Whether it goes by Backlash, Payback, Extreme Rules or the Joey Jojo Shabadoo Show, the pay-per-view after WrestleMania doesn’t always get a lot of respect, which isn’t really fair. Sure, sometimes the show is just a bunch of WrestleMania rematches in front of a smaller crowd, but often it’s the start of a new chapter. Or a make-up after ‘Mania plans go awry. Fact is, the WrestleMania follow-up pay-per-view shows up The Showcase of the Immortals more often than you might think.
This year, Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles certainly has a good shot at stealing the show at Payback. I mean, it would be difficult to not top Reigns vs. Triple H. So, here are a few other shows that proved being the follow-up doesn’t mean you have to be second best…
In Your House 7 (Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania XII (Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels)
Starting on a controversial note right off the bat! Yes, the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels Iron Man match from WrestleMania XII is an influential classic, but like a lot of Bret’s stuff, I feel like it’s more admirable than actually fun or exciting. It’s impeccably constructed and executed, but frankly a lot of it drags pretty bad.
I much prefer the wild, ridiculous Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel No Holds Barred match from the follow-up In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies. It’s more heated and emotional than Bret/Shawn, and it’s an example of Michaels at his elite worker best, as he drags the typically mediocre Kevin Nash to a near five-star battle. The match has a unique feel, with everything being done with a sense of urgency. Big spots aren’t set up or teased forever, and not a lot of time is spent selling. These dudes are too damn mad to sell. At one point Nash sends Michaels through the announce table without bothering to clean it off, burying him in debris and TV monitors. Seconds later, Michaels is getting to his feet, because in a legit fight, if you can still go at all, you get up.
Of course, Michaels/Diesel ends with maybe the best spot in hardcore match history, when Diesel steals Mad Dog Vachon’s prosthetic leg to use as a weapon. Whaaat? Michaels manages to grab the leg and shamelessly blasts Diesel with it to win the match despite being the nominal babyface, because hey, HBK will never truly be a good guy. It’s a finish that perfectly encapsulates why ’90s Michaels was so great, and ends Diesel’s big WWF run on the an ideal note.
Backlash 1999 (Steve Austin vs. The Rock)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania XV (The Rock vs. Steve Austin)
Austin and The Rock had very similar matches at WrestleMania XV and Backlash – both were no-DQ brawls with tons of referee-related shenanigans and McMahon Family involvement, but for my money the Backlash bout is marginally better. It’s a tighter, better structured match, with both Austin and Rock fighting like men possessed. A large chunk of the match happens out on the unprotected concrete, with both guys doing non-stop big bumps like it ain’t no thang. People try to pinpoint why the Attitude Era was such a success, but an overlooked factor is the fact that most of the top guys back then wrestled like complete lunatics.
Of course, this match contains the infamous spot where Rock goes all cinema verité, grabs a camera, and cuts a first-person promo, only for Austin to pop up and give Rock and the camera a middle-finger salute and stunner. It also has Shane McMahon doing some top notch heel ref work. The ending of the match, which sees Vince McMahon side with Austin against Shane, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’ve rightfully forgotten most of Vince Russo’s late ’90s nonsense, but it doesn’t detract much from what’s otherwise an Attitude Era classic.
Backlash 2000 (Triple H vs. The Rock)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania 2000 (Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley)
The main event of WrestleMania 2000 was one of the few blemishes on an otherwise great year for WWE. A tossed-together multi-person match that focused way too heavily on McMahon drama, and featured an anti-climatic Triple H ‘Mania victory (the first of many).
Backlash’s Triple H/Rock singles match is what should have main-evented WrestleMania. Like the previous year’s Backlash, Shane is once again playing the heel ref, but this time he’s working against a babyface Rock. A lot could change in a year during the Attitude Era. Heel ref matches don’t often work, but this one does because the McMahons throw so much at The Rock, it almost becomes comedy. Non-stop interference, fast counts, a beatdown from the Corporate Stooges, you name it, but Rock survives it all. And then, just when things look bleakest, Stone Cold Steve Austin returns from a six-month absence to save Rock’s bacon! Hooooly crap! Again, why the hell wasn’t this the main event of WrestleMania?
