Bookended by championship changes, WWE’s Extreme Rules event on Sunday night lived up to its billing.
With just four weeks before WWE’s summer extravaganza, SummerSlam, Extreme Rules set the stage for a WrestleMania rematch for the WWE Universal Championship, established one of the company’s most popular factions as its most powerful and continued a remarkable character overhaul.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from Sunday night.
Shinsuke Nakamura returns to championship form
Although Nakamura and Finn Balor faced each other earlier in the week on SmackDown Live, the two ran it back on the Extreme Rules Kickoff Show.
Nakamura, who has appeared sporadically on WWE programming prior to his feud with Balor, captured the Intercontinental Championship for the first time in his career in an exciting match that set the tone for the night. When Nakamura is firing on all cylinders, he’s one of the most gifted performers WWE has.
Seeing as Balor and Nakamura are tied at one victory each, we’ll see a rematch between the two sooner rather than later. From a future storyline perspective however, it would seem as if having Nakamura, a heel, hold SmackDown Live’s second-most prestigious belt leaves the door open for a feud with talent such as Ali, Aleister Black, Andrade or even Roman Reigns.
Not quite Undertaker’s Last Ride
The last time we saw the Undertaker wrestle was at WWE’s latest Saudi Arabia show “Super ShowDown,” where he performed in a much maligned match against Goldberg. Just over a month later, that match should be wiped from everyone’s memory.
On Sunday night, Undertaker looked as good as he has in years. In a no holds barred, tag team match against Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre, Undertaker turned back the clock and reminded everyone why he is still one of WWE’s biggest draws and most respected stars, even after 30 years with the company.
Wrestling in slightly modified gear, Undertaker essentially played his greatest hits, but looked incredibly sharp and fast in doing so. Picking up the win alongside Roman Reigns, Undertaker helped ignite the Philadelphia crowd and proved he still has something left in the tank.
As long as WWE continues to book him like this — smart, strong and sporadically — sign me up for plenty more of Undertaker.
Kevin Owens’ “stunning” transformation
Since his return to WWE action earlier this year, Owens had been going back and forth between being a face and a heel on SmackDown Live. While his role appeared to be a bit ambiguous for a few months, this past week has made it very clear.
After opening SmackDown Live last Tuesday with one of the better promos in recent memory, Owens continued to call out Shane McMahon and the higher ups at WWE on Twitter regarding the use of certain talent in the company. Yes, this is all storyline, but it’s also a legitimate gripe of many WWE fans.
This is all very clearly a ploy to put him in the position Stone Cold Steve Austin was 20-plus years ago when he feuded with Vince McMahon and was the hottest figure in sports entertainment.
Sunday night, Owens continued down this path, squashing Dolph Ziggler in the blink of an eye — using a stunner, not coincidentally — and once again cutting a promo on Shane McMahon. Owens’ stock is on the rise and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
New Day reigns supreme
If there were to be one major winner (or three) from Sunday night, it was the New Day.
Earlier in the night, Xavier Woods and Big E won the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships by defeating both Heavy Machinery and Daniel Bryan and Rowan in what was arguably the match of the night.
About an hour after his stablemates hoisted gold, Kofi Kingston retained his WWE Championship by defeating Samoa Joe. Kofi’s win not only continued his impressive run as one of the company’s top champions, but it also solidified New Day as the undisputed top faction in WWE.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 15, 2019
It’s clearly a very different scenario with New Day being baby faces, but with Eric Bischoff being named Executive Director of SmackDown Live last month it’s exciting to think of the storytelling possibilities considering his work with the nWo during his tenure with WCW in the 1990s.
Brock Lesnar cashes in on Seth Rollins
Following an entertaining and grueling winners-take-all match against Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans, Seth Rollins appeared to be heading into SummerSlam holding Raw’s top championship — then Brock Lesnar made good on Paul Heyman’s spoiler.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 15, 2019
Lesnar, who capitalized at the last moment two months ago at “Money in the Bank,” did the same exact thing on Sunday night, hitting Rollins with a slew of German suplexes and an F5 to score the victory and become WWE Universal Champion for the third time in his career.
Since winning the guaranteed championship opportunity, Lesnar had been perpetually looming over Rollins and him cashing in all but locks in a rematch between the two at SummerSlam next month in Toronto.
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