First things first, my condolences to the friends and family of Howard Finkel (I am writing this on the day of his sad passing). I think it’s fair to say that Howard was the greatest ring announcer in wrestling history and he will be sorely missed. If everyone in wrestling was as passionate about their job as Howard was then we’d have a much better industry that’s for sure.
Last time out we looked at the Main Events from WCW Spring Stampede over the years, so today we’re going to take a look at a WWF event that usually happened around the same time in the form of Backlash.
Backlash was usually the post-WrestleMania pay per view offering from the WWF, which often led to Mania re-matches most of the time. There have been a total of 14 Backlash events over the years, so I’ll be splitting this into three separate parts, otherwise it’ll be far too much to chew in one sitting.
There’s been some great Backlash Main Events and some that…weren’t, and there’s no better example than the offerings we have for you this time. Some of these matches are truly excellent, whilst others are a bit of slog.
Still though, I’m sure we’ll have fun regardless. Let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!
No Holds Barred
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock
Austin defeated The Rock at WrestleMania XV to win the Title, but he wanted his old Smokin’ Skull belt back as the regular WWF belt just wasn’t going to cut it. Vince McMahon was willing to comply on this due to being distracted by his ongoing issues with The Undertaker, but Shane McMahon and The Rock weren’t as willing to play ball and refused to give the belt back, thus heating up the feud even more. They actually let the heels get some considerable heat on Austin in the build-up, with Rock throwing him into the river and Shane clocking him with a shovel, so Austin is good and angry here and willing to crack some heads. However, if he touches Shane then he loses the belt.
The added subplot here is that Vince and Stephanie McMahon are waiting for the match to be over so that they can leave the building without Undertaker getting to Stephanie, so Vince leaves Stephanie with an army of cops in a car whilst he goes back inside to take care of business. Rock has the Smokin’ Skull belt with him for his entrance, but Shane gives it to a runner at ringside to take it to his office once the match starts. Austin is of course full of pish and vinegar and charges down to the ring to start the brawl. LET THE PUNCHING COMMENCE!!!
Shane has sworn on his grandfather’s name that he’d ref this fairly, so him being a dodgy ref at this stage would be a stain on the memory. We quickly head outside, with Rock taking most of the match in the early going like he did the previous month at WrestleMania. Austin probably gave more to Rock than any of his other heel opponents actually. Case in point, Rock destroys the entrance area by flinging him into it and then chokes away at him for good measure. Austin manages to reply by suplexing Rock on the concrete however, as both of these guys seem to be throwing caution to the wind for this one.
Austin gets some revenge by flinging Rock into the other section of the entrance staging, before choking away with a cable for good measure. Both men are just bumping all over the place in this one, which is pretty impressive considering this is post-Owen Driver for Austin and Rock was never really known for being a big bump taker in outside the ring brawls (Although he was always up for a big sell job should the situation call for it). After some back and forth brawling all around the entrance area, we eventually head back into the ring, where Shane and Austin get into a verbal disagreement, but Austin doesn’t hit him, so holds onto his Title for now.
Austin throws Rock to the outside and tries to put him through the Spanish announce table, but Rock blocks that by hitting Austin right in the ice daggers before giving him a Rock Bottom through the table. Rock chooses this moment to steal a commentary headset so he can insult Austin some more before sending him over the barricades into the crowd again for a clothesline. Shane wants Rock to put Austin in the ring so they can defeat him, but Rock decides to grab a camera and cut a further promo on the Champ. However, this allows Austin to recover and, when Rock points the camera at him again; Austin is ready and waiting for a Stunner in an awesome moment.
One good thing about the wild “WWF Main Event Style” from this era is that you got wacky spots like that. Austin sticks Rock back in the ring to finish him off, but Rock counters the Stunner and Shane takes a momentary bump as a result. Rock gets a Rock Bottom off that for a double down and Shane drapes Rock’s hand over Austin for two, thus breaking his pre-match vow to call things fairly and spitting on his grandfather’s name in the process. This is Vince’s cue to come down with another referee to take Shane out of proceedings with a belt shot. This allows Austin to deliver a Stunner and a belt shot to Rock inside the ring for the three count.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
Another good match between these two, and to be honest I don’t think there was ever a bad one. It was actually a bit on the short side, coming in at just over 17 minutes, so it didn’t really have the epic feel that some of their later battles would have. However, it was fun from start to finish and the brawling was really well done. Definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it. I think it’s kind of a forgotten match between the two in some ways, but it’s really good.
