|Date||May 16, 2021|
|Attendance||0 (behind closed doors)[Note 1]|
|WWE Network event chronology|
WrestleMania Backlash was a professional wrestling pay-per-view and WWE Network event produced by WWE for their Raw and SmackDown brand divisions. It took place on May 16, 2021 and was broadcast from the WWE ThunderDome, hosted at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida. It was the 16th event in the Backlash chronology and was WWE's first pay-per-view to present the ThunderDome from the Yuengling Center during the COVID-19 pandemic, following a four-month residency at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The 2021 event returned Backlash to its original position as the post-WrestleMania PPV, as the event was known for from 1999 to 2009. It was in turn renamed to "WrestleMania Backlash."
Seven matches were contested at the event, including one on the Kickoff pre-show. In the main event, Roman Reigns defeated Cesaro by technical submission to retain the Universal Championship. In another prominent match, Bobby Lashley defeated Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman in a triple threat match to retain the WWE Championship. Also on the undercard, Bianca Belair defeated Bayley to retain the SmackDown Women's Championship and Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio defeated Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode to win the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, thus becoming the first-ever father and son team to hold a tag team championship in WWE.
The event included a promotional tie-in for the zombie film Army of the Dead, which stars former WWE wrestler Batista. In addition to Batista doing a voice over for the event's opening vignette, the Lumberjack match between Damian Priest and The Miz included zombies as the lumberjacks. This tie-in was heavily panned and was covered by the New York Post, calling it "one of WWE's saddest moments ever." Despite the negative criticism towards the tie-in, the rest of the event was well received.
Backlash is a recurring pay-per-view (PPV) and WWE Network event that was established by WWE in 1999. The event continued annually as the post-WrestleMania event until 2009, which was the final event until 2016. It was brought back that year following the reintroduction of the brand extension, where WWE again split its roster between the Raw and SmackDown brands where wrestlers are exclusively assigned to perform; the 2016 event also ended its previous tradition of being the post-WrestleMania pay-per-view. The event then continued annually until 2018 when it was replaced by Stomping Grounds the following year, but was reinstated in 2020. The 2021 Backlash was initially scheduled for June 20, however, during WrestleMania 37, it was revealed that Backlash would take place on May 16 and would be titled "WrestleMania Backlash," thus returning the event to its original position as the post-WrestleMania PPV, and being the first Backlash to have an altered title. It was the 16th event in the Backlash chronology and featured wrestlers from the Raw and SmackDown brands.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that began affecting the industry in mid-March 2020, WWE had to present the majority of its programming from a behind closed doors set. Initially, Raw and SmackDown's television shows and PPVs were done at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. A limited number of Performance Center trainees and friends and family members of the wrestlers were later utilized to serve as the live audience. In late August, these programs were moved to a bio-secure bubble called the WWE ThunderDome. The select live audience was no longer utilized as the bubble allows fans to attend the events virtually for free and be seen on the nearly 1,000 LED boards within the arena. Additionally, the ThunderDome utilizes various special effects to further enhance wrestlers' entrances, and arena audio is mixed with that of the chants from the virtual fans. After being hosted at Orlando's Amway Center, the ThunderDome was relocated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida in December.
Due to the start of the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays season, as Tropicana Field is the home venue of the Tampa Bay Rays, on March 24, 2021, WWE announced that they would relocate the ThunderDome to the Yuengling Center, located on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa, which began with the April 12 episode of Raw. Subsequently, WrestleMania Backlash was the first WWE pay-per-view produced from the ThunderDome at the Yuengling Center.
The show comprised seven matches, including one on the pre-show. The matches resulted from scripted storylines, where wrestlers portrayed heroes, villains, or less distinguishable characters in scripted events that built tension and culminated in a wrestling match or series of matches. Results were predetermined by WWE's writers on the Raw and SmackDown brands, while storylines were produced on WWE's weekly television shows, Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown.
At WrestleMania 37, Bobby Lashley defeated Drew McIntyre to retain the WWE Championship. On the following night's Raw, Lashley's manager MVP declared that no one could defeat Lashley. McIntyre interrupted and wanted another opportunity at Lashley, claiming that he would have defeated him if MVP had not distracted him and prevented him from performing the Claymore Kick on Lashley. Braun Strowman and Randy Orton then interrupted and stated their respective cases to challenge for the title. WWE official Adam Pearce then scheduled a triple threat match between McIntyre, Strowman, and Orton with the winner facing Lashley for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania Backlash, which was won by McIntyre. On the April 26 episode, Strowman challenged McIntyre to a match with the added stipulation that if Strowman won, he would be added to the championship match at WrestleMania Backlash. Strowman defeated McIntyre thus the championship match became a triple threat match.
