WWE's "The Horror Show at Extreme Rules" made three facts resoundingly clear.
First, there is no wrestler more compelling right now than Sasha Banks. Secondly, Drew McIntyre desperately needs the right opponent for his next program for the WWE Championship. And finally, as evidenced by the Bray Wyatt-Braun Strowman Swamp Fight, it is time for WWE to take a breather from cinematic matches, and instead have talent finish their story in the ring.
There were positives from Extreme Rules, including a candidate for match of the year, but it was a show that, even during its peak moments, never truly found its groove.
Here are the results:
-- Kevin Owens defeated Murphy on the pre-show
-- Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated The New Day in a Tables match to win the SmackDown Tag Team titles
-- SmackDown Women's Champion Bayley defeated Nikki Cross
-- MVP claimed the United States Championship after Apollo Crews was deemed unfit to compete due to injuries inflicted by Bobby Lashley
-- Seth Rollins defeated Rey Mysterio in an "Eye for an Eye" match
-- Sasha Banks defeated Asuka to win the Raw Women's Championship
-- WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defeated Dolph Ziggler
-- The Fiend last emerged in a Wyatt Swamp Fight against Braun Strowman
And here are my takeaways from a pay per view that provides a foundation as WWE builds to SummerSlam:
WWE's cinematic Swamp Fight made me long for the days of empty-arena main events.
Where to begin? For starters, Braun Strowman was attacked by a past version of himself, which somehow left him tied up in chains. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.
There was a lot open to interpretation here. Strowman was chained to a chair, which was smart, as it allowed Bray Wyatt to cut a promo explaining his intentions. Wyatt stated that he intended to destroy the monster that Strowman had become, which would allow him to reclaim his monster. We were then led to believe Strowman was bitten by a serpent (yes, you read that correctly), and the next time we saw him, he was unchained laying next to a fire–which he promptly threw Wyatt into.
In a role played by Alexa Bliss, Sister Abigail's soothing voice asked Strowman to end his violence. That tied into Strowman's on-screen friendship with Bliss, but was this actually happening, or all part of his imagination?
The match eventually found itself in the swamp. Strowman was able to withstand a beatdown from Wyatt, and the match appeared to end when Strowman kicked Wyatt into the water. But Wyatt re-emerged, dragging Strowman into the swamp until the only figure left on the screen was The Fiend. The addition of The Fiend adds a new element to the program, as Strowman has been able to conquer Wyatt–but not The Fiend.
As much as I have enjoyed the cinematic match era in WWE, especially the Boneyard Match at WrestleMania, I am ready to see Strowman and Wyatt settle their dispute far away from the swamp. Unlike the Boneyard Match, a championship match is not the right forum for a cinematic match. Strowman and Wyatt deserved better than the Swamp Match, and they should have a match, with Wyatt as The Fiend, for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam.
Sasha Banks and Asuka were delivering nothing short of a match of the year candidate. Then came the finish.
Bayley took the shirt off the referee's back, put it on, and counted the one-two-three to give the victory to Banks. Even with that mess of a finish, which is unlikely to be upheld, the match was still spectacular.
Asuka and Banks continue to make magic together. For 20 minutes, we were treated to a brilliant display of professional wrestling. This was a throwback and resonated even without a sellout crowd adding more emotion to the bout. There was physicality, selling, and technical wrestling, and it is hard to think of a match that reached this level during the empty arena era of wrestling. Asuka is obviously spectacular, but I strongly believe that, if these shows were taking place in front of a packed house, Banks would be the biggest star in the business.
There was one stretch in this match when Banks' left knee took the brunt of her fall, and she sold the injury while expressing how badly she wanted the Raw title. Banks has been on fire lately, and this performance was outstanding.
Although the finish was wildly disappointing, there are positives. Banks and Asuka could main-event SummerSlam, as there is still so much more of this story to tell. Bayley and Banks also have unlimited potential for when they split, though the temptation has to be to wait and see if that program can headline next year's WrestleMania.