Vince voluntarily delivers the Smokin’ Skull belt to Austin before lingering in the entrance way, which proves to be a mistake as The Ministry of Darkness shows up to kidnap her. The police deal with them and demand that the car drive off, but it turns out that Undertaker is in the driver’s seat! He delivers the famous “Where to Stephanie?” line and drives off whilst Stephanie screams. Don’t worry readers, Austin would rescue her the following night in possibly one of the few occasions where he actually acted like a traditional heroic babyface.
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon
Champ: Triple H w/ Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley and Vince McMahon Vs The Rock w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin
Triple H retained his Title at WrestleMania 2000 thanks to Vince McMahon turning on The Rock, thus solidifying The McMahon-Helmsley Faction. Rock did manage to defeat Big Bossman and Bull Buchanan to earn himself a Title shot at Backlash, but ended up getting gang beaten and bloodied as a result, so Linda McMahon (The only non-evil McMahon family member) decided to give Rock a corner man for the pay per view in the form of Stone Cold. Stone Cold had blown up DX’s expensive bus on the Smackdown previous to this, but as of the match starting he hasn’t arrived yet and Vince gleefully tells the crowd that “the card is subject to change”.
Thus Rock has to go it alone against all the odds, and it doesn’t go to well for him as Vince interferes liberally and Shane seems like he has no desire to ref things fairly. This is how you stack the deck against a babyface, as the crowd is just desperate for Rock to win here but they are doing everything they possibly can to make it look like he won’t. It’s all for naught of course if the babyface doesn’t actually prevail in the end though, which is a lesson they mostly seem to have forgotten these days outside of the time they had Daniel Bryan win the Title at WrestleMania XXX and the time they had Roman Reigns beat Sheamus in Philly. Sadly those are isolated cases though.
Rock gets the odd hope spot here and there, but the majority of the match thus far has just been one long heat segment, which surprised me back in the day when I saw it for the first time as I hadn’t really seen a big Main Event match worked like that. It’s effective on this occasion though, even if it feels like a bit of a concession to Triple H for what will happen in the closing stages. Rock sells everything well, getting the right mixture of looking out for the count for whilst also showing enough fight that you think he could conceivably fight his way back into contention.
A double clothesline sees both men go down, although Shane not so subtly tries to revive Triple H during the count itself in a funny bit of heel chicanery. Shane accidentally on purpose “misses” Vince clocking Rock with the Title belt, which gets two for Triple H when he makes the cover. Rock has finally had enough of this selling malarkey and makes a comeback, getting a DDT for what should be the finish, but Shane refuses to count. That spot is really clever actually as it showed that, even with all the odds against him and after all the cheating that had already taken place, he would have won it fair and square if not for the heels being jerks, so it essentially gives him a free pass for what is to come.
Rock tries to get revenge on Shane, but this allows Triple H to cheap shot him. Triple H tries to put Rock through the Spanish announce table, but Rock manages to fight him off and ends up giving both him and Shane a dual Rock Bottom through the table in a great spot. It should be noted that the crowd is absolutely losing their minds at this stage. Rock drags Triple H back into the ring, which leads to Vince attacking Rock from behind. Rock no sells that and goes after the chairman, but this allows Triple H to catch him with a Pedigree, which is the cue for stooges Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco to run down in ref shirts to count Rock out. Rock survives that however, so the stooges stomp away at Rock and Vince clobbers him with a chair, which means we have reached…
Yes, that. However, when things look bleakest for Rock a familiar sound of glass shattering fills the arena and Stone Cold comes down with a chair to raise some heck whilst the crowd goes positively bananas. Vince, Shane, Triple H and the stooges all get chaired upside the head, which leads to Linda McMahon showing up with formerly fired referee Earl Hebner, who had been fired thanks to Triple H. Linda even shoves down Stephanie to ensure that all the evil McMahons have been dealt with. With the match now an even playing field, Rock gets a spine buster and follows up with The People’s Elbow for a fair three count from Hebner to claim the Title as the building erupts.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: THE ROCK
Wow, this bloody match mate! To this day I think it still counts amongst the very best “babyface overcomes the odds to win” stories in wrestling history, especially because Triple H had been winning so much by this point that he seemed all but invincible. Rock’s big victory was the release valve the entire WWF fan base had been waiting for after months of seeing their heroes get stomped on, and I’ll be honest that it took me by surprise at the time as I just couldn’t picture them changing the Title on a B show like this. It was definitely the right time to do it though and it was necessary to make sure the fans didn’t lose faith in Rock after many failed attempts.
