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Wednesday, November 22nd 2017.
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WWE Backlash 2016 Preview

Scrooge McSuck

- September 11th will mark the official beginning of a "new" era. The Era of brand split Pay-Per-View/Network Specials. I know, I know, they did this from 2003-2007, but with nearly a decade in the rear-view mirror, it might as well be considered a new era. The biggest fear coming in for Smackdown was how can they fill out a 3-hour PPV block with a thinner roster than Monday Night Raw, and with the lack of depth when it came to reasonably over mid-card acts. With WWE's insistence on showing 4-5 minute recap videos for every match, a handful of fluff-piece back-on-the-back videos for their charity work, and the occasional backstage segments, they can do it with ease. The WWE Title Match will get 30-minutes minimum when you count entrances, Orton vs. Wyatt will eat up a minimum of 20-minutes, the Women's Six-Pack Challenge will eat up a minimum of 20-minutes with the elimination rules, and then you have three more matches that can easily chew up 15-20 minutes each after all the pre-and-post match stuff. This also isn't factoring in a random undercard match thrown onto the show to pad things out. Anyway, on to the Preview!

1. The Tag Team Title Tournament... CONTINUES!

This week on Smackdown, we thought we had the Finals set in stone: American Alpha, the heavy favorites coming into the tournament, against the random team of underdogs, Rhyno and the "Hottest Free Agent" in WWE, Heath Slater. A monkey wrench was thrown into the works, though, when the Usos made their highly expected heel turn, but instead of cheating their way to victory, they did a quick job to American Alpha and took their frustrations out on them post-match, including a kayfabe injury to Chad Gable's MCL, taking him out of action for 2-4 weeks and ruining American Alpha's chances at becoming the 1st Smackdown Tag Team Champions. Good move, says I, since the chase for them would be much more satisfying than just winning the belts straight out of the gate.

With this sudden change to the format sheet, the PPV will feature a second-chance match for the two teams eliminated in the Semi-Finals, the Usos and the Hype Bros, with the winners facing Slater and Rhyno later in the night for the as planned Tournament Finals. As much as I agreed with the situation of taking American Alpha out, I don't care for the idea that the plucky underdogs will now have the advantage over a worn out team. I'm sure I'm blowing it out of proportion, but I'm really into the whole angle and Heath Slater has somehow become one of my favorite acts on either brand. Unfortunately, the Cinderella story is coming to an end, and I don't see them winning the belts. The Usos will get past the Hype Bros through nefarious circumstances and one of them pins Rhyno to become the 1st Champions and give American Alpha someone to chase when Gable returns from his injury. As for Slater, this has to earn him a contract, even in defeat, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did a swerve and keep dangling the carrot in front of him since we never get the satisfying conclusion at the proper moment.

2. Intercontinental Title Match: The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler:

On paper, without having watched a second on television since the brand split, this feels like the same old stuff. Miz vs. Ziggler for the IC Title? As if we haven't been there before. In defense of the program, I feel like there's more to it than ever before: You have the Miz, who is being portrayed as a coward, wanting to show he's more than just a scrub, but is too comfortable to risk his body, and Dolph Ziggler, who continues to slip down the ladder of contention in what I'm personally hoping is a heel turn based on his many failures. With the way things have trended, it only seems logical. He loses his big match for the WWE Title at SummerSlam, loses the big match to A.J. Styles that would've earned him a spot in the Backlash Main Event, and now he has to settle for the Miz and is trying to use the same mental games Ambrose used on him for the lesser singles title. What's next, he tries to win the Tag Titles with Apollo Crews, loses again, and then finally turns? Well, either way, the Miz keeps the Championship and the Never-Ending Intercontinental Title Reign will reach the 180+ day plateau. If this means Miz is done with Ziggler, the only logical step is to bring someone up from NXT, otherwise we're running out of logical challengers, quickly.

