Gimmick pay-per-views aren't ideal. They force the booking team to escalate programmes too quickly, moving guys into extreme (I can do it too) matches before they're ready. A return to more generic pay-per-view names would allow special stipulations to be wheeled out as and when required. WWE have done a pretty solid job of giving meaning to the gimmicks that will be on display here though. It could be worse. There's nothing as absurd as CM Punk and Ryback's first meeting being in a Hell in a Cell.
Several weeks ago I wrote that WWE could present three triple threat matches on this show. I was pretty excited at the prospect. It could have been different and interesting. In the end they only announced one and even that won't take place now. Dolph Ziggler would have defended his World Heavyweight championship against Jack Swagger and previous champ Alberto Del Rio but has been pulled from the match after suffering a concussion.
I was looking forward to the match. The ladder rules and the gaggle of seconds at ringside would have allowed for plenty of memorable spots and bumps (AJ strikes me as being game to go through a table to get a big match over). I'm pleased WWE caught Ziggler's concussion. Better to hold off on a match and keep him healthy.
Instead of a three-way ladder battle ADR and 'The Real American' will clash in an I Quit number one contenders match. I expect it to be all about the Patriot Act ankle lock being pitted against Del Rio's cross arm breaker. Making it an I Quit match instead of a submission match allows for more ringside brawling and weapons.
These two guys have been feuding since February. Their matches are always good but the feud hasn't really interested crowds so I can't see it continuing after this. I would imagine ADR's going to win here, slipping him into a one-on-one feud with 'The Show Off' and letting Swagger do something new. Or nothing at all. Depends on how much you expect from the writing team there. I expect very little.
Another triple threat I was expecting was Big Show v Randy Orton v Sheamus. It's probably a good thing this one isn't happening: two faces and one heel in a triple threat is never a good idea and I can't imagine the three putting on anything special. Sheamus and Show do nothing for me and Orton's seemed bored senseless for a while now. It would've been a letdown.
Instead of that match Big Show and 'The Viper' have cultivated their own rivalry and 'The Celtic Warrior' has gone to war with Mark Henry. The bored Orton should be more comfortable only working against 'The World's Largeat Athlete' in their Extreme Rules match, which should make it a little more tolerable. It's not something I'm looking forward to. It feels like their problems have been playing out forever.
I'm picking Big Show to win. A loss at this event could be used as the reason for 'The Apex Predator' turning bad. He's in such desperate need of a refresh that I think that's got to be happening soon.
The Henry v Sheamus strap battle is a bit more interesting, mainly because of the rarely seen stipulation and 'The World's Strongest Man's' character, which has been a highlight of Henry's (admittedly tiresome) career. I find neither enjoyable to watch in the ring but this match should at least play to their strengths of working sloppy and stiff (that sounds a bit wrong but I'm keeping it in).
I could see either men winning here, to be honest. There's no clear reason one should or could win over the other. They'll probably meet again at Payback too, which only makes this even more arbitrary. I'll go with Henry winning via a cheat of some sort, under the logic that Sheamus can come back to get his avenging babyface win in June. That's something to look forward to!
Strap match with Mark Henry? That warrants a pay-per-view poster!
In generic singles matches Fandango will face Chris Jericho and, on the live pre-show, The Miz will face Cody Rhodes. 'Y2J' lost at WrestleMania and while it wouldn't hurt him to lose again here I don't think he will. The appeal of the Fandango character isn't that he's undefeated (well, he's not lost clean and that's close enough) but that he's incredibly camp and has catchy entrance music. He can lose and not lose any momentum. Plus this show needs babyfaces to win at least some matches.
Miz has become the king of pre-shows. This will be the third time this year he's been on one. Not that that means anything beyond WWE not having a long term plan, which we knew was the case already. A few weeks ago it looked like something was planned for Cody Rhodes when he had a scorcher of a match with Randy Orton on RAW (Randy RAWton? That scans). That's not been followed up on so I expect Cody to be the next bad guy sacrificed to build up 'The Awesome One's' figure four leg lock into a move that's taken seriously. It's wasteful but that won't stop WWE. For some reason they seem determined to make the move credible for Miz.
For the first time ever The Shield will compete in a non-six man tag match on a pay-per-view. Rollins and Reigns will challenge Team Hell No for the tag team titles in a tornado match. These sorts of matches are incredibly rare in WWE. I think it's probably because they dislike the name but conjure up anything more relevant. Things like that make a difference in that company. Rare gimmick or not I expect this to be very enjoyable.
Meanwhile Dean Ambrose will challenge for the (sarcasm alert) prestigious United States championship. No special rules have been announced for that match and I don't expect that to change.
I think all three members of The Shield will have titles by the end of Extreme Rules. They've been built up for six months to the point where they're one of the most over acts in WWE. It just feels like a good time to increase their push. While the titles don't mean much traditionalist Triple H understands that it's the right way to elevate guys. Perhaps they'll be able to restore some meaning to their new prizes.
