Let’s face it: WWE finds itself in the midst of a weird stretch as far as booking is concerned in the aftermath of WrestleMania 34. While the Superstar Shakeup provided two weeks of strong content, the forced addition of last Friday’s Greatest Royal Rumble card from Saudi Arabia certainly played a huge role in some of the questionable creative decisions which followed. So too did the announcement of dual-branded pay-per-view cards for the rest of 2018, which have created more questions than answers as to which direction many of the top superstars are headed.  

All of this has conspired to create a palpable lack of buzz heading into Sunday’s Backlash show. Not only has the card been lost in the shuffle behind the pomp and circumstance of Saudi Arabia, it has yet to acquire an identity, especially after Monday’s disappointing go-home episode of Raw. For all of the buzz created by Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns over the past four weeks, the two superstars won’t be facing each other on Sunday. And for all of the high spots and energy created by Seth Rollins and Finn Balor in Monday’s incredible main event, those two won’t be meeting at Backlash either.  

Raw lacked any kind of electricity from segment to segment, and outside of both the main event and a strong Ruby Riott-Sasha Banks match, left viewers without much to speak about either positive or negative. Fans can respect when WWE swings big and ultimately misses due to the effort of trying. Instead, this week’s Raw felt much like a hangover with those involved still fatigued from the grueling travel and exorbitant hype paid to the Greatest Royal Rumble.

Big fan of WWE? Subscribe to our podcast — In This Corner with Brian Campbell — where we go in depth on everything you need to know in WWE each week.

Seth Rollins outlasts Finn Balor in a classic 

Rollins entered the ring earlier in the night to chants of “ole” and “you deserve it” from the adoring crowd. The Architect popped them just a bit more — in what would become a theme for the evening 00 by stumbling through a “merci beaucoup” in French. After Rollins took a surprising shot at an absent Brock Lesnar for not being a fighting champion, Balor produced his own pop by greeting the fans in French and asking for a title shot.  Rollins left the decision up to the approving crowd but was interrupted by Miztourage. Referencing their mistake of trying to create a new faction with both last week, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel revealed t-shirts with all four of their faces on it. Balor and Rollins turned down the offer for a Four Horsemen-like stable and fought off Miztourage’s attack. Balor then attacked Rollins to a chorus of boos from the crowd.  

The match was high energy from the very start. The biggest spot came when Rollins’ superplex was countered by a Falcon Arrow from Balor for a dramatic two count. A wild finishing sequence saw Balor miss his Coup de Grace and Rollins twice miss Stomp attempts. Balor eventually ran into a stiff superkick before Rollins finally hit a Stomp to end the match.  

As far as free TV matches go, this was about as good as it gets. Both superstars emptied the jar to, at the very least, send fans home happy after a disappointing night. Whether or not Rollins hangs on to his title against The Miz on Sunday, here’s to hoping this is just the beginning for a lengthy and electric feud against Balor with match-of-the-year potential once they finally meet in a one-on-one opportunity at a pay-per-view. Grade: A- 

A strange team wins a forced match 

Roman Reigns, who said he won’t make excuses for Friday’s controversial loss to Lesnar in Saudi Arabia, opened the show to massive boos from the Montreal crowd. He quickly turned his focus to Backlash on Sunday, which summoned a brief backstage video message from Samoa Joe on the big screen. Jinder Mahal interrupted and asked for a match against Reigns later tonight. Local products Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens then came out to do the same, drawing huge babyface pops for speaking in French, including chants of “yep” and “oui.” To decide who faces Reigns, Owens did a popularity contest with the fans cheering loudest for him. But Reigns attacked him with the microphone before succumbing to a three-on-one beating. Out came Bobby Lashley and then Braun Strowman to clean house, when ended with Strowman tossing Sunil Singh onto the heels outside.  

A predictable six-man tag match was booked for later in the show. The three-segment affair featured a long beating of Reigns until the hot tag to Strowman. After repeating last week’s spot of running around the ring at full speed to deliver multiple clotheslines and shoulder tackles on Zayn and Owens, Strowman later reversed a cannonball from Owens into a powerslam for the 1-2-3.  

