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WWE Backlash is the first post-WrestleMania pay-per-view for the SmackDown brand, and judging from the lineup, management is using the blue brand to experiment with building new stars.
Here is a look at Sunday’s card, according to WWE.com:
- Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler
- Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin
- Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English
- Naomi, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch vs. Tamina Snuka, Natalya and Carmella
- The Usos vs. Breezango (Smackdown Tag Team Championships)
- Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles (United States Championship)
- Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal (WWE Championship)
Bleacher Report’s lineup of contributors will examine each feud and provide predictions for each match on the Backlash card. Our group is made up of the following:
Let’s go through each match on the card and attempt to make some logical predictions.
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Q: What can be done to salvage Erick Rowan or Luke Harper’s character after being booked so poorly for so long?
Kevin Berge (KB): Rowan’s rebuilding has already begun based on his promo this week on Talking Smack. He seems to be taking on different characters based on what sheep mask he wears including a fascinating play on It with a clown sheep mask. This should make him more interesting. Harper is already over and really just needs to be used more as he is one of the best big men in the business.
Prediction: Harper wins clean to even the series.
Anthony Mango (AM): All it will take is for WWE to put the slightest bit of effort into maintaining this feud and giving it some of the spotlight. Nobody can care about a feud if it’s clear and obvious that WWE’s creative team doesn’t feel it has the slightest bit of importance. Both are talented and there’s certainly potential for storyline purposes, so to salvage the feud, all that needs to happen is to make sure it doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Prediction: Either man could win and it won’t make much of a difference, so let’s just go with Rowan after a random coin flip.
Erik Beaston (EB): Both are so incredibly one-dimensional and uninteresting. Harper completely lacks character while Rowan at least has a cool look going for him, especially with the clown-themed sheep mask. At this point, the best thing to do with them is bring them back together to be a tag team that can tear through the tag team division. After all, a singles run does not appear to be something that is going to work for either man at this time.
Prediction: Luke Harper.
Ryan Dilbert (RD): Establishing a character outside of The Wyatt Family mythos and committing to either man. Some steady spotlight and direction. As we’ve seen Breezango, things can turn around for a bottom-of-the-barrel act in a hurry with some effort.
Prediction: Rowan wins as part of a mini-push.
Chris Mueller (CM): I think both men have great potential to be valuable midcard talents at the least, but it will take some work. Harper is already known as a versatile performer, but Rowan needs something to make him stand out. Booking him as more of a psychopath would help distinguish him from the methodical Bray Wyatt.
Prediction: Harper wins to extend the feud.
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Q: Has moving to SmackDown done anything to help Sami Zayn’s struggling main roster career? Why or why not?
KB: It is too early to tell. While it is a bit of an overstatement to say Zayn is struggling given his constant use, he has been losing quite a bit, and that has continued on SmackDown. Still, that is an aspect of his character, being the top underdog in WWE. The odds of Zayn getting a shot at a world championship soon are far better on SmackDown, so this move should aid him long term.
Prediction: Zayn manages to take the win after a tough battle against Corbin.
AM: In these past few weeks, Zayn’s career has stayed in exactly the same position he found himself on Raw, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Over time, SmackDown will be a much better home for him as he stands out as one of the top upper-midcard wrestlers on the brand. Once a firm hierarchy is put in place, Zayn will be one of the frontrunners for the United States Championship and even a decent contender for the WWE Championship—WWE has just been too focused cleaning up the mess of the Superstar Shake-Up to get to that point yet.
Prediction: Baron Corbin is the bigger fish, so he’ll get the win unless Zayn can pop off a random roll-up.
EB: It has not. Sami Zayn is an interesting case in that he is a brilliant in-ring performer but he comes across as such a geek in every other facet that it is hard to get behind him. A lot of that can be blamed on the way he is booked. One minute he is begging authority figures for a chance, the next he gets beaten in a big pay-per-view match. Or attacked during a backstage segment. He talks a big game but never wins and with that comes the loss of faith fans have in him and credibility.
