It's not quite October yet, but Halloween season seemed to be in session at Extreme Rules as spooky lights and music seemingly revived "The Demon" Finn Balor, only for a phantom motion to cause the top turnbuckle to break and hand a successful title defense to Universal champion Roman Reigns.
Extreme Rules was a night of expected outcomes derived from unexpected journeys, as all five title matches ended with the champion retaining, following strong matches.
No finish was more surprising than the main event between Balor and Reigns. Leaning into the supernatural might have come off a little bit cheesy, but with the result all but set in stone because of Reigns' current standing and future plans, going outside of the box to try to generate drama was one of the few limited options.
It was Balor's first loss while donning the "Demon" persona on WWE's main roster, and only his second defeat under the paint since joining the WWE; the first came in June 2016, against Samoa Joe.
As inevitable as the outcome seemed to be, Balor and Reigns had quite a match. They were even able to generate significant reactions to an inanimate object as the fans cried out for tables, a legal implement in the Extreme Rules match. Balor went under the ring to try to grab one, and after denying Balor the table, Reigns slid it back under the ring to the great dismay of those in attendance at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
They instead utilized a steel chair, which Reigns first used on Balor before everything was turned upside down. Balor turned the tide with a double stomp to Reigns' chest as the chair sat on top of him. After Balor got the table into the ring, with great applause, he had his head sent directly into the ringpost via a Drive-by kick.
Reigns sent Balor into the crowd, but before Reigns followed, he donned a facemask to continue the attack more responsibly. The sequence still ended poorly for him, though, as Balor jumped off the WWE Kickoff Show stage and hit a cross body that sent Reigns through a table set up on the floor.
Upon returning to the ring, Balor's previously obtained table was turned against him, as Reigns lifted him up with a Uranage and slammed him through the table. A Reigns Superman punch missed, a Balor Pele Kick landed and a second Superman punch connected in response, garnering another two-count for Reigns.
Reigns got cocky, and as he took too much time, Balor slammed him down with a Slingblade. Reigns found his way to his feet though, and with a spear, appeared to have the match won. A two-count was the result though, and in a counter to Reigns' identical action a few weeks ago, Balor hit a low blow as he threw his arm up and kicked out of the pinfall attempt.
Balor dove onto Reigns over the top rope, and then connected with his Coup de Grace double stomp from the top rope. But as he had the Universal championship in his sights, Reigns' cousins The Usos grabbed Balor and dragged him out of the ring. A double Superkick set Balor up for an unfortunate end, but he was able to fight off both Usos on the outside and Powerbomb one of them through the commentary table.
As Balor retreated after the Powerbomb, Reigns speared him through the barrier from out of nowhere. As both men lay motionless, the lights in the arena turned red, and with the bass notes of Balor's entrance music, Balor convulsed, and then popped to his feet. The lights stayed red, smoke machines filled the ringside area and his music continued to play as Balor rained down steel chair shots to Reigns' body.
Balor set up for one more Coup de Grace, and for a moment it felt like maybe the impossible would happen. But as Balor balanced himself on the top rope, the rope broke and sent Balor tumbling to the ground. As the lights came on, Reigns turned Balor's lights out with a spear, and got the three-count.
What's next: For Reigns, it has to be Brock Lesnar, and it almost certainly will happen on Thursday, Oct. 21 in Saudi Arabia at Crown Jewel. For Balor, he may be sidelined for a stretch or, despite his recent arrival on SmackDown, could be on the move in the WWE Draft.
Smackdown women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Bianca Belair ends in disqualification
It was tough to know exactly how WWE was going to navigate the SmackDown women's championship match at Extreme Rules. Becky Lynch, one of the company's biggest stars, wasn't going to come back and immediately lose her title. But Bianca Belair was rolling before a 26-second loss to Lynch at SummerSlam, and another defeat would be damaging.
Ultimately, neither of those things would come to pass. A returning Sasha Banks interjected herself just as Belair lifted Lynch into the air for her K.O.D. finishing move, triggering a disqualification.
