The PPV which promises to be the one night of the year where WWE ‘goes extreme’ emanated from the Wells Fargo centre in Philadelphia this past Sunday. It featured a card where a Deadman would look to bury the demons of his last poor outing, an Architect and the Man would try to stave off a double challenge to their gold, and Kofi Kingston would battle to fend off the biggest threat to his title yet in the shape of a Samoan badass.
Kick Off Show: Intercontinental Title Match: Finn Balor vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
A rejuvenated Nakamura beat Balor clean last week to earn himself an opportunity at the Irishman’s gold, and started this bout in the ascendency, before the champ took control with a suicide dive and a couple of throws into the barricade. Back in the ring, the Artist countered with an arm bar and regained control. He dropped a knee to the back of Balor’s neck for the near-fall and slowed the pace with a headlock. Balor created separation with an elbow, but was thwarted in his attempt at a Coupe de Grace by a desperate Nakamura. The former Royal Rumble winner then evaded a second attempt at Balor’s signature move and responded with a nasty kick to the back of the head, followed swiftly by a Kinshasa to bag his first IC championship.
Nakamura is back to receiving a bit of a push again following a couple of years struggling to find his way in the company, but it looks to have come at the expense of Balor, whose somewhat underwhelming run with the belt came to a disappointing end here. Nakamura has now beat Balor clean twice in a week, and it will be interesting to see whether that means he will be moving on to defend the title against a new opponent, or whether the two will be given more time to produce the classic that they are capable of, maybe at Summerslam, and maybe with a Demon thrown into the equation.
Kick Off Show: Cruiserweight Championship Match: Drew Gulak vs. Tony Nese
The cruiserweights were unsurprisingly relegated to the pre-show yet again, which is a shame given the consistently quality performances the roster puts on. Nese was looking to avenge his losing the title without taking the pin at Stomping Grounds and showed why he is billed as the Premier Athlete in the early exchanges, starting with intensity and purpose. He took Gulak down with a leg swipe and then knocked him over the top rope to the floor. Gulak responded with a flying clothesline before both men just about beat the count-out. The two exchanged chops before Nese sent Gulak into the turnbuckle with a German Suplex and landed a Moonsault on the apron. He then connected with the 450 Splash, but somehow the champ escaped the pin, hitting back with a powerbomb for a two count of his own. A dazed Nese, though, had no answer for the Cyclone Crash as Gulak retained the title.
Gulak and Nese have undeniable chemistry and, a couple of sloppy moves aside, produced another quality match, in-keeping with the stellar action the Cruiserweights display on every PPV kick off show, and they deserve more of a showcase for their talents.
No Holds Barred Match: Roman Reigns and Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre
Even though he has had a stellar career and is arguably the one man who embodies the WWE, the Undertaker would have felt he had something to prove coming into this match, given the horror show him and Goldberg produced at Super Showdown a few months back. The tag team scenario may suit him at this stage of his career, as he lined up alongside a solid worker in Reigns, who was looking to settle his issues with McMahon and McIntyre once and for all. Taker’s entrance is still awe-inspiring and it elicited a huge pop from the Pennsylvania crowd, ‘Undertaker’ chants echoing round the stadium. Reigns and McIntyre started off, The Scottish Psychopath taking an early advantage with a belly to belly and tagging in Shane. Reigns responded by bouncing McMahon’s head off the turnbuckle and tagging in the Phenom. Taker worked the arm and then went Old School, McMahon selling like a champ for the Deadman. McMahon escaped by tagging his partner, who engaged Taker in a staredown, before the action spilled outside. The Undertaker chased McMahon off with a chair as McIntyre tossed Reigns into the steps. Back in the ring McMahon and McIntyre kept The Big Dog down with some quick tags. Reigns took a beating from the heels before buying himself some time with a Samoan Drop, and tagging the Deadman. The hot crowd ate it up as Taker cleared house, hitting Shane with Snake Eyes and a big boot. He set the Prodigal Son up for a powerbomb onto the announce table before Elias appeared, cracking Taker over the back with his guitar. McIntyre then took out the two babyfaces with a couple of Claymore Kicks, before setting the Deadman up on the announce table. McMahon produced his big spot of the night with an impressive elbow drop onto Undertaker from the top rope, who was then dragged back inside the ring and set up for a Coast to Coast. Shane O hit it beautifully, but the Undertaker sat up as the crowd went nuts, and took out Shane and Elias with a couple of chokeslams. Reigns negated the threat of McIntyre with a Spear allowing Taker to, at the second attempt, finish McMahon with a Tombstone.
