Going into last night’s WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view, I was very skeptical of the show and had pretty low expectations due to what I perceived to be poor storylines and booking for most of the eight matches on the main card. However, when it was all said and done and the proverbial smoke cleared, I was not only extremely happy with the show as a whole but agreed with the endings for six of the eight matches (and completely understand why the other two ended the way they did) and almost halfway through the calendar year I think Extreme Rules could go down as being one of the best WWE PPV events of the entire year. In fact, WWE management and the creative team booked the ending to a majority of the matches so well that there is a lot of potential for real palpable improvement to the product going forward, assuming that the momentum from last night continues on WWE Raw and beyond.
Surprisingly, the main event of the night was not the WWE Championship match but the steel cage match between Brock Lesnar and Triple H. While I completely agreed with the end to the steel cage match and was equally happy to see Brock Lesnar win and John Cena not in the main event, I am still left wondering why the final image of the show was Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman celebrating their victory at the top of the ramp, especially given how the WWE Championship match ended. Personally, I think John Cena being carried out on a stretcher is a much more powerful image to close the show than what we got. When the WWE Championship match began with the steel cage match left to go, I had two thoughts – either Triple H has such a big ego that he is not only going to win but have the final image of the show be him celebrating the victory or the end to the match was going to have such a huge surprise that it had to close the show. When neither happened, I was left scratching my head. However, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, at least Brock Lesnar won.
I noted in my preview post yesterday that if Brock Lesnar had lost I would have lost all respect for Triple H and be even more convinced that both he and Vince McMahon have absolutely no idea what they are doing. If Lesnar had lost, it would have dropped his record since returning to 1-3, giving me absolutely no interest in any future Brock Lesnar match. However, giving credit where credit is due, WWE management (i.e., Triple H) did what was right for business and not ego or pride and booked Brock Lesnar to win. Granted, the win came in a steel cage match (by no means a regular wrestling contest) and as a result of interference from Paul Heyman (hitting Triple H with a low blow) but as a heel it is the perfect way for Lesnar to win. As for the match itself, it was exactly what you would expect when you put these two men inside a steel cage. While I would have liked to see some blood, the match was effective nonetheless in telling a great story, with Lesnar hurting his knee early on and Triple H trying to capitalize, Lesnar and Triple using a steel chair and sledgehammer to try and get the win and Paul Heyman’s interference on multiple occasions.The big questions going forward are if we will get a fourth match between the two Superstars (I hope not), whether or not Triple H ever wrestles again (I hope so, pending the right opponent) and who Brock Lesnar turns his sights on next.
The WWE Championship match between John Cena and Ryback was the match I was looking forward to the least (and noted as such on the WWE Fan Poll sent out last week) and was convinced that there was no way the WWE would book this one correctly. However, the way the match ended was not only the best possible solution in order to protect both participants, but it was an awesome finish that highlighted a real slug fest between the two heavyweights. I predicted in my preview yesterday that the Randy Orton/Big Show match would end in a “holy s**t” moment, but it was the Cena/Ryback match instead. After nearly 30 minutes (an eternity of a match for both Superstars) that saw each man hit multiple power moves, a couple of finishing moves each and each man putting the other threw multiple tables (including Cena hitting a leg drop onto Ryback through a table from the second level of the arena), the two Superstars found themselves on the stage. After spraying Ryback with the entire contents of a fire extinguisher, Cena hits him in the head with the empty canister and then goes for the Attitude Adjustment from the edge. But Ryback counters and ends up spearing Cena through the lighting structure handing above the ramp and the two men disappear behind the set in a flash of lights of explosions. When the referee and cameraman eventually make their way backstage, both men are out cold on the floor and so the referee calls for the match to end as a no contest. Ryback is helped up by the officials and eventually walks off with some assistance, but Cena is strapped to a backboard with his head and neck stabilized and rolled to a nearby ambulance.
The image of WWE Champion John Cena strapped to a backboard following such a brutal match was extremely powerful, especially since it is very rare to see Cena taken to the limit like he was last night and not turn into Super Cena and pull off the win. Plus, between there being no way that Cena would lose the title just six weeks after winning it but also needing to protect Ryback and stop ruining his momentum and overall character, it was the perfect ending (even though it will most likely lead to a rematch at the next PPV). However, what would make last night’s match (and the image of Cena immoblized on a stretcher) even stronger is if Cena either did not show up to WWE Raw tonight or does show up but is visibly hurt and shaken. If Cena comes out tomorrow night and runs down the ramp, slides into the ring and starts telling jokes, then last night’s awesome match and powerful ending will have been for nothing.
