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COMMENT





No filler makes for a consistent Backlash
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling


For many fans, the annual WWE Backlash event is one of the premiere pay-per-view events of the year, given that coming off Wrestlemania, it is the scene of many re-matches from "The Grand-Daddy of Them All." Well, it isn't as if Starrcade is in contention for that moniker anymore.

As such, there were two direct copies of Wrestlemania match-making here, as Chris Benoit faced MVP for the U.S Title, and Batista challenged The Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Title in a Last Man Standing match. Of the other bouts, there were two further derivatives of the Ford Field event, as Bobby Lashley not only defended his ECW Championship against Umaga, but also against Shane & Vince McMahon (in a handicap match), and John Cena now defended his WWE Championship against not only Shawn Michaels, but Edge and Randy Orton (this time, in a Fatal Four-Way encounter).

Speaking of Orton, his future within the company has been the subject of much conjecture since he was sent home from the European tour, prior to the Munich, Germany show on April 19th. With SLAM! Wrestling's own Jon Waldman expressing reservation over the legitimacy of that news -- suggesting that it was all a ruse to make a shock pass of the WWE Title to Orton -- Backlash would go some way to proving if he was indeed in the WWE doghouse.

With the usual array of announcers on hand -- Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler for RAW, Michael Cole & JBL for Smackdown, and Joey Styles & Tazz for ECW -- Backlash 2007 was held in front of a near sell-out crowd at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Match No.1 -- WWE Tag Team Championship: Matt & Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch

Although the show's opening vignette left viewers with the impression that only three titles would be on the line at Backlash, every bout of the announced six would in fact be contested over a championship. This WWE Tag Team Title match was up first, with the Hardy brothers dominating the early going, using frequent tags and their array of combinations to unsettle the larger challengers. Jeff even struck an over-the-top-rope version of Poetry in Motion, taking out Cade & Murdoch on the outside.

It was Jeff's insistence on attacking the man outside of the ring that was his downfall, however, as Cade brusquely dragged him between the bottom and middle ropes, forcing him into a bad landing on the floor. At this point, it was Cade & Murdoch's turn for some nice double-team action, with the former also hitting a nice nodowa (Rock Bottom) into a sit-down powerbomb.

With Jeff apparently unable to make the tag despite several close calls -- recounting, it seemed, so many great Rock'N'Roll Express bouts -- he finally made the tag to Matt, who took over on Murdoch with a backdrop and a bulldog, before Jeff missed a more conventional Poetry in Motion, to seemingly take him out of the contest. Undeterred, Matt almost scored the pin on Murdoch with a Side Effect, but Cade came off the top rope to break up the cover.

Back in control, Murdoch hit a much safer version of the Canadian Destroyer which had stunned Matt during their singles bout in London, England, but Hardy was soon able to counter with a Twist of Fate, following which Jeff landed the Swanton Bomb for the victory.

Winners: ... and still champions ... Matt & Jeff Hardy

Match rating: 7.0 / 10

Backstage, Shane McMahon gave a pep-talk to Umaga, letting the "Samoan Bulldozer" know that if he followed McMahon instructions, their team would be victorious against Bobby Lashley. Vince then entered the room, and declared Shane "The King of Extreme" and the future ECW champion, before Shane convinced him that it should be Vince to take the win, and the title.

Match #2 -- WWE Women's Championship: Melina (c) vs. Mickie James

Before this match got underway, Jerry Lawler made the seemingly bold prediction that this encounter could turn into a good wrestling match, and just a few seconds in, with champion and challenger exchanging arm-wringers and grounded head-scissors, it seemed that his royal crystal ball hadn't let him down.

Sensing James had the advantage in such a contest, Melina feigned the loss of a contact lense to work over the challenger, and when James tried to go to the top rope to retaliate, Melina shoved her to the floor in what was an awkward-looking landing.

In a surprising display of submission technique, Melina continued the onslaught by trapping James in a variation of a full nelson, on this occasion in a seated position, and with her legs forcing James' head and neck towards the canvas.

The challenger took over after winning a closed fist battle, as both were grounded in the "splits" position on the canvas, then hit a series of clotheslines, a Rude Awakening neckbreaker, and a top-rope crossbody for a near-fall. But the champion wasn't about to let her title slip away that easily, and when James went to follow up, she was caught with a reverse DDT for the pinfall.

Winner: ... and still champion ... Melina

Match rating: 7.0 / 10

In an interview segment with Maria and Edge, Mr Kennedy soon interrupted to let Edge know that if he saw his opportunity to cash in Money in the Bank tonight, he would do it. Edge, who had proclaimed how confident he was of taking the title, suddenly wasn't quite so pleased.

