Extreme Rules stands as a turning point in the world of Monday Night Raw. After the main event, we'll know who will get the first shot at Brock Lesnar.
While the bulk of the attention has been paid to the Fatal 5-Way main event, the rest of the card has the potential to far outpace the rather lethargic buildup to the pay-per-view. With four titles on the line, the entire direction of Raw could change over the course of a single night's worth of stipulation-heavy matches. Tim Fiorvanti is here to break down each and every contest, with ESPN Stats & Info's Sean Coyle providing match ratings throughout the night.
The following was updated in real time.
Samoa Joe def. Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt (29:15) (Joe def. Balor by submission)
When trying to figure out in which direction things were heading upon Brock Lesnar's return, there were arguments to be made for each of the five men in Sunday's Extreme Rules main event. Each would present a different kind of opportunity for Lesnar, and each man stood to gain or lose a great deal by walking away with the first shot at the Universal title since WrestleMania.
That Samoa Joe would shock the world and overcome four former world champions on his way to becoming No. 1 contender likely tells us a lot about how things are going to go over the next five weeks in the lead-up to "Great Balls of Fire." But before we dig too deeply into the weeds, or even break down a tremendous main event that certainly lived up to all of the hype, let's take a moment to appreciate where things stand.
In a little over a month, we're getting a WWE Universal championship match between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. Let that sink in for a moment. This victory in particular, and the opportunity that lies ahead for Joe, are both much-needed shots in the arm. In retrospect, it's clear that he had the most to gain from a victory Sunday night.
The story of the match, at least a considerable portion of it, was the renewal of the unlikely partnership between Joe and Bray Wyatt. Though they were destined to turn on one another, they inflicted considerable damage on all three of their other opponents and essentially divided and conquered through many of the early big spots of this match.
Sure, there were a lot of other things going on just beneath the surface. Echoes of Roman Reigns versus Seth Rollins, and quite a bit between Reigns and Balor, especially after the first fun high spot, as Balor hit a tope con hilo over the top rope on all four of his opponents, only for Reigns to immediately rock him in the mouth with an uppercut.
But it just kept coming back to Joe and Wyatt.
They went "around the world" with the steel stairs, taking out all three of their opponents in sequence, and even through some uneasiness, each attempt by Rollins, Balor or Reigns to break up the party was thwarted. It took the introduction of a steel chair, and later Wyatt's sacrificing Joe to a Rollins suicide dive, to finally break up the party.
As you'd expect from a five-way match, the pace picked up midway and moved at a breakneck speed for the rest of the night. Wyatt DDT'd Rollins onto the steel steps. Reigns and Balor worked together briefly to clean house. And then everything really fell to chaos.
Reigns ate a Uranage from Wyatt onto one of the commentary tables, and it didn't break. Rollins hit a double blockbuster on Wyatt and Joe. Wyatt hit the first finisher of the match on Rollins, only for Joe to break things up and brush away any remnants of the previous partnership.
Then it was Balor's time to shine.
He laid out both Joe and Wyatt with chairs, peaking with a double stomp on Wyatt onto a chair. Then he dropkicked Reigns through the ropes and followed it with a running penalty kick to Reigns' face that connected flush. He dropkicked everyone into the barriers, and then ripped apart a table and set Wyatt up on top of it.
That moved us into the moment that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Samoa Joe disrupted Balor's intentions with a sleeper, which looked to be moving into a Coquina Clutch, but Reigns came running full speed from out of nowhere to spear both Joe and Balor through the ring barrier.
The Baltimore crowd came unglued.
Seeing his opportunity, Rollins frog splashed Wyatt through the announce table, and all five men were laid out prone. Reigns and Rollins eventually made their way in the middle of the ring and went nose to nose, all of the complicated history between them hanging in the air.
Reigns superman punched Rollins: two count.
Frog splash by Rollins: two count.
Rollins went for the home run but missed the phoenix splash, and Wyatt rolled into the ring. Wyatt failed to execute two Sister Abigails, one on each man, and Reigns hit him with a spear. Rollins hit Reigns with a buckle bomb, Reigns rebounded with a superman punch, and then things fell apart again.
Eventually, Balor seized the moment and hit a slingblade, basement drop kick and coup de grace on Reigns. With everyone else out of the picture, it appeared that Balor had gotten the upper hand on Reigns yet again and secured the victory, only for his old rival Samoa Joe to run in and ruin the party. Joe locked in the Coquina Clutch tight in the middle of the ring, and Balor quickly passed out, giving Samoa Joe the biggest win of his illustrious career.
It remains to be seen how Joe will fare against Lesnar, when given the chance, but at a moment in which he's seemingly re-found the wave of momentum he had when he attacked Rollins, Sunday's victory should be crucial in paving the way toward Samoa Joe's long-term success.
Neville (c) def. Austin Aries in a submission match to retain the Cruiserweight championship (17:35)
Sunday marked a true crossroads in the long, ongoing rivalry over the cruiserweight title that had Neville and Austin Aries at each other's throats for the past three months. Either Aries was finally going to make Neville tap when it counted, or Neville would vanquish a foe he'd gone to all lengths possible to dispatch.
