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Extreme Fight: The WWE-AEW War Begins This Weekend

Breaking down the must-see matches from ‘Extreme Rules’ and ‘Fight for the Fallen,’ as WWE and upstart AEW finally go (kind of) head to head

AEW/WWE/Ringer illustration

This Saturday, All Elite Wrestling will stage its third televised event since launching in January. Fight for the Fallen will, à la last month’s Fyter Fest, stream free of charge via Bleacher Report’s B/R Live. It will also raise money via gate proceeds for Jacksonville’s Victim Assistance Advisory Council, a nonprofit that aids crime victims and their families in the Florida city, which doubles as AEW’s home base and will play host to Fallen at TIAA Bank Field.

The following night, WWE will stage its annual midsummer spectacle, Extreme Rules, live from Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. The broadcast can be accessed free of charge by new, first-time WWE Network subscribers, and gate proceeds presumably will be redirected toward damages owed to Dallas’s American Airlines Center after Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley short-circuited the building’s electrical system two Monday nights ago.

Further side-by-sides aren’t really apt. AEW is still warming up for its true follow-up to May’s Double or Nothing, August 31’s All Out PPV, which is itself a table-setter for the promotion’s weekly prime-time show coming this fall on TNT. There are no championships on the line at Fight for the Fallen, nor is there any basis on which to compare buy rates and other esoterica. Extreme Rules, on the other hand, comes around with plenty at stake, regardless of viewership metrics. This is the WWE’s first big Sunday extravaganza since Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff were announced as executive director of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, and everyone’s watching to witness whether immediate signs of life on both programs will have foreshadowed an exciting and unpredictable show in this last big tune-up prior to SummerSlam.

Not every bout on either card is a blockbuster. And the enticement of a potential title change (the possibility of Brock Lesnar cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase notwithstanding) doesn’t necessarily make one match more must-see than any other. In any case, and before Shane McMahon comes beckoning for someone to properly coronate him as the best in the world, here’s a tidy summation—at least more concise than this introduction—of what, in our humble (or expert, if you prefer) opinion, represent the most compelling clashes at Fight for the Fallen and Extreme Rules.

Fight for the Fallen Must-Sees

“The Buy-in” Pre-show: Joey Janela, Jimmy Havoc, and Darby Allin vs. Shawn Spears, MJF, and Sammy Guevara

One of the great delights to this point in AEW’s existence has been seeing Shawn Spears—the artist once known as WWE’s Tye Dillinger—set himself apart as a mohawked heel with scores to settle. Not even with any particular individual—just the wrestling gods. Long Island native MJF has already established himself as the cockiest midsize loud mouth in any promotion, while young Sammy Guevara is still honing his swagger. Despite their objectively superior overall athleticism, they’ll be the antagonists in this six-man slugfest opposite devil-may-care iconoclasts Janela, Havoc, and Allin, the latter of whom made a big-time impression at Fyter Fest by pushing Cody Rhodes to his limit. The spots will be characteristically splashy, the trash talk should be epic. (For his part, Janela got dropped barefoot onto a pile of thumbtacks at FF and followed it up by shadowboxing WWE outcast Enzo Amore at a Blink-182 concert this week.)

Brandi Rhodes vs. Allie

The first lady of AEW and its real-life chief brand officer, Brandi Rhodes has been seen on screen in each of the previous two televised offerings, but largely in an ambassadorial role or as ringside support for her husband, Cody. Now she’ll get her hands dirty against Canadian veteran Allie, who’s coming off a win against Leva Bates at Fyter Fest and is thus positioned to take a harmless L so that Brandi can shine. But it’ll still be interesting to see how Brandi, who’s been out of action for some time, shakes off the rust. She’s running the women’s division behind the scenes, and Saturday will be an interesting look at how influential she’ll be in the ring.

The Young Bucks vs. Cody and Dustin Rhodes

When Cody capped his win against a bloodied Dustin at Double or Nothing by blubbering, “I don’t need a partner, I don’t need a friend, I need my older brother” for a match at Fight for the Fallen against Young Bucks Matt and Nick Jackson, it was—by design, no doubt—the stuff off instant meme-ing and viral mocking. The Bucks happily obliged, poking fun at the story line’s paint-by-numbers domestic melodrama on an episode of Being the Elite. The appeal, however, is fairly straightforward: two sets of brothers—one pair who’ve wrestled in tandem their entire lives, the other having been former WWE Tag Team Champions together but separated by a generation growing up—burning it down. Matt and Nick will deliver the five-star fireworks, while Cody and Dustin come with the emotion and, we assume, a few vintage, in-stereo Rhodes crowd-pleasers (basement uppercuts, anyone?). Truth is, this one could have been built for months with far more fanfare, and it still could be revisited down the line come TNT time. Seeing it on the house as the headliner of an exhibition amounts to an act of booking magnanimousness.

