Feels like just yesterday that we had the occasionally entertaining slog that was SummerSlam, and yet, here we are a few days away from another live special: the first-ever SmackDown Live pay-per-view, Backlash. What’s interesting about this is that every single feud is a new one set up over the last three weeks of the blue brand; the only thing that could maybe be considered a retread is the women’s title scene, but even that is now for a brand new title, so we’ll allow it. While not every feud has been built as well as it could have been, Backlash has the potential to have some great matches and even a classic between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose.
That urgency to set up feuds made this week’s blue brand offering way better than a normal go-home show (for reference, go rewatch the SmackDown Live from before SummerSlam); every segment felt purposeful (except for maybe that Fandango/Kane weirdness) and every match advanced the storyline more than normal filler would. Particularly, the tag team division got some much needed intensity and drama; up until now, one side of the bracket was “*pencil in American Alpha*” while the other was “how will Heath Slater make us laugh tonight?” Not bad places to be, but with The Usos doing the thing they did, and SlaterRhyno looking like the most competent team still left in the tourney, we’re on our way to an explosive finale to the tag team tournament. Given this week’’ SmackDown Live, it looks like Backlash will be the PPV version of the Tuesday night show: maybe not as glamorous as Raw, but consistently entertaining from top to bottom. Can’t ask for more than that on three weeks of build, can you?
5. Becky Lynch Is the Hero We Deserve…
…but Nikki Bella is the hero we need right now. As much as we all (presumably) might love the Irish Lass Kicker, Nikki winning after her triumphant return from a career-threatening injury is a nice enough storyline on its own, but we also have the incoming Total Bellas promo cycle to think about. Becky missing out because the heels triple team her on Sunday would work out just fine for the lovable babyface, and if they have the patience for it, Becky taking the title from Nikki at WrestleMania is the SmackDown Live storyline we both need and deserve. If that means a few months of babyface Nikki Bella as champion (again), then so be it. Give Becky a feud with Alexa Bliss in the meantime, because the world is ready for that amount of awesomeness in one rivalry.
By the way, special props to Bliss calling Daniel Bryan a “Bella Trophy Husband” in the opening segment, which is fantastic in so many ways.
4. The Miz Is Right, Though
The popular opinion is that heels in WWE are always at their best when they’re somewhat right, but they might be going too far with The Miz. Between his firebrand promo against Daniel Bryan two weeks ago, and last week’s show-opening showdown with Ziggler, he’d been creeping towards “too right for comfort.” Last night, though, he echoed the sentiments of everyone watching the show: why is Dolph Ziggler getting an Intercontinental Championship match? As Dolph himself says during the Miz vs Apollo Crews, “have I won a lot? No!” All the Show-Off did to earn a shot at the second-most important title on the brand was walk out at the right time last week.
On the plus side, the crowd is starting to get behind Apollo Crews; his moonsault to the outside got what might have been the loudest pop of his main roster career, and the crowd was living and dying by every false finish in a nothing match to advance a separate feud. Good stuff from the Smilin’ Georgian.
3. USO CRAZY
WWE, you crazy bastards. After years of fans begging for a Roman Reigns heel turn, his bleeping cousins beat him to the punch…or the superkick, I suppose. After getting hilariously squashed by American Alpha in less than 30 seconds, The Usos finally did their first interesting thing since that awesome two-out-three falls match vs the Wyatt Family over two years ago (how time flies!): with one superkick to Jason Jordan and a beatdown (and subsequent “injury”) to Chad Gable, Jimmy and Jey just became one-hundred percent more intriguing. With the news that American Alpha is now out of the tournament final, The Usos will face off against the Hype Bros (spoiler for the next section) at Backlash for a slot in the final the same night, giving us not just a way to keep the belts from the unstoppable Jason & Chad bromance team, but also a ready-made feud when Gable’s injury (apparently a sprained MCL) is healed. In a perfect world, American Alpha don’t win the belts for a bit, and when they finally do…The Revival will show up to make their life hell once again. One can dream.
2. There Was No Hype To Be Had
Mojo Rawley might always stay hype, but there’s no stopping the Heath Slater train right now. I was convinced that Slater and Rhyno would advance to the finals then get hilariously squashed by American Alpha, but since that’s off the table, I’m ready to buy into Team Beauty and the Man Beast as the first-ever SmackDown Live tag team champs. It would be a great way to reward Slater for turning literally every piece of garbage content WWE has thrown his way and turned it into gold, and it would also give Rhyno a nice capping on a weirdly entertaining career resurgence that started down in NXT. This is also me being selfish: since a win in the final gives Heath Slater a contract, ending his “hottest free agent” storyline and keeping him on the Blue Brand (where, to be fair, he’s spent most of his time), I can’t root against adding his particular brand of comedy to my show.
1. The Face That Comes In Second Place
Let’s get this out of the way: even before AJ Styles stood tall to end the go-home show (refer to a previous recap for why that matters), I was pretty sure Dean Ambrose was going to retain his title at Backlash. This feud has so much potential that it won’t be resolved after 3 weeks and one match, so let’s just hope for a great match and a good reason to continue this down the line. Tonight’s segment was a bit uneven, if we’re being honest; wacky Ambrose isn’t as good as genuinely unhinged Ambrose, and AJ going super serious isn’t as entertaining as his weird Bullet Club-tinged heel humor, like his post-SummerSlam promo. I’m a bit disappointed that he didn’t create a #BeatUpDeanAmbrose hashtag, at least. So, I’m hoping that post-Backlash, this feud gains a bit more fire and higher stakes (speaking of the Bullet Club, should Styles bring in another member since The Club is off doing the worst segment of the year on Raw?).
All that being said, if Styles proves me wrong and continues to be the best booked person since the draft (non-Finn Balor Division), we’ll get vengeful lunatic Ambrose, which could be…phenomenal as well.