Held for the first time since 2009, WWE Backlash on Sunday featured the crowning of three new champions. The festivities were highlighted by a crowning moment for AJ Styles, who defeated Dean Ambrose for the World Championship in the main event.
The Backlash pay-per-view as a whole was a tough one for WWE to pull off considering it had to put together a full card with well less than half of the company's entire roster at its disposal. For a first effort, it was a solid one; of course, it was aided by the fact that two new championship belts were being introduced and every one of the SmackDown brand titles was on the line Sunday night.
The highlight of the evening was the win by Styles, a 39-year-old wrestling industry veteran who main evented for some of WWE's top competitors before joining the company in January. In less than eight months, Styles has worked his way up from midcard performer to main eventer to now world champion.
Similar to many of WWE's recent creative decisions, putting the strap on Styles signifies a changing of the guard inside the company. While WWE still has a ways to go in many creative areas, it has begun developing some of its newer blood -- regardless of age -- into legitimate talent that can headline its television shows and pay-per-views.
Styles and Kevin Owens, who won the new Universal Championship just two weeks ago on Monday Night Raw, both made their debuts on WWE's main roster within the last 16 months. Ambrose, whom Styles defeated Saturday, was a first-time WWE heavyweight champion, as was Finn Balor, the first universal champion who was forced to vacate the title after suffering an injury at SummerSlam.
Women's Championship -- Becky Lynch def. Carmella (via submission), Nikki Bella, Natalya, Naomi, Alexa Bliss to win the vacant title: The match took a while to get going but once it did, the falls came fast and furious in the six-woman elimination. Naomi kicked things off by hitting a neckbreaker from the top rope and pinning Bliss. Natalya took advantage of Naomi following the fall by putting her in the Sharpshooter and earning a submission. Nikki immediately ran up on Natalya and hit her Rack Attack finisher for the 1-2-3, cutting the field in half just like that. Just seconds later, Carmella rolled up Nikki for the pin and shoved her afterward, continuing their recent feud. That's when Lynch took over, hitting three straight fisherman's suplexes on Carmella before locking in the Dis-Arm-Her submission to become the first women's champion on the SmackDown brand.
Backstage segment -- Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt: It had been rumored all week that Orton may not be medically cleared to compete at Backlash, though WWE did not remove the match off the card. Following the women's title match, WWE showed Wyatt attacking Orton backstage, appearing to injure him and putting the status of the match up in the air.
Tag Team Tournament Semifinal -- The Usos def. The Hype Bros via submission: The Usos are doing well thus far as heels. They shed their colorful attire and instead wore all black. They were aggressive during the match with some new moves. It was refreshing to see them buy into their new roles. To the surprise of no one, the Usos eventually prevailed and moved on to the tournament finals after applying the same single-leg submission hold they used to take out American Alpha.
Intercontinental Championship -- The Miz (c) def. Dolph Ziggler via pinfall to retain the title: As in the match prior, it was nice to see an aggressive streak from The Miz as WWE has him somewhat transitioning away from the coward heel role. Each wrestler nursed an injury during the match -- Miz his shoulder, Ziggler his knee -- which provided some explainable outs for a clean finish. Good action throughout. Miz looked to have the win by dodging a Superkick, hitting a DDT and locking in the Figure-Four Leglock, but Ziggler found the ropes. When Miz tried again, Ziggler pushed him away and hit the Superkick, but Miz got his foot on the bottom rope to break the pinfall. Later in the match, with the referee distracted, Maryse sprayed Ziggler in the face with what appeared to be pepper spray, allowing Miz to take advantage and retain the title.
Bray Wyatt def. Randy Orton via forfeit: As noted above, WWE used a backstage injury angle to cover for Orton not being medically cleared to compete. Wyatt entered the ring and had his name read as victor after the referee counted 10. That is when the ring announcer explained that Wyatt would participate in a previously unannounced no holds barred match against Kane. (With the SmackDown Live roster so thin and Kane basically always being used whenever WWE needed a body, this was met with a big sigh from the crowd.)
Kane def. Bray Wyatt via pinfall (No Holds Barred): It was a match. Objects were used. Much of it took place outside the ring. The highlight came as Wyatt dove back-first onto Kane, collapsing an announcing table in the process. Wyatt looked strong during the match and even kicked out of a chokeslam. Orton eventually appeared and hobbled over to the ring; when Wyatt was distracted, Orton nailed an RKO out of nowhere, allowing Kane to hit the chokeslam and notch the win. Even when he's not facing a top star, Wyatt is still doing the job.
Tag Team Championship -- Heath Slater & Rhyno def. The Usos via pinfall to win the vacant title: A good match from start to finish. The Usos dominated the contest early, save for Rhyno's time in the ring, but it certainly came as no surprise that they ultimately did not capture the belts. Slater got some time to shine in the ring -- as brief as it might have been -- and ultimately took advantage of a Gore from Rhyno (while the referee's back was turned) to get the pinfall victory. The win not only made Slater and Rhyno the first tag team champions on SmackDown, it also earned Slater a contract as he was previously a free agent.
World Championship -- AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose (c) to win the title: There were plenty of swings in the match, but it took quite a while for two of the true highlights of the entire evening -- a 450 springboard splash from Styles and horizontal dropkick through the ropes from Ambrose. That would just be the beginning. Ambrose later used the two announce tables as a runway to jump over the ringside barrier onto Styles. It appeared that Styles would take the upper hand back in the ring after hitting the Pele Kick, but Ambrose responded with the Lunatic Lariat. The referee eventually got distracted, allowing Styles to deliver a low blow via a direct kick to the groin, hit the Styles Clash and win the world title.