I've been writing wrestling reviews on and off for a while now, and decided to dive into a bit more lately with time off work. I'm not doing play-by-play as such, just general thoughts and analysis on the matches. Would appreciate your feedback!
It feels like a while since I've done a Wrestlewatch review for WWE. I've done reviews of all three of AEW's shows, I've reviewed Sydney's PWA shows, and I even did a big write-up for NJPW's Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. However, I didn't write a review for WWE's last PPV, Stomping Grounds. There's a pretty simple reason for that. While sometimes, my reasons for not writing reviews are just down to time constraints or life generally getting in the way, that wasn't the case for Stomping Grounds. It's just down to the simple old saying of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". I'm happy to offer constructive criticism when it's called for, but I don't want to write a review that's 95% shitting on the product, and that's what would have happened if I did a WrestleWatch for Stomping Grounds. It was woeful. Ricochet vs. Samoa Joe, which saw The One And Only capture his first United States Championship was one bright spot, but it wasn't enough to save the show. Let's just say if I gave the show my usual out of 10 score, it wouldn't receive a passing grade.
So, I'm here to write a review for Extreme Rules. As I've mentioned in other posts, my WWE fandom has wavered this year for the first time in many years, due to some horrible creative decisions. It's a shame, because WWE genuinely have some of the best wrestlers in the world employed, but when everything else about the presentation is boring, nonsensical and/or an insult to my intelligence, it's hard to watch. But recently, Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff have been hired in executive creative roles behind the scenes. While it has been said that Bischoff will officially commence his position AFTER Extreme Rules, there's no denying that the last couple of weeks have seen a decidedly different creative vision for both Raw and Smackdown, with some very watchable episodes taking place. And Extreme Rules looked like a pretty tasty wrestling card on paper. While eating paper isn't advisable, it's time to tuck into the plate of wrestling action served up. Did we get a delicious dish? Time to dive in...
I didn't watch this show live, so I was afforded the luxury of skipping all the pre-show "analysis" by the panel. 9/10, it's awful stuff. I get what they're going for by doing it, but I'd much rather just see backstage interviews/angles and video packages instead of WWE's cringey attempts at a sports vibe.
Match 1: Intercontinental Championship- Shinsuke Nakamura def. Finn Balor (at 7:40)
Thoughts: Argggh, so many problems with this. Apparently this match was announced earlier in the day. Why? It was clear they were heading in this direction on Smackdown, why not make the match then? And why the fuck is it on the Kick-Off Show? Especially since there was a title change? The Intercontinental Championship is one of my favourite championships in WWE history (although I prefer the early 2000s design), it deserves to be on the main card and treated with more respect and presented as one of the most important prizes in the company. It's the equivalent of throwing Eddie Guerrero vs. RVD, or Chris Jericho vs. Kurt Angle on Sunday Night Heat back in the day. All that bitching aside- like I said, I want to be positive as much as I can, but those things had to be addressed- it was an excellent effort by both men, great match for what it was. Top notch wrestling to kick things off... PPV worthy, even. Hopefully this feud continues, and we see Demon Balor take on the King Of Strong Style. (***)
Match 2: Cruiserweight Championship- Drew Gulak def. Tony Nese (at 7:25)
Thoughts: I've been advocating for the cruisers to get a main card spot for ages, such is their ability, but realistically WWE doesn't view 205 Live as a priority, so it is what it is. And Tony Nese is actually a great Kick-Off wrestler in a lot of respects- he's technically gifted and has a lot of crowd pleasing spots at his disposal, but he lacks the charisma to really be a big time star. On the other hand, Drew Gulak is sensational in and out of the ring, I was so glad to see him win the championship last month, and even more happy to see him keep it here- in a clean victory in his hometown. Great match, mixing a variety of styles, and a tremendous stretch of counter offence that commentary effectively put over as both men knowing each other so well. (***)
Side note, I've heard rave reviews about the EVOLVE 10th Anniversary show that aired yesterday (opposite AEW's Fight For The Fallen), more specifically Gulak vs. Matt Riddle, and Adam Cole vs. Akira Tozawa. Also a lot of praise directed toward EVOLVE Champion Austin Theory in the main event. I'm unfamiliar with their product, apart from knowing that a lot of WWE alumi come from there, but that's a show I'm likely to check out later this week. Not sure if I'll do a review for it, but if you'd like one, let me know, either in comments or my e-mail: [email protected]
That was about as good as a pre-show could be, in terms of wrestling. Now the question is, did they peak early?
