EXTREME RULES (2014): He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

WWE Extreme Rules 2014

Extreme Rules 2014 (May 4, 2014) – Izod Center (East Rutherford, NJ) – Main Event: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kane (WWE World Heavyweight Championship) – Announcers: Michael Cole, Jerry “the King” Lawler, John Bradshaw Layfield, Byron Saxton, and Renee Young.

The WWE is on a roll.

Coming off of a fantastic WrestleMania XXX, the company put on another highly engaging PPV with their EXTREME RULES event from the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. You had the sense that it was going to be a good night when Hornswoggle and El Torito put on a “WeeLC” match that actually turned out to be rather entertaining.

Like WrestleMania XXX, EXTREME RULES was largely about pushing new talent over established talent, but unlike the “Showcase of the Immortals,” the follow-up PPV had a harder edge to it, often recalling the Attitude Era: Stephanie McMahon dropped a, “You’re gonna be Kane’s bitch” on Daniel Bryan, her husband told us, “You bet your ass,” there was plenty of chair shots, ladders, trash cans, kendo sticks, and tables, Seth Rollins jumped off a railing in the stands, Kane tossed Bryan on a car, Daniel Bryan used a forklift to deliver an unconscious Kane back to the ring, and Kane gave both a throat slash and set a table on fire that he proceeded to fall through.

The night’s action was largely fierce and focused, and while EXTREME RULES wasn’t the best PPV you’ll ever see, you’ll struggle to find a PPV where as many people left the event improving their stock; you can pay EXTREME RULES the ultimate compliment in that almost everyone came out of the night looking better than when they entered it. In defeat, guys like Rob Van Dam, Jack Swagger, R-Truth, Big E, Tamina Snuka, and Kane still managed to gain momentum. Sure, none of these folks are going to main event Raw, let alone a PPV anytime soon (except for Kane, who was already there), but Van Dam and Swagger looked good in defeat and gives the WWE the option to continue this three-headed feud, if they choose, or split them off into their own feud as Cesaro moves on to other things. R-Truth showed how valuable a veteran presence can be in a match everyone knows is a squash; while Xavier Woods spent the match lying outside the ring, R-Truth took some offense to Alexander Rusev and helped the big man show off a wide range of abilities. Big E had one of his best matches since gaining the Intercontinental Title, and Tamina Snuka demonstrated that if the WWE actually wanted to give the Diva’s Champion a feud instead of continuing this rotation of a new foe each week, they’ve got the right talent to do it.

And Kane … what clearly looked like a placeholder fight to give Bryan a breather before entering a higher profile feud over the summer has instead given us a rejuvenated Big Red Monster. Kane looked very much like a guy who’s left his humanity behind; starting with last week’s reclamation of his mask and the attempted abduction of Brie, the WWE has wisely taken a sidestep away from the Daniel Bryan vs. the Authority angle in favor of the little man against the unstoppable monster. Sure, Kane is still an operative of the Authority, but with Stephanie doing her part to sell Kane as a force she can’t control, it makes the Kane/Bryan feud feel less like “what’s best for business” and more about revenge.

EXTREME RULES is also the first non-WrestleMania PPV to be broadcast on the WWE Network, and it bears repeating at least one more time – make fun of Cole and Lawler for pimping the Network 853 times each week on Raw, but the WWE Network is the single best deal going in broadcasting. I was never going to lay out $50 or $60 for Extreme Rules in the past; if I could cobble some friends together and we could cut the cost down, sure, but I don’t have a ton of fellow wrestling fans in driving distance to make that a realistic option. Now, though, for my $10 a month I get not only the monthly PPV but 24-hour access to nearly any PPV in the company’s history. I pay for the MLB.TV package, too, and that’s twice as expensive and I watch it just about as much. (MLB’s digital media arm runs the technical aspect of the WWE Network and they’ve done a really great job, so far.)

One small area where the Network does fail is that when they replay their PPVs, they don’t include the opening fight that used to be a dark match and is now part of the pre-show. The El Torito (with Los Matadores) versus Hornswoggle (with 3MB) is a match you’d figure they’d want to show as it actually turned out to be rather entertaining. This kind of match (if nothing else, EXTREME RULES 2014 introduced us to the concept of the “WeeLC” match) typically comes mid-card, giving us a palate cleanser between higher profile matches (as the Rusev and Paige matches would do later in the night), so it was an odd match to use to at the top of the event. Were people going to watch this match on the pre-show and decide to order the PPV?

