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    SmackDown Live has entered a new season in WWE and heralded that novelty by changing the shape of the brand on the road to WWE Backlash 2017. Alongside the Superstar Shake-up and John Cena’s recent time off following WrestleMania, SmackDown has taken new chances on talent, giving veterans an opportunity to steal the show after years of doing little on the main roster.

    At Backlash, Jinder Mahal will be main eventing for the WWE Championship while Breezango compete for the tag team championships. The highest profile matches include Kevin Owens facing AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura competing in his first match on the main roster against Dolph Ziggler.

    This is the full WWE Backlash 2017 card as of Thursday morning:

  • Kickoff: Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English
  • Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan
  • Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin
  • Charlotte Flair, Naomi and Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Tamina and Carmella
  • SmackDown tag team champions The Usos vs. Breezango
  • Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler
  • United States champion Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles
  • WWE champion Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal

This pay-per-view’s success will have serious impact on SmackDown going forward as this is a test run for many of the brand’s rising stars. In particular, certain results could change the fortunes of wrestlers for a long time to come while a strong match will truly define what they do next.

Will Backlash be the beginning of Nakamura’s quick rise to the main event? What match will actually close the show? Could Mahal put on a great match with Orton or even capture the top championship of the brand in the biggest match of his career? Is Backlash an outlier or an indication of what is to be expected from SmackDown this year? These questions linger over a fascinating card.

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    Story So Far

    Since losing his Vaudevillain partner Simon Gotch, Aiden English has sought to revive his artistic career only to repeatedly lose to the recently debuting Tye Dillinger. As a fan favorite, Dillinger’s victories have caused much celebration from the fans alongside nearly as much pure frustration from English who seems on the verge of a complete breakdown if he loses again.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    Both these wrestlers are solid midcarders who likely will not stay on the Kickoff forever. In particular, Dillinger could be a major player on SmackDown in the coming years. That said, Kickoff matches have rarely been able to deliver due to a lack of time. This match will at best be TV quality as the story between the two continues to advance forward.

    Predicted Result: This feud can advance in one of two ways for English, either with a third loss that sends him into an emotional breakdown or his first win leading to an undeserved exuberant celebration. A win makes more sense if WWE has any plans to utilize English with a loss not hurting Dillinger. English finally takes a win with a small package and celebrates for the rest of the night backstage.

    Bold Prediction: Dillinger will feud with Owens for the US Championship in the summer.

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    Story So Far

    A family breakup can hit each kid differently. Because Luke Harper chose to turn on Bray Wyatt and leave The Wyatt Family, Erick Rowan returned from injury to a house divided with Wyatt soon leaving him as well for Monday Night Raw. As an unstable force without his leader, Rowan was left with only anger and a sack of sheep masks.

    Rowan’s first strike at Harper was on SmackDown where he captured a victory with a thumb to the eye. However, that wasn’t enough for Rowan who demanded more retribution at Backlash, setting up this second match between these former tag team partners.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    Harper and Rowan have a proven track record, particularly when wrestling together, that far exceeds their current standing on the roster. Hopefully as the roster continues to shift, both men will advance forward. Right now, they are in a good place feuding with one another as their styles will mesh well with time to deliver.

    Two surprisingly agile giants, Rowan and Harper will likely not be able to steal the show, but they should prove themselves worthy once more of a larger spotlight. These two have been rarely used in the past month, which is particularly shocking given that Harper was performing at a main event level ahead of WrestleMania. A quality match can make sure that does not continue.

    Predicted Result: Rowan won the first round in this rivalry, but neither man can afford for this feud to simply end after a second match. Therefore, the series needs to be balanced out with a return victory by Harper. Harper wins round two with a discus clothesline, further causing Rowan to grow unstable.

    Bold Prediction: Rowan and Harper will be successfully rebuilt as solo stars on SmackDown, both earning shots at the United States Championship before the year is over.

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    Story So Far

    Baron Corbin has had two goals in WWE since debuting, hurt people and win championships, but he has frequently fallen just short in his opportunities for championship gold. When newcomer Sami Zayn cost Corbin another title shot, this time for the United States Championship, he took this personally, going after Zayn so viciously he was suspended for a week after shoving a referee in his way.

