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Mishal’s Top 5 Takeaways: WWE Backlash 2020

Mishal is here with the Greatest Top 5 Takeaways Ever! (This is totally unrelated to the Backlash tagline…promise.)

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WWE Backlash 2020 Viking Profits

Mishal is here with the Greatest Top 5 Takeaways Ever! (This is totally unrelated to the Backlash tagline…promise.)

Another month, another WWE show in the books!

Since days are simply longer than they seem due to the climate we live in it feels like the last major WWE show I covered was well over two months ago, but we’ve only had roughly five weeks to recover since last months Money In the Bank event, which is no time if we really think about it.

WWE had a pretty heavy task carrying a show that can follow up how fun & eventful Money in the Bank ended up being compared to what was expected. Despite the circumstances, it was a show filled with creativity, stellar storytelling, good action, dozens of surprises & a clear sign of WWE finding their footing while performing in front of an arena without their traditional fanbase. And to follow up that show, the creative team (and everyone’s favourite, Vince McMahon) went all out, some would say too far out.

On a night of not built up of not just a solid match card but an endless amount of potential, we were promised a match billed to be ‘The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever’, a tagline so absurd that every corner of the wrestling community has written about it at this point in time. It was a tagline so absurd that the hype was likely never to be met, and with this match following up the incredible finals of the Intercontinental Title tournament between AJ Styles & Daniel Bryan on SmackDown, the weight this match carried was heavier than ever.

I, along with most fans, can say this was a show that defied my expectations on most levels. It was an evening packed with entertainment value & some steps that showed the product going in a direction I’d be on board with should they continue. That doesn’t mean it was a show without its problems, of which it had many in retrospect.

After doing the same for NXT Takeover: In Your House last week I thought the same should be applied to last nights show, and listing my five biggest takeaways from WWE Backlash would only be suitable.

Let’s take a dive into the biggest takeaways from WWE Backlash!

5. Jeff Hardy & Sheamus need to stop pissing around

Heading into a show marred with controversial decisions, the build to Jeff Hardy vs Sheamus holds the title for the most controversial build to a match in a long, long time. Not just a match billed as Hardy’s big comeback following a series of injuries that hindered the momentum of his singles run with the company, but one built on personal struggle & his need to bounce back from all the personal trauma he’s been through in real life over the last decade or so.

On paper, this could work under the right circumstances & careful booking, but this is WWE we’re talking about.

In all honesty, the match itself was quite solid for what it was. Despite the length resulting in things taking a bit of time to really get interesting, both rivals put on a solid contest with enough action, nearfalls & selling to invest you, for the most part, but the one pivotal factor that held this back was everything that had come before it in the weeks prior.

As hard as the commentary team and both men tried to sell this as a deeply personal, bitter grudge match, it’s incredibly difficult to buy into a match where the biggest selling point either heat or tension between the two was the fact that a jar of pee was hurled at the other just two nights prior. Completely undercutting the seriousness they tried to evoke.

Not only does a segment like we saw on the SmackDown prior hinder the investment of the feud, but it also makes the entire scenario difficult to take seriously, at least to the extent we were being told through all the hype leading into it. Should this feud continue, as most signs point to, WWE needs to ensure that they treat the feud in the manner it deserves & focuses on actually building the heat between the two rather than aiming to deliver the highest level of controversy possible.

4. The blandest babyface in all the land

It’s no secret that I’m no fan of the direction they’ve taken the Braun Strowman character. As talented as the big man is when given the right material, WWE’s handling of ‘The Monster Among Men’ has been underwhelming at the very best. Following a random start to the year as Intercontinental Champion, Strowman found himself receiving a Universal Championship Match against Goldberg at Wrestlemania following the abrupt exit of Roman Reigns due to health concerns, a match in which he finally ascended to the top of the mountain to become a big-time champion under the company banner.

All of this is fine in theory, as well as his follow-up feud with Bray Wyatt which ended up better than I wanted to give it credit for, the main issue with the new direction of this giant is simply how stale he’s become as a character, especially one that is meant to be the face of an entire brand.

Sunday at Backlash only re-affirmed my stance on the current Universal Champion, as he slogged his way to a title defence over The Miz & John Morrison that meant nothing to any of the men involved by the time the bell rang. Putting aside the match quality, which was sub-par at best, Strowman has clearly been deprived of the very traits that once made him so imposing. Rather than be a gigantic, unstoppable (at times hilarious) force of nature that tears through the competition regardless of their size, it seems like Strowman is your standard babyface champion in a 7-foot frame. He admittedly did flip a car over two weeks back in the build-up to his match at Backlash but beyond that brief stint, what does he have to offer besides his size at this stage?