While it certainly seemed as if Aries had been building toward his crowning glory, he continued to be a victim of bad timing as he could not get the job done against Neville.
With both men owning submission finishers and large repertoires of submission moves that they don't regularly get to show, this match stipulation was the perfect setting for these two fierce combatants. Aries seemed to hop out with all the momentum in the world and grab it back at will throughout the match, but each and every time Neville was pushed to the brink, he had an answer.
The earliest moments were about putting Neville to the test, as Aries quickly slapped on a trio of different submission holds that forced Neville to flee toward the ropes.
The third, which saw Aries slap on his last chancery by the ropes, led to both men sliding out of the ring, and, after a moment of danger, Aries reversed momentum at the last moment to send Neville into the barrier (and whipped him into the barrier again). But no matter how many times he beat Neville down, there was always something working against him.
A top rope double axe handle to the floor by Aries tweaked his injured knee, and that became Neville's target for the remainder of the match. After eating a lot of offense from Neville, a desperation uppercut sent Neville tumbling to the outside. Aries hit his double clap on Neville's head, followed by a bunch of strikes, three consecutive shin breakers and then a dump over his shoulder.
The first time the match felt as though it might be over was when Aries missed a missle dropkick that allowed Neville to immediately slap on the rings of Saturn. Aries slowly dragged them both to the ropes and soon locked on a rings of Saturn of his own. This led to a callback to one of their previous matches, as Neville grabbed the ref to try to once again get disqualified. As Aries stopped it, he ate a superkick for his troubles.
One final comeback led to the most interesting spot in the whole match. What started as a top rope guillotine submission swung over into a sunset flip powerbomb, and then right into the last chancery. Both men slid out of the ring, but Aries kept it locked on as they crashed to the floor. Neville tapped, but because they were out of the ring, it didn't count.
Aries struggled to get Neville back into the ring. Aries then hit the discus five arm, sending Neville stumbling around the outside of the ring in a daze.
Neville ducked out of the way (or perhaps collapsed), leading Aries to miss the suicide dive, and Neville sent Aries back into the ring. A red arrow to Aries' back, right into the rings of Saturn, brought the most complete match in this rivalry to a close.
As Neville moves on to TJP or whoever stands in his way next, his dominance reestablished atop the cruiserweight division, the real question lies with Aries. Will he return to commentary? Work his way back up? Only time shall tell.
Sheamus and Cesaro def. The Hardy Boyz (c) in steel cage match to win RAW tag team championship (15:00)
When it comes to matches in which wrestlers put their bodies on the line, no two superstars have established themselves to the extent that The Hardy Boyz have over the past two decades.
The fact that Matt Hardy (42 years old) and Jeff Hardy (39) can still go out there and perform at that high a level, whether it's a ladder match or a cage match, is genuinely impressive -- but their loss Sunday night to Sheamus and Cesaro told a tremendous story in which the damage that each of them suffered might finally have caught up to one of the most prolific tag teams of all time.
The cage was the centerpiece of the match, as it should have been. From the opening bell, Cesaro and Sheamus immediately charged to try to climb out of the cage and were stopped. They paid the price for some time, highlighted by stereo head slams into the cage on either side by the Hardys, followed by running dropkicks to the opposite side and a pair of poetry in motions. Matt and Jeff Hardy looked to climb out of the cage, and the equation was reversed as Cesaro and Sheamus took control.
All sorts of team-based offense dotted the next 10 minutes, as each team went back and forth in trying to wear down their opponents and find an opening to escape the cage. It all led up to a very cool spot in which Jeff Hardy hung from Cesaro's arm (and what a crazy show of strength that was for Cesaro).
As he dropped to the floor outside of the cage, it left Matt Hardy alone in the middle of the ring. He took out both Cesaro and Sheamus, but as he reached the top of the cage, there was an awesome tug-of-war spot with Matt Hardy in the middle, as Jeff failed to outpower Sheamus and Cesaro working together.
A double Razor's edge on Matt Hardy drove him down to the mat, but Jeff Hardy got involved again, slamming Cesaro with the cage door. Jeff got a face full of metal as a Brogue Kick from Sheamus into the door took Jeff out, but it gave Matt another opportunity to escape. He was essentially all the way out again but got caught as Cesaro hit a massive European uppercut that left Matt's legs draped over the top of the cage.
A tandem version of Sheamus' White Noise neutralized Matt Hardy and forced Jeff to reinsert himself. He climbed back to the top of the cage and landed a whisper in the wind on both Sheamus and Cesaro to leave all four men laying on the mat.
The youth and energy were on Sheamus and Cesaro's side as they climbed up and out of the cage, while Matt was forced to drag Jeff's deadweight out the door.
Sheamus and Cesaro got out first in a photo finish and earned their second Raw tag team titles. They finally picked up a victory over the Hardys, albeit by the skin of their teeth, and the potential of future matches between these two teams (and perhaps some tension between the previous perfect Hardys) opens up a nice range of possibilities for the future.
