I came *this* close to not watching Extreme Rules. After last Monday's debacle of a show, my interest in Brock Lesnar had dropped significantly. All weekend, my wife and I were watching movies and every time she mentioned "wrestling tomorrow" or "wrestling tonight," I thought "oh yeah, there is a PPV on." The only reason I bought the show was because it was Lesnar's first match in eight years and I didn't want to miss it - for better or worse - from a historical standpoint; for some reason, shit like that is important to me.
Had I not watched Extreme Rules, I'd be kicking myself in the ass this morning.
Randy Orton vs. Kane was the right pick for an opener. Being a Falls Count Anywhere match, it guaranteed some action outside the ring, which always gets people on their feet and even if the crowd wasn't that into it, the people they'd brawl near would be. Fortunately, the crowd was pretty into it regardless and both guys put on a solid match.
It was totally "I punch you/you punch me" stuff, but they brawled all over the place and even threw in a little continuity with a Zack Ryder cameo attack on Kane. Granted, Kane treated it like a mosquito was buzzing around, but kudos for even doing it. Orton got the win, as expected, with an RKO on a steel chair and I assume this is the end of the feud. Either way it goes, I was impressed with this match and their Mania bout. The feud in general got a little silly at times, but considering it was a rivalry between the two guys that bore me the most, it far exceeded any expectations I had for it.
Brodus Clay vs. Dolph Ziggler was an impromptu addition to the card, giving us our longest glimpse of the Funkasaurus yet. I know people are upset that Ziggler continues to lose to Brodus, but that's what you get when you make someone's offense look that good. Ziggler single-handedly saved Clay's entire gimmick the night after WrestleMania when he dove at him and sold that headbutt on the ramp like he just got shot with a cannonball. I'm not entirely sure why people have taken to Brodus so much, it's not like dancing fat guy is anything new and adding Hornswoggle into the mix is usually the kiss of death, but people dig it and that's why he's winning matches. I definitely think it's one of those things saved by the live crowd (although Chicago was definitely leaning Ziggler last night), but as long as people react to it, he's going to keep winning.
But spare me the "the window of opportunity on Ziggler is closing" bullshit. Ziggler's been in this position for the last three years and never has a problem getting himself back in the hunt. The guy is too good and can be used in any spot on the card. WWE knows this, which is why he's been tasked with making Brodus look good. Don't like it? Stop tweeting "SOMEBODY CALL MY MAMA!" every time he comes to the ring.
Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show in a tables match for the Intercontinental Championship was fun, albeit brief and very silly. After getting his ass handed to him - despite a sweet table-assisted Beautiful Disaster Kick - Cody knocked Show off the apron, causing the defending champion's foot to go through a table and giving us a new IC Champ. Laugh if you want, but a foot through a table did almost kill Fit Finlay. Show got his revenge after the match by press slamming Cody from the ring to a table outside (ow), but apparently his title reign was just to give him that WrestleMania moment he deserved.
People seemed somewhat divided on the outcome of the match, but I think it worked. No, it wasn't very X-TREME!!!, but it played in well with Cody constantly humiliating the Big Show and Show's lovable goofiness. I don't know where either guy goes from here though as I thought taking the IC Title off Cody was to prep him for Sheamus, but apparently other things are planned. Big Show can fit in anywhere though, so I'm not too worried.
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan in a 2 out of 3 falls match for the World Championship was absolutely phenomenal. After robbing us of a proper match between these guys at not one, but two, WrestleManias, WWE more than made up for it here and gave us what is probably both men's best match inside a WWE ring. The match was just about 23 minutes long and the first fall didn't happen until pretty late, but it also avoided the pitfall of feeling rushed at the end, which WWE is often guilty of in multi-fall contests.
