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Extreme Rules had a lot of potential to be a very good show heading into Sunday. Most WWE shows have that same potential, but many of them fall short of it. While Extreme Rules had its low points, I think it had enough very strong moments to be considered the best WWE main-roster show of 2016.
AJ Styles vs Roman Reigns-****3/4
Probably the most physical match you will see in a WWE ring. There were rumors that AJ Styles had a banged up back and that he was less than 100 percent heading into this match, but god, that didn't look like the case tonight. People love the Attitude Era because of the unpredictable chaos of the main events and how a million things could happen at the end of a show and you never knew exactly what was going to happen. This match got as close as possible to that nirvana that fans experienced during the late-90s and early-2000s, it was absolute madness towards the end of the match. Neither Styles nor Reigns had any business kicking out of some of the moves at the end and yes you can argue that the match buried some finishers; that Reigns kicking out of two Styles Clashes, one of which was one a chair, cheapens some of the psychology behind the finishers. However, you cannot argue that it was not incredibly entertaining to watch.
For the second straight PPV in a row, Styles was absolutely sensational in the main event. I was a ton of professional wrestling, but the only two wrestlers who consistently blow me away in matches are AJ Styles and Kota Ibushi. That doesn't necessarily mean they are best wrestlers in the world (although they are right up there) just that they never fail to impress me during big matches. AJ's brilliance comes not only in his athleticism, but his timing and his selling of the moves. He takes a back-body drop better than anybody else in wrestling and he took a huge one tonight. He consistently pulls off such difficult moves, like balancing on the tope rope after taking the Superman Punch or selling Reigns knee-strike early, that it makes it more difficult to appreciate his brilliance. He even showed some unseen intensity at the end of the match, unloading on Reigns and The Usos with a steel chair.
While AJ is an incredible worker and deserves the bulk of the credit for the match, Reigns was also very good in the match. It's unclear if he can have a really good match with a lesser worker, but he has proven that he can have a Match of the Year contender with the right opponent. He is athletic enough and intelligent enough to be effective in piecing together a high-quality match with a worker like AJ Styles. You may not like the way he is booked, but so far Reigns' matches have delivered in the ring and have been very entertaining.
The match was superb, but it was missing a crucial element that kept it from being a full-fledged five star match. Going into Extreme Rules I figured Reigns would win the match, probably relatively cleanly, and I was right. Despite all of that chaos at the end of the match, the finish still ended up being very predictable. When AJ got on the apron and slowly sized up Reigns for the forearm, I knew he was eating a spear and losing the match. WWE tried very hard to make the finish insane and unpredictable, but unfortunately it came up just short at that final step.
The Miz vs Cesaro vs Sami Zayn vs Cesaro-****1/2
Maybe the best match WWE has had in 2016 if it was not for the stellar main event. Going into the event everyone could guess this match could end up being great, and it certainly reached its potential tonight. What I love about it is that there was a great balance between storytelling in the ring, and awesome action. Zayn and Cesaro I think were the standouts in the match. Zayn is just so smooth in the ring—the pop-up Yoshii Tonic is such a difficult move for him and Cesaro to pull off and he hit it flawlessly. Cesaro is an interesting guy for WWE because he doesn't do much outside of the ring, but when he is working all he does is get over with the audience.
The finish might rub some people the wrong way, but frankly I thought it was brilliant. It was a tremendous bout, but The Miz, who the fans don't respect as a worker in a match with three other great workers, comes in and unceremoniously steals the match for his opponents. If you think about it, it is the perfect way for The Miz to win a match. In addition, it adds more fuel to the Zayn/Owens feud and Cesaro will likely get at least one more shot at The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.
Chris Jericho vs Dean Ambrose-**1/2
Very difficult match to rate. A majority of the match was extremely boring, as most overly-gimmicked matches tend to be. Most of the weapons were hokey and it started extremely slow. The only real highlights during the early-going were Jericho's consistent trolling of the audience and Ambrose jumping off the top of the cage.
Things changed of course when the thumbtacks were introduced to the match. I never expected to see thumbtacks in a WWE ring, but they did a great job teasing the spot and leading up to Jericho falling into the tacks. Give it up for Jericho, the guy has been doing this for 26 years and is respected by everybody, he doesn't need to put his body through that; but he does it anyway. However, roughly 80 percent of the match was boring so I can't rate it very highly.
Charlotte vs Natalya-**1/4
Pretty average match, not particularly good but not horrible either. Like some of the undercard matches I thought that WWE left something on the table with the booking of the match. WWE put the women on second to last and could have given them a lot of time to shine, and the two women in the ring have proven they can have very good matches if they are allowed to do so. However, WWE overbooked the finish and I don't think it really helped anyone. Natalya looks like an idiot babyface who fell for ANOTHER trick and Charlotte looks like an incompetent champion who is incapable of winning a match without any outside assistance.
The New Day vs The Vaudevillians-***1/4
Bonus points for the excellent development of the match. When The Vaudevillians first came out to the ring (and for a majority of their run on the main roster) the crowd didn't really care about them. They were inconsequential to whatever The New Day was doing. By the end of the match The Vaudevillians were getting solid heat and the crowd was genuinely into the outcome of the match, not just whatever antics The New Day were doing before and after the match. They had a nice false finish and The Vaudevillians finally came across as at least a semi-legitimate team. The commentary team was brutal all night but I thought Byron and Cole did a solid job putting over The Vaudevillians.
Rusev vs Kalisto-**1/2
A bit of an awkward finish, but the match told a story and WWE took the United States Championship off of Kalisto and back onto Rusev without burying Kalisto and making Rusev look dominant, which is well executed character development. I think there was a great match lurking in there somewhere, but it never really took off like it could have. If they are able to get more time on the next PPV or a RAW I think they could have a tremendous match. Rusev's star seems to be back on the rise and he has improved a lot in the ring since his last real shot at cracking the main event. If he can avoid getting swept away by a returning John Cena he could reach his potential as a bona fide main event talent by this time next year.
Anderson and Gallows vs The Usos-**3/4
Okay match to open the show, although it seemed a little bit short and there was more they could have done with the match. I'm a huge fan of Tornado Tag Team matches; WWE doesn't really like to do them that much, probably because they rely a lot on the hot tag to build up matches, but there is no doubt they are exciting matches when they take place. The Usos work hard, but I think they are becoming increasingly stale—they just come across as a lesser tag team version of Reigns. The fans are passionate about Reigns; JBL is sure to point that out to us, but with the Usos the fans don't care nearly as much, and neglect is significantly worse than heat.
With Seth Rollins back in the picture, it looks like WWE will be heading in a new direction with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Styles is a great worker and was able to get the most out of Reigns; and fortunately for WWE Rollins is just as good of a worker as Styles and should get similar results. In addition, the excellent Intercontinental Championship match forwarded some feuds and while the other matches had their ups and downs, most of them were pretty solid.