Previously on the Best and Worst of Backlash: There were five championship matches where all five champions retained, most of the finishes were really bad, and the show went 30 minutes too long but still had time for a long comedy sketch in the middle. No really, that was the Backlash before this one.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Backlash for June 14, 2020.
The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever™: Foreword
Before I talk about anything else, I want to note the handful of matches WWE themselves consider the “greatest wrestling matches ever.”
- Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3
- Ricky Steamboat vs. Macho Man Randy Savage, also at WrestleMania 3
- Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14
- John Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 28
- Triple H vs. The Undertaker, also at WrestleMania 28
It’s mostly what you’d expect, with the one match everyone considers one of the greatest ever — Savage vs. Steamboat, which still cooks and makes 14 minutes feel like five — and a handful of others that weren’t necessarily “the best wrestling matches ever,” but are important to WWE history. Hogan vs. Andre is one of the worst matches ever performed but is eternally iconic, Austin vs. Michaels was the christening of Austin as the new top guy and the unofficial beginning of the Attitude Era, and Rock vs. Cena featured the biggest movie star in the world returning to wrestling long enough to participate in three straight WrestleMania main events. The funny one is Triple H vs. The Undertaker, though. They just had to get a Triple H match on there, didn’t they? My going theory is that the intern in charge of choosing the “greatest wrestling matches ever” watched WrestleMania 3 and WrestleMania 28, and then someone barged in screaming WE NEED THE VIDEO PACKAGE NOW and there was only time to randomly draw a Triple H match out of the hat so he didn’t get left out and feel bad.
You probably aren’t interested in this, but if I was that intern and had to pick the five WWE matches I’d consider “the greatest wrestling matches of all time,” I’d definitely have Savage vs. Steamboat on there, and Austin vs. Bret Hart from WrestleMania 13 was a CRIMINAL snub. John Cena vs. CM Punk from Money in the Bank 2011 should be on there if you want Cena represented, and if you need Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker repped I’d include the first Hell in a Cell. It’s not a great “wrestling match,” but it’s bordering on as good as sports-entertainment gets. Michaels and Taker had more famous and probably better matches at WrestleMania 25 and 26, but you should probably include some stuff that isn’t from WrestleMania, especially since the match you’re currently promoting as the greatest ever is a rematch from WrestleMania. For the fifth spot I’d go with a wildcard. There are a few I’d consider that probably wouldn’t make a pay-per-view opening video package — the Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL bloodbath from Judgment Day 2004 that’s still my favorite WWE Championship match ever, or Bret vs. Bulldog from SummerSlam ’92, or Tyler Bate vs. WALTER if you’re nasty — but if you’re promoting Edge, why not go with TLC from Mania X-7? That shit changed the mainstream wrestling business, full stop. If you absolutely HAVE to put Precious Paul on the list, go with Triple H vs. Cactus Jack from Royal Rumble 2000. Put the goddamn Boneyard Match on there before The End of an Era that didn’t actually end anybody’s era.
The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever™: Prelude
So, here we are.
WWE is WWE’s worst enemy sometimes. They don’t ever seem to trust that wrestling fans might like to watch wrestling, so even some basic stuff that’s an automatic sell to audiences gets bells and whistles glue-gunned to it to make it clumsier and less effective. Edge vs. Orton from this show might’ve been the best-ever example of this.
Consider the scenario. Edge and Randy Orton are both 10+-time World Champions with dense WWE histories, a myriad of connections to almost all of WWE’s top stars from the past 30 years, and are former best friends and tag team champions. Edge is the “ultimate opportunist” who will do anything necessary to put himself over. Orton is a “viper” with a documented mental disorder who thinks he’s a snake and makes his butter sneaking up on people from impossible shadows to move all crazy and hit them with cutters. Edge was forced to retire due to a neck injury, and spent nine years on the sidelines watching Orton mail it in and still manage to be one of the top stars in the promotion’s history. He managed to return to the ring at the Royal Rumble, had a tense interaction with Orton, and was then consistently injured and/or humiliated by Orton over the next couple of months. Orton attacked his wife. They had a 40-minute hardcore brawl at WrestleMania that ended with Edge smashing Orton’s head between two chairs on top of a production truck and then bursting into tears because of the cruel place he had to go to to get empty revenge on a man he once considered a brother. At Backlash, they’re set to have a rematch wherein Orton leverages Edge’s ego and asks him to prove himself (and his health) in a classic, one-on-one wrestling match knowing there’s a good chance Edge’s body won’t hold up and he’ll be able to fulfill his goal of brutally and permanently removing Edge from the business he lords over.
