By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I’ve never had a problem disagreeing with the vast majority of fans in all sports. I think Michael Jordan is overrated. In wrestling, I think Roman Reigns and John Cena are underrated, Nakamura’s entrance is horrible and the cruiserweights are boring.
While I’ve had a lifetime of minority opinions, my current stance is among one of my toughest sells: I don’t think Raw has been bad of late.
Ratings are at an all-time low and many people hate what the company is doing with its available talent, but I think people are missing out on some decent stuff. The last couple months haven’t exactly been WWE’s best work, but it hasn’t been nearly as bad as everyone thinks, either.
In fact, Sunday’s Pay-Per-View, Extreme Rules, has a chance to be a solid, if not incredible, show. Here’s a look at how WWE can turn the tide with the public and deliver a good night of wrestling. It’s only a six-match card, and one of the matches is going to be awful, but there’s plenty of good to see here as well. Let’s look at how all of it might go down.
Rich Swann & Sasha Banks vs. Noam Dar & Alicia Fox (Mixed Tag Team Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Has anyone in recent memory fallen faster than Banks? The “Boss” is one of the best female wrestlers alive. Just a few months ago, she main evented a pay-per-view and was part of one of the best feuds of the year, regardless of gender. Now she’s doing guest spots on 205 Live and is part of this match for reasons I can’t fathom. I know WWE has Bayley vs. Bliss going, and most of the good Divas went to Smackdown in the shake-up, but if there’s nothing better for Banks to do than this then you need a new writing team. I can’t even make the Bray Wyatt comparison I want to because WWE has started to include him in the main event picture again in recent months. Hopefully this is just a temporary lull for Banks, and hopefully she and Swann get the win here. By the way, if you want to make sure a wrestler can never get over again, do to him what WWE is doing with Dar, it will work wonders. Banks gets a pin and we move on, hopefully quickly.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: There is no reason at all to watch this match, but hey, at least it gets some TV time for four members of the roster. The Banks sudden drop from anything relevant isn’t that hard to figure out … there just isn’t enough women on the show to develop feuds other than who’s fighting for the title. After all, you can’t have Banks wrestling Nia Jax every week, while Alexa Bliss and Bayley feud for the big title. People need new directions, but there just isn’t enough talent to go around. As I’ve stated before, the WWE should have kept all the women on one show and introduced a secondary title, this way there would be plenty of available feuds and plenty to fight for. Sure, there would still be women lost in the shuffle, but there would be plenty of depth available to create something new. SmackDown currently has its entire women’s roster feuding with each other. On Raw, they basically have Bayley and Bliss and have forgotten about everyone else. Banks would have benefitted greatly if she went over to SmackDown, but she’s stuck with nothing to do. But, of course, if Bliss beats Bayley later, Banks is getting the next title shot. Then it’s Bayley who will be forgotten about. For a pick, it’s easy, Swann and Banks get the win.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Neville vs. Austin Aries (Submission Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Here’s something I don’t often say about the purple ropers: I like this feud. When these two are allowed to get some mat wrestling in, it’s entertaining. A submission match should allow the two to show off their complete abilities. I’m sure someone will jump off of something or do some wild backflip thing, but the end of this match will come in a more classic style. My guess is Aries reverses something and gets a tap to earn the win.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Neville has been one of the best performers on either show since his heel turn and I would hate to see his momentum stalled with a loss, but really, there just doesn’t seem to be any other outcome than Austin Aries winning and continuing this feud until SummerSlam, which could be the final chapter. 205 Live doesn’t have much going for it other than these two standouts, so there’s no reason to stop now. Neville deserves to hold the title for as long as he wants it, but it only makes sense for Aries to win. So, he’s the pick. But Neville will likely win the big one at SummerSlam, and hopefully WWE will have created another 205 star in the meantime. Or, what might be a better option, Neville “graduates” to the main show after this loss, while Aries carries 205 Live for the next six months or so. Neville easily could be a main player as a big heel going against a host of faces, from Reigns to Balor to Rollins.