Up to that point, the energy and excitement had been high as uncertainty hung over the match. Competing chants for both women bounced back and forth, as Lynch leaned hard into her newly evil persona and Belair received at least a 50% share -- not an insignificant thing, considering Lynch's overall popularity.
The pace was slow and methodical, but not plodding by any sense. Lynch utilized Belair's aggression and ponytail on multiple occasions, using what is typically an advantage for Belair as a weapon against her.
But Belair broke through, time and again. A vertical suplex rolled directly into a delayed, stalling vertical suplex. As Belair started to take off, though, Lynch yanked her down from the top rope by her ponytail. A tug of war ensued, but Belair came out of the exchange with the advantage as she lifted Lynch up for a Spinebuster.
Belair got the first meaningful cover of the match after a Fallaway Slam, but Lynch got her foot on the rope. Belair lifted Lynch up off of the top turnbuckle for a Press Slam, but Lynch slid off and directly into a Dis-arm-her submission. Belair got her leg on the bottom rope to break the hold.
Lynch connected on a top rope leg drop, and then a second leg drop to Belair as she was draped over the middle rope, but only got a two-count.
Belair scrambled to her feet, but a delayed vertical suplex rolled directly into an armbar attempt from Lynch. Belair rolled Lynch up for a two-count, Lynch kept her grip. That grip finally loosened after a powerbomb by Belair, but a deep stack-up only led to a two-count.
Lynch had Belair in a Dis-arm-her again, but Belair showed of impressive strength as she slowly lifted Lynch up for the K.O.D. But that's when Banks made her entrance, and with a throat strike to Belair, that was that.
What's next: After Banks teased an uneasy peace with Lynch post-match, things fell apart in a hurry. Banks connected on Backstabbers to both women, and threw the division into chaos. A triple threat seems like a real possibility, although, as we've said throughout the night, the WWE Draft could throw some roadblocks up in a hurry.
Raw women's championship: Charlotte Flair (c) def. Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss has leaned into the supernatural over the last year, following entanglements with "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. But after her unsuccessful challenge for Charlotte Flair's Raw women's championship at Extreme Rules, and the aftermath, she seems likely to become completely unhinged.
Bliss fought valiantly in a strong effort, but her demonic doll Lily was ultimately her downfall on Sunday. Flair plucked the doll from the corner, tossed it to Bliss and, in the confusion, connected on a big boot that sent Bliss flying. That led directly to Flair connecting with a Natural Selection, followed by a pinfall victory.
Bliss had to scramble for every inch of advantage throughout the match, and manage to frustrate Flair when she couldn't maintain the edge. A pair of headshots into the corner and a basement dropkick sent Flair to the outside, but just like most of Bliss' other positive moments in this match, it wouldn't last long. Flair turned a running Headscissors attempt into a Powerbomb position, and then drove Bliss head-first into the ring barrier.
A Flair top rope moonsault missed, but a standing moonsault quickly followed. Flair's first attempt at a Natural Selection saw Bliss slip out, but after trading roll-up attempts, a one-armed Powerbomb from Flair earned a two-count.
Another missed moonsault sent Flair into a grounded Bliss' boot. Bliss immediately positioned herself for a Code Red Flipping Powerbomb, but that, too, was only worth a two-count.
A Twisted Bliss attempt from Bliss and a Figure Eight attempt from Flair went nowhere, but a Bliss DDT seemed as though it could tilt things in her favor, until Flair's foot on the ropes broke the referee's count.
Shortly thereafter, Flair grabbed Lily, and triggered Bliss' downfall. In the aftermath, Flair kicked Bliss out of the ring, and then grabbed Lily. She tore Lily's arm off and then tore the rest of the doll limb from limb, ripped the stuffing out, and then held both the title and the deflated doll aloft.
Bliss attacked Flair with chaotic urgency. Flair tossed Bliss over the commentary table and into the Raw announce team. As Flair stumbled away, Bliss pulled her own hair out as she viewed the wreckage of Lily and collected the stuffing to try to put it back in. She collapsed into tears and screams as cradled the doll.
