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As America’s COVID woes seemingly continue, WWE has had their own issues with such and have adjusted their set-ups and altered shooting schedules and whatnot. It seems between PPV’s nowadays there is always something horrible or of great importance occurring (that’s 2020 I guess), be it the #SpeakingOut movement or the introduction of face masks for attending Performance Center audiences. Then there is the fact that, courtesy of the WWE Network’s incredible series The Last Ride, news has broken that (never say never of course) WWE icon The Undertaker has said his clash in the Boneyard match with AJ Styles at Wrestlemania 36 in April was his last match. If indeed it was, I’m sure Taker will make the odd appearance but he has meant so much to this writer over the years and his retirement is well earned. There truly will never be another.
Now, onto the business at hand. Extreme Rules or rather The Horror Show at Extreme Rules this year has had to adapt, just like every other show this year, and as we headed for the show, we saw Braun Strowman driven to near madness by the resurrection of Bray Wyatt’s “Eater of Worlds” persona for a personal Swamp Fight. Also old friends turned enemies Dolph Ziggler and WWE Champion Drew McIntyre were set to do battle in a mysterious never before seen stipulation of Dolph’s choosing, while Rey Mysterio and Seth Rollins grabbed headlines with their forthcoming first ever “Eye For an Eye” match, where you must extract your opponents eye to win…surely not! From The New Day and Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro in a Tables match to Bayley and Sasha Banks hoping to leave with all the women’s title gold, many questions were in the air for this year’s night of extreme.
Did Braun follow the buzzards, did Drew n’ Dolph shock us, did titles change hands, did someone really lose a bloody eye? Here’s the low down from last night’s show…
1. (Kick-Off show) Kevin Owens vs. Murphy
This was a last minute addition but a most welcome one and at least there was a story already there with Kevin Owens and Murphy clashing in the past due to Owens’ feud with Rollins. If they had taken time to build this, it could have for sure been a main card match. Regardless, this was a nice back and forth contest, with Owens and Murphy working great together. Nice post-match snippet too with Owens saying “you’re too good to be someone’s lackey”, maybe Rollins may have to keep an eye (so to speak) on his follower.
The main show opens with a video package leaning into the horror movie elements and I quite liked it, speaking of which check out the PPV poster WWE released where they did a mock-up of Ari Aster’s film Midsommar, kinda awesome…
2. WWE SmackdownTag Team Championships – Tables Match
The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro
This was a great opener and considering the four men involved, there was hardly a chance of this being anything other than entertaining. After getting table match advice from D-Von Dudley on the pre-show, The New Day were still unprepared for the underrated artists (that’s not their team name, just what they are)! There was some great fast-paced offence, big dives and very effective use of the tables. The end sequence was especially brilliant with that hard impact power bomb by Cesaro to Kofi through two stacked tables on the outside. Seeing Shinsuke and Cesaro as the new SD Tag Champions is great and I hope WWE continues this rivalry as the SD tag division is threadbare at the minute and this could be a fantastic little tag battle for a few PPVs to come.
3. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) w/ Sasha Banks vs. Nikki Cross w/ Alexa Bliss
I really enjoyed seeing Nikki Cross look so good here, her erratic moves (some a tip of the hat to Fit Finlay) and fast frantic attacks were exciting and she worked very well with the cocky and arrogant Bayley. It was quite an old school little face vs. heel match this, with a few surprising nods to William Regal too, as a variation on the Regal Cutter was used and Bayley’s knuckle duster cheat win was very much reminiscent of the good ol’ power of the punch days. I didn’t think Nikki would win sadly but this was fun and I look forward to the day Cross gets the gold.
