WWE Backlash 2023 — Review

The first WWE Premium Live Event following WrestleMania rolled into Puerto Rico, the first time it had held a major show for eighteen years. Roman Reigns wasn’t on the card, so it fell to the heir apparent to “continue the story” in his absence. 

Before all that, the show kicked off with Bianca Belair defending her Raw Women’s Championship against Iyo Sky. It should not surprise to say this was a strong showing. Both are gifted athletes. Bianca Belair has ascended to the true upper tier of professional wrestlers. Sky sits in the group below (which is higher than most).

Belair sold the idea she’d injured an arm, which played a pivotal role as the story unfolded. There was one spot where she lifted Iyo above her head single-handedly, and on the release it appeared that Sky was caught between the no-man’s-land of not flipping to her back or landing safely on her front. Even at the highest level, such things can happen, so it’s no criticism of either woman. But Sky then played into it, by indicating she’d taken the brunt of the landing to her face. If it was intended, it was genius. If it was accidental, Iyo Sky showed sharp thinking.

There was a Damage CTRL run-in, it wasn’t enough to sway the result. Belair retained a belt for a brand they have drafted her away from.

Even with an electric crowd, and one of the most talented performers from any generation — Seth Rollins — it’s hard to get behind a match with Omos involved. Rollins vs Omos was WWE’s latest attempt to make the giant appear a credible threat without costing an established star a loss. They tried it here by having him resist one of Rollins’s stomps. Seth rested his boot on Omos’s neck as if he were waiting for his boots to be shined.

Rollins got the inevitable win with an elevated stomp and we had our first average match of the night. This led into another average bout: Austin Theory defending his US Title against Bobby Lashley and Bronson Reed. A title change here never felt likely, they are building the Theory brand. It probably isn’t the best place for Lashley to be right now. He deserves to be more than mid-card filler. WWE learned tonight, if the Puerto Rican crowd are to be believed, that Bronson Reed could be trusted with a bigger spotlight.

Rhea Ripley, defending the SmackDown Women’s Championship (a brand she’s been drafted away from) was next. It was an emotional entrance for her opponent Zelina Vega. She had tears in her eyes as she stood in the centre of the ring, spreading the host nation flag wide, paying homage to her late father. In other sports, home advantage has a lot of sway. On nights like this, it should serve as a superpower. Normally, the smart money would be on Rhea in this match-up, tonight, it would have been good to see Vega’s emotionally charged effort cause an upset.

It didn’t, and now we wait to see how WWE solves its lazy draft planning and gets Ripley and Belair to switch titles. A solution to prevent this situation occurring again — because it seems to happen every draft now — is to rename the belts so none of them are brand specific, like what we have with the men’s titles.

The match which may have been given the most love online during the live broadcast was the Street Fight between Bad Bunny and Damien Priest. And with good reason. Bad Bunny held his own. In the early stages, Priest carried the match well in the ring, proving his real worth and talent to WWE. It spilled to the arena where Bunny found himself put through a table and was attended to by Adam Pearce and a crew of WWE officials. They wanted Priest to show mercy — he didn’t.

It then became a spot with run-ins, Judgment Day as expected, Carlito less so. It gave the event the feel of a house show. That’s meant in a good way. It was a raw, organic energy. 

Priest began to sell an injured knee and Bad Bunny grabbed a win with a Canadian destroyer. It was a case of giving the people what they want. It also means only Rhea Ripley can win for Judgment Day when it matters.

It’s easy to skim over The Bloodline against World Tag Champs of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens who were teaming with Matt Riddle. The action itself was decidedly average. The main point was to service The Bloodline’s story. The sticking point is the beef between Jey Uso and Solo Sikoa.

The problem this faces is it’s the sequel to the best story WWE has told for years. The Karate Kid Part II isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not as good as the first. This was an above average affair but the overall programme will need something extra to stop it falling well short of its predecessor.

Brock Lesnar facing off against Cody Rhodes closed the show. Beforehand, my vote would have been for a Lesnar win. Rhodes needs his story to have a few more chapters before he faces Roman Reigns again. A setback against the Best Incarnate would achieve this. This gave WWE a few options, meaning nothing was a given.

One thing almost certain was that Rhodes wouldn’t just live through a prescriptive Lesnar suplex city match. Sure, that element featured, but only after Rhodes had given him the jump before the bell (stomping for the ring steps as if he was a Bushwhacker). Cody Rhodes is about putting on showcases and was always going to try and get a memorable bout out of Lesnar.

Eventually, a turnbuckle became exposed, and when the time came, Brock committed his head into the exposed metal. The cut was deep and instant; the blood followed in a way that would make Jon Moxley proud. Lesnar fought on and applied the Kimura lock. Rhodes rolled Brock’s shoulders to the mat and stole a win.

Brock Lesnar appearing shocked and bloodied sold the brutality.

Backlash opened and closed with matches scoring 8/10. Overall, a very fun show.

Cody’s story continues.

Overall rating: 7/10


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