Match 1: Undertaker & Roman Reigns def. Shane McMahon & Drew McIntyre (at 17:00)
Thoughts: This was honestly a major shock to open the show. I actually thought, given the build up- and the fact that it's the fucking Undertaker on a non- Big 4 PPV- that this match would main event. Glad to be wrong though, because you can't get a much hotter start to a show than Taker doing his thing. I'm a huge mark for Taker, I can't help it. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were the first two wrestlers I ever saw, so even when Taker has bad outings as age gets to him, I still love the guy. And this entire match seemed designed for Taker to get his mojo back after the awful showing at Super Showdown. It accomplished that- the best Undertaker has looked in years! Even when Michael Cole gave the usual line about the Deadman's "slow and methodical style", Corey Graves was quick to cut Cole off and put him in his place. Taker looked fast, fresh and motivated. Reigns did his part well, as did Shane in his signature spots. McIntyre was protected by hitting a lot of big spots and not being the one to take the pin. Although the match was No Holds Barred, much of it played out as a standard tag match, with Elias coming in to add a little spice to proceedings. But as a lifelong Undertaker fan, this was a fantastic watch (***1/2)
Match 2: Raw Tag Team Championship- The Revival def. The Usos (at 12:35)
Thoughts: Not the best outing these two teams have ever had, there seemed to be a little miscommunication and sloppiness at times. That said, Usos and Revival are two of the best tag teams in the world, and even at less than 100%, they're going to give you a compelling match. It all picked up nicely down the stretch, and it was nice to see the Top Guys retain cleanly with the Shatter Machine. Ideally, this feud continues towards Summerslam and we get a bigger and better match there, feel like we kind of scratched the surface tonight. (***)
Match 3: Aleister Black def. Cesaro (at 10:00)
Thoughts: Two of the best wrestlers in the world got 10 minutes on PPV. This left me wanting more, but in the best possible way. This was the return to action for Aleister Black after a lot of backstage segments on Smackdown, and his striking style complemented the strength and technical wrestling of Cesaro well. This felt like a fight- well, as much as something can feel like a fight within the parameters of pro wrestling realism. I liked the nice touch of Aleister hitting his Black Mass finishing kick as part of a combination of strikes, rather than theatrically setting up for the move. Helps sell the finisher as a dangerous manoeuvre that can come out of nowhere. Tremendous showing for Black, and Cesaro got a lot in as well. (***1/2)
Thoughts: They did some nice work around the handicap match stipulation, with Bliss and Cross getting the advantage over Bayley at key moments. Phillips, Graves and Saxton doing a good job on commentary putting over the new character of Bayley, in that she's tougher and wiser than she was in years past. Overcoming the odds was a good move for Bayley to look strong. Not the most exciting match, but not bad either. (**1/2)
Match 5: Last Man Standing- Braun Strowman def. Bobby Lashley (at 17:30)
Thoughts: I've really enjoyed this Strowman/Lashley feud. The dynamic of these huge athletic powerhouses clashing just clicks so well. Super Showdown, Raw... and they hit a home run here at Extreme Rules. Lashley seems so much more comfortable than he was when he first returned to WWE after last year's Wrestlemania, and the feud has breathed life into Braun, who was hurt a bit by the one-sided nature of his feud with Brock Lesnar. Sometimes, Last Man Standing matches have a tendency to drag- that was never the case here. Major Attitude Era vibes with the way they fought all around the arena and backstage. I feel it's definitely something they should do more often, it just feels so bland and sterile that all the actions always occurs in the ring or ringside area, especially for someone that grew up on the Attitude/Ruthless Aggression craziness. Awesome finish with the powerslam of the freaking balcony! This match lived up to the PPV name and billing. (***1/2)
Match 6: Smackdown Tag Team Championship: New Day def. Daniel Bryan & Rowan and Heavy Machinery (at 14:00)
Thoughts: This was extremely fun, pardon the pun. Bryan was a riot in using underhanded tactics and informing the ref, "hey, there's no disqualification!" Bless him. Otis and Tucker really shone, with the power, comedy and even some risk taking from Tucker. Loved the finishing exchanges between Big E and Bryan, with the kicks, slaps, and awesome reactions from E. And Big E catching a backflipping Bryan in perfect position to hit the Midnight Hour... damn, son!!! (***1/2)
Match 7: United States Championship- AJ Styles def. Ricochet (at 16:30)
Thoughts: Wow, this is sure the night for title changes! A little surprised that Ricochet lost the title so quickly, but I have no doubt that this rivalry is far from over. Giving AJ the US Championship for the 3rd time solidifies him still as a major force, and newly aligned villain with The Club, Gallows and Anderson. Breathtaking athleticism, as you would expect from this two, and Gallows and Anderson played their roles very well. Also, bonus points for the sick finish- a super Styles Clash from the top rope! Incredibly innovative and dangerous, but AJ and Ricochet are two of the very best wrestlers in the world today, and this match was a great example of that. (***3/4)
Before the next bonus match, they threw to a video package on Kevin Owens becoming a babyface loose cannon, taking aim at Shane McMahon for being an egotistical jerk.
