Extreme Rules has been a bit of a misnomer throughout the PG Era of WWE, but never has that been truer than it was for the 2019 incarnation of the event. Most of the matches were given non-extreme stipulations, with an opening bout involving the elderly Undertaker one of the few with potential for genuinely entertaining violent spectacle.
The show emanated from Philadelphia, PA – home of ECW – but did it live up to that heritage when WWE returned to the City of Brotherly Love, with something far less lovely on its mind?
Kick-Off: Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Finn Balor via Kinshasa to become the NEW Intercontinental Champion
This was a solid match, with the pendulum of momentum shifting back and forth between the two former New Japan Pro Wrestling megastars. Both men exchanged strikes until a missed knee lift in the corner left the door open for Balor to go high-risk. He attempted a Coup de Grace, but Nakamura rolled out of the way and hit a brutal knee to the back of Balor’s head, followed by the Kinshasa, to win the belt.
It’s fair to say this title switch was a complete surprise, coming in a match added to the card fairly late in the day. Nakamura hasn’t even been on television for months, with the exception of a few brief cameos, so this seems a bizarre decision and does Balor a disservice. Hopefully, the Extraordinary Man Who Does Extraordinary Things will win back the belt sooner rather than later.
Kick-Off: Cruiserweight Champion Drew Gulak defeated Tony Nese via Cyclone Crash
After winning the title last month at Stomping Grounds, Drew Gulak squared off against the former champ Tony Nese to close the kick-off show. I’ll hand over to our 205 Live reviewer, Humza Hussain for more detail on this one…
On paper, and going off of their match prior to this year’s ‘WrestleMania’, Tony Nese vs. Drew Gulak seemed like a slam dunk. Both men have been a roll, but unfortunately, none of that mattered as both superstars had a bad night at ‘Extreme Rules’. It felt like the difficulties of being slotted in the kickoff show, in this case, the second bout of the kickoff show finally caught up to the talent.
The pace was quick, and both men tried being creative with some spots that had the potential to be very good but lacked in execution. Aside from a great series of counters which eventually led to Gulak hitting a powerbomb near the end of the match, everything, even simple moves for Nese and Gulak seemed to be a struggle. Due to the constant string of errors and clunky looking manoeuvres, it was difficult to get into the match.
Even when Gulak hit the cyclone crash for the one, two, and three, there was a feeling of emptiness. Nothing clicked. You have to applaud the effort of Nese and Gulak. However, ‘Extreme Rules’ was a night both men were unable to win over the live crowd, and a night they will likely look to forget.
Extreme Rules Match: Undertaker and Roman Reigns defeated Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre via Tombstone Piledriver on McMahon
Everyone decided to obey normal tag rules, despite the stipulation, in a logic gap WWE continues to create every time they do a No DQ tag match. Briefly remembering the stipulation after about five minutes, the Deadman chased Shane away with a chair, but the heels soon won back control, isolating Reigns. Taker eventually got the hot tag and, after a flurry, set McMahon up for a Last Ride through the announce table. Elias, however, showed up and cracked a guitar over Undertaker’s back.
Reigns tried to intervene but took a Claymore Kick from McIntyre, and Undertaker was also almost decapitated on the floor by McIntyre’s boot. McMahon landed his always impressive elbow drop from the corner through the announce table, flattening Undertaker completely. Back in the ring, a prone Undertaker was lined up with a trash can across his chest for Coast to Coast. After it connected, though, Taker set up and started a chokeslam party on the heel team. McIntyre’s interference was cut off by a Spear from Reigns, and Taker delivered the Tombstone to McMahon for the pinfall.
This was absolutely fine for what it was and showed Undertaker is capable of producing considerably better work than he did against Goldberg at Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia, albeit within the obvious limitations of being a 54-year-old man. Hopefully, this will also bring an end to Shane O’Mac’s absurd dominance of WWE television, which is frankly beyond a joke at this point.
RAW Tag Team Champions The Revival defeated The Usos via Shatter Machine
In the opening stages, this was positioned as a straight fight between the differing styles of these teams – “superkicks versus super fists”, as Renee Young put it on commentary. The Revival isolated Jey Uso, cutting off the ring and drawing the referee to prevent the tag. A painful-looking tumble from the top turnbuckle opened the door for the hot tag and Jimmy exploded in, only to eventually take a sit-out powerbomb from Dash Wilder for a close near fall. A pop-up Samoan Drop on Dawson came close to winning the belts and Dawson responded with a brainbuster for a two count of his own.
