Thursday, 1 May 2014

Extreme Rules 2014 preview

The first important thing to note here is that this is not Washington. I mention this because a couple of months ago I wrote this. Basically it had been revealed, by official websites no less, that Extreme Rules was to be held in Washington, the home state of Daniel Bryan. That set me off writing the post I've linked to in which I drew parallels between the Daniel Bryan of today and the Chris Benoit of 2004.

I stand by the ideas. I would have been completely right about the potential storylines. If, y'know, Extreme Rules was being held in Washington and not the Izod Centre in New Jersey. 

The event being held where it is is a good thing of course. This is the building that hosted the famed April 8 2013 RAW. There were fans from all around the world there that night, because it was the night after WrestleMania XXIX, but that doesn’t mean that there were no local fans there making noise. There were. Which means we’re as good as guaranteed an excitable crowd for Extreme Rules. And lively crowds can turn very good events into great events.

There are certainly enough big matches to make this a memorable show: Kane versus Daniel Bryan for the WWE championship, the six man tag meeting between Evolution and The Shield, and John Cena’s caged clash with Bray Wyatt. It says something that Cena is in what is in the least significant of the three. When the company’s biggest star is not involved in either of the top two bouts on a pay-per-view (or is that special event?) you know things are pretty crammed at the top.

This is the second major meeting between Cena and ‘The Eater of Worlds’. They had a singles match at WrestleMania and beyond that have only interacted in handicap matches, brawls and run-ins. This means that their feud still feels fresh, even though it officially began at Royal Rumble when The Wyatt Family cost Cena the WWE championship (although that development was actually ignored for a month). 

So far it seems to be based around Bray considering Cena a false idol for fans and wanting to reveal him as a fraud. For his part Cena seems to have no real problem with the Wyatts beyond the fact that they keep attacking him. The guy just wants to be left alone.

As already stated this will be a cage match, something ‘The CeNation Leader’ suggested as a way of allowing Bray to prove he doesn’t need to rely on Luke Harper and Erick Rowan (who I think should be referred to as ‘Eerie’ Erick Rowan) to win. I was pretty sure Wyatt would defeat Cena on this show even before the cage stipulation was announced. If anything that’s made me more certain of the result. By beating Cena without direct aid Wyatt will be shown to be on or close to Cena’s level. That he lost with aid (at ‘Mania) will only serve to further highlight the magnitude of the accomplishment. That it’s a cage match gives WWE a handy get out whereby they can have Wyatt win without having Cena suffer a conventional loss. The preacher can simply climb out of the cage.

That said I expect Harper and Rowan to appear at some point during the match. Just because WWE can give Wyatt a clean(ish) win here doesn’t mean they will. I expect the Wyatt boys will do something like pass handcuffs to their leader. Maybe they’ll climb into the cage and take AAs. They’re too prominent to simply omit from Extreme Rules completely.

If Main Event and Friday’s SmackDown (spoilers of which are available at time of writing) are anything to go by Harper and Rowan are going to begin working against tag team champions the Usos fairly soon. I don’t dislike Los Matadores or RybAxel1 but The Wyatt Family are clearly in a different league when it comes to audience acceptance. The tag titles should get a boost from the feud. 

The unwanted but apparently necessary filler match will see Xavier Woods and R-Truth team up to take on Alexander Rusev. Wrestling logic dictates that the powerful heel who has so far proven unstoppable will easily defeat the two disposable babyfaces he’s being pitted against. It’s just one of those things that you know. It’s nice that the match has a bit of a story behind it (Rusev has defeated both men in singles matches and attacked them afterwards) but there can’t be any doubt that ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ will win.

A match with significantly more substance to it is the Cesaro v Jack Swwagger v Rob Van Dam match. It’s nice to get a triple threat match from WWE that is not based around a championship. Here the problem started when Cesaro quit Team America and became Paul Heyman’s latest client. The singles feud we expected has evolved to feature RVD as Swags and ‘The King of Swing’ have interfered in each other’s bouts involving Van Dam. 