Austin tows the destroyed DX bus down to the ring with him following Rock’s victory, just to rub it in for the heels, at which point he and Rock enjoy a beer together in an almost handing of the baton moment. This at the time felt to me like Austin saying “You need to be the top face whilst I’m gone”, and the crowd is on board with that as the show comes to a close.
All Titles Are On The Line
WWF Champ Stone Cold Steve Austin and Intercontinental Champ Triple H w/ Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley Vs Tag Team Champs Undertaker and Kane
So the stipulation here is that if Austin and Triple H win then they get the tag belts, but if Undertaker and Kane win then whoever drops the fall loses their belt to the person that pins them. So if Undertaker pins Triple H then he’s the IC Champ for instance. Austin turned heel at WrestleMania X-Seven when he teamed up with Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock. Triple H teamed up with Austin the following night on Raw to form The Two Man Power Trip, which was ultimately all to set up Triple H turning babyface and challenging Austin at Summer Slam for the Title. Of course that one didn’t pan out for various reasons.
Kane is doing an arm injury angle here due to a heel beat down from The Power Trip, which plays into the match’s story as it progresses. The heels do the stall job to start, putting off actually starting the match for as long as they can. It’s one of those things that might work in the arena when you can boo them for not fighting and have some fun with it, but when you’re watching at home on the telly it’s just boring. Taker and Kane eventually just decide to chase the heels down, which leads to some outside brawling. Taker and Austin pair up whilst Kane and Triple H lock horns, setting up the resulting matches for the next pay per view.
Austin actually begs off and shows fear to Undertaker, which was something he no doubt felt he had to do now that he was a heel, but it always just felt jarring to me, even though I loved Austin’s heel act in WCW when he was teaming with Brian Pillman. I just didn’t think Austin’s in-ring style really had to change that much, even though he was a heel now. Turning heel shouldn’t have automatically made him a coward, and I always felt a better approach would be to make him more sadistic and vicious in the vein of the match with Rock at Mania X-Seven. They tell the story that Taker is unwilling to tag Kane in due to his brother’s arm injury, and indeed whenever Kane is in the ring it often leads to the heels targeting the body part and trying to work it over.
Surprisingly it’s Taker who gets cut off for the heat segment, even though you’d think Kane getting worked over before making the hot tag would make more sense due to his physical impairment. Taker manages to catch Triple H with a running DDT, but refuses to tag Kane due to Kane’s injury, which is a neat little twist in the usual tag formula actually. Kane finally has enough and tags himself in for the hot tag and he runs wild on the heels with punches and big boots. The heels bump all over the place for Kane, but Austin is eventually able to catch him with the Divorce Court arm breaker and that’s enough for our second heat segment.
It’s like The Andersons Vs Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, except at about half the speed and Kane playing the role of Ricky Morton. To give him credit, Kane does a decent sell job in all honesty, but it’s not on par with one you’d get from Morton. I really don’t think a glorified Raw Main Event needed two whole heat segments either to be honest, but the crowd stays with Kane for the most part as Triple H and Austin do the usual heel heat spots to work him over. On paper you’d look at the match structure and think it all made sense, but it’s just too long for the most part and a bit too slow for my liking.
Things seem to fall apart at one stage, as Triple H gives Kane a Pedigree and then tags in Austin to make the cover (which kind of makes no sense) and Taker comes in to kick Austin in the head to break up the pin. This brings in Triple H but Earl Hebner decides to ignore that Taker is in the ring and go over to get Triple H back onto the apron, which allows Taker to choke slam Austin. Kane gets two from that and then gets an enziguri on Triple H, which causes to collide with Hebner for a ref bump.
This means Hebner misses Kane tag Taker, but Taker does the big hot tag segment anyway before getting The Last Ride on Triple H. Hebner refuses to count however as Taker isn’t the legal man in his eyes, which makes me ponder why he let Taker batter both men for that long without disqualifying him? Hebner takes a spill outside following that when Austin knocks an arguing Taker into him. Austin and Taker brawl in the crowd, whilst Kane gets the better of Triple H, which leads to Vince running down to help the heels out. Kane takes out both Vince and Stephanie, but the distraction allows Triple H to clock Kane with his trusty sledgehammer, and that’s enough for three from a revived Hebner.
WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: STEVE AUSTIN AND TRIPLE H
This was on its way to being a serviceable, if rather dull, match but it kind of fell apart at the end there and got a bit messy. It also just didn’t feel like a pay per view Main Event, even for a B show like Backlash. It felt like the match you would put on earlier in the card to keep the storylines ticking over whilst you put a hotter match in the Main Event slot. If you got this as a Smackdown Main Event you’d feel it was an okay TV match, but it didn’t feel PPV Main Event calibre. You could also tell that the people in the match probably realised this too, which is why they decided to stretch it out a bit to try and make it feel more important. The match length of 25 minutes was just too long and they could have quite easily shaved off 10 minutes of that and still achieved everything they wanted to.
Champ: Triple H Vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan
Hogan had stolen the show with The Rock at WrestleMania X-8, overshadowing Triple H’s Title win in the process, and his career was in the midst of an Indian summer. Seeing as Hogan was enjoying popularity that he hadn’t had in years thanks to the match with Rock, the WWF decided to roll the dice on him and put him in a pay per view Main Event to see if the nostalgia pops Hogan was enjoying would juice the Backlash buy rate. Going in most expected Triple H to win, including Hogan himself if you read his book (Although that book isn’t particularly known for being the most honest tome in the history of wrestling) with the match being a chance for new Champ Triple H to add another big name to the list of people he’d beaten in his career.
Annoyingly Hogan was using Voodoo Chile as his entrance music during this period, which means we have to listen to a fake dubbed version of it so that Jimmy Hendrix’s family can’t demand any money. This means that we can’t hear the real crowd reactions, which strips away a good part of the appeal that comes with watching Hogan do his thing. That’s the only reason I hate the dubbing to be honest. If they could find a way to dub the music but keep the real crowd reactions intact then I’d have no issue with it, but sadly I don’t think such a thing is possible. Maybe one day eh?
There’s an excellent camera angle as Triple H does his water spit routine and you see Hogan watching on in the background primed and ready to go, which Jerry Lawler rightly gives credit to on commentary. Man, that shot was fantastic. They actually establish that Triple H is stronger in the early going, as Hogan can’t do his usual shove spot with him at first before finally getting it on the third attempt for a big pop from the crowd. That was a simple spot done well that showed that Hogan is outmatched for the most part but he still has a chance of winning.
We get the Mania VI test of strength spot, with Triple H playing Ultimate Warrior and Hogan playing…err…Hogan, but Triple H decides to transition to an overhead wrist lock when it looks like he’s about to lose, which actually leads to some in the crowd appreciating his savvy and chanting for him. This has all been worked very smartly thus far, and they’ve managed to keep the crowd invested as a result. Triple H finally decides he’s had enough of this wrestling lark and starts throwing punches, which leads to Hogan fighting back with some punches and chops of his own.
Hogan controls things for a bit, even beating Triple H up outside the ring for a bit and giving him a suplex out there. Hogan actually gets a Diamond Cutter of all things back inside for two, but Triple H goes to the knee to put a stop to his momentum to audible boo’s from the crowd. Triple H stays on the leg, which has essentially turned him heel with the crowd, and methodically works the appendage over. I’ve just realised that Triple H is pretty much playing the Flair role in a Flair Vs Hogan match here, as Hogan got to clobber him for a while until he went after the leg to put a stop to it. That’s most of the Flair Vs Hogan matches in a nutshell.
Triple H busts out the Figure Four to complete the tribute, even grabbing the ropes for that classic Flair touch. Hogan sells the hold well and is eventually able to turn it over, thus causing Triple H to break it and try a sleeper instead. The crowd gets behind Hogan and he feeds off the energy to fight his way back up and deliver a back suplex for a double down. Hogan throws the punches once he gets back up and gets the Axe Bomber clothesline before dropping the leg for what would appear to be the three count, but Chris Jericho pulls out the ref before he can count and then clocks Hogan with a chair for good measure, bitter that Hogan got the Title shot instead of him.
Triple H doesn’t like Jericho interfering in his match however and beats him up for the millionth time before removing him from the ring. However, when he goes back to Hogan he finds that Hogan is Hulking Up, and we get the full routine with the big boot. This time Triple H is able to dodge the leg drop though and gets the Pedigree, which is Undertaker’s cue to run down and attack the referee this time. Taker comes in and hits Triple H with a chair and goes to drape Hogan over, but Hogan fights him off and sends him outside, only to then drop the leg and win the match anyway.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: HOLLYWOOD HULK HOGAN
I liked that far more than I remembered, although the screwiness with the finish left a bit of a sour taste. Undertaker was the new #1 contender and clearly didn’t want to face Triple H for whatever reason, hence why he screwed them. Hogan refusing the pin from the Taker chair shot, only to then just leg drop Triple H and beat him anyway didn’t really work and I’m not sure what they were really going for with that to be honest.