Bayley used Sasha Banks' brass knuckles to knock the wind out of Nikki Cross and retain the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
The win keeps Bayley atop the division. Banks' interference helped Bayley win, and Bayley was a key cog in Banks' victory against Asuka. It cannot be stressed how much life Banks and Bayley have added to WWE programming over the past couple months.
Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated The New Day in a very entertaining match, as Cesaro put Kofi Kingston through two tables to win the tables match and claim the titles.
The stipulation sets up Kingston and Big E for a rematch, and the two teams have an abundance of chemistry. Kingston and Big E have built themselves into one of the most recognizable tag teams in WWE history, and Cesaro also belongs on a list of tag team title specialists. This is his seventh WWE tag title, which he has accomplished with three different partners. He is not quite in the same pantheon as Kingston, who has won the tag titles 11 different times with four different partners, but he is not too far behind.
This also marks the third straight year that Nakamura has won a title at the Extreme Rules pay per view. He defeated Jeff Hardy for the United States title in 2018, then kicked off his first run with the Intercontinental Championship in 2019 with a win against Finn Balor. The win is the second major tag title in his career, as he also won New Japan Pro Wrestling's IWGP Tag Team title in 2004 with Hiroshi Tanahashi.
MVP cut a short but effective promo claiming he is the new United States champion after Apollo Crews was unable to compete due to injuries suffered at the hands of Bobby Lashley.
Somehow, Crews was deemed unfit to compete on a pay per view entitled Extreme Rules. Forfeits in WWE are always a slippery slope, so this is one of those storylines with holes all over it.
I would have much preferred to watch a Crews-Bobby Lashley match for the U.S. title, but hopefully, this serves as a way to continue to elevate Crews.
For those waiting to see a match won by extracting the eye of your opponent, you were in luck at Extreme Rules as Rey Mysterio and Seth Rollins wrestled in an "Eye for an Eye" match.
Despite the ridiculous nature of the stipulation, the match itself was very entertaining. That shouldn't be too big a surprise, as Rollins and Mysterio are two of the best in the world at their craft. And while their cheers have often felt forced, the extras in the crowd at the Performance Center helped bring life to this match.
Mysterio turned the tables on Rollins by hitting him with a Curb Stomp, and he looked to have the match won until Rollins hit him with a low blow. Rollins then took control, ending the match by driving Mysterio's right eye into the steel chairs. Instead of celebrating, Rollins began vomiting after he saw the damage done to Mysterio.
The stipulation boxes WWE into a corner, but it does provide a reason to take Mysterio off television. He is currently working without a contract, though all signs currently point to him staying with the company. A return at SummerSlam would add a lot to the show if executed properly.
Drew McIntyre successfully defended the WWE Championship against Dolph Ziggler, but he was placed in an unenviable spot in between the Banks-Asuka classic and the cinematic Swamp Fight.
The story of the match saw McIntyre overcome nonstop obstacles, as Ziggler picked an Extreme Rules stipulation where he could not be disqualified, but McIntyre still had to adhere to the rules–and would have lost the title had he been counted out.
One positive is that the match ended when McIntyre hit the Claymore kick, further establishing his finisher. But the match felt far too forced. McIntyre has the potential to be a memorable WWE champ, but he needs the right opponent. So far, this has not happened, which is among the reasons why he has yet to main event a pay per view during his title reign.
McIntyre needs a program with Randy Orton, who is the most compelling heel right now in WWE.
Extreme Rules had its share of highlights and lowlights, and the most disappointing part of the show was the cinematic Swamp Fight. Can you even call that a main event? Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt do work very well together, and there is potential to salvage this by having a Strowman-Fiend match for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam.
There were positives. Even in the face (eye?) of a ludicrous stipulation, Rey Mysterio and Seth Rollins still combined for an entertaining match, and the card-opening tag title match was also a highlight.
The story of the night was the Sasha Banks-Asuka match. The finish was overbooked and unnecessarily complicated. But even with an ending that was all over the place, the 20-minute match was simply tremendous.
Banks and Asuka gave a convincing argument to headline next month's SummerSlam, as there was nothing remotely close to matching the action they created.