By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
WWE has decided co-branded shows are the wave of the future. In the process, they have forgone much of what makes a wrestling card enjoyable.
Forget protecting the big shows of the year by avoiding having every show be the same in terms of length and number of matches. Forget savings some matches to make sure every feud gets time to develop and every show has a match which feels important. Let’s just have every show go four-plus hours, feature more than 10 matches, and make our fans tire of our product.
What’s worse, let’s leave gaping holes in our massive card for no apparent reason. For example, let’s take weeks to build to a Sasha-Bayley match, then not deliver it. Let’s push Charlotte and Ronda Rousey to the moon in the press, then not have either of them wrestle on our show (though we’ll see Ronda). Finally, let’s have our world champion spend the week before our show promoting his match for another company’s belt, making our “top star” irrelevant to us, and our “top belt” meaningless. I give up.
Let’s just get right to ripping the mess which is Extreme Rules. Like the card itself, it’s going to take a while.
The New Day vs. SAnitY (Tables Match) (Extreme Rules Kickoff)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s time for WWE to make a decision on the New Day. In the short term they’re a team the writers can use in just about any spot because of how over they are, but they won’t have this flexibility forever. If they’re going to start being the big names young guys beat to get over, it’s eventually going to be tough to get them back to the title picture. For now, however, they can bounce back and forth. For now, there’s no reason for them to get a win they don’t need and the new blood does. New. Day. Loses.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I hate to be so negative, especially after Matt went on his epic rant about the current state of the WWE, but man, it’s impossible. The WWE is just really bad right now. It’s getting to the point of being completely unwatchable, with tuning in only for the pay-per-views a real option . But even the PPVs haven’t been good. The product is bad. The writing is bad. The cast of characters, despite there being so many they can’t even give screen time to most of them, even with five hours of weekly TV, don’t move the needle. It’s a sad state of affairs for wrestling’s premiere promotion. But, of course, Vince McMahon is too busy counting his money to care about any of this. I’ve been hoping everything would turn around, but then I tune in to watch Raw and SmackDown and I find myself dozing off in the middle of it, sometimes straight through. And, what’s worse, I didn’t miss anything. Enough about that, though, so let’s get into the kickoff match, which nobody will see, but will be fun for the handful of people in the crowd at the time. Even though they are still popular, New Day jumped the shark weeks (months) ago and I really don’t care to see them or listen to their antics anymore. I’m over the whole gimmick completely. Maybe I’m just too old, but is pancakes really something to base your characters on? For SAnitY, talk about a group WWE could have pushed to the moon, with their cool entrance, gimmick and abilities in the ring, yet they are sent out to look like a bunch of jobbers, getting beat up by the good guys. SAnitY should be the group destroying everyone and really bringing a sense of chaos to SmackDown. Why wouldn’t WWE want that? I have no clue. Hopefully Nikki Cross joins them soon, because she seems like the craziest of the group and would give them an added layer. But WWE will screw it up, cause they always do. Anyway, even though I could totally see New Day winning, I’ll go with SAnitY nonetheless.
Finn Bálor vs. “Constable” Baron Corbin
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: While I remain enraged over Finn’s continual inability to get his rematch for the belt he never lost, this feud has been strangely fun. I don’t understand the need for Corbin’s position, other than the fact that the McMahons haven’t been available for TV much lately, but he has been good in his goofy heel role. He’ll never be much of a wrestler, but he’s big and athletic, and can do enough so Balor can drag him through a passable match. A lot of people are picking Corbin to win here, but I think his character is better suited having something to whine about, while Balor desperately needs the win. WWE can’t have him lose. If they do, why keep him around at this point? Finn wins in a fluky finish.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Whether it’s solely because of his injury and the horrible timing of it all, or the fact Vince quickly fell out of love with him, or because the Demon is seemingly gone forever, Finn Balor has been ruined on the main stage since his return many, many months ago. Instead of being the perfect challenger for Brock Lesnar’s Universal title, even more than simply getting his shot to win back the belt he never lost, Finn is here in a go-nowhere feud that started with some TGI Friday’s jokes. That’s what it’s come to. I do believe this current role is perfect for Corbin, though, and he’s getting more screen time than he ever would have otherwise. He’s doing a great job with it too. But Matt’s right, he’s not the type of character who will or needs to win these matches. Balor wins and continues on in the mid card.