Instead of just, you know, doing the match with all of that in the tank, WWE decided to randomly promote the match as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever,” several weeks before it happened. Charly Caruso just said it in passing before an interview and suddenly there were graphics and THE GREATEST WRESTLING MATCH EVER was all over the posters. Out of context, it was a guy who hadn’t wrestled a normal singles match in nine years being asked to put on another 40 minute classic with Randy Orton, who has shit the bed in so many promoted matches that he’s literally had “doesn’t care and doesn’t try” weaved into his on-screen character’s persona. When it’s time for the match, they present it with “enhanced audio and unique camera angles,” meaning they snap your suspension of disbelief in half with some impossible Halftime Heat-ass cameras and a loud “laugh track” of imaginary fans loudly reacting to things actual wrestling crowds probably wouldn’t and starting ghostly, canned chants. There are few things more creatively disheartening than WWE promoting a match that hasn’t happened yet between a 46-year old man returning from injury and their consistently worst main-eventer on a June pay-per-view in a mostly empty Performance Center during a global pandemic as “the greatest wrestling match ever” and then smothering it in fake “this is awesome” chants until we believe it. Vince McMahon might as well be stomping around in the halls with a roque mallet telling wrestling fans to get out here and take their medicine.
It’s a manic, illogical recipe for disaster.
The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever™
And that brings us to the shocking truth of the match: it was really good.
It’s certainly not the greatest wrestling match ever, but it’s one of the best matches of Randy Orton’s career and an impressive feat for Edge at this stage of his career, under these circumstances. It told a story. It was built on wrestling, like wrestling matches should be, with a build dedicated to both establishing and communicating the rules of professional wrestling to an audience and making sure the events of the bout are purposeful and constructive. It has callbacks to previous matches to solidify its place in the timeline, and I’m not just talking about Edge vs. Orton matches. They even did a callback to the cool leapfrog RKO counter Orton pulled on Christian back in the day and Edge countering it, only for Edge to make another of Christian’s famous mistakes and springboard off the second rope into the move. There are layers upon layers upon layers here, which isn’t a unique invention or some kind of WWE masterstroke; it’s what professional wrestling’s supposed to be. Because professional wrestling is the BEST THING.
But, as I said before, WWE is often WWE’s greatest enemy.
The only real problem I can find with the match (aside from the fact that it was still probably too long … Steamboat vs. Savage only went 14:35, long =/= good) is the presentation. The presentation is awful. There are a lot of little insults. You’re promoting this as the “greatest match ever” on a show with several other matches, including five title matches. You’re using the ghost of Howard Finkel to ring announce, which has the same vibes as when they’d bring out Jim Ross at WrestleMania to do “good” commentary for matches instead of the commentary they use for everything else. It’s like a series of little admissions of either disrespect or purposeful mediocrity. got a lump in my throat hearing Fink’s voice again too, but it felt a lot like when companies CGI Audrey Hepburn into their candy commercials. The poor PC recruits having to act their way through a HOW TO CHEER FOR WWE order was hard to properly reconcile already before WWE had them out there standing up for 45 minutes only to dub a different fake crowd over them.
To put it simply, they took a ready-made, possibly great wrestling match with two established stars, promoted it as a legendary thing we all remember fondly before it happened, used “wrestling” as a gimmick like they were in a fucking catch-as-catch-can Punjabi Prison, gave it a Big Bang Theory studio audience, had it go almost an hour because long equals good, had the announce team incessantly insist how unfathomably great every aspect of it was until we had 45 minutes of emotional motion sickness, and still had it end with a low blow with the ref standing there staring at it. That doesn’t even begin to touch the awkwardness of obvious re-tapes, wacky camera angles like looking up at Edge’s face while he’s in Orton’s draping DDT, and so on. They more or less declared they’d created the best wrestling match in history before they actually did anything, had Edge and Orton use their decades of experience and know-how to actually craft something approaching the possibility of “best ever,” and then colored all over it.
The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever™: Postlude
In case you didn’t want to read all of that, it was a really good match that WWE worked really hard to make worse. It was better than we could’ve imagined, despite a seemingly impossible challenge. The wish that it was happening “in front of thousands of fans” and could have real crowd reactions sits at about the same level for me as wishing there was a version on the Network without the laugh track making it feel like I was watching somebody play a video game. It is what it is, nuance and context don’t matter to most of the audience, and I truly appreciate the hard work that went into putting something like this together.
