By Anish Vishwakoti, Prowrestling.net Staffer, (@AVX_9001)
For WWE’s third big co-branded network special since WrestleMania, we head to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for Extreme Rules. Without the WWE Universal Champion on deck to build the show, the WWE Title is in the spotlight, while on Raw, Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns is the headlining match. There is a strong lineup of matches, and with Lesnar absent, storylines that maybe wouldn’t regularly have space on the card get a spot to shine (or falter if WWE overstay their welcome much like they did at Backlash). Overall, the card has potential to be entertaining, but has a number of spots that could derail the show if they underperform.
AJ Styles vs. Rusev for the WWE Championship: I’m banking on this being the main event match, however as we saw at Backlash, WWE isn’t opposed to putting Roman in that slot even if his match isn’t for the championship. If WWE have any sense and can learn from their mistakes, they’ll give the two fan favorites the main event spot. Despite both AJ and Rusev being crowd favorites, this match will likely have a tough job keeping the crowd in line. Rusev and Aiden English’s act is on fire right now, and no one is going to boo Styles, that’s for sure. That being said, the crowd will certainly be into it, the question is whether AJ and Rusev can construct a match that will leave the crowd happy with either man winning.
Rusev has his first one-one-one WWE title opportunity this Sunday, and is still riding the wave of popularity that he has made for himself with the “Rusev Day” moniker. WWE has shown in recent weeks that they aren’t blind to Rusev’s babyface potential. While Rusev hasn’t been acting with honor per se, whenever they need to get sympathy on Styles, Aiden English is the one who does the dirty work, Rusev has for the most part been talking a lot of trash in the entertaining manner that he does.
Coming off what was a decidedly lackluster feud with Shinsuke Nakamura, Styles has managed to prove every week that he is one of the best wrestlers in WWE and undoubtedly one of the most loved. WWE have been doing a decent job at ensuring Styles doesn’t seem stale, as he has had to battle through Nakamura’s many nut shots, as well as through the pressure that Rusev and English put on him.
On the go-home Smackdown before Extreme Rules, Rusev and Nakamura left the show standing tall in a tag match against Styles and Jeff Hardy. The old wrestling adage comes to mind here that if you take the W on the go home show, you’re most likely taking the L at the PPV. I have Nakamura bucking that trend by beating Hardy, but I don’t see Rusev doing the same. Furthermore it seems unlikely that they’ll want a first time champ in Rusev with the championship going into SummerSlam, more likely that if Rusev wins, he will do so in his second shot in Brooklyn.
AJ Styles retains the WWE Championship.
Roman Reigns vs. Bobby Lashley: Most likely a number one contenders match for the Universal Title, and with Brock Lesnar’s impending departure to UFC, most likely the decider for who will take the title from him. This rivalry has had some ups and some downs, nothing stellar to take the feud into Extreme Rules. Roman and Lashley definitely have chemistry when working together, as shown in the giant pull apart on the go home Raw. However, their chemistry building this feud aside from that has been subpar at best.
Considering this is a regular singles match as well, it’s hard to see Lashley hand Reigns a defeat, especially so close to SummerSlam where Reigns can finally defeat Lesnar and take the Universal Title. However, Lashley has expressed interest in facing Lesnar, and if WWE want to extend Reigns’ chase for the title until Wrestlemania 35, then Lashley is a viable option to face Lesnar at SummerSlam. Overall though, Reigns will likely take it.
Roman Reigns wins.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins for the Intercontinental Championship in a 30-minute Iron Man match: Undoubtedly the most anticipated match on the card, Rollins, Ziggler, and Drew McIntyre have been tearing the house down the past month on Raw. Ziggler has seemed more credible than he has done in years, and McIntyre feels like he belongs on Raw in a way that he has never seemed before. Rollins has been doing some of his best work on this IC title run and and a guaranteed 30 minutes of action between he and Ziggler is extremely enticing.
Hopefully this match lives up to the bill, WWE has something special here and they would do well to not waste it. I also recognize that WWE officials know they have something great here and they will likely want to extend it, which is why I see Ziggler retaining, probably with no lack of assistance from McIntyre.
Dolph Ziggler retains the Intercontinental Championship.
Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship in an Extreme Rules match: The only extreme rules match on a PPV of that name, Bliss vs. Jax has been built relatively well over the last few weeks. This was a good use of a cash-in to keep Ronda Rousey on the hunt for the championship, and Bliss is certainly a far more compelling heel for Rousey to chase than Jax. Making it extreme rules is a smart move, as Jax can get some form of catharsis using a weapon during the night, and Bliss can have Mickie James come assist her to retain, which is what I see happening.