At WrestleMania 37, Bianca Belair won the SmackDown Women's Championship. On the following episode of SmackDown, The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford, the latter of whom is Belair's real-life husband) threw Belair a championship celebration. Later, Bayley challenged Belair for the title. The following week, the championship match was scheduled for WrestleMania Backlash.
At WrestleMania 37, Rhea Ripley defeated Asuka to win the Raw Women's Championship. The two had a rematch the following night on Raw, however, the match ended in a no-contest after interference from a returning Charlotte Flair, who attacked Asuka. Prior to the match, Flair, who had been off TV for the past month, returned that night after missing her first WrestleMania since WrestleMania 32 in 2016. The following week, Flair lost to Asuka thanks to a distraction from Ripley. Following the match, an irate Flair attacked the referee. Adam Pearce subsequently suspended Flair, however, fellow WWE official Sonya Deville, who primarily appears on SmackDown, reinstated Flair the following week after Flair made a public apology on Raw. On the May 3 episode, another rematch between Ripley and Asuka for the Raw Women's Championship was scheduled for WrestleMania Backlash. However, Deville allowed Flair a chance to present a proposal and after hearing Flair's case, Deville added Flair to the championship match to make it a triple threat match.
On the April 16 episode of SmackDown, Universal Champion Roman Reigns, along with Paul Heyman and Jey Uso, boasted about retaining his championship at WrestleMania 37. Reigns was then interrupted by Cesaro, but before he could speak, Reigns, Jey, and Heyman left the ring and departed backstage. Later, Cesaro confronted Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville about facing Reigns that night, even as a non-title match. However, instead of Reigns, Cesaro faced Jey in the main event, which ended by disqualification when Seth Rollins, who Cesaro had defeated at WrestleMania, interfered and attacked Cesaro, proclaiming that their rivalry was not over. On the special Throwback SmackDown on May 7, Cesaro was scheduled to face Rollins with the added stipulation that if Cesaro won, he would earn a Universal Championship match at WrestleMania Backlash. Cesaro defeated Rollins once again, securing the championship match. Also that episode, Jey's brother Jimmy returned from injury, last appearing at Hell in a Cell in October 2020, and although conflicted at first, particularly because of what Reigns did to them at Hell in a Cell, Jimmy also eventually aligned with Reigns, but soon turned on Reigns.
|English commentators||Michael Cole (SmackDown)|
|Pat McAfee (SmackDown)|
|Adnan Virk (Raw)|
|Corey Graves (Raw)|
|Byron Saxton (Raw)|
|Spanish commentators||Carlos Cabrera|
|Ring announcers||Greg Hamilton (SmackDown)|
|Mike Rome (Raw)|
|Pre-show panel||Kayla Braxton|
|John "Bradshaw" Layfield|
The actual pay-per-view opened with Rhea Ripley defending the Raw Women's Championship against Charlotte Flair and Asuka. In the closing moments, after an evenly competitive match between the three, Ripley performed the Riptide on Asuka to retain the title.
Next, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode defended the SmackDown Tag Team Championship against Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio. Earlier in the night, Dominik was attacked by Ziggler and Roode, and medical personnel ruled Dominik unable to compete. During the match, Ziggler and Roode dominated Rey. About mid-way though, Dominik eventually entered the match. In the end, Rey performed a 619 on Roode and tagged in Dominik, who then performed a Frog Splash on Roode to win the title, thus becoming the first-ever father and son team to hold a tag team championship in WWE.
After that, Damian Priest faced The Miz (accompanied by John Morrison) in a lumberjack match. The ring was surrounded by zombies as a promotional tie-in for the zombie film Army of the Dead, which stars former WWE wrestler Batista. During the match, Priest and Miz teamed to fend off the zombies. In the end, Morrison was "devoured" by the zombies which distracted Miz. Priest performed Hit the Lights on Miz to win the match. Following the match, several zombies entered the ring and "devoured" Miz.
In the next match, Bianca Belair defended the SmackDown Women's Championship against Bayley. Belair won the match after using her braided hair to gain leverage during a pinfall.
In the penultimate match, Bobby Lashley (accompanied by MVP) defended the WWE Championship against Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman. During the match, Lashley and McIntyre fought their way up the entrance ramp where McIntyre threw Lashley through an LED board. Back in the ring, McIntyre and Strowman continued the match. In the end, as McIntyre performed a Claymore Kick on Strowman, Lashley appeared, threw McIntyre out of the ring and performed a Spear on Strowman to retain the title.
