Last night’s WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view was a show of very few title changes, but one strap that did change hands is the WWE United States Championship.
Jeff Hardy went into the event as US Champion. He won the title on the Superstar Shake-up edition on Raw in April from Jinder Mahal before being drafted to SmackDown Live the next day.
Hardy defended the belt four times between April 16 (when he won it) and Extreme Rules.
He defeated Jinder Mahal in the ‘Modern Day Maharaja’s “contractual rematch” at Greatest Royal Rumble in late April and against Randy Orton at Backlash in May.
On the June 26 edition of SmackDown, Shinsuke Nakamura was scheduled to challenge the ‘Charismatic Enigma’ for the US gold. On the night before that show, however, the ‘King of Strong Style’ was bitten in the leg by a police dog at a WWE Live Event and wasn’t cleared to compete. Hardy ran an “open challenge” instead, retaining over SAnitY’s Eric Young after a brawl on the outside between the other members of SAnitY and the Usos spilled into the ring, resulting into a no contest.
A couple of weeks later on July 3, the champ issued another “open challenge” this time answered by an unsuccessful Miz as Hardy retained once more.
It was soon announced that the match between Hardy and Nakamura that was previously scheduled would be moved to Extreme Rules.
Prior to the match, in terms of results at least, Nakamura hadn’t really had a great 2018. The last time he won on pay-per-view before last night was at Fastlane in March, where he defeated Rusev.
Since then the Japanese star has lost every pay-per-view match to AJ Styles in WWE Championship bouts, where the ‘Phenomenal One’ retained each time.
Last week’s episode of SmackDown Live was, of course, the final before WWE Extreme Rules, but also Nakamura’s TV return following the dog bite. He took on AJ Styles again, but the match broke down when Rusev, Styles’ Extreme Rules challenger, attacked the WWE Champion. Rusev and Nakamura launched a two-on-one assault, but it was cut off when Jeff Hardy intervened and a tag team match was made, which Nakamura and Rusev won.
There have been a lot of reports about Jeff Hardy working through many injuries recently, and from what happened last night, that looks to be the case.
The two were set ready for the match, but when the referee turned his back to hand the championship to ringside personnel, Nakamura delivered a low blow to Hardy before the match had even started. The ‘Daredevil’ was adamant he could push through, but as soon as the ref called for the bell, Nakamura landed a Kinshasa to win the title in a matter of seconds.
The surprises weren’t done there though, because during the ‘Artist’s celebration, Randy Orton, who we haven’t seen for two months, made his on-screen return.
The ‘Viper’ had been on the shelf after undergoing knee surgery, but made his way to the ring and initially engaged in a stare-down with the new US Champion. But, Orton turned around, dragged Hardy into the middle of the ring, and delivered his own low blow, before simply walking away.
Is this a heel turn for Orton; a heel turn that has been needed for some time now? Or was it simply a statement of intent to Nakamura, who Orton intends on challenging? Maybe Orton was just getting one back on Hardy, who beat the ‘Apex Predator’ in his last match at Backlash?