FIVE STAR POD SPLASH - Backlash 2020 Review
WWE has pushed forward in the months since the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. It hasn't been easy but they've been able to build on some storylines and give us one of the best champions we've had in a long time in Drew McIntyre. We've seen yet another evolution in these live shows as WWE has now taken to adding a limited audience by having upwards of 50 WWE trainees at social distances in the arena while separating the ring with plexiglass panels. It's added much to retrieving the old feeling of having a crowd and we might even have more evolution that we'll talk about later. For now, here's my detailed breakdown of WWE Backlash 2020.
Triple Threat for the Women’s Tag Team Championships - Alex Bliss & Nikki Cross v. The Iconics v. Bayley & Sasha Banks (c)
The first match of a big show is always a toss-up. Sometimes you get a less-than-stellar effort to get it out of the way. Sometimes you get a fantastic showcase to start with a bang. This one was a little bit of both. It was a great decision to put the belts on Sasha and Bayley as the character work they bring to the table is second to none. And, whether we fans like it or not, right now character is almost more important than the in-ring production. The match was pretty sloppy to start. Triple-threats can often be the most exciting matches on a card but they also require a lot of skill and trust with the competitors. It seemed like that trust was a little tepid at first with some sloppy sequences that had some misses. Still, once the competitors got going it turned into the exciting affair we wanted. A big highlight for me was Alexa Bliss channeling her old ruthless persona with a series of Thesz presses in succession. The match ultimately ended with Alexa hitting the Twisted Bliss only to then be surprised rolled up by Banks for the win. It’s a typical fake-out finish for a fine triple threat match. One of the key takeaways here though is that it appears that the Women’s Tag Titles are now going to be a roaming title between all three brands (RAW, Smackdown & NXT) with the first defense coming this Wednesday on NXT. This is a fantastic decision by WWE and should lead to some truly unique pairings among their insanely deep women’s division.
Jeff Hardy v. Sheamus
Man oh man, WWE is pushing a lot of fans’ patience and sense of decency with this storyline. Which is unfortunate because these two top-notch performers deserve more. This whole storyline has been set-up for weeks after Wrestlemania with Sheamus becoming more and more annoyed with Hardy’s return videos on Smackdown every week. It culminated in a match in the Intercontinental Tournament which Hardy won in his return match. Sheamus then put in motion an elaborate ruse that framed Hardy for drunk driving and injuring Elias to get himself back in the IC tourney. This of course played off the real-life substance abuse problems Hardy has had and hit a little too close to home for me and a lot of fans. The apex of this anger was the public urination test on the go-home SmackDown that saw Hardy throw the beaker of “pee” in Sheamus’ face. The match itself was a fantastic banger. Both hit impressive moves and there were multiple times you thought the end was near. It was ultimately a veteran move from Sheamus to break the 3-count with his foot on the bottom rope following a Twist of Fate and Swanton Bomb that turned the tide. On the outside Hardy went for a rail-run only to be greeted by Sheamus’ Brogue Kick. He threw Hardy back in the ring to hit another Brogue Kick for the win. Ultimately, both looked stellar here and I hope this reminds people of just how good Sheamus is when healthy. The idea of a Sheamus-Strowman Extreme Rules match next month is just an insanely juicy proposition.
RAW Women’s Championship - Asuka (c) v. Nia Jax
Ugh….. what the hell are we doing here WWE? As touching a moment as it was when Becky Lynch bestowed the title unknowingly on Asuka after her Money In The Bank win, and as deserved as Asuka has been of that title for years, it made it very important that they once again establish Asuka as the clear top of the division. A win over Jax would have been just the ticket. But instead we got this double count-out finish that just makes both look weak. The match was fine for a while although you could clearly tell there was some trepidation in the flow of the match in the midst of Jax injuring Asuka’s friend Kari Sane TWICE in the last month. But to go for a double count-out accomplishes nothing here. Asuka still needs to establish the in-ring dominance of a champion in the way Drew McIntyre has since WrestleMania and Jax just looks clueless to let it happen. Asuka definitely deserves better. They should make this right on RAW in the next few weeks.
Handicap Match for the Universal Championship - Braun Strowman (c) v. The Miz & John Morrison
Let me be very clear here; Miz and Morrison are, in every conceivable way, the freaking best. The feud with Strowman over the past few weeks has been a great highlight of comedy bits and squash matches. That trend continued with the full version of M&M’s newest song which simply can’t be written of here. Just see it for yourself, it’s fantastic. Strowman interrupted the video and what followed was a pretty standard 2 scared guys vs. the big monster handicap match. It started with Strowman strong, M&M getting the upper hand and appearing poised to take him down. It’s the way they took him down that is going to be in question here. Morrison went for the pin after a truly thrilling Skull Crushing Finale/Top Rope Kick combo. The moves looked good enough to get the 3 but Miz pulled Morrison off setting up the running Power Slam for the win for Strowman. This could easily sow the seeds of division among Miz and Morrison but I’m really hoping it’s not. In the empty arena era, personalities like this need all the time they want. Although, it might be fun to see them start pranking each other for a few months. Hmm…..
