The return to dual-branded pay-per-views begins with a trot rather than sprint at WWE Backlash 2018.
The days of Raw and SmackDown Live producing their own events are gone. B-level shows like Backlash will feature stars from both brands moving forward.
Sunday's show in Newark, New Jersey, doesn't feel like the big deal WWE surely wants it to be, though.
A booking detour to hype April 27's Greatest Royal Rumble event is partly to blame. WWE couldn't charge straight toward Backlash after coming out of WrestleMania. It had an extravaganza in Saudi Arabia to take care of first.
As a result, a lower-voltage electricity surrounds Sunday's PPV. There has been little time to build up marquee bouts. Stories haven't had time to simmer.
AJ Styles' latest clash with Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship will likely be quite good. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe should be a collision of bulls. The latest leg of the Daniel Bryan return offers some intrigue. Even so, Backlash feels like a bridge between WrestleMania and the top shows on the calendar next.
The following is a look at the matches lined up for Sunday night and projections about how things may shake out.
News, Potential Spoilers
Jason Jordan could be back in the mix soon. The former Raw tag team champion has been out with a neck injury for most of the year, but PWInsider.com's Mike Johnson reports that he "is slated to return later this month to the Raw brand."
While it may be a few weeks until Jordan gets into the ring, there's a chance he will make an appearance before that and avoid getting physical.
It's less clear when Big Show's return will come, however. According to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc), WWE wanted to book the veteran for the Greatest Royal Rumble but a new injury put him out of action again a few weeks back.
And while Backlash seems an unlikely place to do it, a WWE-Hulk Hogan reunion is apparently on the horizon. TMZ Sports reported: "Plans to bring Hulk Hogan back to the squared circle are currently underway."
The company cut all ties with The Hulkster in 2015 after the release of audio featuring Hogan using racially charged language.
- Bayley vs. Ruby Riott
- Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn vs. Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley
- Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton (United States Championship)
- Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss (Raw Women's Championship)
- Seth Rollins vs. The Miz (Intercontinental Championship)
- Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass
- Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe
- Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair (SmackDown Women's Championship)
- AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (No Disqualification match for the WWE Championship)
- Riott over Bayley.
- Strowman and Lashley over Owens and Zayn.
- Hardy over Orton.
- Jax over Bliss.
- Rollins over The Miz.
- Big Cass over Bryan.
- Reigns over Joe.
- Carmella over Flair.
- Styles over Nakamura.
David vs. Goliath
When fans dreamed up matches Daniel Bryan could have if WWE medically cleared him, this wasn't one of them. But while Bryan's attempts to chop down Big Cass aren't going to result in a five-star technical masterpiece, it will offer a strong story.
Cass made an immediate impact upon his SmackDown Live arrival post-WrestleMania, laying out Bryan on his first night. Evidently, envy drove him to it because he revealed he was tired of how much more attention Bryan's journey to the ring received than his own. He later ousted Bryan from the Greatest Royal Rumble, ending the underdog's dreams of an improbable win from the No. 1 spot.
Bryan, who has only recently gone from SmackDown general manager to active competitor, now has revenge on his mind.
For Big Cass, this is a chance to prove himself as a main event-level talent. For Bryan, this marks his first singles PPV match since his return from a three-year layoff. That fact alone ups the interest level of this clash.
Hoss Fight, Grudge Match
Backlash is assured one bona fide slobberknocker thanks to these two rivals.
Roman Reigns is at his best in slugfests that overflow with physicality. Samoa Joe is adept at brawling as well. Throw them in the same ring and add the simmering tension that's been built up over several months in an on-and-off feud, and you have quite the explosive matchup.
Reigns and Joe's issues date back more than a year.
The snarling heel is one of the few men who can boast multiple victories over Reigns. The Big Dog, though, stood in the way when Joe sought to win the Intercontinental Championship a few months back. They will meet again Sunday, with each man representing a different brand.
It's not explicitly stated, but this feels like a No. 1 Contender's match. One has to believe a Reigns win would help him get yet another shot at dethroning Brock Lesnar, while a Joe victory would likely propel him to the WWE title picture.
Queen vs. Princess
In their most recent title bout, Carmella was the trophy hunter and Charlotte Flair was the champion looking to hold tight to her crown. The roles are reversed this time.
Carmella waited until after The IIconics waylaid The Queen shortly after WrestleMania to pounce. She cashed in her Money in the Bank contract, cracked her boot against her weary foe's jaw and took home the championship.
If The Princess of Staten Island is going to retain Sunday, she will probably have to rely on underhanded means. Cheating, cheap shots and perhaps even some assistance from The IIconics could be on the way.
The somewhat unproven Carmella doesn't have a wealth of standout matches on her resume. She has a hell of a shot to add one, however, when she goes up against a top-notch performer in Flair.
Styles vs. Nakamura II
A rivalry built on mutual respect has turned nasty, and it's been a joy to watch.
Nakamura responded to his loss to Styles at WrestleMania by smashing him in the plums. That's been The King of Strong Style's go-to move ever since, blasting the champ with low blows at every change.
It's all been a part of a transformation that has seen Nakamura embrace villainy and find his groove in the process.
Because Styles and Nakamura's WWE title bout at the Greatest Royal Rumble went to a double count-out, SmackDown brass chose to add a No Disqualification stipulation to their match at Backlash. Now, they won't be constrained by rules.
Still, it doesn't seem as if the climax of this feud is imminent. This is something WWE could surely stretch out until SummerSlam.
That could be said for much of the card, as Backlash is poised to write the early chapters of many a narrative.