The chaos of the pandemic has caused WWE to embrace creativity in a lot of ways, from the cinematic matches that proved the highlights of WrestleMania through to the legitimately bonkers main event of Money in the Bank. Invention and chaos promised to be the order of the day once again with The Horror Show at Extreme Rules – and I promise that's the last time I'll use that ridiculous title.
It was a bizarre card, packed with stipulations more unconventional than the usual weapons-based bouts that have characterised this pay-per-view since it first took over from the One Night Stand event in 2009. Seth Rollins and Rey Mysterio were set to claw at each other's eyes, Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman were due to fight in a swamp and no one even knew what Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre would be doing for their WWE Championship match.
So let's delve into what actually went down.
This one started off on fire, with a hockey fight breaking out before Murphy took control with a series of hard strikes. The duo fully embraced the idea of a pre-show sprint, pushing the accelerator pedal through the floor for a match packed with big spots and signature moves. Murphy stacked a combination of knee strikes into a brainbuster for a two count. Owens, meanwhile, showcased his athleticism with a springboard moonsault out of the corner to earn his own near-fall. A few seconds later, he caught Murphy with a superkick and followed up with a Stunner for the win.
Owens and Murphy are two of the most underused workers in WWE today and, as expected, they delivered an energetic and engrossing match. Given an extra 10 minutes or so, they could've produced something really special. Hopefully, they are both able to carve out a niche for themselves on the road to SummerSlam, rather than simply being overwhelmed by the Seth Rollins character, who is clearly a major focus for the company right now.
Tables matches are terrible. That's pretty much an established certainty in life, alongside death and taxes. This one, sadly, wasn't all that different. These two teams are talented and so there was fun to be had in watching them duke it out. Sadly, most of the match consisted of the four men setting up various tables – with differing degrees of success – and then failing to put each other through them. It was the challengers who ultimately managed to do so, with Cesaro mercifully bringing the match to an end by powerbombing Kofi Kingston from the turnbuckle through two stacked tables at ringside.
It's intriguing to see WWE shift the tag team championships to Cesaro and Nakamura. Perhaps it's a case of New Day being so bulletproof at this point that they don't really need the belts, whereas a solid title run will do wonders for Cesaro and Nakamura as a team. Hopefully, their reign will allow for a greater focus on tag team wrestling in WWE. It's currently an area in which they are being thoroughly battered by their rivals over at AEW.
The champion was arrogant and in control early on, but Cross soon surprised her with the Purge neckbreaker for an early near-fall. Cross's high-intensity onslaught stunned the champion, but she soon won back control after throwing her opponent into the ringside boards. After a period on top, Bayley hit the Bayley-to-Belly, but only scored a two count. The challenger regained control after crushing Bayley's ribs against the ring post and the champion then smashed face-first into the middle turnbuckle. Cross looked set to score the win, but Sasha Banks handed Bayley her “Boss” knuckle duster and she cracked Cross in the ribs, before landing an odd facebuster to end the match.
Bayley and Banks have been the best thing about WWE television in recent weeks and so it was absolutely the right call to have the former Hugger retain her gold. The finish was a neat homage to William Regal and, awkward finishing move aside, the match was a very solid one. It was definitely Cross's best main roster match and showed just how much potential she has as a main event competitor, with or without Alexa Bliss at her side.
— WWE (@WWE) July 19, 2020
Bray Wyatt appeared in a homage to classic black and white horror serials, teasing the horrors of the upcoming swamp fight with Braun Strowman. Rambling Rabbit, though, decided it would be much more terrifying to show the footage of the karaoke segment from SmackDown a few weeks ago. He was not wrong.
Tom Phillips announced that Apollo Crews had not passed his pre-match physical as a result of injuries caused previously by Bobby Lashley. He would not be able to defend his United States Championship. MVP gloated in the ring and declared himself the new champion, claiming his custom belt and wrapping it around his waist. He and Lashley briefly posed on the ramp before leaving. It's not clear why they even bothered with this. It all seemed set for a surprise attack on the Hurt Business, but nothing ever came.
Eye For An Eye Match: Seth Rollins defeated Rey Mysterio by taking his eye out… maybe
Rollins came to the ring armed with pliers. Mysterio, wisely, chose to eschew his usual entrance and attacked the Messiah from behind. They actually had flashes of a halfway decent match, teasing a potentially fantastic clash between them, but had to stop to try to jab at each other with various pointy objects. There were some inventively athletic spots and at least one seriously painful-looking table bump in which Mysterio crashed on to a flattened table at ringside.
Of course, things had to get gruesome and so Mysterio bloodied the outside of Rollins' eye using the steps and then the Messiah turned the tables. He forced the legend's previously injured eye on to the steps with considerable force. Rollins then withdrew heaving and vomited on the floor as the referee frantically called for both the bell and for medical assistance.
— WWE (@WWE) July 20, 2020
This was a strange match and one that's very difficult to discuss. It was simultaneously incredibly violent – Rollins' reaction to the apparent gore was impressively squeamish – and not violent enough, with Twitter very quickly exploding with opprobrium over the lack of a Grand Guignol money shot, though some spotted a barely visible prop. Really, this was a stipulation that should never have got past the pitch meeting when it first came up. These two got within a whisker of having a terrific wrestling match, only for silliness to get in the way.
