Many of us at Pencilstorm are fans of professional wrestling so we are thrilled to introduce our new beat writer of all things WWE, Big Vin Vader.
Sunday night was the SmackDown brand’s inaugural pay-per-view, Backlash, and I’d say we all got about what we expected. It wasn’t bad, but it sure wasn’t great. For the most part, it was alright, and will stand as pretty unremarkable despite the awarding of the new SmackDown Women’s and Tag Team title belts, but it was far from the company’s worst show this year.
The best action of the night was Dolph Ziggler vs. the Miz for the Intercontinental title, which delivered on its promise of being one of the more satisfying matches on the card. The story and psychology behind the match were good—the Miz has been on a tear, since his promo ripping into Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack. Ziggler has been given plenty of chances lately, but always comes up short. He’s determined and a hell of a challenger, so the crowd really sounded into the match.
Ziggler got in some nice amateur moves, while the Miz worked cheap, brawling and undermining Dolph’s attempts at really wrestling him. It worked perfectly to emphasize the Miz’s cowardly streak at the center of the angle, and drew more heat to hold his place as SmackDown’s best heel.
The whole match, in fact was incredibly consistent on a card that you couldn’t say as much for, and the two performers managed to tell a good story while wrestling a damn fine match. Ziggler got in some impressive moves, but the whole thing ended the only way it could: another loss for Dolph when he was maced and pinned. The cheap win keep’s the Miz’s heel momentum and gained him more heat.
On the down side, The Miz’s reign as heel IC champ may be going pretty great, but he needs a more serious opponent, someone who can really threaten his position and make it feel believable. Ziggler needs the same thing: something he can fight for and stand an actual chance at succeeding.
The second best match of the night was the main event of Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles for the World Championship. I’m a big fan of Ambrose, and his title win felt overdue after the impressive promo and ring work he’s accomplished this year. AJ Styles has been on fire all year, with his entire run in the WWE only serving to emphasize his incredible talents. His heel turn has been successful, giving him a more ruthless edge which pairs nicely with his natural wrestling ability. He was the one person that should dethrone Ambrose, as his ring work is more impressive and the fact that he had yet to win any titles in the WWE.
There was a sense that this was the only match on the card really worth anyone’s time. It wasn’t destined to be a classic, and the excitement of a true main event for the title wasn’t there. It took a while for the two to really get into things, and the slow start was somewhat disappointing, consisting mostly of trash talk from Styles.
Around the ten-minute mark, however, the pace picked up, and both men put a more athletic, physical style on display. Particularly surprising was Dean’s versatility, busting out a number of new moves. Styles gave a hell of a performance as always, and Dean held his own while also pushing himself outside of his usual brawling comfort zone.
Styles managed to win the title with a low-blow while the ref was dazed. It was a smart move, and the kind of thing that really makes his heel turn work. Sure he can outwrestle Dean any day, but he did what he needed to win. It’s continued the rivalry between the two, and if nothing else, maybe Dean can flourish without the scrutiny drawn to him by holding the championship. Besides, Styles deserved the damn title, and the people wanted to see him win it.
Taking the third spot was the six-pack challenge for the Women’s title, which kicked off the show. There wasn’t much consecutive in-ring action and the pace was a bit slow for most of the match. What we did get, however were a handful of impressive moments, namely from Naomi and Columbus’ own Alexa Bliss. The highlight was the conclusion, which saw Becky Lynch become the first SmackDown Women’s champion. Nobody deserved the belt as much, nor did they have the same amount of popular support. None of the other contenders really stood a chance. Her speech after the match was emotional, as it should have been, and proved one of the night’s standout moments.
The two tag matches were about the same in terms of quality, although the first pitting the Hype Bros. vs. the Usos was somewhat weaker. The crowd couldn’t have cared less, and the action seemed to suffer for it. The Hype Bros got the better crowd reaction, but even that isn’t saying a lot. Just like everyone else, I wanted American Alpha in the picture, so this wasn’t going to hold my interest regardless.
