Extreme Rules was the company’s first offering since setting up their new status quo. It wasn’t a show that needed to succeed at all costs, only a handful of WWE events a year fall into that category, but it was one that needed to be at least good to convince people that WWE weren’t going to change their new direction. Viewers needed reassurance that the newcomers were going to be allowed to succeed, basically.
It looked like a show capable of that. Bray Wyatt once again had a meeting with John Cena. Daniel Bryan and Kane’s feud had a lot of time dedicated to it and Kane was rebuilt so as to make Bryan’s inevitable victory a bigger accomplishment. The Shield were placed opposite the alleged greatest faction in WWE history. And Bad News Barrett, Big E, and Cesaro were all given spots that would allow them to continue getting over naturally.
The last is a particularly promising sign: WWE seem to have learnt that the modern audience reacts badly to being told whom they should support. If the creative team can learn to place the guys they want to get over into positions where audiences will gravitate towards them and support them of their own accord they’ll be on to a winner. The first step towards that is acknowledging it.
|Cesaro Swing there.|
The Cesaro v Rob Van Dam v Jack Swagger two fall triple threat match was on opening duty. Both Van Dam and Swagger got cheers when they entered, but it was Heyman who got the loudest ovation. He cut a pre-match promo that started out as crowd friendly as he talked about Extreme Rules stemming from the still popular ECW. That quickly changed when he mentioned Brock Lesnar ending The Streak. Cesaro did not get the massive cheers I’d expected because of that. Which was a shame because the match would prove the fans were really into him.
The match was sloppy in places to begin with. 'Mr Monday Night' gave Cesaro an awkward sunset bomb onto the ringside mats and then let himself down with some shoddy kicks and bumps back in the ring. First to be eliminated was J-Swag after a deadlift suplex from the second rope by Cesaro and a Five Star frog splash from RVD. 'The King of Swing' heard chants seconds into the singles portion.
The quality picked up without Swagger. Mostly because RVD's brand of offense works better in a singles setting. A trash can was brought in to allow Van Dam to hit a Van Daminator. He was probably disappointed when it didn't get much of a reaction. Cesaro won an opener I'd expected to be better after a Neutralizer onto the very same trash can.
Backstage Stephanie McMahon told Daniel Bryan she was worried for his safety facing "the Demon Kane". That was supposed to make Kane sound extra intimidating. It actually made him sound like a Dragonball Z villain. Steph offered D-Bry the chance to vacate the championship. He refused.
Alexander Rusev defeated R-Truth and Xavier Woods in the night's second match, which Lana had dedicated to Vladimir Putin. 'The Suntan Superman' tapped to the Steiner Recliner after Woods had been attacked before the match. Rusev also jobbed him out afterwards for good measure.
Backstage Evolution told Renee Young about their massive egos (which hopefully wasn't a euphemism). They said their egos, which The Shield had predicted would be their downfall, had earned them thirty-one world titles. They didn’t acknowledge that world titles are generally won and lost in singles matches and that The Shield had more experience working in six man tag bouts.
Back out at ringside Bad News Barrett got a loud cheer when he entered to challenge Big E for the Intercontinental championship. Interestingly Michael Cole claimed Barrett had defeated Ziggler, Sheamus and Van Dam in a tournament to earn the title shot. He'd actually beaten Rey Mysterio in the first round. 'The Show Off's' losing matches he’s not even had now.
|I'm afraid I've got some... good news?|
As the heel Bad News controlled much of the match, setting Big E up for a comeback. Unfortunately Barrett was the more over of the two so when it came it was met with boos. It would have been a far better match if it has been laid out with Barrett’s popularity (which has been a regular thing over the last month) in mind. Not that it was bad as it was. Both men, neither of them small, took some big falls and set a brisk pace. Bad News won after slipping out of the Big Ending and dropping Big E with the Bullhammer elbow.
Before the clash between Evolution and The Shield took place Michael Cole described it as a meeting between the present and the future. I'd have thought the present and the past was more accurate. But that would've reminded everyone how long Tripper and the boys have been around. They couldn't be having that.
The Shield cleared the ring of Evolution with ease before the opening bell rang. From there the match was technically proficient for a long stretch, benefiting greatly from a hot crowd. The finishing sequence helped it meet its hype: Reigns was put down with a Pedigree and an RKO while 'The Animal' was dropped with a Black Out as he attempted a Batista bomb. Ambrose, Rollins, Triple H and Orton then brawled out into the stands where Ambrose was flung down a flight of stairs and 'The Viper' and 'The Cerebral Assassin' absorbed a New Jack style balcony dive from Rollins. It was an impressive moment from Rollins. One for the career highlights video.
|POW! Right in the kisser!|
Back in the ring Batista and Reigns recovered after several minutes of selling. Another Batista bomb attempt was wriggled out of and then Batista was blasted with a Superman punch and a match-winning spear. 'The Hounds of Justice' reunited out in the crowd to do their fist pose. It wasn't quite on the level of The Shield's trios match with The Wyatt Family at Elimination Chamber but it wasn't bad. They were right not to put it on last though.