WWE Championship - Drew McIntyre (c) v. Bobby Lashley (w/ MVP)
Gotta say it right off the bat, Bobby Lashley has turned the corner. Always an impressive specimen, his in-ring work was always fine but he never had that killer instinct that should have made him a terrifying force in the company. Well a wardrobe change and a new submission finisher have fixed those problems quite a bit. This feud has built very nicely over the last few weeks and it made Lashley a legit threat to Drew’s first reign. The match started fantastically in this regard too as Lashley locked in the Full Nelson for a full minute before the match even started. McIntyre refused to forfeit and Lashley continued to pour it on early. McIntyre had a fantastic looking bridged Northern Lights suplex but Lashley had the upper-hand for most of the match. Then it started a break-neck back and forth where both were hitting huge spinbusters, super-plexes and axe-hammers off the top. They both even threw some new submissions into the act with Lashley doing a crossface and ankle lock and Drew reversing a spear attempt into a Kimura lock. The match was set to go down as a classic until Lana came from the back, distracting Lashley as she argued with the ref on the apron. A Glasgow Kiss from Drew knocked Lashley into Lana who fell onto MVP on the floor. Lashley would turn around right into a Claymore Kick and McIntyre retained. It’s a disappointing finish to a fantastic match. You could make the case they’re trying to protect Lashley as a monster that can’t be beat without gaga but I think losing clean to Drew is nothing to feel bad about. Either way, Drew continues to be the best champion WWE’s had in a long time and Lashley has completely shed his previous wasted-talent reputation. He should be FIRMLY in the title picture for the rest of the year at the very least. Just work out this Lana/MVP stuff. This match deserved a real finish.
RAW Tag Team Titles Match - The Street Profits (c) v. The Viking Raiders
…………………….what the hell was this?……………… Yeah I don’t quite know where to start with this Cinematic Match conclusion of the Anything You Can Do saga between these two teams. What started as some simple comedy sketches to break up the action on Smackdown has now gone full-on shark jumping. If you told me a 10-year old wrote this it would be the Occam’s Razor winner. There are bowling ball testicle shots, tackling through windows, smashing Braun Strowman’s car (those insurance premiums must be crazy at this point). But it was probably Akira Tazawa showing up with an army of motorcycle-riding ninjas that set this thing to either patience-breaking or total messed-up fun. I still don’t know but the ensuing battle joined the teams together as the Viking Profits and we were treated to many crazy spots. You’d think that would be enough but the summoning of a 7-foot ninja with a sword, psychic Turkey Leg powers and, I’m so not kidding here, a giant octopus monster in a dumpster means that whatever this was intended to be, it freaking failed. NXT’s best tag teams of the past couple of years really deserved more than this. Let’s make this right WWE. Give us some proper matches.
Randy Orton v. Edge
The self-proclaimed Greatest Wrestling Match Ever brings quite a bit of baggage with a monicker like that. It’s almost impossible to live up to that promotional push. Yet, I am happy to type, the match very much lived up to the hype. It wasn’t close to the greatest of all time, but it’s easily the match of the night and probably the best of the empty arena era. Orton and Edge pushed each other further than either had been in years. This was a tense, taught, brutal back-and-forth that saw each hit their best moves only to be rebuffed. We haven’t seen Orton move this quickly in the ring in years and Edge proved he can still do everything in that ring. Orton played minds games early but Edge worked Orton’s arms for a good portion of the opening of this match with the Ricky Steamboat-esque deep arm drags coming fast and furious. Edge capped off his early run with a massive head butt and clothesline off the middle rope taking both competitors to the floor, the former of which actually opening a bloody wound on Orton’s head. It was short-lived however as Orton would modify his back-breaker into a neck-breaker and would thus set up his target of attacks for the rest of the night. Edge attempted a comeback by reversing Orton’s attempt at the Three Amigos leading to a fantastically painful-looking chop match. Orton would end that match with a great looking dropkick that then led to a superplex. After stopping a draping DDT from the top rope with his Edgecution, the match really kicked into high gear. Both competitors, weary of not being able to put the other away with their own moves, started pulling some greatest hits from the history of WWE. Edge hit his best friend Christian’s Killswitch, Orton countering with Triple H’s Pedigree, Edge countering still with The Rock’s Rock Bottom and Orton finally hitting Kurt Angle's Olypmic Slam. As Edge looked to be truly building, Orton hit the RKO out of nowhere but was still unable to put Edge away and even then fell victim to 2 consecutive brutal spears. Edge attempted a springboard cross-body only to be hit the RKO mid-air again. The match would end with Edge attempting his Anti-Venom lock only to be hit with a low blow by Orton’s knee (which the ref missed) and setting up a good old fashioned, and BRUTAL sounding, Orton Punt for the victory. Orton then told Edge to go home and be with his family, but Edge would refuse medical attention after the match leading to a perplexed but determined face from Orton as we went off the air.
The match was a fantastic show-case of these two and was more than able to make up for the too-long and tedious Last Man Standing match at WrestleMania. WWE is getting some flack for pumping artificial crowd noise into the match, even with the presence of 50 NXT trainees in the crowd. Personally, I think it added a great sense of that lost crowd atmosphere that we’re all missing right now. It’s a performance people. If it enhances then what’s the harm? And frankly this is a match that deserves some extra “oomph”. I don’t quite know where Orton and Edge go from here (Edge apparently suffered a pretty big Trapezius injury), but these two have proven they’re still the class of RAW.