The match itself was worked well for the most part, and they never lost the crowd. I actually liked the match structure quite a bit and I was never bored watching it either. It’s not as good as the match with Rock as it doesn’t have the bigger Toronto crowd contributing to the overall atmosphere, but in general it was a decent match with a responsive crowd and a lousy finish.
Triple H has every right to be angry following that nonsense, especially as Hogan kind of screwed him, but he offers a handshake anyway to keep himself a babyface for the time being. Triple H would eventually get his win back of course, as he pinned Hogan on an episode of Smackdown after Hogan lost the belt. Hogan’s run on top didn’t last that long and it ended up being a bit of disaster ratings wise, but the crowd here dug him at least.
The Rock Vs Goldberg
Goldberg was finally signed by WWE in 2003, long after the disastrous Invasion storyline had ended and just after Stone Cold Steve Austin had decided to retire, thus meaning we never got one of wrestling’s most requested Dream Matches of Goldberg Vs Austin. Rock was ready to go away and make some more movies though, and was also a friend of Goldberg in real life, so he volunteered to step up and put the new guy over, hence this match. They make the mistake of allowing Rock to cut a hilarious pre-match promo however, where he shows more charisma than anyone else on the roster and tells the crowd that they can wipe a cockatoo’s ass with what they think. He closes by calling Goldberg a “whisker-biscuit ball headed bitch”, which gets a “Rocky” chant from the crowd.
In a weird touch, Goldberg was using the WWE version of his theme here, which they often used to dub over WCW footage for years, but on this occasion they dub the WCW version over the WWE version on the WWE Network. I just can’t even begin to comprehend the decisions they make on this platform sometimes. Just use the original audio unless there is some sort of copyright reason that you can’t. Surely they own their own version of Goldberg’s entrance theme don’t they? If not, why were they dubbing it over the WCW theme for so long on WCW footage? The music rights maze just baffles me. We really need some new legislation to get it under control.
Now hindsight and Goldberg’s later WWE run has shown us that the best way to book this would be for Goldberg to plough through Rock in under two minutes and pin him clean to pop the crowd, but this was back in 2003 when they were still trying to make Goldberg conform to the traditional WWE babyface mould, so he gets an extended shine where he bumps Rock around until he misses a Spear, which allows Rock to get some heat on him. Thus Goldberg has to sell for a long time, which is a totally counterintuitive way of getting him over and thus means the match becomes all about Rock clowning about and having fund, which of course causes a lot of fans to cheer for him because he’s so entertaining.
Rock goes to a Sharpshooter, which would be an excellent opportunity for Goldberg to power out of the hold and send Rock flying in impressive fashion, but we can’t be having ex WCW star Goldberg looking so good at the expense of home grown WWE guy Rock, so Goldberg has to instead meekly grab the ropes and then get punched in the balls by the Rock for good measure. Goldborg (Called as such by Jonathon Coachman on commentary) manages to catch Rock with a desperation Spear, but lays around selling rather than popping back up, before making the old “block a punch, thrown one of your own” traditional babyface comeback.
Rock gets Goldberg with a Spear of his own (to a big pop from the crowd) and then follows with a Rock Bottom for two. Rock continues to play to the crowd, as I honestly ponder whether he was actively trying to sabotage Goldberg at this stage? That would be super weird seeing as he apparently played a big hand in convincing Goldberg to come to WWE to begin with, but man, it’s hard not to think it watching this back. Rock drops The People’s Elbow for two, which leads to the fans chanting “Bulls—“ as a result. Wow, great job with your new top face there WWE. Goldberg replies with two Spears, to audible boo’s and “Goldberg sucks” chants, before following up with the Jackhammer to put this match out of its misery.
WINNER (BUT LOSER IN THE LONG RUN): GOLDBERG
This was as counterproductive a match as you could possibly have done for Goldberg’s debut, as a combination of Rock’s antics and the match structure handicapped him straight out of the gate. The actual execution wasn’t entirely awful, but the match itself actively offended me, so it gets a DUD and f’ing likes it! No wonder Bill was in such a foul mood about WWE for so long.
Shame to end it on a sour note, as two of these matches were great and Hogan/Triple H was a pleasant surprise. Backlash 2000 in general is one of the best shows the WWF has ever done, so definitely watch that if you haven’t before.
I’ll hopefully see you all next week for 2004 to 2008