I also want to say that I get the “greatest match ever” promotion. I do. I think it’s stupid dumb baby garbage, but I get it. Giving pay-per-view matches little hooks like that get people interested and involved, and I’d be lying if I said the novelty of watching them promote a match as THE GREATEST EVER for a month before doing it and seeing whether they succeeded or failed was one of my major interests in the show. It works. I guess we’re at the point in our popular culture now where we have to be annoyed and offended into being interested, and nobody does “annoying and offensive” quite like WWE.
I look forward to Triple H battling The Undertaker in The Actual Best Wrestling Match Ever at Extreme Rules.
The Worst Wrestling Match Ever™
It turns out cinematic matches in WWE were a mistake. Sorry, everybody.
I loved the Firefly Fun House match at WrestleMania. I liked the dorky but sincere Boneyard Match. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano and Velveteen Dream vs. Adam Cole were about 10% as good as they would’ve been as normal wrestling matches. Money in the Bank had characters getting framed photos smashed over their head and running around with it still on their shoulders and two (2) falling murders that were retconned by a “secondary roof.” Now the Raw Tag Team Championship is being decided in a months-long feud involving golf, bowling, axe throwing contests, decathlons featuring turkey leg eating competitions, and, now, an advertised Tag Team Championship pay-per-view match that turns out to be an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers directed by “two of the six writers” of Scary Movie.
At the time, I described AEW’s Stadium Stampede match as, “Money in the Bank made by people who like wrestling and have a decent sense of humor.” I’d like to follow that train of thought by saying the Street Profits vs. Viking Raiders “match” at Backlash was like Vince McMahon (or Brother Love, or whomever) watched a YouTube clip of the fight from Anchorman for the first time on Saturday afternoon and scripted an entire WWE “spoof” of it from memory without bothering to watch it twice. This shit made me stop wanting to watch wrestling, and I’m the guy who obsessed over time-traveling-ass cannibal-cage-brother-ass pissed-off-ninja-skeleton-ass Lucha Underground and cheered for Bray Wyatt causing John Cena to get so depressed about his life that he literally disappeared. I’m not above it. This was just terrible.
In case you missed it, the thing that was supposed to be a match featured:
- Braun Strowman’s car windshield getting busted again without any callbacks or consequences, making me wonder if WWE randomly decided to support somebody’s Orlando metro area windshield glass replacement service
- lazy callbacks to the various skits from Raw, most notably a standoff between the Profits holding golf clubs and the Raiders holding shields and a bowling ball, as if the ring psychology of this pay-per-view blowoff is the reason we got 1,000 weeks of “anything you can do we can do better”
- people getting hit in the balls with balls, evoking the legendary comedic influence of Al Snow hardcore matches
- a spear through a window, which was the only thing that seemed cool or violent in the entire segment
- Akira Tozawa, of all people, randomly showing up in command of a Japanese biker gang of ninjas (?) that causes the Profits and Raiders to put aside their difference to team up as the “Viking Profits”
- all four men fleeing the scene when Tozawa introduces a very tall ninja with a sword played by (as far as I can tell) the very not ninja-like Jordan Omogbehin
- more top of a production truck shenanigans, as seen in Ciampa/Gargano and Orton/Edge at WrestleMania, which somebody in creative is SUPER INTO right now
- both teams literally falling into the garbage
- the teams being attacked by a mysterious monster that lives in the dumpster, which is obviously a Star Wars joke for some reason but plays more like it’s a rubber alligator that makes tiger noises
My only reasonable theory is that they needed Edge vs. Randy Orton to seem especially great to wrestling fans, so they prefaced it with the corniest, most half-assed bullshit they could imagine. Montez Ford needs to get the hell away from these people as soon as possible. Quick side note: how do you call them the “Viking Profits” when STREET RAIDERS is the other option? Come on. Even Profit Raiders or Street Vikings would’ve been better. You picked the worst possible combination of those words.
Additional side note: remember when Bianca Belair existed?
Best: The Opening Two Matches
These get their own section for being pretty good wrestling matches that didn’t spectacularly sink themselves with bad finishes. The first was the triple threat for the Women’s Tag Team Championship featuring Bliss Cross Applesauce and the IIconics, complete with Billie Kay’s good luck championship match Maleficent horns, challenging Sasha Banks and Bayley. If I haven’t said it enough, Bayley’s finally getting into her character again and developing it beyond people telling her she sucks and has a mom haircut, and it’s been great. She’s killing it. Combine that with Sasha Banks being Sasha Banks and the Women’s Tag Team Championship suddenly being a priority again — thanks again, Alexa Bliss — and you’ve got a stew going.