What's next: The post-match fracas points to another chapter in this rivalry, and with how this match played out, it doesn't seem like a bad idea for either woman. Raw and SmackDown's women's rosters will look very differently over the next couple of weeks, but this feels like a conflict that could easily carry through at least one more match.
The New Day def. Bobby Lashley, AJ Styles and Omos
The six-man tag team match was added to the card at the last minute, thanks to a convenient backstage scuffle on the Kickoff Show. But the hastily put together match delivered -- both in terms of the in-ring action from bell-to-bell, and a surprising ending.
Big E scored another pinfall victory over Bobby Lashley, albeit in the midst of some confusion, and cast at least a little bit of doubt as to whether or not Lashley will find his way to a rematch for the WWE championship as the upcoming WWE draft looms.
With four world champions in the mix, as well as some strong team dynamics all around, there was rarely a dull moment. Fans got particularly loud early on when Styles and Big E lined up opposite one another, teasing an interesting potential future match that could carry something special.
After Xavier Woods had to scramble out of an early Calf Crusher attempt, New Day took control early, until Kingston got blindsided by Lashley and turned the tide. Neither side seemed to be in particular peril until Woods got caught spinning in mid-air and Lashley turned it into a powerslam.
Woods eventually fought out of the corner and tagged Big E in. He showed off tremendous strength in what could've been a dangerous miss in the corner, and then essentially deadlifted Styles with one arm for a Uranage.
Styles avoided Big E's patented spear through the ropes, Kingston blind tagged himself in and the New Day connected on a combination double stomp and Big E powerbomb. Lashley interrupted, broke up the pinfall and then dragged Styles by one arm back to his corner to tag back in.
A Lashley Dominator on Kingston earned his team a two-count, but Lashley then missed a spear and spilled to the outside. Kingston tossed Styles over the top rope, too, but as Big E launched Kofi over the top to attack both Styles and Lashley, Omos interrupted that thought with a big slap to Kingston's chest.
Lashley's flatliner to Big E while the other members of New Day were incapacitated seemed to spell doom, but as Lashley lined up a spear, Styles blind tagged in. As Styles looked for Phenomenal Forearm, Lashley blind tagged himself back in, and in the chaos, Lashley accidentally speared Styles. Big E hit the Big Ending on Lashley, and that was all she wrote.
What's next: This match was seemingly a pit stop on the way to a Big E-Lashley rematch for the WWE championship, and with Lashley requesting that match for Monday's edition of Raw later in the night on Extreme Rules, it seems the remaining runway for this story seems short. Big E has already pinned Lashley twice, and unless there's an unexpected title switch, with the draft forthcoming, it could be a chance for both men to quickly move on to something else.
Triple threat match for the United States championship: Damian Priest (c) def. Jeff Hardy and Sheamus
It can be hard for fans to get excited about some of the WWE's secondary titles at times, because they can often fade into the background during long weekly broadcasts, if they feature at all.
But Damian Priest, Sheamus and Jeff Hardy threw their all into an intensely physical triple threat match, and by the end they'd done themselves proud, judging by the crowd's reaction. Priest successfully retained the title with a roll-up in the end, but it did not feel cheap by any means.
Triple threat matches can often feel contrived as certain moves require specific positioning, but the pace and the moves were executed well throughout. After a Broken Arrow from Priest to Hardy, Sheamus broke it up. But Hardy was up quickly, and eventually connected on a Whisper in the Wind to both Sheamus and Priest.
The one-on-one sequences fit seamlessly as well. With Priest out of the picture, Sheamus locked in a Cloverleaf to Hardy in the middle of the ring, and even when they got into the ropes, the lack of a disqualification in a triple threat match allowed for a further buildup of drama.
Sheamus' protective mask came off at one point, and Priest went right after the previously broken nose. That led directly into Sheamus stepping up and landing White Noise to Priest, only for Hardy to break up a pinfall attempt.
Hardy connected on Twists of Fate to both of his opponents, but as he went for a Swanton Bomb, Sheamus pushed him off the top rope. A flying knee was followed by a missed Brogue Kick, and as Priest chokeslammed Sheamus off the top rope to the ground, it felt like he had everything locked up.
