BACKLASH

April 29, 2007


Rumor has it that the WWE has started to bring the good wrestling again. The jury is still out, but if this PPV is any indication, they’re on the right track. A bunch of people who’d outright sucked the last time I saw them look pretty damn good.


Mickie James . . . is the best thing about the WWE Women’s division, but Melina brings the goods too.

Chris Benoit . . . is still your pro wrestling savior, but MVP doesn’t look too shabby himself

Shawn Michaels . . . has been off and on since his comeback, but he’s definitely on tonight.


MATT HARDY/JEFF HARDY © vs. LANCE CADE/TREVOR MURDOCH (World Tag Team Titles)

Lawler’s ‘rock star’ claims of the fans’ reaction to the Hardys are a tad bit inflated, but, if nothing else, this was a nice way to get the crowd going. The match itself is a bit too formulaic, and while there are times that sticking to the formula can work, this isn’t one of those times. The biggest reason is that, until the last few minutes with a few nice teases, nobody steps up and tries to take the match somewhere. The early parts of the match are predicated on the Hardys more or less schooling Cade and Murdoch, and both of them pull off a few of their trademark spots, but comparing how long the Hardys have been teaming to how long Cade and Murdoch have, that’s not something that should be a surprise. The big spot that gets the heels in control is Cade sidestepping Jeff’s kick and yanking him to the floor, but aside from a bodyslam, there’s no real assault on Jeff’s back/shoulder area. Cade does bring a nasty lariat and Murdoch brings a big boot, but watch Cade and Murdoch basically pound on Jeff isn’t very interesting when they’re not really working anything over in particular, and when Jeff isn’t going all out to sell.


The last few minutes are a nice change of pace, starting with Cade preventing Matt’s hog tag, and all the way to the finish. They did quite a good job as building suspense, with Cade’s surprising interception of Poetry in Motion, and the big elbow drop on Matt. But in the end the Twist of Fate/Swanton combo does it again. What it lacked was any real catalyst for Cade and Murdoch coming up short, but that was a necessary component for the sportsmanship angle that would play out over the next month or so.


MELINA © vs. MICKIE JAMES (WWE Women’s Title)

Wow. This is the first match in a long time that’s actually made the Women’s title seem like it’s important to the workers. Melina and Mickie both show some nice intensity and aggression at times (although it’s probably not hard for them to show that aggression with each other). Look no further than the forearm exchanges while they’re both in a split position to see firsthand how intense the match is. This also easily the best Melina has looked as a wrestler, pulling out several moves (leg full nelson for instance) that she hadn’t used. The only areas in which it’s really lacking are any real story, and build to the finish. It seemed initially like they were going somewhere with Mickie constantly out wrestling Melina, only for Melina to take advantage with a cheap shot, but Mickie returns the favor pretty quickly and it’s dropped. And the finish is almost out of left field, you could argue that Melina’s various submissions have worn down Mickie enough to where a simple reverse DDT would be enough to keep her down, but Mickie had been in control moments before. In addition, the move itself didn’t have any embellishment or exaggeration into it to really make it look like a finisher. It’s quite the fun match, but suffered a bit from Melina having to carry things, and while she was good, Melina still has some work to do before she’s on par with Trish Stratus.


CHRIS BENOIT © vs. MVP (WWE United States Title)

And the fun just keeps on coming, watching this play out (along with the other matches in the Benoit/MVP series) shows just how perfect a continuation of this is. Benoit is clearly the better wrestler, but MVP surprises in a number of ways, with some smart work and good counters. The offense is mostly carried by Benoit, and while he doesn’t do much of anything that we haven’t seen before, he’s good enough with his pacing, execution, and storytelling that it’s more than able to get the point across.


The big success of the match comes from MVP though, he shows that he’s clearly been studying Benoit, as well as their previous matches and gradually making up for his shortcomings. When MVP finally gets an opening after reversing an Irish whip, he hits a brutal boot to the back of the head, and then starts working over Benoit’s neck, which has the dual effect of wearing him down, as well as softening him up for the Playmaker. The mistake MVP makes though is that he works the holds for too long and Benoit finally escapes and starts to fire off the Germans. Benoit heads up top for the headbutt (what he’d beaten MVP with at WrestleMania) but MVP smartly grabs the leg. Benoit goes back to the Germans (even more of them) and goes up top again, but this time MVP gets the knees up. Benoit also attempts the crossface a few times, but MVP once again has counters and blocks ready. What leads to MVP’s downfall isn’t anything that he did or that he didn’t do, it was something that he couldn’t make up for, lack of experience and being unable to match Benoit’s wrestling skills (a feat that few can). He took everything Benoit threw at him and asked for more, but a simple small package was the difference maker. ***1/4


BOBBY LASHLEY © vs. VINCE MCMAHON/SHANE MCMAHON/UMAGA (ECW Heavyweight Title)

Considering that this had a screw job finish that was only done for shock value, this went far too long, and had far too few redeeming qualities. When the best worker in the match is Shane McMahon, you’re in trouble. Shane bumps and sells like a fiend for Lashley early on, and Umaga isn’t too bad himself. Once the heels take control it’s basically just a lot of punching and kicking with rest holds. It seems like they were targeting Lashley’s arm initially, with Shane using several armbars, but that was quickly dropped. Lashley makes the big comeback, the heels cheat, Umaga does the dirty work and Vince wins the ECW Title. They could have gotten from points A to B in about three minutes with a pre match attack with a chair and saved everyone from the boredom.


