The next WWE pay-per-view is Backlash, which features the WWE Smackdown Live brand. It takes place this Sunday, May 21 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois.

This is a column that I’ve been doing the weekend before an upcoming PPV to discuss the key matches and storylines while also offering up some ideas on what WWE could do creatively to get people more excited about Backlash on Smackdown this week.

(Note: I meant to post it on Sunday night, but things were a little hectic, so I’m two days later, but at least it’s before Smackdown airs this week.)

Here’s a look at the lineup for Backlash.

WWE Championship: Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal

United States Championship: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler

Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos (Jimmy & Jey) vs. Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango)

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch & Naomi vs. Natalya, Carmella & Tamina

Another match that’s likely for the show is Baron Corbin vs. Sami Zayn since they have had issues on television for the last month. It’s not official yet, but I expect it to be announced this week.

The reason I go with 15 questions is because the first ten questions are specific to the matches on this show and the final five are five general questions I can use for any PPV. Let’s get to it.

1. What kind of match can we expect from Orton and Mahal?

It’s a tough call because we really haven’t seen a lot of Mahal in long singles matches. To date, he’s never won a singles match on a PPV broadcast. He’s barely won singles matches on television going back six years. They had him beat Sami Zayn in a singles match a few weeks ago and this past week he pinned Randy Orton in a tag, but other than that he’s just been thrust into this position after winning the #1 Contender six-way match one month ago.

I think it would be a mistake to have them go 17-20 minutes. That’s probably too long. If it went 10-12 minutes that’s fine. Mahal’s offense just isn’t strong enough at this point to keep the crowd interested for the entire match.

2. What are the chances that Mahal will leave as WWE Champion?

I’m going with a 30% chance. We know why Mahal is in the match. They need more heels on the Smackdown brand featured in prominent spots, so they picked him because they also want to grow WWE in India. Putting him in the WWE Title match at Backlash will lead to the show getting a lot more interest in India, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to win.

I think it’s more likely that Rusev beats Orton for the WWE Title at Money in the Bank or they might wait a few more months to have Baron Corbin win it at SummerSlam.

3. Is it possible that Rusev will show up?

I think it would be a great idea, which is why I’m bringing it up. We know that Rusev is going to be at Smackdown on Tuesday because he said it last week, but what about a surprise appearance at Backlash? I’m all for it.

Let’s say Orton retains the WWE Title like I expect. As he’s celebrating the win, have Rusev attack him from out of nowhere and put him in the Accolade submission. Make it a huge post match attack where referees are forced to break it up. When it looks like Rusev is about to leave, have him attack again using a weapon like a chair. That’s when Shane McMahon runs out with security to break it up.

During Smackdown on Tuesday, you can have Shane McMahon tell Rusev he’s not going to get his WWE Title shot at Money in the Bank that Rusev has demanded because of his cheap attack. However, Randy Orton can make appearance limping out there to say that he wants revenge on Rusev and if he has to put the WWE Title on the line to do it then that’s what he’ll do.

With that simple angle, it creates a story between them while making Rusev look like a viable contender against the face WWE Champion Orton.

4. Should WWE make a bigger deal out of the Owens vs. Styles match?

They should hype it more because they were the two best wrestlers in WWE last year. I would rank Styles #1 ahead of everybody else by a pretty big margin, but Owens was pretty good too. They also held major titles after last summer’s draft with Styles carrying the WWE Title for about five months while Owens had the Universal Title for six months. Now they are battling for a secondary title on Smackdown.

The problem is that WWE doesn’t want to bring up their past even though they should. What they should be promoting is how big of a deal it is to have KO vs. Styles on PPV since they were both major champions last year. It’s an easy way to sell the match. I assume they aren’t pointing it out because the US Title is a lesser title and if they point out that neither guy is at the level they were at last year it makes them a loser. I look at it another way because it also means the US Title has more value if guys of those caliber are competing for it.

5. Does it feel like a demotion for AJ Styles to go after the US Title?

It does in some ways. I’m all for elevating midcard titles, which WWE has done well since the brand split, but they haven’t really explained why Styles is content to go after the US Title while he has shown no interest in getting back his WWE Title again. I mentioned this plenty of time when they did the #1 Contender Six-Pack Challenge match for the WWE Title last month. They offered no explanation as to why a guy like Styles wasn’t even involved in that.

Styles vs. Owens should be a great match because of the quality of the workers. It doesn’t really help us understand why Styles is out of the WWE Title picture, though.

6. Is Nakamura winning his match against Ziggler the most obvious outcome at Backlash?

It is most likely going to be a win for Nakamura. There’s no way they are going to put Ziggler over in this match. Ziggler’s there to put him over clean in the center of the ring. My hope is they get 15-20 minutes to have a great match because if it’s only something like ten minutes I’ll be disappointed by that.