This was microwave WWE booking at its very worst. Instead of deriving fresh ways to tease a number of big matches heading into Sunday’s Backlash card, storylines were instead blended together in convoluted ways. Why would Strowman run in to save Reigns, whom he violently feuded with last year? Considering how intoxicating the crowd reaction to Owens and Zayn was all night, why not build on that and use as part of the finish? And why would WWE so quickly move away from the creative swerve of the Lesnar-Reigns steel cage finish by just glossing over it (in Montreal of all places) and welcoming Samoa Joe back into the angle? Just like the inevitable letdown of Reigns not turning heel, this one felt like a missed opportunity.  Grade: D+ 

What else happened on Raw?

  • Elias def. Bobby Roode via TKO (referee stoppage): A trio of commercial breaks made the match feel like a marathon. The action came to a halt after Roode was tossed neck first (although replays showed it was his chest) into the steel turnbuckle cables on the ring apron, leaving him in pain on the floor. Elias grabbed the microphone and announced himself the winner as Roode clutched his throat while receiving medical attention.  
  • Authors of Pain def. Jean-Paul & Francois via pinfall: A pre-match interview from Gorilla position saw the pair of local enhancement talent speak in both English and French to explain the reason why they asked for this match. Despite their confidence, the match turned into a squash. AOP connected on a Super Collider and a Last Chapter for the 1-2-3. Akam and Rezar then took turns announcing “the book of pain is open” and “there will be a chapter for every deed on Monday Night Raw.” The duo then awkwardly screamed they are “centered on destruction” before spiking the microphones.   
  • Ruby Riott def. Sasha Banks via pinfall: Banks noted during her pre-match interview how Bayley, who watched the match backstage on a monitor, won’t be in her corner and hasn’t returned her texts or calls. The match was a good one with Riott landing a memorable cannonball senton off the second rope for two. Distractions and interference from Riott Squad helped Riott escape a Banks Statement attempt. The finish came when Banks, while climbing to the top rope, was hit with a Riott Kick to set up the pin.
  • A Moment of Bliss: During another mock public service announcement, Alexa Bliss denounced Raw women’s champion Nia Jax as a bully and vowed to win back her title on Sunday at Backlash. Bliss told a story of being heckled about her height by Jax at Disney World, where “Nia turned the happiest place on Earth into the saddest day ever.”  
  • Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt anoint themselves “Deleters of Worlds:” Amid historical photos of their faces added into the background, Hardy spoke about how he and Wyatt “have forever transcended time and space.” Wyatt stepped in as the lights dimmed backstage. “We are the darkness and the light,” Wyatt said. “And our shadow will continue to consume everything and eat everything it its path.”
  • No Way Jose def. Baron Corbin via pinfall: Titus O’Neil’s backstage interview with Renee Young, addressing his infamous fall at the Greatest Royal Rumble, was interrupted by an insulting Corbin. The heel continued his rant against those that are not on his level who spend too much time laughing. Just as Corbin appeared ready to put Jose away, Titus Worldwide walked in to provide a distraction and further mock O’Neil’s fall. O’Neil stumbled on the ring apron, distracting Corbin, who was rolled up by Jose from the upset win in what came across as a calculated revenge play from O’Neil.
  • Drew McIntyre & Dolph Ziggler stake their claim: In a pre-taped promo from what looked like a storage closet, the duo claimed they did not come to Raw to steal the show but “take it.” Another strong promo.
  • Natalya def. Mickie James via pinfall: With Bliss in James’ corner, Ronda Rousey came out in support of Natalya. Bliss’ eventual attempt at distraction was met with Rousey chasing her around the ring. Natalya then rolled up James for the victory. After the match, Jax appeared to chase Bliss into the crowd. The Raw women’s champion then entered the ring to glare at Rousey and Natalya before smiling and raising their arms.

Source link