Rusev won a star-studded Gauntlet Match to earn the right to challenge WWE Champion AJ Styles at WWE Extreme Rules. Elsewhere, SAnitY made an unforgettable debut and left an immediate impression.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella shocked everyone but herself on Sunday night when she defeated Asuka to retain her title at WWE Money in the Bank after James Ellsworth made his unbelievable return. Princess Mella hit the scene on SmackDown LIVE to remind everyone within earshot that she made The Empress of Tomorrow bow down to her “all by herself.” Asuka then appeared to be interrupting… but, much like Sunday night, it turned out to be Ellsworth dressed as an Asuka doppelganger.
Ellsworth let everyone know that he was back to serve his Princess — the greatest woman in history – and Carmella then had him rattle off the entire list of Superstars she is better than. Ellsworth’s list was lengthy, including the likes of WWE Hall of Famer Lita and Ronda Rousey, but then concluded with Asuka, which prompted the real Empress of Tomorrow to arrive. Asuka entered the ring, and Ellsworth, looking to impress Carmella, informed his Princess that he would take care of this one.
Ellsworth then attempted to stare Asuka down, which only led to her hitting Ellsworth flush in the stomach with a spinning heel kick that sent him straight down. However, Ellsworth would prove to again pay dividends for the SmackDown Women’s Champion, as the distraction allowed Carmella to connect with a superkick right to The Empress of Tomorrow.
The long-awaited debut of SAnitY on SmackDown LIVE put them right in the thick of the fire, as they were scheduled to take on three-time SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos in their first match. The Usos spoke on what it takes to make a name for yourselves on SmackDown LIVE prior to the contest and then awaited their newly arriving challengers. However, Eric Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe refused to wait for the opening bell and instead mercilessly ambushed Jimmy & Jey before the match could begin.
The trio left The Usos laying after taking out Jimmy & Jey with several high-impact maneuvers to make a very clear statement: Not only had they arrived, but so had the chaos that comes with them.
Kicking off this high-stakes Gauntlet Match to determine the challenger for WWE Champion AJ Styles at WWE Extreme Rules were Daniel Bryan and Big E. The two combated at a rapid pace, and Bryan advanced after withstanding Big E’s explosive powerhouse attack and caught him with the Running Knee for the three-count.
There would be no rest for The “Yes!” Man, however, as out next was Samoa Joe. The two fought ferociously, with Joe looking to prey on the worse-for-wear Bryan. When the action spilled to the outside, Joe locked Bryan in the Coquina Clutch trying to put Daniel to sleep as the referee began to count to 10. However, Bryan slid out of the hold and used his momentum to make Joe stumble prior to getting back into the ring right as the referee was nearing the 10-count. Joe was shocked, but Bryan’s craftiness was enough gain the victory over The Samoan Submission Machine.
However, before the next Superstar could arrive, The Bludgeon Brothers reemerged and savagely attacked Bryan, laying him out with a vicious assault. This left Bryan ripe for the picking against the next Superstar to enter the contest, who, as fate would have it, was Bryan’s longtime rival The Miz. Simply being able to just pick the bones of Bryan at this point, Miz made quick work of Daniel, finishing him off instantly with the Skull-Crushing Finale.
With Miz having taken out the wounded Bryan, all that was left between him and a WWE Championship Match was Rusev. Both Superstars were surely feeling lingering effects from the Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match two days prior, but both were also going to give it all they had, as they were now only one step away from a WWE Championship opportunity at WWE Extreme Rules.
Rusev and Miz jockeyed for position, but after several close calls, Miz attempted to follow his “It” Kicks with another Daniel Bryan impersonation by going for Bryan’s signature Running Knee. However, The Super Athlete countered with a kick that knocked The A-Lister straight down. From there, Rusev applied the Accolade to get the tapout victory and earn the right to challenge The Phenomenal One at WWE Extreme Rules for the WWE Title.
After Rusev’s monumental win, Styles arrived, laid his WWE Title down as to suggest it was a line in the sand and then shook The Bulgarian Brute’s hand. However, when Rusev’s trusty songbird sidekick also tried to put ‘er there with Styles before pulling his hand away, AJ gave him a swift punch to the jaw for his troubles.
Styles and Rusev seemed to respect one another, but what will happen next as WWE Extreme Rules approaches?
In other action … Becky Lynch def. Billie Kay … and SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bludgeon Brothers def. Gallows & Anderson.