Match #3 -- U.S Title: Chris Benoit (c) vs. MVP

A rapturous ovation greeted the entrance of Benoit for his U.S Title defence, and perhaps this was largely due to the fact that he is billed as now living in Atlanta, as at least one sign in the crowd proclaimed "Welcome home, Benoit."

MVP started this bout off in the style of an Mixed Martial Arts fighter, throwing leg kicks and attempting a takedown. Benoit was able to sprawl, however, and when he was unable to complete a Crippler Crossface on the challenger, he swiftly turned to applying the Sharpshooter, from which MVP made the ropes to force the break.

MVP took control after whipping Benoit chest-first into the turnbuckle, and hitting a Magnum T.A-style belly-to-belly suplex. The challenger's main emphasis was Benoit's neck, and he used several neck-crank holds to disable "The Crippler," before Benoit struck three German suplexes, a Northern Lights suplex, and then a further five Germans, until MVP avoided a diving head butt, and then changed tack to apply a single-leg Boston crab.

When the champion reached the ropes, MVP attempted a vertical suplex, which was innovatively countered by Benoit, throwing knees from his upside-down position. This caused the hold to be broken, and although MVP rolled through a Crossface attempt, Benoit was able to hook him in a small package for the pinfall.

Winner: ... ... and still champion ... Chris Benoit

Match rating: 7.5 / 10

Backstage again, and Randy Orton interrupted a John Cena promo to try to convince him to form a pact for the WWE Title match. Cena dismissed him by suggesting that Orton's words were those of someone confused about their sexuality, before Ron Simmons compounded matters by exclaiming "Damn!"

Match #4 -- ECW Title Match: Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, and Umaga (Handicap Match)

Lashley began much the stronger in this handicap affair, bouncing Shane around with a suplex that Alexander Karelin would have been proud of, as well as a spinebuster. When Umaga was clotheslined over the top rope, Vince wanted none of the ECW champion, and backed off until Shane pulled down the top rope on Lashley, causing him to fly out of the ring, at which point McMahon The Elder laid the boots in.

WHAT YOU THINK
What did you think of Backlash?
It was great - 30%
It was okay - 15%
It was terrible - 9%
Didn't see it - 47%
After being thrown into the ringsteps by the "Samoan Bulldozer," Lashley's left arm was the focus of Shane's attention, although the form of cross-armlock that he applied left a lot technically to be desired. Showing incredible strength, Lashley powerbombed his way out of the predicament, and caught Shane with a T-Bone suplex, a Torture Rack into a backbreaker, and a Davey Boy Smith-esque running powerslam. When Vince made the save, Shane clocked the champion with his own title belt, and thinking that it was over, Vince climbed in to make the cover. Lashley kicked out however, and did so a second time, from a huge splash off the top rope by Umaga. A second, gravity-defying splash was too much, however, and Vince made the cover to then be proclaimed the new ECW champion.

Winners: Vince & Shane McMahon, and Umaga ... new ECW champion ... Vince McMahon

Match rating: 6.0 / 10

Match #5 -- World Heavyweight Title, Last Man Standing rules: The Undertaker (c) vs. Batista

After Mr McMahon had teased the ECW Originals with his success, it was time for the big Wrestlemania rematch, this time fought under Last Man Standing rules. Unlike previous similar contests, a pinfall did not have to be accrued for the ten count to begin.

The Undertaker and Batista went both guns blazing into this bout, much like they had done in their contest four weeks ago. Undertaker took the early control, with a big boot, a clothesline, and a series of headbutts, before Batista caught him with a powerslam for the first unsuccessful count.

Outside of the ring, The Undertaker went to work on Batista's injured right hamstring, and then brought the challenger back into the ring with a thunderous superplex. It wasn't long before the action was back outside, however, as Undertaker attempted an Irish whip into the crowd barrier, but it was reversed so that he took the impact. Refusing to stay on defence, however, Undertaker came back with a modified backbreaker, and a ringsteps shot to the head which lacerated his opponent. Then, in a move which almost elicited a ten-count from referee Mickey Henson, Undertaker scaled the crowd barrier and delivered a legdrop onto Batista, sending him through the Smackdown announce table.

