The Hits & Misses Of WWE Backlash

With the domestic success that the WWE had the past few years, albeit not main stream in terms of pop culture, but serving its audience to a higher degree than in the past, the TKO corporation has continued to expand the opportunities for the company on a global basis. The Backlash pay-per-view was held in Puerto Rico last year and was known for its rabid live audience, and much of the same could be said for this past weekend’s event in France. The crowd was hot throughout the PPV, despite not being as invested in the heels and baby faces, but rather the live event experience itself. It’s definitely a different dynamic since there isn’t the same type of emotional investment in the characters, but given the arena gate record for the event, it speaks volumes to the drawing power of the brand when there’s a specific focus on tailoring the product to the fan base rather than a personal or corporate agenda.

Granted, Vince McMahon already ruined his legacy when he resigned in disgrace after the horrendous accusations in the lawsuit earlier this year, but from strictly a presentation perspective, since the sale of WCW, there was always an impression that the WWE was Vince McMahon’s agenda, and if the fans wanted to watch pro wrestling in the United States then they would settle for what he was willing to give them. Vince was the king of the hill and became a billionaire from the stock price so the core audience that wanted to watch the genre more or less allowed him to maintain the status quo as to what he wanted to present from the company since there weren’t true alternatives to WWE. Sure, TNA existed, but they were never able to capture enough of the market share by any metric to make enough of a dent in Vince’s business that he had to change direction on anything.

Obviously, the WWE is always going to run the standard playbook since their primary objective will and should continue to be to draw in as many casual fans as possible, but there’s no doubt that the product under the direct of Triple H is much more flexible. That dynamic has allowed the events to be much more organic, which is one of the key reasons why the product connects with the audience.

The show opened with The Bloodline vs. Kevin Owens and Randy Orton, and while it was the usual brawl with a few highlight reel bumps, this segment accomplished a lot for the angle going forward. The addition of Tama Tonga to the stable is a fresh aspect and gives the storyline more mileage for this year, particularly for a potential Samoan war games match at Survivor Series after the return of Roman Reigns. Considering the historic run that Roman had as a heel, it opens the door for him to be embraced as a baby face, specifically with The Rock working as a heel since his return to the organization. However, Tama Tonga isn’t just there to be a piece of the puzzle in the angle. Make no mistake about it, he’s a very solid worker that can do anything that the WWE needs him to do, and that adaptability is why he will be a valuable asset to the promotion. Owens and Orton are such quality performers that this segment had the ingredients to be a great way to kickoff the event. Solo Sikoa was cast in a secondary role prior to this, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as that was what was needed for the Tribal Chief storyline. The biggest takeaway from this segment was that Solo looks like he’s evolving in the new role to be able to be a more prominent figure in the storyline so it was a very productive performance. Toma Tonga had some nasty welts on his back from the kendo stick shot and took a major bump onto the chairs from a suplex from Kevin Owens off the top rope.

Tanga Loa made his debut to be the newest member of The Bloodline and it adds another layer of depth to the angle. He had a prior undistingished stint in the WWE years ago so this is basically a completely new run in the organization. The brother of Tama probably isn’t quite as well-rounded in the ring, but the run that they had as a tag team in New Japan proved that they are a quality tag team. There’s more potential for Tama in WWE, but Tanga is a good addition to add to the eventual Samoan showdown. The Bloodline got the win.

Bayley retained the Women’s championship in a triple threat match with Naomi and Tiffany Stratton. Since Bayley just started the baby face run as champion, there wasn’t a point in the bout where it looked like there was going to be a title switch, but at the same time, triple threat matches can be difficult to structure. That being said, this was a solid and entertaining match. Tiffany Stratton still looks relatively inexperienced in the ring, but the potential is there for her to become one of the stars of the division. Obviously, she’s not nearly as solid as her opponets, but she didn’t look completely out of place either.

Damian Priest beat Jey Uso to retain the championship. Again, in a theme that was clear throughout the show, the newly-crowned champions at Wrestlemania weren’t going to drop the belts a month later. Jey Uso remains very popular and the crowd reaction for him was spectacular. The downside was that this was a very average match, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it wasn’t anything great or something that you’d typically expect from a world heavyweight title match either. Unfortunately, this almost reinforced that Priest is the secondary champion in the company. All things considered, this might be an indication that Preist will ultimately be a transitional champion.

It was no surprise that Bianca Belair and Jade Cargill defeated The Kabuki Warriors to win the Women’s tag team championships. Asuka and Kari Sane are such stellar talents that they don’t need the belts to maintain their level in the organization. Bianca Belair is such a tremendous performer and pairing her with Jade is a very wise decision to help develop her into a more well-rounded performer. This match was structured to showcase Jade and it accomplished that. The set up for Jade’s finisher at the conclusion of the match was a really cool moment. The match itself was okay, but you can still see Jade’s inexperience at certain points so the next few months will be key to see how she can continue to evolve as a performer. There aren’t any guarantees for success in sports entertainment, Gable Stevenson is an example of that, but given Jade’s ability and the talent that she’s getting the chance to work with, it’s fair to say that management is giveing her the best chance possible to be successful.

Cody Rhodes vs. AJ Styles was a quality main event bout and a great example of how well Cody will work in the role of champion. Of course, AJ is one of the best workers of his generation and there’s an arguement to be made that he’s one of the best of all time when you take into account his impact on the business with a style that influenced much of the modern era. Everything during the 30-minute match was crisp and smooth, and the momentum of the contest built well toward the conclusion. AJ was booked for this to give Rhodes a quality opponet and he did exactly what he had to do for this segment. Cody retaining the title was obvious, but this was a great match that added a lot of substance to the card. Overall, this was a very solid event and it had a runtime of just under three hours so this was a much easier viewing experience than the usual extended pay-per-view.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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