Raw Tag Team Champions The Hardy Boyz vs. Cesaro & Sheamus
(Steel Cage Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Of course, sometimes grounding your high-flyers is a terrible idea. The Hardys are lock Hall of Famers who have stood the test of time and are so over they survived the worst gimmick ever in TNA. They are not, however, the kind of guys you want to leave in the ring for terribly long. Locking them in the ring, therefore, is probably not the way to go. Neither Hardy can fly as high as they once could (let’s face it, Matt is just fat now), but there’s a better than 50-50 shot one of them jumps off the cage. In the meantime, the heels, who pulled off one of the best turns in a while by the way, will have to carry the match. I just can’t see the Hardys losing in the end. Some teams are better as the hunted than the hunters, and I think they fit the bill here. The Hardys win an underwhelming match.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Sheamus and Cesaro are my favorite tag team, by far, and it’s too bad for them the WWE refuses to let The Hardy Boyz take a loss since they returned. I get it, the Hardys had a huge return, are cheered like crazy, and are a legendary tag team, but there’s no way either Matt or Jeff should be beating either Sheamus or Cesaro in singles matches. A tag team match is different, yes, and the favorites would be the Hardys, but as is the case with most performers in the WWE today, if Sheamus and Cesaro lose this match, what happens? They couldn’t continue this feud any longer, which means a great tag team will be wasted. I assume WWE would plug in the The Revival to go against the Hardys next, and likely beat them, and the fans wouldn’t balk at that idea, but I just believe Sheamus and Cesaro deserve better. Maybe I can hold out hope Sheamus and Cesaro win, the Hardys get broken and can go full-out with that gimmick, one that saved Matt’s career and brought the Hardy Boyz back to the WWE, by the way. Then everyone will still be happy and it extends the feud likely to SummerSlam. Let’s go with that plan, as Sheamus and Cesaro win the titles in some shady manner.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley (Kendo Stick on a Pole Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: OK, let’s get it out of the way quickly. We have to talk about one of the worst segments ever. Bliss doing the “This is your life” bit with people from Bayley’s past was God awful, but I hope Bliss isn’t held responsible for it by fans. They gave her nothing to work with. WWE seems to have forgotten that when these bits have worked, the Rock has been involved, and he’s had material to work with. Bliss has been great with her crowd interactions of late, but she isn’t at Rocky’s level, and she wasn’t given any passable humor to try and get over. The whole thing was a train wreck from the start, and Bliss deserved better. The rest of this buildup has been really good. I like what they’ve done with the Bayley character this month, as her style truly doesn’t work with an Extreme Rules format. Instead of trying to find a way around this or ignore it, WWE made it the main theme of the match. It’s reminiscent of the “will Cena be willing to cheat to win” bit of a couple of years ago, and it works well. Bayley’s persona as a whole holds her back, but in this instance it sells the story. The whiny fangirl needs to toughen up for this one. Can she win? She has to, because WWE needs to think of more ways to delay Nia from getting title matches.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I agree with Matt, Nia Jax can’t be getting title matches, that’s for sure. As for his praise of the buildup to this match, I just don’t see it. The WWE, as they have done countless times with others, ruined Bayley once she left NXT and came to Raw. Sure, they put the belt on her and she’s in the main event picture, but every time she speaks, or has a talking segment, with or without her, it’s a disaster. Part is her fault, but a big part is the script she has to follow. It’s cringeworthy most of the time. But at least we get a wrestling match finally, one that has the potentially to be good, even if the Kendo Stick on a Pole is pretty tame. It makes sense from a booking standpoint to have Bayley go nuts with the kendo stick, maybe throw in some chairs and tables too, and win the title. It also makes sense to have Bliss continue to dominate the division and move on to Sasha Banks, before ultimately, fighting Nia Jax. I’m going to go with an “upset,” and pick Bliss to retain the title.
Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz (If Ambrose is disqualified, he will lose the Intercontinental Title)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Everyone mark down where you were when I gave WWE credit for consecutive matches. Taking the theme of the bad guy getting DQ’d to keep the belt and reversing it entirely is a really good idea. Of course Ambrose hasn’t intended to get DQ’d, but the Miz made it so he just has to get the face disqualified this time to win the belt. It’s an interesting twist, which wrestling doesn’t have enough of these days. The Miz feels like he’s getting the big push he so richly deserves, so I think he’ll win by getting Amrbose disqualified, getting the belt and giving us a reason to have the rematch. By the way, when will Miz get credit for being the steady hand he’s been for years now? Maybe he got pushed too quickly or even too high when he was in the main event of Wrestlemania, but his matches are almost never bad, and when he talks, it’s usually worth hitting play on the DVR for, which isn’t true for all of Raw these days.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Hopefully this is the end of Dean Ambrose holding any title, as he’s just plain boring. His whole character is lame and his move-set is even more predictable than Roman Reigns’, which is laughable considering the lunatic fringe label. The Miz should win, and I’m sure it won’t be a clean pin, so he can elevate a title Ambrose doesn’t care about, and worse yet, couldn’t make a big deal. That’s a big strike against Ambrose, and will be a huge positive for Miz, proving he can be a main player again. Miz wins and hopefully Ambrose goes back to the Kickoff Show.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Samoa Joe (Extreme Rules Fatal 5-Way Universal Title No. 1 Contender’s Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: What’s worse? Finn Balor still hasn’t gotten a shot at the belt he never lost, or Brock Lesnar having yet to defend the belt he won at Wrestlemania? Remember the 30-day rule? I like the way WWE talent has taken to criticizing Lesnar’s lack of appearances on TV of late, which would seem to indicate WWE is frustrated as well. Lesnar’s absence is no longer a side note, it’s now indefensible and has made the title feel insignificant. Still WWE should be given credit for making due with what it has to work with, and this match should be pretty good. Granted there hasn’t been a champion in a while, which has surely hurt the ratings, but WWE’s dive in recent weeks is hard to explain completely based on the talent in this match. People love Balor, Wyatt is a star, and Rollins always draws reactions. Even if some people don’t share my deep love for Joe, he certainly isn’t hated enough to be keeping people away. Reigns, meanwhile, for all the hate he gets, is an attraction because people want to see him lose. Which, by the way, means WWE needs to finally turn him, but I can’t see it happening. I’m not saying the last few editions of Raw have been ones destined for the time capsule, but they haven’t been awful either, with the exception of the ill-fated Bliss segment. My guess is ratings will pick up again this summer when Lesnar returns and they build toward SummerSlam and casual fans come back. In the meantime, they’re clearly building a match between Lesnar and Balor, who should win Sunday and eventually get his title back. He can then, you know, defend it sometimes. That might help get some eyeballs back, too. Smackdown has gained ground in the ratings war lately, nearly beating Raw this past week, so the flagship show has nowhere to go but up from here. I would love to see Balor become a “Heyman guy” down the line, since his mic work is less than stellar, but I mainly just want to see him get back to the title match for logic’s sake. Hopefully this is the start of something good, because most fans seem to think Raw needs it.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: First, the WWE has no one to blame but itself for Brock Lesnar’s absence while being the company’s top champion. They knew when they signed the contract what Lesnar’s work schedule would be, and they gave him the title anyway. So Brock isn’t to blame, but rather the WWE. Now, for this match, which will crown a No. 1 contender for Lesnar’s title to be “cashed in” sometime before next year’s WrestleMania I hope, each participant actually has a legitimate chance to win, which is awesome. The biggest underdog would be Samoa Joe. As good a match Joe would have with Lesnar could be, the odds are stacked completely against him, starting with the fact he’s a heel and I can’t see WWE putting Lesnar against someone like that. Plus, he’s hasn’t proven himself worthy of headlining a PPV just yet. The “heel factor” also likely takes Bray Wyatt out of the picture as well, even though a Brock vs Bray feud would be magic on the mic and both would tear down the house in the ring as well. I would be more than happy to see Bray win for that fact, but it’s not going to happen. That leaves the three biggest faces, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. As a side, Rollins shouldn’t be a face, as he doesn’t get big reactions from the crowd and his whole character is best served as a bad guy. But I would put him as one of the two favorites to win this match. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Rollins was in a program with Lesnar, so it could easily be run again. Rollins could easily win this match, especially since he doesn’t really have anyone else to feud with at the moment, unless the Joe fracas continues. Now, many people would consider Roman Reigns the overwhelmng favorite, but I don’t believe WWE will go with him to win here, even though it would shock absolutely no one if he did win. It’s likely they will save Lesnar vs. Reigns for WrestleMania, which everyone will hate, but Vince McMahon will love. Finally, Finn Balor is the biggest fan favorite in the match and he could easily carry a feud with Lesnar (David vs. Goliath) into SummerSlam and beyond. It would be an extremely interesting feud, based mainly on how the match would look like. The size difference couldn’t be greater, which should make for awesome visuals and moves. It really would be something to behold. So, it comes down to Rollins and Balor, and I could go either way. But I can’t get past the Demon Balor making his entrance on PPV, taking on Brock Lesnar for the Raw championship. I believe it’s the result everyone wants, which makes me think twice about picking it, but I’m going Balor all the way.
Enjoy the show, comment below with your picks, and follow us on Twitter @gamedayishere for more wresting news, reviews and features.