LECLAIR’S WWE BACKLASH 2024 REPORT: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Rhodes vs. Styles, Priest vs. Uso, Bayley vs. Stratton vs. Naomi, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor


MAY 4, 2024

Announcers: Michael Cole & Corey Graves

-The show opened with a drone shot high atop Lyon. Michael Cole noted that it’s France’s third largest city. They gave a very brief geography lesson before cutting to a shot just outside the LDLC Arena. The crowd popped big.

Cole narrated various wrestler entrances from earlier in the day, including Cody Rhodes, A.J. Styles, Bianca Belair & Jade Cargill, Damage CTRL, Damian Priest, and Jey Uso. The latter was met with massive “yeet” chants.

After showing the sold out arena, filled to the brim with excited fans, the broadcast faded to the opening video package.

-Following the cold open video, Michael Cole introduced his partner, Corey Graves. Corey noted that the decibel level had already topped 100 before the show even began.

-Kevin Owens was out of the curtain first to a massive ovation. Graves said there’s no one who feeds off the passion of the fans quite like KO. Owens stopped mid-way down the aisle to soak in the huge reaction. Randy Orton was out next to similar fanfare. The crowd began singing his theme, just as they did on Smackdown. Orton smiled as he shared a handshake with his partner. He willed the crowd on, clearly moved by the response.

The crowd continued to sing to Orton as the camera cut to the announcers desk. Cole re-introduced the show and briefly tossed to the French announce team positioned at ringside.

Solo Sikoa’s music was met with massive boos. He sauntered onto the stage, Tama Tonga and Paul Heyman in tow. Cole and Graves wondered whether Solo was the new boss of the Bloodline. They discussed Heyman’s admission on last night’s Smackdown, where he revealed he hadn’t actually spoken to Roman Reigns since WrestleMania.

“We want Roman!” the crowd chanted. Owens stepped to Tama Tonga and the two came to blows immediately. Orton and Sikoa joined. The action quickly spilled to the outside as the referee tried to gain control unsuccessfully. More officials spilled from the back, trying to break things up. The crowd remained in a frenzy throughout. Security joined the fray. Owens stunned several of them. Finally, Nick Aldis’ voice cut through the noise. He changed the match to a street fight and told the referee to ring the bell.

(1) KEVIN OWENS & RANDY ORTON vs. SOLO SIKOA & TAMA TONGA (w/ Paul Heyman) – Street Fight

Kevin Owens wasted no time taking advantage of the new rules. He tossed the massive ringside Prime bottle at Tama Tonga’s head. Tonga spilled into the crowd. Randy Orton tossed Solo Sikoa over the ringside barrier and began walking him up the lower bowl. He topped Sikoa on the steps and delivered ten punches. The crowd chanted along eagerly. A massive “KO” chant broke out as he made his way around the arena floor. He met a descending Solo Sikoa and beat him down while Orton headed back to ringside.

Tonga got the jump o Owens from behind, allowing Sikoa to recover and take control, unbeknownst to Orton. Randy caught wind quickly and came to the aid of his partner. Owens recovered and gave Sikoa a Superkick. The duo tossed Tonga back to ringside. Orton gave him a splash off the top of the barrier. Orton teased doing the same, but gingerly climbed down instead. The crowd popped as Orton laughed. He walked Tonga to the announce desks and gave him his signature back drop on both the English and French desk. “I’ve got a monitor and a Tama Tonga on my lap!” Graves exclaimed.

On the other side of the ring, Owens tossed Sikoa haphazardly into the ring steps. He and Orton lifted the ring apron to reveal a plethora of trash cans. Orton retrieved one and absolutely crushed it over Tonga’s head. The crowd gave a huge “ECW” chant in response. Owens cracked Sikoa repeatedly with a Kendo stick, then a fresh trash can. KO retrieved Tonga as the match crossed 5:30. He draped him across the announcers desk so Orton could get a clean shot to the back with the Kendo stick. “Did you get a good shot?” Kevin asked the camera man. Orton called for tables. The crowd exploded as they pulled them out.

