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Extreme Rules marks the final WWE PPV before SummerSlam; traditionally the second or third biggest event of the year for WWE. I’ve come up with one question for every match on the Extreme Rules main card; and the answers to those questions will likely determine a bulk of the SummerSlam card. Here is what fans should be looking for this Sunday?
1. What are Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley fighting for?
On RAW, Reigns carefully mentioned that after he was done fighting Lashley at Extreme Rules, he was going to move on to “bigger and better things.” Presumably, that means Brock Lesnar and the Universal Championship, as this feud began when Lashley and Reigns began bickering about who would be the better challenger for Lesnar’s title.
WWE however, is still trying to get the storyline over that Brock Lesnar has taken the Universal Championship and isn’t coming back. Because of that, WWE can’t market this match as being a number one contenders match; even though that is how the feud has been built. It’s odd because the match has been positioned as the biggest match on the RAW brand; and it may very well be the main event on Sunday, yet officially, the match doesn’t mean anything. It could be announced before the match that the winner will face Lesnar at SummerSlam, or they could wait until RAW. For now, it’s just a regular match.
2. How serious is WWE about Rusev?
For the last year, Rusev has been a babyface masquerading as a heel. Even though he has been cheered more than basically any other babyface on the roster, WWE still has him playing the role of a heel, and his WWE Championship match against AJ Styles is no different. Rusev has been the heel through his actions; but he has been cheered like a babyface. Despite the potential, WWE has been stubborn with pushing Rusev as a top babyface, so it seems likely he won’t win the title on Sunday. If Styles were to retain, that means he will probably get a new opponent for SummerSlam. That could be a number of people; Samoa Joe, Kane, Daniel Bryan, or even John Cena.
3. What will Ronda Rousey’s role be at Extreme Rules?
With Rousey being suspended after going crazy on RAW, WWE is running the overdone “person gets suspended/fired and buys a ticket in the front row” storyline. Obviously Rousey is going to be in a key match at SummerSlam, and with her overseeing the RAW Women’s Championship match between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, it makes sense to believe she’ll be contending for the title next month. I think Bliss retains the title in a Extreme Rules match; with Rousey getting involved at the end to set up the big matchup for SummerSlam.
4. Will Team Hell No be sticking around?
A few weeks after Kane’s surprise return to SmackDown, Team Hell No is in a title match with The Bludgeon Brothers. Kane’s political commitments will probably see him wrap up his WWE dates by the end of the summer, and it’s possible he leaves WWE sooner than that. Team Hell No has been very entertaining since reforming, but everyone knows Kane isn’t long for WWE and Bryan, while very good in his segments with Kane, is capable of being a bigger star as a singles wrestler. I think it would be better for Bryan if they lose on Sunday, Kane goes away and Bryan steps up as the challenger for Styles at SummerSlam. They could also have them win the title, and go on a short run before dropping the titles before Kane has to leave.
5. Is Seth Rollins better off without the Intercontinental Championship?
The best part of RAW for the last couple of months has been Rollins and his spirited defense of the Intercontinental Championship. With the exception of Braun Strowman and maybe Rousey, no babyface on RAW is getting the kind of positive reaction Rollins has been getting. While Reigns and Lashley are frequently booed (Reigns) or forgotten (Lashley) by the audience, Rollins has been receiving nearly universal positive acclaim. Perhaps, it should be Rollins in the number one contenders match then? He will probably have a great match with Dolph Ziggler on Sunday, but maybe it would be better for his career if he doesn’t win back the Intercontinental Championship. Like Bryan, Rollins may be better off away from the mid-card and in the world title picture, but I don’t know if WWE wants to put him there.