Alexa Bliss retains the Raw Women’s Championship.
Carmella vs. Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship with James Ellsworth suspended above the ring in a shark cage: These past few years have been a real resurrection of the shark cage stipulation, probably in part due to WWE releasing a shark cage toy set. With Asuka losing at WrestleMania, and then again at MITB, it seems likely that this will be her last shot at the Smackdown Women’s title for a while. Of course while in theory Ellsworth is in a shark cage so he cannot interfere, the stipulation is a tell for the finish that will likely see Ellsworth drop something to Carmella so that she can wallop Asuka and retain.
Carmella retains the Smackdown Tag Titles.
The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Kane and Daniel Bryan for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Bludgeons have been doing some good work in this latest run, but ultimately their role here seems to be as the mildly compelling villains for our fan favorite heroes to vanquish. Kane’s return from his mayoral campaign has been handled pretty well, he and Bryan work really well together, and it’s cool to see Kane doing good in ring work after so many years.
Fans have been eating up everything Bryan does, rightfully so, and seeing he and Kane win the tag titles one more time would be a nice emotional high for the show, as well as for Smackdown in the weeks to come until SummerSlam. Of course, with Kane likely only here temporarily, it stands to reason that he and Bryan will do battle in the near future, but I believe this will be post SummerSlam, and that they will hold the titles until then.
Kane and Daniel Bryan win the Smackdown Tag Team Championship.
Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt vs. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas for the Raw Tag Team Championship: Hardy and Wyatt are compelling characters, and their title run has been interesting, especially as a reset for Bray Wyatt, no doubt they can do some more good work in the coming week, I doubt they will lose their titles until we have another visit to the Hardy Compound. Axel and Dallas as the B-Team have been pretty funny, but it doesn’t seem like a shtick that can carry a title run into SummerSlam,
Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt retain the Raw Tag Titles.
Jeff Hardy vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the United States Championship: At one time, this could be seen as a real dream match between a TNA and WWE staple and a New Japan Pro Wrestling legend. Now, however, while this match could be seriously entertaining, it doesn’t have the same luster that it once would have. Hardy has not had the best run as U.S. Champ, not entirely of his own doing, as he won it and was stuck in a feud with Jinder Mahal for a while, and then a middling rivalry with Randy Orton. Nakamura is still entertaining as a heel and I see him winning this match and getting a solid run with the U.S. Title to build him back up to main event status.
Shinsuke Nakamura wins the United States Championship.
Finn Balor vs. “Constable” Baron Corbin: Corbin’s role on Raw is pretty interesting, and a good move for him. Giving him some power as Stephanie McMahon’s representative makes him a dislikable heel, much more so than he has been recently. This match however, doesn’t seem fit for PPV and could easily drag the show on too long. WWE should consider blowing off feuds like this on TV, as it would give the Raw shows more importance, and would lessen the load on PPV. I see Corbin losing on Sunday. A win would give Balor some momentum into SummerSlam, and would give Corbin a reason to be even more sniveling and vengeful on Raw. Don’t expect this to be a barn burner, but it should be decent at least.
Finn Balor wins.
Braun Strowman vs. Kevin Owens in a steel cage: Strowman and Owens have been engaged in a solid TV feud, but I feel that like the Balor vs. Corbin feud, this should really not be on PPV. With Sami Zayn injured, there is just a zero percent chance that Owens wins it via pinfall. I could see Owens winning by escaping the cage, it would give Strowman a reason to want vengeance. However, I see Strowman moving on to another match for SummerSlam, therefore I see Owens almost escaping then being mauled by Strowman.
Braun Strowman wins.
“The New Day” Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods vs. “Sanity” Killian Dain, Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe in a Tables Match: On the go home Smackdown, New Day and Sanity were a part of a large 10-man tag that solidified their rivalry for Extreme Rules. Tom Phillips mentioned on commentary, rather fleetingly, that they would have a tables match, the rules of which being that the first team to put a member of the other team through a table wins. This is on the pre-show, so they might get a fair amount of time to make this entertaining. I’m assuming they will want this rivalry to continue as it is rather new, and I’m also assuming WWE will want to give Sanity the rub at SummerSlam. Therefore it seems likely that the New Day will use their shenanigans to isolate one of them (probably Wolfe) and escape the match by putting him through a table.
The New Day win.
Listen to WWE Extreme Rules predictions from Jason Powell on the new Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast along with his 60-minute interview with Impact Wrestling’s Josh Mathews below.