The best booking last night revolved around The Shield and their two matches (Dean Ambrose vs. United States Champion Kofi Kingston for the title and Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns vs. WWE Tag Team Champions Kane & Daniel Bryan for their titles). While I would have liked to see the two matches combined into one super match with a “winners take all” stipulation, the next best thing happened as The Shield secured a clean sweep in their matches and now hold both the United States and Tag Team Championships. In the US Title match, Ambrose more or less dominated the entire time, countering nearly every move Kingston had before ducking to avoid Trouble in Paradise and hitting Kingston with a headlock piledriver for the win (showing that Kingston beating Antonio Cesaro for the title a few weeks ago was nothing more than setup for Ambrose to defeat a face for the title instead of a heel, the definition of a “paper champion”). The tag match, a tornado tag team match, was much more evenly match and lasted longer as all four men got in lots of offense and counters and had time to all show off what they could do. The ending was a flurry of moves as Kane went for a chokeslam on Rollins but Reigns spears him to the mat and out of the ring, followed by Bryan going for the No Lock on Reigns but Rollins breaks it up, allowing Rollins to hit Bryan with a suplex and Reigns with a kick to the head for the pin and the win. In an instant, two titles that had been languishing on the sidelines were given instant credibility while at the same time thrusting all three members of The Shield farther into the main event than they already were. In a word, the two matches were perfectly booked (especially since both matches were won without outside interference). The key now is for The Shield to continue their momentum, successfully defending both titles frequently against a series of worthy opponents and securing lengthy title reigns.
The “I Quit” match between Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger to determine the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship was mired in controversy as the referee declared Swagger the winner after Zeb Coulter stole Ricardo Rodriguez’s white towel and threw it into the ring while Swagger had Del Rio in the ankle lock. Inexplicably, despite the fact that WWE officials have never used instant replay before, the referee went to a monitor to watch what had happened after a second referee tried to explain about the interference. When the first referee saw the replay, he restarted the match and Del Rio quickly puts Swagger in the Cross Armbreaker and forces Swagger to quit. With regards to the finish, this is one of the two with which I disagreed as I really wanted to see Swagger win for a number of reasons (e.g., he is the better wrestler, he has a better character, Zeb Coulter’s promos are awesome, no one cares about Del Rio or the fact that he’s a face). However, I understand why Del Rio won because now Swagger (the heel) can interfere in the eventual world title match between Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler, setting up the triple threat ladder match that was supposed to take place last night before Ziggler suffered a concussion. As for the use of instant replay, now the WWE is stuck between a rock and a hard place – they can either never use it again, which makes last night’s use of it even more inexplicable, or they have to use it all the time, which means no match from here on out as long as the WWE exists can ever end in controversy again because it will always be reviewed and restarted whenever a manger interferes, the referee misses a foot on the bottom rope, a heel uses the ropes to leverage the pin, etc.
Here are my quick thoughts on the rest of the card:
The other ending I disagreed with was Sheamus defeating Mark Henry in a Strap Match. Quite frankly, I have no interest in Sheamus whatsoever, especially as a face, and would have much rather seen Henry win. But with The Shield sweeping their matches, the Cena/Ryback match ending without a finish and Lesnar defeating Triple H, you needed to have more faces win matches (I mean, you didn’t, but WWE thinks you do).
Chris Jericho earned back his Wrestlemania 29 loss in the opening match as he defeated Fandango (with Summer Rae) when he countered Fandango trying to hit a leg drop from the top rope with a Code Breaker on Fandango in mid-air. I now fully expect there to be a rubber match between the two that Fandango not only wins, but wins so decisively that it gives Jericho his next extended hiatus from the WWE.
Randy Orton defeated Big Show in his own hometown of St. Louis in what was a pretty blasé match for one that was supposed to have an “extreme rules” stipulation. The one thing to note from this match was that Orton defeated Big Show with a punt to the head, which we have not seen since Orton was a heel.
There was a quick backstage segment between Divas champion Kaitlyn and #1 contender AJ Lee, which I was glad to see. Each Divas insulted the other, with AJ making fun of Kaitlyn’s secret admirer and Kaitlyn claiming that AJ had not yet cashed in her title shot because she was afraid to face her, before the two Divas brawled backstage and had to separated by WWE officials.
In the Internet pre-show match that no one saw, The Miz defeated Cody Rhodes.
For those interested, here my record for the night in term of my predictions was 8-1, with my only incorrect pick coming in the Lesnar/Triple H match (although I noted in my preview that while I was picking HHH to win I was hoping I would be wrong).