Monday 20 May 2013

Extreme Rules 2013 review

How do you open a show called Extreme Rules? Why with a match that pits a singer against a ballroom dancer of course!

I’m skipping ahead a little. Extreme Rules actually opened with the typically good video package treatment. The first screenshot of that featured the word “Thou shalt not”, which made me think of the Dudleys. That may have been intentional but I doubt it. The main focus of the video were the WWE championship feud and the story of Triple H v Lesnar. The latter dates back to last year but only seemed to feature footage from the last month. I find that odd.

Anyway, the event kicked off with Fandango facing Chris Jericho in a rematch from WrestleMania XXIX. Lawler told us that he thinks Fandango's underrated as the dancer made his way to the ring. JBL agreed because he had the most impressive debut ever. I couldn’t follow the logic but then I’m not a WWE commentator.

The opener was the standard Jericho affair, which is to say that fans went wild as he botched moves and loudly called spots. In a particularly glaring blunder he bellowed "Over the top!" moments before Fandango sent him sailing over the top rope to set up a missile drop kick. Considering how long 'Y2J's' been at it he should really know better. He has no incentive to improve though because people rave about him despite these flaws.

Fandango was permitted to kick out of the Lionsault towards the end of the match. That helped his credibility. Being felled by a Codebreaker as he leapt from the top rope couldn’t have hurt in that regard either: that ‘Y2J’ had to pull out such a big move to finish him off makes Fandango look a star.

The match was hit and miss but ultimately achieved what it needed to.

Backstage Josh Mathews interviewed Sheamus. When asked how he was going to drag Mark Henry around the ring to win his match, even though that wasn't the requirement of the match (because the strap's pretty long), Sheamus basically said he'd go extreme. He also said "pacifically" instead of "specifically". I wept and wished he’d referenced his time in WWECW instead.

Match number two was for the United States championship. Despite being the champ Kofi Kingston was annoucned first. The announcers plugged Hulu as he was in the ring. I don’t think ‘The Wildcat’s’ standing within the company could be made any clearer.

The crowd chanted “Let’s go Ambrose!” early on, which must have been heartening for the indy standout and an irritation for the talented and professional Kingston. The two had a very spirited match, culminating in a missed Trouble in Paradise by Kofi that allowed Dean to hit a fall forward DDT. The new champ celebrated, alongside his stablemates, like he'd achieved something. That's how to elevate a belt.

The Mark Henry v Sheamus strap match was next. Lights had been added to the corners to make it easier for fans to keep track of who’d touched which corner. It struck me as the sort of innovative change WCW would have come up with: designed to fix a non-existent problem and utterly pointless.

They tried to do interesting stuff but it all failed due to clumsiness. They have to share the blame for that: they were as bad as each other when it came to fumbling their way through simplistic spots. ‘The Celtic Warrior’ won a surprisingly short match by easily tapping three corners, handily felling 'The World's Strongest Man' with a Brogue Kick and then slapping the fourth and final corner.

Conclusive proof that Sheamus is a slapper
Medics were shown checking on Henry, even though he'd only suffered a standard finishing move. The match hadn’t even been that rambunctious so I’m not sure why this was shown. Perhaps something happened to cause genuine concern for Henners’ health.

As Sheamus sashayed his way to the back JBL said he'd been unsure that he could win, which was an odd statement considering he’d picked the Irishman to go over. Someone really needs to have a word with the WWE commentary team. Inconsistencies like that crop up all too often.

The cameras then cut backstage to show as AJ on the phone to World Heavyweight champion Dolph Ziggler (who I really missed on this show). Divas champion Kaitlyn interrupted and made fun of her mental state before pretending to walk off only to return and attack her from behind. Yes, Kaitlyn’s the babyface here, so I don’t know why she’s being portrayed as a coward. The crowd were silent as the pair exchanged bland insults but perked up for their very convincing brawl. The sooner AJ and Kaitlyn start getting to wrestle regularly the better. I think they’ll have very good matches.

Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter cut a promo as the headed to the ring for the number one contenders I Quit match. Well, Colter talked while Swags flexed and stared listlessly. It was almost more interesting than the match that followed. Not because I agree with Colter (although he's a great promo) but because I'm sick and tired of ADR versus Swagger. Colter talked about an IRS scandal that completely passed me by because I don't really pay much attention to non-wrestling news (true story). I understood his cheap heat comments about the St. Louis Cardinals more. I’m not into baseball, I just understand cheap heat.

The match started off quickly. ADR nailed a suicide dive within seconds and then introduced a kendo stick to proceedings. The early going was characterised by Mike Chioda asking if people wanted to quit every twenty to thirty seconds. It got annoying quickly. Swagger and ADR got in on the act themselves when they started doing Jericho impersonations, screaming "Ask him!" every time they scored any offence on their foe.  

The finishing sequence to this match was… odd.

ADR locked in the cross arm breaker. Swags reversed into an ankle lock. Del Rio did a great job of selling the move, which set up Ricardo teasing that he'd throw in the towel to stop his friend’s suffering. ADR told him not to so he didn't.

But Zeb Colter did. He grabbed the towel and chucked it into the ring as Chioda’s back was turned, causing the match to be called in favour of ‘The Real American’. Another referee came running out to inform Chioda what happened, but the senior referee wasn’t satisfied. He went out to ringside to watch a replay on a conveniently placed TV. I don’t think we’re meant to ask why the finish couldn’t be replied on the Titantron.  The upshot of this was that the match was restarted with Del Rio playing a massive underdog.

The entire saga received the loudest reaction of the Swagger-Del Rio segment by far. That should tell WWE something about their programme.

The restart probably lasted for about a minute. Within seconds Swagger was caught in the arm breaker. After less than thirty seconds he quit. While ADR won it seemed as though the finish was designed to protect Swagger in defeat. I was hoping their rivalry was going to end and that they’d head off to do something new. I assume that’s not the case. Perhaps keeping this rivalry alive is WWE’s contingency plan until Ziggler’s cleared from his concussion and can wrestle again.

Josh Mathews interviewed The Ryback. Actually Ryback just diatribed as Josh held a microphone for him. He hined about how he should have been champion six months ago. It was nothing we’ve not heard before.

Team Hell No were out next to defend their tag team championships against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. Stat Master Michael Cole told us the champs had had the belts for 245 days, which is a very healthy reign by company standards. JBL followed up with a reference to Kane's oft forgotten feud with May 19th. It was nice to hear it mentioned. What? Yeah, he feuded with a day. Google it.

The tornado rules gave Bryan and Kane a chance to do something different to their usual routine of Bryan getting isolated for a while before making a hot tag to 'The Big Red Machine'. It made a nice change and allowed both men the chance to work equal portions of the match. It was a very good outing that was designed to showcase The Shield combo’s teamwork without harming the work that’s been put into Bryan and Kane. I thought it was an excellent display.

The believers have been rewarded
The Shield won with a double stomp-torture rack combo. Ambrose appeared to raise the hands of the tag champions. The trio then posed with their belts. It was another example of belts being treated the right way.

A recap of Cody Rhodes tapping out to The Miz's figure four was shown. There was no reason for it.

Match six saw Big Show and hometown boy Randy Orton clash in a lively Extreme Rules match, noticeable mostly (to my mind at least) for Show being allowed to kick out of an RKO. He lost eventually but it was still a pretty big moment. Not just anyone gets to survive Orton's answer to the Diamond Cutter. It was a punt kick that eventually put 'The World's Largest Athlete' away. That was a banned move for a while so I assume it's now back in use for special occasions... and that for some reason a standard match against Big Show is considered a special occasion.

The Ryback v Cena feud was treated to a lengthy hype video. It was well produced and recapped the feud nicely. You could almost believe their interactions had been exciting.