This was an energetic, violent and thrilling way to kick off Extreme Rules. It was a throwback to Attitude Era style matches, and Undertaker, one mis-step aside, looked as good as he had for a while, firmly putting the Super Showdown debacle to bed. The crowd ate it up and were invested throughout the whole match as McMahon and his cronies got their comeuppance. Taker will always be a draw and is a spectacle whenever he appears, but he proved tonight that there is still fight in the old dog, as he passed the baton to the Big Dog.
Raw Tag Team Championship Match: The Revival vs. The Usos
Two of the most talented teams in the world took to the squared circle in what promised to be one of the matches of the night. Both tandems showed their immense chemistry by each taking turns to double team. The Usos edged ahead with a double suicide dive, before Dawson and Wilder fought back using classic heel tag team tactics, by isolating Jey and distracting the ref. They cut off the ring and kept Jey in the corner, Wilder methodically beating down the twin. Dawson entered but was on the receiving end of an Uso comeback as Jey managed to tag Jimmy. The referee, though, missed the tag, and The Revival upheld the advantage, in what was classic old-school tag team wrestling. Dawson perched Jey on the top turnbuckle but took a nasty bump on the rope as Jey made the tag. Jimmy exploded into the match, hitting Wilder with a big splash and a Samoan Drop. The Revival fought back as the tie continued to swing back and forth. Dawson executed a Brain Buster for a two-count and then superplexed Jimmy off the top rope, followed up by a Wilder big splash for another near-fall. All four men then unloaded on each other before Dawson and Wilder singled out Jey to hit the Shatter Machine for the hard-fought win.
These two teams gave a glimpse of the magic they can produce together and did well to keep the crowd invested after the excitement died down from the previous match. The Revival shone in a spotlight that has often evaded them on the main roster, and gained real credibility by taking out multiple time champs in The Usos.
Cesaro vs. Aleister Black
Aleister Black made his long awaited return, after weeks of vignettes calling for some real competition for his first feud. They don’t come much more gifted than the Swiss Superman, who stepped up to answer the call. Both men tried to hit their patented moves as they looked to finish the contest early. Black then took control, with the double-knees from the top rope and a big kick to the head. Cesaro responded by shoving Black over the top rope and executing a flying uppercut. In an incredible show of strength he then transitioned a deadweight lift into a gut-wrench suplex, as his experience and technical prowess began to show. Cesaro then hit Black with an unbelievable uppercut from a powerbomb position, as Black grasped the bottom rope in desperation. Black then got in some offence of his own with a flying double knees, and then went to work on Cesaro’s left leg. The pair then traded uppercuts, as Black countered a Neutraliser from the Swiss Cyborg with Black Mass to pick up an impressive win.
These two talented superstars could steal the show on any card, and tonight offered a glimpse of what they could produce. They clicked but the match felt a few minutes short, and the feeling is that this match will not be the beginning of an extended programme between the two, but more of a momentum-building launchpad for Black to move on to bigger things. Cesaro’s next movements will be less clear.
Smackdown Women’s Championship, 2 on 1 Handicap Match: Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
This feud has lost a little steam of late after having been a red-hot angle a couple of months ago. The narrative going into the tie centred around Cross showing loyalty to her new best friend and helping her snatch the title from The Hugger. Bayley and Cross locked up first, the Scot all too happy to do the bidding for Little Miss Bliss. Bayley, though, took control, as Bliss looked hesitant to get involved, hesitating when Cross tried to tag her. As Cross was recovering, Bliss shoved Bayley into the steel steps to gain the upper hand, as the heels then made the numbers advantage count with quick tags and vicious kicks in the corner. Bliss trapped the champ in the apron cover before dragging her back in the ring to continue the beatdown. Hung up in the corner, Bayley was powerless to the two on one advantage, as the Goddess dropped the knees to the stomach. The champ somehow fought back, clotheslining Bliss and diving onto Cross at ringside. She then slammed the two challengers and put both women into submission holds. Bliss continually broke the holds through nefarious means, which allowed Cross to score a near-fall with a DDT. Bayley’s knee, though, met a high-flying Cross in mid-air, and she then pinned the Scot after a flying elbow, the Hugger thoroughly earning her win following a gruelling encounter.
This was a decent enough match, in that it showcased the intestinal fortitude of Bayley, who refused to let the numerical disadvantage put paid to her title run. However, after the match felt like the right time for Creative to pull the trigger on Bliss turning on Cross, which has always seemed to be the endgame of this programme. That it didn’t happen suggests that their issues with Bayley are not over, prolonging a feud which started red-hot but has gone a little lukewarm in recent weeks.
