This past weekend had been one I’d had circled on my calendar for a few months. WWE held its Backlash PPV outside Chicago, and also hosted an NXT Takeover event there. To top it all off, legendary announcer Jim Ross also did his standup show on Sunday, and that was really special as well. Here are some of my thoughts from the weekend:
1. Jinder Mahal winning the WWE title was so much fun.
A few weeks ago, when WWE vaulted Jinder Mahal to number one contention, I was pretty skeptical of the angle. Nine months ago, he was toiling the independent circuit. After returning to WWE, for months they couldn’t really find anything productive for him to do. The foreigner heel motif is played out, and anyways he’s actually Canadian.
Then he had an, um, dramatic four-month body transformation, switched from Raw to Smackdown, and was immediately in the title picture. We all know that pro wrestling outcomes are predetermined. The championship belt is a prop, but it’s supposed to be a meritocratic reward for performers who have drawn reaction and money from the crowd. At the time Jinder Mahal “earned” the right to face Randy Orton, he’d done neither.
But, he’s won me over during the past few weeks. His promos have been a lot of fun. His henchmen are perfect. The “Americans hate me because I’m brown and rich” bit still makes me a little bit uncomfortable, but I crack up when he refers to himself as the MAHARAJA. Also, I’ve become bored by Randy Orton.
Nevertheless, the audience devoured the low-lying-fruit of the foreign heel. Orton was heavily cheered. Jinder was lustily booed. Vince McMahon essentially played the fans like a marionette, getting the exact reaction he gambled on when he vaulted Jinder to the top of the card with zero buildup. The match execution was great, and Jinder parading around the perimeter of the ring hoisting up the belt that even in his wildest imagination he couldn’t have envisioned winning as recently as a month ago was a powerful thing to observe.
When Jinder ended up winning, a lot of the adults in the crowd were actually pretty excited about it. You don’t get to be in the building for a world title change too many times in your life. The shockingness of this one made it pretty special.
2. Jim Ross’s live show was fantastic.
JR lost his beloved wife, Jan, abruptly in March. While this is clearly — and understandably! — still weighing on the broadcaster’s mind, he looked great, and put on a very entertaining show.
He initially talked about his history in Chicago — he called a legendary match between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair, the Steve Austin/Bret Hart double-turn, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame here — before bringing out Billy Corgan as a surprise guest. Corgan recently purchased the mostly-defunct NWA, and made a compelling argument for why he will be able to restore the brand. He believes there is a lot of latent talent out there, and that the history of the NWA was worthy of restoration. WWE Hall of Famer Gail Kim and her husband, the celebrity chef Robert Irvine, were also surprise guests on the show.
For the second half of the program, JR answered questions from the audience. All in all, it was a very fun event. I just wish it started and ended an hour later because we were stuck in Rosemont for three hours in between it and Backlash. The only thing to do there is to go to a bar, or the Rivers (where table minimums on the weekend can be $50 a hand; no thanks!). My buddy and I headed to a sports bar in between to devour appetizers, but overall the time between the two events was grueling.
3. NXT was also great.
The two matches of the night were Tyler Bate versus Pete Dunne for the UK championship, and a tag-team ladder match between the Authors of Pain and DIY (Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano).
The Bate-Dunne match has been getting chatter for match of the year candidacy. This match was announced by Jim Ross. At his standup show, JR revealed that he brought the two gentlemen together before the match and told them, “A lot of people are telling you this is the biggest night of your career so far. It is. What they haven’t told you is it’s also the biggest night of my career, because it’s my return to WWE [and I have to prove I deserve it.] You boys better give me something to work with!”
The match was splendid. I went back and watched it with the commentary, and that definitely enhanced it. However, the tag title match was better to be in the building for. Look at this:
All four of these men took insane bumps in the match. And then, when Ciampa turned on Gargano, the impact was palpable. I’ve probably been to about 10 WWE shows now, and I definitely haven’t seen anything near the devastation that this match brought. I have no idea what makes these performers willing to put their bodies through all that, but the emotions that triggers when you’re there in the arena are indescribable.
4. I wish the Fashion Police had beaten the Usos.
Typically, when WWE makes attempts at comedy, they fall flat. However, the Fashion Police — Tyler Breeze and Fandango — have been so much fun for the past few months. I know that they are doing a longer build, which, given the reaction they’re getting, will likely culminate in tag-team gold.
But, the building was going to absolutely POP if they had won last night. The bits where Tyler Breeze was rolling around in the ring to prevent one of the Uso brothers from jumping on him from the top rope slayed me, as did his costumes of a janitor and later an old lady.
I’m really glad that these characters have caught on for Breezango, and it just goes to show that sometimes when things aren’t working in WWE all is not lost if you can have a well-timed change of character and some perspective about straddling the fourth wall of pro wrestling’s surreality.