Strowman has never been known for his long-form promo work & his in-ring ability is based more on him bulldozing opponents rather than actual wrestling, something that babyfaces in this day & age generally don’t do based on the current formula, and is something he executed far better as a heel back in the day. I’m all for Braun Strowman as the leading brand in the company, it’s just never been more clear that the longer his reign goes, the blander his character becomes as he morphs into your prototypical big man holding a championships belt. My main concern is what happens to the man once ‘The Fiend’ makes his inevitable return to WWE programming, which will require Strowman to be at this very best, something I can’t for the life of me say is on display right now.

3. Bobby Lashley is back!

It’s taken WWE’s creative team a staggering two years. A painful, annoying, confusing two years. But at long last, I think we can restore some level of faith in the companies creative team, as they’ve finally found the formula to making Bobby Lashley as dominant as he once was not too long ago.

Backlash was the ultimate chance for Bobby Lashley to make his comeback in the company, whether through a victory or another untimely defeat if there was one night where performance mattered it was this faithful evening in the WWE Performance Centre with the world watch. And much to my own delight, we got the Bobby Lashley we were promised upon his return back in 2018. This wasn’t the Lashley we’ve seen over the last 24 months, this was a new man. This man wasn’t resorting to complementing his ‘sisters’ to garner a reaction, show off his abs, pose as if wrestling fans care about aesthetic, steal another man’s wife or get shoved into a meaningless stable that amounted to nothing, or arm wrestle, this was the Lashley that resurrected himself in TNA (the 2nd time around), a true obstacle to overcome on any roster.

To add to the improvements in his character work, his match against Drew McIntyre over the WWE Championship was incredibly physical, exactly what these two men need with their in-ring styles. It was a contest with the biggest of moves, a breakneck pace & the good ol’ fashioned hoss fight we were expecting & thankfully received. Even in his loss, Lashley’s character is finally being pushed to a place where he seems comfortable, displaying cracks in the dreadful on-screen tandem with Lana, instead shifting his managerial efforts towards MVP in hopes of further success under the RAW brand. A move that virtually everyone is getting behind. Some of the shenanigans outside the match itself were a bit irritating since I wish they would just reboot the character on the spot rather than briefly prolonge it, but any change for the man is a positive one at this point. It was the first time since his return that he’s actually come across as a threat to anyone, a feeling I also give major props to MVP for helping to convey with his fantastic facial expressions at ringside.

While I seem to give the company a hard time in their portrayal of particularly newer or returning talent on a consistent basis, seeing them finally notice the strengths within previously mishandled characters is something I’ll always get behind as opposed to continuing to tarnish their records.

2. Another cinematic masterpiece

This point won’t be as long as the others, simply because it’s a shorter point that a good chunk of the online community has already beat to death well before I write this down.

If there is one major positive, one aspect of WWE programming that I’ll never criticize considering the circumstances, it’s their masterful cinematic storytelling as of late. In an attempt to diversify its program beyond the ring the company has fully embraced ‘cinematic matches’ to not just keep the momentum of their shows alive but offer fans at home something entirely different. And while it is different, I think the one thing people fail to touch on is how useful these matches are in helping acts that simply aren’t as popular or rivalries that aren’t clicking (such as The Street Profits vs Viking Raiders in this case) develop beyond being a feud purely set in the ring.

Sunday’s show was easily the most bizarre cinematic match to date, and that’s saying something. This could be due to it being completely out of the blue & unannounced prior to the event itself, giving off a shock value that was really needed for a show many (myself included) deemed as predictable. Their match was a completely fresh experience as opposed to what the company has done before it, rather than being a sophisticated platform of character work or character building, this was simply insane. All four competitors flew everywhere, used weapons to their advantage, were slammed through vehicles, off of platforms & even battled an army of ninjas lead by Akira Tozawa of all people. It made absolutely no sense and that was the best thing about it, it embraced the bizarre nature of wrestling by simply having a blast doing its own thing, and remains one of the funniest segments I’ve seen this year.

Whatever the company has planned for these matches next, consider me sold.

1. I was wrong (for the most part)

Let me first say, I take back most the criticism I gave this match in the weeks leading up to it.

On Sunday, Edge & Randy Orton exceeded every expectation I had going into the ”Greatest Wrestling Match Ever”. That’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it, because despite trying to enhance certain elements of the match, not all of those enhancements worked for me.

