1. The Underappreciated Underdog
Sami Zayn is not on the poster for WWE Backlash 2017. He's not in a title match or a highly pushed bout. WWE only added his name to Sunday's pay-per-view five days before the event.
Zayn is set to face Baron Corbin at Backlash, a fact the audience found out on Tuesday night when The Underdog from the Underground told Dasha Fuentes that his request for a match had been granted. Corbin then ambushed him before heading out to the ring to take on WWE champ Randy Orton.
There was no contract signing, no challenge barked from the center of the ring, no hype video.
The quiet way in which Zayn found his way on to the Backlash card is symbolic of his place on the SmackDown roster. Jinder Mahal is in the midst of the push of his life. Tyler Breeze and Fandango have their own weekly comedy segments. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are looking to spotlight and elevate the United States Champion as challenger and titleholder, respectively.
There's not enough airtime left to give Zayn's story much attention.
His issues with Corbin have been far less prominent than Mahal's bad blood with Orton, Styles' pursuit of Owens and The Welcoming Committee's clashes with Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Naomi.
Fans hoping that Zayn's move to SmackDown from Raw would bring about more spotlight and opportunity have had to be patient. The blue brand doesn't appear ready to make the former NXT champion a priority.
For one, Zayn has lost all four of his matches on SmackDown, per the Internet Wrestling Database.
The good news is that he was in two No. 1 Contender's bouts during that stretch of defeats. The bad news is that he's been presented as the dark horse each time. And few believe he has a chance against Corbin on Sunday.
John Canton wrote for TJR Wrestling: "I'd be shocked if Corbin doesn't beat Zayn at Backlash."
For now, Zayn's role looks to be the stepping stone of SmackDown, just as he was on Raw. Mahal stomped on him en route to his WWE title match, echoing what Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman did against him on the red brand. It's now The Lone Wolf's turn.
Eventually, WWE has to change this dynamic.
Zayn is one of SmackDown's top in-ring performers. He's a popular star who fans sing for when he competes. He's thrived in feuds against Strowman and Owens and is likely to make Corbin look tremendous. And as Total Wrestling Magazine pointed out, he's a top-notch babyface:
Backlash won't be his time to rise, and that's fine. There is only so much space on center stage at any given time.
Moving forward, though, WWE must carve out a higher spot for Zayn.
2. Fox's Long Slump
If your jaw dropped when Alicia Fox pinned Sasha Banks on Monday's Raw, you certainly weren't alone. The former Divas champ has not been familiar with victory of late.
Fox hadn't won a one-on-one match on Raw since Jan. 12, 2015, going winless in her last 10 tries, per CageMatch.net. Her overall record in the 20 matches before beating The Boss was 7-12-1. Her last singles victory on PPV came in 2010.
And she had a paltry .217 winning percentage in 2016. Even the Phoenix Suns outdid that mark this NBA season.
Should this turn into a shift of momentum for Fox, it will be a welcome sight. So often the women's revolution has left her behind. She doesn't need to go on an Asuka-level streak, but making her a threat again is good business.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam first invaded WWE 20 years ago.
On May 12, 1997, Jerry Lawler welcomed RVD from Extreme Championship Wrestling and dubbed him "Mr. Monday Night." He took on Jeff Hardy, an unknown talent at the time:
It's hard to imagine WWE bringing in another promotion's star in like it did with Van Dam here. It would be like seeing Jay Lethal pop up on Raw one night and Corey Graves talk about how he was the best thing going in Ring of Honor.
4. WWE Adds Another All-Star
The future of WWE women's division is getting as bright as a supernova.
A roster that already boasts Charlotte Flair, Asuka and recently Kairi Hojo will reportedly soon add Io Shirai of Kanagawa, Japan. Dave Meltzer reported for Figure Four Online: "Shirai, one of the biggest women's wrestling stars in Japan, has accepted WWE's offer to join the company."
Shirai has been a star for the World Wonder Ring Stardom promotion in Japan for years.
She's a hyper-athletic performer with a resume fat with great matches. She exudes emotion in the ring, is adept at the showmanship side of the game and is arguably the best female wrestler working today.
WWE fans are soon going to experience the magic that Japanese fans have since Shirai first stormed on to the scene.
5. Kevin Owens, Master Heel
The art of being a heel isn't lost. Not with Kevin Owens at least.
