Six of the Best – WWF/E Backlash

Continuing with the April Pay Per View theme, today we look at an event that ran every year from 1999 to 2009, with a lot of the events taking place in the month of April (There were some that didn’t). WWE revived the name in 2016, but as it currently stands it doesn’t look like a Backlash event is scheduled for 2019. I’m not really sure why they decided to shelve the name as it’s a good one, but WWE is going to WWE so I usually find its best just not to think about these sorts of things.

This was actually a difficult list to put together, as there were generally some really great matches on these events historically. The huge list of honourable mentions at the bottom will no doubt highlight how stacked a shortlist this was, especially for a B Show. I’m almost certain that I will have missed off at least one match that you will think should have been included, and that’s ultimately because there were so many great matches to choose from. It sometimes felt like WWE would load Backlash up to try and retain any new fans acquired over Mania Season, which isn’t a bad idea if you think about it.

As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.

So without further to do, let’s take a look at Six of the Best for Backlash!

Backlash 1999
No Holds Barred
Shane McMahon as Referee
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock

I absolutely love the video package played at the start of this pay per view, as it tells a great story about how Austin and Rock are the two biggest stars of their generation but only one can be the best. It really makes their rivalry feel special, and best of all it stresses how important the WWF Title is to both of them. They almost never try and make Titles seem as important as this anymore, on the main roster at least anyway. Interesting that Vince Russo always just referred to belts as props in a derogatory manner, when the fact that the Title was so important to both men was what made this feud itself so memorable in the first place. It was far more than just a mere prop in a TV show or stage play. It was the reason for both men’s very existence, as well as the reason for them to fight so hard, because the quest to attain that Title meant everything to them.

The match itself is a fantastic brawl, with memorable moments such as Rock filming Austin with a camera whilst talking trash to him, only for Austin to in turn give him a Stunner whilst the camera is still in his hands, in one of the greatest spots of the whole Attitude Era. Like Hogan and Savage before them, Austin and Rock just had that instant main event chemistry together, with their ring styles complimenting each other well and their overwhelming charisma giving their matches the sort of epic and dramatic feel that few others in the WWF at the time could match. The added story of Shane swearing on his grandfather’s memory that he will ref the match fairly, only to go back on it actually gives Vince McMahon a valid story line reason to help Stone Cold out for once, as Shane crosses the line even by the duplicitous standards of the McMahon family.

In a lot of ways this is the prototypical Attitude Era Main Event Brawl, as both men go all over the building, destroying anything that isn’t nailed down in the process, and just generally leaving the arena looking like a tornado went straight through it. Funnily enough, the sentiment in some areas of the internet back when these matches were happening was that they weren’t any good because of all the brawling and weapon shots. Indeed, some people would actually keep tallies of how many punches were thrown, as if that made the matches inherently bad. This of course ignores the fact that what made these matches great were the drama and storytelling as much as it was the wrestling itself. People weren’t tuning in to watch Austin and Rock do crisply executed chain wrestling, they were tuning in to see two larger than life characters, and bitter foes, do battle with one another. They certainly got what they wanted with this one!

Backlash 2000
Dean Malenko Vs Scotty 2 Hotty

This was probably the best match in the history of the frequently mistreated and besmirched WWF Light Heavyweight Title, as they came across the perfect balance of a challenger over enough to make the fans care about his quest for the Title in Scotty and a truly elite worker who could coax the best possible match out of him in the form of Malenko. The match isn’t perfect of course, with the most glaring issue being Scotty doing The Worm with his injured leg after Malenko has taken it apart for the majority of the match.

However, the quality of the work in general, and the fact that they managed to make the jaded Attitude Era audience actually care about this belt for once, ultimately means I’m prepared to overlook some of the selling issues and enjoy the match. This match was a pretty big deal for me back in 2000, as I kind of knew what work rate was at this stage of my fandom but I couldn’t quite explain what it was.

However, this was a match where I watched it and instinctively knew it was a good. I may not have been able to explain the intricacies of what MADE it good at that time, but I was able to appreciate that the two men had delivered a great performance. A lot of my friends were able to recognise it as well, and the big talk at School the following Tuesday (Monday was a bank holiday that year if I recall) outside of the main event was just how great the Malenko Vs Scotty match was.

We weren’t talking about how we were bummed Scotty lost or how much we hated Malenko as a bad guy (Like we normally did), but we were actively acknowledging that the wrestling had been really enjoyable, to the point the result was almost secondary. We were just happy the match was good and we respected both men for delivering it. For that reason this match will always be special for me, as it in essence started me on the journey to writing this for you right now.

