WWE underpromised and overdelivered with a solid WrestleMania Backlash on Sunday night, which by this point, has to be a pretty familiar theme, if not blueprint, for fans.
It’s a classic tale of expectations. WWE didn’t really boast about the card for a pay-per-view that only recently got a name change and still suffers from sitting in the shadow of WrestleMania but isn’t important enough to necessarily start building major summer feuds.
The card was a humble six-match offering with just one title at stake and the company’s top star—the unified men’s champion Roman Reigns—taking part in a six-man tag (which initially had unification stakes in the tag team division before getting waved off, too).
Yet one could argue every match on Sunday was entertaining to the point of exceeding expectations. Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins pulled off a banger of an opener that somehow surpassed their ‘Mania encounter, with the latter again going down while the former sunk to his level a bit while picking up the win.
Omos got revenge on Bobby Lashley, who made the up-and-coming Superstar look good, plus MVP got involved in a slick manner. Edge bested AJ Styles again in another fun one, and Rhea Ripley interfered while finally joining his stable.
Even Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair, a showdown fans have seen plenty of times now, was pretty fun and vicious, as they’re wont to do. Madcap Moss and Happy Corbin didn’t even get 10 minutes, but fans have seen much worse in short timeframes, and it was a nice way to break up the pacing of the show.
Then there was the main event, where Roman Reigns and The Usos took down Drew McIntyre and RK-Bro. This was the triumph of the night by a long shot and just what a show-closing main event should be.
It wasn’t just another tag match one might find on Raw or SmackDown. This featured maybe the best pacing of any match in 2022 thus far and managed to make every single person look outstanding at one point or another. All this, while teasing both McIntyre and Randy Orton as major threats to one of Reigns’ titles, which WWE will surely dip into in the near future.
And yes, some of the more prominent results read like a replay of the WrestleMania 38 results. Rhodes won again. Edge won again. But that hardly matters when the matches themselves are telling such brilliant stories.
The aftermath to it all is pretty thrilling across the board. Rollins is left with some soul-searching to do while Rhodes turns to bigger things. Rousey has to defend a title now. Edge has a stable that is about to run wild. And Reigns has to think about both McIntyre and Orton, perhaps show-hopping while feuding with both—and that’s just to name a few of the potential ramifications.
If this blueprint feels familiar, that’s because WWE hits on these notes often with the more shrug-worthy-looking events. A year ago at this same event, newly crowned champions Ripley and Belair successfully defended their titles, Lashley did the same while besting Braun Strowman and McIntyre in a Triple Threat, and Reigns went nearly 30 minutes with Cesaro.
It’s not exclusive to WrestleMania Backlash, either. As recently as October at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, Edge and Rollins had a brilliant Hell in a Cell match and we were in the middle of the excellent Big E title run to name a few highlights.
A few months earlier, Big E was winning the briefcase at Money in the Bank and Reigns was having that rough bout with Edge. There was once even a PPV by the name of Great Balls of Fire that got endlessly roasted for its name, only for the card to overdeliver in an “Oh, OK” way (Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe is a classic, to name the top highlights).
In a way, this felt like totally different programming from WWE. Right before it on the schedule, WrestleMania 38 was that celebrity-filled two-night affair with oddities such as Vince McMahon’s performance and McIntyre feuding with Corbin, of all people, while something like the United States title didn’t even get defended.
Sunday night felt more focused. The stories have a plan now. Maybe it’s the Superstars themselves, too, knowing that fans went into this one not expecting too much.
To be fair to WWE, the company has to hype the big events like ‘Mania and the Royal Rumble. When the payoffs (if there are any) don’t land at those big events, expectations aren’t met and fans aren’t happy. Had Sunday night been so-so, fans would have moved about their business as expected. The stakes weren’t as high.
What WWE can do is use this positive moment of fans being thrilled about the overdelivery and channel that into consistent, must-see stories that keep them coming back for more. Do that, and the upcoming Hell in a Cell PPV doesn’t have to be a gimmick event that falls flat because it sits in a dead slot before Money in the Bank.
There’s a snowball effect here WWE can seize if the stories remain this tight and interesting to match what are typically amazing in-ring performances.
The blueprint—focused stories with great pacing that respects the viewer’s time—and a dash of not overselling could help WWE not miss at all with any of its events in 2022.
So far, so good, with WrestleMania Backlash an unexpected contender for the very top of the list to date.