It wasn’t just the two main combatants who were “wee” as we got a set of small person announcers that were riffs on the regular announcing team: Micro Cole, JB Elf, and Jerry Smaller. It was pretty groan inducing for the first few minutes – the wrestling was mediocre and the “wee” announcers were obviously pretty unpolished. (They weren’t helped by the regular announce team butting in and speaking over them whenever they wanted.) But then, right around the time Hornswoggle was handed a regular fold-up chair and tossed it aside, instead preferring to use a small-person-sized chair, the match won me over. There were small-person-sized ladders and tables, too, but the success of the match was more dependent on all of the men at ringside pitching in to contribute to lots of effective spots that saw lots of folks going crashing through tables and slamming into ladders. The announcers, too, began to find their voices, bagging on Michael Cole’s incessant plugging for the WWE Network and App, and Jerry Smaller’s insistence this was a “Slobberknocker” actually had me laughing.

El Torito has a legit amount of talent and he took the biggest bump and had the best aerial move of the night. As much as I was dreading this match, it ended up being pretty fun. I’m glad. It’s got to be tough to be in the WWE but stuck near the bottom of the company and both Los Matadores and 3MB feature talented guys stuck in dead end gimmicks that are rarely sent out and when they are, it’s typically to lose. It’s good to see these seven wrestlers take advantage of their very rare PPV spot and put on an enjoyable match.

Would I have rather seen Ziggler, Sandow, Kofi, or Sheamus in a match? Sure, but the problems with those characters (or the WWE’s problem with those characters) isn’t going to be solved in one ten minute match during the pre-show of a PPV.

The event officially kicked off with the Cesaro / Rob Van Dam / Jack Swagger match, which is the kind of match you get when the company either doesn’t know what to do with someone (Van Dam) or doesn’t have faith in the feud they know they need to address (Swagger and Cesaro). Plus, we’ve got two managers at ringside, a sure sign the company doesn’t have full faith in the wrestlers to deliver what the company wants them to deliver. It reeks of Creative just tossing a hundred things against the wall in the hopes that a few of them stick.

All three wrestlers and two managers are good at what they do, however, and whatever the convoluted and hurried nature of the match coming together, the end result was largely entertaining. I was surprised that Swagger got eliminated first, as RVD seemed like the most likely candidate to be the odd man out, but Swagger went first, leaving us with Cesaro vs. RVD, and what feels like a continuation of this feud. In a three-man match, the key is to not get in each other’s way, and the three wrestlers did a good job in this regard. I loved Van Dam stepping into Cesaro’s swinging of Swagger to deliver a kick to the head, and RVD hitting Swagger with a frog splash after Cesaro suplexed his former partner back into the ring.

RVD and Cesaro put on a decent finish, Van Dam took a nasty cut to the face thanks to a garbage can, and what I thought was just a way to get Cesaro some momentum to challenge competition higher up the ladder now looks like we’re closing to the beginning of this storyline than the end. I doubt it can sustain past the next PPV, but that would be one PPV longer than I thought it would last. I like the fact, as Lawler mentioned during the broadcast, that these people (wrestler to wrestler, manager to manager, and even manager to wrestler) all dislike each other, which gives everything they do an edge to it.

That said, there is a bit of dissonance with Cesaro right now. Coming off of his victory in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, fans were ready to give Cesaro their love. Having the “Swiss Superman” team up with Heyman generated a huge pop from the crowd on the post-WrestleMania Raw, but now every time he comes out thee’s this hesitancy in the crowd as they want to cheer Cesaro and boo Heyman and then cheer Cesaro again during the match. RVD is much more the face in this trio than either of the former Real Americans, but the crowd went nuts for the Cesaro Swing and then booed when RVD made a rather clever interruption of the maneuver by kicking Cesaro in the face.

Cesaro got the win, but all three men put on a good show and raised their profile. I’ve never been a huge Jack Swagger fan but he’s positioned better now than he was before teaming up with Cesaro, and this might be the rare tag team break-up where both partners benefit.

One post-event occurrence that bears discussing is whether the post-event press conferences are merely just filler to pad out the Fallout program or whether they’re signaling upcoming story lines. If it’s the former, the press conference is pretty dumb. Well, it’s really pretty dumb, anyway – seeing Daniel Bryan sitting at a table answering questions from the press like he’s Kevin Durant doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I’d much rather just see a one-on-one interview with Renee Young, but there were some interesting items let out in the presser, one of them being that Zeb Colter is open to giving Swagger a new partner to keep the Real Americans going.

It’s a great idea, and a perfect opportunity to strengthen the tag team division and give some face time to another up-and-comer.

Or, it’s just Dutch Mantel riffing because he was told he needs to fill four minutes of programming time.

The Goldbergian / Rybackian rise of Alexander Rusev continues, though at this point it’s his manager, Lana, who’s more over with the audience. Rusev clearly has loads of talent but I’m always a bit hesitant to start thinking too highly of guys who fail to demonstrate any kind of personality. What’s Rusev’s upside? Is he just going to work through a big feud or two and then start teaming with Zack Ryder. R-Truth earned his paycheck mounting some offense and taking the brunt of the attacks, as it certainly looked like Xavier Woods was legit hurt outside the ring.