Not letting up for a moment, the crowd sang to KO and Orton as they set up tables and moved Tonga and Sikoa into position. Tonga fought back briefly with some punches, but Owens toppled him once more and laid him atop a table. He climbed to the apron, gave Tonga a quick crotch chop, and then delivered a splash through Tonga and the table. In the ring, Orton prepared to put Sikoa through his table. Sikoa turned the tides, catching Randy with an uppercut and then a Samoan Drop through the table. Owens hit the ring, looking for a Stunner on Sikoa. Solo blocked it and turned Owens inside out with a massive lariat. The camera pulled back as the crowd continued their full-throat endorsement of the action.

Solo began barking orders at Tama. Tonga pounced on Owens, punching and kicking him rapidly. He gave him some wild headbutts as Solo retrieved more weapons from underneath the ring. Cole touted Tonga’s history, specifically noting his accomplishments in NJPW. Sikoa snapped a Kendo stick across Owens’ stomach and downed him in the corner. He gave KO his signature corner hip check. Tonga stalked Owens with a trash can lid. He dented it over Kevin’s head repeatedly. Sikoa barked out more orders. Tonga retrieved a trash can. Owens exploded out of the corner and took Tonga down. He was quickly cut off by Sikoa, who blindsided him with the edge of a trash can. Sikoa hit KO repeatedly with a Kendo stick. The crowd booed loudly.

Solo’s “MFT” retrieved a table for the Bloodline as KO used the ropes to steady himself. He tossed Tonga out of the ring, then got slammed into the corner by Sikoa. Solo gave Owens a pair of headbutts as the match approached 13:00. He tried to toss Owens through the propped table in the corner, but KO turned it around and sent Solo crashing through instead. Owens was immediately dropped by Tonga. Tama went back to the well for more weapons. Graves said Tonga’s eyes are blank. “There’s nothing there, it’s unsettling.”

As Tama sized Owens up for a chairshot, the crowd worked themselves up as they saw Randy Orton stirring from the floor. He slid in the ring, stalking Tonga. Tama turned around, smiling at Randy. He swung the chair wildly, but Orton knocked it out of his hands and gave him a snap Powerslam. Orton tossed Tonga to the apron and delivered his draping DDT. He pounded the mat, readying himself for the RKO. He hit it and hooked the leg, but Solo broke it up at the last moment. Solo headbutted Orton right out of the ring. He slammed Randy’s head off the announce desk, then cleaned it off.

Sikoa laid Orton on the announce desk as a big “RKO” chant broke out. He forced Orton to his feet by the chin, looking to give him the Samoan Spike. Orton sprang to life and dropped Sikoa with an RKO on the desk. It didn’t break. Cole wondered how much damage Orton had done to himself. In the ring, KO had amassed a collection of chairs. He set four of them up in 2×2 rows, then cracked a fifth over Tonga’s back repeatedly. He laid Tama across his creation and ascended the northeast turnbuckle. Tonga rose to meet him. The two teetered atop the turnbuckles. Owens gained position, hooked Tonga, and delivered a Super Fisherman’s Buster off the top and through the chairs.

Owens hooked the leg, but someone pulled the referee out of the ring just before three. It was Tanga Loa, brother of Tama Tonga. Cole was shocked. Tanga grabbed the steel steps and hit Orton in the head with them, taking him out. In the ring, Solo gave Owens a Uranagi on the pile of steel chairs, followed by a Samoan Spike for a cover and three count.

WINNERS: Solo Sikoa & Tama Tonga in 19:37

Graves said no one was more surprised by Tanga Loa’s arrival than Paul Heyman. Cole said Solo Sikoa is making a play for control of the Bloodline. The new faction raised one finger to the sky. Paul Heyman followed out of pure fear.

(LeClair’s Analysis: What a wild atmosphere. This was a smart choice to open the show, and man, did these guys benefit from the spot. Orton and KO’s reactions were the kind of thing you have to imagine neither man will ever forget. They were firmly in the palm of their hands throughout. The opening brawl worked well to sell the vitriol of the feud, and Aldis’ announcement of a street fight made a lot of sense. The action was plenty of fun. This never strayed far from the path of a run-of-the-mill WWE style street fight, but it hardly mattered because of the crowd’s energy and investment. The story here, of course, was Tanga Loa’s debut, furthering the story of Solo Sikoa’s Bloodline. Paul Heyman’s facial expressions were great as he sold the fear of the development. It feels like this angle finally has some life again after feeling like it’d been spinning its wheels for quite a long time.)

As Cole prepared to send the show to break, Orton and KO were shown walking gingerly to the back.