Last Man Standing Match: Bobby Lashley vs. Braun Strowman
Lashley and Strowman, who have floundered in recent months, were involved in one of the most noteworthy angles on Raw in some time, when the two went crashing through the LED board in a segment straight out of the Attitude Era. It injected life back into their feud and exponentially increased anticipation for their Extreme Rules match. Strowman shoulder-tackled Lashley to the ground, who responded with a spear. The Monster Among Men beat the count but then took some steel steps to the chops, sending him over the barricade. The Almighty stalked Strowman up the stairs of the arena, raining blows to the back. The two behemoths took the fight to the bowels of the stadium, as Lashley slammed the Monster into a wall and gloated in front of the WWE Universe. Strowman blocked the suplex and hit Lashley with one of his own, sending him crashing into the merchandise stand. The former Wyatt Family member then got his first foothold in the match as he sent Lashley back down the stairs towards the ring, and shoulder barging him amongst the crowd. Lashley only just beat the count and sent Strowman through the barricade with a brutal spear to chants of ‘Holy S***’. An aggressive Lashley then sent Strowman flying over the announce table and then buried him under it, desperation painted across his face when his opponent somehow beat the count. Lashley then defied the odds by refusing to stay down after getting tossed onto the international announcers table. The two battered beasts continued their path of destruction around the arena but could still not keep each other down, as the fans in attendance showed their appreciation. ‘ECW’ chants echoed as Strowman scooped Lashley up and powerslammed him off a balcony to pick up an emphatic win.
Some timing issues at the end of the match aside, this was a brutal, punishing match that showcased two men hellbent on fighting their way back into the forefront of WWE management’s thinking after months of underwhelming booking. Lashley looked a beast, and his storytelling was on point. Strowman looked like a man determined to remind everybody why he was receiving a monster push only last year, and looked to prove that he should be back in that prominent position.
Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Bryan and Rowan vs. The New Day vs. Heavy Machinery
The emergence of Heavy Machinery over the past couple of weeks, and their impressive victories recently, meant that the outcome of this match was not as predictable as it may have been a month or so ago. It was Xavier Woods and Daniel Bryan who first faced off in a quick and energetic opening, before Tucker tagged in, himself showing impressive feats of athleticism. Rowan then brought the brawn to proceedings, brutalising Woods and tagging Bryan for some fluid double-teaming on the New Day member. Woods fought back with a drop-kick from the top rope and tagged Otis, who ran through Bryan, shoulder barging him and spinning him around before setting up the Caterpillar and tagging Tucker for a near-fall. Big E tagged himself him but soon found himself on the receiving end of an amazing suplex into a cross body by Heavy Machinery. He recovered to spear Bryan through the middle rope, and with all other men on the outside, Otis teased diving onto the mass of bodies, eventually thinking better. They then almost pinned E with a Compacter, but Woods just about made the save. Attention was turned to Rowan, as Big E suplexed Big Red off the top rope, only to find himself on the receiving end of a flying headbutt and subsequent LeBell Lock from Bryan. A series of ‘Yes’ kicks followed until the New Day powerhouse hit back, turning the Bearded One inside out with a massive clothesline and then catching him in mid-air, finishing him off with the Night Hour, New Day becoming six-time tag champions in the process.
United States Championship Match: Ricochet vs. AJ Styles (w/Anderson and Gallows)
The Good Brothers attacked Ricochet prior to the bell, handing Styles the impetus from the get-go. Ricochet fought back with a couple of arm-drags and a dropkick, followed by a beautiful shooting star press from the apron. Gallows stunted The One and Only’s momentum, blindsiding him with a right hand, allowing Styles to toss the high-flying superstar into the ringpost. Back in the ring, The Phenomenal One negated Ricochet’s athleticism by keeping him grounded. The champion mounted a comeback with a step up insiguri and a flying clothesline, before diving on Gallows and Anderson on the outside and hitting Styles with a moonsault. He showed tremendous power to lift Styles through into a suplex for a two-count, but the challenger responded with a snap-suplex into the corner. The leader of The Club then set up for the Phenomenal Forearm, though this was countered, as was the Styles Clash for a near-fall for Ricochet. The two traded blows as the encounter looked to take its toll, before a devastating brain buster could only score Styles the two-count. A stunning Ricochet shooting star press followed until Gallows and Anderson got involved, allowing Styles to produce a Styles Clash from the top rope and snatch the title.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
The entrances of the two men lasted considerably longer than the match as Ziggler slapped Owens across the face and the Prizefighter hit the Showoff with a Stunner to grab the win in 17 seconds. After the match, Owens produced another ‘shoot’ promo, bemoaning that Shane McMahon was again in a prominent position of a PPV, to the detriment of the talent. The WWE Universe, all too happy to have somebody be a mouthpiece to air their very real frustrations, popped for Owens, who is relishing his new role as a antihero fighting against the corporate suits.
