Coming off a red hot WrestleMania, a well-received European tour and a streak of half-assed episodes of Raw, WWE presents Extreme Rules 2015, their annual foray into the oft-times mystifying world of PG hardcore wrestling. In a "universe" where terms like "guillotine" and "hangman" are on the banned list, the far more provocative "extreme" is far game. Then again, this is a wrestling company that outlaws the use of the word "wrestling", whose biggest money-making show of the year is called WrestleMania. We are live in Chicago, C.M. Punk territory. Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler are our hosts. In a wise decision, the ill-fitting LCD ring apron is gone.
Bad News Barrett vs. Neville
This was supposed to be Daniel Bryan defending his newly won Intercontinental Championship against Barrett, but he is once again on the post-WrestleMania injured list and not cleared to compete. No word yet on what will happen with the title, but I would suspect he will be stripped and a tournament held. Sure sounds like a good opportunity to make a star. Speaking of making a star, Neville is drafted in as Bryan's replacement, and the announcement of his name is greeted with a hearty, satisfying pop. I am delighted he is on the show, albeit the pre show. His performances since debuting on the main roster last month have certainly warranted it. They go for the cat and mouse approach early on, with Neville's flashy counters and immense speed causing the much larger Barrett some problems. He goes for one too many high risk moves and Barrett cuts him off, then we cut to a commercial for the WWE Network... Sort of seems like preaching to the choir. When we return, Barrett has the traditional post-commercial chinlock applied, and he is in complete control. "It's kinda like William Regal against Dynamite Kid," says JBL, who just says any old thing that pops into his head. Regal vs. Dynamite wouldn't be nicely worked like this, it would be a potato harvest! Neville makes a comeback and manages to hit the dive he missed earlier, then drills his much larger foe with a stalling German suplex. Seeing an opportunity, Neville looks for the Red Arrow, but Barrett cuts him off and hits the Bossman Slam (I refuse to call it "Winds of Change") for a near fall. Barrett tries to finish with Wasteland but Neville is wise to it, though another dive leads to him getting caught in the move again. It looks to be over, but Neville makes it out at two. Barrett loads the Bullhammer but Neville ducks and hits an enzuigiri. The finish that follows is excellent. Barrett stops the Red Arrow but misses the Bullhammer while Neville is on the ropes and gets decked with a kick. It knocks him out, and Neville finally hits the Red Arrow for the huge win. Bravo WWE for putting the superb Neville over. I really hope they realise what they have got with him. That was a fine way to start the show, and probably Neville's strongest main roster performance yet. Helluva finish sequence too.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Chicago Street Fight
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
I complained during last week's Raw that I had already seen this match so many times that it was becoming tiresome, but then they had a wild (for the era) brawl that actually made me quite want to see them go at it again. That is one of the problems with tonight's card in general mind; everything on it has already been done before a bunch of times. It's the plague of the April pay-per-view. Dean Ambrose remains over like a superstar in Chicago, despite his unfavourable booking over the past year or so. Video Control shows his insane powerbomb through the ladder bump at the hands of Harper at WrestleMania, selling it as one of the reasons behind them feuding. Hey, at least they have one. I sure hope they don't do an encore performance though, for Ambrose's sake. They brawl on the outside and Ambrose gets the better of things, but an attempted suplex through a chair is reversed. Harper goes to work with a kendo stick and a chair, as the stuck-in-the-past Lawler channels Borat by saying, "Harper has a plan... not." Oh, how I don't miss him on Raw. They brawl at a pleasingly quick pace, with neither man particularly on top, then Ambrose throws in an early contender for move of the night when he does a 619 esque spin under the bottom rope after being caught on a dive, then hits his sweet lariat. They brawl to the back, a staple of hardcore matches from years past, before Harper commandeers a conveniently placed car. Ambrose does an action hero dive through the passenger window as Harper drives off with both men inside... I guess we will pick things up later! Do they think this is Anaheim and WrestleMania XII or something? Hell, as least they are not in a gold Cadillac or a white Ford Bronco.
Final Rating: To be continued...
