WWE Extreme Rules 2018
July 15, 2018
PPG Paints Arena
Watch: WWE Network
Meet our previewers:
Joe Lanza: Disclaimer: As explained in the Money In The Bank preview, I don’t do predictions for WWE matches anymore. However, as the most compelling voice in wrestling media, please enjoy my blurbs anyway.
WWE Raw Women’s Championship – Extreme Rules Match
Alexa Bliss © vs. Nia Jax
Joe Lanza: Here we are, back where we started. I feel like we’ve seen this before. A lot. Recently. Fantastic use of perhaps the deepest roster in professional wrestling history. Also, Nia Jax is very bad and Alexa never takes bumps, so it probably won’t be good.
Barry Hess: Nia Jax was the victim of a bully during her WrestleMania program with Alexa Bliss. She then transformed into a bully for her program with Ronda Rousey last month. This month she’s back to being the victim. Confused yet? The initial program with Bliss was the most interesting Jax has been since arriving on the main roster scene. Positioning her as the heel against Rousey was also the right creative choice, but that twist should have been restricted to her performance in the match itself and not carried over into the constitution of the character. Jax could have conveyed the proper tone for the Rousey story without the integrity of the character being destroyed by the subtlety hammer over the course of four weeks. Nevertheless, these two performers have an entertaining in-ring chemistry and I expect that dynamic to continue in this match. Bliss continues to be the most consistent female performer on the Raw roster both in the manner in which her character is booked as well as her actual performances week to week. Rousey, who is still serving her 30-day suspension, will be sitting ringside and looming large over the proceedings. The obvious prediction is that she gets involved in some physical manner, most likely in a way that allows Bliss to leave Pittsburgh as champion. The Raw Women’s Championship will probably revolve around these three characters leading into Summer Slam; it will be fun to see how things evolve and who ultimately ends up in the ring in Brooklyn. Prediction: Alexa Bliss
WWE United States Championship
Jeff Hardy © vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Joe Lanza: Nakamura is one of the few WWE wrestlers who has been booked somewhat logically, sliding down the card after failing to win the top title on his brand. I haven’t enjoyed Jeff Hardy’s U.S. title reign at all. Either age is catching up with him, he doesn’t care all that much, or both, because his matches have ranged from boring at best to sloppy shitfests at worst. I’d like to see a title switch here, as even WWE Nak is way more interesting than this version of Jeff Hardy.
Barry Hess: The battle of the enigmas. On paper this first-time match feels like something worth getting excited about, but the contrast in styles has me more apprehensive than excited. Jeff Hardy is a carbon copy performer at this point in his career; his matches look and feel the same no matter the stage or the story. That alone is not a dealbreaker if his opponent is able to spice things up (see the his SmackDown Live match against Daniel Bryan last month). If Shinsuke Nakamura enters the match with his working shoes on then this could be a fun little back-and-forth midcard match. Contrarily, if he allows Hardy to dictate the tempo of the match and go along for the ride then this could be boring and clunky (see Hardy vs. Randy Orton at Backlash). Creatively, it’s good to see Nakamura being positioned in a midcard title match on the heels of his unsuccessful bid to become WWE Champion. He still feels like an important part of the SmackDown Live roster, if that’s actually true (and why shouldn’t be?) then logic says he should win the title. Please, for the love of all that is holy and good in the world, don’t tell me we’re getting yet another foreign heel holds the U.S. title hostage angle. We’re getting another foreign heel holds the U.S. title hostage angle aren’t we? Prediction: Shinsuke Nakamura
Finn Bálor vs. Baron Corbin
Joe Lanza: Scripted promos are a double edged sword. They save us from the truly awful, but they also restrict the people who could very likely cut better promos if they were left to their own devices and have likely robbed us of some classic, organic stuff over the years. Do yourself a favor a check out the promos that Balor and Corbin have been cutting on each other on Twitter dot com, and tell me it isn’t world’s better than whatever they’ve been doing on TV. I’m interested in this match based on stuff they’ve done online, and this is a match I’d have never cared about otherwise. And that’s the entire point of promos to begin with.