But there was still plenty of fight in the former Evolution member, as when the action returned to the ring, he hit three consecutive spinebusters for a very close nine-count. Likewise proving his resilience, Undertaker then scored with a chokeslam, before losing the momentum again as Batista hit a Batista Bomb out of the corner. Frustrated in not being able to get a ten count, the challenger then retrieved a steel chair, striking The Undertaker in the head with it, but Undertaker rallied with a Tombstone, which still was not enough to score the victory.

Both men then made their way outside the ring, and brawled up the ramp, and towards the stage. Both tried to send the other off the stage, but eventually Batista scored with a Spear, which sent both men flying off the stage, through a piece of the set, whereupon part of the rigging seemingly crashed on top of them. Mickey Henson then counted both down, resulting in a draw, and The Undertaker retaining the World title.

Winner: Draw ... Undertaker still champion

Match rating: 7.5

Match #6 -- WWE Title, Fatal Four-Way rules: John Cena (c) vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton

After teasing working together, it didn't take long for Cena and Michaels to expel the ring of Edge and Randy Orton, as if to begin their own match, within the confines of this Fatal Four-Way. Similarly, Edge and Orton then cleared the ring of champion and his Wrestlemania challenger, and showed that they had no qualms about beating up the other, especially when Edge sent his former Rated-RKO partner into the ringsteps. Michaels then cleaned everybody out with a spectacular moonsault from the top rope to the floor, before the heels connived to work him over back in the ring, utilising a high backdrop and a double single-leg Boston crab.

Realising that his title could change on a fall over Michaels, Cena soon rushed the ring and hit Edge and Orton with blockbuster bulldogs. He then struck the "You Can't See Me" fist-drop on Edge, but was dragged outside of the ring by Michaels and Orton, where he was sent into the ringpost by the same combination. Momentarily, Jim Ross wondered whether a new pact had been formed, until Michaels threw Orton into the ringpost as well.

Michaels kept his attention on Orton, and attempted to piledrive him through the RAW announce table, only for Edge to save the day for his former partner, striking "The Heartbreak Kid" with a steel chair. But Orton's respite was again fleeting, as Edge struck him with the chair too, enabling him to face Cena in the ring alone, although he was caught up in the STFU before he could garner any offence. When he tried to break the hold, Orton also got trapped in the STFU, but Michaels was too canny when Cena looked for the move a third time, and scored a near-fall with a small package. He then struck Cena with his top-rope elbow, and contemplated Sweet Chin Music, before being interrupted by Edge, who also was a recipient of a top rope elbow. Now recovered, Cena looked to end it with an F.U from the second rope on Michaels, but Edge and Orton created a Tower of Doom drop, from which all four men were hurt.

When all had recovered, Cena tried on three occasions to strike Edge with the F.U, only to be thwarted each time. Michaels spotted an opportunity to finish Cena with Sweet Chin Music, but before he could do so, Orton blind-sided him with the RKO. Fearing a pinfall, Cena dropped Edge, who then nailed the champion with an Impaler DDT, after Cena had broken up the pin attempt on Michaels. As everyone contemplated applying their finishers move again, Edge inadvertently Speared Orton, and was then F.U'd. But as Cena turned around, a weary Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music, which caused Cena to land on top of Orton, capturing the fortuitous pinfall.

After the match, Michaels intimated that it was he who should be wearing the championship, sewing the seeds of a singles rubber match.

Winner: ... and still champion ... John Cena

Match rating: 7.5

Overall, Backlash 2007 was one of the best, most consistent pay-per-view events in quite some time. With only six bouts on the card, each contest had more than adequate time to tell its story, and each did so very effectively. Hopefully this will be a lesson to the company that previously-unannounced, filler bouts involving Cryme Tyme and the like, simply will not cut it on pay-per-view.

The opening tag team contest was quite the pleasure to watch, simply because of the great teamwork displayed by both combinations. It might seem a given that tag team wrestling would involve great teamwork, but in the rush of the WWE's booking, it so rarely happens. The Women's Title match was truthfully one of the finest female bouts since Alundra Blayze tangled with Bull Nakano back in 1994, and it cannot be argued now that Chris Benoit is bringing out something in MVP which few knew that he had to begin with.

The Undertaker vs. Batista was a very good match indeed, perhaps even better than their Wrestlemania encounter, although the somewhat gimmicky finish took away from it. The main event was a superbly executed Four-Way, and was one of the better matches of its type, even if the finish did seem a little contrived.

Those are minor criticisms, however, and this was a tremendously consistent card. That is something that the WWE has not achieved in quite some time, and hopefully, the standard can be maintained next month at Judgment Day.

Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports, and soccer. He is the sports editor for Burn magazine, and can be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.