Prediction: Baron Corbin.
RD: Not yet. He’s closer to the title picture in theory as he’s been in some multiple-wrestler No. 1 Contender’s matches, but he hasn’t presented as a viable challenger. He still has zero wins on the blue brand since the move from Raw. And it looks as if he’s set to be the sacrificial lamb to Corbin.
Prediction: Corbin wins a show-stealer.
CM: No, but Sunday’s result could change all that. If Zayn gets the win, it will be a big step in the right direction. It feels like WWE knows how good he is, but is waiting until the right time to put him into the main event scene.
Prediction: Zayn wins a competitive bout.
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Q: What, if anything, would prevent Shinsuke Nakamura from finding as much success on the main roster as he did in NXT?
KB: Nakamura is a charismatic force and a great performer, but he will never be able to keep up with the better mic workers in WWE. If he does not put his full effort into his matches which was sometimes a concern in NXT, he could very well fail to connect with fans. In NXT, he got away with performing at less than his best sometimes, but that doesn’t work on the main roster.
Prediction: Nakamura shows off his full range in an impressive debut, ending with a clean victory.
AM: His biggest hurdles will be the fans who like to be different just for the sake of going against the majority along with his struggle on the mic. Promos are far more important on Raw and SmackDown than in NXT, and with it being a live environment, there isn’t much room for error. If Nakamura doesn’t resonate with the crowd from the start, he’ll have his detractors who call him overrated, and since he’ll have difficulty establishing a character beyond “entertaining wrestler who is weird at face value” as his gimmick, he won’t win over those people.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura for the win.
EB: Vince McMahon not “getting” Shinsuke Nakamura and his appeal is the only thing that will keep him from finding that success. Nakamura’s charisma is natural, it is in abundance but it is also unique. It is not verbal, like The Rock, and he does not have the movie star good looks that lure mass audiences like John Cena. Nakamura oozes it but not necessarily a way McMahon is likely to “get.” If that happens and he does not see what makes The King of Strong Style so special, his push could be slowed. Given the effort and promotion put into him at this point, what with him serving as the face of the Backlash pay-per-view, it appears as though even McMahon cannot deny the power of the former NXT champion.
Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura.
RD: If WWE gives Nakamura a goofy shtick or sticks him in melodramatic romantic angles, he’s going to sink, even as charismatic as he his. If WWE believes in him and tries to sell him as a badass as well as a showman, he’s headed for big things.
Prediction: Nakamura wins in dominant fashion.
CM: The biggest problem he might face is overexposure. Nakamura only had to make two or three monthly appearances in NXT, but he is going to be expected to be at every SmackDown and PPV. Some fans might not enjoy his gimmick if he doesn’t find new ways to evolve.
Prediction: Nakamura wins, but Ziggler gets the last laugh with a post-match attack to keep the feud going through the next PPV.
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Q: Does it matter if there is a women’s title match on every PPV if the belt is being defended on TV regularly? Why or why not?
KB: Only PPV contests get the time and spotlight necessary to showcase talent properly, and singles matches for the women’s championship are the premier showcase of the female competitors in WWE. It would cast a negative light on the talent and division if the title was not most often defended on PPV. This six-woman tag is a rare exception as it has a well-built story behind it, but it cannot be the norm.
Prediction: Naomi, Charlotte and Becky finally gain revenge when Charlotte pins Tamina.
AM: In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. If Naomi keeps the title long enough and has a few decent feuds in the process, people won’t shun her for having a bad run, and it won’t matter if those matches take place on SmackDown or on pay-per-views. Still, this match seems more like a television main event than a special event match someone should pay to see.
Prediction: The idea of The Welcoming Committee winning to set up Charlotte turning on her teammates in anger after the match seems too much up WWE’s alley not to assume that’s where we’re heading.