Raw Tag Team Champions “Woken” Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt vs. The B-Team
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I hate everything about this. I hate the Woken/Broken/Delete gimmick. I hate that Bray Wyatt has been sucked into it. I still hate that they became friends days after trying to kill each other. I hate how Curtis Axel continues to have his talent and easily sellable story of being the son of an all-time great get wasted in awful gimmicks like this. I hate the B-Team being a glorified Job Squad. Seriously, there’s nothing about this I like. And I’ll hate the finish, a Hardy/Wyatt win, even more.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: First, I don't hate the whole Woken thing, but it has grown stale. I was enjoying the antics of The B-Team a lot, and even thought their first imitation of Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt was tremendous. The B-Team had everything going for them, and then they stalled, rehashing the same old imitations, with this feud being dragged out far too long without an actual match to pay it off. That match finally comes here but there’s no interest in it anymore. I could see The B-Team being possessed or something by Matt Hardy and joining that side going forward during and after losing this match. Maybe it will be fun. Gotta start being positive.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella vs. Asuka
(James Ellsworth suspended above the ring in a Shark Cage)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: You know what else I hate? Asuka going from unstoppable monster to being stuck in comedic bits with James Ellsworth. I feel bad for Carmella, who has worked hard enough to be on her own, though I don’t think she’s good enough to go without some help, as she’d get exposed by the better talents. The women’s division is so loaded, it doesn’t have a mid-card group for in-betweens like Carmella. If you’re not incredible, you don’t belong in this division right now. Speaking of incredible wrestlers, Asuka hasn’t been totally buried yet, but really, really needs this win. If WWE is that hellbent on keeping Carmella strong, figure out a way to have Ellsworth cost her the title. Just get it back on Asuka, which they will. By the way, if you have someone getting as much mainstream press as Charlotte right now, wouldn’t you find a way to get her on the show in some capacity? She’s doing naked backflips in the ESPN magazine and helping host the Special Olympics, but I’m watching James Ellsworth hang from a cage?
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Asuka is the poster child of how the WWE will handle a character built into amazing stature in NXT. Asuka has gone from unbeatable, and great in the ring to make it believable, to just another women on the SmackDown roster, one who can’t beat Carmella, who looks and talks great, but can’t wrestle. This would be a squash match in any other place, but there’s a good chance Carmella will beat Asuka again. Where does that leave Asuka? She’s going to be wasted, just like everyone else on the roster who isn’t in the main event. I don’t think WWE is ready to take the belt off Carmella, as a returning Charlotte is the only option to take the belt back, at least in WWE’s eyes, so she’s going to win again. James Ellsworth will figure into the finish, as Asuka won’t lose clean, and that will be that.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax (Extreme Rules Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This one is too easy. Ronda Rousey interferes, costs Bliss the match and sets up a fight with Bliss, likely for the title after a DQ keeps the belt on Alexa. The problem is, this feels too easy. Do they want to keep Jax in the mix, either with a 3-way or by having Rousey cost Bliss the title all together? My gut says no, but this one worries me. Jax wins the match, but not the belt.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: This match is simply a vehicle to get Ronda Rousey involved and set up the next major feud in the women’s division: Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss. The last time they were in the ring together, it resulted in some great television (imagine that) and it’s the only way to get Rousey into her natural badass persona, instead of the smiling fan just happy to be there. Bliss can talk and perform in the ring, which is exactly what Rousey needs to continue her rise into being the lead female in the company. Whether or not Rousey gets the belt is a breakdown for another day, but for Sunday, Bliss escapes with the title, while Nia Jax can be part of some tag matches if Rousey does indeed get to wrestle on Raw going forward. On a positive side note, that will at least get Natalya off television.