If it was up to me, Nakamura would win every match for a long time like what he did in NXT. Spend the rest of the year building him up and get him into the WWE Title picture around WrestleMania next year.

7. What match should be the main event?

This is one of those shows where I think any of the top three matches could go on last: Orton/Mahal, Styles/Owens or Nakamura/Ziggler. If it’s up to me I wouldn’t go with the WWE Title match in the main event because I have my doubts about Mahal. Put one of the other two matches in that spot.

I’m going with Nakamura/Ziggler as the main event because the show is being built around Nakamura’s first PPV match, so why not make it feel even more special by putting him on last? It builds up the anticipation more. Plus, a Nakamura win will send the crowd home happy more than anything else on the show. It sounds like a good idea to me.

If they go with Styles/Owens on last that’s fine too. I just don’t think Orton/Mahal should be the main event.

8. Does the push of the Breezango need a title win to legitimize them as a team?

It would help them for sure. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I’ve really enjoyed The Usos as heels and I feel like they need a longer title reign. If Breezango won it would definitely elevate them in the eyes of the fans. It feels like the kind of match that could see the challengers come close to winning, but the savvy Usos should leave with the gold.

9. Do the heel women need the win more than the faces?

I think they do because the face side has bigger names since Charlotte Flair has been the top woman on the main roster for the last two years, Becky Lynch is really popular and Naomi is the SD Women’s Champion. On the heel side, Natalya has the most experience and is great in the ring, but I don’t know if people view her as a huge star. Carmella is still new to the main roster while Tamina has never been known for having great matches, nor has she had that many meaningful wins.

Any time a champion is a tag match, such as Naomi in this situation, the logical thing is to have the other team win. I would prefer to see Natalya get the win out of everybody in the match, but that doesn’t mean that’s my prediction.

10. Would it be a surprise if Zayn beat Corbin?

Yes, it would be. Corbin is a guy that is going to get a monster push this year and Zayn is a guy that’s there to have a great match with him. I’d prefer to see Zayn getting the monster push, but I doubt.

It’s worth noting that both guys are probably going to be favorites in next month’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match too, so I’m glad there will be a little bit of a story heading into that big match.

11. What match has been built up the best?

This is tough because there’s not one match that stands out. I think Nakamura/Ziggler is the best in the sense that it has taken the most time to get to the match because they have had issues for nearly two months. Some of the other matches only have two or three weeks of build, so it’s tough for me to pick any of them.

I’ll go with Nakamura/Ziggler although some of the build has been poor too. For the most part, though, it’s been fun to watch.

12. What will be the longest and shortest matches?

I’m going with Styles vs. Owens for longest match. They should get 20 minutes or more and it should be awesome. Outside chance for Nakamura vs. Ziggler as longest match as well.

Shortest match is tough. I’ll go with Usos vs. Breezango, but could be the women’s tag as well. If they add a match like Harper vs. Rowan then I would consider picking that too.

13. What will be the best match?

If AJ Styles is on a PPV card it’s always smart to pick him for the best match. Kevin Owens has had a lot of great PPV matches as well, so I’m going with Styles/Owens as well.

I think Nakamura/Ziggler should be excellent as well. What might hurt that match is that nobody will really believe Ziggler is going to win, so every pin attempt he does won’t be treated like a big deal by the crowd. That hurts match quality sometimes.

Matches like Corbin/Zayn and Usos/Breezango are sleepers in terms of being potential best matches. There’s a lot of talent there and they can produce a classic given the chance.

14. Will there be any title changes?

I don’t think there will be. I already addressed the Orton/Mahal situation and while I don’t think it’s a lock that Orton retains, he is my pick in that match.

There could be a title change in Owens/Styles. I just don’t think it’s necessary. Owens has something interesting with the “Face of America” shtick and he just won the title back a few weeks ago. We don’t need to see another US Title change.

The SD Tag Title match could go either way. I think The Usos have done a great job as heel champs that haven’t had a long run with the gold, so I’d like to see that continue. If Breezango win it would be a nice surprise that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

That’s it for title matches since there’s no SD Women’s Title match on the show.

15. How excited are you about Backlash on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being low, 10 being high)?

It’s about a 7 out of 10. I’m looking forward to Nakamura/Ziggler a lot even though the outcome is obvious. I just think the crowd is going to get so behind Nakamura that it will be a really fun atmosphere. Owens vs. Styles should be outstanding as well. The rest of the card feels pretty average although some of those matches could surprise us in terms of match quality if they get time.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back during the week with Raw and Smackdown reviews as well as a Backlash Preview on Friday. Next Sunday I’ll write a review of Backlash live.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me using any of the methods below. Thanks for reading.

John Canton – mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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