We’re two pay per views into The New Era with Roman Reigns at the forefront. While we can argue all day about the booking there’s a noticeable improvement in the matches that’s resulting in a pretty good time to be a WWE fan. WWE Extreme Rules again delivered the goods with at least one match warranting Match of the Year discussion and another one venturing close before a somewhat bad finish.
Karl Anderson and The Usos (Texas Tornado)
In a rarity for these kinds of matches, The Usos actually go after their hated rivals in the entranceway. No lock-ups here. These two teams are acting like they really don’t like each other. I miss Gallows’ shorts. This current attire makes it look like he’s part of the Bullet Club track and field team. Fans are booing The Usos via Reigns-mosis. The WWE title match should be a lot of fun.
The WWE is in an odd predicament as this is clearly the premier feud in the tag team division and should really be for the tag titles as a result. But it’s kinda cool that there’s two actual tag team feuds going on right now. JBL has a checklist of tag teams he’s trying to cross off before this match ends. I was definitely getting a strong Outsiders vs. Sting and Lex Luger vibe with The Usos playing the role of WWE fixtures trying to halt the momentum of the invading newcomers.
These two teams have strong chemistry with one another and The Usos seemed rejuvenated now that they have new dance partners. In a clever finish, Gallows grabs a ring bell, but one of the Usos kicks him and goes for a top rope splash. Gallows moves out of the way and the Uso lands on the bell making him easy prey for The Magic Killer. I’m really digging this feud even if I’m not sure how long the Usos can keep losing and remain viable opponents. Cole questions if the Usos being banged up could affect the main event since Anderson and Gallows are assured to interfere. Interesting that Cole would telegraph the main event run-in, but he actually came off smart here for being ahead of the angle than well behind it.
US title match: Kalisto vs. Rusev
Lana regained all of her heat. Time to bring The Rock back to humiliate on behalf of Vince and the writers. Quietly, Kalisto has had a pretty strong reign with good matches against seemingly ill-fitting opponents. Like the tag match, this one told a solid story. Rusev demolished Kalisto, who couldn’t overcome his strength and viciousness with his speed. Finally, Rusev got the decisive win with a vicious looking Accolade. Kalisto’s defeat was so thorough it’d be hard to imagine he’s going to stay in the title mix going forward.
New Day vs. Vaudevillains
Recap of New Day’s time machine. New Day’s promos need to be cut in half. That way only the best material is used and the trio don’t have to look like goofs when a joke or exchange bombs. This time we get a rare shift in the format as it’s Woods and Big E working instead of Kofi and Big E. This was a decent back and forth match. It wasn’t anything special, but it was solid tag team work. Woods kicked out of Whirling Dervish and Kofi gets a cheap shot to set up Woods for a Shining Wizard. New Day continues to cheat like heels, but is now booked as faces simply because the fans wanted to cheer them. Odd that WWE is so responsive to the fans’ whims on some matters and steadfast in others.
IC title: Miz vs Cesaro vs
Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn
Zayn hits the Helluva Kick on Owens to knock him out and send him out the ring as soon as the bell rings. That was awesome. This was better than the standard fatal four way because each combatant looked like they desperately wanted to win the match and the title. This match featured some tremendous near falls. This match more than any other really felt like it signaled the arrival of this new era in the WWE as it was just solid, enjoyable wrestling action for 20 minutes. To Miz’s credit, he didn’t look out of his league here and truly looked like he belonged.
Even better, the booking was smart. Just when Zayn appeared to pin Cesaro with the Helluva Kick, which was already established as the kind of move that could easily result in a three count, Owens drags him out before the three count. This fires Zayn up and instead of finishing the job, he goes after Owens because they hate each other just that much. Miz takes advantage and pins Cesaro to retain his title. That was an unexpectedly great match. Fatal Four ways can be tricky to execute, but this was easily one of the best with that stipulation. It’s going to be pretty hard for anything else on the show to top this one.
Chris Jericho vs Dean Ambrose (Asylum Match)
This match already has won me over for being a steel cage match that’s not a glorified race match. Of course, a steel cage match without blood doesn’t sound like the best idea. I wish New Day could use their time machine to bring 2008 Jericho against Ambrose as that couldn’t help but be an all-time classic feud that could have gone on for two years. For a bloodless match, this gimmicked cage was about as good as we could get. All the various weapons from nunchucks, a straitjacket to a fire extinguisher were creatively used.
