In the build-up to WrestleMania Backlash, it felt strange that there were only 6 matches announced, right up until before the pre-show. This felt strange because WWE PPVs are rarely so short, even in the pandemic era. It also felt strange because there was an abundance of star power – the likes of Randy Orton, AJ Styles and Seth Rollins – all sat on the bench, not booked to compete.
Consider also the fact that the Women’s Tag Team Championships changed hands on the last episode of SmackDown, while a Four-Way Match for the Intercontinental Championship was announced for next week – both matches could have been a welcome addition to this show.
In the end, Sheamus did issue a non-title open challenge on the pre-show. Ricochet answered the challenge – wearing street clothes, to sell the idea of him not being prepared for the match – but ultimately suffered to the wrath of the Celtic Warrior.
Moonsaults EVERYWHERE 🤩
— WWE (@WWE) May 16, 2021
The main show was the six matches previous advertised, five of which were Championship matches. The stakes were high and there’s plenty of talking points. So, let’s jump in and take a look at the show.
RAW Women’s Championship Triple Threat Match – Rhea Ripley (C) vs Charlotte Flair vs Asuka
With two Triple Threat matches on the card, it made a lot of sense to open the show with one of them, providing a bit of distance before the second. Charlotte Flair, ever the vintage heel, retreated from the ring immediately, but Asuka and Rhea Ripley worked in tandem to head off the Queen. Charlotte suplexed Asuka outside the ring, briefly removing the former Kabuki Warrior from the occasion.
Flair and Ripley went one-on-one for a period. Charlotte reminded Ripley that she is a fourteen-time Women’s Champion. The commentators informed us that this is Flair’s 56th PPV appearance. Crazy how time flies. Charlotte controlled the early period of the match, slowly dismantling Rhea and Asuka in turn. The tide turned when Asuka reversed Charlotte’s momentum into an armbar. Flair was trapped, with nowhere to go, until Ripley made the save.
Ripley floored Flair with a series of clotheslines and a Northern Lights suplex for a two-count. Asuka made the save and then delivered kicks to the head of the Champion. Asuka landed two German suplexes to Charlotte, followed by a running hip attack on Rhea. The Empress of Tomorrow then divided her kicks between both her opponents. A flying dropkick sent Ripley out of the ring. Flair then knocked Asuka out of the ring, before landing a Moonsault, from the top rope to both opponents at ringside.
Back in the ring, Ripley and Asuka teamed up to land a double Superplex on Flair. The three women, all on their knees, exchanged punches. Flair escaped a double suplex and took down both opponents with double chop blocks. Flair then landed a double Natural Selection and tried to pin both women (a little like Roman Reigns) but only got a two count. Asuka landed a Facebuster to Flair, who then rolled out of the ring. Ripley tried for a Riptide on Asuka, but Asuka escaped. Asuka couldn’t apply an Asuka lock to Ripley. Charlotte returned and floored Ripley with a Big Boot. A Big Boot to Asuka, sent Charlotte falling from the apron. Rhea then landed a Riptide, on Asuka, for the victory.
Winner: Rhea Ripley
Verdict: A strong start to the show. The action was equally shared between all three women, with plenty of moments where each had a chance to win. The casual viewer may have found themselves second-guessing who the eventual winner would be. Ripley pinning Asuka would seem to definitively end their feud. While the fact that Flair wasn’t involved in the decision gives her credence to where she can argue that she never lost and demand another match in the future.
SmackDown Tag Team Championships
Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode (C) vs Rey Mysterio
Dominik Mysterio was attacked on the pre-show by Roode & Ziggler. Moments before this match, Dominik and Rey were shown in the trainer’s room, where Rey was informed he’d need to find another partner. Despite Dominik’s insistence that he can go, Rey told him to live to fight another day. Rey Mysterio came out alone and the match started as a handicap match.
Roode started the match with Mysterio. Rey got an early two count, but Roode returned with a clothesline, before tagging out to Dolph. Ziggler taunted Mysterio, for taking the match without a partner, and proceeded to wear down the challenger. Roode and Ziggler used frequent tags to keep themselves fresh while they dismantled Rey Mysterio. Rey tried valiantly to get back into the match but was always thwarted by the Dirty Dogs. A double-team Famouser only earned Dolph a two-count.
The tide finally turned when Rey reversed a double suplex into a double DDT. Rey sent both of his opponents crashing into the ring posts. As Rey caught his breath, Dominik Mysterio came down to the ring and took his place on the apron. A momentary distraction allowed Dolph to land a Zig-Zag for a two-count. Dominik finally tagged in, went after both opponents and suffered a Spinebuster from Roode. A double-team neckbreaker earned another two-count for the Champions.
Dolph set up for Sweet Chin Music, but Dominik countered. A recharged Rey tagged in at the same time as Roode, landing a 619, before tagging Dominik back in. Dominik landed a Frog Splash for the victory.
Winners: Rey & Dominik Mysterio
Verdict: WWE seemed to double down, with the angle where Dominik was attacked. Having Rey start the match alone, trying to provide doubt that new Champions would be crowned. Personally, it made me all the more convinced the Mysterios would be victorious. It made for a special, feel-good moment, seeing the first-ever father and son duo to be crowned Tag Team Champions in WWE.