Mysterio was helped to the back, clutching his eye, while referees and officials looked very concern and told him to “put pressure” on what was presumably supposed to be the dangling eyeball they had forced back into his skull. It remains to be seen what the impact of this will be and how deeply Mysterio will live the gimmick of being a blind man in the coming weeks. A bizarre medical update later in the show, though, cited a “globe luxation” as Mysterio's condition, with doctors optimistic he can regain his sight. Rather undercuts the Biblical violence, don't you think?
Sasha Banks defeated Asuka via pinfall to become NEW RAW Women's Champion… maybe
Thankfully, the show got back to some proper wrestling here. The two women grappled early, with Banks paying homage to Pete Dunne with some horrifying joint manipulation and painful-looking submission holds. Asuka hit a Codebreaker, but Banks soon responded with a powerbomb against the ringside boards and locked in the Bank Statement in the ring. Asuka fought to the ropes and then delivered several nasty, high-angle German suplexes to The Boss. A missed missile dropkick from Asuka let Banks hit a running knee to come within a whisker of winning the belt.
Banks somersaulted out of an avalanche German to land on her knees, but the damage took its toll and she slipped from the middle rope. Bayley got involved by tossing in one of her title belts, preventing the referee from catching Banks tapping to the Asuka Lock. Asuka tried to blast Banks with the green mist but caught the ref instead. Bayley clocked Asuka with one of the belts and then stole the referee's shirt, counting a pinfall for her friend and awarding her the belt.
— WWE (@WWE) July 20, 2020
This was by far the best wrestling match on the card and it was thoroughly refreshing to see Banks given the spotlight for a major singles bout again, following her impressive contest against Io Shirai at the Great American Bash. Sadly, the duo was undercut by a finish that might even have been worse than the ridiculous eyeball shenanigans of the preceding match. Giving Banks and Bayley all the gold was the right call, but this was not a good way to accomplish that. I found myself wishing for the return of an on-screen authority figure to restart the match. That's when they're useful.
Extreme Rules Match (for challenger only): WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defeated Dolph Ziggler via Claymore
Smartly, Dolph Ziggler announced that his stipulation for the match would be “extreme rules”, but only for himself. McIntyre would not be allowed to use weapons and, if counted out, he'd lose his title. The champion made a mockery of the challenger's scheme early, tossing him around ringside with reckless abandon. Ziggler would soon fight back, though, with McIntyre repeatedly having to pause to avoid getting himself disqualified. A Famouser from the announce table to the floor almost got Ziggler a count-out win, but McIntyre then fought back with a lariat and the reverse Alabama Slam.
McIntyre started the Claymore Countdown, but Ziggler caught him with a chair to the knee and the Zig-Zag for a close near-fall. A big elbow drop through a table at ringside again nearly drew a count-out and a sequence of high-impact moves, culminating in a Rock Bottom on a chair, still failed to win Ziggler the gold. Incensed, Ziggler cleared the ring of weapons and tuned up the band for a superkick, only for McIntyre to kip up and land a devastating, match-ending Claymore Kick.
— WWE (@WWE) July 20, 2020
This was a classic example of WWE concocting a unique stipulation, without actually considering whether it would improve the match. Laudably, the two men worked around it to put together a very solid bout, with Ziggler about as reliable a losing main-eventer as it's possible to find on any roster in the world. McIntyre continues to be booked like an all-conquering monster – and rightly so.
Swamp Fight: Bray Wyatt drowned Braun Strowman in a swamp… maybe
Bray Wyatt's unique sense of the macabre powered another cinematic match here, with the cult leader quickly pulling some sort of mind trickery in which Strowman was battered with a shovel by the Wyatt Era incarnation of himself. He woke up, chained, in Wyatt's grimy shack and the Eater of Worlds delivered a deliciously ripe soliloquy about how humanity is an “infection” and that the two of them could change the course of history together. He brought in a big snake, which attacked Strowman.
Strowman fought some odd heavies by fire, setting one of them alight, before a vision of Alexa Bliss as Sister Abigail baited a lovelorn Strowman into Wyatt's trap. The Universal Champion fought back, however, slamming Wyatt into what Matt Hardy would call a “dilapidated boat”. It appeared to float away, only to return empty. Wyatt burst, Jason Voorhees style, from the swamp and dunked Strowman over and over before disappearing.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 20, 2020
On a strange wooden platform, Strowman knocked Wyatt into the water. He declared the match was “over” and WWE brought the credits card up in the corner of the screen. However, the hand of Wyatt reached out from the murky swamp and locked in the Mandible Claw, dragging Strowman back to the depths. An eerie red light spread over the water and The Fiend emerged as the show went off the air.
This match got a lot of stick on social media but, for me, it was another cine-literate triumph from Wyatt. Steeped in the iconography of horror cinema from Friday the 13th to Tobe Hooper's underseen Eaten Alive, it was a spooky, grimy tale in which Wyatt, in particular, was simply stunning. Now that The Fiend has the Universal Champion in his sights, the gold is in serious jeopardy.
— WWE (@WWE) July 20, 2020
It's difficult to properly get a read on this show. As is so often the case with WWE, overwrought stipulations and some very shoddy finishes occasionally marred excellent work from the performers involved. The Swamp Fight exceeded expectations and McIntyre vs. Ziggler proved to be a sufficiently messy treat, but the excellent clash between Banks and Asuka was blotted by its nonsense conclusion and the eye match was… well, it was what it was… and what it was was utterly stupid. A legend of the calibre of Mysterio deserves much better.
All images courtesy of WWE.com