It was an unsuccessful challenge, notable for Reigns not requiring any assistance from his cousin Jey Uso. But for the 20 or so minutes Cesaro and Reigns were in the ring, Cesaro either showed or reminded anyone watching the match that he is an absolute technical master capable of things no one else in the industry can do.
It was the fifth great match out of five, on a Backlash card that also featured a nonsensical zombie interlude in the middle (and more on that later). Reigns vs. Cesaro was, at its core, indicative of what happens when you take two great wrestlers at the peak of their powers, point them in a direction and let them do what they do best.
A lack of intrusion from the Usos was surprising, as that relationship with Reigns and the tension between him and twins Jimmy and Jey has been one of the central driving forces on SmackDown in recent weeks. The family drama started before the opening bell, as Reigns dismissed his cousin Jey for letting his brother Jimmy's voice get into his head by doubting a successful title defense was anything but a 100 percent certainty. But that was it, until the final bell rang.
Cesaro established himself as Reigns' physical equal early and often, and his acrobatic superior with all manner of springboard attacks and spinning flips over the top rope. Cesaro's signature uppercut was a primary focus of the match, especially in its most crucial stages as a slight tweak on a tumble out of the ring turned into target practice for Reigns.
Reigns slowed the pace down with ground-and-pound, gradually upping the intensity of his arm-based offense. But Cesaro constantly and consistently fought his way back, shaking his arm out and gritting his teeth through the toughest parts of the match. Cesaro ultimately used it as another outlet and opportunity to show off his creativity, and he even broke out a spinning lariat that channeled the signature move of his late friend Brodie Lee (Luke Harper) in a critical moment. He also utilized a one-armed version of the Sharpshooter.
Reigns would not stop coming forward, though. Even as a spear attempt was stifled by a Cesaro uppercut, another uppercut attempt devolved into a scramble and a guillotine attempt by Reigns. Cesaro picked Reigns up twice and slammed him down in that position -- in between both men getting in extended sequences of ground-and-pound -- but the second guillotine attempt in the sequence would mark the beginning of the end.
Cesaro picked Reigns up for a one-armed powerbomb, but Reigns refused to let go of the guillotine for long even as his back slammed into the ground. Cesaro broke Reigns' hold once more, momentarily, but Cesaro couldn't keep Reigns off of him any longer. Cesaro passed out in the guillotine choke, and Reigns won the match by technical submission.
Unsatisfied, Jey Uso reemerged and promptly superkicked Cesaro shortly after he came to. But as he set up for a splash, Seth Rollins' music hit. Rollins, who had been embarrassed by two losses to Cesaro inside of a month, stood toe-to-toe with Reigns, then broke into a big smile and started to attack Cesaro. Rollins attacked Cesaro for minutes, all leading up to an arm-trapped-in-a-chair slam into the ringpost, followed by a stomp on the floor.
What's next: For Reigns, more family drama. Edge seems to be lingering somewhere in the distance, but for now, there are issues to fix in-house. As for Cesaro, provided he's not taking a bit of an extended break following the postmatch attack, more time in the ring together with Rollins can't be bad for either one of them.
Long gone are the days of giant wrestlers moving slowly, plodding around the ring to set up for a few grounded moves. The triple threat WWE championship match was a tremendous showcase for Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman to show off the gravity-defying, impossible feats of strength and agility that they're capable of.
Lashley walked out of WrestleMania Backlash with his title reign intact, and plenty of tension maintained between himself and McIntyre. But all three men won with their performances in this match.
From the moment Lashley and McIntyre held Strowman in stasis in the air with a delayed double suplex, it was clear that they were all pushing the gas pedal to the floor from the very beginning. Strowman threw himself through the air with a running flip off the apron onto both. Then he Chokeslammed Lashley with ease.
The fight eventually spilled up the stage as Lashley and McIntyre fought up the ramp. McIntyre drove Lashley skull-first into the LED boards. Then he sent Lashley through a different board and triggered an electric explosion by throwing Lashley's body through it completely.
Strowman blindsided McIntyre as Lashley disappeared offscreen, and then trucked McIntyre into the ring apron. Strowman then showed off more acrobatics with a senton that drove his full weight into McIntyre's chest.
