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WWE’s Backlash event is just around the corner on May 21, and fans everywhere are surely hoping for a great night of action. This is always the case, of course, as expectations are usually high for WWE’s monthly network events.
That’s especially true for SmackDown Live as the blue brand continues to impress every week on TV.
Perhaps it’s the two-hour format of the program that brings the most praise from fans. Three hours is a lot of time to fill for Monday Night Raw, and that causes the flagship program to often feel like a marathon to watch.
SmackDown is tighter, and there’s less opportunity for fans to get overwhelmed with the amount of content. There is also the level of talent that currently resides on Tuesday nights.
WWE’s B-show has arguably become the A-show thanks to the Superstars in the ring. AJ Styles, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin are the top guys on SmackDown Live. Corbin is the next-generation star, Owens is the old-school heel, Nakamura is the charismatic sensation, Orton is the future Hall of Fame legend, and Styles is quite possibly the best in the world.
The blue brand definitely appears to be in good hands.
But every time WWE goes live, there is always the potential for fans to be disappointed. Whether their favorites come out on the losing end or certain finishes don’t happen, controversy is always possible. Fans are surely hoping that won’t be the case at Backlash.
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This match is already in a bit of an odd spot thanks to the lack of a title defense.
While WWE may not have wanted to book two women’s matches at Backlash, the SmackDown Women’s Championship surely should have been on the line. Naomi is the face of the division, and since Alexa Bliss went to Raw, Naomi really didn’t have a challenger waiting for her.
But instead of building a new feud with a new opponent, WWE decided to book five potential contenders with her in a six-woman tag team match.
Fans can move past that of course, and many likely already have. After all, there’s always the next event, the next SmackDown Live, and the next opportunity to build a new rivalry. Perhaps Charlotte will step up and give SmackDown fans their next great women’s feud, or maybe Tamina will finally get back in the ring on a full-time basis and face Naomi.
However, Backlash comes first.
The issue here is while the women involved will surely throw everything they have at fans to make this match entertaining, an outside force may ruin it all. That outsider is James Ellsworth.
Ellsworth’s involvement with Carmella has been a real mystery for fans. It seems as though WWE just didn’t have another place for him, so he was put with her as a heater. But their personalities don’t really mesh, and neither one may be benefiting from the partnership.
So if the match between Carmella, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Natalya and Tamina is clicking on all cylinders, then it should not end thanks to Ellsworth. In the grand scheme of things, it could be a minor irritant for fans, but the women involved definitely deserve better.
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Baron Corbin is the next big thing on SmackDown Live.
The Lone Wolf has been positioned as a next-generation star, a New Era talent who has all the skills necessary to succeed on a high level. He’s comfortable in his character, he’s got agility for a big man, and he’s getting better every week.
He may not be to the point that Braun Strowman was on Raw, but he could definitely get there sooner rather than later.
Then there’s Sami Zayn, who has really not had much of an identity in WWE without Kevin Owens. The Underdog from the Underground has the talent, he has the showmanship, and he has the heart, but does he have real star power?
His recent arrival on the blue brand was a curious move by WWE mostly because he was reunited with KO. Why not keep the two separate and allow Zayn to find his own way? Fans didn’t seem to have a good answer to that question.
But that leads to a more important question: What is the purpose of this match?
Corbin is on his way up, and Zayn perhaps could be, but someone has to win in the end. If Zayn does go over, then Corbin’s position could be affected. But if Zayn loses, then fans could look at the loss as yet another setback for him.
Maybe the worst part of this scenario is if nothing comes of the match at Backlash.
If Corbin moves right on to the next opponent, then Zayn would really not have gained anything positive. If Zayn wins and then goes right back to losing again, then what was the point? As is often the case, fans just want something good to come from it all.
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Kevin Owens is the most lovable heel WWE has perhaps ever seen.
Fans want to hate him. He’s good at working to get that very response. But no matter how evil, mean, and nasty he is, fans just can’t get enough of him. He should be despised, but he’s not. In fact, he’s a character babyface in the making.
When WWE decides to make that move, KO will explode. But he’s doing just fine right now as the newest antagonist on Tuesday nights. Of course, he’s now run into a “phenomenal” opponent.
AJ Styles is perhaps the best wrestler in the world. He’s done it all during his career. He’s a former world champion, he’s traveled the globe, and he’s faced some of the industry’s top talent. When he came to WWE, apprehensive fans held their breath as he began.
But they can rest easy now. Styles is a top guy in Vince McMahon’s company.
There’s really no drawback to this match as Styles and Owens should have a first-class night at Backlash. They will likely steal the show, and it will probably lead to a lengthy feud that could carry them all the way to SummerSlam.
However, if this match is an epic that ends in a disappointment, then fans will surely find controversy in that.
Both men’s shoulders could be pinned at the same time, leading to a non-finish. It could end in a double count-out. KO could decide to call it a day and leave just when the match is getting good. If any of that happens, then fans surely won’t be happy.
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WWE’s presence in India is growing, so it’s no surprise the company would want a Superstar of Indian descent to climb the ladder to main event stardom. Fans know Jinder Mahal, they’re familiar with his work, and he’s always had potential to do something in WWE.
But what if he does the unthinkable at Backlash?
Many fans assume his match with Randy Orton will end with The Viper retaining the WWE Championship. Mahal will benefit from the rub and will continue on his path in the upper main event. But the gold is another matter altogether.
However, if fans are wrong and Mahal actually defeats Orton, then the entire scenario changes.
This is the problem for fans: Mahal has done nothing to earn this spot. He’s been saddled with silly gimmicks before and done his best to get over, but has he really proven himself along the way? While guys like Sami Zayn and The Miz are still working to get in the main event, Mahal has walked right to the front of the line.
A title change at Backlash would surely be a shocking moment for WWE, especially if The Singh Brothers interfere on Mahal’s behalf. An Orton win over Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 33 may have been the last thing many wanted to see because of Wyatt’s popularity, but at least The Viper was a proven commodity.
The New Era is strong, but to put the company’s top title on Mahal? That may be one bit of controversy fans can’t get over.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com