Posted by: Amy – Sep 09, 2016
Mainstream professional wrestling returns to Richmond this Sunday night as WWE comes to the Coliseum for Backlash, a major show featuring six matches airing live on the WWE Network and Pay-Per-View.
While most WWE PPVs are promoted as major events, Backlash definitely has grounds to be listed as one, for a number of reasons. To start, it will be the first brand exclusive PPV following the reintroduction of the brand extension that saw WWE split its rosters between Monday's RAW and Tuesday's SmackDown Live, making the vast majority of their roster exclusive to one show. The show will also see the introduction of two new championships to WWE, the SmackDown's Women's Championship and the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, while both the WWE World and Intercontinental Championships will be up for grabs in singles matches.
For Richmonders, Backlash is a big show for other reasons. It marks the first time WWE will host a PPV in the city in almost a decade, with the last one being Armageddon back in December of 2006, a show that was main evented by Batista and John Cena taking on King Booker and Finlay. Don't be alarmed if that main event doesn't ring a bell -- the unexceptional bout was clearly usurped that night by a crazy spectacle called a Fatal 4-Way Tag Team Ladder Match that saw Joey Mercury of MNM get brutally maimed in a seesaw ladder spot gone awry (link - graphic content warning!). WWE has continued to host live television tapings in the city as well as untaped house shows in the years since, but major events have eluded Richmond and most of Virginia in favor of Washington DC, Baltimore, and Raleigh.
For a town steeped in wrestling history like Richmond (ranging from classic NWA wrestling to revolutionary Richmond Lucha Libre), this has definitely been a sore subject for local fans. Instead of harping on the past though, let's look to the bright future offered this Sunday at Backlash, a show that could very well go down as one of the best modern wrestling shows held in Virginia.
Here's a full look at this Sunday's exciting card featuring singles match-ups, tag team affairs, multi-(wo)men bouts, and perhaps more.
Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles, WWE World Championship
A match that most would have deemed improbable and maybe even impossible a year ago. Back in September of last year, AJ Styles had just ended his second reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion in New Japan Pro Wrestling while Dean Ambrose was a well-established upper mid-carder in the WWE who seemed to be pegged as "always a challenger, never a champion." This Sunday, the two will battle for the biggest prize in pro wrestling in a match that should have everyone on the edge of their seats. Since arriving in WWE in January, there have been few wrestlers more exciting and more... phenomenal in the ring than AJ Styles. Great match after great match culminated in last month's epic bout with John Cena at Summerslam in Brooklyn that might just go down as WWE's Match Of The Year. Dean Ambrose on the other hand is proving the naysayers wrong with his title reign as he's slid into the role of assured champion better than anyone could have ever expected. Everything about Dean Ambrose's work has been elevated since winning the title at Money In The Bank and he definitely has a claim to being responsible for a majority of SmackDown's success thus far in the brand split. In the ring, this is an interesting bout stylistically as it matches up Ambrose's off-kilter brawling with the theatrical athleticism of AJ Styles. Each has plenty to prove here and no matter who wins, the story definitely becomes elevated. Either Dean Ambrose solidifies himself as a commanding main eventer, or AJ Styles -- the former face of TNA Wrestling -- becomes the new face of WWE, making this a highly anticipated bout for wrestling fans of all ages.
Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch vs. Carmella vs. Naomi vs. Natayla vs. Nikki Bella, SmackDown Women's Championship
A six-pack challenge to crown the inaugural Women's Champion for the SmackDown brand will feature new exciting stars in the Women's division mixing it up with some of WWE's biggest female stars of the last decade. Alexa Bliss, a recent call-up from the NXT developmental brand who was a stand-out in the women's division for her in-ring confidence and style. Becky Lynch, a co-founder of WWE's "Women's Revolution" last summer along with current RAW superstars Charlotte and Sasha Banks, who is known for being one of the best in-ring women wrestlers alive today with a personality rich with panache. Carmella, another recent call-up from the NXT developmental brand who until this year was mostly known as the manager for current RAW superstars Enzo Amore and Big Cass, but has recently made a name for herself as a consistently improving and memorable in-ring competitor. Naomi, the electrifying veteran known for her flexible and erratic offense and her stunning presentation who has had championship gold elude her thus far in her WWE career. Natayla, a former Divas Champion who many believe to be the best female competitor WWE has seen over the last decade looking to become the top star many believe she rightfully is. Nikki Bella, the returning star of Total Divas and Total Bella who holds the record for the longest reign as Divas Champion and is eager return to the top of the women's division. All six of these talented women will step in the ring on Sunday with the first one able to pin or submit an opponent walking out as the inaugural SmackDown Women's Champion. This is a big match for all six women involved as it's time for them to prove that not only is the SmackDown division on par with the RAW division, but that this the new championship is just as prestigious, if not more. With the right time and the right structure, this could be a blowaway match. Look out for these competitors to go all out here and maybe even introduce some elements into a women's match we've never seen in a WWE ring before.