Match 8: Kevin Owens def. Dolph Ziggler (at 0:17)
Thoughts: Well then. An irate Ziggler got in Owens' face, Owens dropped him immediately with a Stunner. Seems unfair to rate that one. And... Owens has a live mic (N/R)
Owens says that he expected to show up to Extreme Rules and be suspended or even fired. But he knows Shane can't do shit because he got Tombstoned by the Undertaker. Just as he did on Smackdown, KO says that he speaks for everyone when he says that Shane can kiss his ass. He tosses the mic and leaves. I'll tell you what, it's early days, but I think babyface Kevin Owens is money. There's bitching in some circles that he's just copying Stone Cold, especially since he's adopted the Stunner. News flash, dudes and dudettes... Stone Cold retired 16 years ago. Can the Stunner never be used again? And let's not act like Austin's the only wrestler in WWE history to stand up to the evil boss.
Match 9: WWE Championship- Kofi Kingston def. Samoa Joe (at 9:45)
Thoughts: Honestly, I'm not loving Kofi as champion. It was cool at Elimination Chamber and of course at Wrestlemania, but now that the novelty has wore off, meh. You've got a guy who went from a career midcarder to just never losing. Seriously, Kofi has not been pinned all year. Samoa Joe put in a great shift in this match, and I was really hoping he'd get the gold tonight- or at least weaken Kofi considerably so that Brock could cash in his Money In The Bank and pick the bones- but it wasn't to be. Joe dominated, Kofi hits his finish towards the end, done. Instead of LOLCENAWINS, it's become LOLKOFIWINS. (**3/4)
Match 10: Winner Take All- Universal & Raw Women's Championships- Seth Rollins & Becky Lynch def. Baron Corbin & Lacey Evans (at 18:00)
Thoughts: A much improved effort from Stomping Grounds. Of course, the gimmicks helped, but everyone involved seemed to be on their games. Kudos to Lacey for having Seth embroidered on her ass and then attempting to seduce Rollins mid-match. You go, girl! The stereo dives by Seth & Becky were a huge moment... and they've finally done it. They've broken that taboo and let a man hit a move on a woman. Corbin hit Becky with The End Of Days, and everyone lost their minds. Not a peep when Becky hit Corbin to break up a pinfall before that though. The amount of heat it got, and Seth's reaction to go psycho and destroy Baron with weapons and 3 Curb Stomps, it was brilliant. Amazing the type of response you can get from crowds when you push the boundaries, huh? Really great work by all four wrestlers. (***1/4)
That's all folks, show's over...
Brock's here, Heyman in tow! Paul Heyman has been promising for a week that Lesnar would cash in at Extreme Rules, was he telling the truth or is it standard Heyman bullshit and mind games?
Thoughts: Brock hits a couple of German suplexes, the bell rings, F-5! Brock gets the emphatic 3 count and is now a 3 time Universal Champion. (*****)
Look, I'm a huge Seth Rollins fan. But this Universal Championship run wasn't a great one. First, Seth wins it at Mania in seconds after hitting a low blow. Then he has a feud with Baron Corbin- not Seth's fault, but he just couldn't build momentum trying to pull Corbin through main event level matches. And, most recently, he had to play second fiddle to his girlfriend, Becky Lynch. Not what you want your world champion to be.
A lot of people hate Brock Lesnar. I'm not one of those people. In fact, he's been my favourite since 2002. Does he phone it in sometimes? Sure. Does he get paid too much to do too little. Yeah, that sounds fair. But Brock carries himself like a legit star, and everything he does feels important. Plus, when he decides to flick that "giving a fuck" switch, he can go out there and have a barnburner with just about anyone.
I don't know what the end game here is, exactly. I hope they haven't given up on Seth completely. What I think would right a lot of wrongs, is Rollins vs. Lesnar at Summerslam, one on one for the Universal Championship. They go about 20 minutes back and forth, Rollins finally slays the beast clean. Then he can be a world champion with some credibility behind him, and while we're at it, maybe don't push Seth and Becky together like overbearing parents, WWE. They look awkward as fuck on camera together.
This was the best show WWE have put out in quite some time. I don't know if it's AEW lighting a fire under their ass, I don't know if lowering attendance and ratings forced them to take a good hard look in the mirror, but what Extreme Rules gave us was a logical, consistent show that had a ton of big, newsworthy moments along with stellar wrestling action. Cesaro/Black, AJ/Ricochet, a reinvigorated Undertaker and a Strowman/Lashley battle of the titans were among the many, many highlights of this excellent show. If this is what WWE looks like under the creative control of Heyman and Bischoff, I'm here for it.
You bring up a fair point about the ass-kicking Lacey took, Becky did not hold back with those shots. It was a similar deal in Becky's Wrestlemania feud with Charlotte and Ronda Rousey, she really blasted both of them with crutches like she beat down Lacey with different weapons. As for Lacey's toughness, she's a former Marine, legitimately. Her toughness is absolutely an underrated asset of hers.
Brock might be the ONLY guy WWE has that feels above the company. Basically every other name on the roster has the attitude of "oh golly gosh, I'm so happy to be in WWE living my dream!" I feel it's a conscious decision by WWE to make the brand bigger than the wrestlers, but Brock stands out- both in good and bad ways- in coming in, kicking ass, taking his huge check and going home.