By Chuck Carroll
For the first time since WWE re-instituted the brand split two years ago, RAW and SmackDown will hold a joint pay-per-view that isn’t WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam or Survivor Series. But coming fresh off the Superstar Shakeup, the WWE Backlash card is a bit messy.
By changing the pay-per-views, WWE was able to scale back the number of premium broadcasts each year. Yet, it feels as though the events have been stacked on top of each other since WrestleMania, with The Greatest Royal Rumble having occurred just a week ago. After Sunday, the schedule slows down considerably with PPV; Money In The Bank is not scheduled until June 17. Thereafter, the shows are spaced roughly a month apart for the remainder of the year.
Backlash is headlined by a clash between RAW’s Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, who was shipped to SmackDown a couple weeks back. Likewise, newly minted Tuesday talent The Miz is challenging Monday Night (Seth) Rollins for the Intercontinental title. The remaining six matches are exclusive to their respective brands.
As of late this week, oddsmakers have installed former SHIELD members Reigns and Rollins as heavy favorites. Also favored are Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley over Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, Daniel Bryan over Big Cass, Nia Jax over Alexa Bliss, and Shinsuke Nakamura over AJ Styles. Meanwhile, in what essentially is a pick ‘em, Charlotte Flair (4/5) held a slight edge over Carmella (9/10).
While sportsbooks took a beating at WrestleMania, there were far fewer upsets at the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to see whether the success of a week ago will carry over to Sunday’s event.
Joining me to make Backlash predictions are veteran wrestling journalists Scott Fishman and Aaron Oster. For the year, I hold a six-match lead, but there are eight bouts on Sunday’s card and both men are threatening to chip away at my cushion.
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Chuck Carroll (@ChuckCarrollWLC) – Pro wrestling contributor, CBS Local Sports
Pick Record: 17-8 (68% correct)
Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) – Pro wrestling contributor, Miami Herald, TV Insider and Channel Guide Magazine
Pick Record: 11-14 (44% correct)
Aaron Oster (@TheAOster) – Pro wrestling contributor, Rolling Stone and Baltimore Sun; Host, Jobbing Out Podcast
Pick Record: 10-15 (40% correct)
Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe
Chuck: Blown call or not by the ref, Roman Reigns is coming off back-to-back losses to Brock Lesnar, leaving his waist void of the Universal Championship belt. It’s now fair to ask whether he can ever be the man to carry WWE. It seemed inevitable at one point, but now his future is a bit murkier. If there is any hope he can succeed John Cena as the face of the company, he will need a win here. If he’s dealt another loss, it’s clear that WWE has lost faith in him. I’m banking they haven’t. Pick: Roman Reigns
Scott: Samoa Joe has shined on the mic with his promos, It would be a shame for him to lose momentum with a loss against Roman Reigns. I selfishly want Reigns to lose, so all these setbacks weigh on him so much he snaps. I don’t know if that necessarily would happen, but WWE could easily funnel all the heat he gets and give him a new direction. Either way, if he wins here and is back facing Brock Lesnar again, I don’t think that would go over with the WWE Universe. Pick: Samoa Joe
Aaron: The question here is where are they going with Roman Reigns. Losing over and over, even with the controversial finish at the Greatest Royal Rumble, doesn’t help Roman Reigns in his current character. What does it do for Joe to have this guy who you have now labeled as a loser beat Joe? So another loss for Reigns that triggers a change of character, whether it’s a full heel turn or just a change to a different type of face, would probably be the right way to go. But this is Roman Reigns we’re talking about, and I don’t see him losing this many times in a row. Pick: Roman Reigns
WWE Championship – No Disqualification Match
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Chuck: I’m still surprised that Nakamura has turned heel, and it appears the jury is still out as to whether fans will accept the change. Nothing will change in terms of the Japanese star’s character for the foreseeable future, so expect to see more low blows from him in this non-DQ match. But I don’t expect him to walk away with the title here. Look for AJ Styles to retain thanks to a low blow of his own. Pick: AJ Styles
Scott: I picture there will be some revenge by the “Phenomenal One” for all those low blows from Nakamura. It would be cool to relive the time Bill Goldberg speared Bret Hart, who was wearing a steel plate under his shirt. I imagine a similar scene in this match, only with Styles wearing a cup. Although it would be sad to see Nakamura with another loss, I can see WWE doing another installment between these two at another event. Pick: AJ Styles
Aaron: This is tricky. It feels like as a character, Shinsuke Nakamura has to win here. He’s just lost too many times. If he’s going to be a credible main-event heel going forward, he has to win the title. However, for AJ’s character, it finally feels like the moment where he gets one over on Nakamura, using a cup to counter the low blow, and finally outsmarting him. The No DQ stipulation takes away any chance of Nakamura winning without putting the title on Nakamura. So even though I think it might make AJ look bad in the process, I think you have to give Nakamura at least a short run here. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Seth Rollins (c) vs. The Miz
Chuck: With this being a co-branded pay-per-view, you can pretty much count on a Miztourage reunion here. That’s bad news for The Miz, because it will likely cost him the match. That’s part of the reason why most of the money is being put on Monday Night Rollins to retain here. The other part is to keep the titles balanced between the two shows. Pick: Seth Rollins
Scott: As much as I enjoyed The Miz as the Intercontinental champion, RAW needs another singles title than just the Universal owned by Brock Lesnar. So it’s for that reason Seth Rollins retained. Also, The “King Slayer” is just getting his reign started. And we maybe have more Rollins and Finn Balor matches in our future, which I’m totally okay with. Pick: Seth Rollins