    As has been frequently true in Zayn’s career, he refused to be bullied, standing up to Corbin and challenging him to a match at Backlash. Now the two top contenders in WWE will clash with Corbin promising to put down Zayn for good while Zayn seeks retribution.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    This feud has flown under the radar, but it might just be the most important feud in deciding the future of SmackDown Live. Both Corbin and Zayn are near WWE Championship contention right now, and all that the two have needed was a serious feud that could elevate them based on performance.

    Corbin has always worked well with smaller opponents, and only AJ Styles can possibly claim a better record of success with any opponent in the past year than Zayn. If this match gets enough time, it could easily steal the show and signal that both men are ready to contend for the top title on SmackDown.

    Predicted Result: While Corbin seems to be on a rise to prominence, WWE must also be careful in booking both men to keep each relevant. This rivalry has long legs with the result fairly uncertain; therefore, the best guess is to bet on Zayn who has more to gain from a win. Zayn takes a victory over Corbin with the Helluva Kick after taking a beating from the big man.

    Bold Prediction: Corbin will capture the Money in the Bank briefcase next month and become WWE champion before the end of the year.

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    Story So Far

    Upon her arrival on SmackDown Live, Charlotte Flair declared that she had one goal: the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Due to SmackDown’s moniker as the Land of Opportunity, many felt this was a slight against them, causing Natalya to form The Welcoming Committee with returning veteran Tamina and the cocky Carmella.

    Beginning as a joint effort to eliminate Charlotte, the trio has also added the current champion Naomi to their assaults, leaving Becky Lynch to choose a side. Evening the odds, she chose to side with the victims even when it meant allying with her rival Charlotte, setting up this clash between every active woman on the roster.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    Besides the run of The Shield, six-man tag team matches have rarely been showstoppers, often driven by a steady formula of beatdowns and comebacks. This six-woman tag has a solid story behind it, and it is the entire representation of the women’s division at Backlash. Thus it should get time to deliver.

    In the end, it will come down to the talent and road agents who help craft this match. With talent including Charlotte, Lynch and Natalya, it is hard to count the match out, but it could easily fall into a routine with the last few minutes of action trying to make for a slow, stale start.

    Predicted Result: At every step in this rivalry, the heels have looked dominant, winning each brawl and match. Given the star power on the side of the faces, it is unlikely this lopsided dominance will continue. This match feels like the time for revenge as Charlotte, Naomi and Becky finally get a fair fight. Charlotte, Naomi and Becky gain revenge with a definitive victory.

    Bold Prediction: Charlotte will not challenge for the SmackDown Women’s Championship again until SummerSlam.

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    Story So Far

    The Fashion Police have often sacrificed success for entertainment, but a win in a Beat the Clock challenge earned them a shot at the SmackDown tag team champions The Usos. Preparing for The Usos, Breezango have aired frequent Fashion Files, mocking The Usos as they scouted the duo.

    Taking a new serious and dangerous approach, The Usos are a force to be reckoned with that The Fashion Police may not be taking seriously enough. The last time these pairs clashed on PPV though, Breezango were the ones who came out victorious.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    The SmackDown tag team division has floundered so long that it has become easy to forget how many quality bouts have come from the division even if most were not on PPV. The Usos have been consistently excellent since turning heel and can be counted on for quality in-ring performances while Fandango and Tyler Breeze should be driven to compete at the highest level of their careers.

    All four men have something to prove and should get the chance to steal the show. If these four men get even 12 minutes, they will be hard to follow. This match will ultimately determine whether Breezango remain top competitors in the division with their performance proving their worth as a unit.

    Predicted Result: Betting on first-time challengers is often foolhardy, and Breezango especially do not feel ready for a title run. Prolonging this feud is in the best interest of the division, so, even if the end goal is for The Fashion Police to win, it is far from time. The Usos cheat to steal a victory just as Breezango seem poised to pull off the upset.

    Bold Prediction: The Usos vs. The New Day will be the top tag team feud on SmackDown for the final quarter of 2017.

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    Story So Far

    At a time where WWE has never been more focused on signing the biggest talent in professional wrestling, Shinsuke Nakamura might have been the most impressive star WWE signed from the top promotions around the world. The Japanese superstar was already a major name long before he arrived in WWE and quickly took over NXT.

