wrestling / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Backlash Matches of All Time

September 8, 2016 | Posted by Samuel Hayward
The Rock Attitude Era Image Credit: WWE

This Sunday, we will see WWE Backlash, the first brand-exclusive PPV of the revived brand extension. It will also be the first Backlash PPV since 2009. Previously used as the follow up show to the Grandaddy of them All, Wrestlemania, Backlash would give us an impression of what direction the company would go in the next 12 months. Being used either to wrap up WM feuds with vicious rematches, or starting new programs altogether, it’s true that this show left a big footprint in WWE history.

This time, however, the shows follows on from SummerSlam, and will serve to reveal to the fans what direction Smackdown will go down now that it’s isolation from Raw has been established. We will see new tag and women’s champions crowned, as well as what promises to be a phenomenal main event in AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose and a potential show stealer in Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz. A new chapter is being written in WWE and there are several opportunities for different superstars to establish themselves as the main players in Tuesday night’s programming.

With an interesting card coming to us this week, let’s look back at 8 of the best matches to ever take place at WWE Backlash. Don’t worry, you won’t see Vince McMahon trash talking God on any of these matches.

Number Eight – Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy (2009) : We kick things off with one of the matches from the last Backlash to take place. I should note I was very close to choosing Chris Jericho vs. Ricky Steamboat for this spot as well, so an honorable mention goes to Steamboat for putting on a great match in spite of his age at the time.

Before the Final Deletion was a thing in TNA, the Hardy Boyz were the high-risk sensation of WWE. Making themselves household names alongside The Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian, their spot-fest matches often stole the show in multiple different PPVs. Both men having left and returned to the company to pursue their own singles careers, the spotlight shone brightest on the often death-defying Jeff, whilst Matt continued to work as an underrated performer.

Things finally came to a head when Matt turned heel and attacked his brother at the Royal Rumble, costing him the WWE Championship in the process. The two squared off at WrestleMania in an Extreme Rules Match with Matt scoring the victory, but this match added more intensity and fire by adding the “I Quit” Stipulation.

Matt played the role of heel perfectly in the match, viciously attacking his brother and using their dead mother to plead with Jeff not to punish him further in the climax. The ending, Jeff’s threat and eventual swan dive off the top of a ladder, was poetic in the reflection of how ladders are what Team Xtreme is famous for in their WWE careers.

Number Seven – Two Man Power Trip vs. Brothers of Destruction (2001) : An all-star match for all the gold. What more could you ask for? Four of the household names at the height of the Attitude Era; Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Kane, and The Undertaker. These individuals created two star-studded tag teams, one would be short-lived, the other would return again and again through their careers. This was a tag team match that on paper felt like it should have been a fatal four-way match.

Steve Austin walked in as WWF Champion, HHH as the Intercontinental Champion and the Brothers of Destruction as the Tag Champions. After a near half hour of sheer brutality, HHH introduced his precious sledgehammer to beat Kane down and score the pinfall.

This was just the second time in history that a tag team held all of the gold, after Two Dudes with Attitude. It asserted the Power Trip as the two top men within the entire roster, with the McMahons endorsement.

Number Six – Batista vs. Triple H (2005) : Having won the Royal Rumble and in doing so secured his place in the main event of WM, Batista chose to turn on his Evolution stablemates, turning face in the process and beating a bloodied Triple H to become the World Heavyweight Champion. Now ready to prove himself as deserving of the main event slot, Backlash was the Animal’s opportunity to carve out a permanent spot for himself at the top going forward.

Utilizing Ric Flair early in the match to distract the champion, this felt more like a Handicap Match than it did a Singles Match. At one point the Cerebral Assassin brought his own referee out to make a pin count. HHH made Batista feel like he deserved his nickname as he sold his offense and resorted to cheap heel tactics to mount his comeback or maintain his position of control.

Throughout the contest Batista tried over and over again to hit his finishing move, the Batista Bomb. After several failed attempts, when it was finally hit, the move felt 10 times more powerful as HHH impacted against the floor. The Animal felt like he belonged in this match, no longer the young and inexperienced big guy that used to be carried by Ric Flair in tag team matches. This, like WM before it, was his debutant ball.

Number Five – Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena (2003) : Before he became the Beast of Suplex City at SummerSlam 2014, Brock Lesnar and John Cena had a short feud back in 2003 over the WWE Championship, with Lesnar the defending and dominant champion, and Cena the hungry and driven heel challenger.

Cena had come back from having his leg injured at the hands of Lesnar, and beat Chris Benoit to earn a title match. Cena’s rapper gimmick had allowed him to come into his own as a heel and his work became more and more popular, earning him what would become a permanent spot in the main event picture.

Lesnar was still recovering from a legitimate concussion caused when he famously botched a Shooting Star Press at WM in his match against Kurt Angle. Despite this, he was still able to show dominance throughout the match and demonstrated why he was the toughest man around, putting Cena through the commentator’s table and hitting his F-5 to secure the win.

The real storyteller in this match was the Doctor of Thuganomics, however, who played the role of heel perfectly throughout. Hurling Lesnar into the steel steps and making him bleed, hitting a low blow, trying to use his signature steel chain during the match, and constantly engaging the audience to draw heat. Cena played a fantastic bad guy for Lesnar to overcome, and showed everyone he deserved to be in the top spot. The rest is history.

Triple h vs. The Rock (Backlash 2000) by thetexasrattlesnake

Number Four – Triple H vs. The Rock (2000) : Disclaimer: Trips is on this list a lot.

At the height of his power alongside the McMahon family, this match was the very definition of McMahon shenanigans. Vince and Stephanie were both stood in HHH’s corner. Shane McMahon was the Special Guest Referee. Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson were called out by VKM to call the pinfall whilst he and Shane helped beat on The Rock.