Barry Hess: Forget Jeff Hardy, Baron Corbin is the true enigma on the WWE roster. I want to relegate Corbin to ‘Big Cass’ status in my mind every week and yet there’s always this unexplainable something that gives me pause. It’s a bizarre situation I can’t fully articulate. His style in the ring is pedestrian, his promos lack passion and believability, his theme music sounds strange, his look is neither standard nor unique…not exactly superstar credentials here. And yet I find myself drawn to this intangible something about this character. Of all things, the constable gimmick is the last thing I’d ever assume would gel with Corbin’s ability as a performer, but in a weird way the persona is actually working. Monday’s go-home episode of Raw identified an intriguing chemistry between Corbin and Elias that would be worth exploring further if the current state of the tag team division wasn’t the creative black hole that it is.
On the flip side, The Balor Club may be for everyone, but it’s not for me. Talk about a hollow character, there is truly nothing there with this character and there really hasn’t been since Balor joined the main roster (sans his initial push that was wiped out by an unfortunate injury and a two week period on Raw in January or February of this year, where he was paired with Gallows and Anderson and actually portrayed some semblance of a personality). Week after week Balor is presented as this big deal, yet we know almost nothing about the character. What is Balor Club all about? What are the character’s motivations? What is the situation with his demon alter ego? We don’t know any of the answers to those questions. Every week he comes out, smiles at the audience, flashes his leather jacket, flexes his abs and Michael Cole yells about Balor Club. Ok, and?
In terms of the match itself, I’m not really sure what the conflict is here other than a few less than compelling altercations in Kurt Angle’s office. At first this felt like a quick story to manufacture a win for Balor on the pay-per view stage, but during a spell of insomnia the other night a thought popped into my mind: Corbin and Kurt Angle are going to wrestle at Summer Slam aren’t they? Ugh. Prediction: Baron Corbin
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The Bludgeon Brothers © vs. Team Hell No
Joe Lanza: (Alternate universe a lot of you fooled yourself into thinking existed) The Daniel Bryan Dream Match Tour marches on, this time with a big one on one singles match with Andrade “Cien” Almas, who has risen to the top of Smackdown like a phoenix after his tremendous NXT run. Almas has vaulted to the top of Wrestler of the Year lists, while Bryan looks like he never took a day off, with 5-star classic after 5-star classic against a murderer’s row list of top notch WWE talent we all knew he’d rock against. What a time to be alive! I’m literally shaking!
(The reality I told all of you dopes would occur) After an utterly pointless, redundant, and uninteresting feud with Big Cass, Bryan predictably is booked with Kane. The only question was whether it would be a feud or a tag team. I mean, this is all happening E-X-A-C-T-L-Y as I predicted. I’d go on a victory lap but my legs are still tired from being right about Cass going nowhere.
Barry Hess: As the Daniel Bryan Farewell Tour makes its way to the steel city of Pittsburgh it’s only appropriate that he be reunited with the character most associated with his WWE career: Kane. I must admit, I’m a little surprised how positive the crowds have reacted to this turn of events. I suppose you could chock it up to nostalgia and you’d probably be right. I was a big fan of Team Hell No back in the day (was that really in 2013? It feels like 20 years ago.) If you’re someone who consumes the WWE product at face value then this will probably be a fun match. Harper and Rowan are strong dance partners for Bryan. Kane is Kane, but if his spots are well-placed he’ll be fine. If you’re someone with higher expectations then I suspect you’re not interested in anything involving Bryan and Kane in 2018, whether it’s good or not. I genuinely feel bad for those looking for one last run for Bryan before he potentially leaves the company in the fall (he’s leaving), but this is where we are. Does Miz get involved in this match somehow? The go-home episode of SmackDown Live proved the heat between Bryan and Miz is still a draw and Summer Slam is looming in the distance. Does Kane turn heel? It’s certainly possible, but with his mayoral campaign in full swing I’m thinking a babyface Devil’s Favorite Demon is best for everyone. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Prediction: The Bludgeon Brothers
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship
Carmella © vs. Asuka
Joe Lanza: It was smart bring James Ellsworth back, who brings smoke and mirrors to Carmella’s act which helps obscure that she’s so terrible in the ring. I used to be super into Asuka, and while I wasn’t entirely against ending the streak, I think the smarter play would’ve been to keep it alive while they slowly built to an Asuka/Rousey match. None of that matters now. She’s been booked into oblivion since losing to Charlotte, and it’s impossible to care about her as she melts into the lump of mostly indistinguishable mid carders that is modern WWE.