_Out of the break, Tiffany Stratton was out first. Cole and Graves agreed that she’s a dark horse in the match. Naomi entered second to a strong reaction. Finally, Bayley entered with the crowd chanting her name. Graves talked about how much this championship reign means to Bayley, and what she’ll do to retain the title. Samantha Irvin provided Championship introductions. The crowd announced it with her.

(2) BAYLEY (c) vs. TIFFANY STRATTON vs. NAOMI – WWE Women’s Championship Triple Threat match

The crowd sang to Bayley as the bell rang. Tiffany Stratton tapped her wrist, initiating a brief “Tiffy Time” chant. The newcomer went for Naomi right out of the gate, taking her down. Bayley came for Stratton. Tiffany flipped over her just as Naomi returned to her feet, leading to an early stalemate. The three women traded quick roll ups for two counts. Bayley took Stratton down and gave her a knee to the back. Naomi entered the fray, but Bayley did the same to her. She and Naomi traded quick roll up attempts. Stratton re-emerged and tried to roll both opponents up for two.

All three women rose to their feet simultaneously as the crowd continued to down out Cole and Graves. Naomi ducked a clothesline attempted from Stratton, sliding on her knees and popping up quickly. Tiffany still caught her with a quick kick. She tossed her into the northwest corner, then completed a handspring back elbow. She hit the ropes, but Bayley cut her off. The champion looked for a sunset flip on Naomi, but she kept her footing. Stratton kicked her into a pinfall attempt, them quickly broke it up. Tiffany tossed Naomi to the outside, then worked Bayley into the corner.

Stratton fought Bayley around the ring, dropping her to a knee. Bayley tried to catch her with a shot to the stomach, but Stratton blocked her and tossed her into the middle rope. She choked her with a knee, then whipped her toward the corner. Bayley leapt up and over her. The camera pulled back as the crowd continued to chant. Cole said there’s almost 12,000 in attendance. Graves said it sounds more like 75,000. Stratton hit Bayley with a handspring back elbow, then slammed her in the center. She covered, but Naomi returned to break it up just before 6:30.

Naomi traded punches with Stratton. She forced Tiffany against the ropes, then speared her through the middle one to the floor. Stratton recovered quickly, slamming Naomi into the barrier and then dumping her into the timekeeper’s area. Stratton tapped her wrist again. “What did I say?” she asked the crowd. Bayley came flying through the middle rope, dropping Stratton. Bayley went to retrieve Naomi from the timekeeper’s area. Naomi caught her with a kick. She leapt to the edge and gave Bayley a Blockbuster. Naomi tossed Stratton back onto the apron. She hooked her between her legs and twerked, then drove her neck and head into the middle rope. Naomi finished the sequence with a split legged Moonsault for a cover and two count.

Bayley returned to the ring and fought Naomi into the northeast corner. Naomi hoisted her onto the top turnbuckle. Stratton pulled Naomi to the mat, then went to work on Bayley. Naomi returned before too long and gave Stratton a sit-out Powerbomb off the top for a cover and near fall at 9:30. Naomi turned Stratton over into a hold. Bayley broke it up with an elbow off the top. She covered Naomi for a two, then Tiffany for the same. All three women rose slowly, Bayley in the center. She gave Naomi a sunset bomb into the bottom turnbuckle, then gave Stratton a Bayley-to-Belly for a cover and near fall.

Tiffany and Bayley continued to battle. Stratton got the better of the scrap and tossed Bayley into the southeast corner. She set up for the Moonsault, but Naomi pulled her to the floor. Stratton hoisted Naomi up for the Alabama Slam, then did a cartwheel to position herself in front of the announce desk. She slammed Naomi onto the table, then did the same to Bayley in front of the French announce desk. Stratton tossed both her opponents in the ring and set up for a double Prettiest Moonsault Ever. Both Bayley and Naomi moved. They gave Stratton a 3D/1D.

“This is awesome!’ the crowd chanted as the match approached 13:30. Bayley and Naomi traded blows. Naomi hooked Bayley and rolled her up. The champion turned momentum over and scored a three count.

