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Heading into Extreme Rules, the momentum that Bayley had built from her debut on RAW to retaining the RAW Women's Championship at WrestleMania was on shaky ground. She had been beaten at Payback for the championship by Alexa Bliss in her hometown of San Jose and was beaten the following night in Sacramento. After a truly horrible segment on RAW leading up to her next title challenge at Extreme Rules, Bayley's viability as a potential top star on RAW was on thin ice.
However, things looked fairly positive for Bayley heading into Extreme Rules; sure she had looked really bad during the build for the match, but this was a Kendo Stick On-a-Pole match and as the downtrodden babyface it seemed like;y Bayley could get her revenge, beat Bliss and win the title and be back on the path to success. Not only did that not happen, Bayley was booked to look so inadequate and so meek that it might have done irrevocable damage to her character.
It really all began with the overarching storyline that Bayley was portrayed as being a sweet girl who could never do something as dastardly as using a Kendo stick to harm another human being. Nevermind the fact that Bayley makes a living punching, kicking and throwing human beings with her bare hands, presenting Bayley as being someone too afraid to do something that literally everyone else does on the roster all the time is a losing strategy.
It would be one thing if we were talking about a particularly violent weapon, like Triple H using a sledgehammer or Cactus Jack using a barbed wire bat--but the Kendo stick is used by everyone on the roster all the time. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, John Cena; name a babyface and at one time or another they picked up a Kendo stick and had no problem beating a hated enemy with it. Bayley being incapable of doing that makes her unique, but not really in a good way. A successful babyface storyline is eventually having the babyface pushed too far by a heel and they snap and exact their revenge to the delight of the crowd; instead on Sunday Bayley just looked really weak.
WWE didn't do her any favors when earlier in the evening the announcers noted that Bayley had been offered a regular match for the title, but she personally requested it to be a match involving a Kendo stick. So Bayley personally requested the match, then hyped it up by saying she watched The Sandman and Tommy Dreamer matches, then went out in the match and didn't have the gumption to go right after Bliss, which allowed Bliss to tackle her, use the Kendo stick and and quickly beat her with the DDT.
That performance came on the heels of a RAW segment in which Bliss brought out people from Bayley's past who spent the duration of the segment talking about how Bayley was socially awkward and was a total loser who liked (gasp) wrestling. Bayley then came out and got her ass kicked by Bliss, which led to the match on Sunday. I can't require a babyface in a championship match being booked to look quite so badly over a six day period.
There is some debate over just what Bayley's ceiling is in WWE. She was very popular in NXT and the idea was that she would be a big hero to younger fans, particularly young girls, and be the right kind of white-meat babyface that doesn't really exist today. Critics could point out that she was an average wrestler, didn't have a ton of outward charisma and her promos were pretty generic, but you can't deny that she was a top star in NXT, got great reactions and sold a lot of merchandise. When she came up to the main roster, the idea was that she could be the same type of star on a larger scale, especially because the main roster is much more popular with children than NXT.
Like so many other call-ups from NXT; her character on the main roster did not catch on like it did in NXT. Part of that is due to the different makeup of the average NXT audience at Full Sail University compared to a RAW audience; but a lot of the issues stem from WWE not knowing how to handle Bayley's character. Bayley was popular in NXT because she felt authentic and she had the right look and subtle charisma to sell it. Among Bayley fans, it was always a fear that the folks running the main roster wouldn't be able to thread the needle like the bookers in NXT did; and they were right. Even though Bayley did win the RAW Women's Championship and defended it at WrestleMania, she never quite got the momentum rolling the way it did in NXT and a lot of that had to do with the way she was presented. The program with Bliss was not the first time she had been booked awkwardly, remember she only won the title from Charlotte when Sasha Banks assisted Bayley for the victory, something you would seemingly want to avoid happening to your wholesome babyface.
Whether or not you thought Bayley could be the John Cena of the women's division or a huge flop; I think the really disappointing thing here is that WWE never really tried. Yeah they gave her the title but really trying is more than just holding a title literally everyone gets to have. Trying means not booking a top babyface to lose cleanly in her hometown when she was really over. Trying means not having her constantly get beaten down by heels who come across as smarter and more aggressive. Trying means not having her get run down in a segment only to come out and get crushed. Trying means not having her come across as a pathetic wimp who guaranteed that she would be able to use the Kendo stick and talked about how she WANTED to use the stick, only to meekly wilt and get beaten cleanly.
You do all of those things and maybe she still doesn't really get over. Whatever, at least an attempt was made and you can go back to the drawing board and push someone else. Stuff in wrestling is tried all the time and failed; but you are never going to have those successes if you don't put suitable effort into promoting someone you are trying to push. Theoretically Bayley could make it back to the top and have a nice long reign as champion and all of her potential will be fulfilled. It's going to tough though; serious damage has been done to her character and if she isn't in the main title picture she isn't going to get much a chance to shine on RAW.
Extreme Rules Review:
As a show, I didn't find Extreme Rules to be that bad of a show. Although it lacked a lot of hype and at the end of the year most fans will forget much about what happened, but for a three hour span on Sunday night Extreme Rules made for some enjoyable television. With the exception of the RAW Women's Championship match, every match reached its potential and made for a good, if not entirely memorable show.
Samoa Joe vs Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt vs Finn Balor vs Roman Reigns: ****
A good match that made for a fun and exciting main event that was managed properly as far as keeping all of the talent involved look really strong. When you take arguably the five best talents on the brand and give them close to 40 minutes to have big, high-impact match, chances are you are going to get a pretty fun match. Even the timekeepers spot (when someone gets knocked through the barrier into where the timekeeper and the ring announcer sit) which is done completely to death at every WWE PPV, was handled well.
Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar has a lot of people talking about a dream matchup, and on paper that is true. Joe has spent well over a decade crafting his reputation as a big, mean, bulldozer and the right kind of guy who could credibly take it to Lesnar. The first segment on RAW Monday between Joe and Paul Heyman was excellent and helped continue Joe's strong push. The only issue I have with it is that ultimately the quality of the match is going to come down to how much Brock wants to do in the ring. Wrestling Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire is different than the WrestleMania main event, and in the past (against Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose) we have seen Brock mail it in before. In addition, WWE doesn't really see a longterm feud developing between Joe and Lesnar, the rumor right now is Joe is a temporary guy for Lesnar to face Braun Strowman at SummerSlam so it's entirely possible Lesnar crushes Joe in an unsatisfying match. The match should be really good, but I'm a bit skeptical.
Alexa Bliss vs Bayley: *½
This match was discussed above.
Dean Ambrose vs The Miz: ***½
The match had it's awkward moments due to the strange match stipulation that the title could change hands on a DQ. Like when Ambrose decided to pick up a steel chair for no real reason and looked like a complete idiot--or when the referee was going to DQ Ambrose after Ambrose was thrown into the ref by The Miz. That spot was crazy because the referee was apparently wise enough to understand that Maryse smacked The Miz on purpose to get Ambrose DQ'd, but would also be stupid enough to believe that Ambrose would randomly just crash into him for no reason.
In the end though, none of that really mattered because The Miz has a great skill at pulling off these kind of matches. They teased the stipulation coming into play a bunch of times and hammered it home into the fans heads. The Miz came across as being a crafty bastard that just couldn't quite get Ambrose or the referee to follow one of his tricks. They told a good story and while the finish had some question marks, overall it was an entertaining bout.
The Hardys vs Sheamus and Cesaro: ***
I suppose I liked this match more than most people, as a lot of fans were upset that the titles were taken off Matt and Jeff. Unless WWE figures out a way to make them their "broken" characters that revitalized their careers, I don't know what their shelf life is. I think this kind of match was indicative of the future of steel cage matches. Traditionally the steel cage match has been a major attraction and the sign of the end of a feud and WWE has tried to keep that idea alive for a while--but in a day with crazy ladder matches and Hell in a Cell and the Elimination Chamber, it is kind of hard to get pumped about a steel cage match and the last few PPV main events that have been inside a cage haven't really been memorable. Instead I think it works well as a mid-card kind of attraction were guys get tossed into the cage, someone jumps off the top and you have the race to escape the cage and all those spots. I thought that match was fun while it lasted.
Austin Aries vs Neville: ***¾
This was a good match that was handicapped by the stipulation. A cruiserweight match should be a lot of fast, high impact moves that lead to nearfalls and a lot of fast roll-ups which you can't do in a submission match. That being said I thought it was the best Cruiserweight match to take place on a PPV since they relaunched the division and Neville and Aries had a smooth, technical battle with some cool spots. Before his recent heel run Neville was really a career babyface, down in NXT and on the indies as PAC, but he has really done well as a heel. Just his mannerisms and the faces he makes along with his violent wrestling style come across really well, and the announcers did a good job on commentary selling his new attitude. It will be interesting to see who eventually takes the championship from him because you won't find a more well-rounded guy in the division than Aries.
Alicia Fox and Noam Dar vs Rich Swann and Sasha Banks: **¼
For a nothing match that was just on the show to fill time, it wasn't half bad. Swann did the impossible tonight and was actually able to win a match in his hometown of Baltimore; although whether or not Vince McMahon knew that Swann was from Baltimore heading into the show is up for debate. The action was fast and Banks got a nice high spot when she did the meteora to the outside onto Dar.
Match of the Year
One last thing I want to mention is one of the best wrestling matches of the year took place last weekend. This has been a great year for professional wrestling and the depth of talent across the globe is unreal; it seems like there is an amazing match every day. The match between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom is still the best match of the year and is unlikely to be topped, but the match that took place between Will Ospreay and KUSHIDA at New Japan Pro Wrestling's Best of the Super Juniors 24 Final was probably the second best match of the year and the second match that I am giving a perfect ***** to.
The match was really brilliant and featured everything you would want in a modern wrestling match; great athleticism, technical holds, gripping near falls, innovative offense and a nice story that created high drama at the end as Ospreay attempted to become the second man ever to win the tournament in back-to-back years while KUSHIDA needed to win the tournament to get his much sought after rematch against IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi. Ospreay is just an unbelievable high-flyer, but he can only wrestle his current style for so long before his body breaks down; although he has been great to watch over the last two or three years. There are better wrestlers in the world, but Ospreay is probably going to end up with more ****+ star matches this year than anybody else. KUSHIDA isn't as athletically spectacular as Ospreay but his knowledge of how to pace a junior heavyweight match is rivaled only by Kota Ibushi. He isn't as outwardly talented as Ospreay; but the main thing you do notice about KUSHIDA is just how frequently he is in awesome matches.
Must Watch Matches
Lio Rush vs Ricochet: ****1/4 - PWG Only Kings Understand Each Other
OI4K vs The Young Bucks and Adam Cole: **** - PWG Only Kings Understand Each Other
Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi: ****1/4 - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 12
Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA: ***** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors FINAL
Fenix and Pentagon El Zero vs The Young Bucks vs Matt Sydal and Ricochet: ****1/2 - PWG Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock n' Roll)