Although it may not always feel like it, Extreme Rules has now been with us for 11 years. Of all the oft-derided “gimmick” PPV events introduced around the same time, Extreme Rules is probably the least problematic since it does not confine itself to promoting one particular stipulation. This, combined with the PPV’s six-year stint as the WrestleMania follow-up, has allowed the event to host several great matches over the years.
Creating a list of the ten best matches in Extreme Rules history turned out to be much trickier than I anticipated, so several good-great matches did not make the cut. For example, not a single Last Man Standing match appears in this list, despite multiple strong outings. Other memorable high-profile encounters are also pushed down the order by unexpected classics.
So here we go: the top ten matches in Extreme Rules history. And there’s not a handicap hog-pen match in sight.
10. Roman Reigns & The Undertaker vs Drew McIntyre & Shane McMahon – No Holds Barred (2019)
When this match was announced, expectations were mixed at best. The Undertaker’s prior match had been a dreadful botch-filled disaster against Goldberg in Saudi Arabia, which only strengthened calls for the Deadman’s retirement. Nobody expected another match so soon.
At that same event in Saudi Arabia, Roman Reigns lost to Shane McMahon after a Claymore from Drew McIntyre. The feud continued with Reigns getting a win over McIntyre, before facing both Shane and Drew in a handicap match on RAW. Undertaker would make an appearance to help Roman and the tag match was set for Extreme Rules. Given their history, the team of Roman and Undertaker came across as a genuine dream team despite the slightly clunky “Graveyard Dogs” name bestowed upon them.
When the bell finally rang, the action was solid and Undertaker did not look like someone worried about a repeat of the Super Showdown debacle. There were some fun moments early on with Shane getting cocky before being put back in his place. The match kicked into a higher gear when interference from Elias essentially turned it into a handicap match. Shane got in his high spots on the Undertaker, but it ultimately wouldn’t matter as the Deadman would characteristically sit up. Everyone in this match knew their part and played it fantastically.
The finishing sequence was a big highlight of the match: Drew McIntyre was presented as a menacing threat who just got caught out by a sudden numbers disadvantage, while Shane finally received his comeuppance at the hands of both Reigns and The Undertaker. If you’re looking for proof that the Undertaker can still contribute outside of cinematic matches, go watch this. If you’re pressed for time, just skip the rather lengthy entrances.
9. Alberto Del Rio vs Christian – World Heavyweight Championship Ladder Match (2011)
In 2011, Extreme Rules was the first PPV after WrestleMania and was planned to feature several rematches. One such rematch was a World Heavyweight Championship ladder match between Edge and Alberto Del Rio, but Edge’s sudden retirement announcement would vacate the title and throw a curveball into the mix. A new opponent for Del Rio would be decided in a battle royale, which was fittingly won by Christian.
Two wrestlers both fighting one-on-one for their first world championship is a rare occurrence in WWE and there was strong reasoning for either man winning. On the one hand, Royal Rumble winner Alberto may have flubbed his first chance at gold, but he was very clearly a future champion in WWE’s eyes. On the other hand, Christian already had a great career, but he’d never been World Champion and the fans were clamouring for him to avenge his friend Edge and finally win the big one. A ladder match fit the story perfectly as well. Sure, Christian had vastly more experience in that kind of match, but was he putting too much pressure on himself?
The match itself started off slowly and Del Rio mostly avoided the flashy offence usually associated with ladder matches and instead focussed on simply hurting Christian with the ladder. There were still some innovative spots, some of which used a tiny ladder which obviously predicted the existence of WeeLC a few years later. The match built pace and suspense well with both men having good opportunities to grab the title.
Late twists would ultimately decide the match with interference from Brodus Clay and a well-timed distraction from Edge. The longing for Christian as champion combined with the perception that Vince would never allow it made these final minutes utterly compelling – Christian’s final climb to championship glory still gives me goosebumps. A historic moment and a must-watch for fans of Christian – just don’t watch the next week’s episode of SmackDown.
8. Brock Lesnar vs John Cena – Extreme Rules (2012)
After losing arguably the most important match of his career to that point at WrestleMania, John Cena called out The Rock on RAW to congratulate him. Instead of Rock, Cena got Brock. Lesnar had not been seen in WWE since 2004. The huge return in front of a hot post-WrestleMania crowd became a huge moment when Lesnar offered his hand only to pick up Cena and F-5 him. The former UFC Champion was back in the WWE and he was immediately going after the face of the company. The match instantly felt like a major showdown.