WINNER: Bayley in 13:35 to retain the WWE Women’s Championship

Naomi gave Bayley a hug and raised her arm. Tiffany Stratton sat dejected at ringside.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Really fun triple threat match. This seemed largely centered around showcasing Tiffany Stratton, and it certainly did that. She and Naomi had some great, insanely athletic spots that were taken up a notch by the rabid crowd in Lyon. Like much of this card, it didn’t feel like this had a lot of juice going in, so it was up to the women to deliver entertaining action and I thought they did that in spades from start to finish. Bayley was the obvious choice to win, and Naomi seemed like the right person to take the pinfall. Stratton is clearly being primed for either a big one-on-one feud with Bayley, or a major presence in the upcoming Queen of the Ring tournament.)

-Jey Uso was shown warming up backstage. Solo Sikoa stepped into frame, flanked by Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. They gave him a menacing glare, then walked past him. Paul Heyman trailed. He stopped in front of Jey, looking concerned. He shook his head worriedly and walked away.

-Out of a break, Jey Uso’s music hit and he entered to the crowd to a massive reaction. They sang his theme, bounced in unison, and lit the venue with cell phone lights. Jey soaked it all in as he marched down the steps and made his way to ringside. Graves said it felt like the walls were moving. Damian Priest entered to the a chorus of boos. Cole talked up his title win at WrestleMania. Samantha Irvin gave Championship introductions with another boisterous follow-along from the crowd.

(3) DAMIAN PRIEST (c) vs. JEY USO – World Heavyweight Championship match

Damian Priest stepped to center as soon as the bell rang, looking for a lock up, Jey Uso had other ideas. He led the crowd in another bounce and “yeet” chant. They happily obliged. Priest looked on, annoyed. He tried to do a slow bounce, but Priest cut him off with an uppercut. He went for a second, but Uso ducked it and punched the champion into the corner. Jey got in one more “yeet”, angering the champion. He knocked him to the floor and looked to dive onto him, but Priest walked around the ring. Jey changed his plans, heading to the apron. Damian scooped him off and dumped him on the ringside barrier.

“UUUS-O!” went the crowd. Priest quieted them by dropping the challenger and throwing out his arms. Jey crawled to the southeast corner. Priest hit him with a running knee, then a clothesline out of the corner. He mocked the “yeet” chant and covered Jey for a quick two count as the match hit 3:00. Priest drove his knee into Uso’s back and wrenched his arms. Jey fought to his feet, delivering quick rights to the stomach. Priest cut off the comeback with a clap to the ears. “He’s not next,” Priest said, shaking his head. He gave Jey a couple weak kicks to the face, then more pointed ones to the ribs and hip. He went for a clothesline, but Jey ducked it and dropped the champion with a back Suplex.

Jey caught Priest with a number of right hands, then tossed him off the ropes. Priest tossed him into the air on the rebound, but Jey slid down his back and caught him with a quick kick and step-up Enziguri. Priest fell into the southeast corner. Jey led the crowd in another “yeet” chant, then charged. Priest shot to his feet and hoisted Jey onto the apron. Uso leapt to the top rope and caught Damian with a flying cross body for a cover and two count just before 6:00. Priest rolled to the outside for a reprieve. Jey gave him no quarter, diving through the middle rope like a torpedo. Priest crashed hard into the ringside barrier.

The challenger tossed Priest back into the ring. J.D. McDonaugh rounded the corner, attacking Jey fr0m behind. He tossed him in the ring. Priest noticed J.D. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked. Cole noted that Priest doesn’t want Judgment Day getting involved. Jey gave McDonaugh a Superkick. He leapt to the top rope and delivered a frog splash for a cover and near fall just before 8:00. Champion and challenger rose to their knees in the center, trading blows. Priest knocked Uso to a seated position, but Jey quickly stood and shoved the champion. Damian returned with hard forearms. He wound up for a bigger one, but Jey caught him with a kick. They traded forearms and kicks. Priest hit the ropes and caught Jey with a leaping sidekick. Both men rose slowly. The crowd got so loud that the hard camera shook.

Priest pulled Jey in and gave him a Razor’s Edge for a cover and near fall. Damian called for South of Heaven. Jey used the ropes to drag himself to his feet. Damian hoisted him into the air, but Jey broke free, hit the ropes, and dropped the champion with a Spear for a cover and near fall at 11:05. Jey looked out to the crowd, wondering what it would take. He headed to the top turnbuckle. Suddenly, Finn Balor leapt over the barricade and onto the apron. Jey saw him, leapt down and gave him a quick Superkick. Priest grabbed Jey and gave him a South of Heaven Chokeslam. He hooked the leg, but Jey kicked at the last moment. The crowd exploded, shaking the hard camera again.