"C.M. Punk! C.M. Punk!" chant the crowd, outraged by the non finish. We cut to a backstage segment with Triple H, Seth Rollins and Kane, which is drowned out by the fans chanting "boring". WWE quickly turn on the sound sweetening machine they acquired in the WCW buyout nearly fifteen years ago to take care of that.
Kiss Me Arse Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus
Innocent little ring announcer JoJo blushes when she has to say "arse". I feel WWE might have booked themselves into a corner here. Having Ziggler win kills Sheamus' big return push, but having Sheamus win and Ziggler kiss his arse is going to damage him as a babyface. Well, it's not like WWE care about Ziggler anyway, so coming in that remains the most likely scenario. They brawl far too much on the outside at the start, which is lazy and dull after having just seen Ambrose and Harper do the same thing. Back in the ring Sheamus controls the pace, meaning the pace becomes laborious. Ziggler does his usual grand job of selling like Curt Hennig to try and get it over, but Sheamus is limited in his heel offence and decides to channel The Warlord and just sit in holds. Dolph fires back with meaty forearms, but the crowd don't really bite. Sheamus' boring heat has killed them. "C.M. Punk". In a Ziggler match! Sheamus' pacing is so predictable it becomes tiresome. He hits a move, poses, repeat. It's like he can't remember how to work an exciting match as a heel. Then after several minutes of this, Dolph catches a roll up from out of absolutely nowhere and scores the win. I am shocked! So far, two smaller guys have beaten two big guys. It's almost unheard of in WWE. I agree with the decision though, because the fluke nature of the fall doesn't make Sheamus look too bad, and it certainly beats Ziggler having to kiss Sheamus' ass. Naturally, Sheamus is very upset at this prospect and procrastinates for an age, refusing to do it. "Pucker up!" chants the amusing Chicago crowd helpfully. Suddenly all of the good will WWE have amassed so far tonight is eradicated when they renege on the stip by having Sheamus take out Dolph with a low blow and Brogue kick, before he gets out his own ass and rubs Ziggler's face in it. This might be a new WWE record for shortest time before reneging on a pre-match stipulation. I thought this was really laboured and dull.
Final Rating: *
WWE Tag Team Championship
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd (c) vs. The New Day
This has been promoted from the pre show due to the Bryan-Barrett match having been canned. Apparently these tandems had some great matches in Europe, so even though New Day are involved we might at least get a decent bout out of them. Like everyone else tonight they start at speed, though someone needs to have a word with the agents because Kidd does a dive, which is the third of the night already. The crowd get on New Day's case, causing Xavier Woods to yell incredulously, "Why what did we do!? What did we do!? We're winning!" Indeed. Cesaro shows why everyone except Vince McMahon rates him so highly during a great sequence with Kofi, leathering him with a series of corner to corner running uppercuts then going for the giant swing to a massive pop. It ends up being a slingshot, which Kofi escapes by landing on the top rope, only for Cesaro to catch him on the subsequent dive and effortlessly drill him with a backbreaker. He continues to shine with his always impressive powerlift superplex, and even the announcers have permission to put him over tonight. More fun stuff follows with a Big E spear to Kidd off the apron, and Cesaro taking a big backdrop on the outside. New Day look to have it won with a dodgy looking double team on Kidd, but Cesaro makes the save with a baby elephant impression. They go into an excellent finish sequence which sees Cesaro finally hit the swing, Natalya deck Woods and then Cesaro gets rolled up by Kofi for the win and the titles! No, no, no. Oh, what are they playing at? Cesaro and Kidd are the finest team to turn up in ages. Just let them be champions for the next year! Despite the mind-meltingly shite result, the match was pretty damn great. One of Cesaro's finest performances in some time.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Backstage, New Day cut a promo with Rene Young, then Harper and Ambrose turn up to resume their contest. I guess we are back on...