Certain additions such as the chimed in crowd noises, the overly edited style of some moments in the match & the overall length which went upwards of 40 minutes did drag this down from being an absolute classic, but still ended up being a pretty great match that I wasn’t expecting in the slightest. Clearly the company, as well as the wrestlers involved had seen the ‘mixed’ reception their marketing strategy received across the board and made it a point to excel beyond what we expected, and they did just that in spades.

Beyond being what it was meant to be, this felt like a glorious tribute to the industries greats. From The Rock, Bret Hart, ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, Christian, Triple H & even ‘The Fink’ Howard Finkel of all people, this was a gigantic nod to the inspirations that lead both Edge & Orton to this point in their legendary careers. As a wrestling fan, you couldn’t help but be moved by what was on display, the levels of passion & knowledge on display were incredible sights to see, coming across as almost a wrestling fans wildest dream match. A small part of me thinks of this match as what I would have come up with playing with my action figures at a young age with my toy wrestling ring, a match with every big move you could muster until absolute exhaustion, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

If you remove the tagline of this aiming to be ‘The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever’, I’d go as far to call this a classic in its own right, but sadly it just can’t compete with the matches I deem worthy of holding that actual tagline in my own mind, but it was fantastic nonetheless. My favourite thing is to be proven wrong when my mind is made up, and Sunday night was a humbling feeling of how cool wrestling can be when you least expect it to be. Hats off to Edge & Randy Orton.


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Opinion

Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn: Get Your Popcorn

Chris King is back as he runs down why he believes Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn at WrestleMania is a potential show-stealer.

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Chris King is back as he runs down why he believes Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn at WrestleMania is a potential show-stealer.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are simply incredible performers and storytellers in the ring. Every time they are on the opposite side of each other they create magic. I did a little history lesson on their almost twenty-year rivalry, going back to their days in Ring of Honor and PWG where it all began. Heel Owens to me is a stone-cold killer, he’s out for one purpose to be the best. Zayn has found out the hard way what happens when you get in his way.

Poor Zayn didn’t learn his lesson and dropped his guard in NXT when KO made his in-ring debut at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution. Owens utterly destroyed his so-called best friend and hit a vicious Pop-up Powerbomb onto the apron. KO then went on to defeat Zayn two months to the day of his debut at NXT TakeOver: Rival to capture the NXT Championship. Owens beat the living shit out of Zayn that night, to the point where the officials have to physically stop the match.

Zayn once again came rushing back for another chance to best his bitter rival but was demolished yet again. Dammit Sami just stay down and live to fight another day. This time Samoa Joe had to stop KO from causing more carnage to Zayn. We would not see the former NXT champ until months later at the 2016 Royal Rumble, where he would cost Owens the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

The two bitter rivals would fight again during the ladder match at WrestleMania 32 for the Intercontinental Championship, where Zayn would cost Owens the title. At the 2016 Payback pay-per-view, they would do battle again, Zayn would lose yet again. Zayn and Owens would square off one final time at Battleground in another hellacious battle, except this time Zayn finally got his comeuppance after two Helluva Kicks.

Over the past few years, Zayn and Owens have been on the same page, and shockingly enough the same team. The two best friends would come full circle again after Zayn returned to Friday Night SmackDown because of the pandemic. Zayn has been spurting all of this nonsense about this huge conspiracy going on around him for months now. Owens has been unsuccessfully challenging for the Universal Championship but ran into his friend backstage.

A few weeks ago, Zayn attacked his rival, for being paranoid I guess was his excuse. Owens however didn’t care and goaded him into a match at this year’s Mania. Owens and Zayn are about to create history and fulfill a lifelong dream of having a match on the Grandest Stage of Them All. I can only imagine how incredible this. the moment will be for those two, and the WWE Universe is honored and privileged to be able to experience it.

I’m very thankful that WrestleMania is two nights now because these two wouldn’t be given the appropriate amount of time if they were crammed into a seven-hour event. Please just give Owens and Zayn fifteen to twenty minutes, and let them create magic in the ring.


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Cook’s WrestleMania 37 Night Two Gambling Picks

After delivering (and standing?) his Takeover and WrestleMania Night 1 picks, Steve Cook is back with Night 2. For (sports) entertainment purposes only!

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WrestleMania 27 Stage

After delivering (and standing?) his Takeover and WrestleMania Night 1 picks, Steve Cook is back with Night 2. For (sports) entertainment purposes only!

Welcome back to the gambling picks!

If you missed Night 1, go ahead and click here!

I’m not going to lie to you guys, I’m already a bit peeved at WWE.