The big fight feel only grew during the entrances as Cena entered armed with a chain, while the typical split crowd reaction was loud. Ultimately, this would be Brock’s first match in eight years and nobody really knew what to expect. Would there be ring rust? Would Brock wrestle a different style? Ring rust would turn out to not be an issue, but Brock’s style could not have been more shocking.
Straight off the bat, Brock hit a takedown and elbowed Cena in the head until he bled. Lesnar would go on to dominate Cena, only being interrupted by a heavily-booed doctor. Brock brutalised Cena in this match, initially with his bare hands and later with the aid of a chain. It was a brutal affair and Cena really didn’t get any major offence in until an overconfident Brock attempted a flying knee leading to him landing awkwardly on the outside.
This is almost certainly the highest-profile match in Extreme Rules history and at the time, it was one of the most shocking things I had seen in wrestling. However to be honest, this match has not aged as well as some others in this list. Brock’s Summerslam dismantling of Cena was more shocking and there are some hints in this match of the boring dominance we would see in later Brock matches. I enjoyed this match a lot more at the time, rather than re-watching it now. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still very good and well worth a spot in this top ten list, but it ranks number one in terms of brutality, rather than overall quality.
7. Rey Mysterio vs Chris Jericho – No Holds Barred – Intercontinental Championship Match (2009)
Due to the stipulation heavy nature of Extreme Rules, the event has often been the home of rematches and the first event in 2009 was no exception. Mysterio and Jericho had clashed before at Judgment Day, with Rey successfully defending the Intercontinental Championship despite an attempt from Jericho to remove his mask. This was an awesome feud and this match at Extreme Rules came right in the middle of it.
Rather than his normal entrance, Jericho instead lectured the fans from the merchandise stand calling Rey a liar and a hypocrite for having the audacity to have the WWE sell masks. Jericho’s tirade continued as he entered slowly through the crowd with a final promise to rip Rey’s mask off and win his record 9th Intercontinental Championship. To be clear, Rey’s mask was not on the line in this match, but this was still Jericho’s aim.
Right off the bell, Rey charged in with a double leg takedown and took control with a raw intensity not usually seen from his in-ring style. This intensity matched well with the high quality technical action you would expect from these two wrestlers. The match went back and forth with some amazing counters and exciting action – including a rare 619 around the turnbuckle and one of the best suicide dives I’ve seen. At times, Jericho also revelled in his newfound powerhouse role. Interestingly, all of this happened with relatively little use of the No Holds Barred stipulation.
A steel chair entered the fray towards the end of the bout, giving Rey a way out of the Walls of Jericho, but it would serve as little more than a distraction as Jericho lived up to both of his promises from the match-opening promo. The finishing sequence involving Rey’s mask is one of the finest and most creative on this list and it takes the match to another level. The match would definitely rank higher if Rey hadn’t already lost his mask in WCW and because they’d actually go on to have an even better match together at The Bash.
6. Bray Wyatt vs Finn Balor vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Seth Rollins – Extreme Rules Fatal 5-Way – Universal Championship No.1 Contendership Match (2017)
2017 was a tough year for RAW brand-exclusive PPV events as the Universal Champion Brock Lesnar would only wrestle on a handful of those events. The number one contendership thus became a much bigger prize since few wrestlers would even get a shot that year. This match at Extreme Rules featured five competitors who all had good claims: Bray was a very recent WWE Champion; Finn was trying to get back the title he lost through injury; Roman and Seth had a history with Brock; and Samoa Joe versus Brock seemed like a dream match.
Unpredictability is usually a good thing for a match and this had plenty of it. The only really predictable thing about the match was the breakdown of an alliance between Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt, but it served a purpose in structuring the match. The action was great and really made it clear that a five-way is hard to win because there’s always someone lurking. Samoa Joe had the Coquina Clutch locked in several times, but he just couldn’t get enough time to get the win with it. The sense of urgency when only two were standing was palpable, especially during a nice section between Reigns and Rollins.