Judgment Day 2005 (John Cena vs. JBL)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania 21 (JBL vs. John Cena)
Okay, a bit of an explainer — this was the brief era of split-branded PPVs, so the Raw-related bits of WrestleMania 21 were elaborated on at Backlash, and the Smackdown follow-up happened at Judgment Day.
John Cena’s first big title win against JBL at WrestleMania 21 was pretty lackluster. I mean, even by JBL standards. Their Judgment Day “I Quit” match, on the other hand, was a plasma-drenched spectacle, with Cena doing one of the goriest blade jobs in WWE history. Dude’s isn’t so much wearing the proverbial crimson mask, as the proverbial crimson mask, shirt and jorts. He’s drenched from head to knees. As I covered in my recent Cena bio, his blade job was so ballsy, he went from backstage rookie pariah to one of the boys in a single night.
The finish of the match is also great. After a 25-minute war as gruesome as anything WWE has ever broadcast, JBL finally realizes this monster he’s up against will never quit, so he just admits defeat. This match is the dark side of those Never Give Up dishrags Cena holds up.
Backlash 2009 (John Cena vs. Edge)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania XXV (Triple H vs. Randy Orton)
At WrestleMania XXV, Triple H went and did his usual Triple H thing, stinking up the main event with a bland, overly-long match against Randy Orton. Meanwhile Cena was stuck in a weird triple threat that involved the Big Show for some reason.
Backlash instead went with John Cena and Edge in a Last Man Standing match. It was promoted as the final battle between the bitter rivals, and while they couldn’t use blood codes like Cena and JBL did in 2005, the match felt suitably epic. For one, the match was long, over half-an-hour, and both guys survived everything. Top-rope finishers, being tossed into the crowd, steel stair shots, a Conchairto on the stage, you name it. The match does a great job of selling the fact that both guys just won’t lose, so in the end they resort to a Deus Ex Big Show, who runs out and throws Cena through a giant, conspicuously-placed spotlight. Yeah, it’s a goofy spot, but it’s memorable and feels somehow appropriate, as this match firmly establishes Cena and Edge as unkillable Looney Tunes characters.
Extreme Rules 2011 (The Miz vs. John Cena vs. John Morrison)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania XXVII (The Miz vs. John Cena)
Do I need to explain why Miz vs. Cena at ‘Mania was trash? The match barely would have passed muster as a Raw main event, treated the champ like a complete goober, and was just a prelude for a couple minutes of lukewarm Rock antics. In most people’s memories, this is where This Miz’s inglorious title reign ended, but he actually got to defend it on one more PPV, and the match was actually pretty damn good!
The Extreme Rules match involved Miz’s former tag partner John Morrison, so it immediately had greater emotional stakes, and the triple threat cage match was a fun dynamic. Basically, Miz had to constantly juggle the unstoppable Terminator John Cena and squirrely John Morrison. Every time Miz goes after Cena, Morrison tries to sneak over the top, and when Miz pulls him down, Cena pops back up and hits him with something. It’s a no-win situation for Miz, but by this point the audience really wanted to see Miz in a no-win situation. Miz’s title reign will always be a weird footnote in the WWE history books, but at least it ended on a satisfying note.
Extreme Rules 2012 (John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar)
What It One-Upped: WrestleMania XXVIII (John Cena vs. The Rock)
John Cena vs. The Rock, the once in a lifetime, year in the making, epic confrontation I was tired of hearing about six weeks before it happened. As for the match itself, it was good! Pretty darn good and okay. That more or less sums up my feelings on the whole Cena/Rock thing.
Meanwhile, I just about sh*t my pants when Brock Lesnar returned to WWE on the Raw after WrestleMania. Cena/Rock was manufactured electricity, but Cena/Brock was legit lightning. Of course, what most people remember about the match is that Brock lost to Cena in his first match back, which was inexplicable and awful, but the match leading up to that moment was fantastic. This wasn’t the same Brock that left in 2004. He was wrestling a style never really seen in WWE before, and it felt like anything could happen. Brock wrestling has lost some of its novelty in 2016, but in 2012, Cena vs. Brock was craziness. Oh, and hey, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus also got to have a great make-up match for their 18-second ‘Mania debacle on the undercard, so yeah, a big win for Extreme Rules all around.
There you go, a few reasons why you really shouldn’t be skipping Payback this Sunday. What are some of your favorite moments from the WrestleMania follow-up show? Any underrated matches I missed? Let’s chat Backlash, below.