Chicago Street Fight - Part 2
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
Upon making it to the ring, the pair decide to channel ECW and throw a bunch of chairs into the ring, which the smart crowd immediately pick up on. Once the ring is full of them they have a duel, which Harper gets the better of with a powerbomb onto a bunch of them. Ambrose kicks out, so Harper buries him under chairs and does to the top, but Ambrose emerges and throws him off. Dirty Deeds follows and that is enough for the win. The restart was a little underwhelming actually. The match would have been better if it had just finished earlier, because doing it in two parts hurt the flow significantly and rendered part one meaningless. I get what they were going for, wanting the cute car spot and the whole "they are both nuts" angle, but I it would have been better served as a post-match deal. As a whole, the contest was entertaining, but it would have been beyond *** had the finish come earlier. Technically, this is one of the longest matches WWE have presented in years.
Final Rating: **1/2
Russian Chain Match
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
This contest will answer an intriguing riddle: how do you construct a bout as limiting as a chain match without the use of blood or choking? It's a very strange choice of stipulation really. WWE's reasoning behind it is at least sound; they want to protect the loser from a pinfall defeat. That's fine, especially if Rusev is losing, but there are other gimmicks that might have fit the bill better than this one. For anyone unclear, the object is to touch all four corners of the ring in order to win. In other words, it's just a massively protracted tug of war contest. We have some lights attached to the ring posts to help us keep track of who has touched what, though for the casual viewer it is still confusing as to what exactly makes them go back off again. Cole senses as much and frantically tries to explain that the referee will "wave off" the lights should the momentum shift midway through the attempts at touching the posts. It seems pretty convoluted and arbitrary to me. The two combatants struggle to retain interest in the bout due to the inability to build any heat in a match like this, because every comeback results in the lights going out and them being back on level pegging, so they almost have to try and build the heat over and over again. Sadly that makes for repetitive viewing. How many times can watch a guy tag a turnbuckle pad before it becomes tedious. The answer is "not many". Rusev dominates for an age, with Cena taking a kicking and then cutting him off over and over, before Rusev makes a mistake in trying something off the top. Why would you do that? He soon regains control, but becomes irked when the crowd chant "We want Lana" and she gets on the apron and waves to them. Furious, Rusev sends her to the back. Wow, talk about fortunate timing! Well done, Chicago. Cena displays one his more irritating idioms when he reverses the Accolade into the STF, suddenly forgetting all of the selling he had been doing and acting completely fine. That Superman shit is really unbearable. He has been on such a roll of strong matches recently too. Rusev manages to lock it in again, but Cena stands up out of the hold, killing its effectiveness dead, then backs Rusev into two corners unwittingly. Rusev realises and goes for the other two, but Cena stops him. Then things turn into a cartoon when both hit three corners each, leaving just one unlit. Rusev charges for it and Cena pulls him back into the AA, then hits the corner for the win. Well, it wasn't good, by any stretch, but it could have been worse.
Final Rating: *1/4
WWE Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella vs. Naomi
I am hardly giddy at the prospect of this. I also don't understand why the Bellas are suddenly babyfaces. I know it makes no difference at all in this division, but it's still jarring to have allegiances switch from week to week without explanation. Naomi has new music, which sucks, and is wearing a pair of bright green glasses that I cannot comprehend. Predictably, the fans are not interested in this at all. Because it sucks. Nikki Bella is truly dreadful and Naomi is hardly much better. Standards have dropped so much with the Divas and expectations are so low that people are far more forgiving of these weekly Diva train wrecks than they should be. You want to see quality women's wrestling, watch WWE's "feeder" company NXT instead. Neither of these two can hang with a single one of them. "For the win!" "For the win!" bellows that little twit Cole on every pinfall attempt, as I contemplate whose voice is more annoying; his of Brie Bella's. The finish is a complete joke too, with supposed babyface Brie kicking Naomi in the face while the ref is distracted, and Nikki hitting her fake tit assisted Abyss tribute for the win. The Observer called this an "above average match", which is nuts. Was there any pacing, psychology, crisp execution or emotional investment? Not a bit of it. It was just a series of questionably timed moves and a slapdash finish that clarifies exactly what WWE's attitude towards it's female performers is. Hell, it wasn't even average for a Diva's match! Like I say, standards have significantly dropped. Make no mistake, this was utter drek.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage Rusev yells at Lana, who then sheepishly heads into the office of the Authority. "Ooooohhhh" says Chicago in the manner of a Japanese crowd.
