SmackDown was up first in the era of the new brand-exclusive pay-per-views, with a Backlash show that crowned two inaugural champions.

#TLDR: A fantastic main event between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose headed a solid show, but otherwise Backlash felt like an elongated episode of SmackDown with a six match main card that dragged in parts, but left us with inaugural tag team and womens’ champions.

The Full Review: I have no idea who Jagger Eaton is, but apparently his TV show is sponsoring the show tonight.

The pre-show crew are floating between brands it seems. Rhyno and Heath Slater did the pre-show Q&A, which was more entertaining than usual only because of Heath.

Apollo Crews vs. Baron Corbin
Corbin’s back to the pre-show… What a hell of a call-up! Mauro Ranallo calls back to the match these two had at NXT TakeOver in London last year, and it starts somewhat clunky as a shoulder tackle from Crews is met with a stiffer one as Corbin rebounded off the ropes, before Crews’ drop down is nonchalantly walked over by Corbin.

Corbin drops Crews to the outside with a forearm as Crews had tried for a springboard back into the ring… and that takes us to a commercial for the Cruiserweight Classic finale. We return to see Crews fight free from a rear chinlock, only to be taken down by a back elbow from Corbin.

Crews fights back with a leaping lariat, before Corbin reverses an Irish whip into the corner and baseball slides to the outside, quickly returning to knock Crews down from behind. A clothesline from Corbin dumps Crews on his neck for a near-fall, before Corbin’s baseball slide out of the ring saw him met with a diving knee strike as he returned.

An enziguiri from Crews is followed by a standing moonsault for a near-fall, but Corbin quickly replies with an STO for a two-count. Crews surprises Corbin with an Olympic slam that forced a kick-out at two, and forced JBL to find an inventive way to avoid saying Kurt Angle’s name.

A Deep Six from Corbin gets a near-fall, before he goes to the outside and crashes into the steps as he misses a shoulder tackle to Crews on the floor. Apollo comes back with a Samoan drop outside the ring, then rolls Corbin back into the ring. Some punches in the corner keep Corbin at bay, but Corbin pushes free and catches Crews with the End of Days for the win. Eh, it was there, but being stuck in pre-show hell is doing neither of these guys any favours. **½

The main show opens with a video commemorating the 15th anniversary of 9/11… and then a show opening promo with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. Stuff about opportunity, increasing ratings and other assorted lies that leads us to the opening match.

WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Carmella vs. Nikki Bella
They were at pains to emphasise that this was an elimination match… bear that in mind! The new title belt is displayed, and doesn’t get booed. Sadly, very little got a reaction!

Bliss tried for a quick pin on Nikki early on, as the ring emptied and left us with Naomi and Becky for the opening spell. Naomi avoided an early attempt at the Dis-Arm-Her armbar, before dropping Becky with some kicks… and gets backdropped to the floor. Becky went up top, but got knocked by Carmella, who quickly ended up face to face with Nikki Bella, only for Alexa and Natalya to break it up.

In the ring, Bliss drills Nikki with a moonsault into the double knees, before a springboard knee out of the corner gets Nikki a near-fall. A sunset flip off the top gets Bliss a near-fall as Natalya seemingly runs laps of the ring, before coming in to take clotheslines from Lynch. Natalya drills Lynch with a release German suplex, before Naomi hits some headscissors, then a full nelson bomb and finally the Cattle Mutilation… but Alexa hits a double knee to Naomi. Why?! It’s elimination rules!

Carmella decks Naomi with a superkick, and turns around into a spear from Nikki. Carmella recovers to try for the figure four headscissors, but Nikki blocks it and turns it into an Alabama Slam for a near-fall. Nikki takes Carmella onto the top rope, and this leads to a tower of doom as Natalya powerbombed Nikki as Carmella took the superplex.

Alexa Bliss tries to eliminate Carmella with a bunch of near falls in quick succession, before instead she throws Carmella to the outside. Becky comes in and tries for the Dis-Arm-Her, and instead takes a sunset flip out of the corner for yet another near-fall.

Nikki goes for a dive, but gets cut-off by Carmella’s shoulder tackle. Carmella tries for a dive, but she gets tossed by Naomi, and it’s third time lucky as she hits a springboard crossbody into the pile. Bliss hits Natalya with the corner punches, before Natalya tries for a running powerbomb, with Naomi assisting with a Blockbuster neckbreaker and we finally get our first elimination!