Barry Hess: Remember Tatanka? He burst onto the scene in 1992 and went undefeated for a year and a half. He won a big 40-man battle royal, he feuded with Rick Martel and later Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental title. He was presented as a big deal. Then he randomly lost a match to Ludvig Borga in the fall of 1993 and that was that. He spent the rest of his career as just another guy. There are many Tatanka-like cases throughout WWE history. Asuka isn’t quite in that territory yet, but she’s getting dangerously close. Originally I was all for dragging this feud out for the big payoff at Summer Slam, but I’ve changed my tune on that. I don’t have anything against Carmella or her current run as champion, I think she’s been performing her role very well. But the reemergence of James Ellsworth has changed the tenor of this program in a negative manner for me. While I enjoyed his first run and thought he added a level of heat previously lacking in Carmella’s persona, she doesn’t need him anymore. His presence misplaces the heat on him instead of where it should be, with the undeserving champion. Let Asuka show up, destroy both Carmella and Ellsworth, take the title and move on to a money match at Summer Slam. Prediction: Asuka
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt © vs. The B-Team
Joe Lanza: Welcome to four hour dual brand PPVs, and feature matches with Bo Dalls & Curtis Axel.
Barry Hess: The only thing I think about when Matt Hardy is in the ring is how difficult it appears to be for him to move around. I really appreciate his dedication to his craft and his creative zeal. Like I said earlier, the WWE tag team divisions are where compelling drama goes to die these days. Once we get through this match I suppose The Authors of Pain are the next victims. Sad. Prediction: Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt
Steel Cage Match
Braun Strowman vs. Kevin Owens
Joe Lanza: Braun already attempted to murder Kevin Owens at MITB, and since Owens is essentially fearless and Braun is always booked to do something shocking, I’m sure they have something cooking for this one that will put Owens life in danger.
Barry Hess: The psychology of this program could not be any more backwards. Kevin Owens attempted to organize the combatants of the Money in the Bank ladder match in an effort to eliminate Braun Strowman from the equation. Strowman, in return, targeted Owens and threw him from one of the huge ladders on the entrance ramp en route to capturing the briefcase. So far so good. Then things took an odd turn. Since Money in the Bank Strowman has falsey accepted a truce, flipped Owens’ rental car and threw him off the stage while trapped in a Porta Potty in a series of unprovoked encounters on Raw. All of the sympathy in this angle lies squarely with the heel, yet the audience continues to support Strowman while reveling in Owens’ misfortune. I get it, Strowman’s over the top antics are the most over aspect of WWE’s product right now. Owens is a tremendous performer and makes it easy for the audience to side against him. But this questionable psychology has been more than a little distracting for me personally and has really cooled me to the Strowman character, which is crazy considering how much I’ve enjoyed him this year. If the story of the cage match follows the same path of Owens wanting no part of a physical encounter then this match will be disappointing. If Owens engages and becomes more of the ‘Fight Anyone’ character that better suits him then it will be enjoyable. After torturing Owens for weeks there’s really no emotional payoff in Strowman winning this match. Prediction: Kevin Owens
AJ Styles (c) vs. Rusev
Joe Lanza: I’m not going to complain, ever, about Rusev doing something meaningful on the card. *IF* the typical WWE storytelling bullshit is kept to a minimum or avoided entirely, this could be the match that steals the show and has the hardcores talking.
Barry Hess: It goes without saying that this is a long overdue opportunity for Rusev but I’ll say it anyway. His ability to remain relevant no matter how irrelevant his character is booked is pretty unbelievable. This should be the match of the night and I hope it is, but I’ve got some serious reservations. We know the Iron Man match is going at least 30 minutes. Whether this match is the main event or not, Roman and Lashley are going to get significant time as well. Rousey-related antics aren’t going to be rushed either. I know we’re in this new age of four-hour shows, but all signs point to this being a stop-gap title defense rather than a layered program and I fear it may be booked as such. I hope I’m wrong. This is a fresh match-up with tons of creative possibilities. Prediction: AJ Styles
WWE Intercontinental Championship – 30-minute Iron Man Match
Dolph Ziggler © vs. Seth Rollins
Joe Lanza: I’m not a big fan of the Iron Man stip, but 30-minutes makes this far more palatable to think about. I’m sure this will be good. Rollins is having a good little year, and Ziggler is very capable of delivering the bell-to-bell goods when properly motivated. The fly in the ointment, of course, is Drew McIntyre at ringside, which will surely lead to a thoroughly unsatisfying finish.