Dawson hit a superplex into a splash by Wilder, but the pin was broken up. With all four men in the ring, a hockey fight broke out. As the ring cleared, Wilder went for a Tornado DDT, which was countered, but only into a Shatter Machine for the three-count. As with everything so far on this show, this was a match that was pretty solid, but nothing more than that. The chemistry is definitely there with these two teams, though, so they have a classic match in them if given the time.
Aleister Black defeated Cesaro via Black Mass
These two terrific performers engaged in a battle of oneupmanship, to begin with, trading big strikes and signature moves. Black began to work on the Swiss Cyborg’s left leg with his kicks, focusing his energy on weakening his opponent’s lower body. Cesaro caught a diving Meteora attempt into a pop-up uppercut, but Black was able to grab the bottom rope before the referee counted three. The focused attack on the knee began to pay off for Black, with Cesaro’s leg giving way on numerous occasions. When the veteran went for his Neutralizer finisher, Black took out the knee, opening him up for a deadly Black Mass kick.
This did exactly what it needed to do in reintroducing Black as a formidable force in WWE, hopefully kicking off a singles push now that his tag team union with Ricochet is over. Just as with Revival and Usos, there is clearly a truly great match possible in these two’s futures, but this wasn’t quite it.
SmackDown Live Women’s Champion Bayley defeated Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss via diving elbow drop on Cross
Bliss and Cross had an interaction backstage, which was interrupted by the Street Profits being obnoxious. The NXT Tag Team Champions are a great act, but their main roster introduction has leaned hard on the most irritating and least enjoyable aspects of their persona. Things need to change for them soon.
In the actual match, there was little to write home about. Nikki Cross handled the majority of the in-ring action, while Alexa Bliss constantly got involved. It was Cross who was ultimately pinned by the champion, though, when Bayley hit an elbow drop from the top rope. This story is far from over, though, with Cross and Bliss still best mates and no sign of Sasha Banks. This time around, it was just a stepping stone.
Last Man Standing: Braun Strowman defeated Bobby Lashley by beating the 10 count
After their red hot Falls Count Anywhere finish on RAW a couple of weeks ago, Strowman and Lashley had a lot to live up to with their Last Man Standing match. This was a long and deliberately paced brawl that went all over the arena, including a trip to the foyer arena – a suplex into some t-shirts is not as devastating a spot as they think it is – and all of the way around the crowd. Eventually, Strowman hit a powerslam through one of those bizarre balsa wood box things they only ever erect so that someone can be slammed through them. Strowman burst out, winning the match.
This was a desperately mediocre and overlong contest that, although it seemed to wow the fans in attendance, did very little on television. Put simply, one good angle was not enough to elevate this into a feud worth caring about and, if there’s any justice, WWE will finally work out something more interesting to do with Strowman – a man who is somehow still over, despite consistently terrible booking.
The New Day defeated Daniel Bryan & Rowan and Heavy Machinery via Up Up Down Down on Bryan to become NEW SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions
This was a chaotic and enjoyable triple threat tag team match, with some jaw-dropping power spots by the four big men in the contest. Heavy Machinery at one point looked to have the match won after hitting the Compactor on Big E, but Woods broke up the pinfall. Otis and Tucker were very much the stars of the match, cementing themselves as bona fide contenders in the division. Bryan opportunistically tagged in during a Tower of Doom spot and hit a diving headbutt on Big E before tying up him in the LeBell Lock. The New Day powerhouse got to the ropes and caught Bryan when he attempted a moonsault, setting him up to take Up Up Down Down for the win.
This was a stellar tag team match in which all three teams worked very hard and conjured some impressive spots. Unfortunately, WWE has devalued tag wrestling to the point that, despite there being two very good tag title bouts on this card, they both felt rather forgettable. Compare that to AEW, which is really giving tag wrestling meaning, and even the incredible division over at NXT UK and the main WWE roster definitely needs a kick up the rear end from a booking perspective in order to make these matches mean something.
Paul Heyman came out to address the ECW-loving faithful in Philly. He announced that Brock Lesnar would cash in the Money in the Bank contract tonight, but then hinted that he might be lying. Somehow WWE has managed to over-expose even Paul Heyman to the point of being tedious, which is quite an achievement in awfulness.
