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There is no denying it, Extreme Rules is back. After last year’s tepid piss take of a show, that was about as Extreme as a Barney the Dinosaur episode, this year’s show is stacked with stipulation matches entirely, and for that matter stacked in general. Ahead of time, this year’s card was suggested to be a show of the year candidate for WWE and while there were some niggles here and there, no doubt about it the new era of WWE has officially kicked off folks!
The kick-off show was filled with the usual hype for each match but also had a white rabbit video package re-played, reminding us that tonight we get the reveal for the mysterious superstar behind those QR Code unlocked messages and “White Rabbit” Jefferson Airplane off air plays at WWE events this last month. Whoever it is (and we all know who we want), this has been the best built up thing in WWE in years and its innovative use of multimedia storytelling and social media sleuthing is arguably the most original thing WWE have orchestrated in years. Bravo…so, who could it be? I know who I want…
The opening has Paul Heyman usher things in with an Extreme spelling bee package, unexpected…
1. Six-Man Old-Fashioned Donnybrook Match
The Brawling Brutes (Sheamus, Butch and Ridge Holland) vs. Imperium (Gunther, Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci)
What a bloody opener! That’s all I can say. This match started fantastic and only got better, with every single competitor getting a shining moment. I honestly could watch these two groups fight forever. Within moments these guys destroyed the outside area, as well as the set up bar at ringside. Imperium controlled things early but the Brawling Brutes would not be denied and this is a big moment for them, as they became beloved babyfaces before all our adoring eyes, and Imperium lost nothing in defeat here but this war was an especially big win for Sheamus, Butch and Ridge Holland. Fantastic stuff all round, this feud has been a blinder. As the lads said on their way up the ramp, “banger, after banger, after banger…”
The Miz arrives backstage to speak to Triple H about the continued attacks by Dexter Lumis but is interrupted by the presence of Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty, who Miz insults by stomping on his shirt gift…
2. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship Extreme Rules Match
Liv Morgan (c) vs. Ronda Rousey
As feelgood as Liv Morgan’s win was months back, her reign has been far from stellar, and certainly unevenly booked. Though there has recently been some attempts at fixing Morgan’s validity as champion, she really realistically could not be the winner here and as such we got a new champ. I was entertained by this scrappy, punchy match but it was admittedly the weakest on this card. Ronda Rousey and Morgan don’t have that same click as other pairings have had in the ring but in spite of a few unfortunate botches they tried and it was ok overall. Glad Rousey won to be honest and I am intrigued by the tease of a much needed character transformation for Liv, as she smiled her way into unconsciousness in the divisive finish, as Rousey won by technical submission. Bonus points awarded for Rousey’s They Live-inspired ring gear by the way.
3. Strap Match
Karrion Kross w/ Scarlett vs. Drew McIntyre
Strap matches can be a mixed bag, and and this match proved it but still proved the best might be to come with these two. I love Karrion Kross and Scarlett’s presentation at the minute, and Drew McIntyre is ace, but I felt this match, whilst good, could have been better. It started with a pre-match arena brawl and when the match finally got underway, it was a back-bruising affair, as both powerhouses laying each other out with the leather strap and then some. That said, it felt like this was not as all out as it could or should have been, particularly after a screwy finish, when Scarlett sprayed Drew with mace to give her man the win, which was not ideal as endings go. Glad Kross won but next time these two clash, the leash needs to be off, so to speak.
…The Miz is on the phone worrying about his birthday celebrations on Raw being in danger but Gritty is back, resulting in Miz verbally berating the mascot…
4. WWE Raw Women’s Championship Ladder Match
Bianca Belair (c) vs. Bayley
These two were unlikely to have anything other than a great match and they did live up. I feel like they could have got longer to work with but what was here was fab. With some fantastic spots (Belair’s double finisher on both interfering “Bayley buddies” (if you will) Dakota Kai and Iyo Sky) and feats of strength on display, they delivered a brill title match. Though I was surprised Bayley did not win this one actually but Bianca Belair is a good champion so no complaints. Great match.