The match also had its big spots such as Reigns spearing Joe and Balor into the timekeeper’s area and a Rollins Frog Splash through the announce table. There was something for everyone in this match and the suspenseful action made the time fly by. The eventual finish made it look as if Finn was on the verge of victory over Reigns, only for Samoa Joe to sneak in and brutally take him out.
5. Edge vs Jeff Hardy – Ladder Match – World Heavyweight Championship (2009)
Is it any surprise that the best Ladder Match in Extreme Rules history was between Edge and Jeff Hardy? These two revolutionised ladder matches along with their partners and the Dudley Boyz and this history was a big part of the build to this match. The pair had recent history as well – Edge had ended Jeff’s first WWE Championship reign at the Royal Rumble and then successfully defended his World Heavyweight Championship against him at Judgment Day. This was presented as the final battle in a war between the two greatest Ladder Match competitors.
A key part of the story was a simple concept: Jeff Hardy always makes highlight reels in Ladder matches, but Edge always wins. Jeff responded appropriately in the first part of the match by focussing on taking out Edge. This was not the chaos of TLC, but a more believable one-on-one fight with the ladders used in a variety of ways. This was a battle between two Ladder Match experts who had learned from their experiences.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t huge, high-risk moments, though. Actually, there were several, but the match built to them perfectly and showed both competitors coming off worse for wear. An especially innovative spot saw Edge roll away as Jeff stood on top of a ladder leading to Jeff leaning the ladder over to grab the title. The plan ended very painfully for Jeff, but it was nice to see the masters of the Ladder Match still finding some new things to do.
The scintillating action crescendoed into a unique finishing sequence in which Edge became trapped within the ladder itself, allowing Jeff to win the Championship while looking directly in Edge’s eyes. It was a hugely cathartic moment and all seemed right with the world. That was, of course, until CM Punk cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase just moments later. Overall, it was a fantastic match with a memorable and shocking swerve afterwards as a bonus.
4. Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan – 2 out of 3 Falls – World Heavyweight Championship (2012)
A 2 out of 3 Falls match probably doesn’t scream “Extreme Rules”, but in this case, that was very much the point. At WrestleMania XXVIII, Sheamus defeated Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship in just 18 seconds. When Daniel was given the chance to choose a stipulation for their rematch, this match was an obvious choice to avoid another “fluke”.
This rematch started off cautiously, which made sense from Daniel Bryan’s perspective. Despite this, Sheamus still went close with an early Brogue Kick attempt and reminded Daniel that he was close to losing again. This early tease was however not a sign of things to come. Too often in 2 out of 3 falls matches, the first fall comes too easily, but that was definitely not the case here. Bryan used his technical prowess to keep Sheamus grounded and wear him down. Sheamus occasionally overpowered Bryan, but his overconfident attempt at submissions allowed Daniel to regain control.
The first fall saw some amazing wrestling and storytelling. Bryan actually managed to dominate Sheamus, but he just couldn’t earn the first fall. When Bryan finally did get an opportunity to focus on an injured body part, he got himself disqualified for ignoring the referee’s instructions. This doesn’t sound like a great ending to the first part of this match, but it worked well here and Bryan immediately evened up the score. A clever use of the ringside doctor amped up the suspense and the crowd sensed a title change.
The crowd were wrong on this occasion and Bryan went home empty-handed after a short final fall. Some say that wrestling is at its best when it leaves you satisfied, but wanting more. If you subscribe to this theory, this match is definitely worth going out of your way to watch. After revisiting this match, I’d love to see a 2020 version between the two as they can clearly tell a great story together. When I started this article, I never thought my conclusion would be that I want an Iron Man match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus, but that’s what’s happened.
3. The Shield vs Evolution (2014)
Matches between two all-time great stables can be tricky to pull off. You need multiple cogs in the same place at the same time and with a compelling enough storyline. It also helps if you have a clear heel-face dynamic, which can be difficult with such groups. In 2014, WWE nailed this with the feud between The Shield and Evolution. Evolution was brought back by Triple H in an extension of the hated Authority and the fans’ disdain for Triple H and Batista after their feuds with Daniel Bryan carried into this feud. For their part, The Shield were only months into a face turn and they were easy to get behind.
This wasn’t just Evolution versus The Shield. This was the old guard versus the new generation. The Shield had come to personify what fans wanted to see, while Evolution represented the past holding back the future. It’s easy to forget now, but Roman Reigns was cheered heavily against Batista at the end of that year’s Royal Rumble. This had a big fight feel and the match benefited greatly from the weight behind it.