Which leaves us with the final two matches, the second biggest of which is Triple H v Brock Lesnar in a feud ending cage match. I don't think I'm alone when I say I'm not terribly interested in this.
Their feud started a year ago. Only wrestling twice in that time should make the deciding encounter something hotly anticipated. It hasn't. People just don't seem to care. The fact that weeks can pass without the two men interacting could be a factor, as could the general pacing of the programme when they have met.
I think a bigger reason is that their match at WrestleMania XXIX was a slightly generic affair while their first encounter at SummerSlam verged on dull. They haven't produced anything to make anyone believe their cage match at Extreme Rules will be something special.
I'm assuming this bout is going to be another blasé entry into this incredibly monotonous rivalry. 'The Pain' is the obvious pick to win because its him, not 'The King of Kings', that's expected to main event the larger shows between now and the end of the year. He's one of WWE's biggest drawing cards and if he's to retain his allure he can't lose twice in a row, within the space of a month and half, to the same guy. He needs to be reinvigorated with a win so he looks strong for his next feud
Who that will be with and when it will take place we don't know. The idea of CM Punk returning at Payback next month in front of his hometown crowd has a certain appeal to it, and were that to happen 'The Beast' could potentially be booked to take down his stablemate to trigger a rivalry between the two. It would draw a crazy amount of heat because Punk's so loved on Chicago.
If it's not Punk there aren't many other options. Orty, Del Rio or Sheamus could be sacrificed to Lesnar but none of them feels like a big enough name to be in a meaningful feud with him. In the case of Orton that's pretty sad. He used to be a special talent.
If The Rock's healthy and willing to return he'd make a great SummerSlam opponent for Lesnar. But that's not likely, and even if it were most people think that match should be saved for WrestleMania XXX. I'd like to see Lesnar tackle The Streak next year so is have no problem with him tackling 'The Brahma Bull' at SummerSlam. But that's me.
If he doesn't face Punk next WWE should just put Lesnar on the shelf for a while. Better to save his limited appearances rather than waste them in a panicked attempt to fill PPV minutes.
The main event of Extreme Rules will see WWE champion John Cena defend against The Ryback. I think I'd be looking forward to this if the booking had been better. We've had one shambolic instalment of this rivalry after another and it's resulted in it feeling like the programme's been going on for months rather than five weeks.
Why did The Ryback have to turn heel? Why did he have to be cast as a cowardly heel? Why hasn't SuperCena been instructed to react to The Ryback as though he sees him as a threat? Why did The Ryback, when given the chance to select the match type, pick a stipulation that his opponent has never lost? None of what we've seen makes sense.
'Big Hungry' was perfectly placed to work in the number two babyface spot long term. He could have stayed a good guy and still gone after Cena's title. A face versus face feud would have been great and could have been used to create a hot, split audience atmosphere when the two met. It would have be something out of the ordinary too.
Not of that matters now. WWE were more interested in having 'The Human Wrecking Ball' as a bad guy. It's a wasted opportunity but it's not like that's anything new with WWE.
The good news is that Cena tends to do his best work in Last Man Standing and similar match types. That he's not required to wrestle much actually helps. He can spend his time swinging chairs about instead. If ever there were a stipulation that would allow Cena and Ryback to excel this would be it.
There was a period several weeks ago when it seemed as though Cena could be dropping the title because of an injury. While his heel is still injured it's not as bad as was previously believed. He's been working through the pain to appear on house shows and has been announced for more after Extreme Rules. He's been okayed by doctors so WWE are under no pressure to relieve him of the strap if they don't want to.
So the question is, of course, do they want to? The likelihood is that they don't. They spent around a year and a half keeping the WWE championship off of Cena. Now that he's finally made it back to the top with his wholly unbelievable redemption story (he's the most highly paid regular in the company and the most heavily protected act since Hulk Hogan, it's impossible to see him as an underdog seeking redemption) WWE will almost certainly want to give him a lengthy run.
However, Ryback has been marked out as a star of the future. He's not had a win on pay-per-view in ages so having him lose again would set back his progress further. It won't stop him becoming a headliner but it will make it a harder, longer job than a win would.
There are reasons for both men to win and there's no obvious choice but I think it's slightly more likely that Cena will win. He's the more established guy and WWE have been favouring lengthy title reigns over the last couple of years. I'd love to see a Ryback victory and I don't think it's impossible but I think Cena retaining is a little more likely.
Despite the lack of triple threat matches (I'm partial to triple threats) Extreme Rules looks like a strong offering. I hope the big matches can deliver and some of the lower card action (particularly Ambrose v Kingston) gets time to be memorable. This show could be better than WrestleMania XXIX.
Predictions summary:John Cena to defeat Ryback
Brock Lesnar to defeat Triple H
Alberto Del Rio to defeat Jack Swagger
Mark Henry to defeat Sheamus
Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to defeat Team Hell No
Big Show to defeat Randy Orton
Dean Ambrose to defeat Kofi Kingston
Chris Jericho to defeat Fandango
The Miz to defeat Cody Rhodes