By Jason Powell
These predictions were made with no help from the betting lines. I’m guessing just like you are. Join me for live coverage of WWE Extreme Rules beginning with the needlessly long Kickoff Show at 6CT/7ET. Dot Net Members will hear a WWE Extreme Rules audio review later tonight. Join us on the ad-free version of Prowrestling.net to gain access to over nine years of audio content via the Dot Net Members’ Signup Page.
Tell me if you’ve read this before. The pay-per-view card looks good on paper, but the build to the event was lackluster. Okay, so some of the stipulations are silly, but this has the potential to be an entertaining presentation. The bigger issue is that WWE just can’t seem to deliver a compelling build to their monthly (or bi-weekly these days) network specials. This seems to be more common on the Raw side despite the fact that they have three hours of weekly television to fill. This is sadly the new norm for WWE.
Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Samoa Joe in a five-way for a shot at the WWE Universal Championship at WWE Great Balls of Fire: The best moment of the build occurred while the match was being announced by Kurt Angle. The graphics that showed each wrestler as a potential opponent for Brock Lesnar was a great touch. Since then, we’ve seen the usual formula of WWE trying to show that everyone has a chance while also bending over backward to protect Roman Reigns. It’s the same formula that led to Dolph Ziggler pinning AJ Styles on Smackdown as they attempt to show that even Ziggler could win Money in the Bank.
Reigns received the most consistent push of anyone in this match. He beat Finn Balor with one arm. He also pinned Seth Rollins clean. Balor received Paul Heyman’s endorsement a week after he lost to a one-armed man and just moments before he had a seven-minute competitive match with a tag team wrestler. Bray Wyatt talked a lot and made Samoa Joe look gullible. Joe got to win the Triple Threat on Monday’s Raw. Seth Rollins lost a tag match with Reigns and then lost to Reigns in the singles match.
Reigns is the only wrestler in the match with any storyline momentum. He’s also the least likely to win the match simply because all signs point to WWE holding off on his showdown match with Brock Lesnar for a major event, perhaps even WrestleMania. Rollins and Wyatt both feel disposable if WWE is simply looking for a one-off win for Lesnar, but neither man facing Lesnar feels like a pay-per-view draw at this point.
That leaves Finn Balor and Samoa Joe as my favorites to win the match. Joe vs. Lesnar is a longtime dream match for diehard pro wrestling fans. And if there’s a way to have Joe come out of the match with Lesnar looking strong despite the fact that Lesnar will likely retain the championship, then I would love to see it. The problem with Joe is that he’s a badass on a brand with three badasses positioned higher on the card than he is (Lesnar, Strowman, Reigns). Why wasn’t he moved to Smackdown where he could have been the top badass of the brand? A five-way win could help bridge the gap between Joe and the big three. And while I fear that it would only last until Great Balls of Fire next month, this is the most marketable match scenario of the five.
My best guess is that Heyman’s big buildup for Balor was foreshadowing. Balor would be an undersized David to Brock’s Goliath. If Balor wins this match, one would assume that it would set the table for the return of The Demon persona next month. Does WWE really want to have the Demon taken to Suplex City? Probably not. If Balor wins tonight, my guess is that it sets up a cheap finish next month designed to protect Balor while also spinning off both men into their respective SummerSlam programs.
Confidence Picks (least likely to favorite): 5) Roman Reigns. 4) Seth Rollins. 3) Bray Wyatt. 2) Samoa Joe. 1) Finn Balor.
Finn Balor wins the five-way.
Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship (title can change hands on a disqualification): I assume we’ll get an early attempt by Maryse slapping her husband with the hopes that it will lead to Ambrose being disqualified. Enter Kurt Angle, who will shoot that down. I don’t have a strong feeling about this one, but the idea of another IC Title reign doesn’t do much for me.
Dean Ambrose retains.
Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus and Cesaro in a cage match for the Raw Tag Titles: Another month of the tag team champions defeating their heel challengers in singles matches. WWE doubled down by having the Hardys and Dean Ambrose beat Sheamus, Cesaro, and The Miz in a six-man tag match on the go-home show. By the way, that go-home show somehow did not include hype of any real substance for this cage match, which is a shame. Jeff Hardy is going to perform a Swanton off the top of the cage. The only question is whether he hits the move or if his opponent moves out of the way. I don’t have a strong feeling about this one either, but there are not obvious opponents waiting for either team, and a tag title change would keep the feud going.
Sheamus and Cesaro win the Raw Tag Titles.
Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley in a kendo stick on a pole match for the Raw Women’s Championship: The thing to remember is that the match doesn’t end when one of the wrestlers grabs the kendo stick. In other words, it’s possible for Bayley to get some measure of kendo stick revenge on Bliss without actually defeating her. We haven’t heard much from Nia Jax on television, but at last check she was out to protect Bliss until she gets her title match. Let’s go with Jax saving Bliss to set up a Triple Threat next month.
Alexa Bliss retains.
Neville vs. Austin Aries in a submissions match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: I loved their WrestleMania match. The Neville heel character is great. Aries is a longtime personal favorite. So why am I so apathetic about this feud and everything else in the cruiserweight division? Vince McMahon needs to hand off the cruiserweight creative assignment to someone who actually cares. Babyfaces normally don’t tap out in these situations, so if Neville wins, then I suspect it will be the old pass out finish, which may be the case since Aries is still selling a knee injury. That said, this division needs something that feels fresh.
Austin Aries wins the cruiserweight championship.
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann vs. Alicia Fox and Noam Dar: This feels like a one and done with the babyfaces going over. I just hope we don’t get cool Sasha performing another dorky lasso dance like the drunken aunt at every wedding.
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann win.
Kalisto vs. Apollo Crews: Will Titus O’Neil help or hurt Crews? Babyfaces tend to win the Kickoff Show matches, so let’s go with Titus doing something that backfires.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Will Pruett on the Roman Reigns whodunnit angle, WWE heading into SummerSlam, AEW's October 2 premiere on TNT, the New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax Tournament through Day 11, and more (77:45)...