As a designated PPV to take place after WrestleMania, Backlash seems as if it might be an uneventful, cool-down event – however, that is not the case. With some exceptions, it has been a staple of the company since 1999. With the announcement this week, we look back upon the most extreme, iconic, and memorable moments stemming from the post-’Mania PPV event.
Boiler Room Brutality (Backlash 1999)
The inaugural Backlash PPV was largely inconsequential with no significant storyline progression (except the show’s ending visual of The Undertaker kidnapping Stephanie McMahon). Despite a true lack of ‘moments’, it was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable show. Involving many rematches from the previous WrestleMania, the majority – if not, all of which – were improved from the disappointing PPV the month before.
One of the bad matches of ‘Mania 15 yet improved at Backlash was Big Show facing off against Mankind. The original bout to determine the guest referee for The Rock vs. Steve Austin main event ended in an underwhelming disqualification – ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ getting DQ’ed for using chairs.
The boiler room brawl rematch at Backlash started when Foley jumped Show before going on offense. In a wild and chaotic brawl, Big Show gained the advantage before Mankind smashed a glass sheet over the former Paul Wight’s head, with Foley cutting his own hand in the process. Following this, Show chokeslammed the hardcore icon off a ladder through 2 tables and shards of glass. In the end, the masked man won when bursting a pipe, in turn spraying steam into Show’s eyes – allowing Foley to escape the boiler room, bleeding heavily still.
A rough, jagged, and painful-looking brawl, its extreme nature topped the original, having many extreme and hardcore moments of its own. It greatly overshadowed the hardcore title match later. The second-ever boiler room brawl match is criminally overlooked – having had some of the most impressive moments of the time.
A Stone Cold Stunner (Backlash 2000)
Despite the WWF being in their peak years, the Backlash 2000 card is largely unmemorable. Even with great talents such as Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Tazz, Edge, Christian, and many more, the card was unnoteworthy except for the main event (that now defines the show).
Having retained the WWF title at ‘Mania 2000 with help from a turncoat Vince McMahon, Triple H was forced to defend the belt against The Rock. In order to counter the odds against ‘The Great One’, Steve Austin was placed as an enforcer in The Rock’s corner. However, ‘The Texas Rattlesnake’ never showed up. 15 minutes in, it seemed increasingly likely that the authority would abuse their powers to win. Suddenly, the glass shattered, and the arena erupted.
In one of the largest crowd reactions, the nearly 20,000 people packed into Washington’s MCI Centre saw a revenge-set Austin make his return to the company after months of absence. Having last been run over (which ‘Stone Cold’ presumed was the actions of Triple H), Austin thwarted HHH, Stooges Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, Shane, and Vince McMahon. This rebellious assault was enough for The Rock to capitalize and capture the WWF title, much to the fans’ joy in attendance.
Leap of Faith (Backlash 2001)
One thing you cannot deny about Shane McMahon is that he is always willing to risk his body and put a great deal into his performances to make them memorable. Despite not being Ricky Steamboat between the ropes, he has made a career for himself as a death-defying daredevil – as proved by his stunt at the 2001 Backlash.
One of the WWF’s greatest PPVs in one of their greatest years, including a hardcore match between Raven and Rhyno, a brilliant 30-minute technical masterpiece between Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle William Regal wrestle Chris Jericho in a Dutchess of Queensbury rules match. In the best-remember bout however, the boss’s son took on Big Show. After about 10 minutes of action, Test set up an unconscious Big Show on an air filter; meanwhile, Shane-O-Mac climbed the set’s tall titantron. Having climbed to the top of the scaffolding, Shane threw caution to the wind – diving from well over 30 feet onto Show below.
Sealing the win, this memorable spot was what it took to knock the Big Show out for the 10 count. A monumentally high jump (similar to Shane’s fall at the previous year’s SummerSlam), it proved his ability to take risks as well as the joy factor that fans would have to see Shane’s stunts for many years to come.
Hogan Turns Back The Clock (Backlash 2002)
Whether you view it as positive or negative, Hulk Hogan’s return to the WWF in 2002 was a big get for the company. With the company’s popularity declining post-Attitude Era, what was first a run alongside the NWO turned into a prolonged nostalgia run as the ‘Hulkster’ won the WWF title for the first time in nearly 8 years.