Undeterred, McIntyre flipped Strowman over in the air with a Michonoku Driver that had no right to be as flawless-looking as it did to a man of Strowman's size.
As McIntyre charged forward for a Claymore Kick to Strowman on the outside, Strowman effortlessly caught McIntyre out of midair and Powerbombed him through the commentary table.
By the time the action spilled back into the ring, McIntyre caught Strowman with a flash Claymore Kick and seemingly had his third WWE title victory lined up. But after disappearing for much of the latter stages of the match, Lashley returned, tossed McIntyre out of the ring, speared Strowman and pinned him to hold on to the WWE championship.
What's next: It still feels like unfinished business for McIntyre and Lashley, who likely have at least one more big one-on-one match. Hell in a Cell feels right, but there will likely be some hoops for McIntyre to jump through. As for Strowman, he once again showed off an elite in-ring performance when put up against competition of a similar size. Hopefully he can find something fruitful away from the WWE championship picture that doesn't require facing Shane McMahon.
With the zombie hoard fed and satisfied, it was time to get back to wrestling as Bianca Belair made her first defense of the SmackDown women's championship against Bayley.
Belair walked out of WrestleMania Backlash with her title intact, utilizing a little bit of the subterfuge Bayley had been enlisting throughout the match, but by no means did the ending make it seem as though Bayley was done chasing Belair.
The story in this match was simple but well executed. Belair started the match super confident with endless swagger, taunting Bayley at every turn. Bayley took advantage of the aggression and confidence, slowed things down and started breaking Belair down methodically, bending the rules as she saw fit.
For every big moment Belair had, such as when she grabbed Bayley off the apron and hit a delayed stalling vertical suplex, Bayley had an answer. She dropped Belair on the stairs facefirst, and then followed up with a suplex on the outside. Belair kicked out of a pinfall attempt by press slamming Bayley out of the ring and through the ropes, and that only got Bayley madder.
Bayley played the seasoned veteran to perfection, using Belair's momentum and aggression against her at every turn. Even as Belair continued to break through more and more consistently as the match went on, Bayley found more and more creative ways to cheat.
She used the ropes for leverage on a roll-up, only for Belair to flash her extraordinary strength by kicking out. Bayley tried a second time, more blatantly, and got caught by the ref. An incensed Belair had enough, but Bayley stifled yet another wave of momentum with a rake to the eyes.
Utilizing Belair's outsized ponytail, Bayley pulled Belair in for a ripcord Bayley-to-Belly, but managed to get only a two-count. She set Belair up to hit her Rose Plant headlock driver, but Belair used her ponytail as leverage for a roll-up to get the pin, even though it looked like Bayley's shoulders weren't down. A lack of a replay on the ending seemingly confirmed the finish didn't come off as planned, but in all, it was a strong match that's set up to do even more moving forward.
What's next: Bayley was incensed postmatch, screaming for a replay and even grabbing Michael Cole's and Pat McAfee's notes to scribble down what had happened in the final moments of the match. Bayley has a strong case for another shot at Belair. With Hell in a Cell coming up, it could be a chance for something even bigger and better than what we saw at Backlash.
Lumberjack match: Damian Priest def. The Miz
WWE has made some shameless money grabs in its history, but the "lumberjack match" between Damian Priest and The Miz will likely go down in the company's history as one of the most short-sighted and questionable moves it has ever made.
The match played out as a confusing hybrid of a commercial and a Z-level zombie movie, as the pay-per-view sponsor, the upcoming "Army of the Dead" movie, contributed zombie lumberjacks to the scenario.
Miz, Damian Priest and John Morrison spent more time fighting the zombies than each other, and the match concluded with Priest hitting his finishing move, pinning Miz and then zombies consuming both Miz and Morrison as Priest fled the scene. It was a fever dream that strained the suspension of disbelief that wrestling fans engage in to enjoy the show, and stopped the momentum of a fairly strong pay-per-view dead in its tracks.
What's next: If we get zombie Miz and Morrison on Monday ... I mean, who are we kidding, we're probably going to get zombie Miz and Morrison on Monday.
