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With the Universal Championship absent from WWE RAW, the Intercontinental Championship has assumed a greater importance in WWE, almost by default. In need of big matches to anchor RAW each week, WWE turned to Seth Rollins to carry portions of the show, often the final segment, through matches for his Intercontinental Championship. Rollins responded with ripping off a great series of matches and being the top star on the brand. Eventually he began feuding with Dolph Ziggler (who eventually won the title) and Drew McIntyre; really giving both men new life in the company.
At Extreme Rules, there was no clear main event. The WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and Rusev wasn't necessarily a dream match, and obviously the Universal Championship was absent. Rollins and Ziggler earned the main event spot through their great work on RAW, and deserved recognition for that. The live audience may not have been thrilled about it at first, but it was really nice to see guys who have worked hard get thrown a bone.
Dolph Ziggler vs Seth Rollins: ****
Ziggler and Rollins continued their feud with a strong match to close the show. Really most of the second half of the show was really good, and the main event was the best match of the night. An ironman match can be a challenge because the fans are conditioned to not care until a designated time, but they worked hard to make the entire 30 minutes interesting. I thought the finish, with Rollins unable to make the cover before time ran out, Angle continuing the match, and Ziggler stealing the quick win, was exactly the kind of excitement you want to see in the main event of a PPV.
Unfortunately the crowd in Pittsburgh wasn't always invested in the match; obnoxiously counting down the clock every minute like it was the Royal Rumble. This was kind of fun the first time they did and then super annoying every other time. It's the crowd's right to chant for whatever they want, they paid for a ticket and can express their interests no matter what they may be, but as a viewer I assure the people in the crowd tonight it was not as exciting hearing the crowd count down as it must have been in the arena.
AJ Styles vs Rusev: ***3/4
Very strong match, even if it was kept out of the main event. AJ Styles continues to impress with his spirited defense of the WWE Championship, and getting an A performance from Styles is the expectation when he steps into the ring. I thought Rusev though, really shined in this match. Not only was his offense really good, his selling was key throughout the match, and the near-falls were really good. He wasn't getting the title tonight; but I don't see a reason why he couldn't in the future, with the proper build and timing.
Moving forward, I would really like to see Styles get a big opponent for SummerSlam. There are plenty of options out there, but the dream match is Styles and Bryan. That's a match that could main event the show, and I think it would believable for either guy to win the championship. There is no reason to hold onto that match, unless you have it pegged for WrestleMania. I don't want to knock Rusev, but he hasn't been a main event act for most of his career and if Styles was facing Bryan, it would have certainly been the main event tonight. It's time that Styles and the WWE Championship actually get to be the main event on a major show.
Bobby Lashley vs Roman Reigns: ***1/4
Lashely winning was obviously a big surprise; and it helped this match a lot. Lashley has been okay in WWE since returning after WrestleMania; he got saddled with some awful material in his feud with Sami Zayn, but has been good over the last few weeks on RAW. He was a hero tonight; taking a really big bump on the outside that really turned the match around. Early on the crowd was bored and disinterested in the match; but Lashley and Reigns were able to work them back into the match. I also thought Lashley hitting the spear and the quick 1-2-3 was a nice touch. All of Reigns' matches tend to turn into guys just spamming their finisher, so it was different to see Lashley just hit his finisher out of nowhere and pin Reigns.
This seems to set up Lesnar and Lashley at SummerSlam; since this was a defacto number one contenders match. I get there is a belief that Lesnar has to drop the title soon; but I don't think that is necessarily true. Lesnar can't fight Daniel Cormier until January 2019 anyway, so Lesnar could retain the title at SummerSlam over Lashley, and drop later in the year, to either Reigns or Strowman. Of course, Lesnar could just not defend the title after SummerSlam and retain the championship until after his fight in January, because it isn't like he is going away forever. I can't see them putting the title on Lashley, but Lesnar vs Lashley is a bit of a dream match for some fans, so they can sell it as a main event for SummerSlam.
Kevin Owens vs Braun Strowman: ***
The video package that aired before this match really hammered home that logically, Strowman is the heel in this feud, constantly bullying Owens who has done everything in is power to try and avoid Strowman. This is why WWE probably can't have a serious anti-bullying campaign, because sometimes the bully is the cool guy. Tonight, Strowman was certainly the cool guy, chucking Owens off the top of the cage and through the announce table it what was one of the craziest spots of the year. Owens worked really hard in this feud, selling his fear of Strowman each week on RAW and now has taken a tremendous bump through the announce table. He doesn't have much to show for it; but his work did help Strowman get over more with the audience. The crowd loved him after the match, even if technically Strowman was the loser.
Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax: **
This match was really about Ronda Rousey sitting at ringside and unsurprisingly getting involved in the match. The crowd loved Rousey and her taking it to Mickie James was the highlight of the match. The exchanges between Jax and Bliss were an afterthought; for whatever reason the chairshots felt really weak, even by WWE standards. Moving forward, Rousey vs Bliss feels like a bigger match than Jax, even if it will be hard to sell the idea that Bliss can physically hang with Rousey in a match. Credit to Mickie James, who carried the match with her interference and taking a beating from Rousey while not exactly wearing athletic attire. She's had a great career.
Finn Balor vs Baron Corbin: **1/4
Corbin does a few moves on offense really well; but other then that, he doesn't excite me. His new role on RAW is pretty lame, and wrestling in dress clothes just isn't a good look. The announcers are trying to sell the idea that Corbin is this legit tough guy with a football and boxing background, but he looks completely ridiculous in that outfit. Balor worked hard and the match overall was solid, even if it was very basic.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Jeff Hardy: No Rating
My best guess for why they did a match so short is that Hardy was really injured and couldn't do much, so they might as well do the quick title change. Not much more you can say about the match. Randy Orton coming out after the match was unexpected; and what was even more surprising was his decision to just kick Hardy in the nuts. It looks like Hardy is going to get some time off, and clearly the direction seems to be Orton working with Nakamura, which makes Orton's actions even more surprising.
Carmella vs Asuka: *
Another PPV and another loss for Asuka. Granted, WWE did come up with a creative finish. I don't think anyone expected Ellsworth to be dangling from the cage like that. And he followed the lead of Roman Reigns and decided to wear a flak jacket while he was in the ring. I don't see Carmella as ever being a difference-maker for WWE, so I don't really see the upside in having her keep beating Asuka, even if they are not clean victories. The big Asuka matches left are a rematch with Charlotte and a match with Rousey; I don't know how many losses she should pile up before working those programs.To me, Asuka eventually has to win the title from Carmella, so they'll need to do another match, probably at SummerSlam but they could also do it on SmackDown.
Team Hell No vs The Bludgeon Brothers: **
This was kind of a let-down. Bryan and Kane had been really good together in their segments on SmackDown, so this felt like a bigger match on the card. However, WWE didn't do much with it; shooting an angle where Kane was injured and Bryan couldn't overcome the odds. WWE has so many people who are not that over with the audience getting pushes; and yet they can't find something better to do with Bryan? The segments on SmackDown were really good; but this match was designed to be mediocre, and it was.
Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy vs The B Team: **
Simple match that the crowd got into a bit; mainly due to Hardy's work and they popped for the title change. The B Team isn't a serious pairing; but they are goofy and have been kind of fun on this little run they've had. Axel and Dallas are hard workers that haven't had a lot of championship success in WWE; so they earned this win.