Naomi and Natalya try to do the “skin the cat” headscissors, which they just about do at the third go, before Naomi drills Nikki with a roundhouse kick on the apron. A springboard back into the ring is met with a forearm, but Natalya breaks up the pin… so she can get the Sharpshooter on Naomi for a submission.

Carmella and Natalya stare down Nikki, but the pair turn on each other, allowing Nikki to drop Natalya with the TKO for the next elimination. Carmella snaps back Nikki and gets a flash roll-up as we’re left with Carmella and Becky as the final two.

Carmella slaps down on Becky in the ring, before Becky comes back with a trio of “Becks-Plexes” (Exploder suplexes). A kick from Carmella cuts off Lynch, but Becky suckers in Carmella and catches her in the Dis-Arm-Her from the ground to force the submission! Becky gets the gold, to end a match that went probably a little too long, but save for one or two spots, was pretty decent. Nowhere near the level of what was labelled as a classic back in her NXT days though… ***

Becky gets an interview after the match, and I’m waiting for them to do a title win for someone who didn’t deserve it…

The Miz is shown walking the halls, and he knocks on the door of Jagger Eaton. Apparently he’s the star of a Nickelodeon TV show. Miz is upset that Jagger’s taken over his dressing room, and we get a cheap as hell plug for the show, veiled as a “we’d love to have you on the show… unless we can get John Cena instead”. Veiled burials?

We’re then taken elsewhere backstage as we see Bray Wyatt slamming Randy Orton’s leg in a door. Rumours had spread earlier in the day that Orton hadn’t been cleared to wrestle after suffering a concussion. Who’d have thought that being elbowed so hard in your head that you spray blood would have hurt bad?!

The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) vs. Hype Bros (Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley)
After turning heel, the Usos have ditched their face paint andd slightly different gear, with Jimmy Uso wearing what I can only describe as a pair of “quilted” effect shorts. This is a “lucky loser” match, with the winners going into the SmackDown tag team title tournament finals later, after the Usos “injured” Chad Gable after their semi final loss.

Mojo Rawley starts by channelling “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan with a three point stance. But no clothesline. Instead we get a back body drop, as Jey rolls to the outside. Back inside, Jey takes a hiptoss, then a bodyslam as Zack Ryder tags in and gets a one-count from a slingshot splash.

Jimmy tags in and lights up Ryder with punches and chops, but Zack recovers to set up Jimmy for a Broski Boot… only for Jey to pull his brother out of the ring. Zack replies with a baseball slide dropkick, before taking down Jimmy with a missile dropkick off the apron, as Mojo gets in on the action with a football tackle to both Usos on the floor.

Jimmy kicks away a back body drop after blind tagging out to Jey, and the Usos get the advantage for a spell with Jey landing a leaping headbutt for a near-fall. Another tag brings in Jimmy, who gets another headbutt after a pendulum backbreaker to Ryder from Jey. Ryder’s dropped with a roundhouse kick from Jimmy, and then takes a hip attack in the corner from Jey as this seems to go on forever.

Ryder gets a neckbreaker on Jey, and slowly crawls his way into the corner, but Jimmy’s tagged in and knocks Mojo off the apron to prevent the hot tag. The Usos double-team as referee Charles Robinson is distracted, but Zack makes another comeback and finally makes the hot tag, as Rawley drops Jey with a series of shoulder blocks.

A pair of Stinger splashes stun Jey, as Jimmy runs in… and gets thrown out. Jey’s crossbody off the top is caught and turned into a military press slam as the Hype Bros set up for the Hype Ryder, but Jimmy pulls Rawley out of the ring. Ryder had gotten tagged back in, and he takes down Jey with a hurricanrana off the top, but again Jimmy breaks the count.