Sitting in the center of the ring, Damian Priest tried to collect himself. He rose quickly, marching around the ring. Screaming “rise!” at Jey. Uso did. Priest kicked him in the head. He called again. Priest kicked him a second time. Jey rose slowly. Priest went for a third kick, but Jey cut him off with a Superkick. Priest stumbled. Jey delivered a second, then a third. Damian fell against the turnbuckle. Jey gave him another one. Priest fell to the mat. Jey leap to the top turnbuckle and delivered another Uso Splash. He hooked the leg, but J.D. McDonaugh put Priest’s foot on the bottom rope just before three.

“It’s 3-on-1 out here!’ Cole exclaimed. Jey leapt through the middle rope, toppling J.D. He rounded the ringside area and gave Balor a Spear. Jey climbed the turnbuckles again, looking for another splash. Priest met him at the corner and toppled him. He gave him a South of Heaven Chokeslam off the top turnbuckle and covered him for a three count.

WINNER: Damian Priest in 15:47 to retain the World Heavyweight Championship

Finn Balor and J.D. McDonaugh hit the ring, attacking Jey Uso. Damian Priest pulled them off his opponent. “That’s enough, he’s done!” he told them. He told them to stand at his side as he celebrated the win.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Last month, I criticized the decision to put the World title on Damian Priest despite thinking the execution was quite excellent. In the following weeks, my opinion hasn’t changed. Priest’s run, thus far, has largely felt like a definitive statement that the World Title is the “B” championship, and this first World title feud didn’t do much of anything to change that connotation. I presumed both Priest and Jey would be motivated to put on a strong match here, and I think they largely delivered. It was a strong match for its spot on the card, aided significantly by a crowd that treated it like a big deal. Even with the raucous crowd, this just never felt like a World Title program. Judgment Day continues to unravel, and I suspect we’re headed down the path of making Priest a full-fledged babyface before too long. I’d still make it a priority to move the title off of him sooner rather than later, as this just doesn’t appear to be working.)

-Backlash was announced as the largest arena gate in company history.

-Cole teased the Women’s Tag Team title match before tossing to a break.

-Asuka & Kairi Sane were out first out of the break. The crowd came to life for Bianca Belair’s entrance. Cole noted that she made history this week, becoming the first black woman to be the number one overall pick in the WWE Draft. Asuka and Kairi Sane danced to her theme at ringside. The lights in the arena cut and Jade Cargill made her impressive entrance. Cargill talked to the camera as she marched to the ring, slapping hands with fans along the aisle.

(4) ASUKA & KAIRI SANE (c) vs. BIANCA BELAIR & JADE CARGILL – WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship match

Bianca Belair began the match with Asuka. The two women circled each other. Bianca grabbed a side headlock as Graves discussed strategy for both women, specifically noting that Belair and Cargill are relatively inexperienced as a team, especially when compared to the reigning champions. Bianca and Asuka hit the ropes and Belair toppled the champion with a shoulder tackle. She slapped her back side and Asuka smiled, charging into a take down and cover for a quick two count. Asuka popped to her feet and spun Belair into an Octopus submission. Belair powered free with relative ease.

Asuka looked for a quick kick, but Belair ducked. She retaliated with a right, but missed wildly. Kairi Sane tried to attack Belair from the apron, but the EST knocked her to the floor. She gave Asuka a stalling Suplex. Jade Cargill presented her hand for a tag. Belair obliged. Asuka tagged in Sane. Cargill looked for a spear early, but Sane flipped over her and tried to take her out by the back of the leg. Cargill recovered quickly, scooping Sane into position for a Powerslam, then spinning her onto her knee. Cargill tagged in Belair. They gave her a tandem flip-lift into a slam before posing together.

Belair worked Sane into the corner as the match approached 4:00. She mounted Kairi for punches, but Sane slipped between her legs. She grabbed Belair’s braid and tried pulling her to the mat. Belair whipped her head around instead, sending Sane crashing to the floor. Belair went outside to meet her, but got cut off by Asuka. Her battle with the Empress lasted long enough for Sane to recover, ascend the turnbuckle, and leap onto Belair. She tossed the challenger back in the ring and pulled on her braid again, dragging her to the corner to tag in Asuka. The Kabuki Warriors hit sliding double knees to Belair, then Asuka covered for a two count just before 6:00.

