Wrestling Review: WWE Extreme Rules 2016

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Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: May 22 2016
Location: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey, USA
Attendance: 15,963

Extreme Rules 2016, the one night of the year that WWE goes extreme! Well, less so in this modern PG era, although there were signs of some slightly risky content creeping in, particularly with some unexpected spots in the Asylum match. And who conjured up the idea of a PPV commercial which showed two ladybugs shagging?

On a serious note, many were looking forward to this card due to the general positive vibes of recent WWE developments, and the mostly entertaining Payback show a few weeks back. In particular, most were excited about what would happen in the big Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles, and how its outcome could perhaps shape the summer season in WWE. If nothing else, chances were that we were in for another great main event after their very enjoyable headline effort at Payback.

Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler was on the Kick-Off show again, this time with a No Disqualification stipulation. Besides a short ringside brawl (and this match started late on the preview presentation), Corbin vs. Ziggler had little to separate this from a regular match. The bout was well-worked (Corbin’s Deep Six powerslam looked impressive, as usual), but it needed something extra to make this more than just another match. Corbin won after he hit an intentional low blow (legal under the match rules) and followed it up with the End Of Days for the win. This was the victory that Corbin should have gotten at Payback, and a slow push seems likely for the tattooed big man. If handled correctly, he could be in a big-match scenario towards the end of 2016, but I feel that Corbin needs to show a bit more of his skills in order for fans to truly accept him in such a role.

It was clear to me from watching this that Dolph Ziggler’s act needs a reboot. The man is a great wrestler, no doubt, but his character never evolves, and he has been a babyface for nearly three years now with only occasional success (and his braggadocios persona makes him less likeable than, say, Daniel Bryan or AJ Styles). After so long in the WWE system and with a career destined to go no higher than the mid-card level, all at a time when so much talent is coming into and from NXT, Ziggler needs a heel turn and a new persona if he is to remain relevant. His wrestling is always good, but he needs some character development to avoid becoming a wrestler who fans really lose interest in. Then again, a push from WWE would help too. Look no further than Cody Rhodes, who after years of being teased for a career-defining feud only for it to not come to pass, and after the damage done by the never-ending and unnecessary Stardust character, quietly asked for his release this week by WWE, with the understandable belief that he should have been given a better opportunity to succeed at a high level in WWE. Ziggler is destined to go the same way, leaving behind years of good yet largely unrewarded service in WWE with a quiet exit in 2016 or 2017. I’ve always felt that he would be a great main event fit in TNA or ROH if he did leave. To prevent that happening, though, Ziggler needs a heel turn, a new character and a decent push, otherwise scenarios like the Corbin feud might actually be the height of what Dolph does in WWE going forward. Oh, I forgot: on the Kick-Off Show, there was a brief segment whereby Big Cass interrupted and flatten The Dudley Boyz. There wasn’t much to see here, so let’s move on.

Extreme Rules began proper with a tornado tag team match pitting The Usos against Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows (representing The Club). This was the latest in a series of matches between the duos lately, which on paper means that a rubber match seemed only fair. However, considering the hype that surrounded the arrival of Gallows and Anderson (or return in Gallows’ case) to WWE, the fact that they’ve already tasted defeat to The Usos seemed wrong. If nothing else, this was a chance for The Club representatives to pick up a decisive win and draw a line under this feud, hopefully moving onto bigger and better things. Which is exactly what happened: after a watchable yet familiar match, enhanced by the chaotic nature of the tornado rules (which mysteriously allowed this to be held under No Disqualification rules, which isn’t normally the case), Gallows brought a ring bell into proceedings to avoid an Uso splash, and Luke and Karl (they sound like Simpsons characters) followed that up with the Magic Killer for the win.

The face/heel lines have definitely been blurred during the feud between Roman Reigns and friends and AJ Styles and company. Gallows and Anderson are almost definitely heels, whilst The Usos are apparently supposed to be babyfaces. But Jimmy and Jey have been received with thunderous boos lately, mostly by association due to their alliance with Roman Reigns. But not unlike other members of the roster, their act seems stale: after five years in the babyface role, having not evolved beyond being smiley babyface risk-takers, and with a move set that is impressive but which hasn’t evolved since 2014, it is definitely time for Jimmy and Jey to do something different. Their alliance with their cousin Reigns is logical, but even more so than Dolph Ziggler, they need to turn heel and declare war on the likes of The New Day or, when they resume teaming, Enzo and Big Cass. They probably need to turn even more than Reigns himself, since Roman does receive some audible cheers (even if they’re mostly drowned out by the negativity), whereas The Usos receive around 90% boos at the moment, despite apparently being good guys.

