– If you missed it, you can watch WWE Backlash here. If you’d like to read the older editions of the Best and Worst of Backlash, get me a time machine and a job writing wrestling reports at With Leather in 2009.
– Shares, likes, comments and other social-media things are appreciated.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Backlash for September 11, 2016
Important Note: In honor of Mauro Ranallo driving me crazy all night with his “Matt Striker without the self-awareness and undercurrent of self-loathing” shoehorning of whatever happened in pop culture and the news this week into non-stop similes, I’ve decided to skip a takedown paragraph and just phrase every Best or Worst like Mauro might. LIKE EMMY WINNER STERLING ARCHER, I’M EXPLAINING MY PHRASING!
Best: LIKE A RELEASE PARTY FOR HIS NEW ALBUM FEATURING THE SINGLE ‘WOW,’ IT’S TIME TO RAISE YOUR BECK-SPECTATIONS!
The show where the focus is on the talent and not the authority figures starts with the authority figures in the ring for 10 minutes, explaining that you are going to love the talent. That sends us into the first match, which is the Syxx-Pac Challenge for the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
There’s a lot to cover here, so I’m just gonna break it down into notes to try to cover everything.
– The match is like two matches in one. The classic style of Diva Elimination Match is to go maybe two aimless minutes before having everyone eliminate each other back-to-back, rapid-fire. If you’ve ever seen a Divas battle royal, they work the same way. Let everybody hang out in the ring for a minute, then toss everyone in a row and get to the ending. In their brains, the introductions and the ending are the only things people are going to remember.
Here, they do both the Women’s Revolution style of wrestling AND the Divas Elimination. Everything before the first elimination is GREAT. Everyone in the match gets a chance to shine. Alexa Bliss is terrible great as a manipulative, opportunistic heel. Naomi is twice as athletic as anybody else in the match, Carmella’s putting together how to turn her natural obnoxiousness into heel fodder, Nikki Bella’s forearms look like like Shibata Penalty Kicks and Becky Lynch is Becky Lynch. Natalya is … uh, also there.
They’ve got the crowd rocking and rolling by the time they get to the first elimination, and then it sorta switches to the old style where they start eliminating each other off transitional moves and sh*t without a lot of build. It’s still entertaining, mind you, but it’s notably different from the first 2/3 of the match. With everything on the show getting 25 minutes, I kinda wish they’d dedicated some time between eliminations to continue the match as it was going, and really let the positives of some of these women soak in.
– Alexa Bliss as Harley Quinn was amazing for like four reasons, and probably a strong #2 on the list of unexplained Alexa Bliss wrestling cosplay behind that time her and Blake and Murphy were randomly Freddies. Somewhere in the back Wesley Blake was dying his hair green like, “HANG ON, I’M ALMOST READY, I’LL WALK OUT WITH YOU.”
– Naomi has a great entrance, but that remix of her theme sounds like it’s saying “I’m a maid.” I’m a I’m a I’m a may-ay-ay-ay-aid. Go listen to it. Take that with a grain of salt, though, because 10 years later I still think Shelton Benjamin’s theme goes, “eaten CHOCOLATE ain’t no STOPPIN'” and that Rob Van Dam is a “wonderful guy!”
– I spent all morning trying to think of what Naomi’s gear reminded me of. Monster Energy.
– Can we chill with all the slaps? Slaps in WWE women’s matches are like slapped legs in the Cruiserweight Classic.
– Natalya is the worst. Sometimes you’ve got to let those hard to reach head-scissors spots go.
– In our predictions post I picked Nattie to win, because (1) it made sense weighing quality heels vs. quality faces on Smackdown that you’d start off giving the belt to a heel, and (2) sometimes I’m jaded and have been trained to expect the worst. That said, I’m glad they just gave the belt to Becky, and you can’t help but be happy for her. Watch this. How could you not feel great about this?
It’s a nice contrast to Charlotte on Raw, too, and a nice clear delineation between the kind of character you should cheer for, and the kind you shouldn’t.
It’s an interesting discussion on whether or not it really constitutes “dreams coming true” — for Becky, or for Kevin Owens with the Universal Championship — when these aren’t technically the top prizes in the company and were just created recently so each show could have the same championships. And is it super prestigious if the division only has six people in it, and all six got to compete? Becky is the only “Horsewoman” to get put on Smackdown, so she’s the champion without having to face Charlotte, Sasha, or Bayley. But even with all that brought up, does it matter? The cool thing about a new championship is that you’ve got a clean slate, and you can MAKE it matter as much as the others. John Cena made the US title the most prestigious thing in the damn world for a few months, and when he lost it it went right back to being nothing. I think Becky will make this belt something, and I hope she gets to keep it and be the focus of the division for a long time.