5. “I Quit” Match
Edge vs. Finn Balor
Now, we get a match that oddly became a bit of a dark horse here. This slowly building “I Quit” match took its time across its 30-minute duration but built to some storytelling brilliance, layered with a dark ending. Yes, sometimes interference overdrive in matches can be a pain but here it all added to the story, as Edge and Finn Balor were both equally unlikely to scream “I Quit” at that over-eager ref holding the mic. The Judgment Day got involved, Rey Mysterio got involved, Dominik laid his dad out, and Beth Phoenix came out to help her husband into gaining the upper hand back. Though that last of those interfering players was most important, as the dark gothic faction overpowered The Rated R Superstar but he would just not quit. Until, Rhea Ripley threatened to conchairto Edge’s fallen wife Beth…leading to Edge saying the words with no hesitation. It was the perfect way of getting Finn the win, but even more perfect was the twisted ending, as Ripley still delivered the move on Beth despite Edge’s surrender, leaving the Judgment Day with all the nuclear heat they needed to finally breakout since dropping Edge as their leader, and leaving this chapter of the increasingly interesting story with a boldly dark conclusion. And can I just say that Michael Cole’s JR-esque impassioned commentary for this match (and that ending) was amazing, under this new regime he has finally been allowed to commentate and it is sterling to see.
…Gritty gives Miz another shirt only to get beaten up but here comes Dexter who knocks out the A-Lister again. He then helps Gritty to his feet, who gives Miz a swift kick to the ribs before leaving almost hand in hand with Lumis. Odd but then isn’t life?
6. Fight Pit Match; Special Referee: Daniel Cormier
Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins vs. Matt Riddle
This match was the natural choice as main event, with this fiery feud being utterly engaging and UFC legend Daniel Cormier calling the shots as referee, and it was really good stuff. Seth Rollins’ RVD gear was neat and the Fight Pit structure in its PLE debut was an impressive stipulation, and Matt Riddle and Rollins delivered an entertaining match. If I am honest I think they could have made better use of the structure itself and had a few more minutes added on but even so, this was a really entertaining and it was nice seeing Riddle get his hard fought win over Rollins…and by submission too. That’s your lot folks, Riddle wins, hand held in the air, “thank you for joining us”…but wait, wasn’t there something else? Cue the lights going out and the Philadelphia crowd going proper insane…
The White Rabbit led to…Bray Wyatt
I must admit, I had begun to think it would not happen, and even with all the cryptic hard fought and found clues pointing sensibly to Bray Wyatt, there were so many potential red herrings, so many other people it could be but as soon as “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” echoed throughout the dark arena, we knew. And the ovation was earth-shaking. This phenomenal, creative and original build resulted in an equally exceptional return. As the song played and all of Wyatt’s characters – Mercy the Buzzard, Huskus the Pig, Abby the Witch, Ramblin’ Rabbit and The Fiend appeared in human form under spotlights amidst the crowd, as we then cut to an ominous doorway on the stage and a reveal of a now cobweb-filled Firefly Funhouse, as the static on the TV revealed a distorted message from a mysterious masked character (think V For Vendetta crossed with The Black Phone). And then that door on stage opened with a beam of light, before the iconic lantern appeared and Bray himself emerged holding said lantern, with that aforementioned mask on, before removing it to reveal to camera, “I’m Here”. Cut to a new Silence of the Lambs style upside down death moth logo onscreen and we were done. History is made, Bray Wyatt is back home and the possibilities are endless. This was dark magical stuff and in 7 minutes reminded us of just what has been missing this last year and a half from WWE TV. Undertaker-like excellence here, and that new era of WWE has finally begun…Feed Your Head.
Overall, Extreme Rules is the PLE that has announced that we are all in a bold and exciting new era finally. Triple H is righting the ship and it is all getting better and better. Bray Wyatt’s return would have made any show great and newsworthy instantly but it came after a consistent event that, while not faultless, was all good-to-outstanding in quality. Starting with greatness and ending with it, the rest was still a darn good show with but a few niggles, that did not ruin anything but could be tweaked. I loved the show and have rewatched that return numerous times over already. What a moment. On this evidence I am excited to see what is in store for Crown Jewel as we head to Saudi Arabia. Many intriguing stories going forward…