Published on May 26th, 2017 | by Ian Goodwillie1
WWE Backlash Weekend
We’re going to start doing a little bit of wrestling coverage for the sports entertainment fans out there — last weekend was a busy one!
When a WWE pay-per-view airs, normally it’s just a commitment of three to four hours of your Sunday evening. Well, that depends on whether you watch the pre-show or not. But this past weekend was Backlash, the first SmackDown brand focused event since WrestleMania, took up almost as much of your time as their biggest event of the year.
Friday night was The UK Championship Special.
Saturday night was NXT Takeover Chicago.
Sunday night was WWE Backlash.
And that’s not even counting your decision to tune into the season finale of SNL hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. All in all, it was a busy weekend for sports entertainment fans.
The UK Championship Special was filmed on May 9th but aired on May 17th as part of Backlash weekend. It was the next step in the WWE’s developing UK brand, a follow up on their January 2017 tournament that crowned Tyler Bate as the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion. The May 2017 sequel did not disappoint. In addition to the UK superstars featured, members of the 205 Live cruiserweight crew also participated in a tag team match. UK talent Dan Moloney teamed up with Rich Swann to face off against TJP and The Brian Kendrick. While his team came up short, Moloney stood out and put on one hell of a match.
Tyler Bate also defended his championship against the usually high flying Mark Andrews. Unfortunately, the first three quarters of the match was a bit of a snooze-fest as Andrews was grounded and the pace stayed slow. Once Mark Andrews got the chance to start rolling and the pace quickened, the match improved dramatically with Bate successfully retaining his title.
The match of the night was Pete Dunne versus Trent Seven. On the line was facing the UK champion at NXT Takeover Chicago which was the following night in wrestling continuity. Pete Dunne has all the tools to be a top heel. He’s quick. He’s precise. He’s brutal. And he puts on an excellent show of being an arrogant piece of crap. Add into that how talented he is in the ring and you’re left with a star heel on the rise.
Honestly, he has yet to turn in even a mediocre performance.
One of the smartest moves WWE has made with their burgeoning UK brand is to bring in Jim Ross to announce. He is and always will be the greatest announcer they have ever had. Having him work alongside Nigel McGuinness brings an immediate legitimacy and familiarity to the brand.
This led into Saturday night and NXT TakeOver Chicago. As much as Monday Night Raw is perceived as the flagship of the entire WWE brand, NXT is the part of WWE that usually delivers the biggest and best moments. This iteration of TakeOver saw fan favorite Roderick Strong single-handedly whoop the hell out of three members of Sanity. While this improved Strong’s stock it took the wind right out of Sanity’s sails. They just aren’t as imposing a group as they once were. Bobby Roode and Asuka also successfully defended their titles in solid but somewhat predictable matches. Roode continues to deliver brilliant performances, this time against the injury plagued Hideo Itami. And Asuka ultimately dominated her opponents Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross in her one trillionth successful title defence.
The next victory in the title reign of The Authors of Pain was no surprise, either. That being said, their ladder match vs #DIY was filled with some absolutely epic spots that were amazing to watch. The only true surprise what Ciampa turning on Gargano at the end of the match, seemingly ending the tag team of #DIY.
The best match of the night once again involved Pete Dunne as he went after Tyler Bate’s UK Championship. Both superstars hit huge spots, keeping the energy high even when the pace was slow. Pete Dunne ultimately came out on top and rightfully so. Tyler Bate is talented in the ring but Dunne is the guy you love to hate. He is the perfect champ for WWE’s growing UK presence.
Then Sunday night rolled around and Backlash was on. The opening match is the one fans have been waiting for since he left NXT; the in-ring SmackDown debut of Shinsuke Nakamura against Dolph Ziggler. And it was the barn burner everyone was hoping for. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Nakamura wrestle more than every second pay-per-view from now on.
Many of the matches went pretty much as expected, though they were still, for the most part, good. Kevin Owens defeated AJ Styles to defend his United States Championship. Natalya’s team of women’s superstars trounced Becky Lynch’s in what was a kind of boring match. This would have been better as a one-on-one match where Naomi’s SmackDown Women’s Championship was actually being defended with back up in each corner. The Usos took down Breezango to retain their SmackDown Tag Team Championships, though it was a funny match to watch thanks to the antics of Breezango. Luke Harper also defeated Erick Rowan in a grudge match no one was clamouring for. Harper is very talented and the sooner the WWE gets him in a real program on his own away from the remaining vestiges of the Wyatt Family the better off he will be.
Then there were the matches that didn’t go as expected.
Sami Zayn’s victory over the physically dominant Baron Corbin was not entirely startling. Zayn is a talented performer. It’s just that Corbin is bigger, stronger, and more brutal. But if the goal is to promote Zayn as a Daniel Bryan-esque underdog that can pull out the big wins, this is a good stepping stone on that road.
That brings us to Jinder Mahal, the title win that rocked the WWE Universe. During his first tenure in WWE from 2011 through 2014, Mahal was largely a joke. He bounced between gimmicks that went nowhere, eventually departing for another tour on the indie circuit. His return in 2016 was equally unfocused until he won a title shot at Backlash against Randy Orton, one of the WWE’s biggest stars and then current WWE Champion. And he actually won, with the assistance of the Singh Brothers, known in NXT as The Bollywood Boys.
The WWE Championship win of Jinder Mahal is a brilliant move on the part of the WWE for several reasons. In a business where seeing a Person of Color hold a major championship is still more of an irregularity that it should be, Mahal being the first WWE Champion of Indian descent is a big deal. Mahal is also a great heel with talent in the ring and on the mic as well as two solid henchmen in The Singh Brothers. Watching people chase him for the belt will be outstanding. And it was 100% unexpected. Not even Mahal’s fans would have thought for a moment that he was walking out of that arena as champion. This is the exact kind of swerve the WWE needs to throw at its fans more, especially when there are plenty of talented superstars who haven’t held the big belts yet. The looks on the faces of the WWE Universe members in attendance were priceless.
The only better look was the one on Randy Orton’s face when he almost killed one of The Singh Brothers dumping him on an announcer’s desk head first. Randy’s expression screamed, “Oops. I reeeeally hope he’s not dead.”
Overall, it was a solid weekend of sports entertainment action with NXT TakeOver Chicago being the best of the three evenings, in large part due to the “Match of the Year” contender bout between Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate. But it is exhausting to watch that much of a good thing over three days when you know you’re going into three nights of Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, and NXT. And season three of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is still waiting for you on Netflix.
Dwayne was great on SNL as always in case you were wondering.