WWE – Backlash preview – Return to co-branded pay-per-view features Nakamura-Styles and Reigns-Samoa Joe headliners


It’s not WrestleMania and it’s not the Greatest Royal Rumble. Still, after a whirlwind of an April for the superstars of WWE, Backlash kicks off the month of May with another pay-per-view-level event.

While this show feels like a letdown compared to the aforementioned two events that preceded it, Backlash represents a major milestone in its own right: a return to co-branded pay-per-views. The stars of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown, back together for the first time outside of the “big four” since the 2016 brand separation draft, will combine forces to take the best of what each show has to offer.

Five titles will be on the line at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Sunday, and though there might be something of a hangover affect just nine days after the Greatest Royal Rumble, there are still some significant moments in store.

WWE championship (No DQ): AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

What’s at stake: First and foremost, the biggest men’s title on SmackDown Live is up for grabs. It’ll be the third consecutive major event for Styles and Nakamura, and it feels as though no matter who the winner is, they each need to bring something big to the table in what is the likeliest match to headline Backlash.

After all the hype, the first two bouts were largely underwhelming. Yes, their WrestleMania match was decent, but if not for the Nakamura’s dirty low blow and turn to the dark side, it would have been an afterthought in the long term. Styles and Nakamura picked up the pace at the Greatest Royal Rumble, but a double count-out left fans feeling disappointed and dissatisfied.

Even if Roman Reigns-Samoa Joe ultimately ends up being the main event, there’s a lot of pressure here as this match is undeniably the star attraction. The recently added no-disqualification stipulation will no doubt play a role, but there is some danger in that as well. Will steel chairs and other foreign objects detract from their in-ring capabilities? Will they find themselves throwing punches outside the ring and even over the barricade? Hard to say, but an all-out street fight will not serve fans or Styles and Nakamura well. A high-flying match with a clear winner is what’s needed here.

Prediction: On the grand stage of WrestleMania, the time seemed right for Nakamura to finally rise to the top on Tuesday nights. But the overall oomph factor isn’t there with such a win at Backlash. If Nakamura is going to become champion, it has to mean something. Even with Styles having the edge in the win column, there has to be comeuppance for all of the low blows. He’d be better served waiting for Money in the Bank or even SummerSlam before his ascent on a higher-profile show.

That said, chalk this one up to a classic case of sweet revenge, as Styles wins a stellar bout with a low blow of his own and a phenomenal forearm.

Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe

What’s at stake: In short, momentum. Reigns, while not the Universal champ, is unquestionably the “big dog” he claims to be on Raw. At some point in the near future, he is going to have that belt; it’s just a matter of when. There was a time when it seemed as though he might settle for some more time outside the title picture, especially during the short-lived reunion with his Shield brethren and the push of Braun Strowman. But that’s not the case anymore. Not other performer, including Strowman, is likely to have a sniff at Brock Lesnar’s title in the coming months, and Lesnar and Reigns just keep ending up opposite one another.

As for Joe, he is returning from a three-month hiatus due to a foot injury. He’s wasted no time getting in the mix with the top stars on both shows, first with Reigns and, as we saw Tuesday, the tease of a forthcoming feud with Styles. A loss to Reigns on Sunday wouldn’t be a huge shock, but it would be a momentum-killer. With his move to SmackDown, Joe is going to be in the upper echelon of storylines for quite some time.

Prediction: No way Reigns loses this match, not cleanly anyway. It’s disappointing that Joe will have to play the victim, but he’ll rebound in due time once he plants himself firmly in the WWE championship mix.

SmackDown women’s championship: Carmella (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

What’s at stake: We’ve said it for months, but SmackDown Live desperately needs a bona fide heel on its roster. Be it the Welcoming Committee, the Riott Squad, or whatever is left of Absolution, no one has been able to make the jump from mid-card status to something we look forward to as a dynamic villain. Even as champion, Carmella doesn’t fill that void — not yet, anyway.

The big question here is whether the creative team gives her an opportunity to see what she can do with the belt after a long stint with the Money in the Bank briefcase. Charlotte is obviously Charlotte, and even without a championship, she is going to be a top draw and could get away with being on the outside looking in for a few months.