In the main event, Roman Reigns (accompanied by Paul Heyman) defended the Universal Championship against Cesaro. Throughout the match, Reigns targeted Cesaro's right arm, thus preventing Cesaro from doing his upper cuts and not being able to fully apply other maneuvers. In the climax, Reigns applied the Guillotine Choke submission on Cesaro, who passed out, thus Reigns retained the title via technical submission. After the match, Cesaro was attacked by Jey Uso. Seth Rollins then came out. After a stare down with Reigns, Rollins attacked Cesaro and smashed his right arm in a steel chair.
While most of the pay-per-view was well received, the marketing tie-in with Army of the Dead during the Damian Priest vs. The Miz Lumberjack match was heavily panned. The film's star and former WWE wrestler Batista responded to fan criticism, stating that he did not book "a bunch of fucking zombies," and that fans should be calling out WWE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon for the decision. A review from Shacknews said that WrestleMania Backlash exceeded "almost every expectation," except for the Lumberjack match. The review said that the match was already bad, but it was made worse by the inclusion of the zombies, with Priest and Miz having to act like they were actually scared of them. The negative criticism over the tie-in was covered by mainstream media outlet New York Post, calling it "one of WWE's saddest moments ever." They were positive about the rest of the show. Despite the negative criticism towards the zombies, WWE made over US$1 million from Warner Bros. for the promotional tie-in.
The following night on Raw, WWE Champion Bobby Lashley issued an open challenge. Drew McIntyre came out to accept as he was not pinned in the triple threat match, however, MVP stated that it was open to anyone except McIntyre and Braun Strowman—WrestleMania Backlash would in turn be Strowman's final appearance in WWE, as he was released from his contract on June 2. In the main event of Raw, it was revealed that the open challenge was just to face Lashley rather than a title match. The New Day's Kofi Kingston answered the challenge and defeated Lashley thanks to McIntyre's distraction. On the May 31 episode, McIntyre defeated Kingston to earn another title opportunity against Lashley at Hell in a Cell.
Also on Raw, Charlotte Flair confronted WWE officials Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville, demanding another opportunity at Rhea Ripley for the Raw Women's Championship as Flair did not take the pin in the triple threat match. Pearce and Deville stated that if Flair won her match against Asuka, they would consider it. However, Flair lost the match thanks to a distraction from Ripley. A rematch occurred the following week where Flair defeated Asuka, thus earning another title match against Ripley at Hell in a Cell.
Also on Raw, United States Champion Sheamus faced Ricochet in a non-title rematch. Sheamus again defeated Ricochet.
On the following SmackDown, WWE official Sonya Deville announced that WWE would be leaving the ThunderDome and returning to live touring in mid-July. She also hosted a parade of champions to celebrate SmackDown's champions. New SmackDown Tag Team Champions Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio, SmackDown Women's Champion Bianca Belair, Intercontinental Champion Apollo Crews (accompanied by Commander Azeez), and WWE Women's Tag Team Champions Natalya and Tamina were all on stage. Deville then introduced Universal Champion Roman Reigns, however, Paul Heyman instead came out, stating that everyone else were just title holders and that Reigns was the only real champion. Bayley then interrupted, claiming that Belair cheated at WrestleMania Backlash by using her hair. On the June 4 episode, Belair challenged Bayley to a rematch at Hell in a Cell with the title on the line and Bayley accepted.
Also on the following SmackDown, Cesaro, with his arm in a sling, confronted Universal Champion Roman Reigns and challenged him to another match at Hell in a Cell. However, Seth Rollins viciously attacked Cesaro, resulting in medical personnel taking Cesaro out on a stretcher.
On the May 28 episode of SmackDown, new SmackDown Tag Team Champions Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio were scheduled to defend the title in a rematch against Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode. Prior to their match, Rey was attacked backstage, similar to what happened at WrestleMania Backlash, leaving Dominik to face Ziggler and Roode alone. At the climax of the match, Rey made his way to the ring, which distracted Roode and allowed Dominik to pin him to retain the title. The Mysterios then entered into a feud with Roman Reigns and The Usos (Jey Uso and Jimmy Uso), resulting in Rey challenging Reigns for the Universal Championship at Hell in a Cell.
|1P||Sheamus defeated Ricochet by pinfall||Singles match||7:12|
|2||Rhea Ripley (c) defeated Asuka and Charlotte Flair by pinfall||Triple threat match for the WWE Raw Women's Championship||15:22|
|3||Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio defeated Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode (c) by pinfall||Tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship||17:02|
|4||Damian Priest defeated The Miz (with John Morrison) by pinfall||Lumberjack match[Note 2]||6:57|
|5||Bianca Belair (c) defeated Bayley by pinfall||Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women's Championship||16:05|
|6||Bobby Lashley (c) (with MVP) defeated Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre by pinfall||Triple threat match for the WWE Championship||14:12|
|7||Roman Reigns (c) (with Paul Heyman) defeated Cesaro by technical submission||Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship||27:35|
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