What a perfect summary for WWE Backlash 2018.
At the 8 PM eastern hour, Seth Rollins and The Miz battled in an Intercontinental title match that may well be hailed WWE's best main roster match of 2018. Before the show, somebody had leaked a photo of the card's 'run sheet' onto social media, and the listed producer for the Rollins/Miz match was one TJ Wilson (Tyson Kidd). Wilson was also credited for producing a Rollins/Finn Balor match on Raw some time back, so I'm thinking that Mr Wilson is due for a hefty raise.
After that match...oof. The remaining seven bouts ranged anywhere from 'decent' to 'this is a rib, right?' There have been events in WWE's annals that have started out with an excellent match prior to going off the rails, and slamming into a crowd of people with regrettable fury. December to Dismember, TLC 2014, Battleground 2017, they all come to mind. It's pretty safe to add Backlash 2018 to that collection.
Let's look back at Backlash 2018 and see what we learned...
10. What Did You Do, Homer?!
Part of the reason that "Paige here!" became such a morbid meme goes beyond the awkwardness of the video. People also noted that Paige was wearing the sort of cosmetic job that could've only come from Homer Simpson's double-barrel make-up gun. To say that it was excessive would be like saying that flood damage is slightly wet.
Paige hasn't been the only victim of this need to overdo it with the facial glitz. Taking one look at Bayley and her garish eye job on the Kickoff Show, and my first thought was, "well, maybe she just has a really bad pollen allergy." While it's true that all TV personalities have to "put on a face" to some degree, the reaction of the viewer to said make-up application should never be, "What the hell did you *do*?"
9. TJ Wilson Could Stand To Have His Workload Doubled Or Tripled
This isn't to diminish the efforts of both Seth Rollins and The Miz, who across 20 minutes had the crowd in Newark biting on false finishes like they were bacon-scented fishing lures. I thought that nothing in Miz's career portfolio would ever equal the heart-stopping match he had with Dolph Ziggler at No Mercy 2016, but well...
While none of us on the outside know just how much of Wilson's fingerprints were on this match, it's safe to say that he should take pride in whatever involvement he had. That was truly an excellent match, and if his involvement in the planning took it to that lofty level, then by all means, give him a bigger chunk of the pie. Actually, he'd probably get a ****1/2 match out of a Dutch apple and a cherry.
8. Fans Don't Like Anti-Bullying PSAs (At Least, Not The Sincere Kind)
When Alexa Bliss starred in those charmingly-smarmy PSAs that decried Nia Jax's alleged instances of "bullying", one could really appreciate her wonderfully-contemptible roleplaying. The amount of conviction in Alexa's understated revelations was some truly inspired stuff, and draws the complete opposite response of Nia's "be proud of yourself, and don't put up with bullies" post-match promo.
I'm not sure whose idea it was to such a mawkishly-saccharine promo like that in Newark, which is for all intents and purposes an extension of blue-collar New York City. WWE had already been mocked plenty over the years for their involvement with the Be a Star initiative, in part due to running storylines that see babyfaces ruthlessly shame their heel rivals. Trying to get such an after-school-special message over in a part of the country that still misses its ECW fix was practically a magnet for annoyed boos.
7. "Rusev Day" Can Spice Up Any Resthold
One of the matches that didn't exactly meet fan expectations was Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy's US Title match, as it was right about here that you could begin to feel the wheels coming off of the show. In fairness, it was probably the third best match of the night, even if the crowd wasn't too keen on watching Orton carry out his methodical offence.
This was made clear when Orton clamped down on one of his patented Chinlocks near the midway point, and Newark voiced their appreciation by collectively acknowledging the holiday that was in progress. While I personally enjoy Orton's matches (I can sit through any methodically-paced MSG house show on WWE Network, but I know I'm in the minority), you can see others are less thrilled. That's especially considering that Orton/Hardy was only two matches removed from Rollins/Miz, which is, admittedly, like going from a Ferrari to a conveyor belt.
6. Elias Is Just Fantastic
The segment in which a million and one willing-and-able midcard talents did a comedy bit (instead of wrestling) went on for a bit too long, and sadly was not hammered home by a one-night reunion of 3MB. The bit had its moments, but yeah, it was starting to reach "Rock insults the Wyatts and pins one of them" levels of tedious.