The match was a pretty unremarkable ten-minute tag bout, although Zack Ryder put in a fine showing with some high-energy moves, including a Frankensteiner. The crowd may have been vocal, but that’s just because they like to chant whenever they can. Ryder submitted and the Usos moved on to nobody’s approval. The one plus was that at least it seemed a lock for Rhyno/Slater to pick up the win in the final match.
The second match to award the new Tag Team titles was barely better, and saw Heath Slater/Rhyno against the Usos. The match should have been a big deal, but the lack of interest in the competitors kept that from happening.
If it’s possible, the crowd seemed even less excited to see the Usos a second time in the same night. They really didn’t pose much of a threat, and nobody wanted them to win the belts. The match itself was bland, another plain ten-minute deal that still overstayed its welcome. Slater spent most of the match playing Ricky Morton and taking a beating, finally made a tag, and Rhyno’s offense helped them score the win.
The victory did little in the long run, just emphasizing that nothing was really gained through the tournament. Slater and Rhyno should be a one-off team, can’t be expected to stick together and dominate the division. They’re likeable enough, but this whole thing shouldn’t last. After all, Rhyno is running for office, so it’s a matter of time before American Alpha rightfully win the titles, of course it looks like we’ll have to slog through a feud with the Usos in the meantime.
Coming up last was Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt, which didn’t even happen, leaving it the biggest disappointment of the night. It was one of the more promising matches announced for the show, but we got screwed, instead being shown Bray Wyatt assaulting Randy Orton backstage, slamming his ankle in a door. It came out of nowhere, just a quick fix to cover Orton’s inability to wrestle that night, despite the build-up. Great planning, guys.
Wyatt’s transformation from swamp zealot to crust punk mystic has been interesting, and he makes it work. What didn’t work was the replacement match: a no-holds-barred affair pitting him against Kane. Swell. A match that had some real promise was swapped for one that nobody asked for. If there was a decent match in there (and there wasn’t), I was too disinterested to notice.
They dropped the ball with their booking, but they aren’t ready to drop the feud. Orton ran out near the end of the match, hit Wyatt with an RKO and vanished, letting Kane pick up the win. The feud will continue, clearly, so Kane’s unexplained presence was a waste of time. Wyatt went under yet again, to a past-his-prime superstar, and it seems like he’ll keep taking losses. A decent commissioner would have rescheduled the whole damn thing rather than make anyone sit through that pointless mess.
Summary and Final Grade
So in the end we got two solid matches in the IC and World title matches, a decent crowd pleaser in the Women’s title match, two bland tag team matches with a satisfying-enough conclusion, and a worthless tease replaced by boring filler.
I realize there are a lot of complaints here, but overall, I wasn’t too displeased. With the brand split, there are nineteen PPVs per year, and every one can’t be a winner. I don’t even want that to be the case. Sure, it would have been nice if the first brand-specific PPV of the split had been more remarkable, but that just wasn’t the case. For the most part, it seemed like the company was showing off its new belts and rushing to award them, good booking be damned. Despite so many throwaways, there were some bright spots that look to put things in the right for the near future.
So the show was underwhelming, but both brands have heel champs who happen to be incredibly talented in the ring, and both Women’s Divisions are looking good, although Raw still has the clear lead, but no one expected that to ever change. Styles’ win and Becky’s new position on top both point in the right direction, and at least we can count on them.
Overall, the whole thing was a solid D, a passable 60 out of 100.
Beck Lynch (Women’s champion)
The Miz (IC champion)
Heath Slater and Rhyno (SmackDown Tag Team champions)
AJ Styles (WWE World champion)
Alexa Bliss/Naomi/Natalya/Nikki Bella/Carmella
Bray Wyatt/the crowd
The Hype Bros/the Usos
Top 3 2016 PPVs so far:
NXT Takeover Dallas
-Money in the Bank