The match went longer than it needed to since it featured 2016 Chris Jericho and even with WWE’s occasionally still shoddy booking there’s no way Ambrose should lose to Jericho at this point in their careers. After a lengthy tease segment, Ambrose countered a Code Breaker and dumped Jericho into a pile of thumbtacks before planting him with Dirty Deeds for the win. Beating Jericho is good an all, but it didn’t really do much for Ambrose at this point. When does he get back into the title mix?
Women’s Title: Charlotte vs Natalya
Ric Flair is banned from ringside. This is the acid test for Charlotte to show that she can get over and carry a match without needing Naitch at ringside. These fans are a little too smart as they aren’t getting behind Natalya too much since they know she has no shot at beating Charlotte. It’s hurt the energy of the match, which only piques up when Charlotte mutters a few lifeless Woooos.
The match never really manages to get out of first gear as a result. When Natalya gets the Sharpshooter on, the fans instinctively look for a screwjob. That’s not a good sign for the division. Flair’s music plays and Natalya again has to look like an idiot and releases the Sharpshooter since per match stipulations if Flair comes to ringside, Charlotte loses the title.
But it’s not actually Flair, it’s Dana Brooke. The resemblance was pretty shoddy, but if I’m DB, I’m upset anyone would suggest I resemble Ric Flair in 2016.
They really booked Natalya to look stupid here. She came off so poorly that she deserved to lose and you never want the faces to come across so dumb they earned the loss. But why would Dana Brooke care about helping Charlotte? Wouldn’t beating Natalya be easier? It’s not like Charlotte is going against fellow heels. We know these two can do better and it was disappointing they had such a This one felt like a Brie Bella Divas Title match. If you’re confused, that’s not a compliment.
WWE Title Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
The fans loathe Reigns although the ‘You Can’t Wrestle’ chants are just totally off base. ‘Hand Picked Champ! or ‘We Don’t Want You!’ would be far more appropriate. Reigns is like the anti-Attitude Era Stone Cold. At his peak, Austin was so over it didn’t matter who he fought the fans would rabidly cheer for him. With Reigns, it almost doesn’t matter who he fights, the fans are going to boo him relentlessly.
AJ is going to kill himself to get Reigns over. AJ graciously ragdolled himself all over the arena to make Reigns look like a powerhouse. Reigns works best when he’s playing the more physically dominant athlete, which is yet another reason why a heel run would be ideal. From Zayn, Styles, Ambrose to Cesaro, there’s more guys on that tier who could make Reigns look like a megastar.
AJ took a Superman punch while attempting a springboard — that man in unreal. Outside the ring. Reigns leaped over the steps to spear AJ in another nice spot. And we got some really close near falls. Reigns continues to deliver in these big match settings. The haters really can’t complain about his match quality. As Cole predicted, Anderson and Gallows run-in to lend AJ a hand. The Usos do return and all six men brawl with the intent of giving their guy the win.
This angle has been the best WWE has done in its main event scene in years. AJ finally having enough with the foolishness and wailing away with the chair on the Usos and Reigns was great and the crowd response was off the charts. AJ really looked like a beast here. After another thisclose two count from a Styles Clash onto a steel chair, AJ went for The Phenomenal Elbow only for Reigns to pop up and counter with a spear for the very anticlimactic ending. This was just like the three-way match with Reigns, Ambrose and Brock Lesnar. Reigns takes a beating throughout, but at the ultimate damage point after getting walloped with chairs no sells it and gets the flash pin. I was loving the match just as much as the IC match, but the ending came out of nowhere.
Just as Reigns celebrates, Seth Rollins laid out Reigns with a Pedigree as the fans go nuts. What should have been a dastardly shocker ending with the fans lustily booing Rollins was flipped. Instead Rollins got a hero’s welcome for at least saving the fans the sight of Reigns posing victoriously to close out another Network special. I’ve given WWE a lot of grief for not making their shows episodic enough, but this ending definitely left me curious for RAW.
Course I was kinda pulling for a Bullet Club vs a reunited Shield feud so this was just a teensy bit disappointing.
Rating: 9 out of 10
At least one MOTYC, a very strong main event and no outright terrible matches made this an easy recommendation and the best of the recent string of Network specials. Hopefully AJ doesn’t end up out of the main event picture with Rollins’ return.
Photo Credit: WWE.com