Best: BRING YOUR WOO WOO WOO SHIRTS TO THE REGISTER AND ASK AN ASSOCIATE HOW MUCH IT COSTS, BECAUSE ZACK RYDER IS OUT OF TAGS
The semi-finals play-in for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship Tournament was the most predictable match of the night, but it was still pretty entertaining. The team already in the finals is a Cinderella babyface team that has to win to get goober everyman Heath Slater a Smackdown contract. The Usos just turned heel and injured that team’s prospective opponents, American Alpha, causing this match to happen. Of course they’re going to win, and that’s before you even consider that the team they’re facing in the play-in has Zack Ryder on it. How hilarious is it that Ryder lost twice in a single elimination tournament?
The heel Usos are such a damn improvement over their babyface counterparts. The jumping superkick to the back of the leg might be the best new move in wrestling, and I hope they keep it as bulletproof as possible. If they hit you with that, it should be f*cking CURTAINS for you. If it can keep passionate-ass little ball of frenetic emotion Chad Gable from competing in a tag title tournament, it should be able to snuff out anyone’s dreams. WWE needs more definites and fewer kickouts of everything, so let’s build up the Usos chop-kick as death and keep it that way.
One small complaint: I like the Usos’ new personae, but I wish they didn’t stop dressing alike. Wouldn’t that work better for a heel team? I’m not asking them to win with Twin Magic all the time, but there’s some quality heel cheating they could be doing if the referee legitimately couldn’t tell them apart. Blind non-tags ahoy, you know? That’s a very easy way to build heat, and all Jimmy Uso wrestling in a leather shirt’s doing is giving the announce team a cheat sheet.
Also, requesting an evil haka.
Best: LIKE A MILLENNIAL WATCHING TIM BURTON’S BATMAN AND WAITING FOR “WHY SO SERIOUS,” HEATH SLATER!
Part of me really loves that 6+ year WWE veteran and 3-time WWE Tag Team Champion Heath Slater didn’t have enough money to upgrade his family from a single-wide trailer to a double-wide until his fourth tag championship win.
In the predictions post I wrote about how giving the Usos the tournament win would give them all the heat in the world because they would’ve injured American Alpha, won a tournament they technically were eliminated from, gotten into the tournament a second time because of rudo-ass behavior AND taken food off Heath Slater’s family’s table by keeping him from getting a job. Like the Nattie/Becky thing, I’m pretty happy they didn’t go that route, even if it makes sense. Smackdown’s doing a good job of making WWE audiences love dorky, affable redheads, aren’t they?
I love Heath Slater. I’ve loved him since Slabriel and The Nexus, and I’m happy that after like half a decade of being treated like a joke, pinned by an endless string of legends and disappearing new jerks alike, being shoved on his ass by musical guests and not being drafted, he’s positioned to be the Next Big Thing. He’s got his job, he’s established his wife as a canonical character, he’s teaming with the world’s weirdest politician (whom he should really be riding to the ring like a Caragor) and he’s wrestling for his family. He says that winning the tag titles is the best day of his life, besides a couple of his kids being born. NOT EVEN ALL OF THEM, OR ONE OF THEM SPECIFICALLY.
Smackdown f*cked around and ended up creating actual babyface characters with actual observable motivations. Love it. Heath Slater and Rhyno are a better Enzo and Big Cass than Enzo and Big Cass. REATH forever.
And now, The Miz, a play in three acts.
Worst: LIKE LUNCH AT A ROLLING STONES CONCERT, IT’S JAGGER EATON!
Want to feel old? Nickelodeon star Jagger Eaton was born in a petri dish on Saturday morning and now he’s a guest star at Backlash.
Jagger — who was actually born in 2001, which shouldn’t want to make you throw up any less than that petri dish joke — first shows up on the Backlash pre-show to make Renee Young look like that guy who stuck around to guard the Holy Grail at the end of Last Crusade. It’s like when Doraemon showed up at Wrestle Kingdom, but with a less realistic character.
If you aren’t familiar with Jagger Eaton, born a month before WCW went out of business, picture pre-Crisis Justin Bieber and give him Vanessa Bayer’s child actor voice. Later, he shows up on the actual pay-per-view (with his own dressing room, which he apparently needed for PRE-SHOW SHILLING) to throw shade at The Miz for not being as popular with skateboarding babies as John Cena. Jagger Eaton’s acting made The Miz look like Daniel-Day Lewis. When Jagger shuts the door I wanted Miz to start screaming, I’VE ABANDONED MY CHILLLLLDDDD. If you missed it, it was basically any time Mr. Moseby was asked to interact with a Sprouse on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Anyway, join us on the September 19 edition of Raw when Jagger Eaton joins the Cruiserweight Division.