AJ Styles defeated Ricochet via Styles Clash to become the NEW United States Champion
The Club blindsided Ricochet before the bell, but it was the champion who had the advantage in the early going with high-flying, fast-paced moves, including a shooting star press from the apron to the floor. A distraction by Luke Gallows allowed Styles to take back control. Ricochet absorbed a lot of punishment, but fought back and took out The Club at ringside with a springboard plancha.
Both men traded near falls and Ricochet thought he had the match won after a shooting star press, only for Styles to get his foot under the bottom rope. Gallows and Anderson got involved again, crotching Ricochet on the top rope. This allowed Styles to position the champion for an avalanche Styles Clash, winning him the belt.
This was definitely the correct call in terms of picking a winner, with Styles and The Club benefiting from the prestige of having a title belt in their clutches. Again, though, this felt like a match that kept a great deal of powder dry for a more dramatic rematch down the line.
Kevin Owens defeated Dolph Ziggler via Stunner
— WWE (@WWE) July 15, 2019
After a video recapping Owens’s pipe bomb promos from the go-home episode of SmackDown Live, these two got in the ring. Ziggler attempted to trash talk, but Owens immediately hit a Stunner for the quick win. He grabbed a microphone and said he expected to be fired or suspended for standing by what he said about Shane McMahon on TV. He said that Shane O’Mac can “kiss my ass and go straight to hell” before dropping the mic.
This new character for Owens as a truth-teller speaking his mind could be something really special if WWE knows how to direct it. Actually, though, he’ll probably just lose clean to Shane on SmackDown Live this week and that’ll be that.
WWE Champion Kofi Kingston defeated Samoa Joe via Trouble in Paradise
This was a tale of brutality from the start, as the defiant Kingston was repeatedly beaten down with striking flurries by the always aggressive Joe. Despite Kofi’s attempts to build momentum, Joe manipulated Kingston’s fingers and then trapped the champion’s hand between the two halves of the steel steps, stomping down on the digits of his left hand. Kingston rallied with a crossbody and hit SOS for a near fall. Joe briefly locked in the Coquina Clutch, but the champion fought out and, shortly after, he hit Trouble in Paradise to retain his title.
Joe very much remains the nearly man of WWE and this was far from being a vintage night for either of the participants, who have each produced far more impressive work in recent months. This one felt truncated, perhaps as a result of time concerns. Nonetheless, it’s great to see Kingston’s run continue, especially with his New Day buddies winning gold of their own earlier in the night. It remains to be seen, though, whether there’s a truly meaningful rivalry on the horizon for him.
Universal Champion Seth Rollins and RAW Women’s Champion Becky Lynch defeated Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans via stomp on Corbin
Lynch and Rollins out-wrestled the challengers early, but Corbin brought a kendo stick into the ring – as one of the few people who seemingly remembered the name of the show. It was Lynch, though, who drew first blood with the stipulation when she cracked a kendo stick over Evans’ back, soon followed by Rollins doing the same to Corbin. Dives from the babyfaces extended their advantage, but Rollins almost lost both belts after taking a DDT on a steel chair. Chairs and strikes soon flew as an entertaining brawl spread around the ringside area.
The champions took what felt like an age to set up a pair of tables at ringside, which gave the heels time to recover and win back the advantage. After a hellish double suplex spot on to the ramp, those tables came into play as Lynch crashed through Evans with a leg drop and Rollins flattened Corbin with a huge Frog Splash. When the action spilt back into the ring, Corbin hit End of Days on Lynch, which incensed Rollins. The Universal Champion destroyed Corbin with a kendo stick, a chair and three successive stomps to win the match.
The final bell barely had chance to ring before Brock Lesnar showed up and, after a couple of German Suplexes, he cashed in his contract and hit an F-5 on Rollins before pinning him to become the NEW Universal Champion.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 15, 2019
Overall, this was a decent show and the main event certainly exceeded expectations with a healthy supply of violence and some genuine emotion. Going forward, we face another Brock Lesnar title reign but, with the big spectacle of SummerSlam around the corner, this one will hopefully be a little shorter than what has come before. As much as almost everything on Extreme Rules was fun and pretty well-executed, there was something missing from the show – a spark that should’ve been there.
WWE is beginning to move in the right direction after a post-WrestleMania slump that has been even more pronounced than in recent years. However, there’s still a long way to go and SummerSlam feels like a high-stakes event that, with the growing force of AEW looming in the background, simply has to deliver.
All photos courtesy of WWE.