This match would be good either as an opener or sat towards the middle of the card. Wherever it goes I think it will be amongst the best offerings of the night. If it doesn’t feature a spot where Van Dam does something to Swagger as he’s being given a Big Swing by Cesaro I’m going to be very disappointed. They could surprise us with a Van Dam or Swagger win but I think Cesaro’s the sane pick.

Speaking of Cesaro, I’d originally expected him to be the man challenging Big E for the Intercontinental championship. He didn’t even make it to the finals of the number one contenders’ tournament. Nor, for that matter, did Sheamus, the man I assumed ‘The Swiss Superman’ would defeat in a hard-hitting hoss fight. Instead ‘The Celtic Warrior’ fell to Bad News Barrett in the semi-finals while Cesaro went down to Rob Van Dam. The RVD v Bad News final was one I hadn’t expected to see, which in a way made it more enjoyable. From the moment it was set up I wasn’t really in any doubt that Barrett would be the man advancing to Extreme Rules and I was right.

Big E defending against Barrett is in a sense the most intriguing match on the show. They’re not wrestling because they have some grudge to settle, the standard WWE approach. In fact they haven’t really interacted with one another at all. They’re wrestling simply because both want the Intercontinental championship. This is something many people (myself included) have been waiting to see for quite a while: WWE reintroducing some lustre to the IC gold. The simplest way of doing that is by having guys talk about how much they want to win it.

I think there’s every chance the match will be a thriller. Think back to Elimination Chamber where Big E tore the house down with Jack Swagger in a match stuffed with big bumps (neither is a small man, making those falls particularly impressive) and near falls. Nobody but the most ardent fan of either man had expected that sort of performance and I think the same is largely true here: nobody expects Barrett versus Big to be anything special. But it could be. Barrett is of a similar size to Swags and wrestles a not dissimilar style. I want Big E to prove that he can pull an Elimination Chamber level performance out of the bag regularly. And I also want Barrett to have a cracking match. He deserves to after waiting patiently on The JBL and Cole Show for months and refining this new gimmick.

I’m picking Big E to win. If WWE are intending to make the IC strap relevant again the best way to do it would almost certainly be to keep it on one guy for a while and have him wrestle a series of exciting defences. That’s something Big E will hopefully prove well suited to. 

A title match it’s harder to get excited about is Paige versus Tamina Snuka. I like Paige a lot but Tamina is not someone who thrills me. It’s also another match where the competitors haven’t really had a rivalry as such. Tamina simply earned a title shot by winning a match. That worked for Barrett and Big E because there was a tourney that stretched over several weeks. It’s a different story for the Divas belt because Tamina won a one off match and then did nothing else. Plus no matter how battered the Intercontinental title’s rep may get it would take a lot more than what it’s been through to mean less than the Divas strap.

I think the match itself will be good, it’s just that there’s very little to get invested in. It would be a different story if AJ was still on TV. They could have done a straight rematch then, or a three-way. They could even have done this match and played up AJ being irked by being a position where she has to cheer for her bodyguard to win something she considered hers. But that’s not the world we live in. The sooner ‘The Anti-Diva’ retains here and moves on to wrestling Emma or Natalya or even the Bella twins the better.

Back up at the top of the card we have WWE champion Daniel Bryan defending against Kane. It’s a match that could be said to have to years of history to it. The two first crossed paths in the summer of 2012 in a three-way feud with WWE champion CM Punk before putting their differences aside (in anger management therapy sessions) and becoming one of the most notable odd couple tag teams ever. They won the tag team titles and held them for an impressive eight months before losing them (at last year’s Extreme Rules funnily enough), then quietly went their separate ways.