It was back and forth action between two guys who needed to be solidified. Sheamus was getting boos after the 18-second nonsense at WrestleMania, but after a performance like this, you can't help but love the guy. I don't think anyone ever expected Sheamus to be a technical wizard, but it's clear he's more ready to hang with the grown-ups in WWE style main events. Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan has had his fair share of doubters since signing with WWE and after the last month, capped off by this match, I think it's clear that he's solidified as a top guy... okay, top guy on Smackdown, but top guy nonetheless. Bottom line is, this is a guy who was pigeonholed as "vanilla" and "lacking charisma" and while he's consistently eviscerated that argument since embracing the dark side, he buried it once and for all last night.
A surefire Match of the Year candidate that accomplished what all matches should: made both guys come out of it looking better than they did going in. It's tough to execute, but when you have two guys as passionate and talented as Sheamus and Bryan, they make it look easy. I'm going to give this one Match of the Night honors, and if you saw this PPV, you know that's a tough decision, but they proved if you give them the time they deserve, they'll steal the show.
Ryback vs. Local Competitors (haven't seen those guys since ECW!) in a handicap match was definitely time for a cool down, and while it was a bit insulting to have a jobber squash on PPV, the crowd was into it. Oh sure, they were probably just into mockingly chanting "GOLDBERG!", but it's better than a trip to the nacho cart, right? I dig Ryback, his offense is hard-hitting (except for his finisher, just let him have the Jackhammer) and the bit with Superstars crowding around the monitor to watch him kill people is really fun. It's pretty much what I do at home, he decapitates some poor kid with a lariat, I rewind it, call my wife in the room to watch and she yells "eww! Why did you make me watch that?" It's awesome. Call him "Instant Replay" Ryback and you got yourself a Superstar.
You know your PPV is amazing when CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho is the third best match on the show and it was still an amazing match. This is one of those matches where social media and the instant reaction culture really hurts wrestling as a whole. Throughout this match, I'd pop in on Twitter and see people bitching that the crowd "wasn't as loud as I expected" during slower parts of the match (scream for every headlock, goddammit!), it wasn't "as good as last year's MITB" (not even remotely comparable), and worst of all that "neither Jericho or Punk are trending on Twitter" (the horror!), but if you actually watched, it worked just like their Mania match, they paced it perfectly.
Jericho and Punk aren't often dubbed the "best in the world" just because it looks cool on a t-shirt, they know what they're doing in the ring. Like the best jazz musicians, they know it's not enough to just know what notes to play, they know why they need to be played. These two are unmatched storytellers and they took this silly "your family loves drugs!" story and turned it into something that the crowd was emotionally invested in. The whole bit with Punk's sister slapping Jericho, Jericho lunging at her and Punk exploding was spectacular. Sometimes Punk can go a bit over the top with the "raw emotion," but this was perfect and the crowd was begging for him to kick Jericho's ass. Seriously, the crowd wasn't "that into" this match? Are you kidding me? When's the last time Jericho had an entire audience against him? Especially a PPV crowd? He was bathing in their hatred and every move against their hometown hero packed just a little extra punch.
As I said above, while the styles were drastically different, this match will benefit from repeat viewings just like their Mania match did. Very close contender for Match of the Night and I certainly think it's a Match of the Year contender (so far), so put down the smartphone, close the laptop and watch the match again, I promise you'll see what I'm talking about.
And c'mon, Punk did the Savage Elbow through the announce table. Crowd wasn't into it? Please.
Layla returning to defeat Nikki Bella for the Diva's Championship was a nice little swerve for all of us expecting Kharma and Layla looked damn good out there. The match was only two minutes long, but her fast-pace offense had some really cool moves and sequences and Nikki did a great job hanging with her. Not quite as cathartic as Kharma finally getting her revenge and sending the Bellas packing, but hopefully they're just saving that for tonight's Raw. Great to have Layla back though, the division sorely needs more women like her.
Now, on the flipside of what I was talking about with Punk and Jericho, John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar was one of those matches where social media really helps wrestling and makes it more fun. Check your Twitter feed from 10:25 - 10:57 p.m. est. last night, it's probably a seemingly endless string of "HOLY SHIT!" "WHAT THE FUCK!?" and "FH35Y23TYFWEJNFUIAUFBVO!!!11"
And that's fun, because it's those kind of matches that make you feel like you're a part of the show and a part of something historic, which this match was. Going in, you probably wouldn't have found a bigger cynic than me and after Rock vs. Cena, I was worried this was going to be another major disappointment. I was wrong. So magnificently wrong.
