On Saturday night, WWE held its annual Backlash event, to which earned big numbers across the board, in front of an electric San Juan, Puerto Rico crowd at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot. The Puerto Rican musical artist, Bad Bunny, was one of the highlights of the show and competed against, and defeated, Damian Priest in a San Juan Street Fight.
WWE Backlash Does Big Numbers With Latino Influence
The Latino influence didn't stop there, though, as Zelina Vega faced SmackDown Women's Champion Rhea Ripley. Vega, however, wasn't as fortunate as Bad Bunny and lost to Ripley. The crowd was all into Vega, a member of the LWO, and showed much love to the Puerto Rican descendant who proudly wore a cape of the Puerto Rican flag to the ring.
There were also some other welcomed surprises, too. Carlito Colon, who hadn't been in a regular role in WWE since 2010, made a surprising return. Along with him to help take out members of The Judgment Day, WWE Hall of Famer Savio Vega.
It was evident from SmackDown on Friday night that WWE was going to do big numbers. The crowd was eating up everything that was thrown at them — they were going to soak up every bit of action they could considering that WWE doesn't frequent Puerto Rico.
WWE sent out the following press release about Backlash:
STAMFORD, Conn., May 8, 2023 – WWE® (NYSE: WWE) today announced that WWE Backlash®, which emanated from the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became WWE’s highest-grossing and most-viewed Backlash in company history.
Viewership of Backlash saw a 28 percent increase versus the record set in 2022. The event, which featured Bad Bunny, the most-streamed music artist in the world, marked the largest gate ever for any WWE event held in Puerto Rico and the largest gate in the history of Backlash.
More than 34,800 fans descended on San Juan, Puerto Rico, for back-to-back sellout nights of SmackDown (16,896 attendees) and Backlash (17,944 attendees). It also marked the most social Backlash of all-time, led by over 40 million views of the San Juan Street Fight featuring Bad Bunny vs. Damien Priest. The hashtag #WWEBacklash, accompanied by a custom Bad Bunny emoji, trended No. 1 across the entire evening of sports.
In addition, Backlash broke merchandise and sponsorship records. As the first-ever WWE event under the expanded partnership with Fanatics overseeing the on-site event retail experience, top-selling items included the WWE Backlash and LWO Puerto Rico t-shirts. Sponsorship revenue surpassed any Backlash event in history, breaking last year’s record with a 98 percent year-on-year increase through partnerships with Netflix’s FUBAR, Mike’s Harder Lemonade and Xfinity.
For the longest time WWE stayed in the Sunday night schedule for their, what is now called, PLEs (Premium Live Events). Now, with SmackDown on Friday's and most looking to enjoy later nights at the start of the weekend on a Saturday, it seems WWE is better able to capitalize on these multi-show events. Now, it's not just Backlash, but SmackDown before.
PLEs Mean Something Again
But it's not just the scheduling that is making these PLEs worthwhile. It's the booking of the shows themselves. For decades the WWE has put their main focus on what was labeled “the big 4”. That being: Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series. That has changed throughout the years with King of the Ring and now Money in the Bank being considered above Survivor Series, but you get the gist.
In attempts to make their other shows relevant, WWE went with gimmicks. They started naming their shows after their most popular gimmick matches, such as: Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, Fatal 4-Way, Extreme Rules, even Money in the Bank (that one worked).
The Wrestling Observer's Bryan Alvarez noted this last October. “There will likely be more international shows and likely less gimmick shows” Alvarez said. “If that is the case, then we will see less shows such as Extreme Rules or Hell in a Cell.”
Without being halfway through the year, WWE will already be having its third international PLE (Canada and Puerto Rico) in less than three weeks when they travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for Night of Champions, with a fourth when they travel to London for Money in the Bank. Night of Champions will not only feature every major championship being defended but will also crown a new World Heavyweight Champion that will be exclusively featured on the Raw brand.
Sure, the title and show are a gimmick, but this year's event has a lot more appeal than previous years, especially considering past Saudi shows that were filled with bloated Royal Rumble matches and aging superstars in dream matches that had past their expiration date.
Every PLE has meant something thus far in 2023. It will be interesting to see if WWE keeps the pace the entire rest of the year.