Let's cut to the chase. Backlash is a thing of the past, and the build to Money in the Bank began in earnest on SmackDown Live's opening segment.
Shane McMahon got things started as he shuffled his way to the ring to announce the six participants in June 18th's pay-per-view. Here are the performers aiming to win the highly coveted briefcase and a shot at the WWE championship, in my personal order of odds to come out on top:
1. Baron Corbin: We've been waiting for Corbin to finally thrust himself into the spotlight. He's had only a handful of memorable moments since winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal more than a year ago at WrestleMania 32. The deal is that Corbin likely won't be headlining any pay-per-views in the coming months; the overall wow factor just isn't there ... yet. But having him cash in his briefcase and creating a stunning moment against whomever the champ is would be a great way to kick start the next phase of his career. And for what it's worth, never mind his ruthless beatdown of Sami Zayn after a fluke loss Tuesday night, we saw more character from Corbin in the opening promo than perhaps ever before. It seems like Corbin's time is coming.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura: Yes, you could argue it would be a rush to have Nakamura entrenched in any storyline that warrants the top title on SmackDown, but WWE creative isn't always shy about pushing its future without a lengthy build. Look at how Monday Night Raw decided Finn Balor would be its first Universal champ a month after the Demon King made his main-roster debut. Of course, Balor was injured, and his reign was short-lived. Still, The Money in the Bank carrot would be a smart way to keep Nakamura in the main spotlight, even if he finds himself feuding with lesser stars in the near future.
3. Sami Zayn: The company's "Rudy" gets fans on their feet. Zayn is an indefatigable worker, a blue-collar guy who could be the second coming of Daniel Bryan if marketed correctly, which he has been. Why not throw this sometimes lovable loser a bone? He deserves it. And let's remember, too: Zayn has had incredible matches, most notably against longtime nemesis Kevin Owens. Zayn brings excitement and in-ring chemistry against whomever his opponent is. Just look at his recent spat with Corbin. Who expected Zayn to pull off two upset wins against the Lone Wolf? It seems like the decision-makers have had a plan all along to bury Zayn, only to ensure his moment is that much more remarkable.
4. Dolph Ziggler: For whatever reason, Ziggler can't settle into a consistent, compelling feud with anyone in which he isn't merely be used as a stepping-stone for his opponent (e.g., Nakamura). Aside from a recent entertaining storyline against The Miz, Ziggler has been without any semblance of an extended storyline that we really cared about. On the other hand, Ziggler is brilliant and believable when he speaks, and he's probably still the best pure athlete on SmackDown. For so long it seemed as though he could have been the second coming of Shawn Michaels, but that window has probably closed. Still, Ziggler is only 36 years old -- younger than Nakamura and AJ Styles -- and another push doesn't seem completely out of the question.
5. Kevin Owens: The problem here is the overall excitement factor and the need for something new. KO was the Universal champ for 188 days, and he currently holds the United States title. Don't get us wrong: Owens is incredibly talented both as an in-ring performer and with his barbarous behavior. Still, as an established champ, it seems out of place for him to make a surprise entrance and win yet another title.
6. AJ Styles: AJ last on this list? It's true, it's damn true. The deal is that whatever is next for Styles, he should be main-eventing any upcoming notable events after Money in the Bank. In other words, the opening for Styles to cash in his briefcase for a title probably won't be there because he will already be vying for said title. Time to fantasy book: At Battleground, Styles will take on Mahal, whom we still expect to be the champ. Styles will win that match, only for Corbin to cash in and stun Styles, thus setting up a championship encounter between them at SummerSlam.
Hits and misses
Solid chemistry between former New Japan Pro Wrestling rivals Styles and Nakamura in a main-event win against Owens and Ziggler. We have to wonder though, how long until Styles and Nakamura eventually clash? SummerSlam would be too soon. WrestleMania 34 seems about right.
It's a questionable decision to have Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair work so well together, smiles and all, in a hasty tag team win against Carmella and Natalya. It was even more questionable to stop the momentum of The Welcome Committee after a much-needed victory at Backlash. The outcome did little to advance the storytelling in SmackDown's women's division, though next week's Fatal 5-way between these competitors (including Tamina) for the No. 1 contender to Naomi's title should instill some spark.
I'm really not digging the ethnicity play in Jinder Mahal's character for many reasons. One, because of the obvious racial innuendo and undertone, and two, because Mahal would be so much better off letting his already-unlikable character create an organic narrative. Still, until the new WWE champ began talking, his Pujabi celebration with was fun and entertaining with an array of colorful dancers and celebratory fireworks.
OK, Rusev: Where are you? Two weeks after announcing his return, he failed to make any kind of presence, despite his Twitter tease from earlier in the day. The opening segment Tuesday seemed like a perfect opportunity for Shane McMahon to announce him as the last participant in the Money in the Bank match. Oh, but we saw another racy Lana vignette.
The weekly Fashion Files segment continued to be the most entertaining segment of the week. "Shane, I see you shaved your mustache," Fandango said. "Um, I never had a mustache," McMahon replied, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. A distraught Breezeango team, which lost to The Usos two nights earlier at Backlash, then began to hand in all their belongings to the commissioner, including their fake police badges and squirt guns. OK then.
If you failed to do the math at home, there wasn't one, not two, but three roll-up wins in mere seconds Tuesday night. First Zayn stunned Corbin, a result that set off The Lone Wolf, who viciously attacked Zayn afterward. Then Tyler Breeze and Fandango each did the same to Jey and Jimmy Uso, respectively, before the tag-team champs avenged those losses by beating Breezeango in another high-flying affair.