By Rob Siebert
There’s a reason I haven’t written about wrestling in awhile. Simply put, the WWE product sucks right now. It’s largely sucked since Wrestlemania. I almost posted something awhile back entitled, “Lapsed WWE Fan Confessions: Why I Finally Tuned Out.” Because I had tuned out. I’d check the websites, and listen to a podcast or two. But as far as watching Raw and Smackdown every week? After more than two decades, I was done.
Why? Yeesh. How much time do you have? Among various other elements, we have…
– Uninspired writing, for characters that have become largely flat and boring, resulting in stories that are largely flat and boring.
– The continued over-scripting of promos and segments, resulting in something that, over time, bears less and less resemblance to the world we live in, and more like it’s own “WWE Universe.”
– The “Wild Card Rule,” which allows select wrestlers from Raw to appear on Smackdown each week, and vice versa. Raw wrestlers are allowed to challenge for Smackdown titles, and vice versa. Thus, everything is watered down, and the rules of engagement are blurred. What’s more, the two tag titles, two women’s titles, two world titles, etc, are even more redundant than they were before.
But the recent news that WWE has hired Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to serve as “Executive Directors” of Raw and Smackdown respectively, piqued my interest. While neither man supposedly has the level of control he will have (Bischoff apparently hasn’t even started yet), I was curious enough to get me to check things out again. While I can’t say I’m in love with what I see, my creative juices are flowing a little bit more.
So let’s take a look at what’s on tap for Extreme Rules this weekend…
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew Gulak (c) vs. Tony Nese
I was happy to see Tony Nese get the spotlight during Wrestlemania season. He’s obviously got the talent and the look, if not necessarily the charisma, of a champion. Still, Drew Gulak is just as deserving, if not a little more. He’s successfully transitioned from a comedic character doing powerpoint presentations to a credible and dangerous shooter champion. As he just won it at the last pay per view, I don’t see any reason to take the title off him now. Let’s let him have a little bit of a run and see what develops.
PREDICTION: Drew Gulak
Aleister Black vs. Cesaro
I don’t know if you’ll find a better first opponent for Aleister Black (or anyone, for that matter) than Cesaro. So from a wrestling standpoint, I’m expecting great things here. But from a story perspective? This whole thing has been pretty hokey, with the whole “knocking on the door” thing. The split-screen segment between these two on Smackdown was almost cringe-worthy. Hopefully what they give us between the ropes can make us forget that.
PREDICTION: Aleister Black
WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Revival (c) vs. The Usos
When I last saw the Revival, they were losing the Raw tag belts to Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder on the Wrestlemania pre-show. Apparently, absolutely nothing was done with them as champions, so the belts simply went back to Dash and Dawson.
For all the talk there’s been about the Revival leaving WWE once their contracts expire, at least WWE has started showing them a little respect. They’re the champions again. So I say we just let them have the lengthy reign everybody seems to want them to have. Supposedly, the reason the Street Profits have been on Raw lately is because Heyman really likes their work. So in my little head, they’re the team that eventually get the rub from Dash and Dawson.
PREDICTION: The Revival
TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Daniel Bryan and Rowan (c) vs. Big E. and Xavier Woods vs. Heavy Machinery
I’m really liking Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan (or rather, just Rowan) as tag champs. That’s one of the reasons I hate the Wild Card Rule so much. If both sets of tag champs can appear on either show, then what exactly are Bryan and Rowan the champions of?
The New Day have little to no use for tag team gold at this point, and it’s too soon to put the belts on Heavy Machinery. So Bryan and Rowan get the win by process of elimination. But also because they’re the best team for this spot right now.
PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan and Rowan
HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
So here we have Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, two Raw wrestlers, wrestling for the Smackdown Women’s Title. So if they win…do they go to Smackdown? For that matter, if Nikki scores the fall, does that mean Alexa wins the title? How does this work?