Aaron: Seth Rollins is too hot right now to even consider a title change. They need to let this ride, particularly if Brock Lesnar is holding on to the belt for a while. Having Rollins as the cornerstone of RAW defending the IC title, at least now, is a good solution to that problem. Pick: Seth Rollins
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RAW Women’s Championship
Nia Jax (c) vs. Alexa Bliss
Chuck: If this is anything other than another feel-good moment for Nia Jax I’ll be surprised. Alexa is popular enough now that she doesn’t need a title to get over with the crowd. So a title change here doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. Of course, Mickie James will get involved somehow. Pick: Nia Jax
Scott: I felt WrestleMania was a big moment for Nia Jax, and having her just lose the title back to Alexa Bliss a few weeks after would take away a little of that luster. Plus, there are more ways to go with Jax and other challengers down the road. Right now, Jax can use the championship as a platform to take her to the next level. Pick: Nia Jax
Aaron: I’ll say this. Unlike the other match, I think there’s a case to be made for Nia not holding the title past Backlash. Her as the bullied face still doesn’t feel like a perfect fit, and getting the WrestleMania moment could be enough for her character. However, I think that she uses this to move past Alexa, and then she can work on the character issues with the title. Pick: Nia Jax
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Carmella (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
Chuck: Like Nia Jax, Charlotte Flair doesn’t need a championship to get over. However, she stands a better chance at reclaiming gold than her RAW counterpart. The question here is whether interference by the Iconics will help or hinder Carmella in this match. I’m going with Charlotte here just because there needs to be at least one title change on the show. Pick: Charlotte Flair
Scott: By hook or by crook, Carmella walks away the winner because it’s too easy for Charlotte to take the title back. There are other fun options with Carmella before she loses it like Naomi, Becky Lynch and Asuka who are all worthy adversaries. Perhaps, eventually Asuka takes the title and then faces Charlotte in a big-money rematch at a big event like SummerSlam? Pick: Carmella
Aaron: I see Carmella retaining here. It would be a complete waste to have her win the title just to immediately drop it again. However, I think Charlotte gets the win via DQ or count-out victory. So, The Queen gets the win, but Carmella holds the title until Money in the Bank, if not farther. Pick: Charlotte
Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass
Chuck: Daniel Bryan may be heavily favored, but Big Cass has been playing the heel role magnificently since returning from a lengthy absence due to a torn ACL. I can envision a scenario where Cass actually wins here because Bryan already had his triumphant return at WrestleMania. I’m going with the upset here. Pick: Big Cass
Scott: I don’t see Daniel Bryan falling to the emerging star in Big Cass. At least not yet. It’s a classic David vs. Goliath match. The only way Cass goes over for me is if here are some shenanigans with Shane McMahon or a disqualification or some screw-job ending. Pick Daniel Bryan
Aaron: I think there’s something to be said about Daniel Bryan losing due to some chicanery. It would allow Big Cass to get a big win that he really does need. However, I think Cass eliminating Bryan at the Greatest Royal Rumble takes care of that. Thus, Daniel Bryan wins in his singles PPV return. Pick: Daniel Bryan
Braun Strowman & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Chuck: Dealing Braun Strowman a loss right now would be a tremendous mistake. And as bungled as WWE’s booking has been at times, they will not get this one wrong. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn will “get these hands.” Pick: Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley
Scott: I’m going with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, because Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman winning is too obvious, and I’m hoping WWE doesn’t go in that direction. Only because all this Strowman playing well with others goes against everything the company has been developing with the character. Maybe a loss can build up some dissension leading to a Lashley and Strowman showdown. Maybe someone accidentally hits the other and Owens or Zayn takes advantage? Pick: Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Aaron: If the plan was to team up Lashley and Strowman every week since Mania, why not just have Lashley be Strowman’s partner at Mania? That would have helped Lashley not become this afterthought he now is. Anyways, I don’t see either Strowman or Lashley losing any time soon, thus they win. Pick: Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley
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United States Championship
Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Randy Orton
Chuck: In a match between two baby faces, Randy Orton is straddling the line of being a heel after hitting an RKO out of nowhere on Hardy last Tuesday. One of the most intriguing aspects about this match is Jeff Hardy’s role. I see him following in the footsteps of other big-name vets who returned to WWE in recent years and being used to get their opponents over. Typically, it’s newer guys on the roster that reap the benefits, but in this case it’s the wily veteran Orton who will get the rub. Pick: Randy Orton
Scott: Jeff Hardy is another new champion who I would like to see keep the gold for a little while before losing it. There also isn’t much story here, so this could be a chapter in a continued program between the two. Or more of The Miz waiting in the wings and looking to make another championship mean more with it around his waist. Pick: Jeff Hardy
Aaron: Jeff Hardy has brought at least a slight spark to a US title scene that was really bland going into WrestleMania. So I think he retains here. This won’t be perfectly clean. I assume Shelton Benjamin will get involved. But Hardy ends up retaining. Pick: Jeff Hardy
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Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.