You won’t be surprised, but I really enjoyed the IIconics here. I think they’ve been done a great disservice by a lot of writers and opinion-havers on the Internet who (1) never watched SHIMMER and (2) don’t seem to remember that Billie and Peyton wrestle like that as the IIconics not because they suck, but because they’re supposed to suck. That sounds like an excuse, and honestly it probably is, but a lot of what they get shit for — the loudness, the obnoxiousness, the comedic exaggerated selling — is clearly on purpose. I don’t see them in there botching more moves or making things look worse than anyone else, and they’re like 15 solid steps up in the ring from Natalya, and at least as many steps up as characters and orators than Natalya.
I also liked the rare instance of a triple threat tag team match having three people wrestle at a time instead of two. It never made a ton of sense to have the third team just stand out on the apron, and at best gave us moments like when the New Age Outlaws subverted the rules by ending up in the ring together and having one pin the other. It informed the finish as well, as Bliss hit her finish on Peyton Royce and forgot Sasha Banks was also technically legal. It’s a totally reasonable mistake for the character, allows the IIconics to kind of stay in competition without looking too good or getting pinned, and makes Sasha look smart and skilled. Plus, Bayley Dos Straps can loudly brag about winning a match her partner straight-up won on her own. Good stuff.
That’s followed by Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus, which plays out like a really good Smackdown match from like, three years ago. Before the darkness came. It’s a little over 15 minutes of solid work with clear alignments that followed the perfect structure of a heel vs. face wrestling match without doing what the main event did and having 15 people stand around the ring pointing and yelling LOOK AT HOW GOOD THIS WRESTLING MATCH WE PUT TOGETHER IS.
Scott Heisel filled in for me on this week’s Best and Worst of Smackdown so I didn’t get to write about it, so here are my thoughts on Jeff Hardy throwing a HUGE cup of prop piss in Sheamus’ face. First of all, god damn, Jeff, drink some water. Your pee looks like Mountain Dew. Second of all, I’d be more reactive to the segment if I didn’t remember Shawn Michaels and the McMahons doing the same exact segment with the same punchline 14 years ago. Don’t have any new ideas? Think about what you did over a decade ago and hope nobody remembers, or has YouTube, or subscribes to your network full of archived footage! You’re good at jokes, Bruce!
P.S. (or “pee-s,” since that’s the level of humor we’re working with here), Sheamus is way too decorated and way too experienced and in way too good of shape to be stuck having bottom-of-the-barrel DUI and urine feuds with Jeff Hardy in the year of our Lord 2020. You seriously can’t find something better to do for a tenured, multiple-time World Champion who can work and talk and looks like he’s chiseled out of quartz?
Worst: Ewtreme Rules
You forgot the WWE logo is also a letter, didn’t you?
Whatever, nobody cares about Extreme Rules. I want to skip ahead and see what happens at SummerSlaw.
The Rest Of The Show: Good Matches With Bad Endings
But what can you expect from the WWE quarantine era? Before I get too deep into dissecting the rest of the show, I wanted to reiterate that even though I’ve developed some incredibly low expectations for the company and honestly believe they operate in bad faith more often than not, I realize trying to run half a dozen weekly wrestling shows in the middle of a global disaster in a country currently going through a civil rights revolution and continuing to fumble into ignorant fascism is a no-win situation. Wrestling’s supposed to be a reflection of society. How can it be that right now? Wrestling’s supposed to entertain live crowds. It can’t right now. They can’t travel. They can’t do spectacle in a small gym in central Florida. A sizeable chunk of the roster is either fired for shitty reasons or in self-imposed and completely understandable quarantine. It’s tough. I couldn’t do any better. All Elite Wrestling‘s barely doing better. New Japan went away for months and JUST came back. Shit’s hard. I get it. Sorry for all the disclaimers, I’m just dedicated to making sure anybody who actually reads this knows I’m not complaining about wrestling because I “don’t like wrestling.” I do. I just want THIS wrestling to be better.
Nia Jax vs. Asuka was good while it lasted, but had a terrible finish. These two have surprisingly good chemistry with one another — I think Asuka might be the only woman on the roster who is impervious to Nia’s stumbly-bumbly hoss style and knows how to construct a match around her limitations to make her look strong and imposing — and this was another example of it. And then, boop, the match ends with a double count-out. Did they not have a finish in mind because they accidentally signed Nia as Asuka’s opponent in the middle of an Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair program? Did they just not know what to do? You have Asuka win, guys. That’s what you do. It’s Asuka.
The best compliment I can give the Universal title match is that Miz and Morrison weren’t immediately double powerslammed and pinned in a pile.