3. Women's Title Six-Pack Challenge: Nikki Bella vs. Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Natalya vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Carmella:

This week on Smackdown Live, it was confirmed that the match will be contested under Elimination Rules, so instead of the potential for a fluke victory, we'll probably get a reasonable path to the final two. This could either be really good or a total dud, depending on who puts the match together and how carefully they map things out for the lesser skilled workers (I'm looking at Alexa, Carmella, and even Naomi right now). I'm very confident that Becky, Natalya, and Nikki will be able to carry the lion's share of the match, but they can only do so much, as we've seen every week in countless tag team matches that come off as an unpredictable ocean. Things can be moving calm and steadily, and then suddenly a tidal wave of suck can sink the entire thing. Coming in, Naomi and Alexa have been treated as the bottom barrel girls, Nikki has been at the mercy of Carmella for three weeks straight, and Becky vs. Natalya has become the signature ladies program in the early weeks of the Smackdown Live brand split. Logical order of elimination: Naomi (by Natalya), Alexa Bliss (by Becky), Carmella (by Nikki), Nikki (by Natalya and thanks to a revenge attack from Carmella due to the prior elimination), and then Becky becomes the 1st Smackdown Women's Champion. I feel like Natalya is a bit too old to be the flag bearer for the new Championship, and it'll be too soon to make Nikki vs. Carmella the feud that is centered around the Championship. Moving forward, I feel like they need at least one more established worker to pick up the slack for the lower-tier Women, especially to balance out Eva Marie's return from suspension on the September 20th episode of Smackdown Live.

4. Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt:

The battle of broken men. The Predator vs. The Prey, except we don't know which is which any more. Viperville vs. The Eater of Worlds. I'm trying everything in my power to get hyped for this match, but I'm just falling somewhere in the indifferent folder. I'm sure it can be a good match, but I don't have much confidence in it being a great match, and there's no way we're getting anything close to a clean finish here. A reasonable argument can be made that neither man can afford to lose a high profile match right now, but in the WWE handbook, wins and losses don't matter. Someone tore out the page that said "as long as it's done logically and intelligently", but most cheap losses seem to come via the same uncreative direction: distraction and cheap roll-up. The easy prediction is Randy Orton has the match in the palm of his hand, gets ready to hit the RKO, but some kind of spooky wizard magic will happen to create a distraction, maybe Rowan shows up to suck up to Wyatt, or maybe Luke Harper finally returns, and Orton walks into Sister Abigail. Either way they get around it, we're getting a rematch at whatever the hell the Smackdown PPV is called in October. No Mercy? Maybe they'll make it a Last Man Standing or an I Quit Match to play into the name of the PPV.

5. WWE World Title Match: Dean Ambrose vs. A.J. Styles:

Styles is riding the momentum of a victory over John Cena at SummerSlam (and won't shut up about it), while Dean Ambrose is kind of just there. I've read elsewhere the complaints about Ambrose's lack of aggression that he brought out for his feud with Ziggler, but that ties into the character: He got under Ziggler's skin by reminding him he's a failure and how no matter how hard he tries to steal the show, he's still a loser, and now he's getting under the skin of Styles, who desperately is trying to rattle Ambrose, but Ambrose's responses are mostly indifference and comedy. It's a psychological game to exploit the weakness of his challengers, and while the latest promos haven't been strong, it makes logical sense and actually gives Ambrose the chance of not being a lame-duck Champion walking into Backlash. Depending on what Dean Ambrose shows up, this could be the biggest let-down for a PPV Main Event in quite some time, or it can be yet another notch on the belt of Styles stealing the show on a WWE PPV in 2016. With Styles' momentum and the potential of a Cena return by the time of Survivor Series, it seems like the only thing to do is to put the belt on Styles, but what do we do in the immediate future? Orton is occupied, Cena is still not on television, so that just leaves Ambrose in a series of rematches. I really am having a hard time going one way or the other, and you can't end the show with an inconclusive finish on the 1st brand split PPV, so I'll go with my gut and say... Dean Ambrose retains.

Final Thoughts: Most of the time, you look at a Pay-Per-View lineup and you could pretty much pinpoint where on the quality chart it would land. This show could land anywhere with so many unpredictable matches. No, not for the finishes, but for the quality. Ambrose/Styles isn't a guarantee to be a 4-star effort, but it has the potential. Orton/Wyatt can be anywhere in the range of really good (3 ) to really dull (1 star). The Women are all over the place, with three quality workers and three not-so-good. Ziggler vs. Miz can go either way. The only sure thing is the Usos vs. Hype Bros will be an alright undercard match (2 stars), and that Usos vs. Slater/Rhyno will be more about story than the quality of the match.

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