Rawley misses a shoulder tackle and crashes into the crowd barriers, and that leaves Ryder all alone in the ring. Zack takes a chop block to the knee, as the Usos target it, before Jimmy wraps up Zack in the Tequila Sunrise (which hasn’t yet been rebranded) for a submission win. Eh, not too bad, but it really felt like an extended TV match rather than a PPV-calibre bout, particularly because that early heat segment seemed to go on forever… **¾

The Usos will take on Heath Slater and Rhyno later on for the WWE SmackDown tag titles…

Speaking of, Slater and Rhyno get a backstage promo next. They play it for giggles, as Slater’s apparently so nervous he’s crapping himself. Slater thinks they’ve finished with the promo, but but of course they’re not. Rhyno doesn’t get his promo after all…

Promos for Connor’s Cure and the Cruiserweight Classic finale. Next up: the Intercontinental championship match, with Dolph Ziggler being a stand in for Daniel Bryan after that promo from the Miz.

Before Miz comes out, we see him arguing with Daniel Bryan. Apparently he’s trying to renegotiate his contract. Bryan doesn’t react, even after Miz tells him to “watch me do what you can’t anymore”. Oh God, they’re actually building to a match that they can’t deliver, right?

WWE Intercontinental Championship: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz (c)
They start by aping CM Punk’s short-lived UFC fight, with Ziggler taking down Miz, landing some punches before going for a rear chinlock… only for Miz to escape under the bottom rope. I bet Miz didn’t get half a million dollars for that!

Ziggler’s takedown gets another near-fall as Dolph starts off really heavily on the grappling, getting a couple of near-falls before Miz just punches him. Ziggler avoids a slam, and takes down Miz with a series of dropkicks, before he’s dropped across the ropes as Miz starts a comeback.

A bow-and-arrow lock sees Miz try and force a submission, but Ziggler turns over and gets a near-fall before Miz shoves out of the leaping DDT and slingshots the challenger to the outside. On the floor, Miz drops Ziggler across the barriers, then rolls him back into the ring for a near-fall, before a rear chinlock and a Romero special keeps the champion on top.

Miz stomps Ziggler’s knees into the mat, before he follows Ziggler into the corner with a trio of corner dropkicks. They’re having Miz overtly mocking the Daniel Bryan spots and taunts here, before Miz sets up for the Skull Crushing Finale, but Ziggler switches it into a roll-up for a near-fall.

Ziggler makes a comeback with some clotheslines, a Stinger splash, then a neckbreaker, before again getting a double leg takedown and an elbow drop for a near-fall. A sunset flip roll-up gets Ziggler a near-fall, before Miz hits a slingshot powerbomb – bouncing Ziggler off the ropes before spinning around – only seconds after he’d hit the ringpost with a shoulder charge.

Ziggler tried to get a boot up in the corner to avoid a charge from Miz, but instead Miz grabbed the boot and yanked him down for a kneebreaker attempt, but Ziggler pushes away from a figure four and surprises Miz with a Famouser for a near-fall. Miz shoves away a Zig Zag attempt, only to fall into a sleeperhold from the challenger, before finally breaking the hold by running into the turnbuckles.

Ziggler surprises Miz again with a leaping DDT, before setting up for a superkick, but it’s caught and turned into another DDT by Miz, who quickly goes for the Figure Four. Dolph grabs the bottom rope, before taking a running kick to the face by Miz, but he shoves off a second figure four and drills Miz with a superkick… only for Miz to get his foot on the rope at the last second.

Miz rolls to the outside and tries to escape, but Ziggler catches him and uses a Fireman’s carry to bring Miz back inside. An O’Connor roll gets a near-fall, as does the reversal, but after the kick out, Miz distracts the referee. From there, Maryse sprays Ziggler in the eyes with something (perfume?), which gives Miz the chance to get the win with the Skull Crushing Finale. This was a lot better than people gave it credit for, but Ziggler as a character is dead in the water right now, and a heel against a non-credible babyface will lead to this sort of non-reaction. ***½

They replay highlights of the pre-show match, and then we crash to Bray Wyatt’s entrance. We see the attack on Orton from earlier, and this leads to Bray demanding that the referee counts out Orton so he can win by forfeit. Yay for False Advertising!

After Charles Robinson gives us all a counting lesson (ah ah ah!), Wyatt’s declared as the winner by forfeit, but then ring announcer Greg Hamilton gets a second note, confirming a replacement for a no-holds-barred match next:

No Holds Barred: Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
Yep, in 2016… Kane’s still being used as a mystery replacement. They start with Wyatt taking Kane into the corner, but Kane turns the tables and drops him with a short-arm clothesline.