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
A battle for upward momentum here between two legitimate stars too often mired in mid-card malaise. After several months on the shelf, Randy Orton returned last month in a losing fashion to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam in a widely controversial match that saw Orton's head opened up in a wound that required 10 staples to close. Bray Wyatt has remained one of WWE's most popular superstars despite disappointing feuds and storylines, but has a chance to turn things around here. With Braun Strowman on RAW, Luke Harper on the injured list, and Erick Rowan forging his own path, Bray Wyatt is alone for the first time in over a year and is looking to establish himself as a top level talent in the post-brand world. Even with AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose on top of the card, this could end up stealing the show given the right story, time, and execution. There's not a wrestler within WWE today who won't extol the in-ring ability of Randy Orton and while Bray Wyatt will forever be known more for his character and promo ability, his in-ring work is often overlooked despite being original and impactful. There's no doubt the two will rise to the occasion here, so the only question is: will Randy Orton counter a Sister Abigail into a RKO? Knowing how crisp each executes their own finishing move, if this happens, it could just be the best RKO of Randy Orton's career... so don't take your eyes off this match for a second.
The Usos vs. The Hype Bros, SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos/The Hype Bros Winner, SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament Final
The tournament to crown SmackDown's first Tag Team Champions ends on Sunday in Richmond with a bonus semi-final match-up and the following finals. On one side of the bracket this past Tuesday night, Heath Slater and Rhyno continued their improbable run to the belts (and to a storyline contract for Heath Slater) by defeating The Hype Bros. On the other end, American Alpha defeated The Usos to advance, but were attacked afterwards by The Usos ushering in their first heel run since ascending to the top of WWE's tag team division. Chad Gable of American Alpha suffered a storyline leg injury due to the attack and the duo were forced to withdraw from the tournament, adding an extra semi-final match-up between The Usos and The Hype Bros with the winner taking on Heath Slater & Rhyno in the finals. Few could have predicted the tournament ending this way, though few could have also predicted the Sandow-esque rise of Heath Slater over the last several weeks. Needless to say, this is a proving match for all three teams involved and a chance for them all to show that they have what it takes to anchor a new division. Regardless of the outcome, expect an appearance by American Alpha on Sunday night, most likely attacking The Usos, though don't count out an Usos title win, one that could go a long way to legitimizing these new championships. Hopefully, Mojo Rawley rises to the occasion and earns his placement alongside perennial favorite Zack Ryder and as morose as it sounds, hopefully Slater's contract woes continue if only so his entertaining family and contract hijinks can continue.
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler, WWE Intercontinental Championship
Just days after one of the most controversial matches in recent memory, The Miz shook the wrestling world perhaps harder by delivering the best promo of his career aimed at beloved retired wrestler -- and current SmackDown Live General Manager -- Daniel Bryan, as well as all of the naysayers who have spent years deriding his ability and reputation. The August 23rd episode of WWE Talking Smack, a post-SmackDown show renowned for its ability to blur the line between storyline and reality, quickly became one of WWE's most talked about moments thanks to a segment that many had comparing to CM Punk's legendary Pipe Bomb from 2011. In it, The Miz addressed criticism for his wrestling style and perceived lack of skill by denouncing the popular style Daniel Bryan innovated within WWE as reckless to his body and detrimental to the fans while also extolling his ability to perform without injury for his entire career. Though it clearly resonated the most with wrestling fans aware of the backstory and context, the emotion and intensity displayed by The Miz was something anybody could recognize and feel, and was something WWE fans hadn't seen since his unceremonious exit from the main event scene in 2011. Some even go as far to claim it far surpasses any of his work at the top of the mountain. While it was clearly not the "shoot" many theorized, it's no doubt The Miz channeled all of his built up resentment and frustration into the promo that has to be one of WWE's top segments of the last year. So what does this have to do with the match? It's up to The Miz to capitalize now on this promo and attention, and a match with Dolph Ziggler is just the place. While The Miz definitely does have a style becoming obsolete in WWE's ever-changing landscape, it's a style fully capable of delivering a great match given the right circumstance. With enough time, any match with Dolph Ziggler can be the right circumstance and with his flashy style, it allows Miz to be even more villainous as he continues to be one of wrestling's best pure heels. So far, the follow-up to Miz's breakout promo has been lackluster, but that could all change in this match and most will be watching just to see what happens next.
Unannounced Seventh Match?
The announced Backlash card has six matches and while it's a fully fleshed out supercard, it does stand out as a bit short considering recent three-hour PPVs have had around eight matches this year, preshow bouts excluded. The major players of SmackDown are already featured in matches above, but that doesn't mean mid-carders like Kane, Baron Corbin, or Apollo Crews couldn't pop up for a short match or segment used as a cool-down match between main events. There has been hints of a match-up between Kane and Baron Corbin and while that may be held off until the next PPV, the two could definitely come to blows on Sunday's event, or Baron Corbin could face off against a lower talent in an enhancement match. Who knows, but one should expect something in addition to the six matches announced to take place this Sunday.
Clearly Backlash has a lot to offer wrestling fans this coming Sunday, and for non-wrestling fans, there are definitely more than a few matches and moments worth going out of your way to see. Whether it be the image of Bray Wyatt's fireflies lighting up the Coliseum or the potential outcome of AJ Styles standing tall with the WWE World Championship, this is definitely a wrestling event that could stay imprinted in local wrestling fans' memories for years, and maybe decades to come.
WWE Backlash comes to Richmond this Sunday night at the Richmond Coliseum. Tickets are still available starting at $20 with the show starting at 7:30 PM. For more information on the show and where to buy tickets, click here.
Words by Doug Nunnally