For Bryan that meant a clean WWE championship win over John Cena at SummerSlam and a feud with lead heel faction The Authority and a series of mildly disappointing outings opposite Randy Orton. For Kane it meant a series of jarring plot leaps (something which has become as much a part of the character as anything else): after being abducted by The Wyatt Family2 he returned to TV and attacked Miz3 and then joined The Authority as Director of Operations4

They didn’t interact in a meaningful way for quite a while, and their former status as friends was frustratingly never really acknowledged or explained. Eventually they started having matches against one another on RAW (and they were apparently going to face off at WrestleMania before CM Punk walked out, although it’s possible that would have changed when it became apparent fans weren’t willing to accept a ‘Mania card that didn’t include Daniel Bryan getting his due spot). Then they drifted apart again as Bryan started being prepped for a match with Triple H and Kane developed problems with The Shield. 

The latest chapter in the storied Bryan-Kane rivalry has seen ‘The Big Red Machine’ put the mask back on after being belittled by Stephanie McMahon. That supposedly “unlocked his sadistic side” and prompted him to viciously assault D-Bry on the April 21 RAW, giving him three Tombstones before wandering off. That showed Bryan can be dominated by his challenger and created storyline damage for him to sell (the Tombstone remains one of the most protected moves in WWE), which in turn creates a match at Extreme Rules in which Bryan is even more clearly the underdog than he is usually.

Basically, after two years we once again have Bryan and a masked Kane at odds over the WWE championship. The only major difference is that CM Punk’s not involved here. There’s a lot of history to the pairing but it’s not one that easily translates to a video package, even one put together by the talented team at WWE’s disposal. For that reason I expect the video package for this feud to focus only on the last month or so. It could be used as the blow off to an epic two year story but I just don’t think it will be.

The quality of the match itself should be great. Bryan is very clearly one of the best wrestlers in WWE and doesn’t really ever have bad matches. The same isn’t true of Kane, but he has plenty of experience working with Bryan, is currently in the psycho monster role he functions best in5, and has an Extreme Rules stipulation allowing shortcuts that will help both tell a story.

I can’t imagine a world in which Kane wins the title at Extreme Rules. It would be the most pointless exercise imaginable. Bryan has been built up for months and, despite the solid work done reheating him, nobody takes Kane seriously as a regular top line performer now. The match exists to give Daniel Bryan an obstacle to overcome while he’s waiting for Batista, Randy Orton, Triple H or a combination of the three to give him his first major challenge.

The reason none of those three men are challenging Bryan at Extreme Rules is that they’ve reformed Evolution for a match with The Shield. This is another one with a bit of history to it. The Authority had used ‘The Hounds of Justice’ as enforcers and to keep the WWE championship on chosen one Randy Orton. Trouble started brewing between the men in black and their benefactors in the build-up to WrestleMania when Kane ordered beatdowns on the trio (which was later revealed as something Triple H had “masterminded”). The post-WrestleMania RAW saw The Shield officially turn on The Authority when they cleared them from the ring and saved Daniel Bryan from a beating.

Since then we’ve had the standard promos and attacks. It’s been inoffensive stuff, necessary to fill TV minutes and keep interest bubbling away in the match. It didn’t need to be anything much more than that because the allure of The Shield taking on Evolution is enough. Even if people aren’t aware of Evolution’s history (which is possible because the group split nine years ago) or who Batista is (equally plausible seeing as he left for four years) this match holds massive appeal. The Shield are massively popular and, more to the point, have built up a reputation of having excellent six man tag matches when it counts. Seeing them face the boss and one of the promotion’s top heels (Orton) is a big deal. Knowing the significance of Evolution within WWE simply to what’s already there.

I think this stands a strong chance of being the match of the night. Everyone involved knows how to play their role and five of the six are amongst the best performers in the promotion. The sixth is Batista, and he’s not as bad as people like to make out. A major part of the reason he’s so disliked is because of what he represents: part-timers nicking spots. No, he’s not as good as the other five, but he gets audiences riled up and a multi-man match is the best place for him: his ring time becomes limited but his screen time doesn’t. 

Either team could win this. That’s the reason I think it should go on last. The result of Kane versus Bryan is simply too obvious to be able to follow this. I’m leaning towards The Shield. As the younger guys who have lengthier in-ring futures than Evolution they need the win more. Roman Reigns pinning ‘The Game’ would be nice, setting up their SummerSlam encounter, but it seems a bit early for that. If it happens now, four months before the event, where does WWE go with it?

