Monday, May 5, 2014

Extreme Rules 2014

Thou shalt not boo Paul Heyman.

Extreme Rules has become a weird PPV. Years ago, the PPV after WrestleMania was Backlash, which made sense since it was often filled with rematches from the big show. But now, WWE kinda reboots after Mania, they've even started calling the Raw after Mania "Opening Day," so it doesn't make a lot of sense to have gimmick matches to start a lot of feuds. They should do Payback after WrestleMania, then save Extreme Rules for the matches that carry over into the next month, but I suppose they try to keep a little air between this and Money in the Bank.

Let's start with the pre-show, El Torito vs. Hornswoggle in a "WeeLC" match has to be the most un-PC thing WWE has done in years, but goddamn it was funny. I'm a sucker for a good pun, so the match name alone was fantastic, but then they added in mini commentators, JB-Elf, Micro Cole and Jerry Smaller! Here's the kicker, they were better than the actual commentary team, they should've stuck around.

The match itself was pretty fun too, Los Matadores and 3MB were bouncing like pinballs to keep the crowd into it, and Drew McIntyre's tope con hilo on a table was brutal. Unnecessary, but brutal. El Torito won with the Drop the Dime through a tiny table. Good times.

Cesaro vs. RVD vs. Jack Swagger in a Three-Way Dance was the opening contest and as far as I know, it's the first time WWE has ever done an elimination Triple Threat? It was news to Michael Cole too, who totally botched the call when Swagger was eliminated... damn shame too because it was a cool spot with Cesaro hitting the Uber-Plex and RVD landing on Swagger with the Five Star.

I feel bad for Swagger, he's better than every aspect of his character: he's better than that horrible singlet, horrible hair, stale gimmick, he can cut a pretty decent promo even though he can't talk... I dunno why he can't catch break though. I'd like to see him with a new tag partner, but I think the Zeb Colter stuff has run its course outside of the "We The People" chant.

Cesaro vs. RVD was about what you'd expect, RVD was his usual sloppy self, but had the crowd wrapped around his little finger (or thumbs, I suppose) and Cesaro was beastly as always. The finish was pretty nasty too with Cesaro hitting The Neutralizer on a broken trash can, RVD looked like he might have been attending his bris on that one.

They're doing just about everything right with Rusev, but haven't we seen this character a bajillion times in the last few years? I know evil dominating foreigner is nothing new, but we're following a pretty strict formula here, no? He's probably better in the ring than Kozlov, but he's not nearly as fun as Umaga... but Lana is a better hype man than Armando Estrada, so maybe we're onto something. Poor Xavier Woods though, here's a dude with a legit interesting story and he's getting thrown into the ring frame before the match even starts.

Bad News Barrett vs. Big E took some time to get going and it kinda annoyed me that Big E was getting booed, but the crowd has really taken to BNB (for some unknown reason), so who am I to judge? They weren't being dickish about it, they just really wanted Barrett to win, and when you give people a reason to care, like they did with the IC Title tournament, it's hard not to cheer for the guy.

I'm kind of like an abused animal when it comes to Barrett pushes though, I've been conditioned to bite when I see one because they never end well. They seem serious this time, even Michael Cole was selling it as "this one counts this time, for realzies, guy," but I'll wait and see.

Kudos to Big E for that spear through the ropes though, NASTY stuff.

Evolution vs. The Shield was a Match of the Year candidate, period. WWE has never put a huge focus on teams. Tag matches rarely headlined big shows, they have pretty much killed tag wrestling altogether. Stables typically don't last that long either and even when they do, their most successful ones still have an emphasis on the parts rather than the whole: DX was about HBK at the top and Hunter going after the Euro title, then Hunter in the IC Division and The Outlaws doing their thing. Even Evolution had their own things going on, but The Shield are different. They tried to stick to this formula at first, it's why Dean Ambrose is the US Champion, but they seem to have really figured out that these three guys are a trio, they are the sum of their parts, they are perhaps the best 3+-man group in WWE history.

And when we were expecting them to continue following the same formula, we were all ready to crown Roman Reigns as the next big thing, but since the face turn, they're all the next big thing. Reigns is the prototypical WWE Superstar, no doubt about it, but Seth Rollins has cemented himself as a Jeff Hardy-esque star with none of his many downsides and Dean Ambrose is just a fucking nutcase, he's marvelous.