The numbers game was too much for The Rock, who was overcome and practically mobbed every time he mounted any kind of offense. He would need a miracle to fight through these insurmountable odds.

Enter Stone Cold.

Stone Cold Steve Austin had not appeared in the WWF in 6 months, but when Linda McMahon announced that he would be at ringside to support The Brahma Bull in his title match, fans erupted. Vince McMahon had announced at the beginning of the match that Stone Cold would not be appearing as advertised, and for the majority of the match Rocky did stand alone. But in the climax, the glass shattered and down came Austin, chair in hand, to take it to McMahon and all of his cronies. Linda comes down with referee Earl Hebner to make the 3 count and hand The Rock with the WWF Championship.

This is the Attitude Era at its finest. Chaos, carnage, interferences everywhere you look and charismatic performances all round. Rock had the support of the fans and his capturing of the title was an incredible feel-good moment.

Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels… by BadDreamsComeTrue

Number Three – Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (2004): At WMXX, he made Triple H tap with the Crippler Crossface. Eddie Guerrero came out and celebrated with one of his best friends as the men held aloft their respective world championships. Fast forward a month to Backlash and Chris Benoit proved it wasn’t just a fluke, as he made Shawn Michaels tap with a Sharpshooter.

This was a thirty-minute-long match that delivered on WWE’s promise to be one of the greatest rematches of professional wrestling history. Immediate intensity from all three men gave this match a different atmosphere than its predecessor. Where at WM we went in with the pageantry, emotion and weight that all WM main events tend to have, this was allowed to just be an all-out fight, all three men looking like they had something to prove.

HBK played the heel a lot more effectively. HHH became more aggressive and adopted more of a brawling style than he had previously, even bringing the sledgehammer into the match.

What’s possible the most important aspect of this match, Benoit looked more dominant than he had a month prior. Instead of coming in as an underdog who had the fans but not the finish, he truly felt like a strong champion, decisively taking control at several points in the match. I remember most distinctly the point where he went from a Sharpshooter on HHH to a Crossface on HBK, he had the match won twice within a minute but HBK’s interference the first time and the absence of a referee the second forced the match to continue. His frustration and intensity made him the personification of the ‘ruthless aggression’ era.

This match made him feel like he wasn’t just a one-match wonder, but someone the company could use to steer the ship going forward. Looking back at his tragic end, it’s sad to see what he once was.

Number Two – Randy Orton vs. Cactus Jack (2004) : There are arguably only two good matches on the card at Backlash 2004, but both of those matches are amongst the best in Backlash history. This match was described by Mick Foley as the best match of his entire career. It could probably also take credit as the match that essentially made Randy Orton’s career. He was already in the middle of a successful Intercontinental Championship reign and his alliance with Evolution meant he was being positioned for greatness, but had he not performed as well in this match, he may never have looked like a true main eventer in the eyes of the fans.

Coming out of a decent Handicap Match against the Rock n’ Sock Connection at WM, the formula for this story was flipped on its head when Foley challenged Orton to a match on his terms. This meant a Hardcore Match with Evolution banned from ringside. It would a become a true coming of age story for the young Legend Killer as he would have to prove that he could stand at the top with WWE Legends, but more importantly, stand at the top alone.

From the beginning of the match, he made himself look like a great heel, making Foley look truly dangerous with his barbed wire bat as he cowered and retreated until he could use heel tactics to get the advantage. He bled and screamed and made you feel his pain. Similarly, to how John Cena took his lumps in an I-Quit Match against JBL at the Great American Bash, this was the match that Orton took his lumps.

Mrs Foley’s baby boy as usual delivered a great performance, pandering to the crowd with every weapon he introduced, whether it was his signature weapon, Barbie, a bag of thumbtacks, a barbed wire board, with every weapon and every move made he was drawing the fans more into the match and making them feel invested.

This was a great match for any hardcore fans out there, but also a fun match for anyone that typically isn’t. There was a great story told throughout the contest and by the time the bell rang to signal the end you felt both men truly left everything they had in the ring. You only had to look at Orton’s face afterward to really tell he felt lucky that he had survived.

Chris Benoit Vs Kurt Angle – Iron Man 30… by Geylow

Number One – Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle (2001) : If you want pure technical wrestling at its finest, look no further. Half an hour in an Ultimate Submission Contest, essentially an Iron Man Match where the only way to score points is to make your opponent tap out. Oh, and we’ll throw in the two best technical wrestlers on the planet, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. Sure, I can work with this.

This brought something never before seen in professional wrestling thanks to its unique stipulation. Bringing an amateur wrestling feel to it due to Angle’s mat wrestling and grounding of Benoit throughout the match, they managed to keep it interesting with the swinging of control and momentum for either match.

It also became more of a strategic contest that is typical in wrestling matches due to the point scoring system used for the match. You could tap out quickly under a submission hold to forfeit a point to your opponent, but also avoid lasting damage on the targeted body part and then work to mount a comeback.

Both men endured to go the distance, ending the 30-miute time limit at 3 points apiece, allowing a Sudden Death situation to occur. Chris Benoit would score the final submission not long after and claim the victory.

These two men put on a wrestling clinic, executing a plethora of various submission holds throughout the match and stuffing in as much offense and defense as they could. This was so much more than just the Crippler Crossface vs. the Ankle Lock. It was a submission showcase. Since this match there has never been another Ultimate Submission Match in WWE’s history, making it a one of a kind match up not only in Backlash’s history, but in professional wrestling history.

So what did you think? Was one of your favorite matches omitted from this list? Let us know in the comments. No matter what matches drew your top spots, we can all agree that we hope some of them to be replaced by new favorites come Sunday.