Rusev Crowned Number One Contender on SmackDown Live

Fresh off a three month feud against Shinsuke Nakamura that resulted in AJ Styles remaining WWE Champion throughout, the next challenger for the "Phenomenal One" was determined this week on SmackDown.

A championship gauntlet match was held between Daniel Bryan, Big E, Samoa Joe, Rusev, and The Miz to determine who would face Styles at next month's Extreme Rules PPV event. The match started with two competitors, and a new superstar was added after each fall. It was given a ton of time, almost 45 minutes to close the show.

Daniel Bryan and Big E got the short end of the stick, with them starting out the match. This meant that if either of them was to win the gauntlet, they would have to defeat four competitors as compared to the last entrant who would only need to defeat one.

Bryan and Big E worked each other for almost ten minutes, with Bryan getting the early advantage using advantages like the Dragon Sleeper and some grueling arm bars, but E came back using his power.

Bryan fought back with some kicks in the corner but ran into a massive clothesline. E put Bryan into a standing knee submission, but Bryan was able to reverse it and nearly lock-in the Yes Lock. He turned it into a Triangle, but Big E lifted him up dead weight. Bran escaped into another submission attempt. They exchanged position some more before Big E nailed Bryan with the tackle through the ropes to the outside.

Bryan used the fact that Big E injured his shoulder going to the outside, through him into the corner, and hit the running knee for pinfall.

Out next was Samoa Joe, who immediately chopped the hell out of Bryan's chest. Bryan had brief periods of offense, but it was mostly Joe with big power moves including a massive powerslam. Joe eventually used some submissions, like a brutal arm bar and modified Boston Crab.

Bryan fought back catching a kick and using a corkscrew to the leg to take down Joe. He dragged Joe to the corner and bashed his leg against the ring post. Back in the ring Bryan ran into a big boot and atomic drop as Joe assumed control once again. Joe went for the Coquina Clutch but Bryan was able to send him to the outside, following that up with a running knee from the apron.

Bryan gave him the Yes Kicks back in the ring and a big enziuguri. Bryan went for the running knee but Joe rolled to the outside. Joe tried to lock in the Coquina Clutch in the process but never got it fully locked in. Bryan used the security railing to roll out of it and get back in the ring before the 10 count. Joe was counted out and Bryan lived on.

At this point, the Bludgeon Brothers (who Bryan crossed paths with earlier in the night) came through the crowd and powerbombed Bryan. The Miz was out next, and he ran down and hit the Skull Crushing Finale very quickly to pin Bryan following the attack from the Bludgeons.

The final pair was The Miz taking on Rusev. Styles was shown watching intently backstage as Rusev worked over Miz early on with his power. Miz turned the tide with a dropkick through the ropes to the outside on Rusev as Aiden English screamed words of encouragement to his man.

Miz used submissions back in the ring to stay on the offensive. He hit a big clothesline in the corner and went to the top rope, coming off with a flying axe handle for a near fall. He immediately went back to submission, syncing in a headlock on Rusev in the middle of the ring. The announcers noted that he could take his time wearing down Rusev since they were the last competitors.

Rusev fought back getting a boot up in the corner as Miz charged in. They exchanged big right hands in the middle of the ring before Rusev hit him with a couple of standing big kicks and a flying spin kick as the crowd went crazy with "Rusev Day" chants.

Rusev went for the Machka Kick, but Miz reversed it into a Skull Crushing Finale attempt that Rusev escaped by backing him into the corner to break the hold. Rusev hit him with a brutal kick to the side of the head for a near fall.

Miz came with with some Yes Kicks in the ring (still teasing that Bryan feud even after the elimination), followed by a DDT for a near fall. Miz ran in for Bryan's running knee but ran into a big kick. Rusev locked in the Accolade as Miz tapped out.

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Rusev will face AJ Styles at Extreme Rules for the WWE title three weeks from this Sunday. This will be Rusev's first-ever singles match for the WWE championship.

After the match, AJ Styles came out, laid down the WWE championship belt on the mat, and the two men shook over the top of it. Aiden English came in for a handshake, but when AJ tried to shake his hand, he swiped his hand up to style his hair instead. Styles punched him in the mouth and walked off.