Monday, May 6, 2024

WWE Backlash 2024 Review: The Crowd Chants in Lyon, France

WWE's followup to WrestleMania, Backlash France, has come and gone.  And it was a very strong, streamlined, three-hour show with five matches, minimal nonsense between bouts, and a molten crowd clearly starving for live wrestling.

A note about that crowd: the atmosphere was insane throughout this show and somehow this crowd never got tired.  There were chants, songs, lots of jumping up and down; no doubt these folks were having a helluva time.  Farbeit for me to disabuse anyone of having fun at a wrestling show, but my only complaint is that unlike a crowd that's white-hot for a specific match or for every specific match, this crowd was white-hot just for being in the building.  They weren't really responding that much to the action itself, which as a viewer left me distracted from the matches rather than enhancing them.  A lot of the major beats of each match didn't get the big pops that add juice to a great wrestling match; the crowd was just excited to see wrestling in front of them.  I'll certainly take this over a dead crowd, but for me it wasn't the same as say, the WrestleMania crowd or the Revolution crowd, where their attention was fixated on the matches and their energy took specific spots and moments to the next level.

Another note about Triple H's media scrum comments: Knock that shit off.  You sound like Trump crying "fake news" every time something negative is (accurately) reported.  If you missed this story, a journalist at the end of the scrum asked Hunter about the reports from Fightful and PWInsider saying Drew Gulak was let go by the company due to Ronda Rousey's accusation of his inappropriate behavior toward her (which of course Drew denied, saying "I went to shake her hand and it accidentally brushed the string of her sweatpants." Yeah, sure thing bud.).  Rather than saying something that would've been GOOD for optics, like "We take these accusations very seriously and we decided not to renew Drew's contract," Hunter said "First of all, if you're going to cite news sources cite some good ones," and followed it up with "We didn't release Drew, his contract ran out and we opted not to renew it," as though this had zero to do with Ronda's accusations.  Tone-deaf as fucking always.  WWE and Hunter both privately apologized to Fightful and PWInsider after publicly slamming them.  Didn't some guy now in WWE once say "The apology better be as loud as the disrespect?"  I guess Levesque doesn't agree with that sentiment.  Fuck that guy.
Anyway, this show managed five good-or-better matches and no bad ones, so as WWE PPVs go this was close to top-notch.  The festivites kicked off with Solo Sikoa and Tama Tonga vs. Randy Orton and Kevin Owens, and the two teams immediately brawled all over ringside.  When security tried to get them under control the wrestlers started pummeling them too.  Finally Smackdown GM Nick Aldis came out and announced this would be a street fight, and from there we were treated to the usual WWE bells and whistles.  Trash cans, kendo sticks, chairs and tables.  This was all done very well as WWE street fights go, but my issue with WWE street fights is there are never really any surprises; they do pretty much the same stuff every time.  The big highlight reel spot came at the end when Kevin Owens set up four chairs in the ring and then he and Tonga battled for control on the turnbuckles.  Owens finally locked in the fisherman buster and drove Tonga through the chairs, but the three-count was interrupted by the debut of Tonga's brother Tanga Loa, who pulled the referee out of the ring.  And then came a ridiculously long dramatic pause from everyone so the cameras could hover on a closeup of Loa's face.  Seriously, Owens and Orton just kinda stood there like dopes.  Finally Solo attacked Owens from behind and hit a uranage through a chair for the win.  This was a good brawl but WWE needs to learn how to do a dramatic closeup without making everyone suspend disbelief for it to happen.  Also all the folks going ga-ga over the possibility of Guerrillas of Destiny vs. The Usos are making me laugh.  Quick, name your favorite GoD match.  Thought so.  ***3/4

Next up was the Smackdown Women's Title match, as Bayley defended against Naomi and Tiffany Stratton.  This was full of fun action, with Stratton's athleticism the standout.  Tiffany is still pretty green but she's got a ton of natural ability and loads of potential.  With that said, I'd probably have put her in a showcase match of some sort to give her a big win.  This got the least amount of time on the show but didn't feel shortchanged.  They built to a series of nearfalls and cradles, with Bayley finally getting a flash pin on Naomi to retain.  Very solid match.  ****