EB: It matters for the same reason it matters if every belt is defended on pay-per-view: theoretically speaking, PPVs are the culmination of a period of time’s storytelling. They are more prestigious than television, the important shows on which titles are to be defended as the culmination of weeks of build. The women’s title, if we are to buy into the Women’s Revolution, should be treated as equal to the men’s titles. All of those are being defended, regardless of whether they are defended on TV.
Prediction: Naomi, Charlotte and Becky Lynch.
RD: Not with as many PPVs as WWE has right now. It’s nice to take a break from the focus on the title as it leads to fresh matchups. Raw ran the Flair-Sasha Banks rivalry into the ground. It’s easy to fall into that trap.
Prediction: The Welcoming Committee gets the win after the babyfaces bicker.
CM: Not when it comes to the B-level PPVs, but the women’s champion from both brands should be showcased at the big four events. It would be a mistake to go two PPVs without a title match, but one every so often isn’t a big deal if the match we get in its place serves a greater storyline.
Prediction: Natalya, Carmella and Tamina get the win.
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Q: What does Breezango have to do to continue building on the momentum from Fashion Files?
KB: Fandango and Tyler Breeze need to stay in the spotlight more than anything. The Fashion Files have proven they are entertainers who can make the most out of the least. Even if they lose this feud, they should continue to impress as long as they don’t fall into SmackDown’s typical trap of only showing off a few teams in the division at a time while the rest disappear.
Prediction: The Usos manage to escape with a win by avoiding Breezango’s finisher and double teaming Fandango.
AM: Quantity and quality. The more of these segments and the funnier they can be, the better. Also, Breezango’s matches themselves need to adhere to the same principle. The more they’re seen by and the more they win decent matches, the likelihood people will take them seriously increases.
Prediction: The Usos retain the titles.
EB: Breezango can survive a loss Sunday with the continuation of the backstage vignettes and the attention of WWE Creative. Heath Slater and Rhyno got over through a series of comedic sketches but ultimately, the writing team lost interest and their title reign descended into mediocrity, at best. If they can keep the attention of management, and continue with their quality vignettes, they can maintain momentum.
Prediction: The Usos
RD: As long as they are inventive and keep finding new comedic avenues a la The New Day, Breeze and Fandango will continue be one of the highlights of SmackDown.
Prediction: Breezango win the titles.
CM: Breeze and Fandango are both talented wrestler who each bring something different to the table, but their recent comedic work has been their saving grace. As long as they can continue to make us laugh, they will be in the hunt for the titles.
Prediction: The Usos retain by cheating, securing Breezango another title shot in the future.
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Q: Which one of these Superstars would you rather see fight for the WWE title at SummerSlam and why?
KB: It’s hard to ever pass up on a major Styles match. A bout between him and Orton is a money match that has largely been protected to this point, and it would be a certain show-stealer. Even if Orton loses the title by that time, Styles will always be a good matchup for any wrestler in WWE, bringing out his opponent’s best.
Prediction: KO steals a win from Styles to continue this feud.
AM: Since I think AJ Styles will be facing Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania next year, I’d like to see Randy Orton face Styles at SummerSlam. That leaves open the possibility that Orton and Owens can have a WrestleMania feud, which I think could be an underrated program if they’re allowed to go all-out. Plus, Styles vs. Orton could be one of the best matches of the year, hands down.
Prediction: Kevin Owens takes it.
EB: AJ Styles, because he is the best wrestler on the planet and anytime he steps out of the WWE Championship picture, it feels like a step down. That is the level of performer he is at this point in his career. Owens can hold down the midcard and be largely unaffected. Styles always feels like he deserves more when he isn’t at the top of the card.
Prediction: AJ Styles by disqualification
RD: Styles. WWE needs to capitalize on Styles’ momentum, allowing him to follow up on his MVP-level year. Owens, meanwhile, can continue to bring attention to the U.S. title.
Prediction: Owens retains.
