WWE’s Extreme Rules event on Sunday was honestly a lot better than I expected. Maybe it was that my expectations were too low, and maybe it’s that after Saturday’s Fight for the Fallen, I was relieved to see a just okay show paced and structured halfway normally. Much like Fight for the Fallen, though, at a whopping five hours including the Kick-Off show, Extreme Rules was unreasonably long.
I just turned 30 and I’m really starting to wonder if I’m being old and curmudgeonly, but a lot of things seem to be too long these days. Why can’t a movie be under two hours? Why can’t a wrestling event be under four hours?
Kick-Off Show: Get that paycheck Shinsuke
An Intercontinental Championship match between challenger Shinsuke Nakamura and defending champion Finn Bálor was added to the kick-off show at the last minute. It wasn’t really anything special. Nakamura won and is now the champion. At this point he’s really resting on charisma, but he’s so effortlessly like-able that I can’t really blame him.
There was a time when Shinsuke Nakamura was one of the best in-ring performers in all of professional wrestling. (Check out his New Japan rivalry with Hiroshi Tanahashi from the first half of this decade if you want an idea of what I’m talking about.) We are no longer in that time. There’s really no way for me to know if it’s because he can’t perform the way he did when he was a younger man, or if he doesn’t think it’s wise or safe to still be kicking people’s faces off of their heads for real, or if he just isn’t inspired.
It doesn’t really matter. I mostly just hope Nakamura is having fun, getting paid a ton of money, and enjoying going surfing as often as he can.
Kick-Off Show: The real main event
Drew Gulak defending the Cruiserweight Championship against Tony Nese in front of an engaged Philadelphia hometown crowd? I predicted fireworks, and I wasn’t wrong. The wrestling itself was some of the most crisp on the whole show. The chemistry was tense and emotional. From Drew Gulak’s beautiful diving lariat to Tony Nese’s 450º splash knee, there were some moves the two pulled out that had me absolutely ecstatic. Gulak retained with his Cyclone Crash.
The match felt like it should have been a couple of minutes longer. As true as it is that a kick-off show match is better than no match at all, I hate to see something like Drew Gulak and Tony Nese interrupted by an advertisement for the show I am already watching. I don’t know why WWE always does that, but it’s really detrimental to the flow of the match. Gulak had just gotten a match with Matt Riddle at Evolve’s anniversary show, but his first title defense happening in Philadelphia? Could Vince McMahon really not spare two minutes from the kick-off show panel?
Extreme is coming, and it’s all around us
I don’t know if I’ve ever devoted an entire section before to an intro video for a wrestling event, but wow does Extreme Rules ever deserve one. I just want to quickly applaud whoever made this bizarre intro of Mandy Rose’s closeup mouth whispering “shhh, do you hear that? The rules have been altered. Can you feel it? Extreme is coming, and it’s all around us.” It was silly and campy and completely surprising. Bravo.
Zombie vs Failson
It’s not even that I don’t like watching big undead old men do pro wrestling. I just don’t get into the Undertaker. This is probably a matter of being a late-in-life fan and just missing all the cool years of Taker. I saw a lot of people find this Roman Reigns & Undertaker vs Shane McMahon & Drew McIntyre opener a real blast.
All of the objective details of a silly old man hardcore match were there: the trash can, the destruction of an announce desk, the over the top facial expressions. This just wasn’t something that I connected with.
The “Top Guy shortage” is a myth
I could watch one of these every single week. What makes the Revival and the Usos such a joy to watch is how well they work within the constraints of the WWE style. They’re able to convey simple, endearing stories with beautiful wrestling and classic character work in a way that is exciting and never gets stale.
Very often with matches I enjoy in WWE, I find myself adding a “but” to my enjoyment. “This is good, but it was better in PWG/Ring of Honor/New Japan/TNA.” While I’m sure I would enjoy the Usos and the Revival more live in a small building or just outside the specific constraints of a WWE show, I never wish I was somewhere else instead when I’m watching them.
Aleister Black, Cesaro… thank you…
Did you forget? Did you fucking forget about who Cesaro is? Did you forget what this magnificent horse of a man is capable of? Did you forget? I, personally, never forget, and I still needed the reminder. On Sunday night at Extreme Rules, Aleister Black and Cesaro put on the first truly beautiful match I’ve seen on the main roster since Kofi Kingston vs Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania. As tired and burnt out on watching wrestling as I was at this point in the weekend, I leaned forward in my seat and smiled like a ghoul from bell to bell. It was brutal and tense and the perfect first meeting of two men who I hope will meet many more times. Aleister Black won with a Black Mass, but even in losing that match, Cesaro came away looking stronger and more impressive than he’s looked in months.
In this house we respect Bayley
Bayley defended her Smackdown Women’s Championship against Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross in a solidly entertaining 2-on-1 handicap match. It wasn’t as good as Bayley vs Bliss at Stomping Grounds, but it was a major improvement over their last Extreme Rules match in 2017. Bayley retained, downing Cross with an elbow drop and getting the pin.
