After seven years off, Backlash returns to the WWE calendar this Sunday, as the new brand extension era kicks off… with a SmackDown PPV.
Say what you want about the logic of “Raw and SmackDown being at war with each other, but still being kind enough to promote the other’s shows…”, but there we go. WWE’s given themselves three hours for this SmackDown-only show, with a pre-match to boot. Which is asking a lot of the 30-person roster, considering how many of them have a) been tied up in the tag team tournament and b) have been subject to hit-and-miss booking (or c) are Alberto Del Rio and have been released…). Odds, as usual, are courtesy of 888sport.com and are correct as of time of writing.
WWE World Championship: Dean Ambrose (c) vs AJ Styles
For “that belt that doesn’t get booed”. Ambrose will be looking to put on a performance after thoroughly disappointing against Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam. In fact, thanks to a combination of performances, booking, and WWE usurping the World title’s credibility, it’s hard to not characterise Ambrose’s reign as anything less than a disappointment, especially since the draft took away the natural story of the Shield rivalry. In contrast, AJ has been on the ascent since the brand extension, picking up a decisive win over John Cena at SummerSlam. Just think, a year ago, people would have laughed at the very idea of AJ Styles winning WWE gold, but this Sunday, I’ve a feeling it’s going to happen. Prediction: AJ Styles (Odds – AJ Styles 33/100; Dean Ambrose 2/1)
SmackDown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch vs. Carmella vs. Naomi vs. Natalya vs. Nikki Bella
A six-way match for the newly-created blue belt, and this is a bit of a pick ‘em, I’d say. Out of the six, only the two NXT arrivals in Alexa and Carmella would look odd with the gold already, whilst the so-called face of SmackDown’s women division, Becky Lynch, has blended into the background after the return of Nikki Bella, who I’ve got as my pick for this. Hopefully they can then start up some storylines now they’ll have something to fight for… Prediction: Nikki Bella (Odds – Becky Lynch evens; Nikki Bella 3/4; Natalya 6/1; Alexa Bliss 14/1; Carmella 33/1; Naomi 33/1)
SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament… Alternates Match: Hype Bros (Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley) vs. The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso)
So, the Usos lose within a minute to American Alpha in their semi-finals, but took out Chad Gable afterwards. That somehow means that the Usos and the Hype Bros have a “lucky losers” match in order to get the spot that has suddenly appeared… why not include the other losing teams, like the Vaudevillains, Breezango or the Ascension? Nevertheless, the Usos just turned heel, and I don’t see WWE dropping the ball on them so early on. They’ll go to the finals. Prediction: The Usos (Odds – The Usos 1/10; Hype Bros 19/4)
SmackDown Tag Team Championship: Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos or Hype Bros
The tournament final for the other newly-created blue belts… and this could go one of two ways. Heath Slater’s been fighting for a “permanent contract” ever since he was left undrafted in July, which has led to this storyline where Slater’d get a SmackDown contract if he won the tag titles. As much as the story is played out, part of me sees Slater losing out yet again, but not because of a heel turn by Rhyno; but perhaps by something underhanded like being caught cheating out of desperation? I think Heath’ll be left waiting, and we’ll have a set of heel tag team champions… Prediction: The Usos (Odds – The Usos 2/5; Heath Slater & Rhyno 37/20; Hype Bros 8/1)
WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
For Ambrose, see Miz. Despite the headline-grabbing promo on Talking Smack a few weeks ago, Miz’s in-ring has been pretty forgettable lately. His last two PPVs were far from inspiring – a nonsensical double DQ against Darren Young, and a bland win over Apollo Crews. Dolph’s become the surrogate for Daniel Bryan after that promo, and which would have worked, had Dolph not been beaten like a drum for most of the year. Miz losing the title would be so WWE-like, but I’m going for Miz to retain the belt… but not win the match. Prediction: Dolph Ziggler (by DQ) (Odds – Miz 1/5, Dolph Ziggler 3/1)
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
Well, this is quite a fall. One month on from being obliterated by Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton’s being slotted with Bray Wyatt – one of a few men who wasn’t even on the SummerSlam card (or the pre-show, in fact). Given that Orton’s a part-timer, him picking up a win here would be wasteful, especially since the roster depth is pretty shallow. This feud will continue, and to do so, I’m going for a Wyatt win. Prediction: Bray Wyatt (Odds – Randy Orton 2/5; Bray Wyatt 7/4)
As of the end of SmackDown, we’ve got six matches to fill a 3 hour show… with perhaps a pre-show match and something else slotted in to kill time.
On paper, there’s not much that’s making this a “must-see” show, aside from the WWE title match, which is so not the impression they needed to give to kick-off the latest era of brand-specific PPVs. We’ll have our review of the show up early next week!