CM: In a perfect world, they would be facing each other for the title, but if forced to pick one, it has to be Styles. He can get a great match out of anybody on the roster, and when he is facing someone on his level, he steals the show every single time.
Prediction: Kevin Owens retains
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Q: How do you see the rest of 2017 playing out for Aiden English based on what we have seen so far?
KB: English has some potential in the midcard, but it would be surprising to see him find much success as he is the classic over-the-top heel that only plays jobber in WWE. He will eventually get a shot at a midcard championship, but it would be surprising to see that come any time soon unless WWE’s plans for English are larger than they have let on.
Prediction: English rolls up Dillinger and spends the rest of the night celebrating backstage as if won the WWE Championship.
AM: Poorly, to say the least. For months, he was stuck in quicksand as the other half of The Vaudevillains next to Simon Gotch, who was in the doghouse for what felt like forever. Following Gotch’s release, there was a chance English could have turned into the skid, but he fell back into his old character before being saddled with the responsibility of being a comedic jobber. This is never a good trajectory, so the rest of 2017 will probably consist of sporadic appearances where he loses and nothing more.
Prediction: Tye Dillinger wins and the crowd is more interested in his entrance than anything else going on in the match.
EB: Aiden English will remain a glorified jobber, the Curt Hawkins of the SmackDown Live roster, until someone behind the scenes gives him a chance to prove himself.
Prediction: Tye Dillinger
RD: He’s likely to fade into the background soon. WWE has shown little commitment to him. Dillinger’s going to take him down and so will English’s next foil. The Artist is sure to be SmackDown’s version of Bo Dallas.
Prediction: Dillinger wins easily. English has a fit.
CM: English could be a good midcard heel, but he has to ditch the crying and singing gimmick. As long as he has those anchors around his neck, he will be stuck where he is. Finding someone else in a similar position and forming a tag team in NXT could be what he needs to revitalize himself.
Prediction: Dillinger gets the win.
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Q: What are your thoughts on Jinder Mahal’s main event push thus far?
KB: Mahal has rarely been impressive over the years, but he has had some underrated moments including his match vs. Seth Rollins for the NXT Championship and his deadpan comedy early on in 3MB. This last month has been the best work of his career, and the storytelling has been fun to watch. I still wonder if he can put on a main-event-level performance in the ring, but I’m willing to give him a chance.
Prediction: Orton wins with an RKO out of nowhere just as it looks like the Singh Brothers have given Mahal the edge he needs for victory.
AM: At first, it was a shock. Very quickly after, it started to feel too manufactured and not legitimate enough to believe in. By now, I feel like this is a one-off that isn’t going to amount to all that much, although it certainly doesn’t hurt Mahal. This feels similar to R-Truth’s title match with John Cena at Capital Punishment and less like the dawning of a new main event star.
Prediction: Randy Orton retains.
EB: Jinder Mahal’s push thus far has been an unmitigated failure. Two months in and the company’s writing team has yet to give fans a reason as to why he should be taken seriously. He never wins cleanly, having to cheat to beat every opponent. Before you come back with “heels cheat, it’s what they do,” a heel is due at least one or two convincing victories. Mahal was not even allowed to beat Sami freaking Zayn by himself, something it feels like everyone and their mothers has accomplished.
Prediction: Randy Orton.
RD: Mahal and his entourage’s act feels incomplete largely because of the hurried nature of his rise. It’s been refreshing to see someone new in a primetime spot, but it’s also been hard to buy Mahal as a threat after years of floundering.
Prediction: Orton wins.
CM: Mahal’s push is like an RKO in that it came out of nowhere, but you can’t fault him for taking an opportunity and running with it. Even if he loses at Backlash, he will come out of it with more momentum than he has ever had in his career. Sunday is his chance to prove himself to the world. Hopefully he surprises his critics and knocks it out of the park.
Prediction: I am going to go against logic and say Mahal wins the title just so I can claim to be a genius if it happens.