It should be rife with spills and thrills, but will Sunday’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view leave us with any surprising results?
Seven titles will be on the line Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Who’s most likely to retain? Who will drop their belts? Here’s our best guesses:
Case for Styles: It’s not really necessary to make a case for arguably the most valuable performer in the company since he made his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble, but the question still looms as to when Styles will finally be ready to cede his WWE title. There was a strong sense Shinsuke Nakamura would end Styles’ run, but that did not happen despite multiple attempts. Before Nakamura, there was Jinder Mahal and Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens. And let’s not forget John Cena.
But that title has not moved from Styles’ waist. He’s too good, but importantly, too valuable. Let’s not forget he’s also on the cover of WWE 2K19. Simply said, the idea of Styles’ run wearing thin is not conceivable. Not now … and probably not for the foreseeable future.
Case for Rusev: Oddly enough, if there is one person who might be able to match Styles’ cachet, it’s Rusev. We know of his trajectory, a sudden transformation from afterthought to in-demand superstar. Win, lose or draw, every day is his day. Now, with a first shot at the WWE championship, can Rusev capitalize? The creative team obviously acknowledges his fame, and wants to maximize this opportunity. But with a belt?
Prediction: Love the idea as Rusev as champ, but the timing isn’t quite there. This is by and large a low-key pay-per-view, and Rusev really needs to make a splash when his time comes. Look for Styles to win a sensational match and for this feud to continue throughout the summer.
Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Seth Rollins in a 30-minute Ironman match for the Intercontinental championship
Case for Ziggler: As long as Ziggler has been part of the WWE matrix, he’s been given a fresh start, which is good news for fans and Ziggler himself. One of the most talented performers both in the ring and on the mic, Ziggler was pretty much relegated to enhancement status for quite some time, particularly during his latest run on SmackDown Live. Now he’s found new life and a new partner/bodyguard in Drew McIntyre, who also has revived his career after a doleful stint as part of 3MB that ultimately led to his release from the WWE. Together, Ziggler and McIntyre have created a formidable and charismatic team, one that has resonated with fans. Still only 37, Ziggler deserves more time with a title and more time in the spotlight. The dynamic with Rollins has done both of them justice.
Case for Rollins: He’s the best in the business and it’s hard to argue otherwise. The only reason he probably doesn’t deserve the Intercontinental title is that he’s better served ultimately vying for the Universal championship when Brock Lesnar eventually returns. Of course, Rollins will have to contend with Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns for some space, but he’s worthy. Rollins has arguably been the top dog of 2018, and whether or not he walks away from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a title, Rollins will be main-event material for some time to come.
Prediction: Ziggler wins, with help from his de facto bodyguard in the waning seconds of his marathon bout. He needs a belt to keep him relevant more than Rollins, and the combo of Ziggler and McIntyre has evolved into something more potent than creative might have even predicted. That duo can only grow if booked correctly moving forward.
Case for Hardy: Whether in the tag team mix or as a singles maestro, Hardy resonates in a big way with the fans. He’s found a good balance of not going too over-the-top zany like his “Woken” brother, but also weird enough that he’s still a one-of-a-kind superstar all these years into his career. Hardy has battled an array of foes since snaring the title from Jinder Mahal in the Superstar Shakeup show in mid-April, and in nearly every one of those, whether it was Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, Daniel Bryan or The Miz, Hardy has put on stellar shows.
Case for Nakamura: He tried and failed, then failed again and again to take the WWE championship from Styles. It seems as though that opportunity has passed him by … for now anyway. But Nakamura is more than ready to hold WWE hardware, even if it’s not the top belt in on the blue brand. Whether he’s a bona fide face or underhanded heel, Nakamura is a special in-ring performer whose time is quickly passing him by, unless he gets a stint with gold.
Prediction: Nakamura’s time has to be now. For others — Rusev, Samoa Joe, even Reigns and Strowman — they can buy a little more time before their time comes, but Nakamura, more than any of them, feels like the performer with the most to lose if he doesn’t make any strides forward quickly. He wins Sunday night.
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax in an Extreme Rules match for the Raw women’s championship
Case for Bliss: Since the day she was promoted to the top tier of WWE, Alexa Bliss has remained in the upper echelon of the women’s division. As far as current stars, we generally think of Charlotte Flair as being in a class of her own, but Bliss is slowly creeping into that rare pantheon of greats. Winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, then cashing it in that night, while simultaneously foiling Ronda Rousey’s biggest day as a superstar was only a snippet of Bliss’ masterminded malevolence.
Case for Jax: She’s powerful and athletic, and her upward trajectory is warranted. Jax has embraced her role, while more times than not overpowering her opponents. Jax held the women’s Raw championship for 70 days, but given her overall stature and presence, it doesn’t quite feel like enough.
Prediction: Bliss is just too valuable and too good a champ to take the belt away from her anytime soon. As much as we root for Jax, she is missing the “it” factor, at least when pitted against Bliss. Despite her backstory, Jax has struggled to truly find an identity, and fans don’t always know how to react when her music hits.
