Posted September 10th, 2016 by Bill Apter


By Don Murphy

Sunday night marks the first single-brand pay-per-view since the WWE’s roster split earlier this year, as the Smackdown brand presents Backlash, emanating from Richmond, Virginia. The build to this show has been an uphill battle, particularly given the brand’s lack of roster depth, compared to its Monday night counterpart. In addition, the show faces stiff competition for viewership, as it is going up against the first Sunday night game of the 2016 NFL season. However, with a streamlined card of only six matches, including four championship matches and a guarantee of at least two new champions being crowned, this show has the potential to be solid, particularly in terms of in-ring action. The nice thing about the limited star power on the Smackdown side is that it forces the creative team to give lower card talent the opportunity to grow and fine-tune their characters, with the desired goal of creating new main event-level workers. That being said, let’s run down Sunday’s card….

Main Event: Dean Ambrose defends the WWE World Heavyweight Title against AJ Styles

Analysis: When AJ Styles debuted in the WWE this past January, his early work showed a man who had the ability, but lacked confidence as he performed on the big stage. Since that time, he has found his swagger, greatly improved his promo work and continues to be a phenomenal (pardon the pun) talent, even at an older age. His match against John Cena at SummerSlam will be a “Match of the Year” contender for sure. For Dean Ambrose, while he is a lukewarm fan favorite, his act has never really taken off in a way that you’d hope your heavyweight champion would. With this match, I think creative will continue to tell the story of AJ Styles’ rise to prominence at the top of the WWE. Ambrose will continue to stay in the title picture, but with AJ’s two victories over John Cena and Cena taking time off to film his reality show, I can see a scenario where they drag the Cena-AJ feud all the way to a final showdown at WrestleMania next year for the WWE Title and final bragging rights as “the face that runs the place.”

Murphy Predicts: AJ Styles wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Singles Match: Randy Orton faces Bray Wyatt

Analysis: This is a tough match to predict. As I mentioned, Smackdown lacks depth, in terms of main event heels and babyfaces. A loss by either one isn’t the end of the world, as both have enough credibility to look strong in their next program. But, with Orton coming off a SummerSlam loss where he clearly presented as inferior to Lesnar and Wyatt not coming out on the winning end of a program for the last year, if not longer, the writers will have to find a creative way to tell this story and book the finish in a way that causes as little character damage as possible. In this case, I see the lesser of the two evils as Wyatt doing the honors here, as the babyface side is much more depleted and it’s clear that they’re establishing AJ Styles as the top heel, which would give them more time to rebuild Wyatt, or repackage him and move him in a different direction.

Murphy Predicts: Randy Orton defeats Bray Wyatt

WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz defends the WWE Intercontinental Championship against Dolph Ziggler

Analysis: The Miz’s promo on Daniel Bryan, as part of “Talking Smack” a few weeks back was his best promo work in years. The snobby A-list act wasn’t getting over with the audience, while this more serious, yet still cowardly Miz is much more intriguing. The WWE is reverting to a formula that has worked so well for them in the past. You give the audience an obnoxious heel champion that they know can be beat, you get them to spend their money to see him get beat, only to have him find a way to escape with the title time after time. Right now, the Miz is the WWE’s best chance to bring the Intercontinental Championship back to relevance. With Ziggler, it’s pretty much the same old act. He’ll give you a stellar in-ring performance, but can never grow his character and performance to the next level. This past Tuesday night on commentary, Ziggler said that a loss would cause him to “evaluate things.” Hopefully, that’s a hint to a heel turn down the road. Some time away and a character change could be just what he needs to get to that next level.

Murphy Predicts: The Miz retains the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Smackdown Tag Team Tournament Semi-Finals and Finals: The Usos take on the Hype Bros, with the winners facing Heath Slater and Rhyno to be crowned the first-ever Smackdown Tag Team Champions

Analysis: While the Smackdown tag team division also lacks depth, creative is making the most of what they have. I really liked the Chad Gable injury angle that played on Tuesday night’s Smackdown broadcast. American Alpha has the potential to be a main-event level tag team, but putting the belts on them now would be too soon. The Usos have been stuck in the same position for so long, that their heel turn will give them a much needed refresh. I’m still not quite sure where they are going with the Slater/Rhyno dynamic, but it seems that Slater’s act is over with the fanbase, whether he wins or loses. So, I see the Usos winning the tournament, which sets them up to feud with the other babyface tag teams until creative is ready to re-debut American Alpha, which should lead to some pretty solid matches with the Usos for the titles.

Murphy Predicts: The Usos become the first-ever Smackdown Tag Team Champions

Six-Pack Challenge: Natalya faces Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Nikki Bella, Naomi and Carmella. The winner will be crowned the first-ever Smackdown Women’s Champion

Analysis: Putting all six women together in one match could be considered lazy booking. But, considering they’re already doing a tournament with the tag team division, this is fine. I am hoping that once we crown a champion, we actually get some better stories out of the division, because so far, it’s just been a series of matches, with no direction. Logically, it would make sense for creative to put the title on Natalya, as the veteran of the group and the only one, perhaps besides Becky Lynch, who would make the title seem important. Plus, it would set up a nice feud between Natalya and Lynch for the title. Down the road, I can see Bliss and Carmella getting their title runs, but I think at this stage, a little more seasoning is necessary. Putting the title back on Nikki Bella is an option, but she’s too tied into a reality show and since Raw’s women’s division is really focusing on the in-ring element, Natalya gives the WWE its best chance of carrying that mindset over to Smackdown.

Murphy Predicts: Natalya becomes the first-ever Smackdown Women’s Champion

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Category: Wrestling.

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