SmackDown tag team championship: Dominik & Rey Mysterio def. Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler (c)
Professional wrestling has been a generational affair since the very start, and WWE has a rich history of leaning into it. But for all of the father-son, father-daughter and other familial bonds, simultaneous success has been incredibly rare.
At WrestleMania Backlash, Rey Mysterio and his son Dominik made history, becoming the first father-son combination to win WWE tag team gold together. They defeated Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler despite the odds being stacked against them from the outset.
During the kickoff show, Ziggler and Roode took out Dominik backstage. For the first half of the match, Rey fought it out alone, having moments of success between brutal double-team maneuvers from Ziggler and Roode. They made a particular impact with an assisted Famouser from Ziggler as Roode elevated his body into the air, and again when Roode slid Rey's body underneath the bottom rope and directly into a superkick from Ziggler on the outside.
Rey reversed a double suplex attempt into a double DDT on both Roode and Ziggler, and then Dominik limped out for the save. But the tag team champions wouldn't go quietly. They regained control, and as they beat up Dominik in tandem, Roode shouted "You should've stayed down."
Ziggler lined Dominik up for a Superkick, but Dominik beat him to the punch with one of his own. The match, which started strong but had begun to drag due to its length, picked back up in a hurry. Rey connected on a 619 to Roode, and then slid under the bottom rope to neutralize Ziggler with a Sunset Flip Powerbomb into the barricade. With a frog splash on Roode, Dominik secured the pinfall victory, and the title win.
What's next: A rematch seems fairly certain, especially with the uncertainty of the tag team landscape on SmackDown at the moment. Beyond that, Rey and Dominik have a lot of options moving forward.
Rhea Ripley's first true challenge since becoming Raw women's champion at WrestleMania 37 saw her persevere over Charlotte Flair and Asuka -- but it was a close enough call that her next step is abundantly clear.
We saw the best that the Raw women's division has to offer across the board on Sunday, as all three women showed out in the opening match of the WrestleMania Backlash card. But a slip off the ring apron by Flair, after delivering a kick directly to Asuka's head, was just enough room for Ripley to pick Asuka up and hit Riptide for the three count.
Asuka and Ripley cooperated for the majority of the match, although it was simply a matter of taking out their frustration on Flair in between spurts of battering each other. The match was a mix of chaotic energy with bodies flying everywhere. Every early opportunity at victory was stifled, until Asuka locked in a deep armbar on Flair, only for Ripley to break it up to save her title.
Several pinfall attempts were similarly short-circuited, leading up to Flair's signature blind moonsault spot from the top rope to the outside, which took out both Ripley and Asuka at once.
But as Flair climbed the top rope again, Ripley thwarted her efforts at another high-flying maneuver. An attempt at a Superplex was initially blocked just long enough for Asuka to join the fray -- setting up another double-team opportunity, a double Superplex by Asuka and Ripley to Flair.
The pace picked up even more in the final moments of the match. A late scramble ensued as Ripley and Asuka tried to double Suplex Flair again on the ground, only for Flair to flip out of it, hit a double chop block and finish the sequence with a double Natural Selection. An attempt to pin both of her opponents only got a two-count.
A missed Flair moonsault led directly into a Codebreaker by Asuka, and Flair stumbled to the outside. Ripley caught Asuka by the ropes, but her initial Riptide attempt failed. Both Flair and Asuka missed each other with kicks, but hit Ripley instead. Finally, a successful Flair boot to Asuka through the ropes was a pyrrhic victory, and set Ripley up to retain her title.
What's next: Flair fell just short of victory, and saw the title slip through her fingers. But Ripley's taunts postmatch, Flair pointing to the belt as Ripley taunted her, and the fact that Flair didn't factor in the pinfall set the stage for Ripley and Flair battling into the summer. With their history, it should be good.
The match was impromptu, and Sheamus' United States championship wasn't on the line. It was physical and fun, and an opportunity to question where Ricochet and a handful of other hypertalented stars (paging Keith Lee?) have been in recent months.
Sheamus earned a definitive victory, but in a haphazard postmatch scrap, Ricochet stole Sheamus' jacket and hat and antagonized him, which will almost certainly lead to some sort of follow-up on Monday and beyond.
What's next: A United States championship match that Sheamus seems unlikely to lose.