United States Champion Jeff Hardy vs Shinsuke Nakamura
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: OK, I’ve used the bit where I completely ignore the match and talk about basketball and baseball instead of the worst match of the night before, so I won’t do it again. While the feud with A.J. Styles was a colossal disappointment, I can’t imagine WWE giving up on Shinsuke to the point where he loses to the sane Hardy brother. There’s just no reason for Hardy to win here. Nakamura gets some hardware. By the way, my breakdown of summer league basketball and the Yankees’ pitching woes would have been much more interesting than any discussion about this match. Your loss, America.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Even though WWE has really pushed Jeff Hardy since he moved to SmackDown, for reasons I still don’t understand, I have to believe Shinsuke Nakamura is the choice to win this match and the title. Nakamura makes much more sense as a champion than Hardy does, and he needs it way more. Having the “no speak English” guy as US champion works on so many levels. You know we’ll have to watch WWE say, eh, nope, Jeff Hardy wins, which would surprise absolutely no one. But I still going with Nakamura.
Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins
(30-Minute WWE Iron Man Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Are we finally getting a full push for the IC belt as the “wrestling” title, as I’ve been hinting at for months now? I think so. The big belts will always be for the most outlandish stories, but the IC championship used to feature the best wrestling on the card. While I don’t know if Dolph and Seth can give us another Hart-Hennig or Savage-Steamboat, this match should be great, will definitely steal the show, and will bring the prestige back to the belt it deserves. Rollins, who has been exceptional all year, deserves great appreciation for what he’s done for the IC belt. Miz is fun, but Rollins brought back “the worker’s belt,” which is what this title should be. I wish they’d give these two an hour. It’s a shame they feel the need to have 17 matches per show now and there’s no time for the good stuff. Seth wins a great match.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Matt, if this match went an hour, the show might last until 3 in the morning, so let’s be happy it will only last until 2:30. When it comes to Seth Rollins, yes, he’s made the intercontinental championship a big deal, which is obviously uber important because Brock is nowhere to be found near a wrestling ring, but a loss here to Dolph Ziggler might be exactly what he needs. A loss could mean WWE is ready to give Rollins the Universal championship in the very near future. Right now, the best option to beat Brock for the title isn’t Roman Reigns or Bobby Lashley or even Braun Strowman, it’s Seth Rollins. The only way he gets there is if he gets out of this feud and moves into something bigger. With the help of Drew McIntyre, Ziggler retains the title, which hopefully means the reign of another champion is slowly but surely coming to an end.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Team Hell No
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: So Daniel Bryan gets cleared to come back after years away. He gets some big wins, and WWE is putting him on a clear path to bigger things this summer. The way to get him there is clearly….reuniting him with Kane? Unless they’ve decided he’s not healthy enough to carry a bunch of singles matches, why on earth is this happening? Kane is trying to run for political office and Bryan wants to get back in the title picture. He’d also be a great way to put a new face in a badly-needed hole, even if I’m not a fan of his style. Putting him here is just dumb. Even worse, it makes Bryan’s future murky. If Team Hell No wins, they’re tied up in the title picture at least through SummerSlam. If they lose, it hurts Bryan’s rise, unless Kane takes a beating all night. If that’s the plan, why bother with any of this? All you’d have done is bury Kane and waste Bryan for a month or more. There are no winners here, but Team Hell No gets the gold.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Matt is about to spit out his soda and mozzarella sticks (with no green stuff sprinkled on top) lunch, but I agree with everything he wrote above. Daniel Bryan’s feuds since returning have been with Big Cass and Harper and Rowan. I bet that’s exactly what he and the world thought would happen when he was finally cleared to return to action. The Miz feud is on the horizon, you'd think, but it might not be for months on end if Team Hell No wins the titles. They won’t, though, because it doesn’t make any sense for them to win, nor the Bludgeon Brothers to lose.