A family can be two enormous men breaking shit
Of course I like beautiful wrestling. Of course I like technical mastery and complex storytelling and nuance and emotion. You know what else I like? BIG DUDES SMASHING THROUGH AN ARENA!! Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman’s last man standing match was fun and stupid and what I need out of this feud. The Philadelphia crowd loved it. I loved it. Braun Strowman won but I hope they have a rematch somewhere full of breakable stuff. Antique shop? Swap meet? French dessert bakery? What do you want to see them smash each other through next?
We need to talk about Langston
The three-way between Heavy Machinery (Otis and Tucker), the New Day (Xavier Woods and Big E) and the Planet’s Champions (Daniel Bryan and Rowan) was a solidly fun and exciting tag match. Heavy Machinery got to do their strong guy stuff. Daniel Bryan got to lecture the ref on the rules. It was a nice time.
As Big E became a more and more prevalent player, I remembered something important. Yes Big E Langston is fabulous on the mic and hilarious on Twitter, but he’s also an excellent wrestler. The last sequence that he had with Daniel Bryan was really something special. I predicted the New Day winning, but the performance he and Bryan in particular put in made the win feel as fresh and exciting as if I hadn’t expected it at all.
Fuh fuh fuh for life
AJ Styles vs Ricochet was pretty much what you’d expect from AJ Styles vs Ricochet. The wrestling was clean and pretty. Mercifully-heel-again AJ did those great hair tosses I missed so much. Gallows and Anderson distracted the ref and interfered to help Styles win the US Championship.
I much prefer AJ Styles’ heel work to his babyface work for a few reasons. The little details (like the hair tosses, but really all his gestures) are just right in a way that matches the just right neatness of his in-ring style. But I also just think there’s a fundamental coldness to AJ Styles. He’s capable of charm and humor, but not much in the way of warmth. That makes it very difficult to convey the deep, visceral goodness a truly great babyface has to have.
Ricochet has a similar coldness. It’s not exactly the same. I do think that Ricochet is a perfectly fine face, especially when he’s paired with a heel who can be warm enough for both of them. But both Styles and Ricochet have the easy confidence of someone who has always been astonishingly good at what they do. I’m not super looking forward to a continuation of this feud. There’s just not enough heart here for me to get emotionally invested.
Is everything okay?
I’m thinking back to the last time I was really, really psyched on a Samoa Joe match. I think it was in April? What was the last singles match he had that really blew me away? Did the massive amount of Samoa Joe from his prime in 2005 that I watched earlier this summer trick me into thinking that he’s better now than he actually is? I feel like the answer is no. I believe in Samoa Joe.
This match between Joe and Kofi Kingston was fine. The thing is that Joe is capable of being a perfect insurmountable heel and Kofi is capable of being a perfect underdog babyface fighting the odds. This could have been so much better than it was. Kofi won with a Trouble in Paradise after a perfectly watchable match.
You love to see it
At 17 seconds long, Kevin Owens’ match with Dolph Ziggler went the exact right amount of time. Owens hit Ziggler with a stunner and that was it. Beautiful. Afterwards, Kevin Owens went backstage to crash the WWE official Youtube Watch Along for Extreme Rules, and that was equally if not even more beautiful.
Stop now! Don’t wrestle my wife!
The extreme rules mixed tag match for both the Universal and Raw Women’s Championships between Seth Rollins & Becky Lynch and Baron Corbin & Lacey Evans went about as well as a match fitting that description could go. It wasn’t like good, but it was pretty entertaining. Corbin did his finisher, the End of Days, on Becky Lynch, who made it look extremely cool. Rollins freaked out that Corbin would disrespect the rules of a mixed match so thoroughly and put his hands on SETH’S GIRLFRIEND!
Fueled by the rage only a wife guy can feel, Seth Rollins defeated Baron Corbin with two stomps.
Oh right, him
Right after Seth Rollins pinned Baron Corbin to retain his and Becky Lynch’s championships, Brock Lesnar’s music hit. Paul Heyman had cut a brief promo earlier in the show teasing that maybe Brock would cash in that night, but that maybe he’s just a liar. >;)
It just so happened that Paul Heyman was not lying! Or he was lying, but he was lying about lying! Lesnar gave up his Money in the Bank briefcase, the match was announced, and one F5 later, Brock was Universal Champion once again.
WWE Extreme Rules
- Cruiserweight Championship match
- FABULOUS Cesaro vs Aleister Black match
- Raw Tag Team Championship match
- Smackdown Tag Team Championship match
- Insane Mandy Rose intro
- Big lads smashing into stuff was pretty fun
- Smackdown Women's Championship match also pretty good
- WAY TOO LONG!!!!!!
- Main events were just okay
- Seriously the show was beyond way too long
- Weird zoom on Lacey Evans' butt
- Cruiserweight Championship match was too short
- Opening match was too long and not really my thing
- I don't know how else I can emphasize how way too long five hours is for a C-tier WWE PPV
- I could have learned to play a new musical instrument in the amount of time it took me to watch Extreme Rules
- Don't believe me? I'll put a banjo on my wishlist and you can buy it for me and I'll show you how far I get after five hours with it
- I predict I will be able to play the Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen (badly) in that amount of time