Extreme Rules does not look like the greatest WWE show possible. You’d need to give Paige a better opponent and scrap the handicap match for it to be in with a chance of getting that honour. But it doesn’t look bad. The top three matches should all be worth watching and the Intercontinental title match and triple threat have potential to be great too. I think I’m going to get my hopes up. Let’s hope it’s worth it.

Predictions summary:
The Shield to defeat Evolution
Daniel Bryan to defeat Kane
Bray Wyatt to defeat John Cena
Big E to defeat Bad News Barrett
Cesaro to defeat Jack Swagger and Rob Van Dam
Paige to defeat Tamina Snuka
Alexander Rusev to defeat R-Truth and Xavier Woods


1 On a side note here I had a dream the other night that RybAxel got some matching ring gear and started being managed by Paul Heyman again. I can’t remember much beyond that but I’m pretty sure there was a feud with The New Age Outlaws going on.

2 He made a sequel to the See No Evil flick, one of the first offerings from WWE Studios many years ago. Nobody wanted it. That didn’t stop WWE from making it.

3 This went nowhere, which surprised no one.

4 Kane was impressed by their contempt and disregard for humanity. Or something.

5 Clarification: Glenn Jacobs wrestles his best matches in the psycho monster role. He does his best work in a comedy role sending up the nonsensical nature of his character.


  1. Agree with all your picks except I cant see Big E winning against Bad News. I think one reason the IC title lost some edge is because its on a guy that the crowd doesnt know how to react to him. Hes over, but he hasnt said anything on the mic in months, and I think the crowd is just kind of tolerating him because hes young and fun (ie, Ziggler) not because hes all that exciting right now. For me, to get the IC title relevant again, it needs something fresh, and Barret winning it and giving it to Cesaro or feuding with Sheamus would do the trick.

    1. You called Bad News's title win. I assumed Big E was going to keep it because he's someone they've seemed keen on and he could have (still could, in fact) had some really good defenses across the next few PPVs.

    2. "I assumed Big E was going to keep it because he's someone they've seemed keen"

      they didn't seem like that at all since before the rumble...

      all he got since mania was DQ wins on smackdown or main event vs the biggest of jobbers, and standing behind a monitor on RAW without getting the chance to even have a 1-minute promo to build it up.

      I'd like to see big E get his totally lost momentum back now that he isn't the IC champion. a stunt in the tag division after a little role in the MITB PPV could do that, for example. or WWE could try to give him some promos like guys like bad news barret or video packages like the NXT guys to build up some kind of a character for him and show his hilariousness (just follow him on twitter or instagram to see it) and achieve some thicker connection with fans other than just being the big, muscular, athletic mid-carder. maybe now, maybe in another couple of months, but the guy can be huge just with a liiiittle thing that can get the fans on his side more (like his "FIVE!" gimmick back in NXT).

  2. I like most of the card a lot. this PPV/special event should produce many good matches.

    though, I've noticed that no match has an *important* something on the line that is *unpredictable*... like, I don't care whoever wins any match from these, really... I just feel like I want to see good matches.

    1. It didn't need any stipulation matches. WWE has a tendency to use those too much so I'm pleased we've not had many recently. I suspect there may be something like that attached to the Cena v Wyatt match at Payback.

      Also, the WWE championship was on the line. That's pretty important.

    2. I agree with you. I've had it with hardcore matches... they feel like a cheap way to get pops with just your usual spots or a way for bad wrestlers to cover their weaknesses. if it isn't something that'll go all the way and be different, I'd be better with the matches being normal ones. so, I'm happy to see WWE moving in this direction lately.

      I excluded the WWE title match because 1. I would've actually marked out if kane had won it, as he's one of my favourites ever. but 2. COME OOOOOOOOOOOON, that was the most predictable match of the year! bryan had 0% chance of losing that one!