Barry Hess: I have a love/hate relationship with the Iron Man gimmick. I love the inherent drama of the concept and I love that it forces the performers to place an emphasis on winning when putting the match together, something that gets lost in the weeds of sports entertainment-style storytelling far too often. When it comes to Iron Man matches, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels are the gold standard. And therein lies the problem. You can’t have every Iron Man match go down to the wire without a fall being registered and maintain the element of high drama. It was a compelling swerve the first time around, but if you rinse and repeat it becomes predictable and the audience will lose interest for two-thirds of the performance. But racking up falls on a scoreboard goes against the nature of pro wrestling matches, especially in today’s era of high-spot immunity and kicking out of multiple finishers. It’s asking a lot of the audience to forget about conventional match structure in favor of an isolated gimmick match. How can Seth Rollins last over an hour without being pinned in a gauntlet match on Raw, but get pinned three or four times in an Iron Man match? At a certain point the performers can’t help but lose a bit of credibility. Admittedly, that may be an outdated mindset that modern WWE fans can forgive or easily ignore. But I’m closer to 40 than I’d like to admit so it’s something I can’t overlook as a critic.
If the falls are kept to a minimum, say 2-1, then this match should be a homerun. We know what Rollins and Dolph Ziggler are capable of and the 30 minute time frame ensures that they’ll be given the time to do it. I have to agree with Joe Lanza in terms of Rollins being overrated. Rollins went on a strong run that culminated in an Intercontinental Championship win at WrestleMania. His weekly matches on Raw are afforded time to develop and tell compelling stories. He’s booked strong both in victory and defeat. That’s not an amazing year, that’s just competent pro wrestling storytelling; something that is so rare in WWE these days that when it’s done it actually elevates a talent’s stock and creates an emotional investment in a character’s success. Imagine that. I like the surprise title switch that preceded this match because it made sense. Rollins had been defending the title on a whirlwind tour after WrestleMania and continued the busy schedule with weekly open-challenges on Raw. The schedule finally caught up with him and he got caught. Simple, logical and believable. Rollins is the only member of the Raw roster outside of Reigns and Lashley I can see unseating Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, which would mean he doesn’t need the IC title around his waist. But that’s a long shot based on where things appear to be headed on the main event scene. Prediction: Seth Rollins
Roman Reigns vs. Bobby Lashley
Joe Lanza: The build for this was unintentionally hilarious. “You failed ten years ago!” “Yeah, well you’re a failure now!” A battle of failures, as astutely pointed out to you, the viewer, each week on Monday Night RAW. Bizarre. Lashley is very bad, so they would be best served to brawl, which wisely seems to be the direction of the build.
Barry Hess: I’m absolutely fascinated by the underlining drama of this match between Roman Reigns and Roman Reigns Ver. 1.0 (aka Bobby Lashley). In an ironic twist almost too perfect to believe, the build to this match has been a microcosm of the creative malpractice that prevented Lashley from becoming a top guy a decade ago and has hindered Reigns for the last five years. Bizarre smiling, dry promos, poor attempts at comedy, convoluted motivations and inconsistent character types; it’ the greatest hits of WWE main event failures wrapped up in one story. There was even the pull-apart scene on Raw that showed what these characters could look and feel like if they were just presented in that manner every single time they appeared on television…only to be undermined by incoherent promos later in the show that reaffirm the audience’s rejection of these guys. It’s amazing how similar these two performers are for all the wrong reasons. If this match is a brawl it will be good. If it’s a straight wrestling match the crowd will consume these two after ten minutes and it will be yet another ill-fated main event. I can see a scenario where either of these two get the win, but we all know what the end game is and with Brock Lesnar on the verge of beginning a UFC training camp the time for Reigns to get that elusive win over The Beast draws closer and closer. Prediction: Roman Reigns