Backlash 2000
Shane McMahon as Referee
The Rock Vs Triple H

Like the previous match, this one has a very fond place in my heart, although it is for different reasons. This one is in there because I was very much behind The Rock at the time and really had gotten sick to the back teeth of Triple H’s dominance at the top of the card, so Rock’s victory was like a release valve for the whole fan base as Triple H was finally defeated. He’d of course win it back again a month later, but for a while The Rock was the Champion and because he hadn’t had the belt for nearly a year at that point, seeing him wear the gold really freshened things up. What made it all the more memorable for me was that it was the first ever live WWF Pay Per View where I stayed up to watch the majority of it, owing to it being on terrestrial television station Channel 4 and not on satellite channel Sky Sports. Channel 4 actually used to show anime late night as well, so I was treated to Fist of the North Star and then Backlash, which made it one of the more exciting Sunday nights I’d had in a while!

The match itself is just fantastic example of storytelling, as The Rock battles not just Triple H but the entire McMahon Family, with the odds stacked against him like never before. When things look their bleakest, Rock finds solace in the unlikely form of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who returns from neck surgery to blast The McMahon-Helmsley Faction with chairs, allowing Rock finally bring an end to Triple H’s reign. What’s also great is that it’s not just Rock who gets revenge either, as Linda McMahon gets to shove Stephanie down as payback for receiving a slap from her daughter on a prior show and Earl Hebner gets to settle an outstanding score with Triple H by counting the winning pin fall.

The explosion from the crowd when Hebners hand hits the mat for three is one of the loudest I can ever recall, as you can tell that they were desperate to finally see Triple H dethroned and were delighted to be there live when it happened. Going in to the show I certainly thought that Triple H would leave with the belt, just because it was Backlash and I couldn’t see them changing it on a B Show when Triple H had already retained it at WrestleMania, but thankfully I was wrong. This would be one of the rare examples of where the money was actually in the chase in the WWF, as denying the fans at Mania actually led to a great buy rate for Backlash. It helped that Rock had actually been Champion before and was already established as a top guy, so they could get away with screwing him like that, which was a lesson they didn’t seem to learn for the future.

I still remember going on a family excursion to Wales following this show on about 3 hours sleep (Thankfully there was no school the next day) and being both exhausted from lack of rest but also kind of energised due to being so jazzed about how great the show was and how cool it had been to see Rock win the Title like that. Sometimes it’s just nice to see the hero win and the villain vanquished, and I love the fact we got to see it here. It would have been so easy for the WWF to think that they could screw Rock yet again and stretch his Title win out to King of the Ring or something, but they decided to reward the fans who cared enough to order/watch a B Level pay per view by giving them a Title change, and I think you’d struggle to find someone who would say they were wrong to change the belt here (Although I’m sure there’s some of them out there)

Backlash 2004
Falls Count Anywhere
Randy Orton Vs Mick Foley

I sometimes think they should have just officially made this Cactus Jack taking on Orton, seeing as that’s pretty much how Foley works the match, down to him wearing the Cactus tights and “Wanted Dead” shirt. Foley is in incredible shape for this one, possibly the best since his prime, and he goes out of his way to legitimise Orton at the top of the card, not dissimilar to the way he did for Triple H in 2000. Orton isn’t just a bystander in the Foley Show however, as he sells the vicious assault brilliantly, including the now iconic slow rise to his knees following being on the receiving end of a back full of thumbtacks.

This is a suitably violent and gory brawl that pays off the issue between the two in the most brutal fashion possible, with both men getting gnarled by an assortment of extreme weaponry. The only two WWE matches that you could possibly say were more outright Extreme than this one would be the matches Foley took part in at WrestleMania and One Night Stand in 2006. Orton bleeds like a stuck pig and just generally gets annihilated, but ultimately he absorbs the punishment to win clean with his finish and take a vital next step on his way to becoming a World Champion later in the year.

Foley actually did such a good job getting himself in shape for this one that he even got booked against Toshiaki Kawada a few weeks later for the Japanese group HUSTLE, in one of the stranger styles clashes in wrestling history. It’s still really weird and random to me that a match like that took place, even though a younger Foley worked All Japan back in the day. Orton meanwhile rode the momentum of this match all the way to the top of the card and never looked back. It’s kind of amazing how much they screwed up Orton’s push later in 2004 after doing a nearly solid years’ worth of work to get him to the main event, only to throw it away by turning him face and making him chase Triple H for the Title.

This match is an absolute violent classic and one of the all-time best star making performances in WWE history, as Orton really came to play here and deservedly got super over for his performance. That image of him quivering with the tacks stuck in him will live with me forever.

Backlash 2004
Chris Benoit Vs Triple H Vs Shawn Michaels

This one isn’t quite as good as the match at WrestleMania XX between the three men, but it’s still excellent in its own way thanks to it taking place in Chris Benoit’s hometown of Edmonton (With Blog of Doom head honcho Scott Keith in the crowd no less) meaning that the atmosphere from the audience is top notch. WWE being WWE, they can’t resist doing a Montreal tease with Michaels and Hebner, which threatens to spoil all the goodwill the match has been building prior to it. Thankfully the payoff of Michaels tapping out to Benoit’s Sharpshooter in Canada is a sufficiently strong one to get the crowd back onside. These days they totally would have had Benoit lose, because everyone has to lose in their hometown, but thankfully they hadn’t quite yet gone overboard with that in 2004 and common sense went on to prevail.

