as a heel to that degree, and Omos did pretty damn well with it.

He played to the crowd’s hatred wonderfully, and he sold his ass off for Rollins. Basically, he was a perfect heel.

Omos managed to kick out of not just one but two Stomps. Rollins, desperate, went as big as he possibly could to get the job done — going up to the top rope and hitting a SUPER STOMP. That was enough to get the pin and the victory to a huge ovation.

This was a million times better than expected, and Omos in particular deserves a lot of credit for his work here, maybe the best he’s ever been in a WWE ring.

A-Town Down

Austin Theory, Bobby Lashley, and Bronson Reed had the unenviable position of trying to follow two great singles matches with a triple threat for the United States championship where the finish was basically guaranteed.

Despite this, they had a fairly entertaining match, though it was something of a sprint. Reed did a couple big spots, which is pretty much anytime a man of that mass comes off the top rope. He generally looked the part here, and showed why Triple H wanted to re-sign him.

Meanwhile, Lashley was booked strong enough despite taking the loss. That’s because Theory, the little shit heel that he is, took advantage of Lashley spearing Reed by throwing Bobby out of the ring and stealing his pinfall.

I’m not terribly sold on Theory, and it says something that he was the least memorable of the three guys in this match despite the fact that he’s coming out of it as champion.

We’ll see where they go from here, now that the post-Draft rosters take effect this coming week.

I was blown away by how great this show was. Give Puerto Rico a WrestleMania already.

Grade: A

Your turn.

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