The biggest WWF star of the Rock N Wrestling Era in red and yellow or a defining face running WCW’s NWO in black as ‘Hollywood’, Hogan – despite all his controversy – was a proven draw. Placed in the main event against world champion Triple H, as you would imagine, this was a big overbooked tussle featuring referee bumps and multiple run-ins. The Undertaker attacked Triple H with a chair but wanting to win honorably; Hogan ejected him from the ring – before hitting the leg drop on an incapacitated HHH after ‘Taker had done all the work – yeah, much more honorable(!)
Nonetheless, the return of Thunderlips in the Rocky franchise and his win of the world title was surprising even despite his politics. After a short time back and a run in WCW, a career rejuvenation seemed a shock to the fans who were elated at Hogan’s turning back of the clock. A short-lived burst of excitement and nostalgia for fans, he only held the belt for 28 days before losing it. The first champion under the ‘WWE’ banner, he soon lost it to The Undertaker (of course, not in clean fashion). Even though the reign was short, you cannot take away the time-warping Hulk Hogan surprising win.
Foley Makes A Man Out of Orton (Backlash 2004)
More entries for the ‘Mick Foley is a madman’ genre is his hardcore bout with Randy Orton in 2004. Still an unproven newcomer to the company, Orton targeted Foley to enhance his legacy – spitting in his face and kicking him downstairs. After Foley eliminated Orton (as well as himself) from the 2004 Royal Rumble and the master of the RKO had pinned the hardcore legend at WrestleMania XX, troubles between the two escalated so much that the only ending point would be in a hardcore, no holds barred match for the IC title at Backlash.
Bringing back his most extreme variation, Foley brought back the Cactus Jack persona for this bout, showing how hell-bent he was on violence. Having his face raked with a barbed wire bat, thrown off the stage, and thrown into thumbtacks, it proved that the preening, narcissistic Orton had a meaner streak and could hang in extreme contests.
The lack of Evolution stablemates showed Orton could be a certified solo star and future prospect with years as a face of the company ahead of him. A star-making performance, it was a gruesome and brutal encounter that was at times hard to watch but was a blood-fest for the ages. Just like he had done with Randy’s mentor Triple H before him, Foley had produced a new top guy-level performer through an unbelievable ECW-esque brawl filled with hardcore mayhem.
Vince Plays God (Backlash 2006)
It is definitely not an extreme moment, nor shocking or historic, but this moment is certainly one of the most cartoonish and out-there moments, but yes – here is a match where a boss and son wrestle a born-again Christian and a theological concept.
By 2006, Shawn Michaels was in a feud with the McMahons due to the father/son duo claiming HBK was just lucky as he had God on his side. Continually screwing Michaels out of matches and big opportunities, it eventually provoked Michaels to face Vince McMahon in a no-holds-barred match at WrestleMania 22. Despite ‘Mr. WrestleMania’’s victory, the McMahon continued, challenging HBK and religious father God to a tag match.
This led to a famously bombastic skit where the McMahon’s attended a church in blasphemous comedy. God was introduced via spotlight to the tune of ‘Somebody Call My Mama’ before being checked by the referee for items and later announced as having left halfway through the bout. Evidently, the power of God was not enough for Michaels, who ended up getting pinned after a beautiful Spirit Squad toss through a table.
A totally bizarre match, God wrestling seems more like an indy gimmick and not an angle that would likely get to WWE TV today. A memorable moment, this whacky storyline stands out for its sheer absurdity.
When The Animal Met The Phenom (Backlash 2007)
Having won the 2007 Royal Rumble, The Undertaker was in line to face Batista at WrestleMania 23 for the world heavyweight title, with the duo clashing for the first time. After the brilliant ‘Mania encounter, a rematch was set for Backlash.
With the two hosses proving their magic, the rematch was made a last-man-standing match. After solid brawling, including steel chairs, steel steps, and even a legdrop through an announce table, the two big men fought their way up to the stage. The Undertaker attempted a tombstone piledriver off of the stage, but Batista slipped out. In an epic refusal, ‘The Animal’ speared ‘Taker off of the stage, causing sparks to fly and the set’s scaffold to fall. The referee counted to 10 with no sign of either man getting up, therefore ending the match in a draw – with the former ‘Mean’ Mark Callous retaining the world title.
A possibly deflating ending cannot take away from the huge spot used to end the bout. A realistic and suitable way to keep down even two of the company’s top dogs, it’s a finish that will likely be spoke about for years to come.