Owens promo was fine, though it slightly lacked the intensity of the one he produced on Smackdown last week. It is also a refreshing new direction for a character who was languishing in the mid-card with no real purpose. This new angle has real potential if handled right, and could shoot Owens to the stars. The only problem was that this angle came at the expense of Ziggler, who was basically jobbed out. Owens could have still done the promo without the squashing of Ziggler, whose talents deserve more than that.
Smackdown Championship: Kofi Kingston vs. Samoa Joe
Joe was aggressive from the outset, punishing Kingston with punches and chops. One of the finest components of in-ring psychology, Joe taunted the champion as he continued the beatdown, splashing him in the corner and following up with an overhead-kick. The Samoan Submission Machine’s arrogance got the better of him momentarily as Kingston hit back with a dropkick, but the resurgence didn’t last long, as Joe snapped back the fingers of Kofi and then trapped them in the steps, in a callback to Kingston’s defiant middle finger gesture on Smackdown a couple of weeks back. Joe manhandled the champ and then powerbombed him for the two count. Kofi then just about broke a submission as Joe began to sense a victory, a senton scoring a near-fall. As Joe landed a couple of elbows, Kingston reversed and hit a Trouble in Paradise from nowhere to survive Joe’s onslaught and retain the championship.
This was fine. It played into the narrative of Kingston being the gutsy underdog and fighting from behind the score the victory. That said, even as dominant as Joe looked here, the outcome wasn’t really in question. For as strong as the brilliant Samoan has looked, his WWE tenure thus far tells us that he always falls short when it comes to picking up the big prizes.
Winner Takes All Mixed Tag Team Match: Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch vs. Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans
Both the Raw Women’s Championship and the Universal Championship were on the line as real-life couple Rollins and Lynch took on the heel team of Corbin and Evans. The Lone Wolf tried to end the contest early, rolling up Rollins, and then went straight for the kendo stick. Rollins responded with the sling blade, prompting Evans to attack the Beastslayer with the stick. Lynch and Rollins responded by beating down their foes and diving onto them on the outside. Corbin levelled the scores with a steel chair, and pinned Rollins for a two-count. Evans threw in more chairs as Corbin looked to get creative with the extreme rules stipulation, as Lynch rallied from the apron. The Architect hit back with a superkick and tagged Becky, the Man going straight for Evans, destroying her with the chairs, culminating in a Bexploder and leg drop from the top rope for a two count. The Sassy Southern Belle responded with a nice leg sweep, an elbow and then a beautiful moonsault for the near fall. Lynch managed to make the tag to Rollins, and the two pulled out the tables. The desperate heels fought back though, Rollins being sent onto the announce table. The two then took turns in obliterating the Universal Champion with kendo sticks, as Becky lay on the outside. Lynch tried to make the save but the babyface duo soon took a couple of chokeslams, but countered with a double suplex onto the steel ramp. In a stunning sequence, both Rollins and Lynch leapt from the ringpost, crashing through Corbin and Evans on the tables below. Corbin then mustered enough strength to counter a stomp with a Deep Six, only for Lynch to make the save. An incensed Corbin responded by hitting the Irish Lass Kicker with an End of Days, which ignited a rage in Rollins, manifesting in him trying to destroy Corbin with chair and kendo stick shots. Three stomps followed for the victory and the retaining of both titles. Lesnar’s music hit, and a spent Rollins was decimated by the Beast, who cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and became new Universal champion.
This was a decent main event, a slow burner which grew in drama and violence. Corbin is so underrated as a heel and he garnered even more heat for his character with his End of Days on Lynch. Rollins subsequent raw emotion and rage was also masterful storytelling and ultimately left the champion vulnerable to the Beast. The disappointing arc of the story, though, is Rollins title run was only just getting going, and the belt now belongs to a part-time superstar, whose sporadic appearances hurt the credibility of the title last time he held it. A determined and vengeful babyface in Rollins pursuing the title now, though, may add an extra dimension to his character.