THE UNDERTAKER © vs. BATISTA (World Heavyweight Title - Last Man Standing Match)

Aside from the ‘crazy’ finish (which looks more than a bit contrived), one or two big spots, and better selling, there isn’t anything that sets this apart from any other match these two might have. Their selling is a big blessing, but considering how often WWE trots out this stipulation (the last time being Benoit/Edge in Backlash 2005), they really needed to go all out and put on a big show. Whether it’s due to injuries, limitations, or the fact that there was still another match to go, the fact that this mostly looks like a regular match doesn’t do it any favors, especially when it’s these two, who aren’t the pair for classic matches. The fact that they both do such a good job selling, what would normally be simple spots is a positive, but it’s necessitated by the stipulation. If you take out UT’s legdrop on the announce table and UT hitting Batista with the stairs, you’ve got just another match.


They’re able to create a few decent moments, with some drama to them, but those are more exceptions to the match, rather than the rule. And that’s compounded by the fact that both of them have a taped up limb, which would seem obvious to attack, but it never happens. The only times UT goes after Batista’s leg is to escape or counter something. The best individual moment for me was when Batista planted UT with his big spine buster, and then picked him up and did again, and then yet again. It really showcased how far it seemed that Big Dave was willing to go to keep him down and regain the title. But for every good moment like that, there are two silly ones, such as UT hitting the Snake Eyes, which Batista no-sells and then hits a spear to take control, and the Snake Eyes came almost directly after the big leg drop through the table. And considering that this match is anything goes, after the Tombstone and Batista Bomb had failed, why simply start trading punches up the ramp? Wouldn’t it make more sense to grab a chair? The double KO finish with the spear off the ramp works in theory, but the theatrics are way over the top and instead of looking dangerous, it looks cheesy. And aren’t finishes like this supposed to be left on TV to build up to PPV?


JOHN CENA © vs. EDGE vs. RANDY ORTON vs. SHAWN MICHAELS (WWE Heavyweight Title)

As far as WWE Fatal 4-Way matches go, this is quite easily amongst the best and most smartly worked matches of its kind. It certainly helps that it’s given more time to develop than most of its counterparts, but all four of the wrestlers are generally on the same page with their spots and timing. It also helps that the workers treat it like it’s the early stages of a WWE Survivor Series match, and simple moves (and spots that are normally fairly commonplace and treated as such) are put over to a much greater degree. The early moments have some great examples of this, with Edge taking down both Michaels and Orton with a simple bodyslam onto the floor (without even removing the padding), it’s long since been a common spot, not really special anymore, but both of them do a great job putting it over. The same thing happens when Orton is sent into the steps and Cena into the announce table. Shawn in particular did a good job at putting his back over throughout the match, even selling it at one point before trying a nondescript move on Orton on the announce table (most likely a piledriver), and it’s broken up an Edge chair shot . . . to the back.


There’s a few odd moments to the match, but nothing that takes anything away from what goes on. At one point Rated RKO team up on Michaels with a double crab, focused more on his knees than back, and it’s broke up by Cena doing a double reverse blockbuster (or whatever he calls it). A nice spot, well executed, but the focus on Shawn’s legs, as well as his selling vanished afterwards. A bit later on Shawn hits Cena with the elbow and as Cena starts to get up, Shawn starts to tune up the band, but then Orton climbs in, and Shawn stops, slams him, and does another elbow. And Cena went back to laying on the mat. Wouldn’t it make more sense to stay down while he’s tuning the band and get up when he’s busy with Orton so he can surprise him?


All four workers are quite familiar with one another from past feuds/teams, the only real exception being Cena and Orton, and it’s interesting to watch how that familiarity plays itself out over the match. Simple things like Cena and Edge having counters and escapes ready for their repeated attempts at the FU or Impaler DDT, Cena trapping Edge and Orton into the STFU and ‘going for three’ by taking Michaels down for it, but Shawn is ready with a counter to a small package. All four have great timing as well, and the late stages feature quite a lot of sequences and exchanges where finishers and signature moves will be attempted, but are either escaped or broken up, and then someone else will go for theirs. And every single time, they’ll pull it off without a hitch, right down to the finish which is superbly executed, Edge’s attempted spear on Cena gets leapfrogged and Orton tries to RKO Edge while he’s charging, Edge counters, Orton off and hits the spear. Edge turns into the FU, Shawn hits the superkick on Cena, Shawn collapses and sells his back, and Cena lands on Orton for the pinfall. Nothing blown off, and the timing and execution were both spot on. This easily stands alongside WrestleMania 20 for the best multi-man match of its kind, and it’s no real surprises that it contains many of the same elements at work. ***1/2


Conclusion: Hot diggity damn, this was one of the most fun WWE PPVs I’ve seen in quite a long time. It’s got a couple of passable matches, but for the most part it’s fun viewing. This is a very easy recommendation.