This was easily the worst thing on the show (that was actually a match) for me. I don’t know why you couldn’t have done this exact same set-up with Miz as a single challenger or Morrison as a single challenger with the other at ringside as their second. “Burying” is probably the wrong word, but it’s not doing a former WWE Champion who is one of the social faces of your company and his recently returned 5-time Intercontinental Champion tag team partner any favors to have them lose a 2-on-1 match, bumble through some goofy pranks, and have even the PRANKS backfire on them. They couldn’t even get and maintain PRANK HEAT. It’s not their fault Braun’s cold boogers on a paper plate right now and is building his first title reign on sheep masks, sassy haunted puppets, and Kayla Braxton getting slimed like she’s on fucking Double Dare.
It’s somehow better and worse than I expected at the same time. I’ve got low opinions about Braun right now, sure, but can his next opponent be someone promoted as Worth A Shit? Because that seems like a better use of your main event singles championship. I dunno. Maybe not, though. What’s signed for Ewtreme Rules, Strowman vs. Lucha House Party in a Lucha House Rules match?
Finally we have the WWE Championship match between Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley, aka WWE Backlashley, aka WWE MacLash. This was really damn good while it lasted, and is the kind of WWE Championship match I’ve been dying to see. I want to see two big or strong or skilled or something Superstars going HAM on each other in pursuit of their job’s top accolade. If Bobby Lashley looks like Bobby Lashley, I want him kicking ass like Bobby Lashley. If Drew McIntyre spends a month screaming I WANT YOU TO TRY REAL HARD TO KICK MY ASS and that’s the core plot point of the program, I want, for example, to see Lashley jump him before the bell and put the fear of God into him with a bad-ass full nelson with a leg scissors. McIntyre got SHOOK in this match, and that’s a thousand percent what I want to see.
And then — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — they aren’t confident enough to just end the match on the merits of competitive pro wrestling and go full Sports Entertainment with it. Lana shows up, gets up on the apron, and causes a completely unnecessary distraction that leaves Lashley open for a cheap Claymore Kick. It’s a finish that I’d expect on Raw or Smackdown, but feels extra disappointing when it’s at the tail end of what was building up to be one of my favorite title matches in a long-ass time. Again, I get it. I get that the focus is on the characters, and to WWE and most of the audience it’s probably more important to push the cornball soap opera stuff as the “point.” I’m sure a lot of people tuned in to see how the MVP vs. Lana drama would play out. I’m just one of the ones who tuned in to see one big guy try to beat the guts out of the other. At least I kinda still got that.
If this sets up a rematch and the rematch has to have a special stipulation because it’s on one of WWE’s dedicated gimmick pay-per-views, what do they do? A submission match? Is Drew gonna tap Bob to the Iron Maiden?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
This man framed me for drunken assault, throwing my career and my life into a tailspin i thought i may never recover from. I hate this man with every fiber of my being.
… Better start with a headlock.
Samoa Joe congratulating A.J. Styles on being able to celebrate with his family is a nice little dig.
I’m still trying to figure out why FTR would have wanted to leave the WWE.
My mom walked in my room and i switched over to tentacle hentai because that’s significantly less embarrassing to explain
Cant wait for the directors cut of this, I hear there is 28 mins cut of Randy Orton rest holds. #ReleaseTheDunnCut
I mean, this match is ok, but it’s no Melina v. Alicia Fox
The Viking Profits? The 4 Norsemen was right there!
The Real Birdman
Braun Strowman will forgive them for messing up his car since Ivar is cute
Not A Crook
“feels like they’re doing too much here” – Johnny Gargano
“yeah it’s a bit excessive, what’s the finish, someone pulling out a shotgun?” – Tommaso Ciampa
“couldn’t agree more, guys” – Adam Cole
Samoa Joe deserves a raise for the work he put in last night. Full stop. ♫ Oh Wennnndyyyyy ♫
That about does it for another edition of the Best And Worst Of A Thing I Watched On The Network and Hope You Agree With, At Least Mostly. If you did, or you at least laughed at something or thought a point was interesting, consider giving the column a share on social media to spread the word and help us out. We’ve been doing this a while, but there’s always room to grow, both as writers and as critics. And, I guess, as people who run wrestling websites during the plague.
Make sure you’re here on Monday night for Raw and again on Friday for the backlash to Backlash, and we’ll see you here for the build to Ewtreme Rules. We hope you’ll stick around even longer, since Surwiwor Series is coming up in the fall. Thanks again for reading The Greatest Wrestling Column Ever™.