Best/Worst: TELL US ABOUT THIS BACKSTAGE SEGMENT, DANIEL! “whoa I’ve never seen that before!”
I still can’t believe WWE’s managed to make me hate Daniel Bryan and 100% empathize with The Miz. It’s the most Shakespearean followup to NXT season 1 I could’ve imagined.
The “contract negotiations” thing is interesting, though. How great would it be if they continue this slow double-turn by having Bryan trade Miz away to Raw, costing his show the Intercontinental Championship for personal reasons and being the “coward” by not being able to stand up to Miz?
It’s weird to think how much this parallels the Bryan/Shawn Michaels stuff from 2013, where the only possible payoff was a match that couldn’t happen.
Best: CALL DOLPH ZIGGLER THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AFTER A QUARTERBACK SACK, BECAUSE HE IS OUT OF LUCK!
Dolph Ziggler, man. What do you even say? They buried him pretty mightily on the pre-show, with everyone predicting Miz to win, the panel discussing how he might never get another shot at glory if he loses the match, and Jerry Lawler straight up reminding us that he beat Dolph Ziggler right after having a heart attack. Then the match happens, and Ziggler LOSES AGAIN.
I loved the hell out of this match, which is crazy considering that Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler is a match we’ve seen a million times before. They even point out that Miz and Ziggler have wrestled each other three times on pay-per-view. Still, Miz’s crazy forward momentum and Smackdown’s ongoing dedication to making Ziggler look like the biggest blowhard in the world made this compelling, and Miz busting out Daniel Bryan’s moveset took it over the top.
It’s fun to watch Miz perform now, because he’s still the King of Safe Style or whatever but he’s got his f*cking worker boots on. He’s doing that slingshot powerbomb he used against Rey Mysterio back in the day, he’s hitting those Danielson running dropkicks in the corner like he’s been hitting them for a decade, and, perhaps most importantly, he’s locking on a picture-perfect figure-four in like a second. Miz being able to do a perfect figure-four on command is the ultimate proof that the Old Miz is dead, and New Miz is ready to be the man.
I liked the finish, even, with Maryse doing the time-honored “lady sprays something in a guy’s face” death blow. The match and the competition makes Miz look like a competitive star, but that one moment of interference justifies his “cowardice” enough that his opponents can get uptight about how he’s not being honorable. That keeps him in that weird “justifiable heel” stasis I love without dragging him too far into obvious babyface territory. It’s a tightrope walk to keep that looking strong and relevant.
All I want now is for Bryan to get all pissy about the finish on Smackdown, and for Miz to like, bend over to get face-to-face with him and be like, “Don’t you know how pro wrestling works?”
Join us at the next big WWE show to see Dolph Ziggler challenge Hornswoggle for the Cruiserweight Championship and losing after a month of talking about how great he is at wrestling.
Worst: MODIFIED ARGENTINE CAREER BREAKER
LIKE USAIN BOLT, THIS JOKE IS RUNNING THIN!
Want to see a Smackdown Superstar sadder than Dolph Ziggler? Here’s a schlubby Rastafarian in an unwashed winter coat who preaches of anarchic destruction of the human soul and can’t beat Kane in a wrestling match in 2016.
Early in the show, Bray Wyatt attacks Randy Orton backstage and injures him, preventing him from competing in their scheduled match later in the night. Bray appears to have finally figured out the secret of how to win pay-per-view matches: attack people ANYWHERE BUT INSIDE THE RING, because if you’re Bray Wyatt and you try that sh*t in the ring, they’re gonna beat you.
Bray takes a count-out win and technically wins the Orton match, making his first PPV win in a year a forfeit. That’s his worst PPV win, so they follow it IMMEDIATELY with his worst PPV loss. It turns out he’s got to wrestle a No Holds Barred match against Kane, which he loses when Randy Orton shows up and RKOs him to set up a Kane chokeslam. How depressing is it that Orton’s not medically cleared to compete in a match so they have Bray injure him backstage, and they can’t even let Bray carry that heat to the END OF THE SAME SHOW before having Orton show up and hurt him back. We couldn’t even get to the end of Bray’s segment without him getting that rub 50/50’d into oblivion.
But hey, at least KANE got to look strong! I’m looking forward to the next cycle and the build to an actual Wyatt/Orton match, where we pretend like both of these dudes aren’t comically helpless. Maybe Orton will get hurt again and continue his streak of being too weak to compete at pay-per-views. Maybe someone will touch his face and he’ll freak out and collapse like f*cking Don Flamenco.