Kendo stick-on-a-pole match: Alexa Bliss (c) def. Bayley via pinfall (5:10)
Shockingly quick, brutal and decisive. That's the only way you can really describe the thorough domination Alexa Bliss displayed in her thorough dissection of Bayley as she definitively defended her Raw women's title at Extreme Rules Sunday night.
After some shockingly violent moments, such as the pair of kendo stick beatings that Bliss delivered on Bayley in the lead-up, and some moments we'd love to forget as soon as possible, such as "This is Your Life," the message coming out of Extreme Rules is clear: Bliss is here to stay as champ, and it's all downhill from here for Bayley.
The early stages of this title match were all about each woman rushing to try to get to the kendo stick, but when it finally came down, they both had their hands on it -- and that was apparently a license for each of them to use it.
But rather than immediately going to grab the kendo stick, which she seemingly could have, Bayley's innocent nature came into play and she instead just ran interference on Bliss. By the time she eventually picked up the stick, and antagonized Bliss with it (and Bliss' fear shined through quite brightly as her facial expressions continue to be on point), Bayley wasted a little bit too much time and Bliss took advantage.
After hitting a spear, followed by a half-dozen kendo stick shots (including one that went right across the back of Bayley's neck), Bliss' wave of momentum was briefly stop as Bayley hit a Bayley to Belly. But by that point, she was too hurt to do much to take advantage.
Bliss set the kendo stick up in the corner, and then drove Bayley shoulder-first through it. With one more kendo stick shot, and a DDT in the middle of the ring, Bliss sealed a one-sided victory and essentially put Bayley behind her, at least for the time being.
Like the Fatal 5-Way to come later in the evening, the possibilities for the Raw women's division going forward are seemingly endless.
Rich Swann and Sasha Banks def. Noam Dar and Alicia Fox via pinfall (Swann on Dar) (6:20)
For a match that began the evening with very low expectations, Rich Swann, Sasha Banks, Alicia Fox and Noam Dar delivered a fun, quick match that accomplished everything it set out to do.
Swann and Dar started the contest, with Swann receiving a tremendous hometown reaction from the Baltimore faithful. There was some solid offense from each, but the bulk of the attention in this match then turned to the women. While they once again tied up in the middle of the ring with some hair pulling, it was good to see them quickly get away from that with some serious offense of their own as Banks slapped on the Banks Statement and, after Dar assisted with getting her foot to the bottom rope, Fox hit a massive front kick.
As Swann and Dar scrapped in the middle of the ring, Banks and Fox let their animosity toward one another get out of hand as they charged each other in the middle of the ring and spilled to the outside. Banks lined up Fox for her patented double knees attack from the top rope, but after Dar pushed Fox out of the way, Banks instead hit the move on Dar, completing her revenge. Swann rolled Dar into the ring and then hit the Phoenix Splash for the victory.
A dance party commenced in the middle of the ring and, hopefully, this brief and occasionally entertaining rivalry can now be put to bed with Banks getting back into the Raw women's championship picture.
The Miz def. Dean Ambrose (c) to win Intercontinental championship via pinfall (20:00)
The Miz, much like Chris Jericho before him, is the perfect kind of star to carry the Intercontinental championship. After Sunday's Extreme Rules opener, in which he defeated Dean Ambrose to become a seven-time holder of said title, he's once again where he belongs on Raw.
There were so many ways in which the match's stipulation, in which Ambrose could have lost the title by disqualification, could have bogged down the match, but we instead got the kind of strong showing The Miz put on with regularity during the peak of his reign on SmackDown Live that didn't lean too heavily on the gimmick until late into the contest.
The slow start to the contest did tease the audience with what could get out of hand, as Miz piefaced Ambrose and nearly caused Ambrose to not respond to the referee's five-count, and then did it again with a slap to the face. Ambrose picked up the offense with a spinning elbow and then a suicide dive.
The pace of this match ebbed and flowed wonderfully, as The Miz tried almost every trick in the book to either push Ambrose over the edge or trick referee John Cone. They played around with a chair on the outside, and The Miz appeared to even try to channel a little bit of Eddie Guerrero, to little success. But the bulk of the match focused on counter-wrestling, and with the familiarity of these two competitors, that made all the sense in the world.
The near-falls were believable but not overdone. Each had their own figure four spot in the middle of the ring, and by the time that Miz nearly got Ambrose to disqualify himself after ripping the turnbuckle cover off the top rope (only for Ambrose to stop himself, and take a Daniel Bryan-style busaiku knee for his troubles) the crowd was intensely invested, with dueling "Let's go, Miz" and "Let's go, Ambrose" chants.
Eventually, Miz screamed out for Maryse to slap him in the face, and she did, but they didn't fool referee John Cone, who booted Maryse from ringside. Then Miz hit Ambrose with a low blow and shoved him into Cone to make him think that Ambrose had pushed him. That was a far more convincing effort, and as Ambrose pleaded for Cone not to disqualify him, Miz snuck up from behind and nailed the Skull-Crushing Finale to pick up the victory.
There will inevitably be a return match, whether it's on Raw or at "Great Balls of Fire", but the sooner these two can be separated, the higher the likelihood that this match, one of their best, can stand as the lasting image of this rivalry.