Why? Because they rendered part of my Night 1 pick column useless when they made Sasha vs. Bianca the main event after saying Drew vs. Bobby was! Like, what the hell man? At least I’m pretty confident they won’t change the main event of Night 2, so let’s make some picks for entertainment purposes only!

Kevin Owens (-350) vs. Sami Zayn (+225)

Independent wrestling fans would have never seen all this coming a decade or so ago. Kevin Owens as a babyface? Sami Zayn as a heel, without a mask? A YouTube personality as part of the build while Steve Corino agents away & Colt Cabana chills with the Super Smash Brothers? I’d have a hard time explaining all this to 10 Years Ago Me.

Not that this would be at the top of the list of things to warn 10 Years Ago Me about. Just saying…this is all wild stuff.

Kevin Owens is the likely winner as Sami gets punked out by his “buddy” Logan Paul. Slight chance Sami pulls the upset, but I doubt it’s worth throwing fake money on.

Randy Orton (+500) vs. The Fiend (-950)

I haven’t had a lot to say about this feud since it started, and that trend continues here. Not for me, and since I won’t be watching live I’ll surely be skipping ahead of this one. Hopefully those who are into this type of thing have fun.

Fiend likely wins, but if you really wanna throw a few bucks on Randy Orton at +500, maybe it’ll pay off.

United States Championship Match
Riddle (-160) vs. Sheamus (+120)

We can certainly question the methods WWE is using to feature Riddle, but it’s clear that they see something in him and want him to be a big deal. Sheamus has had a strong 2021 so far, and will give Riddle a good match and a big win for his first WrestleMania appearance.

I don’t have much else to add here. Should be hard-hitting.

Intercontinental Championship Nigerian Drum Fight
Big E (+120) vs. Apollo Crews (-140)

As we all know, the  “Nigerian Drum Fight” goes back to the early days of the legendary Nigerian pro wrestler Power Uti. If you’re not familiar with Uti, many consider him to be to the Nigerian Wrestling Federation what Undertaker has been to WWE over the years. They have a ton in common, including holding victories in major specialty matches over Mick Foley.

In the original incarnation of the Nigerian Drum Fight, the object of the match was to bash your opponent’s head into a drum in each corner of the ring. The first to hit all four corners in succession won the match. It looks like WWE is shifting the rules somewhat, and are just doing the typical No DQ thing they like to do. I assume that drums will still be legal, but am unsure of the spear.

If the spear is legal, go with Crews. I get the feeling that Big E is in line for the win here, and thus is my pick, especially since he’s the underdog.

Raw Women’s Championship Match
Asuka (+250) vs. Rhea Ripley (-400)

Once upon a time, Asuka was the new star fresh out of NXT looking to make an impact at WrestleMania. She won the Royal Rumble, but ended up losing at WM to Charlotte Flair. It happens. Just ask Rhea, who lost to Charlotte at last year’s WM. The best news for either of these two is that WWE avoided the urge to insert Charlotte in this match, as we know who the betting favorite would be then.

(Well, we think they’ve avoided the urge. Won’t be sure until the bell rings.)

I’m a big Rhea fan and am definitely supporting the Nightmare here. We all know that Asuka’s days as champion are numbered, as she’s seemed like an afterthought for most of her reign. However, there are reasons to believe that Asuka could get it done here. Mostly, the fact that her feud with Charlotte isn’t over yet.

Nah, I gotta stick with Rhea Ripley here. I’m not sure how Vince & the main roster creative folks feel about Rhea, but they probably haven’t had enough time to turn against her yet.

Universal Championship Triple Threat Match
Roman Reigns (+150) vs. Edge (+115) vs. Daniel Bryan (+200)

This is the first WrestleMania main event in a long time where the favorite doesn’t seem super obvious on paper. For one thing, there’s no reason for Roman Reigns to lose the Universal Championship. He’s superb in the role right now and should sit at the head of the table as long as possible.

Then there’s Edge, who against most other champions would be the obvious favorite. He’s making his big comeback complete by main eventing WrestleMania. Having him win only makes sense, and there are plenty of ways to go with it after, whichever side of the fence you want to put him on.

Daniel Bryan is the longest shot in this match, but we all know that’s when he’s at his most dangerous. One last run on top for Bryan wouldn’t be met with many arguments, and you can set whoever you want with him after & it’ll work.

Any of these picks are a winner in my book. I’m going to go with Roman Reigns because it isn’t often you’ll get those kind of odds on him. Usually he’s the heavy favorite, and for good reason. I wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome here, and that’s what makes this match a true main event.


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