Match two saw Rusev challenge Kalisto for the United States Title. It seemed like the right time for Kalisto’s reign to come to an end, with the Bulgarian Brute having been slowly rebuilt to the monster of old, and that’s exactly what happened. This was fought under regular rules, which on this particular card actually helped the match stand out. This was a simple story of the big wrecking machine dominating his smaller opponent, with the underdog making a well-timed comeback and attempting to use his flashy, acrobatic offence to pick up an unlikely win. There wasn’t much more to the match than that, except to note that the action was definitely watchable, the story that they told was believable, and that despite the support which Kalisto had, he couldn’t eke out that upset victory, as Rusev practically bent Kalisto’s spine in half to claim the United States prize with the Accolade.

Kalisto’s reign ultimately proved to be disappointing, more from a booking standpoint than from his performances, since his big defences were largely confined to pre-show matches. He actually had good bouts against Alberto Del Rio, Ryback and Rusev here, but he needed a stronger push for his title run to truly mean something. Rusev should benefit more from his association with the title, since WWE will always prefer booking monster-style characters over smaller wrestlers. And contrary to what was believed, Rusev has almost been built back into his previous role as a killer, which is impressive considering his drop-off from WrestleMania 31 onwards. That being said, I think the seeds are slowly being planted for John Cena (who officially returns on May 30) to beat Rusev and regain his United States Title, and resume in that role. The title would benefit more from such a scenario, and it gives Cena an effective spot at a time when fresh talent are lining up to enter the main event scene, but it could mean that the progress made with rebuilding Rusev is ultimately for naught. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Next up, The New Day defended the WWE Tag Team Titles against The Vaudevillains. Although Aiden English and Simon Gotch had been built up as number one contenders via the tournament (even with the unplanned situation in the final match at Payback), the old-style duo are a new and fresh team on the main roster, and there weren’t exactly a boatload of heel combos to face New Day, it still felt slightly odd that The Vaudevillains were the challengers here. Their offence was technically sound if unspectacular, but it’s hard to believe that anybody saw them as a serious threat to New Day. There was always the possibility of an upset, but given how long New Day have held the straps, it would have been an anticlimactic surprise if Gotch and English had seized the championships. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and after an insane Big E spear through the ropes to Gotch, English was polished off with the Shining Wizard by Xavier Woods (who was unusually competing here rather than serving as the New Day manager).

New Day’s reign has now lasted so long that it will be a big moment when they are finally dethroned. Finding the right team to end their run may prove tricky, but the leading candidates right now are Enzo and Big Cass or Gallows and Anderson. It could come as soon as Money In The Bank, because as entertaining as New Day are, they have definitely either reached or passed their peak as an act. Bold prediction: within six months, New Day are no more, with Big E cast as a(nother) monster heel. Whether that will be the right move or not is debatable, but that is what I see happening. As for Gotch and English, unfortunately their future looks bleak. Besides a revenge-themed feud with Enzo and Cass, they will probably do little more than tread water now that they’ve had their shot and come up short, considering that in all honesty the team (which were rather popular on NXT) are not really over on the main stage.

If Extreme Rules had been slightly underwhelming at this point, the card took a big turn in the opposite direction with the Fatal Four Way match for the Intercontinental Title between The Miz, Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. This had the potential to be a show-stealer, and it was: besides the early Owens-Zayn section being surprisingly low-key, the match was a nonstop thrill ride with so many big moves, false finishes and late saves. Zayn started things off with an immediate Helluva Kick to Owens. From there, we saw just about everything: Cesaro uppercuts, Owens back splashes, Miz heel tricks, Zayn dives (including a senton bomb to ringside), a stacked double suplex/powerbomb out of the corner, a Giant Swing, a double suplex spot (Cesaro gave Miz a German Suplex while he was delivering an Exploder suplex to Sami), a Blue Thunder Bomb, the Skull-Crushing Finale, a Sharpshooter (which saw Cesaro force Miz to submit, albeit while Maryse distracted the referee) and all sorts of other major spots, accompanied by great crowd enthusiasm. In the end, a Zayn Helluva Kick knocked Cesaro out, but Owens dragged Sami out of the ring, and as they battled at ringside, Miz crawled back into the ring to pick up the win over the Swiss Superman.