Seriously, how crazy was Rollins suicide dive into the barricade last night? Then the dive off the balcony when they were brawling in the crowd? And Dean doing the 40-yard dash across the announce tables?! And Reigns Superman Punching Batista so hard, I expected to see an Elmer Fudd sized knot show up on Big Dave's big head!

It's going to be near impossible to top Daniel Bryan's moment at WrestleMania, but I think this is hands down the leader for Match of the Year so far.

...In spite of Randy Orton being in it.

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt had a tough act to follow, but even if they didn't, the match still would've sucked. I dunno what happened between WrestleMania and now, but this was night and day from their match last month, this was bad. Really bad. Like, worst match Wyatt has ever had and worst Cena match since he was feuding with Big Johnny bad.

The storytelling was inexcusable. So the whole point of making this match a cage match was to keep Harper & Rowan out, never mind the fact that has never worked since the cage match became a thing, but okay, I'm jiggy wit it. So if the point is to keep Harper & Rowan out and make Bray fight man-to-man, why the fuck does Cena keep trying to escape the cage?!

If Cena believes in himself so much and think Wyatt is just a big talker who's not worth taking seriously, beat his ass and pin him or make him tap out. But no, Cena keeps trying to scale the cage or walk out the door (good guys never use the door) even though Harper and Rowan are right there to make it impossible, like that Fatal Four Way cage match in Day of Reckoning on Gamecube. I'm not opposed to the escaping the cage rule like a lot of folks are, it just didn't work for Cena in this particular match.

So that alone totally killed the momentum of the match. And considering 99.9999% of it was Cena looking like a doofus, there wasn't much else going on. The ending was a little hokey with the creepy kid singing at John Cena, but I have to admit I got some chills when I first heard The Exorcist-esque voice distortion.

I get what they're doing here, Bray's "message is spreading" and the Cenation is turning on John, but wrestling has natural storytelling limitations and I think we're about to hit them here. In a traditional television show, the Bray Wyatt character could literally be the Eater of Worlds, a threat to the very fabric of all our heroes. But in wrestling, his world eating is still sandwiched between a leprechaun rock star and fans going to get nachos.

You can tell WWE has become more hands-on with Wyatt's stories, he was writing his own stuff early on, but in WWE logic, if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. The "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" bit was great, but now it's every segment he's in. Creepy kids? Awesome. But now we need creepy kids every time.

What's the endgame here? In wrestling logic, this is a prime opportunity to create a new main event player, but traditional storytelling logic would have Cena vanquish Wyatt. And if Wyatt does continue to win and his message keeps "spreading," what does that mean? That's not a rhetorical question either, literally, what does his message spreading do to WWE as a whole?

Terrible, terrible match veering into dangerous storytelling territory.

Paige vs. Tamina was a really good match, but the crowd was pretty tapped out, although that's why they put the Divas match here. It's a shame too because Paige has put on at least two good matches a week since her debut, but the crowd is still expecting the Divas match to be the bathroom break. Impressed Paige could get Tamina in the Scorpion Cross Lock too.

Kane vs. Daniel Bryan seems to be pretty divisive, judging from the social media response, but I loved it. Hey, if you've ever waxed nostalgic about wanting the Attitude Era back and still complained about that match, you probably didn't watch much of the Attitude Era. A late 90s-esque main event if there ever was one, a fun homage to Kane in his prime, and a great coming out party for Daniel Bryan, who proved he's not just "the wrestling guy," and can do goofy forklift spots with the best of them.

The diving headbutt off the forklift into the ring was a tremendous visual (even if Bryan needs to stop doing the headbutt), the chokeslam through the announce table was great, and hey, they even busted out some fire to end the thing. It wasn't a "good wrestling match" in the traditional sense, but more importantly, it was fun. A lot of us are conditioned to Bryan matches being Citizen Kane, but it's okay if they're The Avengers, ya know? I like art, but sometimes I just wanna watch shit blow up.

Aside from Cena/Wyatt, this was the best of the non-WM PPVs this year, which is saying something since 2014 has been really great so far. We're definitely entering the dull point of the year, but if this is dull for WWE these days, I'll take it. We're far, far away from the nightmare that was the summer of 2012.

And another spotless night for the WWE Network. For $10 I got a great PPV that streamed flawlessly all night and then there's all the other stuff that comes with it. If they renegotiate Raw replays to air sooner than a month later, I might just be ready to cut cable altogether.