Thrust Into The Spotlight (Backlash 2009)
By 2009, the super Cena effect was in full throttle. With fans souring on the company’s new face, it was to some an annoyance that John was again the world heavyweight champion, winning it in a triple threat at WrestleMania 25, beating reigning champion Edge as well as Big Show.
Yet another Backlash last man standing match was made, as Edge revoked his rematch clause to try to regain his lost title. In somewhat of a shock, this was not a cementing of Cena as Edge actually walked out victorious, winning his record-breaking 5th world heavyweight belt.
The babyface dominated the match for the most part, throwing the ‘Ultimate Opportunist’ for a loop. Beating Edge all over the arena but not quite getting the 10, it seemed the leader of the Cenation had the match won by setting up an attitude adjustment off the stage. However, a well-placed run-in from the Big Show halted these plans. Lifting Cena into a chokeslam position, he then launched Cena into a spotlight. With the impact flew sparks and a huge crash, broken glass lay over an unconscious Cena’s body in iconic imagery. A startling visual sight, the extremely impressive exploding of the light genuinely looked like a world-beating spot that was more than sufficient to give Edge the win. Not only was it a brilliant spectacle, but it made Big Show look dominant whilst simultaneously making Cena still feel well-protected.
Clashing With Style (Backlash 2016)
Likely the best debut year of the 2010s, AJ Styles was a star fans had dreamed of in a WWE ring for 15 years, having honed his craft in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and TNA. At the 2016 Royal Rumble, ‘The Phenomenal One’ made his official WWE debut to a monster ovation. There was a combination of the joy of the prospect of Styles in WWE and also of fear – knowing WWE’s track record of flubbing those who made their name outside the company.
Having shortly formed a variation of Japan’s Bullet Club and failed to have beaten Roman Reigns for the WWE title on multiple occasions, it seemed Styles would be a prominent face but not a top star. Scoring a monumental, star-solidifying victory over John Cena at SummerSlam, he challenged new champion, Dean Ambrose, for the WWE title. Now a top star on SmackDown, Styles managed to get the win and the title, ending the lackluster reign of ‘The Lunatic Fringe’.
An unbelievable win, it showed a shifting of the guard as the WWE were willing to put their top belt on a star who had made their name outside of the promotion. They had so much faith in AJ that he overcame this hurdle to make it in the world’s biggest wrestling company. Additionally, this took place only about 6 months after AJ’s WWE debut, having one of the quickest rises to the top belt – similar to the likes of Yokozuna or Brock Lesnar. Now one of the company’s biggest and most talented individuals, he is proof you can make it in the WWE even if you are not their creation.
From Jobber To WWE Champion (Backlash 2017)
The single most drastic transformation in WWE history, in the space of weeks, Jinder Mahal turned from a hapless jobber to a main eventer.
Mahal was largely used as comedic fodder in his initial run from 2010-2014, most memorably as a member of the 3 Man Band (3MB). Losing to the likes of El Torito, dancing dinosaur Brodus Clay and Zack Ryder, Jinder was clearly not a top star.
Upon return to the WWE (now give the gimmick of spiritual, peace-finding heel), he had a short-lived duo with Rusev that gave Jinder his first-ever PPV singles match where he lost to Cesaro in 8 minutes. By his next match, he was challenging for the WWE title.
Winning a 6-pack challenge number one contendership match by pinning Sami Zayn with the Singh Brothers’ aid, he earned a shot at newly-crowned titleholder Randy Orton at Backlash. After a 15-minute slog, Mahal hit his new finisher and 1…2…3. Bewildered, stunned fans could not believe the meteoric rise of Jinder – becoming WWE champion despite being nowhere near the top spot ever. In disbelief, the audience watched a career enhancement talent fluke his way to the top. In real life, WWE wanted to expand their vast Indian market by placing the belt on the Canadian-born Jinder – it didn’t work.
This made baffling matches such as former IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura, and former 16-time world champion John Cena fighting for the right to face Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam. After defences against Cena, Orton, and Nakamura, he lost the strap to AJ Styles in the first recognized WWE title change outside North America.
To put the absurdity of the win into account, Mahal’s immediate surgency up the card (only because of his race), you have to look at the facts. He had a 20% win percentage when winning the belt, meaning he only won 1/5 matches on average. When Mahal won the title, he was so insignificant that he had no side plate designs but just his name. This lack of a brand design also meant Mahal did not have a single item of merchandise on WWE Shop when he won the belt. The 50th WWE titleholder, Jinder Mahal is the obvious outlier next to Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, and Steve Austin.