Prediction: Carmella will hold on to the title, but it’ll take some interference by the IIconics or some other type of pernicious behavior to get the job done. It’s just too soon for her run to end.

Raw women’s championship: Nia Jax (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

What’s at stake: Given all the moving parts since WrestleMania ended, Jax has had little time in the spotlight to showcase her newly minted status as champion. But you have to wonder if the decision to award her a belt is only short-term, as her feel-good story doesn’t exactly seem to move the needle. Bliss is a fantastic heel and a worthy champion — someone who can stir up controversy with her mouth as well as anyone this side of The Miz.

Still, the WWE made Jax wait a long time before hitting the apex, and to an extent, she has to be an inspiration to so many aspiring performers and fans.

Prediction: Tough call, but Bliss takes back the title, only to lose it again to Jax in a future matchup. With Asuka on SmackDown and Ronda Rousey still in what appears to be a long stretch of shadowing more established stars, Bliss needs to be the leading lady — at least in the short term.

Intercontinental championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. The Miz

What’s at stake: The Miz’s legacy, obviously. With a win Sunday, he’d tie Chris Jericho with a record nine Intercontinental titles. Further, The Miz is closing in on Pedro Morales’ all-time record of combined days as the IC champ. But in an inter-brand battle at Backlash, he would have to beat a guy who has been on a massive roll in recent months.

A couple of years ago, Rollins was the foundation of the WWE as the top champion, before a knee injury struck at a truly inopportune moment. He finally seems like that guy again, and at some point in the next year, he is going to be lined up for the Universal title. Rollins produces night in and night out, regardless of the opponent or circumstance, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. By far, he and Finn Balor are in the midst of the most exciting rivalry on Raw (and possibly all of WWE TV).

Prediction: There’s almost no chance Rollins falls unless the WWE wants to throw a curveball and bring the Intercontinental title to SmackDown. That’s unlikely. If anyone is going to eventually take away Rollins’ belt, it will be Balor.

United States championship: Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Randy Orton

What’s at stake: Not a lot, but Hardy deserves a shot to show what he can do as a singles performer — something he has not done a lot of since returning to the WWE a little more than a year ago. While there’s not a lot of heat between him and Orton at this point in their respective careers, this could very well end up being the battle of the night by the time Backlash concludes. On Tuesday night, we were reminded just how good Orton remains in the ring. He is athletic and intense.

On the downside, he is in desperate need of a good storyline. For quite some time, Orton has been forced to play the babyface role, whether it was against Jinder Mahal or Bray Wyatt or someone of that ilk. Orton is simply stronger as a villain.

Prediction: Hardy wins in a great match. Fans love him, and he’s just getting started on a new phase of his WWE run away from brother Matt. It’s too early to take that momentum away.

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass

What’s at stake: Sadly, the entire buildup to this match has been somewhat of a joke. Big Cass, apparently, is jealous of the fan appreciation his upcoming opponent has received since making his in-ring return. And Cass’ jesting toward Bryan has been downright cringe-worthy. Still, he’s a towering presence, and it would serve WWE to give him a chance to blossom into a big-time heel. What better way to begin than against the beloved Bryan? Cass had a brief stint as a singles competitor before tearing his ACL in a Brooklyn Street Fight last August, but it wasn’t all that compelling.

For Bryan, he is coming off a record-breaking performance at the Greatest Royal Rumble, where he lasted over 76 minutes. But this will be the first chance for fans to watch him compete in a one-on-one match on pay-per-view in nearly three years. While there isn’t a ton in the way of long-term ramifications, there has to be a sense of pressure to not disappoint.

Prediction: C’mon, you can’t have Bryan lose, right? This match has all the makings over the opening bout, where fans will scream in unison. He’ll win and kick things off on a high note.

Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

What’s at stake: Well, nothing. You can’t have a pay-per-view sans Strowman. You can’t ignore Lashley, who is seemingly lined up for a big push now that he is back in a WWE squared circle. And you can’t ignore Owens and Zayn, who just switched brands and need some sort of action. So why not just throw them all in a ring at the same time and call it a day?

Prediction: Strowman and Lashley. No other possible outcome.

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