And it’s got to be said – as much as WWE Creative is hitting on all cylinders up at the top of the card, what’s the plan for a guy like Woods? Was he brought up to the main roster just to job? It seems like he’s already been forced to eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other people Creative doesn’t know what to do with right now: Ziggler, Miz, Kofi, Sandow, Del Rio, Sheamus … damn, that’s a long table.

The Intercontinental Title was next, as reigning champ Big E lost to Bad News Barrett, who was so much more over with the crowd than Big E that you could see Langston give a few of those knowing looks to the audience that Cena is fond of doing whenever the audience decides not to play the role Creative has assigned them. Barrett and Big E put on a really excellent match that was fast and physical and saw the title change hands. I’m a bit surprised Barrett is as over with the crowd as he was on this night, but then, the best way to get over with WWE crowds these days is to be chronically misused by Creative.

The match of the night saw the Shield taking on Evolution. The WWE has done a good job post-WrestleMania building up this feud as it’s reshifted the Authority’s main ire from Bryan to the Shield. This contest started with a slow build but was always on the verge of breaking down into chaos. All six men contributed and the crowd rode this wave wherever the wrestlers were gonna take it. What’s interesting to me about looking at the two groups is that the Shield has been designed as a complimentary unit, where Evolution still seems like a way for Triple H to use his power to get two other guys over.

Roman Reigns is clearly the Next Big Thing but on this night the action was balanced between all three members of the Shield. Rollins produced the most memorable moment of the night when he jumped off a railing onto Triple H, Orton, and Ambrose. Really high quality work from the participants, though it has to be said that the Izod’s crowd chanting, “You can’t wrestle” and “Bootista” at Batista during the match felt about two months behind the curve. Batista’s comeback hasn’t been successful but part of that has been due to bad timing (becoming the one real victim of the Yes Movement) and bad booking (no, WWE, the fans were not clamoring for a Batista/Del Rio feud).

Here’s the thing with the John Cena / Bray Wyatt match: looked at solely as a match, it was pretty entertaining. I liked how Eric Rowan and Luke Harper did what they had to in order to keep Cena in the Hell in a Cell and the appearance of a Creepy Kid to frighten Cena to stay in the ring instead of climbing out. There was plenty that I hadn’t seen before in a cage match and that’s a good thing.

Looked at in the context of the larger Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena storyline, however, the match was a bit of a letdown as it didn’t do anything to advance the “Evil Cena” persona that Bray knows is inside John, but Cena refuses to let out, going so far as to proclaim that this particular aspect of his personality simply does not exist. Instead, the match worked as a typical Cena match, where the company’s Superman battled unbelievable odds that were stacked against him. I had hopes this would be something different; I had hopes that maybe Cena would start to wonder not only why the Universe was turning against him, but why no other wrestler has any interest in helping him.

If Cena doesn’t want to turn heel, I’d turn him into the Lonely King sitting atop Mount WWE and have Wyatt in one ear tempting him to the dark side and Triple H in the other, tempting him to come into the Authority.

Taken on it’s own, though, this was a really fun match.

Paige and Tamina put on a palate cleanser for us. I’ve been saying this for the past year when it comes to Paige, but the young woman is already a superstar. There are some people who, when they get a championship belt, look like the belt has found where it belongs, and Paige is one of these people. The Divas Championship match wasn’t one of her best five matches over the past year but it was as enjoyable as any Diva match in the past seven months.

The main event was for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and Kane and Bryan delivered a highly professional match that saw them going backstage and fighting by the production truck. Kane tossing the oxygen tank through the car’s windshield, and then sounding like he busted his hand hitting another car’s window helped to sell Kane as a monster and reinforce the brutality of the match. Bryan retains his titles but it’s Kane’s music that plays last. It was good to see the monstrous Kane back in action and it appears he’s not going anywhere for a while.

EXTREME RULES 2014 was a really good show. Looking forward to Payback.

———

1 El Torito (with Diego and Fernando) defeated Hornswoggle (with Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre) / WeeLC match
2 Cesaro (with Paul Heyman) defeated Jack Swagger (with Zeb Colter) and Rob Van Dam / Triple Threat Elimination match
3 Alexander Rusev (with Lana) defeated R-Truth and Xavier Woods by submission / 2-on-1 Handicap match
4 Bad News Barrett defeated Big E (c) / Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
5 The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose) defeated Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista) / Six-Man Tag Team match
6 Bray Wyatt (with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) defeated John Cena by escaping the cage / Steel Cage match
7 Paige (c) defeated Tamina Snuka by submission / Singles match for the WWE Divas Championship
8 Daniel Bryan (c) defeated Kane / Extreme Rules match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

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