6. Can Kevin Owens avoid being squashed?
During his feud with Braun Strowman, Owens has been basically buried by the big guy. Constantly being physically attacked and failing to get the better of Strowman, Owens has spent the last couple of weeks literally hiding in fear of Strowman. That’s not really that bad, as Owens has the charisma to overcome that kind of booking, and Strowman has gotten over by terrifying the rest of the roster. The match on Sunday is a cage match, which is a bit of a conundrum because it’s going to be tough for Owens to get his offense in. If this was an Extreme Rules match, it would make more sense since he could use weapons and get heat that way, but inside the cage it’s going to be a challenge. Strowman holding the Money in the Bank briefcase means he could be getting a title run soon, so they’ll want to keep him strong. I think Strowman kills Owens and wins a quick match; or since it’s a cage match, they could do a spot where Strowman chucks Owens out of the cage, meaning Owens “wins” but Strowman looks strong.
7. Will Asuka (finally) win the SmackDown Women’s Championship?
The Asuka vs Carmella feud is similar to Owens and Strowman. On one hand you have a dominant, physical force (Asuka and Strowman) going against a cowardly heel (Owens and Carmella). It’s hard for me as a fan to really buy Carmella a legit champion because her offense just doesn’t look that good, particularly when working with someone as crisp as Asuka. Ellsworth helped her retain last month, but he’ll be out of the picture because he’ll be in a shark cage above the ring. To me, the right booking move will be to have Asuka go over, and set up a returning Charlotte as the top contender for SummerSlam. Asuka vs Charlotte, with Charlotte trying to regain the title and Asuka seeking revenge for her WrestleMania loss, would be a top match for SummerSlam.
8. Will Shinsuke Nakamura step it up?
A problem for Nakamura throughout his career is his tendency to mail in performances. When he is on, Nakamura is among the best in the world, but when he isn’t putting in a maximum effort, he tends to disappoint. His match on Sunday against Jeff Hardy for the United States Championship may be headed towards that territory; Nakamura was good in his feud against AJ Styles, and working a mid-card feud with Hardy is certainly a step down. In addition, Hardy has been nursing numerous injuries and will likely need some help in putting on a good match. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, Nakamura was able to coast in a lot of matches because he was so over, but he still has work to do in WWE before he reaches that level. I think he needs a really good performance Sunday to keep himself relevant in the main event picture.
9. Finn Balor or Baron Corbin?
This one is pretty simple; WWE has given significant pushes in the past to both these guys and ended up disappointed. Balor because he got hurt, Corbin because he has yet to make a lot of strides either as a wrestler or a personality. WWE seems to be giving Corbin more of a push currently with his Constable Corbin gimmick, and if he and Balor have a strong match and Corbin gets a clean victory, it could really help him get back towards the main event. Balor seems to have been pegged at a certain level as a guy who can work and the fans like him, but he’ll be a jobber to the stars instead of a top guy.
10. Can Bo Dallas win a title?
The feud between the B-Team and Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt has been pretty poor. I don’t care about either team and it’s a far cry from the really good tag team work that has been taking place in WWE for the last few years. I do however, have some interest in Bo Dallas, who has been a steady hand of WWE since coming to the main roster and yet, has never won a title on the main roster. In recent years, with so many titles and title changes, almost everyone gets a run with a title; even if they are mostly a job guy. Yeah title wins don’t mean that much, but it would still be nice to see Bo actually win something after years of service.
NJPW G1 Special Review
The G1 Special Show at the Cow Palace was NJPW’s biggest show in the United States to date, with around 7,000 fans in attendance. The show didn’t disappoint, with the last three matches being really excellent. The show will unfortunately be remembered for Hiromu Takahashi’s potentially career-ending injury, and perhaps serve as a turning point for enhanced safety in wrestling.
Chase Owens, King Haku, Yujiro Takahashi and The Guerillas of Destiny vs Gedo, Rocky Romero, YOSHI-HASHI and Roppongi 3K: **
This was a fine opener and didn’t go that long. The crowd was into Haku, who looked pretty good for a guy of his size and is nearly 60, although obviously he wasn’t going to do a ton or take any bumps. The Tongan’s dominating was key to setting up the angle at the end of the show.
Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano vs Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.: **½
I’m always impressed by how over Yano is in America; I guess it goes to show that comedy can transcend language and culture. You’d think Yano would do the job here, but him picking up a surprise win sets him up for the G1 tournament, where he undoubtedly spoil someone’s bid at winning the tournament.
Adam Page and Marty Scurll vs Hiroshi Tanhashi and KUSHIDA: ***
This was a good showcase for Page, who I think has a chance to make a star turn in the G1 and NJPW management has spoken highly of him recently. Tanahashi is older and nursing a lot of injuries, but his charisma is so strong and he’s so smart in the ring that it almost doesn’t matter.
Hirooki Goto vs Jeff Cobb: ***¼
An okay match that could have been better. Goto is a very solid hand that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but he doesn’t have the charisma that the true top guys have; he reminds me a lot of Roman Reigns in that his matches are usually pretty solid, but he doesn’t have that real star quality. Cobb looked good working in NJPW again, and being in northern California helped him get a hometown pop. The finish was pretty flat and it didn’t feel like a real title match. NJPW right now has one too many singles titles, and I’d recommend merging the NEVER Openweight Championship with either the United States or Intercontinental Championship.
The Young Bucks vs EVIL and SANADA: ****
The Bucks were obviously going to be really over with the California crowd, and they didn’t disappoint with a strong match to defend their tag team titles. EVIL and SANADA were good heels, but this was really a showcase for the Bucks. The work was good and didn’t involve nearly as many high spots as a lot of the Bucks previous work in the junior heavyweight division.
Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay vs Tetsuya Naito and BUSHI: ***¼
This wasn’t really a match that featured the guys going at full speed. Ospreay didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and Naito and Okada were there just to kind of play the hits. That being said, it was a very good technical match, and ordinary for Ospreay would be extraordinary for anyone else.
Hiromu Takahashi vs Dragon Lee: ****¼
This was a spectacle, not quite as good as some of their previous matches, but these two have such great chemistry and are willing to do a lot of insane stuff. Unfortunately, those moves come with a lot of risk, and Takahashi who has taken so many big bumps over the last couple of years, may have severely paid the price; suffering a serious neck injury following a disgusting bump off of a botched Phoenix-plex. The injury is the third career-threatening injury to take place in NJPW since the start of 2017, and in all three cases (Takahashi, Tomoaki Honma and Katsuyori Shibata) those injuries could have likely been prevented if those three wrestled a safer style. These guys work really hard, but they are paying the price.
Jay White vs Juice Robinson: ****½
This stole the show and was the best match on the card, which was amazing considering the talent in the building. Robinson was a great babyface and the crowd popped huge for his win. White was an equally good heel, and both of them cut great promos leading up to the match that created an old-school feel. White suplexing Robinson into the railing, leading to the JR injury and the Josh Barnett confrontation, was one of the most intriguing things I have seen in wrestling this year. As it was happening it was unclear if it was a work or a shoot, and now it looks like it was completely unscripted, and blurred the line completely. The fact is it shouldn’t have happened, and NJPW and the wrestlers involved showed a lot of irresponsibility in injuring JR, but I’m not going to lie and said it took away from the match; it really enhanced it.
Kenny Omega vs Cody Rhodes: ****¼
This was a lot of fun and I thought Barnett did really well on commentary selling the tension between Omega and Rhodes. The super high suplex off the ladder was a crazy spot and the crowd really was into the match. The heel turn at the end by the Tongan’s was somewhat expected when they came out, as it has been hinted on Being the Elite that Tama Tonga had grown tired off Omega and Cody’s power struggle, but the angle came off well on television. It’s a big opportunity for Tonga, who has been solid in NJPW for years, but has never really stood out the way the top talents tend to do. This is a huge chance for him to really reach the next level and working with Omega, he’ll have the perfect opponent to try and do that.