Most Intriguing Storylines to Track on Road to WWE Extreme Rules 2018
After an underwhelming spring season, WWE appears to be on the right trajectory following an exciting Money in the Bank pay-per-view on June 17. Extreme Rules 2018 isn't until July 15, but coming off the latest editions of Raw and SmackDown Live, the stage is already being set for what should be an exhilarating event.
In the past, Extreme Rules has been known to feature the culmination of several storylines that have been brewing for months. The hardcore nature of the show guarantees all sorts of stipulations, and sometimes the simplest ones can make for the most must-see matchups.
Raw general manager Kurt Angle announced on June 18 that the Extreme Rules main event will see several Superstars from the red brand duke it out for an opportunity to vie for Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship. Only Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley were confirmed for the contest, with more names to be revealed in the weeks to come.
Also at Extreme Rules, AJ Styles is slated to defend his WWE Championship against Rusev following The Bulgarian Brute's huge victory in Tuesday's gauntlet match. Whether he can quickly ascend to main event status and be viewed as an equal to The Phenomenal One in the weeks ahead remains to be seen.
Let's look at all the intriguing angles worth keeping an eye on as Extreme Rules approaches.
Daniel Bryan and The Bludgeon Brothers Reignite Their Rivalry
Daniel Bryan has made a handful oddball enemies since returning to the ring at WrestleMania 34. First, he had to deal with Big Cass, and he was then targeted by The Bludgeon Brothers.
It should be noted Bryan has history with Harper and Rowan dating back to their time in The Wyatt Family in early 2014. At that point, The Beard had spent months feuding with the faction before finally joining them, only to turn on them shortly thereafter.
Bryan hadn't crossed paths with the destructive duo since then, so perhaps coming face-to-face with them on Tuesday's SmackDown Live brought back bad memories for The Bludgeon Brothers, causing them to cost the former WWE World Heavyweight champion the gauntlet match main event.
That would seem to suggest Bryan and The Bludgeon Brothers are on a collision course toward Extreme Rules. The former SmackDown Live GM may not be too interested in taking the tag team titles from them, but if the opportunity presented itself at the event, then so be it.
In that case, WWE's resident "Yes!" man would need a partner, someone he could trust to have his back. Granted, they recently mixed it up on SmackDown, but Samoa Joe would make the most sense given the respect they've had for each other over the years.
Who Will Be Next to Challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship?
Roman Reigns appeared to be the one to dethrone Brock Lesnar as Universal champion at WrestleMania 34 in April.
When he was unsuccessful in his efforts to take the title, though, it gave hope to other members of the Raw roster that they could possibly get a chance to beat The Beast Incarnate.
Of course, Reigns is the most likely candidate to face Lesnar at SummerSlam, but there are a slew of Superstars who also deserve a shot at the strap. Bobby Lashley comes to mind, and after the roll he's been on lately, he might make an interesting opponent for The Beast.
Those are the only two to so far cement their spot in the Extreme Rules main event. Angle promised to reveal more competitors in the weeks ahead, but for now we can merely speculate on who else will be added.
Although he has been involved in the Intercontinental Championship picture for many months, Seth Rollins could have the Universal Championship in his sights. If he falls short of recapturing the gold from Dolph Ziggler on next Monday's Raw, don't be surprised to see him throw his name into the hat for the multi-man match at Extreme Rules.
Lest we forget, Bobby Roode, Finn Balor, Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens are all waiting in the wings as well. Whoever builds the most momentum before Extreme Rules should be primed to contend for the championship at SummerSlam on August 19.
James Ellsworth's Return Provides Asuka with Another Obstacle to Overcome
Needless to say, Asuka hasn't been the same since her shocking loss to Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 34. It was apparent the defeat took a toll on her confidence, and she has yet to regain the aggressive streak she had prior to the Show of Shows.
When it was announced in May that Asuka would be challenging for the SmackDown Women's Championship at Extreme Rules, it looked liked Carmella's days as champion were numbered. Little did The Empress of Tomorrow know her opponent had an ace up her sleeve: the returning James Ellsworth.
Yes, the lackey Carmella kicked to the curb in September resurfaced at Money in the Bank and helped her retain her title. After failing to explain their reunion on the subsequent SmackDown Live, they didn't allow Asuka to give The Princess of Staten Island her comeuppance and instead left her laying.
It's fairly likely Asuka will receive another shot at the strap at Extreme Rules, but hopefully the stipulation of the match is in her favor. Something such as a steel cage would be perfect in ensuring Ellsworth doesn't get involved again and ruin her chances of becoming champion.
The previously undefeated Japanese will have her work cut out heading into Extreme Rules, but if she can thwart the interference of Ellsworth, she will have gold around her waist before long.
Will Ronda Rousey Stay Suspended?
Ronda Rousey rocked Raw to its core at the start of last week's show. In a fit of rage, she annihilated Alexa Bliss and didn't hesitate to lay out Angle as well.
As a result, Rousey was suspended (in storyline) for 30 days, putting her out of action until after next month's Extreme Rules pay-per-view. In the meantime, newly crowned Raw Women's champion Bliss will have her hands full with Nia Jax at the event.
Then again, coming off an angle as hot as we saw on Monday night, there is little chance the suspension sticks. WWE has to capitalize on all the buzz the former UFC star has at the moment by featuring her on the program in some form.
If Rousey is as rebellious as she claims to be, an invasion of Raw wouldn't be out of the question. At this point, she has nothing to lose and it wouldn't hurt for her to make an extra impact while she's at it.
Either way, Rowdy is too important to Raw right now to simply be left off the show for several weeks.
Keep an eye out for Rousey in the buildup to Extreme Rules, because she's bound to resurface sooner rather than later.
Rusev's Rise to the WWE Championship
Rusev was primed to have a breakout 2018 considering the wave of momentum he was riding coming into the new year, with his Rusev Day shtick being as over with the audience as it is.
Unfortunately, he has found little success so far this year, failing to capture the United States Championship at WrestleMania 34 and the Money in the Bank briefcase on June 17.
Ever the resilient competitor, Rusev bounced back in a major way on SmackDown Live when he reigned supreme in a star-studded gauntlet match. In the process, he earned himself a chance to contend for the WWE Championship against AJ Styles at Extreme Rules.
There can be no doubt Rusev deserves the upcoming opportunity at the title, but he will need more than one win to prove himself as a main event level Superstar in the eyes of fans.
He hadn't done much of note before recently, and thus these next few weeks will be crucial in cementing him as the top-tier star he was destined to be.
Thankfully, his opponent at Extreme Rules will be AJ Styles, who is famous for making anyone he steps in the ring with look good. Rusev should be no exception, especially since they had an entertaining one-on-one encounter in March and established they work well together.
The belief among the masses is Rusev is merely a "filler" feud for Styles prior to SummerSlam, but a series of strong showings in the coming weeks could see him shock at Extreme Rules and walk away with the prestigious prize.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.