Braun Strowman vs Kevin Owens (Steel Cage Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I get what WWE is doing here. Owens is terrific as a whiny heel who runs from the opposition and looks for ways to outsmart them. It’s a Ric Flair vibe, and I love it. The difference is, Flair would win the match at the end, making you want to see him get beat up later. Owens is going to get destroyed, which makes things less fun. It makes him feel less significant, not sneaky. The scared heel has to win to not look like he’s really scared. Owens is just going to look terrified of someone bigger and better than him, which makes him harder to sell down the line. Losing to Braun is no career killer, but it doesn’t help him. They should be feeding someone else to Braun and keeping KO strong.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Braun Strowman is going to win because Braun Strowman always wins now, which isn’t a good thing. Strowman’s build into an unbeatable monster was fun, but now it’s just become a foregone conclusion that no matter what happens, he’s going to win. The over-the-top baby face spots aren’t fun either. Kevin Owens deserves better, and if he wins this match, then I guess this whole feud was worth it, but I don’t believe anyone sees that happening. At least adding the steel cage to the match will give in an added layer of excitement.
WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Rusev
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: No, I don’t think this closes the show. While I usually believe the title should always be the last match, there just isn’t enough substance here. Rusev Day is fun, but A.J. is the face of the company now and isn’t losing. Also, the Red Sox are about to pull away in the A.L. East. Sorry, I just wanted to poke Brad since I haven’t seen him in a while and I’m hoping for a good rant.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: No, there’s no chance this closes the show. AJ Styles and the WWE championship hasn’t closed the show I don’t think ever, and there was way better matchups and choices than this one. This match will be fun for the dueling chants of AJ Styles and Rusev Day, but the outcome is a given. AJ wins and keeps the title. As for the AL East, it’s still a long season, but it’s getting a little crazy the Red Sox don’t lose anymore. The Yankees just need to play great teams, because they beat them every single time. It’s the crap they can’t seem to blow away.
Roman Reigns vs. Bobby Lashley
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Admit it: this angle hasn’t been awful. They’ve done a good job creating palpable dislike between these two, which is all you need to have a good angle. Producing a good match, however, is a different story. There’s no chance this is good. What’s worse, this is leading us to Brock-Roman one more time at SummerSlam. By the way, did you see Brock’s act at the end of the horribly scripted UFC debacle? I’m not saying the fight was scripted, but Brock’s run-in was horribly staged. WWE even had a statement prepared to release right after it happened. There’s clearly a partnership happening between the two companies. If Daniel Cormier had pushed Lesnar the way he did without Brock expecting it, Lesnar would have gone nuts. He was heading to the cage before he even got “called out,” and the whole thing came off terribly. I will say, however, it was great to see Lesnar give a darn about a title belt. That was new. He didn’t even need an advocate for his promo! The only good thing to come from Lesnar’s latest absence has been the chance for A.J. Styles to become the company’s clear No. 1, and the WWE title to again become the top belt in the company. By the way, Brad, as the UFC expert in the chat, can you explain how a 5-3 fighter gets a title shot? Roman wins and heads toward the only title reign he’ll ever have which people will look forward to.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Sorry Matt, I can’t admit it. I hate this angle and this feud. It’s two guys going after each other as if their families have been feuding for centuries, when in reality there’s no reason for them to be fighting at all. Are they fighting over who is the lead man on Raw? I mean, c’mon, that’s just ridiculous, as love him or hate him, Roman has every right to claim that title, while Bobby Lashley has zero right to say that. Is it because Lashley thinks he can beat Brock and Roman can’t? Well, yeah, that makes sense, but why does he want to fight Roman then? WWE has tried their best to make it seem important, and it will be the main event, so I guess that counts for something. The question is, can Bobby Lashley win this match clean and make the next move toward a match with Brock Lesnar? I don’t think so. WWE isn't dropping out of the Roman game just yet. As for Brock Lesnar, remember, this isn’t his fault. The WWE chose to give him the title, and not take it away, so he really can do whatever he wants and not be blamed. Blame the real guilty party: Vince McMahon. And, yeah, UFC records are all over the place. It’s like WWE records … it don’t matter. Hopefully we won’t be saying a lot of that after Extreme Rules finishes.