Best: CALL US AUNT BECKY KISSING UNCLE JESSE, BECAUSE WE ARE SHOWING NO MERCY
Speaking of the next pay-per-view, Shane McMahon’s bringing back ALL the old-timey classics. The show after Backlash is NO MERCY, which is a lot like WrestleMania 2000 but with a worse roster and slightly better gameplay. Glad they’re using the No Mercy engine again. I hope Shane brings back Fully Loaded, too.
Raw can continue their weird appropriation of Clash of the Champions by calling their October pay-per-view HALLOWEEN HAVOC.
Actually, can we do that for real?
Best: LIKE A BLUEBIRD ON FASHION WEEK, AJ STYLES!
I don’t think I’ve formally typed it in this column, but just to say it, I appreciate that this show’s roster was so thin and so few matches were announced and there was an injury, so everyone who needed or wanted it got like 20 minutes to perform. That made everything feel a little more important, at least in the context of brand-only pay-per-views, made Smackdown seem like the “wrestling show” like it’s purported to be, AND lets the performers who can handle 20 minutes but aren’t normally seen as the type who could do so do so.
One guy who does that all the time is AJ Styles, who I think is the pretty unanimous, obvious choice for best wrestler in the company right now. Is anybody else even close? Cesaro’s in turd purgatory and Sami Zayn’s disappearing into Kevin Owens’ shadow. Is there anybody else?
Styles and Ambrose get a lot of time, which they needed, and they deliver. Most of Ambrose’s stuff still hits with the impact of a Playboy Pillowfight, but near the end he started picking up the intensity and actually wrestling like a wildman, and that helped SO MUCH. The crowd got REALLY into it, too, which I hope somebody noticed. Instead of saying Ambrose is unhinged, SHOW US. The “banging the head on the mat” counter to the Calf Crusher was dope, as was him just running and jumping out into the crowd.
I also love the ongoing story that AJ Styles is so good at wrestling that he can do anybody’s style better than them. He wrestled the John Cena style and beat John Cena. He got wild and a little brawly with Ambrose and kicked his ass. He even hung with Roman Reigns, who wrestles like an NBA Jam computer player cheating to catch up in the fourth. The guy can do anything, with or without help, and he’s thriving now that he understands what a lawless land of sh*theads WWE is. He wrestles a totally fair, totally competitive, barely heel match for 27 minutes and then the second the ref goes down, he boots Ambrose in the dick. How perfect is that? He’s a heel, yeah, because he’s a colossal sh*t-talker, but he’s more of a heel out of necessity. Miz wouldn’t have to bend over and ask him if he knows how wrestling works.
I thought Ambrose would hold on to the championship for a while to cement his solo star-power after the brand split, but AJ Styles as WWE Champion — actual WWE Champion — is a thing of beauty. The guy’s doing some of the best work of his career, is at the top of his game, is better than almost anybody else in the world (anywhere, in any style) and is too old for them to stall on. I guess my only complaint is that Finn Bálor got hurt, so we didn’t have Finn and AJ on top as champions of their respective shows. Then we could’ve made Kenny Omega the IWGP Champion and had three generations of Bullet Club leaders as world champs at the same time. Let Gallows and Anderson just float between the three.
No matter what, Backlash surprised me. It gave me the follow-through of a great wrestling show with plotted-out stories that make sense and seem like they’re going somewhere, because they are. There are motivated characters we can like and understand, enough shocks to keep us interested, and the bullsh*t kept to a minimum. Aside from special teen guest stars and rando Kane victories, this was a win from top to bottom.
Let’s keep it going. Be at least as good as this, Clash of the Champions!
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Tonight the role of the “none” in AJ’s theme song was played by Dean Ambrose.
Ambrose: “Hey that’s my title!”
Styles: “I don’t know you!” *kick*
AJ is making Dean look like Brock lesnar’s salary tonight
Dean, “Rabbit Lariat” means it’s a sneak attack from behind, not that it looks like it was performed by an actual baby rabbit.
We are all Heath’s children.
The Real Birdman
Vote for Rhyno: Job creator
Somewhere there’s a tag team of erudite novelists called the “High Prose.”
Guide to telling twins apart:
Jimmy Uce = Shirt, Jay Uce = Skins
Tomax = Scar, Xamot = No Scar
Ashley = The Taller One, Mary Kate = Murdered Heath Ledger
How does 3 foot tall Alexa Bliss have more believeable offense than your WWE champion?
Bray Wyatt should change his name to Cleveland Brown.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Join us tonight for Raw and tomorrow for the Best and Worst of it, and every weekend for the rest of the year for this never-ending torrent of pay-per-views. Hit these share buttons to keep us in business and we’ll be here for all of them.