The EST struggled on the mat as Asuka stepped on her braid, preventing a tag. Asuka grabbed onto Bianca’s arm and kicked at her shoulder repeatedly. Asuka tagged in Kairi Sane and whipped Belair to the corner. Sane gave Belair a sliding elbow in the corner, then caught Belair with a leaping elbow off the top. She hooked both of Belair’s legs for a two count. Sane continued to work over Belair. She tagged in Asuka, who climbed to the top rope. She leapt, but Belair ducked. Asuka came up empty. Bianca rolled her up for a two count. Asuka shot to her feet and kicked Belair in the gut. She set Bianca up for a Suplex, but Belair countered into one of her own.

Both women crawled desperately toward their corner. Asuka reached Sane for a tag. Belair got close, but Kairi walked on top of her back and used it as a launch pad onto Cargill, knocking Jade to the floor. The Kabuki Warriors continued to dominate, tagging in and out. They caught a seated Belair with sliding elbows to the front and back. Asuka covered for a two count. She applied an arm bar on the EST. Belair eventually managed to dead lift her into the air, but Asuka got a hand out and tagged in Sane. The double team continued. Sane tried to come off the top, but Belair ducked. Sane grabbed onto Belair’s hair again while Asuka held her waist. Belair fought both off. She leapt into the waiting hand of Jade Cargill

Cargill launched over the top, delivering a cross body to both Kairi and Asuka. The champions stumbled to their feet and to opposing corners. Cargill gave leaping splashes to both of them. She slammed Sane and stack covered her. Asuka broke it up at two. Cargill tried to military press Sane, but lost some balance and dumped her to the side instead. Sane reached Asuka for a tag. The Kabuki Warriors peppered Cargill with kicks. Sane gave Cargill a back breaker, then covered. The referee explained that Sane isn’t the legal woman. She tried to apply an arm bar on Jade, but Cargill fought her off. Asuka entered (after a confusing tag) and took Jade down. Sane tagged back in off of Asuka’s back. Cargill tried to slam her, but Sane held on and applied an arm bar. Belair entered to save the match, but Asuka cut her off and turned her over into the same hold.

Jade and Bianca dead lifted the Warriors into dueling Powerbombs. All four women were down as the crowd chanted “this is awesome.” Belair rolled to the apron. Cargill tagged her in. She dropped Sane and kipped up. Belair covered for a two count. On the outside, Asuka ripped Cargill to the floor and slammed her into the steps. In the ring, Belair gave Sane a Spinebuster. Sane sauntered to the corner. Belair charged, but Sane moved. Bianca went crashing into the ring post. Kairi tagged in Asuka. Asuka held Belair in place and Sane delivered the InSane Elbow from the top for a cover. Cargill broke it up at the last moment just after 16:30.

San came off the top for a ‘rana on Jade. Cargill caught her in Powerbomb position, then spun her into Electric Chair. She launched her into the air and caught her around the waist, hooking her armsand delivering Jaded in an immensely impressive transition. Belair hit the ring and gave Asuka the K.O.D. for a cover and three count.

WINNERS: Bianca Belair & Jade Cargill in 17:21 to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships

(LeClair’s Analysis: I expected this to be a relatively quick match, as all of Cargill’s have been to date. Instead, they wrestled a full-on WWE main event style match with a ton of impressive moments and near falls. Cargill’s offense, while still limited, was incredibly impressive, and she managed to work some spots in peril, too. There was some confusion late in the match with Kairi’s legality which let to some clunky moments with Cargill, but aside from that, this exceeded all expectations. Really good stuff with a fully invested crowd that made the women’s tag titles feel important for perhaps the first time in their history. I’m excited to see what this pairing of Belair and Cargill can be going forward.)

-Cole tossed to a video package hyping the King and Queen of the Ring tournaments, beginning Monday. They teased some of the opening round matches for both the men and women. He and Graves then tossed to a video package for the main event for Premium Plus subscribers.

A.J. Styles was out first. Fireworks exploded from the scaffolding just above the modified stage. He was wearing new black and purple ring gear. The crowd sang as her marched around the ring, hyped up. The arena lights cut and “Kingdom” rang out. Cody Rhodes emerged from the smoke-filled stage and the crowd sang along with every word. A defeaning “whoa” filled the arena as Cody threw back his arms for his signature fireworks. The crowd continued to sing Cody’s theme long after it had faded out. Cody soaked in the atmosphere. Production waited for them to finish before turning things over to Samantha Irvin for Championship introductions.