Slightly overrated in its aftermath (namely by those describing it as a classic), this was undoubtedly the match of the night, and a sign that certain wrestlers are virtually guaranteed to put on a great match regardless of opponent or situation. Miz is currently enjoying his best run since his march up the ranks in 2010 due to his hilariously deluded Hollywood character and the addition of Maryse; the guy is a survivor to remain relevant at a time when so many longtime members of the roster are being released. Him remaining IC Champion was the right call here, as it builds up the moment when a wildly popular babyface finally dethrones him (which could very well be someone in this match). Owens vs. Zayn is bound to continue, at least until Money In The Bank or Battleground, and the longer the better for this timeless feud. As for Cesaro, unless he challenges Miz and wins the gold over the summer, it might be a challenge for him to maintain his momentum as it depends on how WWE pushes him; should he be directed into a feud with Chris Jericho or AJ Styles, the wrestling alone will keep him over for the time being. And speaking of Jericho …

Y2J and Dean Ambrose saw their feud reach its conclusion (I assume) in an Asylum match, a first for WWE whereby a steel cage was lowered beneath a selection of weapons for the competitors to use. I felt that the Newark crowd slowly switched off during this match; whilst the use of weapons meant that there was a lot less wrestling than in their first meeting at Payback, they still had some interesting spots involving the likes of a leather strap, a mop and a kendo stick. Ambrose’s huge elbow off the cage to a standing Jericho was only met with a mild pop as opposed to the enormous ovation that Chris’ similar leap off a cage received against Bray Wyatt in 2014. Considering that this would be the match to most fulfil the “extreme” tag of the show, it’s odd that there seemed so little interest in what was a pretty watchable match. Perhaps the audience felt that the most violent-looking weapons (namely, the barbed wire-wrapped 2×4, only teased at WrestleMania 32) wouldn’t actually be used, which is fair enough.

If they did (and to be fair, so did I), they were wrong, as Y2J eventually whacked Ambrose in the ribs and back with the barbed wire-covered object (they were mild shots admittedly, but it’s still more than we saw at Mania). I had noticed that the mop bucket wasn’t detached with the mop earlier, which led me to believe that there was a surprise forthcoming, and it came when Dean brought down the bucket and revealed a bag of thumb tacks. Again, the crowd probably thought that the tease would be the closest thing we got, but we were surprised as Ambrose countered a Codebreaker by dropping Jericho back-first on the tacks – which, in the PG era, was a shocking sight to see. A Dirty Deeds (roughly) on the tacks followed as Ambrose picked up the pinfall win (which was also a surprise as I thought Y2J would win here). Fans did greet the closing scenes in the desired way, as this unusual match ended on a high note. I’m surprised that the tacks were used in a WWE ring for the first time in a decade, and it’s debatable as to whether this feud had really reached the level where pins were needed, but the match definitely benefitted; had they and the 2×4 not been used, this probably would have been remembered less fondly than Ambrose vs. Lesnar at Mania, more due to the crowd apathy than the action itself.

Natalya’s quest to end Charlotte’s reign as Women’s Champion continued in the penultimate bout of the night, a Submission match, with Ric Flair banned from ringside. Given their great match at NXT Takeover in 2014, their very enjoyable bout at Roadblock and their mostly enjoyable effort at Payback, and the placement of their contract signing in the main event slot of the pre-Extreme Raw (plus the omission from proceedings of the often-interfering Slic Ric), I thought going in that this would be another top effort from these women, adding to the prestige of the division, with Charlotte winning cleanly (or cleanish) to then boot Flair out of the picture (saying “I don’t need you anymore!”, following her reprimand of her dad on Raw), and to then move onto another opponent, perhaps Sasha Banks.

Instead, to me, the match never left second gear, not helped by what at times seemed to be an uninterested crowd. The wrestling looked good, but it just wasn’t that exciting. And the finish seemed bungled, since the crowd looked around as if something was happening around 45 seconds before Dana Brooke came out to Ric’s music in a Flair-esque robe to distract Natalya and help Charlotte win with the Figure-Eight, leading to a Dana, Charlotte and Ric celebration post-match. If the booking of Charlotte vs. Natalya at Payback was dodgy, this was even worse. I can understand the concept of heel Charlotte cheating to win, but it just wasn’t executed that well. Unfortunately, whilst technically sound, this was their least memorable match to date (plus it felt rushed), and ends Natalya’s title chase on a low note. I get the feeling that something is missing which is preventing Charlotte truly being a great heel champion. I also get the worrying inkling that all of these shortcuts to keep the title on Charlotte are being designed with the intention of putting the Women’s Title on a returning Nikki Bella when she comes back. Nikki has improved a lot, but considering the talent that WWE has (Sasha, Becky Lynch, Paige etc), not to mention Bayley and Asuka in NXT, giving the championship back to a Bella at this point would be a terrible move.