The Ryback, out first, got a mostly negative reaction but there were cheers to he heard. Some people simply want anyone but Cena on top, which means they'll cheer whoever's pitted against him. Once his music cut off Ryback did get the solid wall of jeers he was after. I'm not sure how. All he was doing was flexing his jaw.

Cena got a mostly positive reaction. St. Louis is obviously a town that enjoys his work. I don't, and Cena provided me with a perfect example of why within seconds of appearing: he sprinted to the ring despite allegedly having a foot injury. It’s this cavalier attitude towards telling a realistic story once the bell rings that causes him to be so unpopular.

'The Franchise' kept his Last Man Standing hot streak alive with another enjoyable tussle. This is definitely the best gimmick for him, he never enters a less than great performance with it. Not even his comedy facial expressions and failure to sell exhaustion could ruin things. On the subject of expressions Ryback proved very capable of working the crowd. I'd noted that he could do it as a face with his shoulder jerking routine but hadn't seen him do it much as a heel. After his performance here I'm now more comfortable with him as a bad guy.

The Ryback entered one of the best performances of his career
The finish saw Ryback slip out of an AA attempt, scoop up the champion and spear him through the set at the top of the ramp. The moment was replayed several times as Charles Robinson scampered backstage to help get the crash mats the wrestlers had landed on out of sight. Cena was peeled off the floor and slapped onto a stretcher as the announce team talked gravely in an attempt to convince us that we were seeing dire stuff unfolding. Ryback stood up and walked away (with help from referees admittedly).

It was a very cool visual but ultimately it was a disappointing finish. I can understand the decision to do it though: it keeps the title on Cena and prolongs the company's top feud for at least another month. Ryback now has a legitimate argument for being the champ because he was quite literally the last man standing. As long as their inevitable rematch at Payback has a better finish there's no problem with the LSM bout ending like that.

Going on last were Brock Lesnar and Triple H. 'The Game' jumped Lesnar before he'd even reached the ring and also lumped Heyman for good measure. Yeah, another alleged babyface attacking their supposedly dishonourable foe form behind.

Once again the two men failed to put on a match that fully engaged me. On paper they did everything right but the pace was just a little too sluggish, with just a little too much stalling, to be as good as it could have been. They were in a tough position. Had they shaved time off the match it would have been more enjoyable but the encounter wouldn’t have felt like the feud-ending meeting it clearly was. Taking the longer run time meant it felt like the epic encounter they wanted but that it ended up being boring.

Lesnar got himself a storyline knee injury a few minutes into the match. He rivalled Del Rio for best selling of the night. That’s not something you normally hear of ‘The Beast’. I think he deserves praise for doing such a stellar job. A chair was introduced within a few minutes and eventually a sledgehammer was revealed, stashed in the upper reaches of the cage. Presumably ‘The King of Kings’ put it there. If not him then maybe it was the same person who raised the briefcase at King of the Ring 99.

The sledgehammer would eventually lead to the finish, but it was a while coming. First the two men ran through a number of finisher exchanges, some Heyman interference and a Sharpshooter. I’d like to think that last was a dig at Bret Hart for his comments that Triple H is a below average wrestler who produces below average matches. Eventually ‘The Pain’ lamped Hunter with the sledge and then followed up with an F5 for the victory.

Lesnar swaggered out of the building as Triple H sold the beating in the ring. Because WWE now runs into a post-show analysis broadcast there was no well-produced final shot available. If they’d had to have one I reckon they’d have gone with Lesnar having his hand raised at the top of the ramp and looking very pleased with himself.

On the whole I thought Extreme Rules was a very good show. The main event, while not brilliant, wasn’t offensive and capped off a long-running feud. The WWE championship match, Team Hell No v The Shield, and Big Show v Randy Orton were all very strong offerings, while Mark Henry v Sheamus and Ambrose v Kingston were as entertaining as they could be given their running times. WWE should be pleased with what they put on. If all their pay-per-views were this good the product would be a lot better.

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