Carmella (c) vs. Asuka for SmackDown women’s championship
Case for Carmella: She’s still a newly minted champ, and an important one because SmackDown Live’s biggest weakness is its paucity of women’s heels. No one has truly resonated, and the truth is that outside of maybe Sonya Deville, the prospects of anyone stepping into the spotlight are bleak. With James Ellsworth back as the dopey sidekick, Carmella actually has a good shtick going. An extended rivalry with Asuka would do wonders for Carmella’s career.
Case for Asuka: Look, her pedigree needs no further explanation. She is no longer undefeated, and perhaps there is a slight air of vulnerability, but that is probably best for business. The idea that Asuka is indeed beatable makes her matches that much more unpredictable. Still, given everything she has accomplished, there is no question Asuka is deserving of an extended run with the title.
Prediction: Ellsworth is obviously the dark horse here. On Sunday, he will be trapped in a shark tank as a means to keep him from interfering in the match. But c’mon, we all know how that is going to play out. He is a deceivingly strong sidekick. He’ll escape and make the difference Sunday, much to the delight of Carmella.
Case for Strowman: Do we need to make a case for him? It’s Braun Strowman, and any words to justify his dominance seem like a waste. So we’ll just leave it at that.
Case for Owens: He’s had a bit of a squirrely existence since moving over from SmackDown, and now with Zayn out of the picture for the foreseeable future with an injury, Owens has no allies. But he’s still at his cowardly best week in, week out and there was a reason he hung on to the Universal title for so long in 2016-17. The implementation of a steel cage is going to add a lot to this encounter. We saw the fall Owens took off a ladder in Money in the Bank, and you can bet he’s due for another one, whether he goes through the cage or onto a table from the very top. Owens is going to put on a memorable show.
Prediction: There’s really no chance Owens wins unless some freak thing happens. Strowman is not going to come out of Extreme Rules looking anything but more of a monster.
Case for Balor: Certainly, he did not take a precipitous fall from stardom like Ziggler, but Balor has hardly been able to gain much traction for well more than a year. Yes, he’s had moments, but in a roster stacked with Universal Champion-caliber players, Balor still finds himself on the outside looking in. That’s too bad, because he’s a terrific performer and someone the audience loves to see succeed. Having already spent copious amounts of time in the ring with Rollins, Balor would be well-suited to challenge Ziggler for the Intercontinental title, assuming he leaves Sunday with the belt in tow.
Case for Corbin: This Constable Corbin angle actually seems to be working. We’ve seen so many company men come and go. Corbin has a fresh look and new direction. Now he just needs to build off it.
Prediction: A close one to call, but Balor figures out a way to win this bout with a Coup de Grace. But you can bet Corbin will have the last say with a vicious attack afterward. Certainly not a unique sequence of events, but a necessary one for Corbin to maximize his new character.
Case for Reigns: Granted, it’s difficult not to be cynical here, but the bottom line is that pretty much everyone outside Strowman is another gopher intended to keep Reigns as “The Guy,” even though he is hardly “The Guy” these days. Perhaps relegating Reigns outside the title picture is a concerted effort to make people respect his rise when he is inevitably thrust back into that scene.
Case for Lashley: Without question, Lashley is one of the more technically sound big guys in the business. He has not garnered any traction since his return. If anything his embarrassing feud with Zayn dug him in a hole. Pitting Lashley against Reigns will help restore his presence and give fans a reason to respect him.
Prediction: Unfortunately, the sudden hostility between these two is far-fetched. The all-out brawl on Raw this past Monday was bizarre. Just let this be a heavyweight battle between two dudes that respect each other. For Lashley, he will look a lot better in the ring than Reigns on Sunday, but one or two Superman punches will end his night with a clean loss.
Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. Team Hell No for SmackDown tag team championship
Case for Bludgeon Brothers: For a team that resonates little, the Bludgeon Brothers are pretty darn unbeatable. They’ve bulldozed their way through every one of their opponents since taking the titles at WrestleMania 34. Finally, the duo will face a team with enough clout to really challenge them. Beating Kane and Daniel Bryan would go a long way in establishing their worth.
Case for Hell No: Kane and Bryan back together. Yes! The dynamic between the two is witty and fun and weird and cool and … well you get the picture. Bryan in particular needs a direction to keep him in a championship scene, even if it’s with someone else. No question these two would thrill the WWE universe, perhaps more now than their first stint together.
Prediction: As much as I would like to see the Bludgeon Brothers build toward a more respected and fashionable team, it’s not going to happen, whether now or next year. Kane and Bryan take the titles, then begin a feud with SAnitY.
Case for Deleters of Worlds: With a similar trajectory as team Hell No, Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy have formed an impactful existence. They’re in-ring skill set comes close to matching their offbeat presence. It seems as though they need a longer run to truly establish themselves as a top-tier team. Since winning the titles at The Greatest Royal Rumble, Hardy and Wyatt have yet to take on an opponent more than once in a televised match. They are in need of a full-fledged feud.
Case for B-Team: Who doesn’t like a zero-to-hero team? The B-Team has a bit of a Rusev thing going on. They’re catchy and fun. They have evolved from upset specialists to kind of a legit duo. Hopefully, that won’t change.
Prediction: Just too early to take away gold from Hardy and Wyatt.