Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-based preview and reflects that of the writer and not of our website.
WWE heads to Philadelphia this weekend for Extreme Rules -- a show that could prove to be more than a B-level pay-per-view.
It’s been a little over two months since Paul “Triple H” Levesque took over as head of WWE creative and we are starting to learn more about what we can expect with him in charge. He’s still lining up his chess pieces for whatever he wants to happen at WrestleMania and Saturday should give us a better idea of what that is.
We learned at Clash at the Castle that the new WWE regime has no plans to take the undisputed WWE Universal title away from Roman Reigns any time soon -- even when 60,000+ fans in Wales were begging for it.
So, while it seems likely Reigns will walk into WrestleMania as champion, there is far less certainty concerning the two Women’s titles.
Extreme Rules could possibly see both the Raw and SmackDown Women’s titles change hands. It all depends on where the company wants those belts to be in the build-up to WrestleMania.
Our own Dave Meltzer reported in February that the plan was for Ronda Rousey to face Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 39, although he noted that "a million things may happen between then and now." Well, a million things did happen, and one of those things was Vince McMahon’s resignation/retirement.
One thing we have certainly learned during Levesque’s two months in charge is that he’s not going to shy away from bringing back previously released stars. Saturday could see arguably the biggest return yet depending on what hole this White Rabbit takes us all down. Bray Wyatt looms large over this entire show, much like a poker chip-holding MJF watching from a luxury suite.
Here's a look at the show.
The Brawling Brutes (Sheamus, Butch & Ridge Holland) vs. Imperium (Gunther, Ludwig Kaiser & Giovanni Vinci) in a Good Old Fashioned Donnybrook match
WWE has latched onto something that works: put Gunther in the ring with Sheamus and let them have at it. The word “banger” has been used in moderation to describe such matches.
Meltzer gave Sheamus vs. Gunther from Clash at the Castle a five star rating. It’s the 16th time a WWE match has received five stars or higher and four of those have involved Gunther (against Ilja Dragunov twice and Tyler Bate once). In other words, he’s had a decent last three years with the company.
While Gunther has consistently shown he can put on top performances, the match at Clash at the Castle was something of a coming out party for Sheamus. Despite being 44, he seems to be reaching a new peak in his career. He was so over in Cardiff it was if it caused the rest of the wrestling world to say, ‘Yeah, Sheamus is good’ and then add, ‘something, something banger after banger.” His matches with Drew McIntyre tend to garner a similar reaction.
Whatever happens Saturday will likely depend on who wins Sheamus vs. Gunther II on Friday’s SmackDown. As of this writing, that match has yet to happen, but I feel confident in preemptively referring to it as “a banger.”
Predicted winner: Brawling Brutes
Edge vs. Finn Balor in an I Quit match
Whatever drama plays out on WWE programming involving this feud pales in comparison to the untold story of Rhea Ripley and Dominic Mysterio. Just what is going on off-camera that gives Ripley such power over Rey Mysterio’s son? We may never know what Ripley has been whispering to him in the same way we’ll never know what caused everyone to lay down in Radiohead’s music video for “Just” (a dated reference, but I stand by it).
It’s probably unlikely that top babyface Edge says “I Quit” here, but it should be interesting to see how things play out. Rey getting involved and Dominic trying to get his father to hit him does seem to be a likely scenario.
Balor vs. Edge will possibly be more about furthering the Judgment Day vs. Edge/Mysterio storyline than anything. Despite the beatdown he was subjected to on Raw, the possibility that AJ Styles becomes the next member of this spooky group remains as well.
Predicted winner: Edge
Matt Riddle vs. Seth Rollins in a Fight Pit match
The Fight Pit makes its main roster debut and could be the blow-off to the Riddle vs. Rollins feud. Rollins picked up the victory in their singles match at Clash at the Castle, but the odds seem stacked in Riddle’s favor on Saturday.
For the uninitiated, the Fight Pit is reminiscent of the Lion’s Den match between Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart from SummerSlam '98. Levesque would bring it to NXT in 2020 in a match that saw Timothy Thatcher hand Riddle a loss before he got called up to the main roster.
The idea is to create a similar atmosphere to an MMA fight. Considering Riddle’s past success in the UFC Octagon, it’s likely WWE considers this something of a signature match for him.