Another clothesline sees Kane send Wyatt to the floor, and then he’s tossed into the timekeeper’s area. Kane clears the Spanish announce table, but Wyatt cuts him off with the ring bell, before grabbing a handily-located steel chair.

Kane cuts off Wyatt with a punch, and then throws him back into the ring, but Wyatt springs back with a forearm. A big boot from Kane drops Wyatt, who then grabs the chair and smashes it against Kane’s knee as he tried to exit the ring. Wyatt flattens Kane with a corner clothesline, before he uses the chair a few more times.

Kane counters a uranage attempt onto a chair by DDTing Wyatt onto it, and Kane follows that up with a series of clotheslines in the corner, then a sidewalk slam. Bray kicks away a chokeslam attempt, then he low bridges Kane to the outside, only to be dragged outside. Wyatt rakes the eyes to avoid being chokeslammed through the Spanish announce table, then he clears the English announce desk.

Wyatt elbows away at Kane’s head, before mockingly doing Randy Orton’s pose as a prelude to a run across the English announcer’s table, ending as he splats Kane with a back senton through the Spanish announce table.

After throwing Kane back in, Wyatt goes for the Sister Abigail, but Kane counters with a chokeslam with a weird camera angle to boot. Bray kicks out at two, before dropping Kane with the uranage on a chair for another near-fall. The crowd comes alive as Randy Orton slowly shuffles down to the ring, before he hits an RKO and hobbles to the back. Kane picks up the pieces with a chokeslam, and that’s the win. Totally underwhelming, and the false advertising left a sour taste in a lot of mouths… **½

AJ Styles is walking the halls, and he bumps into two random guys. Perhaps they had a try-out and are just taking their time changing back into their street clothes.

No Mercy is SmackDown’s next show… in four weeks. That’s two weeks after Raw’s “Clash of Champions” special. Nothing like burning an audience out from the off, eh?

They replay the Usos’ win from earlier, and the tag team finals are next!

WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship: The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) vs. Heath Slater & Rhyno
The babyfaces start off on top, with Rhyno and Slater tagging in frequently as the Usos struggled to get out of the blocks.

Jey knocks Heath to the outside, who took a double team suplex into the ringpost, then a double-team superkick as they started selling Slater’s stomach from the earlier comedy segment. Slater’s rolled into the ring as Jimmy gets a near-fall, and the Usos keep up with some cheap double-teaming.

Jey Uso lands a sliding lariat before tying up Heath in a rear chinlock, as the Usos fight to keep Heath as far away as possible from Rhyno. A pendulum backbreaker from Jimmy is followed up by a flying chop from Jey as Heath was held across the knee. Heath’s kept grounded with another rear chinlock, and he comes oh… so… close to making the tag, but to no avail.

Jey again charges Heath into the corner, before Jimmy’s tagged in for another Stinger splash. Jimmy hits a legdrop before tagging out, but not before he holds Heath in place for a headbutt from his brother. Both Heath and Jey crash into each other as they went for clotheslines at the same time, and finally heath makes the hot tag as Rhyno cleans house on the Usos!

Rhyno takes down Jimmy with a belly to belly, and that sets him up for a spear, but Jimmy sidesteps and sends Rhyno into the corner. Heath blind tags in, and drops both Usos with inverted neckbreakers, before a leaping DDT almost gets the win, only for Jey to pull Heath out of the ring to break up the count.

That enrages Slater, who decks Jey with a punch on the apron. Unfortunately, that distracted Heath from the legal man, as Jimmy’s superkick knocked Heath to the mat, but as the referee got distracted in trying to remove a downed Jey Uso from the ring, Rhyno came in and drilled Jimmy with a spear. Heath woke up and rolled over… and Heath Slater’s got a contract! Rhyno and Slater are the new/first SmackDown tag team champions!

Although this wasn’t too dissimilar from the Usos’ first match, the story actually worked here – largely because we didn’t have a long, drawn out heat spot from the Usos. As a result, this was a better match for it. ***½

They play a shorter viersion of that surreal KFC advert with Dolph Ziggler and the Miz that they first aired at SummerSlam. Dolph looked better here as Colonel Sanders against Chicken Miz than he did in his match earlier.

