SmackDown's strong run of shows screeched to a halt last night. With Backlash just five days away, the blue brand produced there most laborious episode in months, featuring four bland, heatless matches held together by a string of segments that were far more compelling than anything happening from bell to bell.
It wasn't a terrible show, but it was several steps beneath SmackDown's usual quality, and one of the most uninspiring go-home shows WWE have produced recently. The death of pay-per-view business coupled with the WWE Network's rise gives the company little incentive to sell their major events anymore, and after last night, SD will limp towards Backlash with very little buzz.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn were absent, but both of their feud partners were in the house, with Baron Corbin competing against WWE Champion Randy Orton in the night's main event. Jinder Mahal was a menace throughout the show, scoring the biggest win of his career ahead of Sunday's title shot, while AJ Styles played the fall guy, Breezango's Fashion Files continued, and the women's division progressed in the most predictable way.
Who was culpable in dragging the show down, and who at least attempted to raise the bar? Let's take a look...
The first match of the night featured one of WWE's most beloved competitors wrestling one of their most maligned, and while AJ Styles did his best to drag a decent match out of Jinder Mahal, he ultimately failed. The action was acceptable when AJ was in control, but became sluggish as soon as 'The Maharaja' took charge, just like every other match Mahal has had over the past few weeks.
Jinder's wrestling style is as basic as it gets. This would be fine if he could command a crowd, but he can't, and his matches invariably lose all their heat whenever he goes on the offensive. It happened against Sami Zayn two weeks ago, and again in last week's tag match: whenever Mahal gets aggressive, the audience go to sleep, and this contest felt at least double its 15-minute runtime as a result.
There's now more than enough evidence to suggest that Jinder vs. Randy Orton is going to be a dud. The fact that he has struggled to produce acceptable bouts with two of the best wrestlers in the world (Styles & Cesaro) exemplifies Mahal's flaws, and 'The Viper' doesn't have a great record when it comes to carrying lesser workers. This contest failed, and while the Kevin Owens interference helps protect Styles, it did neither competitor any favours ahead of Sunday night's pay-per-view.