    When Nakamura debuted on the main roster, one long-time veteran, Dolph Ziggler, took offense to Nakamura being treated like a star without earning his place. Now Ziggler has a chance to prove that Nakamura is not the great talent he is presented to be by defeating him in his very first match on the main roster.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    As a first showing for Nakamura, this could very well be the most important match of Nakamura’s career including his title matches against Samoa Joe and his NXT debut versus Zayn. Even though most of the WWE Universe should know him by now, he will gain more casual fans if he can bring his best to the next level.

    While Nakamura is obviously a top-tier talent, his performances in NXT were often hit-and-miss. Ziggler though should be the ideal opponent for Nakamura, matching his speed and selling his offense with conviction. This pairing should be the perfect intro for Nakamura and could easily be the match people are talking about once the night is over.

    Predicted Result: This is the debut of a performer who will be one of the top main eventers for SmackDown. Nakamura may not even lose a match in 2017, and he certainly won’t lose his debut to a heel who has rarely sustained success in WWE. Nakamura captures his first WWE victory in his best match since his battle with Zayn.

    Bold Prediction: Going into WrestleMania 34, Nakamura will be WWE Champion.

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    Story So Far

    After turning on his best friend Chris Jericho and taking the United States Championship from Y2J, Kevin Owens labelled himself The Face of America. He was not ready for the challenges that would come to meet him after making such a claim with one of the true elite stars on SmackDown AJ Styles earning a shot at KO’s title.

    While this would be a chance for Styles to win the US title for the first time, this has quickly become far more of a personal affair as Owens has frequently insulted and berated Styles as well as costing him matches. Now Styles seeks to silence KO as well as take his title.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    While this match is not for the top championship on SmackDown, it feels like the main event due to the wrestlers involved. Styles has been the top performer for SmackDown since the draft while Owens was Raw’s star during much of the same time. This feud should help to elevate the US Championship with two excellent wrestlers fighting for it.

    Never bet against Styles to steal the show who has already done so with such a diverse pair as John Cena and Shane McMahon this year. While KO is great due to his ability as an entertainer, he also knows how to craft a match and put on a show with his impressive athleticism. This match is the clear front-runner to be the best bout of the night.

    Predicted Result: The Face of America gimmick for KO has only begun to take shape. Since Owens already dropped the title and regained it in the past month, it is unlikely he loses the championship again any time soon. Owens finds the most nefarious way to steal a win from Styles.

    Bold Prediction: Styles will not win a singles championship for the rest of 2017.

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    Story So Far

    No one expected much from Jinder Mahal when he made his return to WWE in August 2016, and, for months thereafter, those expectations were met with Mahal losing most of his matches. However, a near-victory in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal led to a shocking win in a Six-Pack Challenge to become the new No. 1 contender.

    Since that time, Jinder Mahal has grown excessively cocky thanks to the help of the Singh Brothers even going as far as to steal the WWE Championship from Randy Orton then cost him his match against Bray Wyatt at WWE Payback. Unfortunately for Mahal, there are few wrestlers you want to anger less than the 13-time world champion Orton who now has even more incentive to destroy Mahal.

    Potential Consequences and Likelihood to Steal the Show

    This will be the most fascinating match on the card to watch as it will be the test for Mahal’s future. A veteran of wrestling who debuted for WWE in 2011, Mahal has few memorable matches to his name. While a fine performer, he has not had many chances to stand out with a move set that can come off as generic.

    This will be the match where Mahal will want to bring his best to the table, working with one of the elite in the business in Orton. Mahal must have a memorable showing to solidify his rise to prominence; however, the pairing of Mahal and Orton does not inspire confidence given their similar physical styles and slow-building offense.

    Predicted Result: This match is the ultimate trial run for Mahal as a future top heel on SmackDown. Unless he has impressed the writers massively this last month, it would be far too soon for him to actually capture the WWE Championship. Orton retains in a long slugfest even with numerous interference attempts by the Singh Brothers.

    Bold Prediction: Mahal will miss the main card of half the WWE PPVs in 2017.

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