At a recent live event, someone asked for an autograph, and KO refused to break character. As seen on a a WWE Instagram post, he threw down the fan's pen and paper with disdain:
It's refreshing to see someone so committed to making the audience hate him.
Owens is vicious on Twitter, once left a seven-year-old Roman Reigns fan in tears and clearly has no patience for autograph-seekers. He's not lying; he really is a national treasure.
6. King of Saturday Night
When The Rock hosts the season finale of Saturday Night Live this weekend, it will be his fifth time in the role.
Back in 2000, The Rock brought a number of his fellow WWE Superstars to the show. Triple H and The Great One nearly turned 30 Rock into the site of a No Disqualification match. The Rock has gone on to play Angry Obama, Bambi and Mr. Peeper's father.
As fun as he's been on SNL, WWE fans are more interested in when he's going to make Monday nights electric again.
7. Backlash Blast from the Past
Sunday's PPV will mark the 13th event in Backlash's history and the second in a row after a seven-year gap.
A look back at the first edition, Backlash: In Your House in 1999, is both a reminder of how much things change and how much the Attitude Era lingers today. The results, per WWE.com, feature a number of familiar names.
A man who was victorious in the first Backlash's opening bout will be at this year's event. Bradshaw of The Acolytes (now John "Bradshaw" Layfield) will provide commentary for Sunday's PPV.
Steve Austin, The Godfather and Mankind (Mick Foley), who all competed that night, are all retired from active competition and have since entered the Hall of Fame.
Goldust lost to The Godfather that night. Big Show fell to Mankind. Some 18 years later, Goldust is still active and while Big Show isn't a regular, he is still chokeslamming folks in the ring.
One has to wonder which Superstars from Backlash 2017 will still be wrestling by the time Backlash 2035 comes around.
8. Getting to Know Object On a Pole Matches
After an altercation on Monday's Raw, Alexa Bliss and Bayley will do battle in a Kendo Stick on a Pole match at Extreme Rules.
That's an odd choice as a means for these rivals to settle the score, but it's not without precedence. Wrestling has long hung objects on poles and had enemies fight to retrieve it. And as much as it's become known as a Vince Russo specialty, he's far from the only one to enter that realm.
For a look at the strange world of pole-centric clashes, check out some of the most memorable ones within the genre:
- Jake Milliman vs. Col. DeBeers: AWA All-Star Wrestling, Nov. 26, 1989 (Turkey on a Pole)
- Jake Roberts vs. Sting: WCW Halloween Havoc 1992 (Coal Miner's Glove)
- Five Way Pinata on a Pole Match: WCW Nitro, Nov. 15 1999 (Pinata on a Pole)
- Calgary Kid vs. Eugene: Raw, Aug. 10, 2009 (Contract on a Pole)
- Dolph Ziggler vs. Fandango: Raw, Dec. 23, 2013 (Christmas Present on a Pole)
Hopefully, Bliss vs. Bayley is more on the serious side than these.
9. Next Monster Up
Braun Strowman won't be terrorizing Raw for a good while. WWE.com confirmed that he underwent elbow surgery and may be out for the next six months.
The red brand is going to miss his fearsome nature and acts of violence, but it has another man on the roster who can provide those things every Monday night—Samoa Joe.
While The Monster Among Men is mending, WWE would be smart to start highlighting Joe more. His airtime has been inconsistent since joining the main roster. This is a prime opportunity to change that.
The Destroyer is an imposing, unsettling beast. His threats on the mic are haunting. His in-ring style is akin to what panthers do to their prey.
Strowman's absence will certainly hurt, but Joe can step up and be Raw's resident mauler.
10. Ricochet Weighs In
Rip Rogers kicked off a debate about wrestling styles. Randy Orton set the internet ablaze by following up with a condescending rant.
Bill Hanstock of UPROXX recounted the whole situation, one that had fans and wrestlers discussing the importance of dives in wrestling and bickering about the whether the old-school approach or the modern way was better.
Former Lucha Underground champion Ricochet offered a welcome contribution to the conversation:
He's spot on here. There's a place for southern-style contests, high-octane spotfests, comedy bouts and even what went down at the House of Horrors match. Variety is a beautiful thing. We have to stop pretending that there's one right way to approach the art of wrestling.