We start our latest WWE Network Special with a WWE horror show… Before the show starts, a WWE Network hype video plays, with a clip from a WrestleMania, and in the background you can see the entrance video for Dean Ambrose, who is now known as Jon Moxley in AEW. That’s just a small detail that you expect WWE’s usually-great production team to be right on top of.
We are once again live at the WWE Performance Center in Florida, with developmental talent in the audience cheering on the action. This was a perfect opportunity to go balls-out with a show dominated by pretapes and crazy action, but I’m sure we’ll get some of that tonight. We go to the ring to start the action for our first gimmick match of the evening.
SmackDown! Tag Team Championship Tables Match: New Day (Kofi Kingston and Big E) (c) vs. Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura – If this were a WWE video game, I would dread having to play in a tables match. I’m terrible at them, along with steel cage matches. But with these four guys, it could probably work. I’ll never not be annoyed that Cesaro isn’t competing for a world title, because he’s awesome, but at least he’s opening the show with the chance to put on a great match. The two teams work the psychology of table placement and countering table spots well, and we’ve come a long way from the original table matches of 20 years ago. Nakamura and Cesaro work well together, and their teamwork pays off, as Nakamura helps Cesaro counter a Kingston hurricanrana into a top rope powerbomb through two tables on the outside of the ring. Good action to open the show, and the New Day’s eighth title reign is over. I imagine number nine is right around the corner.
SmackDown! Women’s Championship Match: Nikki Cross vs. Bayley (c) – No stipulations here, which is disappointing but not surprising. WWE hasn’t had an Extreme Rules show where all the matches had stips in a long time. Regardless, Bayley hands out a vicious beating to the challenger, The champ is quickly becoming my favorite women’s wrestler ever. Every week, every month, she gets better in her role. It’s fun to see her in the ring with Cross, who now has a similar disposition to where Bayley was a few years ago. Cross put up a good fight, but even with Alexa Bliss at ringside, it wasn’t enough to overcome the teamwork of the Role Models, as Sasha Banks – Bayley’s tag team championship partner – hand’s the champ her “Boss” knucks and Bayley knocks Cross out to retain. Will Bayley help Banks get her own second title later on?
We go from greatness to even more greatness, as Bray Wyatt opens up the Firefly Funhouse to preview his “swamp fight” tonight with Universal Champion Braun Strowman and even gets a dig in on some SmackDown karaoke shenanigans.
We delay another match further as the Raw announce team explains that United States Champion Apollo Crews is injured and won’t be able to defend against MVP tonight, so he and Bobby Lashley come out to gloat and declare MVP the new U.S. Champ.
Eye For An Eye Match: Seth Rollins vs. Rey Mysterio – So, the only way to win this, as announcer Mike Rome explains, “is to extract your opponents eye.” That might be a little much, especially as Rollins comes to the ring and pulls pliers out of his jacket. The match starts with way too much acrobatics from two guys who are trying to rip each others’ eyes out. And Rey is already supposed to be working with an injured eye! Thankfully, the weapons come out pretty quick, but they abandon the tools quickly. I’m really kind of over Rollins as a character and Seth and Rey really don’t seem like they’re right for such a violent – and somewhat ridiculous – stipulation. Rollins finally drives Rey’s eye into the corner of the ring steps and then pukes at ringside. Rey and Rollins both tried hard, but the match stipulation was just too much.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Asuka (c) vs. Sasha Banks – Once again the competitors in a women’s championship match both have their partners in their corner. Banks has Bayley out with her and Asuka is joined by Kairi Sane. It’s good to have a match like this, with a couple of great athletes, right after the crap that came before it, especially considering how compelling the Bayley-Banks story has been over the last few WWE Network Specials. The match is really fun but lays on the gaga a little much at the end, as Asuka hits the ref with some green mist, Bayley hits Asuka with a belt, takes the ref’s shirt off and counts the champ out and awards Banks the Raw Women’s Championship. I doubt that will hold up under scrutiny of the WWE Rulebook. While Banks has done wonders helping Bayley keep the SmackDown! Women’s Championship, Bayley seems to need some work on her cheating. I assume Banks will have to return the title on Raw.
Thankfully we get an update backstage telling us that it’s possible that Rey Mysterio will be able to retain vision in his eye, so the stipulation for his match against Rollins is now even more pointless.
And now for the big reveal – what will Dolph Ziggler choose as the stipulation for his WWE Championship match against Drew McIntyre?
WWE Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Drew McIntyre (c) – The match is Extreme Rules for Ziggler only and if McIntyre gets counted out or disqualified, Ziggler wins the championship. It’s the kind of stipulation you always expect a heel to try for but would usually never work because it would be too stacked in the heel challenger’s favor. You’d never expect the champion to walk out of the match with the title under those circumstances. But this is Dolph Ziggler. It’s hard to imagine him winning even under these circumstances. What does a guy as big as McIntyre need weapons for against someone like Ziggler? This match is all about the psychology of Dolph trying to get the champ to either be counted out or get disqualified. The announce team of Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Samoa Joe do a great job selling the story of the match. Though there was one point, when Ziggler hits a Famouser off the announce table onto McIntyre when the referee was at 5, where Ziggler rushed into the ring at 8, followed by McIntyre at 9. Why wouldn’t Ziggler just hold the champ’s legs and keep him out of the ring? Ziggler can’t get counted out, only Drew, and if he does, he loses the belt! Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura would have lost their minds at how stupid that was, and no one at the announce desk tonight even blinked.
Ziggler throws everything he can at McIntyre, even hits him with a fantastic combination of a Famouser, a ZigZag and a Uranagi onto a chair, and the champ kicked out. But McIntyre hit him with one Claymore kick and retains the title. Mostly because Ziggler is an idiot.
Swamp Fight: Bray Wyatt vs. Braun Strowman – This is not for Strowman’s Universal Championship, and it is a cinematic event, a la the BONEYARD MATCH that closed out the first night of WrestleMania this year. Probably with a little bit of FIREFLY FUNHOUSE like the second night, too. WWE really needs to be doing more of this while they can’t have a crowd. Bray Wyatt is really saving a lot of these shows for me, as WWE is letting him go all out with the crazy psychological weirdness, including Braun being knocked out by Braun Strowman and then a return to the original Bray Wyatt character, complete with his original entrance music. God, I loved that entrance music.
Bray tells Braun that his success is “borrowed” and “temporary,” a nice inside nod to the fact that Strowman only got a chance to win the Universal Championship because Roman Reigns opted out of wrestling during the global pandemic. “You are a weapon and I am the hand that wields it!” Wyatt is so good. Strowman holds his own as the captured hero fighting against the dark side. Alexa Bliss even makes an appearance with a callback to her flirtation with Strowman.
Both men eventually end up in the swamp water, seemingly fighting for their lives to escape before the water turns blood red. Finally, the Fiend emerges as the show goes off the air. So, I guess it’s a draw?
Overall, it was another good night of action. The only time I found myself not caring about what was on my screen was during the Rollins-Mysterio match. Even that had its finer moments, though. Say what you will about the weekly slog of trying to consume both Raw and SmackDown regularly, but the Network Specials have been a lot of fun. This was no different. With Bayley, Sasha Banks and Bray Wyatt basically carrying the company, things could be a lot worse.
I’m looking forward to what WWE does on August 23, when the biggest party of the summer – the Summer Slam! – hits.