One of the two weakest bouts on the show for me was Damian Priest vs. Jey Uso, which was mechanically fine but lacked anything really special about it.  The crowd was very much into Jey and his "yeet" stuff.  These guys worked hard and had a back-and-forth match, with both JD McDonough and Finn Balor attempting to interfere.  Priest admonished both guys for it, especially after the match, the story being that Judgment Day is falling apart without its real leader Rhea Ripley.  Jey had the match won after a spear but JD put Priest's foot on the rope.  Jey took out both Judgment Day guys but rolled back into the ring and got chokeslammed off the second rope, giving Priest the win.  It looks like Priest is turning good, just in time for him to defend against Drew McIntyre in Drew's home country.  That's odd timing to say the least.  Maybe Priest will drop the title and THEN turn good?  Maybe Finn and JD will inadvertently cost him the belt.  Anyway, this was fine but not much more.  ***1/2

The penultimate match went from being one of the strongest things on the show to being a near-trainwreck, before they brought it in for a soft landing.  The upshot is, of the 17 minutes they got, the portions where Bianca Belair was in the ring were very good, the segments where Jade Cargill had to do anything but big crowd-pleasing moves were a mess.  I asked this question before: What have they been teaching Jade at the Performance Center?  She can still do cool-looking moves, like she's always been able to do.  What she still can't do is sell or transition from one spot to the next.  There were moments here that reminded me of Sycho Sid, where he'd get punched and sell badly, and just wait, motionless, for the next thing to happen, as though he were trying to remember what he was supposed to do next.  This is how Jade looks anytime she's on the defensive.  Bianca took most of the first ten minutes, minus a brief stint where Jade cleaned house before tagging out, and the match was going swimmingly.  Then Jade got the hot tag, ran wild, got cut off, and the wheels came off the wagon.  There were numerous blown spots and at one point Kairi Sane went for a cover but the referee told her she wasn't the legal woman, but she didn't go trade places with Asuka, she just carried on doing moves.  Seems like the ref made a mistake.  After three or four pretty excruciating minutes things finally got back on track and they built to the babyfaces each doing their finish on Kairi to win the titles.  On balance I'll give this a gentleman's ***, but Jade STILL needs a ton of work to learn how to carry her end of anything more than a Goldberg squash.

The match of the night, as expected, was the Cody Rhodes-AJ Styles main event for the WWE Title.  This was sort of a mix of a WWE-style main event and a NJPW G1 bout, with the pacing of the former and the more creative moveset of the latter.  They got 27 minutes and it felt like about 27 minutes, contrary to a great NJPW main event that feels like 15.  The crowd was very into AJ, singing some French "Phenomenal" song every time he did something.  The most talked-about spot in this match was of course the moment where AJ hit a Burning Hammer (first time I've seen that move in WWE I think) and Cody kicked out at one.  So here's the deal: I'm not at all against the kickout at one, like basically ever.  People go ballistic whenever anyone in AEW or NJPW does it, but most of the time I think it's great.  It's dramatic, it's memorable, and most importantly it pops the crowd.  This was the wrong crowd to do this spot, because they were so loud and so into the singing and chanting that most of them missed it when it happened.  There was a very delayed response, and it made the spot feel wasted.  Also, generally when this kind of thing is done, it's off someone's finisher, which is a shock because it's the finisher, or it's off one guy stealing another guy's finisher, and the guy taking the move kicks out at one to make a statement - "You're not beating me with my own move, fuck that shit."  This was just AJ hitting a move he's never used before and Cody kicking out at one and firing up.  There wasn't a story reason for it to be a one-count instead of a two-count.  Like I said, I generally love this spot but WWE just didn't use it right.  Anyway Cody made a comeback, hit a messy top-rope springboard cutter where he overshot AJ, and followed up with a CrossRhodes to retain the title.  This was AJ's best match since probably 2019, and definitely one of Cody's best in WWE.  But spare me the "Cody vs. AJ >>>> Danielson vs. Ospreay" shit, alright?  If you've watched both matches honestly you know that's nonsense.  ****1/2

So yeah, a very good Backlash with an excellent main event.  No real surprises other than Tanga Loa showing up.  Super, another year of the Bloodline angle....

Best Match: Cody vs. AJ
Worst Match: Kabuki Warriors vs. Bianca & Jade
What I'd Change: Cut the women's tag match down to 12 minutes or give Jade a ton of house show reps before putting her in that position.
Most Disappointing Match: Women's tag
Most Pleasant Surprise: Dunno
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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