Complete Fight for the Fallen card available here

Extreme Rules Must-Sees

Cesaro vs. Aleister Black

Who did you think was knocking at Black’s door a few weeks back, Bray Wyatt? (Actually, I did.) Turns out the Swiss Cyborg/Superman/[Insert Any Nicknames We’re Overlooking Here] decided to take up the seething Satanist on his open challenge, catching absolutely everyone off guard. Cesaro’s been in flux since his partner Sheamus stepped away in April following a rumored concussion (though the banged-up Irish bruiser has reportedly been flirting with retirement for a while now). He still sports his The Bar mouthguard and flashes the duo’s signature thumb of neutrality during entrances, but has been pushed as a singles force (complete with yet another new, underwhelming theme song) on Raw, taking down the likes of current U.S. Champion Ricochet and battering No Way Jose for the fun of it. What to make, then, of his wild-card appearance on SmackDown, for which he dressed and comported himself like the world’s most eligible speed dater? For now, a possible show-stealer on Sunday. Black will almost certainly persevere, though these guys have the ability to both come out winners.

Ricochet (c) vs. AJ Styles for the United States Championship

After a false start several months ago, Styles has at last gone full heel again, the only satisfying creative path for a performer who has spent most of recent memory as a kid-friendly hero and who recently signed what’s likely to be his final contract as a year-round performer. And he’s joined in his maleficence by his old Bullet Club running mates Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, setting their sights on ascendant megastar and U.S. champ Ricochet. Styles’s motivation for stomping mudhole after mudhole into his helpless opponent this month? He couldn’t beat him, and he gave in to Gallows and Anderson’s backstage needling about going all goody two-shoes. (In wrestling, peer pressure often proves paradoxically persuasive on more veteran pros.) Even before Styles and Ricochet’s careers overlapped in WWE, and long prior to Ricochet’s full coming of age, they squared off memorably, briefly turning a small indie venue in Queens into a bigtime stage by sheer flippy will. A clean finish doesn’t seem incredibly likely—Gallows and Anderson have to earn those paychecks, after all—but an edge-of-seat, balletic 15 minutes is guaranteed.

The Undertaker and Roman Reigns vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre

We care about what happens here on two fronts: It’s the Undertaker, and so, yeah. But also, perhaps he’ll finally fulfill Kevin Owens’s (and our) demands and put Shane-O-Mac the airtime-hogging heel out to offscreen pasture. Alternately, this could be a way to splinter McMahon off for one last tour of duty in the service of getting Owens over as a bona fide, voice-of-the-people popular dude. (He played that role to great effect back in ROH.) Outside of Taker showing up and tossing off a line about his respect for Reigns, very little’s been milked from their fairly significant history (i.e., Reigns theoretically having retired Taker at WrestleMania 33). Or, for that matter, from Taker’s differences with McMahon leading up to and including the previous year’s Mania. As for McIntyre, well, he’s just happy to be here. And in light of Taker’s standard, spotty appearance schedule heading into Extreme Rules, we were given filler antics like Cedric Alexander’s Raw riff on Becky Lynch’s La Luchadora gag. Nonetheless, the Undertaker is teaming with Roman Reigns. Whether or not we’re nearing the Deadman’s last ride, he’s still a singular box office attraction.

Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley in a Last Man Standing match

Apologies to the women on the card (SmackDown can do better than this Alexa Bliss–Nikki Cross nonsense) and all the other champions contending (Seth Rollins, Lynch, Revival), but Strowman and Lashley’s Last Man Standing standoff has—shockingly—had the steadiest momentum. Back when they were arm wrestling and doing tug-of-war intramurals, the best you could say was it bested Mark Henry and Ryback’s show-of-strength exchanges circa 2013 (oh, how time flies). But then came the aforementioned night in Dallas on July 1, when the big men heralded Raw’s first episode since Paul Heyman was named executive director by barreling through the big LED screen and lying prone while WWE’s cameras and commentary framed the incident as entirely unscripted. We all knew better, but we also appreciated their commitment to the bit. In the week-plus since, Lashley’s verité promos and threats of intimidation (poor Rey Mysterio) in Strowman’s absence have felt far more personal than any other grudge going into this Sunday. Strowman’s future remains a looming question mark, the biggest one this side of when Bray Wyatt will show up in a ring, but he’s stumbled into a feud that’s surpassed the sum of its parts. And Lashley, in his own Mark Henry–worthy way, is peaking amid this unlikely run as a badass big man with nothing to lose. Sounds like a win-win.

Complete Extreme Rules fight card available here

Kenny Herzog has covered everything from wrestling and television to politics and pop music for outlets including Rolling Stone, New York magazine, Esquire, Paste, Bleacher Report, Slate, ESPN, Nylon, Mic, and many more for nearly 20 years. You can find him on Twitter @kennyherzog.