Michael Cole announced that Jessika Carr is the first woman referee to officiate a main event for the WWE title.

(5) CODY RHODES (c) vs. A.J. STYLES – Undisputed WWE Championship match

The singing crowd quickly settled in as Cody Rhodes and A.J. Styles circled one another and locked up. They jockeyed for position against each of the ring’s four turnbuckles. Corey Graves explained that the song is singing is in relation to the word “Phenomenal”, and they do it  every time the word is mentioned. Rhodes grabbed a side headlock on Styles and worked him to the mat. Styles used his legs to hook Cody’s neck and power to his feet. He tripped up Cody, but the champion leapt to his feet quickly.

A large dueling chant broke out. The announcers laid out to let it take hold. Styles grabbed a side headlock and took Rhodes to the mat. Cody wrestled free. Styles kipped up, but Cody took him down with the same hold. Styles transitioned out of it and into a neck hold. Cody flipped himself over, but Styles did the same, maintaining position and control. They wrestled to their feet. Styles worked Cody into the corner and gave him a hard shove. Cody stepped out of the corner and slapped A.J. hard. “Is that what you want?” he asked. Cole said that Cody is showing some fire, returning the receipt 24 hours later.

Champion and challenger battled to the northeast corner. Rhodes knocked Styles down, then did a cartwheel, a la Stardust. He got in Styles’ face and did the signature Stardust face wave. The crowd chanted for the character. Styles was enraged. He shot Cody off the ropes and gave him a leaping kick. The crowd began singing again, shaking the hard camera. A.J. hit the ropes, but Cody cut him off with a massive back drop. He grabbed a front face lock, then turned A.J.’s arm over. Cody have the challenger a stalling front Suplex. He adjusted his tights, then pulled Styles to his feet. A.J. forced him into the corner. A.J. attacked Cody’s shoulder. Graves noted that there have been rumors that Cody’s shoulder was injured in his match with Carmelo Hayes. Cole said Cody hasn’t talked about it.

Styles took Cody to the mat and applied a hammerlock. Cody worked to his feet and punched his way out of the hold. Styles toppled him with a knee to the gut. The crowd sang to him again. Styles kicked Cody across the chest. Cody blocked a second attempt and turned him into a cover for two. Cody landed flat-backed on the mat and gave Styles a signature uppercut. Styles was sent reeling, but bounced back with a kick to Cody’s head. He charged at the champion, but Cody side-stepped him. Styles crashed into the ropes, hard, falling to the outside. Styles dragged Cody to the outside as the match crossed 9:00. He slammed Cody’s head into the announce desk, then rolled back into the ring briefly to break the count. Styles stared down the French announce team. The crowd booed loudly. A.J. cleared off the table and went to retrieve the champion.

Cody managed to thwart Styles’ offense, driving him hip first into the steel steps. Cody rolled back in the ring. Styles climbed back onto the apron. The two traded right hands. Cody climbed to the middle turnbuckle, pulling A.J. up with him. He set Styles up for a Superplex. Styles tried to block with quick jabs to the stomach. Cody lifted him anyway, stalling in position atop the turnbuckle. A.J. managed to slide over Cody’s back and pull him to the mat. Cody grabbed at his lower back, stumbling to the adjacent turnbuckle. A.J. got underneath him in Electric Chair position. He dumped Cody onto his back.

A.J. went for a springboard Moonsault off the middle rope. Rhodes got his knees up. Both men writhed in the center of the ring as the camera pulled back for Cole to reset the stage, 12:30 into the match. Both men rose to their feet and began trading right hands. Cody hit a running forearm, then a quick snap Powerslam. He shook out the injured shoulder. Rhodes caught Styles with a Disaster Kick for a cover and two count. Champion and challenger struggled to stand. Styles hoisted Rhodes onto his shoulders, but Cody rolled through it into a cover for two. Both men popped up. Styles pulled Rhodes into the an Ushigoroshi for a two count.

“Who digs down, who has the will to survive?” Cole wondered as both wrestlers fought to their feet. Another “this is awesome” chant broke out. Rhodes rolled Styles to the apron and set him up for a Suplex. Styles countered it and gave Cody a Brainbuster on the edge of the ring. Graves said if Styles can get Rhodes back in the ring, we’ll have a new champion. “Cody has not moved,” he noted. A.J. broke the count, then headed back out to retrieve his opponent. He leapt at Cody, but Rhodes caught him in Powerbomb position and drove him through the French announce desk. “Cody has bought himself some extremely precious time,” Graves said.

