The surprise return of Seth Rollins turned an uneventful and predictable -- seriously, we predicted every match result perfectly -- WWE Extreme Rules on Sunday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, into a show that will be discussed around water coolers on Monday.
Rollins, the crowd favorite and former World Heavyweight Champion out since suffering a serious knee injury in November 2015, returned to thunderous cheers following a main event that saw much-maligned champion Roman Reigns retain his title against challenger A.J. Styles.
Following Reigns' hard-fought win over Styles (more on that below), Reigns remained in the ring grimacing before rising to get his hand raised by the referee. Rollins charged to the ring -- sans the signature blonde streak in his hair -- kicked Reigns, delivered The Pedigree and slowly raised the belt above his head with the crowd cheering him on.
The return of Rollins is an important one for WWE, which has been lacking star power due to a rash of injuries that hit the company before WrestleMania 32. Rollins is arguably the most "over" performer in WWE, and he will likely immediately be thrust back into the title picture now that Reigns has dispatched of Styles twice in a month.
Where does that leave Styles, exactly? It's a good question, one that will likely be answered on Monday Night Raw. Styles was quickly elevated from new superstar to legit main eventer. It would be a shame for him to fall back into mid-card status after a couple great months.
With Money in the Bank next up in June, it would certainly be something to see Rollins, Styles and a couple other top performers all competing for the chance to get the ever-important briefcase that Rollins cashed in so successfully at WrestleMania 31.
World Heavyweight Championship -- Roman Reigns (c) def. A.J. Styles via pinfall to retain the title (Extreme Rules Match): The crowd spent most of the start of the match running through anti-Reigns chants, but it did not take long for the action to take over and those jeers to subside. The vast majority of the match actually took place outside the ring. Styles hit a Phenomenal Forearm by production, and Reigns responded with a back body drop to Styles on the announce table. Reigns sold a knee injury during the match but looked to be in control after first connecting with his Superman Punch when Styles tried to leap into the ring and then nailing a spear outside the ring.
It was at that point that the interferences began. Anderson and Gallows knocked out Reigns before The Usos entered to wipe the ring out, hit Styles with two superkicks and then nail a frog splash. Reigns knocked Anderson and Gallows out with consecutive Superman Punches. Styles hit his Styles Clash for a two count, then doubled up with it on a chair for another two count (following a slight interference to delay the pin attempt). That's when Styles "lost it," grabbing a chair to wipe out The Usos and Reigns and make it a one-on-one match again.
The finish was ultimately a clean one as Styles attempted to take advantage of Reigns' situation with his Phenomenal Forearm, which Reigns caught in mid-air to deliver a thunderous spear and earn the 1-2-3.
Women's Championship -- Charlotte (c) def. Natalya via submission to retain the title (Submission Match): Quality outing as to be expected from these two women; unfortunately, WWE still refuses to allow its reigning champion to get even one clean victory. Natalya had the Sharpshooter locked in on Charlotte when the music of Ric Flair, who was banned from ringside as an added match stipulation, hit and it was made to look like he was coming to the ring. Instead, it was Dana Brooke dressed up as Flair. Natalya bit on the distraction (of course), allowing Charlotte to take advantage. The reigning champion locked in her impressive Figure Eight submission and got the tap out to hold onto the strap.
Dean Ambrose def. Chris Jericho via pinfall (Asylum Match): Slow and plodding in the early going, the match really picked up its pace once all of the weapons were brought down from atop the asylum (steel cage painted black) and the gimmick of reaching for them was over. There were a couple nice surprises from the weapons including Jericho using the straight jacket as a way to blind Ambrose for a moment, but the highlight came when Ambrose grabbed a black bag and revealed thumbtacks, which he dumped all over the mat. It was obvious from there that the thumbtacks would factor into the finish, but it took five minutes for it to go down. Ambrose caught Jericho's attempted Code Braker and slammed Jericho's back right into the pile before hitting his Dirty Deeds finisher for the pin. Unlike WWE's barbed wire (which these days is rubber-tipped), the thumbtacks were absolutely real. Jericho had dozens of them stuck all over his back and arms, and blood was visible, too. Nice "extreme" payoff considering it's probably going to be the only such moment on a pay-per-view carrying that name.
Intercontinental Championship -- The Miz (c) def. Cesaro (via pinfall), Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to retain the title (Fatal 4-Way Match): In traditional Fatal 4-Way style, each competitor got his share of near falls, though Cesaro had two occasions in which it legitimately looked like he'd take the belt. First, Cesaro made The Miz tap out only for Maryse to distract the referee, who missed the submission. Later, Cesaro hit Owens with the Neutralizer, but Zayn broke up the pinfall. Ultimately, as predicted here, The Miz took advantage of someone else's finisher by sliding in for the pin. Zayn hit Cesaro with the Helluva Kick, but Owens pulled Zayn out of the ring, allowing The Miz to get the cover and pinfall. Zayn and Owens went at it outside the ring, making it obvious a one-on-one rivalry is what's up next for both performers.
Simply put, this was the match of the night. And only three pay-per-views into WWE's 2016 season, it is absolutely a candidate for match of the year.
Tag Team Championship -- The New Day (c) def. The Vaudevillains via pinfall to retain the titles: A surprising title change looked to be coming as, with Big E was down outside after being thrown into the steps, The Vaudevillains hit Xavier Woods with their Whirling Dervish finisher. Instead, Woods -- who is not often in these matches, let alone factoring into the finish of them as a competitor -- kicked out to keep the defense going. Big E eventually regrouped and threw his 290-pound body through the ropes, allowing Kofi Kingston (via outside interference) and Woods to hit a couple big kicks before Woods earned the pinfall victory.
United States Championship -- Rusev def. Kalisto (c) via submission to win the title: It appeared as if Kalisto might retain his title once again, but Rusev took advantage of an injury scenario to regain the U.S. title he held for five months in 2014-15. Rusev tossed Kalisto off the top rope with Kalisto hurting his back by landing hard on the ring apron. While Kalisto was tended to by doctors, Rusev pulled him into the middle of the ring and placed him in a full-bend Accolade to obtain the submission and take the belt.
Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. The Usos via pinfall (Texas Tornado Match): The stipulation here was an inspired one as it allowed four talented performers to all work at the same time. Anderson and Gallows going over was the right move here, and The Usos being portrayed as seriously hurt adds a level of intrigue fro the main event. Anderson and Gallows have a big-time future in WWE both in The Club and as a tag team. After some questionable booking early in their WWE careers, this could get them right back on track.
Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler via pinfall (No Disqualification Match): These two have proven they work well together, and it was another solid outing from the duo on the kickoff show. As predicted, Corbin got his win back, while Ziggler avoids the damage of the loss due to the no-DQ rules. Corbin hit Ziggler with a (legal) low blow before following with End of Days and the cover. Now Corbin will move on to his next rivalry, potentially one of the two lower titles if a face wins or retains later Sunday.