Last Man Standing Match
The Big Show vs. Roman Reigns
Oh hell, I had forgotten about this. Nothing gets the sour taste of a Bellas match out of your mouth quite like a Big Show match... This feud is so typical of Vince McMahon's mindset when it comes to booking. He loves to put babyfaces in against Big Show so they look impressive when they beat him. Only, it never works out that way. Show is so fucking terrible that he makes everyone he works with look worse in defeat than they did coming in. He is the exact opposite opponent to what Reigns needed following a trying few months. Their matches together are always horrendous, and they do nothing at all for Reigns. The most entertaining part of the first few minutes is the lumber oaf Big Show's struggle with a folding table. Reigns tries to bring it into play but is bundled down by a slow motion kick, then Show ponderously tries to put it back under the ring. He struggles, big time, and eventually just gives up. What an ass. Reigns manages to get it again, but Show again takes umbrage and smashes it with hammer fists. What is this sudden aversion to tables he has developed. Show continues to take his anger out on inanimate objects, snapping a kendo stick in half over his knee. Why not just use it as a weapon? "Boooooring" assess Chicago, and I fully agree with them.
Reigns decides to use a weapon that Show cannot break, and finds a steel chair. He belts Show a few times with it, but doesn't get the ten count. Reigns responds bringing two tables into the ring, giving Show time to recover and knock down Reigns with his knockout punch. It gets a count of 8 and nothing more, then Reigns hits his Samoan drop on Show though a table. That doesn't do it either. Reigns wants more tables and sets a pair up outside, but he ends up being the one to go through them when Show chokeslams him from inside the ring after absorbing two Superman punches. Reigns makes it up at 9, but no one particularly cares. Never-say-die unrealistic comebacks like this are just too much like John Cena's no-selling nonsense for folk to take seriously. No one wants Reigns to be Cena, except for the out-of-touch Vince. By now everyone realise that if it wasn't already inevitable that Reigns was winning before, it is nailed on now. After all, Show has already hit all of his big moves, what more does he have left?
Rather than beating on a groggy Roman to increase his chances of victory, Show spends a good minute or two constructing a set of stairs next to the announce desk. There is even time for some completely out of place comedy, when Show picks up one of the commentators' notepads and takes offence to one of them having wrote, "Big Show needs to lose weight". If that is the best Big Show can do adlibbing then I suddenly understand WWE's case for scripting the performers. Alternatively if it was indeed scripted, as I suspect, then the writers need to be erased immediately. Writing stuff like that into a supposedly brutal last man standing match shows a complete lack of understanding about wrestling. I realise I am making a mountain out of this metaphorical molehill, but things like that really irk me. Speaking of irking me, the match becomes a contrived mess when Show makes it up from a spear through the barricade and then another spear through the Spanish announce desk. Reigns should know that the only way to beat Big Show in a LMS match is to dump something heavy on him. He opts for a not particularly heavy announce desk, which does finally get the job done. I appreciate the efforts of both to take this beyond rotten and into the realms of mediocre, but Big Show can take all the big bumps he wants and I still find every one of his matches a chore to endure. He has been doing the same routine for almost twenty years. What's left to be excited about?
Final Rating: **1/2
Promo Time: Bo Dallas
Or in other words: filler. It says something about the prevailing mentality that a cracking little match like Barrett-Neville can be restricted to the pre show while Bo and his squeaky little man-child voice are on the "paid" portion of the card. Ryback takes offence to Bo running down Chicago, so squashes him and hits Shellshock. What was the point of this? Not a clue. They are trying to push Ryback because it turns out he is the object of Bray Wyatt's obsession, but what destroying a geek like Dallas does for him is a mystery.
Backstage, Lana tells Rusev that the Authority have consented to a fourth and final match between Cena and Rusev, which will be an "I Quit" match at Payback. Three times in a row was too much, four is just unacceptably lazy booking. This is why there is so much apathy towards everything. It also renders Cena's weekly U.S. Challenge, which has been a highlight of Raw, as meaningless. Nice one.
