WWE Review: Backlash 2018

Man, just… come on, WWE. Early in this show you proved how good you can be. So why be so bad, too? Anyway, the details:

Intercontinental Title Match: The Miz vs Seth Rollins (c) ****3/4 Rollins is getting such a huge reaction here. It makes sense; recently, he’s been booked pretty strongly and he’s been performing even better. Psychologically, I think both guys in this match played their role really well from the very first second. Furthermore, Miz and Rollins seemed totally in sync and they did a great job. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen The Miz look so good in a match, and every single second of this match was meaningful and reasonable, which can be pretty uncommon in WWE. Such smooth, creative action, and a brilliantly dramatic plot to the match.

Raw Women’s Title Match: Nia Jax (c) vs Alexa Bliss I continue to not be sure of how tasteful, effective, or well-considered this feud is. One of the things that bothers me—and it’s a very typical WWE problem—is how the very broadly-painted “Nia vs adversity” storyline was never really told in the ring: Nia has been booked very dominantly since her main roster debut. She doesn’t have a convincing underdog story in the ring proper, which means enough that the adversity angle is ringing somewhat hollow. For the match itself, I think there was just too much stiltedness and an ineffective plot. With so little time wasted in the previous match, the dead air of this match just really stood out.

Nia Jax Post-Match Promo Nia does the best anybody could with this material, but man, the bullying stuff just rings so freaking hollow in a WWE context. It’s not just the McMahons’ Trump support, but the recent Greatest Royal Rumble nonsense that makes it all so hard to swallow.

Samoa Joe Backstage Interview **** Joe is so good at talking tough.

United States Title Match: Randy Orton vs Jeff Hardy (c) I don’t know. This just didn’t feel interesting to me. It didn’t seem like there was a great build to this or much heat on it, and it was pretty tedious, with an ad-break-style chin lock that earned a distracted “Rusev Day” chant. By the time this was over, I just wondered how they managed to take so long to have a match that had so little going on in it.

Elias Talks Springsteen, New Day Wants to Jam, Aiden English Wants to Introduce Rusev, and No Way Jose Shows Up Too… Roode Ends the Segment, Eventually Pretty funny at first, if relatively expected/boilerplate for Elias. The New Day’s involvement was a less interesting, and—by the time Rusev showed up—it just made this feel like a very average weekly TV segment. Whenever a WWE “PPV” feels like an ordinary episode of WWE TV, it cheapens the whole experience. This segment felt super long-winded and meandering by the end, even if it was somewhat entertaining here and there. What a weird waste of time.

Daniel Bryan (vegetarian!) vs Big Cass What an ordinary-feeling match. WWE’s inability to make Bryan’s comeback feel special for more than a week would be more surprising if WWE didn’t so regularly fail to make things feel special. Bryan’s offense looked good, but I had virtually no interest in this thing before or during it.

Smackdown Women’s Title Match: Carmella (c) vs Charlotte Flair ***1/4 I laughed pretty hard a Carmella’s quick, self-satisfied, and chipper “I’m the champ!” exclamation before the match. As I’ve been saying for months, I’ve long felt that Carmella is super underrated. Anyway, the wrestling itself didn’t get off to a great start with Charlotte seeming to not connect at all on an early big boot… which was almost sold as a whiff anyway, but not necessarily. After that, it was mostly cowardly heel theatrics from Carmella. I understand that approach to some extent (given that her character is far from being about technical mastery), but I just wish Carmella got more of a chance to shine from a technical perspective. As I’ve complained over and over to anybody who will listen, she was starting to look good in the ring as a babyface by the end of her time in NXT, and I just wish we had more of an opportunity to see that kind of work. Her character-driven in-ring work is good though, making a chin lock (which I’m so tired of seeing, generally) work almost as well as Kevin Owens can make them work (that is to say: uncommonly well). That said, this match—while pretty good—never quite amounted to anything extraordinarily great; the heat-generating stuff was just a little too long-winded and the finish was a bit unconvincing.

WWE Title No Disqualification Match: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura ***1/2 Nakamura’s heel persona has been a pretty welcome change of pace, and it’s made this match feel a bit more immediately heated than their so-so WrestleMania match was. It’s kind of surprising how much support Nakamura still has from the crowd at this point, though. Some of the slower moments of this match risked being boring, but they ultimately stayed in the realm of being pretty meaningful. By (almost) the end of the match, I thought this had progressed really well into a pretty compelling thing. By (actually) the end of the match, the finish took a ton of shine off of this. In the abstract, I’m okay with an inconclusive finish like this in a broader program and this could build to something good, but for this particular match it was a significant let-down. (Side note: with few exceptions, please never chant “we want tables”. Let wrestlers do the match that they’re going to do.)

Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley vs Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens Commentary repeated the (beyond kayfabe) lie that Sami couldn’t be part of the Greatest Royal Rumble due to an injury. Let’s be clear: it’s because he’s of Syrian descent and/or because of his political activism. If the WWE needed a special, convenient lie before and during the GRR, that’s one thing (and bad), but come on. This is what I’m talking about regarding WWE and anti-bullying: Sami Zayn is one of the most unambiguous good guys in the company politically and personally, and he was ostracized for his politics and/or heritage. (And that’s to say nothing of all of the other serious issues with the GRR, many of whose effects extend far beyond one person.) Oh, hey, there was a match here, wasn’t there? It was fine. Owens is almost always entertaining and I enjoyed some of his characteristic quips, but I was utterly distracted by echoes of the Zayn/Saudi Arabia situation. I will say that it felt like it was much better reserved for a TV segment. Just another WWE PPV segment that didn’t feel significant enough for what a PPV is supposed to be.

Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe Why is WWE so convinced that having almost nothing happen in the ring is interesting to anybody at all? I am completely in favor of a carefully-paced match with lots of room for selling and subtlety, but that’s not what slow stretches of WWE achieve at all. Assuming that the layout of this match wasn’t Joe’s idea, he did the best he could with a horrible direction for the match. The crowd chanted “boring” and for a certain Chicagoan, and who can blame them? I mean, you can call the latter chant annoying or even the former chant snotty, but it’s not like their assessment of the match was wrong. There’s slow wrestling and then there’s boring wrestling. Slow wrestling can work. Bad ideas—like those that filled this match—cannot. And the worst part is that Joe loses mountains of credibility after this match, almost regardless of the result.

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