I do love the image in the pre-match video package where Benoit and Michaels are facing off, only for Triple H to rise into shot like a troll coming out from under a bridge. This match was all about showing that Benoit was indeed for real, as he made Triple H and Michaels submit on subsequent pay per views and had great matches in the process. The problem after this was that Triple H Vs Michaels continued to be the top feud on Raw, whilst Benoit’s feud with Kane was clearly positioned as the semi-main, and by the time they went back to conclude the Triple H Vs Benoit story line they’d worked Eugene into it, thus making Benoit the third wheel once again.

You could argue that the reason they made these decisions was because Benoit just wasn’t capable of carrying the show as Champion, but when you book the way WWE did following Backlash then you’re heading down the path of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of where things went afterwards, you could argue that this was the greatest moment of Benoit’s career, as he had a fantastic main event for the World Title in his hometown and left with his hand raised.

The Benoit story would ultimately go on to have a tragic ending (And the shots of his family at ringside during this match are utterly soul destroying) but it would be hard to deny that he was a real fan favourite amongst the hardcore WWE support and this event was welcomed strongly by them. Balancing how this felt at the time to how it now feels knowing how Benoit’s life turned out is a troublesome dichotomy, but it would be hard to deny that it isn’t a tremendous match. Plus, Triple H and Michaels work super hard in this one and it would seem unfair to discredit their efforts due to something they had no hand in that happened later on.

Backlash 2007
John Cena Vs Shawn Michaels Vs Randy Orton Vs Edge

This match would fall into the “We haven’t really got a main event for this B Show so we’ll just stick a load of talented people into a multi-man match” category, that often tends to deliver good results. Edge, Orton and Michaels were the legit three top contenders on Raw at the time, so all of them were valid challengers for Cena and this was a credible way to put the Title on the line without burning up a 1 Vs 1 Title defence.

One of the key story points of the match is that Cena and Michaels, after splitting singles matches, want to settle the score between them once and for all, with former tag team partners Edge and Orton essentially playing spoilers so that the issue between the two babyfaces cannot be appropriately resolved. Having four men all interacting with one another means there is never a dull moment, and all four men work so well with one another that the action is always enjoyable. This really could have been a fine main event for WrestleMania 23 had the WWE wanted to go that way, and the action here is certainly WrestleMania worthy.

Believe it or not, Cena Vs Orton was actually a relatively fresh match that hadn’t been ran into the ground yet at the time of this show, so the moments where the two clash here actually had some intrigue to them. Edge and Orton trying to out cheat and trick one another provides some fun heel antics and Michaels continues to deliver one of the best runs of his career by selling stupendously and timing his comebacks to a level of perfection that few others could match.

Anyone who gets annoyed about rope breaks being applicable in a No DQ match will probably get antagonised by this one (Although it isn’t Falls Count Anywhere, which does kind of explain why the rope break still works) but I’d struggle to see how most people wouldn’t really enjoy this match. It’s got everything you’d want from a big main event match in talented workers, great story telling, exciting action and plenty of dramatic moments/near falls.

I’d certainly recommend checking this out if you’ve never seen it, as the fact it was on a Backlash event could mean that it kind of flew under the radar, which would be a real shame if that were the case. I love the finish as well, as Cena only ends up winning due to getting knocked down onto an already knocked out Orton courtesy of a Shawn Michaels superkick, which paid well into the story of Michaels claiming to be the superior wrestler of the two but Cena always being able to cling on to the Title through general guts and a bit of luck.

Honourable Mentions

Triple H Vs X-Pac (Backlash 1999), The Showster Vs Kurt Angle (Backlash 2000), Eddie Guerrero Vs Essa Rios (Backlash 2000), Chris Benoit Vs Chris Jericho (Backlash 2000), Chris Benoit Vs Kurt Angle (Backlash 2001), Shane McMahon Vs Big Show (Backlash 2001), Tajiri Vs Kidman (Backlash 2002), Kurt Angle Vs Edge (Backlash 2002), Haas & Benjamin Vs Los Guerreros (Backlash 2003), Shelton Benjamin Vs Chris Jericho (Backlash 2005), Edge Vs Chris Benoit (Backlash 2005), Carlito Vs Chris Masters (Backlash 2006), John Cena Vs Triple H Vs Edge (Backlash 2006), Chris Benoit Vs MVP (Backlash 2007), Undertaker Vs Batista (Backlash 2007), Shawn Michaels Vs Batista (Backlash 2008), Undertaker Vs Edge (Backlash 2008), Christian Vs Jack Swagger (Backlash 2009), Chris Jericho Vs Ricky Steamboat (Backlash 2009), Edge Vs John Cena (Backlash 2009), The Miz Vs Dolph Ziggler (Backlash 2016), AJ Styles Vs Dean Ambrose (Backlash 2016), Kevin Owens Vs AJ Styles (Backlash 2017), Seth Rollins Vs The Miz (Backlash 2018)