Another memorable night in Chicago duly delivered on Sunday as WWE’s Backlash pay-per-view ended with the crowing of a new WWE Champion in Jinder Mahal.
We noted in Saturday’s preview of the show that the signs were there for a real shock and in front of a tireless crowd, Mahal duly did the honours as he dethroned 13-time champ Randy Orton for a victory that just weeks ago would have seemed impossible.
Mahal, a Canadian-born Indian, has been thrust into the main event spotlight of WWE in rapid order having previously been little more than a peripheral talent previously, and it’s a notable point that this is his first title reign of any kind with the company – despite having wrestled there for the better part of a decade.
Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
1/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
Captain John Terry was presented with a WWE title belt after Chelsea's Premier League triumph.
2/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
Asmir Begović was another member of the Chelsea team to get his hands on the belt.
3/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
The belt features a specially engraved Chelsea logo.
4/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
Chelsea were awarded the special belt after beating Tottenham to the title.
5/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
Terry proudly shows off the honour.
6/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
The skipper was presented with the belt at Stamford Bridge.
7/7 Chelsea rewarded with WWE title belt
The 36-year-old looks set to leave Chelsea at the end of the current season.
That shouldn’t take away from the fact that Mahal is a magnificent specimen in his own right who plays his character perfectly – and so why shouldn’t WWE invest more time in a fairly rough diamond? Randy Orton is a respected and accomplished veteran but following the end of his feud with Bray Wyatt last month you’d argue that there was little mileage left in his latest title run – freshening things up may yet serve to work for him in the long run, too, as he bids to chase an inevitable rematch against the 6ft 5 powerhouse down the line.
The match at Backlash itself was solid without being spectacular but you get the impression that’s only half the point. The duo, along with The Singh Brothers who so ably kept corner for Mahal throughout the match, executed a well-told story that ensured the shock win was delivered with the right amount of interference and chicanery on Mahal’s part but also asking enough questions of Orton’s hot-headedness that ultimately cost him a victory. I’m intensely keen to see what happens next and hope that Mahal’s reign isn’t an abrupt one.
Having ended the night with a shock of sorts, some three hours prior we began with the highly-anticipated in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura as he overcame Dolph Ziggler in a fine opening contest. Make no mistake, Nakamura will be a big star in WWE over the next few years and so a big win against a big name in Ziggler was almost a must – but you couldn’t help but appreciate how well the Show Off does his job. It’d be hard to think his future WWE will be reduced to putting over young and emerging talent and nothing more.
Big things were expected in the United States Championship match as Kevin Owen put his title on the line against AJ Styles and the pairing didn’t disappoint. This match was again as much about the in-ring action as it was about storytelling and this was a throwback to a bygone era where that’s concerned – having suffered a leg injury days prior on Smackdown, Styles went into Backlash with a target on his back and the relentless Owens zeroed in on it perfectly. Going back and forth throughout the match, the action would always swing back to the leg of Styles; letting him down as he looked to execute his patented Phenomenal Forearm finisher, the former WWE Champion collapsing from the ropes at one stage. It would also tell for Styles at the climax of the bout – as he aimed to deliver a Styles Clash on top of the announce table, a buckling leg slid into a hole in the desk leaving the 39-year-old tangled and stranded. Owens would retain by count-out before delivering a customary post-match blow.
In the women’s division, the Welcoming Committee of Natalya, Carmella and Tamina were victorious in six-person tag action as they downed the trio of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Naomi after a crunching sharpshooter from Natalya left Lynch with no option but to submit. Dissension has been gently teased within both of these teams and, in the wake of the match, you fully expected to see Charlotte turn on her team mates – so accustomed are we to seeing her play the bad guy – but that particular bullet wasn’t fired on this occasion leaving fans to wonder whether The Queen is biding her time and brooding, or whether the treachery may come from elsewhere.
The tag team titles on Smackdown remained with the Usos after they successfully defended against Breezango in a match that was far more entertaining than it perhaps should have been. Tyler Breeze has been operating as a master of disguise in recent weeks and some nifty outfits at Backlash saw him wrestle dressed as a grandmother at one point (you read that correctly); craziness that was only egged on by chants of ‘Let’s go, Grandma!’ from the live crowd. Comedy aside, Breezango more than played their part in a very watchable match that delivered what was probably the right result in the end.
Former Wyatt Family members Luke Harper and Erick Rowan tangled in the penultimate match of the night. The crowd was taking a very brief respite in the wake of the Owens-Styles match and rarely engaged with what was a brief match that saw Harper pick up the victory. The placing and length of the match didn’t do either superstar much justice but it’s only fair to recognise just how well the pair of them work inside a wrestling ring despite their huge size and physical frame. Harper in particular is a unique talent and I’d love to see him go on to new things now.
Sami Zayn picked up one of the night’s other big wins as he defeated Baron Corbin. Zayn has pretty much trademarked the underdog tag since his rise from NXT and he never looked like coming out on top in this one after sustaining what was effectively a 15-minute pummelling at the hands of the impressive Corbin – another giant athlete capable of so much in the squared circle. The match may have gone a little long but did more than enough to ensure these two will tangle again in due course.
On reflection, Backlash was another decent offering from Smackdown as it continues to outshine Raw in so many departments each week. The blue brand markets itself as the land of opportunity – perhaps fitting, then, that here starts the reign of Jinder Mahal as the most unlikely of WWE champions.
WWE Backlash results:
Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English via pinfall
Shinsuke Nakamure def. Dolph Ziggler via pinfall
Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Usos def. Breezango via pinfall
Sami Zayn def. Baron Corbin via pinfall
The Welcoming Committee def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Naomi
US Champion Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles via count-out
Luke Harper def. Erick Rowan via pinfall
Jinder Mahal def. WWE Champion Randy Orton via pinfall (new WWE Champion)Reuse content