After this, a really enjoyable Firefly Funhouse segment aired, in black and white with Bray doing his best Vincent Price impression to further play into the Horror element of the night. He also had a dig at the woeful Karaoke sing off on Smackdown 2 weeks back which was great and thoroughly deserved. Seriously, that stunk so damn bad…
4. WWE United States Championship
Apollo Crews (c) vs. MVP w/ Lashley
This was the first of a couple of disappointments on this night, as the match did not take place at all due to an injury stopping Apollo Crews from competing. Rumours since have said COVID has something to do with it but that’s none of our business, fact is health has to come first and hopefully Apollo is alright. Although WWE’s solution left much to be desired, as all we got was MVP and Lashley bragging in the ring and MVP declaring himself the new WWE United States Champion (by the way, I rather like the new belt design, quite vintage looking)…I think it’s unofficial but this was just a big waste of time. Why not have one of Apollo’s pals like Ricochet or Cedric Alexander come out , or someone else even (Shelton Benjamin perhaps?) and make something of it? Wasted opportunity to really to get someone a spot I thought.
5. Eye For An Eye Match
Seth Rollins vs. Rey Mysterio
Okay, we all know no eyes were lost in the making of this match! Yes, it was a ridiculous stipulation to make and yes there was no possible way they could deliver on the grisly promise. That said, I actually applaud the restraint in how this was done. First thing’s first, the match itself was pretty brilliant. The suggestion of actual violence was far worse than anything else (as both men attempted to use steel rods, broken Singapore cane shards, screwdrivers and table edges to blind each other). There were some great spots, as you would expect from two workers as skilled as this and the story was really quite intense. When it came to “the moment”, as Rollins gouged out Rey’s eye on the steel ring steps, you pretty much saw nothing, save for a blink-and-miss (tee hee) fake eyeball cupped in Rey’s hand and Rollins being sick on camera, sure it’s bonkers but frankly I expected a way more over the top display here (be it CG eyes or Rollin’s curb stomping Rey’s severed eye or whatever) so, this was actually quite welcomely restrained. They did the eye gouge spot way better on Raw weeks back but I still actually had a lot of fun with this overall. Yes, the gimmick was a tad silly but it did its job and these two made it work with their actual match, which reminded me of an Unsanctioned match or Chicago street fight-style encounter. Even if the eye bothered you, hey, at least it wasn’t the optical equivalent of Eric Rowan’s spider!!
6. WWE RAW Women’s Championship
Asuke (c) w/ Kairi Sane vs. Sasha Banks w/ Bayley
I mentioned some disappointments earlier, well rank the ramshackle Vince Russo-esque ending to this one as the show’s biggest sin. Asuke and Banks were having a hell of a wrestling match here, so good in fact that you may be able to forgive the absurdly overbooked finish but I’m afraid I couldn’t. After a gruelling match, Banks and Bayley kept pushing it so Asuke reciprocated but as Asuka’s green mist missed Banks and hit the ref, the shenanigans took over ten fold. Asuke got clobbered by the title belt, Bayley ripped off the ref’s shirt put it on and made the 3-count herself, Banks and Bayley then forced the closing bell to ring and walked away with the Raw Women’s Championship and thus all the main show women’s gold…or did they? Surely this can’t stand? But besides filling one segment of Raw tonight, all this ludicrous display accomplished was souring the two ladies’ great contest. It was one of those endings so unsatisfying you struggle to see past it and embrace the good points of the match itself.
7. WWE Championship – No Rules for Dolph only/Drew can lose title by DQ & Count-out
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
There are already some mixed views on this match and I’ll admit that it was fun for what it was, with the stipulation being well utilised by Ziggler and adding some degree of stakes (though the result was never in question for a single second) but the problem was how it was sold to us? The stipulation was not announced until right before the opening bell by a clearly full of himself Ziggler, however in the weeks prior we’ve heard him crow on about how the mystery stipulation had “never been seen before”, or backstage analysts saying on the kick-off show “if WWE would sanction it, it would be a miracle”, so when we get here and it’s basically “no rules for Ziggler only and no champion’s advantage for McIntyre” it just feels quite weak. Why they didn’t just promote it as such I have no idea, plus they could have gone even stricter with the rules against McIntyre to add more layers to it. Fact is, the hype to something greater than it ended up being really hurt this one, plus we have actually seen this stipulation before, way back in Carlito and Triple H’s match at Unforgiven 2007. That aside though, respect to both guys for trying to make this into something high stakes and their match did have its moments (a table suplex spot), especially a smooth as silk finish that saw McIntyre kip up straight into a Claymore for the win. Surely The Viper is next for McIntyre and that I cannot wait to see!