The start of the match was incredibly deceptive. The Shield’s usual frantic pace was missing and Evolution guided the match towards their rhythm. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins had to slow down their style to adapt to the match, but this was just the calm before the storm. When the storm finally came, the action was chaotic and exhilarating. Ambrose impressed with his unhinged brawling, while Rollins delivered the most memorable moment of the night as the fight spilled into the crowd.
The brawl into the crowd left Roman Reigns and Batista alone, giving Reigns the opportunity to win using his powerhouse offence. The old guard had been defeated. The young guns had won the battle, but the war would continue. The Shield were a force that was not going to be put down for the sake of a ten-year-old supergroup. This was the night the future became the present.
2. Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles – Extreme Rules – WWE Championship (2016)
A lot can change in two years. Roman Reigns had gone from a popular member of The Shield to a supposedly babyface WWE Champion, who was booed relentlessly in most towns. AJ Styles had gone from being the leader of Bullet Club and winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his first NJPW match to joining the one company many never thought he would. To many, AJ Styles was already the best wrestler in the world and he was going to prove it in WWE.
This match was accompanied by a soundtrack of “Roman Sucks” and “You can’t wrestle” (spoiler alert: yes, he can). However, the crowd reaction not matching WWE’s intentions wouldn’t hurt the match in any way. The match started off with a brawl and headed into the crowd and the kickoff panel set fairly quickly. The announce table was a focal point early on with a series of counters ending in AJ smashing through a table after a huge back body drop.
Whether in the ring or ringside, the action was fast and furious and mix Roman’s power offence with AJs counters and technical skill. With Reigns in control after an impressive spear jumping over the ring steps, Gallows and Anderson interfered and nearly give AJ the victory. The Usos came out to even the odds and nearly handed the win to Reigns. The interference made some decisive saves, but crucially did not decide the outcome.
The final minutes of the match featured some amazing near-falls and a Styles Clash on a chair. AJ would then use the chair to deal with the Usos and bring the fight back down to one-on-one. Continuing a theme from the match, an excellent counter ended the match and AJ came out of the match looking like he’d only just missed out. In my opinion, this is the best one-on-one match in Extreme Rules history.
1. The Miz vs Cesaro vs Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn – Fatal 4 Way: Intercontinental Championship (2016)
A Fatal 4 Way for the Intercontinental Championship may not seem groundbreaking. After all, multi-man matches are often used when no single challenger has been built up enough. However, in this case, the quality on show pushes a relatively unassuming match into the stratosphere. With Cesaro, Owens and Zayn in the same match and Miz in the form of his career as Intercontinental Champion, it’s no surprise this match is good. What is surprising is just how good it is.
The start set the tone perfectly. Rather than a typical lock-up, Zayn instantly took Owens out with a Helluva kick and Cesura followed up by taking down Miz with a European Uppercut. The first of several sequences of excellent chain wrestling followed. One advantage of this match being for the Intercontinental Championship was the feeling that the match could end at any time — even the early near falls felt plausible.
The pace just could not be stopped. The typical multi-man spots were used wisely and logically with the addition of a stunning German Exploder Suplex featuring Cesaro, Miz and Zayn. Cesaro would go on an uppercut frenzy on all three opponents in a sequence which makes me question how he still hasn’t been World Champion. The counters and blindside attacks kept on coming without ever feeling forced or repetitive. It’s hard to imagine how the action in a Fatal 4 Way could be better.
The crowd were drawn totally into the match by the action and several credible false finishes. One notable example played off the trope of everyone hitting their finisher one after the other, but Cesaro shockingly kicked out of the Skull Crushing Finale. Cesaro would even get a visual victory after a 16-rotation swing ending in a Sharpshooter – Miz tapped out, but the referee was distracted by Maryse. This was a star-making performance from Cesaro, but definitely not a one-man show.
The finishing sequence capped off the match perfectly. The opportunistic champion Miz would attempt to take advantage of others doing the heavy lifting, but get himself thrown out of the ring. This would actually give Miz a second bite of the cherry and as Owens and Zayn brawled, Miz snuck in to retain his championship. Overall, this match had amazing action, fantastic storytelling and made all four wrestlers come across like major stars.
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