When the opening 20 seconds of a match feature John Cena getting his head legitimately busted open from some of the nastiest elbow strikes I've seen in any ring (or octagon, for that matter), you know you're in for something just a little bit different. Referees tried to stop the bleeding, which the Chicago crowd was totally okay with and did not stereotype wrestling fans as bloodthirsty lunatics, and I almost got through that sentence without laughing. You gotta let the blood thing go, it's not a "PG" thing, it's a keeping the wrestlers safe thing, which should not be cause for boos.
That said, John Cena, given the fact that he's John Cena, can get away with telling a referee to piss off and wrestle with a head geyser anyway. While this isn't going to become a regular occurrence, it did add to the match and it proves that WWE toning things down has worked, because it was genuinely shocking. In a match that was surrounded by questions of "legitimacy," it felt real, because it was. My wife looked over at me after those elbows and said "uh... he's really hitting him," and while I'm sure they had an agreement to put on the best show possible, I don't know if that's quite what Cena had in mind.
Here's how bad Brock kicked the shit out of Cena: the Chicago crowd overwhelmingly cheered for Cena. That's right, the crowd that less than a year ago wanted Cena's head on a pike, was seriously concerned for his safety and wanted to see him be Rocky to Lesnar's Drago.
Lesnar didn't walk out of the match unscathed either, after destroying Cena for 15 minutes, he went for what can only be described as a FALCON PUNCH off the steel stairs that he brought into the ring, except instead of hitting Cena, he flew over the top rope and landed directly on his knee. Although from the original angle, it looked like he landed on his head, WrestleMania 19 style. I don't remember what I screamed, but I believe it was something along the lines of "OH FUCK!! FUCK!!!!" But of course, Lesnar sprung back up like a cat that just fell off the bookshelf and he had a smile on his face that said "can you believe I didn't die? That's hilarious!" Oh Brock, you glorious meathead, don't ever change.
And just to prove once and for all that he's not all there... he tried the same move again! This time, Cena was waiting for him with his steel chain wrapped around his fist, clocking Lesnar right in the head and splitting him open too. The refs didn't have time to check on him - they were all dead... except Black Ref, who took one look at the match, said "fuck this" and left - Cena hit the F-U (it's still the F-U when done to Lesnar) on the aforementioned steel stairs and somehow, some way, won and survived this match.
After the match, Cena took the mic and said he'd be going on vacation. I'm not sure if he meant in a storyline since John Laurinaitis will surely be pissed, due to injury, a legitimate suspension due to all the blood, or all three, but I think we can all agree John Cena earned some time off for this one.
Hands down, one of the most brutal, disturbing and morbidly exciting matches I've ever seen. Drama, action, legitimacy and a raucous crowd... what more do you need? I know some people are pissed that Lesnar lost and I'll have more on that this week, but it was absolutely the right call. Darth Vader lost in Star Wars too, but the Empire has to strike back, right? Brock Lesnar the Diva who gets everything he wants is boring and can't vocalize a coherent thought, but Brock Lesnar the pissed off wrecking machine out for blood and vengeance? I guarantee the result of that will be far worse than getting frozen in carbonite.
Extreme Rules 2012 was a terrific PPV, the best of the year so far and blew WrestleMania out of the water. Sure, WrestleMania had the amazing match between Undertaker and Triple H and a really great Punk/Jericho match, but this show had two Match of the Year contenders and one of the most insane WWE main events I've seen in more than a quarter of a century watching this stuff. WrestleMania failed to deliver on lofty expectations and Extreme Rules, a show that could've been a disaster, left my jaw on the floor. If you didn't see this show, you gotta order the replay; WWE earned your $44.95 here.