Referee Jessika Carr counted both men from the ring. The crowd counted along with her. Styles rose first at eight, Cody at nine. Both hit the ring at the last possible moment. They met each other in the center of the ring as the match crossed 18:00. Short-arm lariats failed to topple either man. They traded rights, then kicks, the latter of which dropped both. Cody shook his hands and fingers, signaling the crowd. He used the ropes to steady himself. Styles did the same. They talked trash from opposing corners, then rushed to center. More punches. Styles caught Cody with a quick blitz of backhands. Cody countered with a Bionic Elbow for a cover and two count.

The camera pulled back again with both men down in the center. Rhodes began slapping the mat. He hit the ropes, looking for the Cody Cutter. Styles blocked it. He lifted Rhodes into Tombstone position. Cody slid down his back. Styles hooked Rhodes and Suplexed him right into the turnbuckles. A.J. gave the champion a Backbreaker, then got into position on the apron. He delivered a springboard 450 into the ring for a cover and two count at 21:45. Styles put his hands on his hips in exhaustion and frustration. He lifted Cody and gave him a Burning Hammer. Styles hooked the leg and Cody kicked at one.

Rhodes punched himself in the chin, loaded with adrenaline. He welcomed more for Styles. He blocked a punch, hit the ropes, and dropped A.J. with a Cody Cutter for a cover and two count. Styles rolled to the corner as a “fight forever” chant broke out. Cody shook his shoulder out. Styles charged at him. Cody caught him with a clothesline. Cody threw his arms back, calling for a finish. He set up for Cross Rhodes, but A.J. flipped free and delivered a Pale Kick. Cody stumbled to the corner. Styles charged, but got hoisted onto the apron. Styles caught Cody with a forearm. He called for the Phenomenal Forearm. Cody picked him out of the air with a Superkick.

With Styles smarting in the center, Cody pounced. He applied the Kimura. A.J. tried to establish a vertical base to break the hold. He did, lifting Cody into the air and slamming him. Cody tried to pull Styles back in with his legs. A.J. tried to turn it into a Styles Clash, but Cody slid free. He hooked Styles for Cross Rhodes. A.J. slid free. Rhodes rolled him up for a two count. Styles missed wildly with a clothesline. Cody leapt to the top rope and hit a Cody Cutter from there.

“They’re on their feet in Lyon!” Cole shouted. Rhodes threw his arms back again. He hooked Styles and delivered Cross Rhodes for a cover and three count.

WINNER: Cody Rhodes in 27:19 to retain the WWE Undisputed Championship

(LeClair’s Analysis: A.J. Styles didn’t feel like the strongest challenger for Cody’s first major title defense, but there was a certain level of intrigue heading into the match because of the two wrestlers’ histories. They seemed to just miss each other on so many occasions in various promotions, setting the stage for an intriguing, low-level dream match. Styles is certainly past his prime but still very good, and I’d noted on last night’s Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Post Show that it’d been quite some time since he’d been asked to deliver a main event level performance. I think he and Cody largely did. They were, of course, aided greatly by an absolutely electric crowd. Both guys seemed motivated to prove something here, and I thought they told an effective story with Rhodes leaning into the criticisms Styles had made of him in the build. The finishing sequence was quite fun, and I liked the idea of protecting both the Styles Clash and Phenomenal Forearm. Unlike so many of WWE’s main event style matches, these two were confident enough in the layout of their match to stay away from finisher spamming. While I don’t think this quite reached an “epic” level, especially with the finish never in a modicum of doubt, these two told a great story and wrestled a great match to cap off a show that boxed well above its weight class.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: WWE has very much taken a “take it or leave it” approach with their international PLEs, to largely strong results, Backlash was no exception. The weak card on paper was elevated dramatically by an audience in Lyon ready and willing to come unglued for absolutely anything WWE put on the table. For their part, the wrestlers carried some extra pep in their step feeding off the adrenaline. The result was matches that over-delivered across the board, making for an entertaining show from start to finish. This didn’t overstay its welcome, either, clocking in at just under three hours. An easy thumbs up and strong recommendation.




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