One positive that will never cease being true is that Elias is a pro's pro. Not only are his poise and delivery perfect for the role he plays, but his sense of subtlety and timing are just as on point. The highlight of his opening spiel came when he threatened to walk out if the crowd didn't shut up. To milk the reactions, Elias took two steps as if he were about to leave (to cheers), then backtracked those two steps (to boos), repeating the act a few times in what will probably remain in his routine going forward. A dedicated heel that clearly has fun working the crowd into a frenzy is a damn good thing, thus Elias is a damn good performer.
5. Commentators With Emotional Attachment Are A Good Thing
There's not a whole lot to say about the Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass match. It was a decent little bout with Bryan bumping in deference to Cass' size, and the crowd favourite going over via a clean-as-a-whistle finish. There wasn't much to write home about, but it was a fine midcard match.
What I enjoyed was Corey Graves' reaction to Cass' post-match attack, in which he savagely ragdolled Bryan around the ringside area. Bryan, as we all know, only recently returned after a concussion-related layoff of several years, and Graves (no stranger to career-altering head injuries) was deeply appalled by Cass' actions. While Graves does tend to heavily favour those on the rulebreaking side of the aisle with a few exceptions (see: Elias), to see understandable emotion spilling out of a performer (one whose job is to parrot company-approved lines and buzzphrases) does its job to enhance the physical product. More of that, please.
4. Carmella Screams. Like, A Lot
You could understand the design of the SmackDown Women's title match: Charlotte is athletically-superior to Carmella, and Carmella is the female Honky Tonk Man, in that she's lucky to have even won a single match, let alone hold championship gold. Carmella rightfully plays it cruelly obnoxious, which in theory would make the fans root harder for Charlotte to try and rip her apart.
That was the story that they tried to tell in a match that was 60 percent Carmella screeching like a baby bird, 30 percent restholds, and 10 percent substantial activity. The match didn't need to be a technical classic like Charlotte vs. Asuka (nor should it have been - Carmella's shtick is playing an unworthy champion), but that wasn't exactly the most enjoyable 10-minute match. And Charlotte getting pinned with a kick to the leg? What is this, the 1988 Survivor Series?
3. Throwing A Chair Is Like Throwing A Grenade - It Can Imperil The Thrower Themselves
The AJ Styles-Shinsuke Nakamura No-Disqualification match was picking up steam before the unsatisfying finish, in which each man incapacitated the other with a simultaneous swift kick to the plums. This leads one to believe that Money in the Bank will see the two face off in a Last Man Standing match. Or perhaps a Last Junk Functioning match.
The most notable spot saw Styles throw a chair at Nakamura's legs on a Kinshasa attempt, only for the chair to ricochet back, striking Styles squarely in the cheek. If you ever wondered what true "hardway juice" looks like, look no further than the side of Styles' mug after that little mishap. Let's just be grateful that the chair's lip or leg didn't catch the champ in the eye.
2. Sometimes, Even Braun Strowman Can't Save The Crowd
From the time that Bryan made Cass tap out to the YES Lock, up until the penultimate match, there wasn't much for the fans to get excited about. Pre-show match included, Backlash 2018 was hovering around three hours in run-time, and no match had proven satisfactory since the incredible Intercontinental title bout. Needless to say, when it came time for Strowman and Bobby Lashley to face Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, the Prudential Center staff could've made a mint selling IV bags filled with Red Bull.
While Strowman has demonstrated the power over the past year to make fans sit up and gleefully take notice, this was a losing battle. Why WWE insists on these marathon shows that generally have little in the way of paradigm-shifting moments is beyond anyone's comprehension. But it's a bad sign when even Braun can't save the day. And he once got 78,000 fans to care about a 10-year-old kid challenging for a belt.
1. We're Gonna Be Hearing "Beat The Traffic" A Lot Going Forward
Today's heckling fan likes to have their own buzzphrases, able to be pulled from the hip pocket at just the right time. "This is awful" and "Same old s--t" have aged a beat, and even "CM Punk" is as yelled as Punker's "Best in the World' shirt these days.
The fans in Newark, however, busted out "Beat the traffic" for the unexpectedly-slow main event pitting Roman Reigns against Samoa Joe, to go along with some standard "boring" chants. It does beg the question how fans could chant that if they're remaining in their seats - like, shouldn't they be yelling that *as* they file out? No matter, a huge chunk of crowd behind the ringside commentators was blacked out during the main event, and a considerable number of spectators were reported to be filing out before and during the match. But for as long as WWE continues to put certain unpopular stars in the main event, this chant is sure to catch on.