Asย SmackDown‘s first dedicated PPV post-WrestleMania, my expectations forย BackLashย were as low as they were forย Payback. In fact, if anything, my expectations were a little lower. However you try to dance around it,ย SmackDown‘s a B-show. That doesn’t mean it can’t bring some compelling things to the table. It’s just that, by and large, you can always look toย Raw for a bit of added spectacle. With a main event pitching Jinder Mahal against Randy Orton, my hopes were far from high. The only thing on the card of real intrigue, to me, was the inevitable debut of Shinsuke Nakamura on a WWE main roster.

As it turns out, 2017’sย BackLashย is a far more enjoyable event thanย Payback. Don’t let that sound like too much praise though. Both events are thoroughly average affairs. The difference between the two is thatย Payback, in its lazy and misjudged lumbering, came off rather on the negative side of average. On the other hand,ย BackLashย was a largely entertaining show that simply never poked its head too far above passable. There wasn’t too much that was outright insulting about this PPV, but retrograde finishes and the mere idea of Mahal as champion kept it from heights it teased towards. Following is a list of my live-tweets made throughout the event, peppered with some extra analysis between the matches:

The Kick-Off Show

Kick-Off shows are Kick-Off shows but, for some reason, I feel the need to tap up a couple of sentences on them anyway. Unfortunately, this particular kick-off was far from as exciting asย Payback‘s. That’s, more than likely, due to the absence of The Miz though. The match between Aiden English and Tye Dillinger wasn’t too bad at all, but it stank strongly ofย NXT. That said, it was a far better effort than the last PPV’s paltry offering of a match. Perhaps it’s because I simply can’t get behind Erick Rowan that his appearances did nothing more than make me snigger…

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler

Obviously, this match was the most hotly anticipated. We all know what Nakamura’s capable of, it just remained to be seen how much he’d bring that into theย SmackDown ring. Ziggler’s a pretty clever choice of opponent too. It’s a shame that he’s become a pissy little jobber-to-the-stars but, and there’s no doubting it, it’s something he does well. He was always sure to have a good match with Nakamura and, as expected, it came out as a thoroughly gripping little piece of booking. My one and only issue is the short timeslot it was afforded. Both of these guys could have gone longer and, surely, done more with the concept. Reigned in by WWE pencil-pushers, their end-product felt solid, but rushed. On the plus side, it gives Nakamura more room to expand in the future. In the parlance of our times, he hasn’t blown his load too quickly.

The Usosย (Jimmy & Jey Uso)ย vs. Breezangoย (Tyler Breeze & Fandango)
(WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship)

I was never an insane fan of the Usos, but I can’t be the only one who thinks their heel persona is shocking. Maybe i’m just too blinkered, but I much prefer them when they’re smiling fan-favourites than theirย “badass” alternatives. Conversely, i’m almost sickened with myself for having to admit my growing admiration for Breezango. They’re cutting funny promos that manage a rare feat. It’s not easy to pull off “goofy” segments that are genuinely amusing, but they’ve managed it. The match itself seemed like an absolute embarrassment at first, but it didn’t take long at all toย shed its gimmicky roots and turn into something quite interesting. From nowhere the pace suddenly bubbled up to an impressive and impactful speed, leaving this as one of the more surprisingly positive matches of the show. It feels wrong to type, but Fandango was truly on fire in this one.

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin

I’ll admit that I barely haveย any experience with Sami Zayn. I’m aware he has aย huge history, and a great deal of respect; I’m simply unable to see precisely why from the small amount I’ve seen on the WWE. Meanwhile, Baron Corbin’s an interesting talent who I think has a lot ahead of him. His speed is unbelievable and he has an irrefutable natural charisma. For me, it was these two things carrying this match and making it in any way worth keeping an eye on. Zayn was doing a perfectly good job, with his resilience and underdog factor having its own appeal. Despite the good parts of Zayn’s performance, the finish seemed out-of-the-blue and a little on the unbelievable side. He could have believably won, but the match itself was stacked a little too much in Corbin’s favour to cover the cracks of a heavy-handed creative team.

The Welcoming Committeeย (Natalya, Carmella & Tamina w/ James Ellsworth)ย vs. Charlotte Flair, Naomi & Becky Lynch

I’m saying it about the women of WWE at almost every PPV, but this was one of the best matches on the card. The only problem here is the same problem I had withย Payback. The women are clearly talented and over enough to pull off singles contests at shows like these. However, with a strangely compressed (yet diverse) female roster, they feel the need to hotshot all of them into one massive mess of a match. These clusterfucks prove to be fine arenas for the women to show off their respective skills, but they’re packed in like sardines. All the women (save Tamina) brought something to the table but, surprisingly, Carmella stole the show in this one. She’s taking a few leaves out of Alexa Bliss’ intensely readable book, and it’s very much working for her.

Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles
(WWE United States Championship)

Well, this was a resounding beauty of a match. Both of these athletes were always going to provide us with some impressive work, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good this match is. It starts off submission-heavy from Owens before building to a quick and heavy crescendo of memorable bumps. It’s laudable just how much they both get up and keep going; at times without barely a second’s pause. The two have an unbelievable chemistry in the ring, with Owens’ practised arrogance brushing up gorgeously against the stalwart psychology of Styles. This match went where too many WWE matches don’t bother anymore. It kept going beyond my expectations, unfurling into a deep piece of work and exponential joy.

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

As far as roaring brawlers go, I’ve seen worse. However, this was still a dull pause of a match. I accept that i’m biased. I simply don’t like the work of either Rowan or Harper. They’re stodgy and uninspired, yet somehow overwrought. Their characters are all too far-fetched, without enough of a move-set or presence to back it up. Still, they were both clearly going for it more than usual in this one. You have to give them credit for doing everything they could to put on a good match. I just don’t think they have it in them. To compound to that, this probably had the worst finish of any match on the card. It was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, making no physical sense considering the preceding tussle. Just a little more thought put into its conclusion and I might have been rather inclined to come down on this one positively.

Jinder Mahalย (w/ The Singh Brothers)ย vs. Randy Orton
(WWE Championship)

I’ve been seeing, in some circles, that Mahal has been gaining a fair bit of respect recently. Not from me. Transitional champion or not, Mahal is simply not the man for the job. He’s a terrible ring-worker, as evidenced by this match, and he’s even worse on the mic (as he shows every time he speaks into one). I’m no fan of Orton, but I can see how he’s a deserving champion. This whole storyline strikes me as a joke. I’m simply not laughing at it. Not where a major title is concerned. It wasn’t even close to a good enough match to back it up, but it was never going to be. I have little to say about this other than to further express my dismay, and my hope that WWE will take their championships and main events more seriously in the future.

By the end of it, I was left with aย BackLash that delivered; but only just. So much of it could have been all the more compelling with just a little bit more thought put behind it. Instead, you could feel the lethargy of the creative team clashing with the raw drive of many of the athletes. It seems that most of the competitors wanted to do the very best they could. With limited timeslots and often stupid finishes, I don’t entirely blame them for the ways in which this PPV were undermined. For a post-WrestleManiaย event, it really could have have been far worse. Definitely watchable, I still can’t possibly recommend it as one to go back to. If you missed it, I say leave it. That is except Owens vs. Styles, of course. That was one of the best matches of the year. Otherwise:

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