Bringing in former two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier as the special guest referee only helps in luring MMA fans in to check out the product, either for the first time or for the first time in a while. Cormier loves pro wrestling and has probably convinced more than a few MMA fans to consider becoming wrestling fans as well. If a longer-term relationship with Cormier develops out of this remains to be seen, however.
Shamrock volunteered his services as referee for this match before the Cormier announcement was made. One has to wonder if the WWE regime change might lead to more recognition of the contributions he made to the company in the late 90s.
Predicted winner: Matt Riddle
Drew McIntyre vs. Karrion Kross in a strap match
Kross has only ever lost one match under Levesque’s booking. That was when he dropped the NXT Championship to Samoa Joe at TakeOver 36 as he was beginning his ill-fated first trip to the main roster. Levesque portrayed Kross as nearly unbeatable before that, winning the NXT title in just his seventh match with the promotion.
Kross and Scarlett were two of the first wrestlers Levesque brought back to the company after taking over. They have moved immediately into a program with one of the company’s top babyfaces in McIntyre. There can be little doubt that Levesque is going to run with Kross as a top guy. With this being his first main roster pay-per-view, it seems likely he’ll come away with the win here.
Granted, one could argue that McIntyre could be due for a win after losing to Reigns in Cardiff. McIntyre was portrayed as the better wrestler in that match, however, and had the title won if it wasn’t for interference from a debuting Solo Sikoa. It’s not as though he lost clean. A loss to Kross probably won’t hurt McIntyre much, especially if it is as a result of a more precisely-aimed fireball.
Predicted winner: Karrion Kross
WWE Raw Women's Champion Bianca Belair defends against Bayley in a ladder match
It’s entirely possible that Bayley wins the belt here, but it all depends on what WWE’s long-term plans are for the women’s titles. Working in her favor is that she just returned from a long absence, is the leader of a new faction, is her division’s top heel, and is a focal point of the television show.
Belair, meanwhile, recently completed something of a year-long saga. After losing her title to Lynch at SummerSlam 2021, she went on to once again win the championship at WrestleMania. Then to bring everything full circle, she defeated Lynch at SummerSlam 2022, earned her rival’s respect, and then fought alongside her against a new threat. That’s a nicely wrapped-up story. She might be playing the role of the number two babyface in the next story, however, with Lynch once again assuming the top spot.
Whether Bayley does or does not win the title really depends on what the company’s plans are for WrestleMania. Are they still looking at Rousey vs. Lynch? If so, would just one title be on the line or both? Not having those answers adds some unpredictability to the two title pictures right now.
It also seems as though Damage Control is headed to a WarGames match at Survivor Series with Raw’s top babyfaces, so we could see the start of that build on Saturday as well.
Predicted winner: Bayley
WWE SmackDown Women's Champion Liv Morgan defends against Ronda Rousey in an Extreme Rules match
For a babyface champion, Morgan has been on the winning end of a dangerous amount of cheap victories. First, she cashed in the MITB briefcase to win the title after Rousey had just competed in a hard-fought match with Natalya. Then, Morgan tapped out at SummerSlam but the referee didn’t see it as he was counting Rousey’s shoulders down for three.
She got booed on the next SmackDown as a result, although was back to receiving cheers the following week. I doubt WWE wants a repeat of that. Morgan getting a fluke victory, or one due to interference, would hurt her far worse than losing clean would.
The most likely ending, I believe, would be Rousey winning the title after a hard-fought contest and Morgan having fought valiantly, winning over the new champion’s respect. There are other possibilities as well, however.
With Levesque in charge, the likelihood of Rousey going heel at some point seems greater than it used to be. It’s something she wants to do, too. On a video game stream earlier this year, Rousey even said she’d like to be a Roddy Piper-type heel.
“He was the real heel though, who wanted you to hate him. He wasn’t the cool guy heel,” Rousey said of Piper. “That jacket that I wear that is a replica of his jacket is actually stab-proof because people would try to stab him. That’s the kind of heel I want to be. I want to be the kind of heel that really inspires that vitriol and really gets the other person liked. I think a lot of people forget that the job of the heel is to get the babyface over, not for everyone to think that you were a cool heel.”
If WWE’s plans for WrestleMania remain the same as they were before the regime change, perhaps the dynamic is a babyface Lynch vs. a heel Rousey.
There was also a tease of something brewing involving Rousey and longtime training partner Shayna Baszler on the September 9th SmackDown. Rousey told Baszler to find her when she was ready to “take over the show.” In what direction that is all headed could come into play at Extreme Rules as well.