After that came the Cena v Wyatt cage match. 'The Eater of Worlds' controlled the match at the start, Cena occasionally making a comeback for long enough to attempt climbing out. Harper and Rowan were at ringside to stop him getting too far, allowing Bray to regain control. It was not the explosive exchange the feud (and the show) required at this point. It was a staid affair for much of its run time and needed to be far more. The match suffered from having too many escape attempts and not enough wrestling (or fighting).
During the course of the match Harper was pulled into the ring so that he could break up some Cena pin attempts and stack the odds further against Cena before getting eliminated from proceedings with a clothesline. A similar thing happened to Erick Rowan: he was left lying on top of the cage after Cena had smacked his head into the steel a few times. Cena had the match won but made the mistake of pausing at the cage doorway to take a look back at his handiwork. The Wyatt Family's music cue played and the lights went out for a few seconds. When they came back on a kid was stood on the ring steps singing into a microphone that gave his voice a peculiar timbre. This sight troubled Cena enough that he froze, which allowed Wyatt to sneak up on him and hit Sister Abigail. He then sauntered out of the cage to get the win.
The finishing sequence will prove memorable and played into the character of Wyatt nicely. It's probably a good enough cause for the two to have another pay-per-view match at Payback too. So it was a success on a few levels. It's just a shame the body of the match couldn't have been better.
|Paige giving her belt a kiss there.|
After a recap of the pre-show match between Hornswoggle and El Torito, which was an enjoyable comedy affair (Torito won), Paige defended her Divas championship against Tamina. It was a match bereft of heat, mainly because nothing had been done to encourage people care about its participants. There was a reaction when 'The Anti-Diva' applied the match winning Scorpion cross lock though, which is a promising sign for her future. The sooner WWE prepares some believable challengers for Paige the better.
Backstage Bray Wyatt was shown with Little Johnny (the kid who’d done the singing earlier). He said that his win over Cena means his message can no longer be contained and soon fans will flock to his cause. We really need a promo where Wyatt explains what he wants before he gets it. That would make his storylines flow far more naturally. Retconning is never desirable in wrestling.
The final match saw Daniel Bryan defend the WWE championship against Kane. As predicted the video package only concentrated on their history over the last month or so as opposed to the two years of on and off feuding they’ve had.
They started out with some hardcore action in the ring, making use of chairs, kendo sticks, monitors, announce desk covers, and steel steps. After that they headed backstage where they smacked one another into production trucks and cars and introduced fire extinguishers, shovels and tire irons as weapons.
After KOing the challenger with a tire iron to the head D-Bry loaded him on to a forklift (sparking memories of Rock and Mankind's 1999 empty arena match) and drove back to ringside so that he could pin him. Apparently pins were not legal anywhere else, even though previous extreme rules matches in WWE have featured a falls count anywhere stipulation. For good measure Bryan hit a flying headbutt off the top of the forklift once he'd dumped Kane into the ring.
Naturally 'The Big Red Machine' kicked out then did the no-sell sit up spot. Bryan's running knee was halted by a choke slam. The champion kicked out of that then pelted Kane with chair shots before locking him in a Yes Lock. Kane broke that by sliding to the outside of the ring and then turned a suicide dive into a choke slam through an announce table. That was a well-executed exchange.
|Note the phones in hands.|
Making use of the extreme stip Kane pulled a table out from under the ring and set it on fire. His plan was to choke slam Bryan through it but he didn't manage to: 'The Dazzler' cut him off with a kick to the head and a shake of the ropes. For some reason that caused Kane to lose his balance and tumble through the table. He stood up immediately and got hosed down by a member of the ring crew brandishing a fire extinguisher. That disoriented him as he rolled back into the ring, allowing Bryan to hit his running knee for the victory.
Taken on its own merits the WWE championship match was very enjoyable. Matches like that wouldn't work on every pay-per-view, especially in the main event, but they can be effective when used occasionally. The crowd were into it and reacted well to Bryan's victory. The champion is now well placed to either move on to a fresh challenger, such as Batista or Randy Orton, or work a rematch with ‘The Devil’s Favourite Demon’.
The rest of the show was a mixture of successes and mild failures. Bad News and Cesaro both left their matches looking good with the crowd supporting them more than they had beforehand. Big E wasn’t harmed by his loss of the IC gold (although I’m still disappointed he wasn’t able to hit the heights of his Elimination Chamber match with Jack Swagger). The Shield looked like stars in the closing moments of and immediately after their win over Evolution, but the bulk of the match could have been better. The same can be said for Cena v Wyatt. And the Paige v Tamina match would have been well served going on second, leaving Rusev’s tedious squash of Truth and Woods to cool the crowd off before the main event.
|Who's next for D-Bry?|
It was an enjoyable enough event and it leaves WWE with lots of options for Payback. Cena and Wyatt will probably clash again but beyond that it’s hard to tell what we’ll get. Evolution could book themselves in a rematch against The Shield, although it’s hard to see what that would achieve. More likely is that one member of Evolution will challenge Daniel Bryan, perhaps leaving the others to clash in singles matches against Shield members. Or perhaps we’ll get the eight man tag team match (Kane and Evolution versus The Shield and Bryan) that looked so promising at the end of the April 7 RAW. That the company’s booking isn’t obvious is a good sign.