Finally, we come to the Extreme Rules main event between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Unlike their Payback match, it was obvious that The Club (AJ’s stable with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) would get involved, and that The Usos would probably run in too on Roman’s behalf (they’re now being dubbed The Bloodline, or The Family; neither name works, in my opinion). Whilst a Styles win seemed unlikely beforehand, there was always the possibility if WWE aims to make The Club a big part of WWE television going forward. Perhaps of greater note would be whether a third party would be getting involved, with the rumour being a long-awaited call-up for Finn Balor to boot AJ out of The Club and lead the stable himself (hence the term Balor Club, which is closer to Bullet Club, the New Japan stable which Finn and later Styles led, which of course included Gallows and Anderson amongst its members. It’s still active in NJPW and Ring Of Honor too, although WWE won’t acknowledge that.).

In contrast to their Payback battle, which largely stayed in the ring until the closing moments, more than half of this top-line clash took place outside the ring. Battling at ringside, through the crowd and even at the Kick-Off panel desk, Reigns and Styles fought with a fury in realistic fashion, relying more on authentic blows than flashy moves, with Reigns at one point hurling AJ across the Kick-Off desk. Back at ringside, the action went up another level as Styles attempted a Styles Clash on exposed concrete to no avail, and a second Clash attempt on an announcer’s table saw AJ take a wild backdrop over onto and through another announce desk. Styles later avoided a Roman Spear by sending him crashing through a barrier.

In the ring, there were big moves aplenty, as Reigns hit a cool Razor’s Edge into a sit-out powerbomb, and Styles finally hit a Clash for a near-fall. At this point, Gallows and Anderson ran in and pummelled Reigns 3-on-1, but it didn’t result in a title change. Likewise, The Usos came down and helped Roman pound Styles, and again it wasn’t enough. A brawl involving all participants erupted, during which time Styles pounded Reigns and The Usos with chairshots, and hit Reigns with another Clash onto a chair. A momentary distraction by one of the Usos (it’s hard to tell which one – and surely this was a pure heel move?) allowed Roman enough time to kick out, and with Roman seemingly done for, Styles set himself up for a Phenomenal Forearm, only to taste a perfectly-timed Spear in mid-air which earned Roman the win. Plenty of action, some might say too much, and a second consecutive Reigns-Styles main event that tore the house down. Some will complain at AJ losing again, but it’s obvious that WWE is committed to Reigns, and whilst questions remain over which of the participants here were heel or face, hopefully if this feud is now over, WWE will do a better job of at least clarifying who is meant to be cheered or booed, even if the audience responds otherwise.

The match seemed like a very good way to end the show, but the card ended with a bang due to the sudden return of Seth Rollins! Injured since November, and with whispers about his comeback limited to social media speculation, it was a stunning moment when Rollins appeared from nowhere and dropped Roman Reigns with a Pedigree, and held the WWE Title aloft as Extreme Rules went off the air.

Whilst obviously ensuring that Rollins has returned in a big way, this attack makes it clear that Reigns vs. Rollins is on the cards, probably at Money In The Bank, and given Dean Ambrose’s victory earlier (which draws a line under the Dean-Y2J feud, presumably), could this be step one to the long-awaited Shield 3-way match at SummerSlam? Meanwhile, Seth’s attack ends rumours about a Shield reunion happening any time soon, which some thought would happen against the (Bullet) Club; now that AJ Styles is probably out of the WWE Title hunt, do we now get a Gallows/Anderson turn on Styles led by new Club leader Finn Balor? And since Rollins is still using the Pedigree, how does his return affect the Shane/Stephanie ownership storyline, as well as perhaps hinting at Triple H remaining on Seth’s side once he returns? There are many intriguing plot possibilities which combined with other forthcoming returns (John Cena, Randy Orton etc), and the excitement that Mr. Money In The Bank 2016 could provide, all suggests a very eventful summer season is on the way for WWE.

To sum this one up, I felt that Extreme Rules had some strong moments, but judged as a whole, I felt that Payback was the better show. Whether that was due to the fact that Extreme Rules largely consisted of Payback rematches, or whether the booking at Payback was better, or whether the wrestling was simply better in Chicago, I don’t know. The Fatal Four Way, the main event and Seth Rollins’ return were the high points, and some aspects of the Asylum match were memorable too. Otherwise, the action was mostly watchable, but not unlike what we see on Raw or SmackDown each week. It wasn’t a bad show by any means, and the next few weeks could provide many exciting developments (beginning with Seth’s comeback here), but whilst I enjoyed Extreme Rules, I felt that it was a tad below Payback.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good