By Adam Karenina Sherif

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Taking place in Lyon (“Lee-Owne”), France, Backlash was the first post-WrestleMania Premium Live Event of the much-vaunted Paul Levesque era. 

With a card of five matches spread over a three-hour runtime, Backlash had a very fresh feel compared to stacked, over-saturated cards that have often characterized WWE’s big shows in the past. Of those five matches, four were title matches – with the non-title tag-team match rightly opening the show.

The structure of the card meant that everything was given narrative space and felt important. Long entrances allowed the performers to connect with the lively crowd, re-establishing their characters in the moment and building anticipation for each bout before the bell rang. Apart from the Women’s Tag Team Championship match which was inexplicably missing in-ring introductions from Samantha Irvin, the match presentation on the night was perfect. (All title matches should have in-ring intros, including on Raw and SmackDown)

With the previous night’s SmackDown, also hosted in Lyon, there were concerns that the French crowd might be the type to run away with the show and go into business for themselves, as it were. But despite a few idiosyncratic chants that took a minute to make sense for a non-Francophone audience, the crowd was hot all night and exceptionally engaged in every single moment. Every match was given full attention, with the French crowd reacting to nigh-on every blow thrown. There were also very few cell phones on show during the matches which was very cool to see.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

It was also abundantly clear that the majority of the night’s performers were truly moved by the engagement they were getting from the crowd. Bianca Belair and Jade Cargill both spoke to this during the post-show press conference, and others like Bayley and Jey Uso shared reflections on social media, highlighting just how special a show Backlash was for them.

Alright, onto the play-by-play rundown.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Solo Sikoa & Tama Tonga def. Kevin Owens & Randy Orton: Kicking off the show with a messy brawl that Nick Aldis then re-booked live into a Street Fight made for a great high-energy, chaotic show opener. And despite Tama Tonga’s presentation as a ruthless brawler thus far, it made sense that he and Sikoa weren’t going to have an easy ride against wrestlers with the resumés of Owens and Orton. The arrival of Tonga Loa to turn the tide and further the Bloodline saga worked – solid booking.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Bayley def. Naomi and Tiffany Stratton: At 13:10, this was the shortest match of the night, but the storytelling and character work was excellent throughout. The friend vs. friend element with Bayley bringing out a more aggressive side from Naomi bodes well for her going forwards. Stratton likewise looked good and her making a big rookie hubris mistake going for the moonsault onto both opponents at once leaves her plenty of room to grow. Bayley’s win worked as a perfect counterpoint to this – snatching the win rather than dominating reminds us that she’s a savvy veteran who knows a bunch of different ways to win and keeps the tough stakes of the triple threat match alive.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Damian Priest def. Jey Uso: This was a much, much stronger singles showing from “Main Event” Jey Uso than his brother vs. brother match with Jimmy Uso at WrestleMania. It’s a pity that TV segments earlier in the week with United States Champion Logan Paul had telegraphed a coming feud (and therefore likely Backlash loss) for Jey, but this match with Priest certainly re-established Uso as someone with a singles title in his future.

Priest, for his part, also needed a good showing here to cement his World Heavyweight Championship win, and the booking struck a good balance: Priest needed Judgement Day interference to win, but he also added new depth to his character in his rejection of Finn Bálor and JD McDonaugh’s antics and especially through his more vicious turn late in the match with some impressive repeated roundhouse kicks.

 

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Bianca Belair & Jade Cargill def. Asuka & Kairi Sane: There were a couple of miscues in this match, but there were also some innovative sequences that more than made up for it. The big thing here was seeing Cargill go deeper in a match than we’ve seen so far, and her astonishing sequence with Kairi Sane at the close of the match. Belair and Cargill as champs should mean the women’s tag division gets more space and better booking from here.

And here’s hoping this title loss means we’re close to the actual end of Damage CTRL now. Everyone in the faction is brilliant, but the presentation since Bayley’s departure with Dakota Kai framed as de-facto leader, presumably only because she has English as a first language, has been poor.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Cody Rhodes def. AJ Styles: This match was an ideal first defence of the WWE Undisputed Championship for the newly-minted Cody Rhodes. AJ Styles coming into it meaner and more aggressive than ever (at least in his WWE run) raised the stakes of what could have felt very routine. His in-ring work never being less than completely stellar also helped. Both performers brought out some lesser-seen moves and everything felt impactful. And while nobody should be kicking out of a Burning Hammer at 1, the hulk-up let’s-go-again sequence went over really well with the crowd.

Cody taking a definitive win here was a good call, keeping him firmly on the run of a lifetime. And the match being so hard fought made Styles look strong even in defeat. Overall, an excellent headliner that felt like it pulled from WWE, NJPW, and NWA / WCW traditions without feeling derivative.

It was also neat to hear Michael Cole acknowledging both wrestlers’ Bullet Club history in NJPW in a more direct fashion than we might have heard in the past. Little things like this feel like positive signs for this new era in WWE.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

Curtain Call: If WrestleMania is WWE’s Super Bowl, Backlash is the first big game of the new season that follows. Despite the name, this show thankfully didn’t feature any WrestleMania rematches and moved everybody featured on the card forwards with meaningful matches. And like last year’s tremendous event in Puerto Rico, this year’s Backlash proved just how great the appetite is for significant WWE shows outside of the continental United States.

 

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 7: WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field on April 7, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by WWE/Getty Images)

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