Tangent: WWE has been pushing commercials for the Network after literally every segment and match. It is too much. People watching are already paying for the damn thing, they don't need to sell them on its merits. One of the things announced for the upcoming week of programming is the welcome return after five years of the King of the Ring tournament, live and exclusive on Tuesday evening. I swear, if Kane or Big Show win, I am done!
Steel Cage Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton
The build up to this has been relatively decent, though as is often the case in a new champion's first PPV defence, there are few who think he will lose. For those with short memories or a (justifiable) aversion to Raw, the story here is that each got to pick a stipulation, and Orton went for a cage match while Rollins decided to ban the RKO. Triple H then threw a spanner into the works last week by making Kane the "gatekeeper", giving him sole control over who is allowed entry and access. It rather defeats the point of Orton making it a cage match in order to keep the Authority out. The intended intrigue regards Kane, who despite being in the Authority has been at odds with Rollins over the past few weeks. The first ten minutes are absolute dross, with the previously red hot crowd so bored that this sounds like it is taking place in a high school gym. It's partly because there is nothing to really get behind, because they know Rollins is going to win and they know that Kane is going to somehow be involved. It's just how WWE books. The best matches are those with a sense of intrigue and unpredictability, and this has neither. The highlight of the first ten minutes is Randy Orton climbing to the top of the cage for an exchange of fisticuffs and mouthing "fuck" when he realises how high up he is. That's it! That's the best part! After that they try and up the ante a little with a few near falls, but no one bites on them.
J&J Security head out when it looks like Rollins might be able to escape if not for Orton holding him by the hair, but Orton suplexes him back in to prevent defeat. J&J get involved again, trying to climb up the cage to assist their man, only for Randy to launch Seth into them to send both flying onto the outside. So much for the cage match preventing outside interference. By far the biggest reaction of the match comes when Orton hooks and hits a Pedigree on Seth, causing a huge "Oooooh" like the one directed at Lana earlier. It only gets a two, so he decides to go for the punt. Thing is, the punt has been almost too well protected, because it is practically guaranteed death for the recipient... for a few weeks at least. Seth isn't taking a few months off, so he moves out of the way. At least the crowd are finally beginning to care, because they sense this is heading towards the always more exciting home stretch. Kane gets involved, opening the cage door for Seth but refusing to for Randy, then just slamming the door on both of their heads after Randy knocks him off the apron. Kane loses his temper and enters the cage, then wipes out J&J Security for shits and giggles with a double chokeslam. He motions as if about to chokeslam Seth, but drills Orton instead. Rollins heads for the door but Kane stops him and hits a chokeslam, then drags Rollins onto Orton. That's only a two, so this borefest must continue. Kane decides to Tombstone Orton, but he skips out and hits him with an RKO, only to turn into one from Seth. Seth escapes to retain. Well, that's a bullshit finish. Nowhere did it say the RKO was only banned for Randy Orton. The announcers point out as much, which just buries the imbecilic booking further. Inevitably it will all lead to a rematch between them at Payback that no one wants to see.
This was a really dull match, and the first half was among the most boring bouts I have seen in a pay-per-view main event for quite a while. So far, Seth's run as champion has been somewhat underwhelming. The booking of him as being both inferior to Kane and a frightened little lamb terrified of the RKO has hardly helped, but of late it feels like he has lost some of that drive and motivation that made him so great in the months preceding WrestleMania. I hope he rediscovers his mojo and gets someone fresh and interesting to work with soon.
Final Rating: *1/2
What We Said: It was okay. For the most part the stipulations detracted rather than added to the matches, and in some cases were absolutely ridiculous. The "Kiss Me Arse" match with an instantly ignored stipulation, a cage match designed to keep people out with an RKO banned that saw loads of interference and a brace of RKOs, a chain match with no blood or choking... It was all so silly and forced, and at times it was frustrating viewing. Things started so well too, with a hot opener, a good early brawl between Ambrose and Harper (which was then ruined with the silly non-finish and second part of the bout) and the expectation defying tag title match. Then it all went to hell. Not a bad pay-per-view, but the weakest offering of the year from WWE so far. Mild recommendation.