WWE World Championship: AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose (c)
AJ’s still wearing John Cena’s armband as a headband, and looks like someone out of a gym in the 80s whilst doing so.

The initial exchanges sees Styles snapmare Ambrose to the mat, before he goes for a small package in search of an early win. They quickly lay into each other with punches as Ambrose gets a slight advantage, only for Style to roll out of the ring to try and frustrate the champion. Back inside, Ambrose gets a sunset flip, but finds himself dropped by Styles’ forearm after he’d rolled through.

Ambrose fires back with a big back body drop on Styles, who again rolls to the outside, before he slides in to drop Ambrose into the ropes as the champion went for a dive. Styles targeted the throat and neck of Ambrose from there, before a brief comeback ended with a dropkick for a near-fall.

Styles continued to work methodically over Ambrose, getting a two-count off of a leaping forearm, before Ambrose turned the tables by stomping away on the challenger in the corner. Ambrose misses a shoulder charge into the corner, before Styles misses a splash of his own, as Ambrose goes for a belly to back superplex. Styles fights off, but ultimately flips back onto his front as Ambrose got the move off.

Ambrose continued a comeback with forearms and lariats, before he caught a crossbody and turned it into a swinging backbreaker on the challenger for a near-fall. Styles again rolled to the outside to avoid an attack, but ended up taking an elbow off the top from Ambrose. Inside the ring, Ambrose drops Styles with a double chickenwing facebuster, which gave Mauro Ranallo a chance to name-drop Ryusuke Taguchi after the near-fall.

Styles blocked an avalanche by rolling through Ambrose into a calf crusher attempt, before switching it up and instead suplexes the champion into the turnbuckles. Ambrose avoids a Phenomenal Forearm, before he takes a knee-breaker in the corner from Styles, who uses that as an opening to work over Dean’s knee.

Out of nowhere, Ambrose gets caught in the calf crusher in the middle of the ring, but he’s able to crawl to the ropes to force a break. AJ goes straight back to the hold, but Ambrose counters it by grabbing a headlock of sorts and rams AJ’s head into the mat to force the release. Ambrose grabs the rope to avoid a Styles Clash, but gets dropped with an enziguiri on the apron, before an attempt to do the Styles Clash on the apron ended with Ambrose switching it into a slingshot, as Styles crashed head-first into the ringpost.

Ambrose chooses not to wait for a count out, instead shoving Styles into the barriers and then rolls him back into the ring where he follows up with more punches. The crowd actually starts to boo Ambrose as he hits a corner bulldog and gets a near-fall from a La Magistral roll-up. Styles surprises Ambrose with some strikes and an ushigoroshi for a near-fall, then again from a spin-out powerbomb from an Argentine backbreaker.

Styles connects with a springboard 450 splash as he came closer to a win, but remained so far away, as Ambrose gets a neckbreaker to start yet another comeback to more boos. A low dropkick awkwardly sends Styles to the floor through the bottom ropes, before AJ crashes into the English announcers table courtesy of a tope from Ambrose.

Ambrose follows by throwing AJ into the crowd, and then breaks the count, rather than waiting for a count-out, so he can run across the English and German announcers, and launch himself into the crowd, taking out AJ with a forearm of his own. AJ’s thrown back into the ringside area, but he takes down Ambrose with a Pele kick, only to fall to a rebound lariat. More boos for Ambrose, who then bumps into the referee as AJ tried to send him to the corner.

AJ kicks Ambrose low as the referee was unsighted, and follows up with the Styles Clash… and we have a new champion! A great main event, with several signs that the crowd were tiring of Ambrose as champion, so this was undoubtedly the right result at the right time, and once again AJ Styles has the best match on the card. ****

The Styles Clash gets AJ the WWE World title! Now, if you’d told me a year ago he’d be in WWE by the end of 2016, let alone champion, I’d have laughed at you. As far as saving the show, you could make a case for it, but for the first SmackDown-only PPV of the new era, there are already worrying signs.

“This felt like a longer episode of SmackDown” was the overriding thought coming out of this show, and with John Cena and American Alpha being the only name guys not on this card, we’re already highlighting the depth issues that the SmackDown roster is having to contend with. Not like that’s a new discovery, but it’s only going to get harder unless changes are made – and the arrival of Curt Hawkins isn’t going to be any sort of a magic bullet!