8. Wyatt Swamp Fight
Bray Wyatt vs. Braun Strowman
I was looking forward to the non-title cinematic Wyatt Swamp Fight match between Bray Wyatt (in his old Wyatt Family leader persona) and Universal Champion Braun Strowman but it was one which will get passed off by many as pure gimmicky silliness…and unfairly so, as this is kind of a cult match in the making (appropriate considering its influences). My initial reaction was that this was no Firefly Funhouse Match or Boneyard Match but neither was it House of Horrors, now that reaction stands to some degree but having slept on it, my appreciation for this one has really grown and actually continues to do so. As the two waged battle in the surrounding woods, with a barrage of imagery, burlap sack masked henchmen, it soon moved to the Wyatt compound itself in an interrogation-style scene, before heading to campfire chaos (a man on fire!) and the swamp waters, motor boats and surrounding wooden structures. The match’s actual result was in question (but kind of irrelevant), as The Fiend Bray Wyatt finally returned, hinting at the story crescendo to come in the clash we all wanted to see at Summerslam. But mulling it all over, I’m convinced last night’s cinematic match was Wyatt (who allegedly had full creative control – as he should always if you ask me) putting to bed the “Eater of Worlds” era of his career and, as is always the case with Bray, there was more to this Swamp Fight than meets the eye. It explained everything about Bray Wyatt’s past character through subtle details: the compound, his prophetic tales, the backdrop hints at his ‘mystic’ power’s roots, Sister Abigail shown as an apparition of our heart’s desire (in this case by an unexpected and cool Alexa Bliss cameo) and Bray’s monologue to Braun mid-match being a sort of desperate last grab for Wyatt family Bray at the power he’s always craved but never grasped.
When the slasher movie homage climax arrived, which tricked us ingeniously with the little copyright tag at the bottom of the screen, I initially thought it was Braun who pulled Bray under the water but it was The Fiend who got them both in the end. The Fiend came for Braun (who was shaken by his journey into the past) but also to put to rest the enigmatic cult leader Bray striving for control he’ll never attain – Braun was his only success and his last chance at a return but The Fiend made sure that would never happen. The Wrestlemania 36 Firefly Fun House Match is still Bray’s cinematic masterpiece…for now, and I still think Braun should have surfaced in some way (before The Fiend’s bubbling red watered return) at the end instead of disappearing without a trace but this had a lot of thought behind it. Thought likely lost on many a viewer, as it was initially on me. As viewers, we are so impatient or intent on being ahead of the curve that we forget to observe and this is a cinematic match that will benefit from further thought and being rewatched. This was a wrestling horror movie (especially a tribute to Friday the 13th franchise, its tropes and even its kills) but much more, it was a character eulogy and indicative of why I love Bray Wyatt and his work. There’s much to decipher, unpack and discuss. He’s a storyteller and a true resurgent of the likes of Kane, The three faces of Mick Foley and The Undertaker and if WWE allows it, The Fiend will be his magnum opus.
Overall, The Horror Show at Extreme Rules is a polarising event, some things worked, some things didn’t and some things were never going to work for some people. I enjoyed the night overall, the first matches were fun, Rollins/Rey worked a great match making the suggestion of brutality more effective than the final deed, and the Swamp Fight is a character-based work of horror adoration and long term storytelling, bound to be overlooked but deserving of attention (and yes, I am thrilled The Fiend has returned). There was good wrestling overall but the WWE Championship match was afflicted by its promotional gimmick somewhat (though the guys powered through) and indecisive WWE Creative/management decisions made a right old hash of Asuke and Banks’ great ring work. Hit and miss but fun more than a chore and certainly not the worst PPV of the year, that title still belongs to Super Showdown. Summerslam is next and hopefully they’ll get those match finishes sorted ahead of time!