Viewers experienced opposite ends of a spectrum in the two weeks of Monday Night Raw leading into Extreme Rules. Two weeks out offered an explosive (literally and philosophically) change-of-pace show that was three hours of chaos and energy.
Meanwhile, the "go-home" edition of Raw seemed to largely revert to a more plodding, formulaic equation that didn't do much to reinforce the excitement generated the prior week. SmackDown was a more consistent show overall, but with a similar cross-section of talent highlighted on both shows, Raw's problems have somewhat sapped the excitement for Tuesday nights.
That drama leads to Extreme Rules and a similarly wide spectrum of possibilities, both good and bad. With a good night, the shrinking window into SummerSlam could be energized and tensions could run hot heading into Toronto. With a bad night, the risk of malaise hanging over the rest of the summer grows.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how each of the matches on the Extreme Rules card could play out, for better or worse.
"Winners take all" Extreme Rules tag-team match for the WWE Universal championship and Raw women's championship: Seth Rollins (c) & Becky Lynch (c) vs. Baron Corbin & Lacey Evans
Best case scenario: Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch have been tied up with Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans, respectively, since WrestleMania -- that's three-and-a-half months. With apologies to Corbin and Evans, who certainly draw the ire of WWE live crowds as well as anyone, the Raw and SmackDown rosters are too deep for the Universal and Raw women's champions to be locked into rivalries that are clearly not clicking on all cylinders.
The Extreme Rules stipulation should help play towards Corbin and Evans' strength and size, and a match built towards spectacle and weapons spots should be entertaining at the very least. In an ideal scenario, we see Lynch hit Corbin with a few big moves and, after a few unpredictable close calls, Lynch and Rollins win decisively and move on towards something big on the way to SummerSlam. And don't forget about the prospect of Brock Lesnar.
Worst case scenario: Despite some fans reacting with frustration and a desire to see any number of other challengers get a chance in the world title spotlight, it's clear that WWE's powers-that-be hold Corbin and Evans in an extraordinarily high regard. Evans has a lot of charisma and potential in the ring, but she's still very much a raw prospect rather than someone who should be carrying an entire division. Corbin is a solid, easily hateable bad guy, but he's not the kind of in-ring workhorse who can elevate every type of opponent he wrestles. That doesn't mean they have no chance on Sunday, though. A championship win for Evans and Corbin means this multi-way rivalry carries on through August, and possibly beyond, robbing the WWE and fans of a much-needed fresh start.
WWE championship: Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Samoa Joe
Best case: Kofi Kingston and Samoa Joe battle for 15-plus minutes and the other members of New Day stay entirely out of the match. Kingston's title reign has featured a number of impressive defenses, and despite Samoa Joe being fresh off a loss to Ricochet, he's instantly credible as a world title challenger because of his size, speed and versatility. It's hard to see Joe, a Raw superstar, crossing over and knocking Kingston off on the first try, but with Brock Lesnar in play and the prospect of carrying a Kingston-Samoa Joe rivalry into SummerSlam, it could be an inspired risk to take.
Worst case: Kingston's best moments as WWE champion -- namely his victory at WrestleMania 35 -- have come in matches in which he stands on his own laurels. In a worst-case scenario, Joe would try to stretch and eventually break a number of rules, drawing out Big E and Xavier Woods to bring the match into chaos and a potential DQ. While this would also potentially extend the rivalry, a few months' worth of decisive world title match decisions would be better in terms of building up the prestige of the title.
Handicap match for the SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
Best case: Handicap world title matches are always a bit awkward, even in a case where you have three very creative performers, like AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at Royal Rumble 2018. What was primarily a rivalry based on tension between Bayley and Alexa Bliss has become focused squarely on tension between Bayley and Nikki Cross in recent weeks. With Cross drinking the Bliss Kool Aid, a seemingly dominant performance by Cross punctuated by either a miscommunication or an outright betrayal by Bliss would be a platform to build upon.
Worst case: Having co-champions comes with all kinds of continuity issues, and with a women's tag-team championship that often gets lost in the shuffle, having two SmackDown women's champions would not be ideal. If there's a knock on Bliss, it's that she's often been put in a position to put matches away with little build-up and a single power move -- a motion that's not exactly believable for someone of her size and stature. A one-punch KO to Bayley and co-champions would likely lead to some headaches in the months to come.
No Holds Barred: The Undertaker and Roman Reigns vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre
Best case: The return of The Undertaker to a pay-per-view that isn't WrestleMania or happening in Saudi Arabia was a nice surprise, but after Super ShowDown, it's tough not to question what Undertaker's ceiling will be. The No Holds Barred stipulation will mean that Shane McMahon can add a weapon to his coast-to-coast, and this could well be a moment to put a bow on a few different stories. But regardless of the result, it seems unlikely that this match will be the end of a big dose of McMahon on every show or his conflict with Reigns.
Regardless of how this one turns out, this match would be best served as a showcase for McIntyre, who has seemingly been knocking on the door of a main event spot since returning. McIntyre shining in a match ultimately won by Reigns and 'Taker seems like the best outcome we could hope for.
Worst case: McMahon brings out the cavalry and gets Elias, The Revival and anyone else he could think of involved in the match. McMahon pinning Reigns again and building himself up as the most protected in-ring performer in WWE seems like a bad call.
Best case: Styles and Ricochet battle for 15-plus minutes showing us the full scope of what two of the most entertaining in-ring performers in the world are capable of. If that's done with minimal involvement from Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, all the better. Regardless of the result, either outcome could (and should) lead to even more between Styles and Ricochet.
Worst case: Lots of interference and an unsatisfying ending. Anything that prevents Styles and Ricochet from, you know, wrestling.
Last Man Standing: Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley
Best case: Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley break lots of things, and ultimately bring down enough of the set to require a new stage setup for Raw and SmackDown. The static setup makes Raw, SmackDown and PPV shows feel far too similar.
Worst case: Any other outcome.
Cruiserweight championship: Drew Gulak (c) vs. Tony Nese
Best case: Gulak and Nese carry forward the momentum the cruiserweight division built up at Stomping Grounds by having the best technical match of the night. It'll probably happen on the Kickoff Show, but it will get the people going.
Worst case: It happens too early on in the Kickoff Show. They won't have a bad match, and the only thing that could go awry would be too small a crowd.
Triple-threat tag-team match for the WWE SmackDown tag-team championships: Daniel Bryan & Rowan (c) vs. The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods) vs. Heavy Machinery
Raw tag-team championships: The Revival (c) vs. The Usos
Best case: The New Day and The Usos pushed hard to build up tag-team wrestling with their series of wars, most notably their Hell in a Cell match. The Revival had a handful of the best matches, period, of the last five years while in NXT against teams like #DIY. Daniel Bryan has made it his mission to elevate everyone in the division by any means necessary, and Heavy Machinery has definitely stepped up given that opportunity to shine. The two tag-team title matches at Extreme Rules offer a window into where tag-team wrestling stands within the WWE. Given the right circumstances, both of these matches can elevate all five of these teams and the division as a whole. Give them time and some creative freedom, and let everyone cook.
Worst case: Short matches that make every team feel like less than the WWE's singles stars. The Revival once again play the fool to goofy shenanigans from The Usos. Anything else along those lines.
Aleister Black vs. Cesaro
Best case: Any match over eight minutes. It's been more than nine years since Cesaro and Aleister Black met one-on-one, and their track record speaks for itself.
Worst case: The only way this match goes off the rails is if it lasts four minutes (or less) or steers into the silly rather than keeping it simple.