The Miz vs Damian Priest
The lumberjacks for this match were zombies. Yes, you read that correctly. Zombies. The reason being that this was a segment sponsored by the new movie, Army of the Dead, which stars Batista.
Despite being in the ring, this was quite a cinematic style match. The lighting was different and ringside was also consumed with fog, giving it a horror movie look once the zombies were there too. At one point, Miz was dragged out of the ring by the zombies, so he crawled under the ring to escape them. Back in the ring, he suffered a lariat from Priest. A spinning heel kick earned Priest a two-count.
Miz applied a Figure-Four Leglock. When Damien tried for the ropes, both men were dragged out of the ring by the zombies. Miz and Priest then worked together to fight the zombies. Back in the ring, Damian hit a Broken Arrow for a close fall. John Morrison ran down to the apron, providing a distraction so Miz could hit a Running Knee for another two-count. Morrison then used his parkour style to fight the zombies, but he was unsuccessful. Priest landed Hit the Lights for the victory. The zombies swarmed in to feast on the Miz.
Winner: Damien Priest
Verdict: Erm. There are no two ways about it, the zombie’s gimmick was pretty dumb, but I get why WWE did it. They have a great history with their various sponsorship partners over the years. The fact is there was little point to this match, even without the lumberjacks. Hopefully, that’s the end of this feud and both men can move onto other things.
— WWE Network (@WWENetwork) May 17, 2021
A promo aired for Hell in a Cell. It was advertised as the next PPV, airing on June 20th. It seems very early in the year, considering the Cell is usually around October time. The last one doesn’t seem that long ago and I’m sure most people were expecting Money in the Bank next, on July 18.
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Bianca Belair (C) vs Bayley
The match started in a traditional chain wrestling style and both women tried for early pin attempts, but only got two. Bayley, the cocky veteran, seemed to get frustrated every time that Bianca got an advantage. Bayley took an advantage of her own by tugging on Bianca’s earring. Bianca fought back with a stalling suplex before both women brawled to the outside, where Bayley slammed Belair onto the ring steps.
Belair kicked out of a cover, sending Bayley tumbling out of the ring and crashing into a cameraman. Belair found a second wind and landed a Spinebuster for a two-count. Bayley fought back with a clothesline and then climbed the turnbuckle. Bayley landed an Elbow Drop for a close fall. The two women fought at ringside again, where Belair was sent face-first into the post. Bianca then sent Bayley face-first into the ring apron and rolled her into the ring for a two count. Bayley rolled up Bianca, with the ropes for leverage, but only got two.
Bayley raked the eyes of Bianca when the ref was distracted. Bayley tugged the long braid of Bianca, landing Bayley-to-belly for a close fall. Bayley tugged on the hair again, but Bianca saw it coming and she rolled Bayley up. With her foot tangled in the braid, Bayley was unable to pick out and Bianca scored the decisive three-count.
Winner: Bianca Belair
Verdict: Good scrappy match. Great storytelling between the wily veteran trying to make an example of the young rookie. Bayley tried every trick in the book in an attempt to steal the victory, but in the end, Bianca was able to outsmart her. The finish leaves the door open for this feud to continue.
WWE Championship Triple Threat
Bobby Lashley (C) vs Braun Strowman vs Drew McIntyre
Adnan Virk informed us that the WWE Championship hasn’t changed hands in a triple threat since Seth Rollins cashed in Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 31 in 2015.
Early on in the match, Lashley and McIntyre worked together to temporarily take Strowman out of the equation. The two hard-hitters brawled at ringside until Strowman returned to action, throwing himself at both his opponents. Strowman landed a Chokeslam on Lashley for a two-count. Lashley escaped from a Powerslam attempt but was unable to apply the Hurt Lock to Strowman. McIntyre hit a version of a Zig-Zag on Strowman for two. Lashley hit a one-armed Spinebuster on Strowman for two.
Outside the ring, Lashley slammed McIntyre against the ring post, before Strowman attacked Lashley with the ring steps. Remember no DQ in triple threat rules. Lashley suplexed McIntyre on the entrance ramp, then the two battled up to the entranceway. McIntyre sent Lashley crashing through an LED panel, causing sparks to fly in a mini-explosion. It appeared as though the Champion had been taken out of the equation.
— WWE (@WWE) May 17, 2021
Strowman took McIntyre back into the ring, where he landed a Senton for a two-count. McIntyre followed up with a Michinoku Driver for two. Out of the ring again, Strowman attempted his running train attack but was caught by Drew, into a belly-to-belly throw. McIntyre tried for a Claymore but walked into a Powerbomb through the commentary table.
Back in the ring, Strowman tried for a Powerslam. McIntyre slipped out and hit a Claymore on Strowman. Lashley then returned and threw Drew out of the ring. He followed up with a Spear to Strowman, for the three-count.
