WWE Backlash: Smackdown Live stars take centre stage as Shinsuke Nakamura makes in-ring debut

Randy Orton also puts his WWE championship on the line against Jinder Mahal

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The Independent Online

There’s a wild night in store for WWE fans on Sunday when Smackdown Live’s Backlash pay-per-view emanates from Chicago.

The Allstate Arena is always home to a lively and very vocal crowd and there should be no changes there come Sunday night when the Blue brand gets the chance to strut its stuff.

Smackdown’s television offerings in recent weeks have been thoroughly enjoyable while their counterparts on Raw have laboured a little. No doubt having one less hour  to fill each week works in their favour but there’s just a feeling that Tuesday nights are edging out Monday evenings at this very moment.

At Backlash we have a stacked card of matches, headlined by the WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and challenger Jinder Mahal. Having been utilised purely as a lower-card talent for much of his career with the company to-date, Mahal’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Many feel that the lack of solid heels on the show at the moment have had a hand in that, but to say so would be doing a disservice to the 30-year-old whose definitely looks and sounds the part of a main event talent.

Make no mistake, there is a little laziness here – Vince McMahon and WWE have always loved the traditional anti-American heel character over the years and the list of stars to fit that bill is plentiful – The Iron Sheik, Sargent Slaughter, Ludvig Borga, Bret Hart, Muhammed Hassan and Rusev are just a few to have trodden that path in recent years to varying degrees of success, and while you’d be right to think WWE is recycling an old trick to some extent, you’d also have to accept that it’s still working. Mahal’s promos and bad-guy antics are well-executed enough to elicit the kind of response that’s desired – so much so that it would not shock me at all to see him steal a victory and, with it, Orton’s Championship. It would be a brave move considering Mahal’s lack of experience in the main event scene, but it would be befitting of Smackdown to see it happen.

Elsewhere, United States Champion Kevin Owens has been doing sterling work as the self-anointed Face of America lately and his latest task is to defend against AJ Styles who has been enjoying a popularity boom in WWE since Wrestlemania. There’s no doubting that Styles is destined to be in the WWE title picture long-term, but it is no shun to him to see him duelling with Owens – if I had to line up my customary match-of-the-night pick, this one should be it.

After several weeks of build-up, we’ll finally get an on-screen look at Shinsuke Nakamura in a Smackdown Live ring on Sunday as he goes up against veteran Dolph Ziggler. The former NXT Champion graduated to the main roster in the wake of Wrestlemania weekend but, thus far, has yet to face action. These two have been trying out their match on the recent WWE Live tour of Europe ad it’s one that’s definitely worth a watch. There’s only one winner in this feud in the long run, but there’s every chance Ziggler might sneak one in Chicago.

Smackdown still seems to be sizing up its new-look women’s division – the entire roster is packed in to one match at Backlash as, in a six-person tag bout, Champion Naomi teams with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair to battle the Welcoming Committee of Natalya, Carmella and Tamina. The superstar shake-up of a few weeks ago has left the women in a little bit of limbo at the moment and I can only assume much of that has to do with the status of Charlotte. Having worked so flawlessly on Raw for the last couple of years in a villainous role, she’s been playing the good girl (or at least slightly more well-behaved) lately. Quite whether that continues past Sunday night remains to be seen, if you know what I mean…

Charlotte Flair is currently behaving herself on Smackdown Live (WWE)

Tag team Champions The Usos have been revelling in their mean streak over the last number of months and on Sunday they defend against the Breezango – the team of Fandango and Tyler Breeze.  This duo have emerged as unlikely challengers in recent weeks but their growing popularity cannot be underestimated.

The night’s other action packs in three more singles matches; the bizarre former Wyatt Family brethren Erick Rowan and Luke Harper will do battle in a match I’d expect to get a little odd; Sami Zayn faces an uphill task against Baron Corbin; while the pre-show boasts a hidden gem of a match as Tye Dillinger goes up against Aiden English as more young talent gets a chance to shine.

With big events across the weekend for WWE and Raw’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view also fast approaching, there’s never a dull moment in the relentless soap opera that is WWE – but Backlash might be one show worth standing still for.

Catch WWE Backlash live on WWE Network on Sunday night - see wwe.com for more details.