Predicted winner: Ronda Rousey
Potential White Rabbit-related activity
According to a report from Fightful, “those in the know” expect the White Rabbit reveal to take place at Extreme Rules. It does seem like the best place to deliver on several weeks of ominous clues and riddles.
For evidence of how much fan interest there is in this angle, you only need to look at the television rating for the September 23rd SmackDown. With Wyatt fans clearly expecting something at 9:23, the 9 PM quarter of the show drew 2,767,000 viewers and an 0.70 in the 18-49 demo.
It was the highest-rated WWE segment in over a year. For whatever complaints you may have about Wyatt or the Fiend character, people are intrigued. In addition to teleporting and various other superpowers he’s shown over the years, Wyatt also has the ability to move needles.
There was a big drop in the rating beginning at 9:25 and didn’t carry over to Raw the following Monday, however, meaning Wyatt fans are all done with the riddles and ready to see him return.
Meltzer also noted in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, that strong White Rabbit merchandise sales have not gone unnoticed as well.
“White Rabbit merchandise was also a hot seller over the past week. As a marketing ploy, it has been very effective,” Meltzer wrote. “There was talk that Paul Levesque would be doing more things like this going forward.”
There are a few complaints regarding how Wyatt has been used in the past. One of the most notable was mentioned recently by Seth Rollins in an interview with Ariel Helwani. He echoed previous sentiments made by our own Bryan Alvarez regarding the difficulty of booking the Fiend character.
"The Bray Wyatt character was just difficult,” Rollins said. “I mean, if you look at anybody that worked with the Bray Wyatt character for an extended period of time, they didn't come out of it better than they went in. It was very difficult to have a story with him where, aside from Randy [Orton] obviously who killed him, it was difficult for anyone. I think maybe Daniel Bryan, Bryan might have escaped a little unscathed but I mean, everyone else pretty much met a dire end for their character. I mean, that was the end for the Seth Rollins character as you knew it, the Beast Slayer character. It was tough figuring out how to tell a good wrestling story with that character."
It’s not clear what version of Wyatt could be returning to the company. He could be back as The Fiend, the original leader of the Wyatt Family, or as an entirely new character. Even if his new persona has similar characteristics to The Fiend, some tweaks can be made to limit the negative impacts on his opponents.
Wyatt could have been just as over without Seth Rollins selling his spookiness by crying in a corner. It’s not like Wyatt became popular because he made Rollins cry. He’d sell just as much merchandise if Rollins appeared to be “putting on a brave face” and wasn’t all freaked out that Husky Harris put on a mask. His opponents don’t need to be petrified of him.
Another aspect that made The Fiend hard to book is that he was being portrayed as an unstoppable monster incapable of being hurt. He can’t be booked as that without it taking away from those he’s working with. He’s going to have to sell moves or WWE will run into the same problems all over again.
Fans of Wyatt seem less concerned with how unstoppable of a monster he is, however, and seem to just really enjoy the mysteries, easter eggs, riddles, and general creativity surrounding his character more than anything. He could start selling moves and even getting pinned from time to time and it would not hurt him all that much.
The other complaint that is often made regarding Wyatt is the paranormal aspect of his character. This is something WWE fans have been arguing with each other about since The Undertaker rose from the dead at the 1994 Royal Rumble. What Meltzer wrote about the response to that angle 28 years ago still rings true today.
"If nothing else, the 1994 Royal Rumble is going to be the subject of a lot of controversy and polarized views," he wrote. "The vehemence in the phone calls to the Observer was like no show in recent memory. Those who didn't like the show, which was a greater than two-to-one majority, hated it with numerous calls saying it was the worst PPV show of all-time and many remarks that they expected this to be a 100% thumbs down poll. Yet of those who gave it a thumbs up, very few gave it a marginal thumbs up and some thought it was one of the best PPV show ever. I guess it comes down to the debate of whether pro wrestling should be a worked sporting event with showmanship involved that one can attempt to suspend disbelief during, or that it is nothing more than a broadway show with oversized actors using a wrestling ring as a set."
Some fans do not want this in their wrestling at all. For them, it kills the suspension of disbelief. For other fans, however, they love when wrestling goes this route and often consider such angles and characters as their favorite part of the show.
How much WWE leans into the more magical aspects of the character remains to be seen. We’ll just see what awaits us down the rabbit hole at Extreme Rules.
Predicted White Rabbit: Bray Wyatt