Winner: Bobby Lashley
Verdict: Once again, Drew McIntyre is unsuccessful in regaining the WWE Championship. Rather predictably, due to triple threat rules, Lashley wins the match without McIntyre being involved in the decision. Does that mean Drew can argue he’s entitled to another match? Or is it time for him to move onto something else? There’s a lot invested in Bobby Lashley right now. He looks unstoppable as the heel Champion. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anybody on the RAW side who seems like an obvious candidate as the next challenger.
Roman Reigns (C) vs Cesaro
There was a feeling-out period between these two gladiators. Collar and elbow tie-ups transitioned into headlocks and shoulder tackles. Cesaro tried early roll-ups, but only got a two-count each time. Roman sold the story of being hotheaded and taking Cesaro for granted, needing the guidance of Paul Heyman to calm him down. Upon being thrown out of the ring, Cesaro appeared to land awkwardly on his right arm. But the Swiss Superman battled on, going after the Tribal Chief with uppercuts.
Reigns took control of the match, slowing down the pace of the match while grinding down his challenger. A Samoan Drop on Cesaro earned Roman a two-count. Cesaro then ducked a Superman Punch and reversed it into a Pop-up Uppercut. Cesaro followed up with a series of uppercuts before softening up the legs of the Champion. Cesaro applied a Sharpshooter, but Roman got to the ropes.
At this point, Roman retreated from the ring, trying to catch a breather. Cesaro was relentless, chasing Roman with another uppercut into the barrier. Back in the ring, he landed a crossbody from the top rope, but only got two. Cesaro climbed the ropes, but Roman knocked him off balance. Cesaro got his right arm trapped, and Roman targeted it. The right arm started to bleed, selling the damage that Cesar had taken over the course of the match so far.
When Cesaro was next able to throw a punch, it looked as though it caused him great pain. Roman proceeded to talk trash to Cesaro, sensing he had the upper hand over his challenger. Roman screamed, “I love wrestling! This is fun for me!” This was a reference to Daniel Bryan and Cesaro saying that they genuinely love wrestling – on a previous edition of SmackDown – while claiming that Roman was only ever in it for the paycheck. Cesaro fought back, landing a thunderous clothesline, but he then howled with pain, having used his damaged right arm to do so. Cesaro persisted with the uppercuts, fighting through the pain of his right arm. Cesaro landed a Superplex for a close fall.
Cesaro continued to target the legs of Reigns. Cesaro attempted a Neutralizer but didn’t have the strength in his right arm. Roman transitioned into an armbar. Cesaro rolled Roman up, but only got two. Reigns came back with a Superman Punch for another close two-count. Roman attempted a Spear but ran into an Uppercut. Roman then locked in the Guillotine, but Cesaro fought out and transitioned into a Sharpshooter. As Roman tried to crawl, Cesaro turned it into a Crossface instead. Roman powered his way out and rained the elbows down on the skull of Cesaro. A powerbomb from Roman only got another two-count.
Both men appeared to be spent and were running on only the reserve fumes of their tanks. Roman applied the Guillotine, yet again. Cesaro powered out, but Roman reapplied the hold. Cesaro appeared to pass out in the hold and the referee called for the bell.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Following the match, Jey Uso came down and put a red lei around the neck of Roman. Uso then proceeded to beat down the fallen Cesaro. Then Seth Rollins came out to his music. It initially looked as though Seth was about to square up to Roman. But instead, Seth started laughing and then attacked Cesaro. He yelled at Cesaro for embarrassing him. Tangling Cesaro’s injured arm in a steel chair and bashing it into the ring post to inflict further damage. Rollins finishing his assault with a Stomp at ringside, and the show went off the air with the Messiah standing tall.
Verdict: Great match. It’s taken way too long for Cesaro to find himself in a World Championship match on a PPV, and he proved that he more than belongs in this spot. It says a lot that Cesaro was given a lot of opportunities to show his strength and come close to dethroning the Tribal Chief. Roman’s flak jacket has long gone. Since Mania, he now has new music too. It’s taken seven years, but Reigns has finally left the Shield. It finally feels like a new beginning.
Despite the ongoing storyline with Roman and the Usos, it was interesting that Roman won this match without any help. But the fact of the matter is that Roman is currently being presented as the single most dominant force the WWE has seen in a long time. While there are fresh opponents for Reigns on the SmackDown roster, it’s hard to visualise any of them as capable of dethroning the Tribal Chief. When the time eventually comes that somebody defeats Roman for the title, it will be a major moment. Elsewhere, the finish of this show suggests that we haven’t quite seen the end of Rollins vs Cesaro.
— WWE (@WWE) May 17, 2021
Overall: Personally, I much prefer WWE PPVs to be around this length. I just hope they don’t go back to long shows once they’re able to have crowds in attendance all the time. The only drawback to this show was the lack of big, star names and that not many of the matches felt must-see. The Mysterios winning the Tag Team titles may be the single moment that gets talked about for years to come, while the other Championship matches maintained the current status quo.
Certain bookends were put in place that allows WWE to further some narratives while starting afresh elsewhere. Charlotte Flair will almost definitely be seeking another title match, while the likes of Bianca Belair and Roman Reigns will be awaiting new challengers for their respective Championships. With Hell in a Cell only five weeks away, the wrestling train keeps on rolling.
All images courtesy of WWE