But Hardy broke the count with a Swanton Bomb to both men -- landing on Priest's back to break up a pinfall. After trying to set up Hardy, Priest flew off the middle rope and blindly fell into a Brogue Kick. Hardy pushed Sheamus out of the ring, but was only able to claim a two-count.
An enraged Sheamus hit another Brogue Kick, this time to Hardy, but as Hardy fell out of the ring, Priest snuck up and snatched the victory in a flash.
What's next: For a crowd that seemed only somewhat interested in this match at the outset, the performance of all three men brought the energy levels way up by the end. The cheering for Hardy in particular in the final stages of the match was loud, and the respectful exchange afterwards while Sheamus fumed could easily lead to a one-on-one Hardy-Priest match on Raw.
Sheamus might not yet be done with Priest, either. But when it comes to secondary titles during WWE Draft season, anything's possible.
SmackDown tag team championships: The Usos (c) def. The Street Profits
The Street Profits have been doing strong work since moving over to SmackDown as tag team champions, but their quest to regain those titles once again fell short against The Usos.
After a match on SmackDown that only went the wrong way because of Roman Reigns interjecting himself, The Usos won this matchup fair and square, despite the best efforts of The Street Profits in a match that really picked up in the final minutes.
Angelo Dawkins started to drive that energy up with a combination Suplerplex from the top rope that he turned into a twisting double-underhook neckbreaker to Jimmy Uso. Montez Ford followed that up with a Blockbuster from the top rope, but as Ford started to show signs of a rib injury suffered at the hands of Reigns and The Usos, the momentum slowed.
The Street Profits did get the first close call, though, as Ford blind tagged himself in, as Dawkins landed his signature anointment to Jey Uso. But an attempt at a frog splash from Ford was countered as Jey got his knees up.
Dawkins found himself in trouble after eating a Superkick from Jey and a top rope splash from Jimmy, but kicked out at two. The Usos missed a blind tag as they dragged Dawkins out of the ring, and looked up just in time to notice Ford get a running start and launch himself over the turnbuckles and directly onto their heads.
Ford quickly tossed Jey back into the ring and connected on his frog splash, but the damage to his own torso makes him slow to cover, allowing Jimmy just enough time to break up the count.
Dawkins saved Ford by shoving him out of the way and absorbing a double Superkick, but after a roll-up by Ford only drew a two-count, everything spiraled. A kick to Ford's torso was followed by a double Superkick and a stereo top rope Uso Splash. Jimmy covered Ford for the three-count, and The Usos retained.
What's next: The Street Profits need a fresh start, and Raw desperately needs tag teams. The solution with the draft coming up next week is simple. The Usos will likely play a big part at Roman Reigns' side as he turns toward Brock Lesnar in October, so they may not immediately have new challengers.
Liv Morgan def. Carmella
Liv Morgan debuted on SmackDown in November 2017, alongside Riott Squad compatriots Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan. The group carried momentum and considerable fan support, both initially and when Riott and Morgan rejoined forces a few years later, but they were never able to break through. As a singles performer, Morgan has languished without much in the way of opportunity, but the longtime fan favorite might finally be getting her chance to shine.
In just her second career 1-on-1 match on a pay-per-view event, Morgan started the action at Extreme Rules with a victory over Carmella. Throughout the match, Morgan showcased an increasingly deep reservoir of moves to pull from, including a step-up Enzuigiri, a corner double foot stomp and creative variations of facebreakers and backbreakers. In the closing moments, Morgan grabbed both of Carmella's arms from behind her, fell to the ground with her boot in Carmella's back and drove that foot forward, sending Carmella face-first into the commentary table.
They rolled back into the ring, and with her middle rope suspended Flatliner, Morgan picked up the victory.
What's next: Even with the draft coming up next week, Morgan's finally starting to get her feet underneath her on SmackDown. There's likely to be some lingering tension with Carmella and Zelina Vega to be cleaned up, or she could face a fresh face currently on the Raw roster.