In the end, I think we’re going to find out. I do indeed see this match ending with Nikki pinning Bayley. Whether she wins the title, or more likely, Alexa gets it, that advances their story enough to lead to a match between the two. Most likely at Summerslam.
PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
LAST MAN STANDING MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley
Lashley needs Lio Rush. Seriously, he does. Rush was the perfect mouthpiece for him. Don’t send Rush to 205 Live, don’t send him back to NXT. Put him back with Lashley on Raw. That’s where he belongs.
I dug the whole set crash/explosion angle. But more importantly, I dug the way they followed it up. Both the wrestlers and the announcers took it seriously. And this is the kind of thing I don’t mind them mentioning across different “brands,” a la Smackdown and 205 Live.
As he’s meant to be a dominant giant, I’m of the mindset that Braun Strowman losses should be few and far between. That’s why he’s my pick to win. But because Strowman doesn’t have to be pinned to lose here, a Lashley victory wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’d be that much more effective with Lio Rush, backing him up, but still…
PREDICTION: Braun Strowman
WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Ricochet (c) vs. AJ Styles
So here we have the rubber match. Ricochet defending against the now heel AJ Styles, who once again has Gallows and Anderson backing him up.
To give some credibility back to the Club, who apparently just signed new deals, I see them costing Ricochet the title. Naturally, that leads to a rematch of some kind at Summerslam, where Ricochet wins the title back. But for now, the belt leaves with AJ.
PREDICTION: AJ Styles
WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Samoa Joe
I love the good guy/bad guy dynamic between Kofi and Joe. So in that sense, this is a great pairing. What’s not so great is that we have yet another instance of a Raw wrestler challenging for a Smackdown title. So again, what happens if Joe wins?
He won’t, though. As great as Joe is, and he is great, he’s always a groomsman and never a groom when it comes to these title matches. He’s the best pure heel WWE has right now, and maybe even the best promo. For whatever reason, it just never seems like the right time. Such is the case here as well. Granted, if they wanted to extend this thing until Summerslam, Joe might be able to take it there. But here? On this show? No. Kofi Kingston’s got the belt at least until Summerslam.
PREDICTION: Kofi Kingston
EXTREME RULES MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL AND RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS:
Seth Rollins (c) and Becky Lynch (c) vs. Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans
Winners take all.
I actually like the winners-take-all stipulation for this match. Now that we’ve established Rollins and Lynch as an on-screen couple, it’s a nice tool for drama. Though I’m not sure it’s one they’ve been able to play up to it’s full potential. The audience is still getting used to this pairing. So to tease friction or tension between the two of them so early is awkward.
Like many others, I’d say it’s taking place about a month too late. Corbin and Evans have failed to win these titles individually on multiple occasions. So now we’re supposed to believe they can do it in a tag match?
Rollins and Lynch keep their belts here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did a “Dusty finish” here, i.e. make it seem like Corbin and Lynch have won, but then re-start the match and have the champions retain. The ensuing Twitter explosion alone would be worth it.
PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch
NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre
You know what’s weird? They’ve hardly played up the Undertaker’s match with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Granted, from a wrestling standpoint that’s a match ‘Taker probably wants us to forget. But it was the main event of a Wrestlemania, and Reigns has been calling WWE “my yard” ever since. From a storyline perspective, he took ‘Taker’s spot and temporarily retired him. You’re telling me there’s no tension between them? At all?
My hope is that this match finally puts an end to the Roman/Shane stuff, and potentially paves the way for the Undertaker to put Drew McIntyre over at Summerslam. With any luck, the bells and whistles in this match, and a decent performance next month can wash the foul taste of that Undertaker/Goldberg match out of everybody’s mouth.
I say Shane takes a Tombstone and the pinfall, prompting McIntyre to come out the next night and say ‘Taker never beat him. Ergo, the Summerslam match. As for Roman, next month seems like as good a time as any for a “brother vs. brother” match with Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship.
PREDICTION: Roman Reigns and The Undertaker
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