Monday, May 5, 2014

I Hope OSHA Wasn't Watching: WWE Extreme Rules '14 Review

Photographic evidence in the OSHA violation folder for Extreme Rules
Photo Credit:
In the TH Style!

  • El Torito defeated Hornswoggle in the WeeLC match with a West Coast Pop through a table.
  • Rob van Dam wiped out on a Five Star Frogsplash into a trashcan, and then Cesaro put him into said trashcan with a Neutralizer to win the triple threat elimination match.
  • Alexander Rusev easily dispatched of both R-Truth and Xavier Woods, tapping Truth with the Accolade.
  • Bad News Barrett won the Intercontinental Championship for a fourth time by defeating Big E Langston with the Bullhammer.
  • In a wild brawl that went outside of the ring for 2/3 of the competitors, Roman Reigns pinned Batista after a monster spear to get the win over Evolution for The Shield.
  • Using help from "Little Johnny," Bray Wyatt hit John Cena with Sister Abigail's Kiss and escaped the cage.
  • Paige retained the Divas Championship with the Scorpion Crosslock over Tamina Snuka.
  • In the main event, Daniel Bryan used plunder aplenty, including a forklift, to defeat Kane and retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The final blow was struck with the Knee-Plus after Kane went through a flaming table.

General Observations:
  • Oh god, the WeeLC match was just one extended little person joke, from the little people caricatures of the announce team to the ring announcer to the miniaturized versions of the weapons.
  • Seriously, Hornswoggle's finisher has him coming off the goddamn top rope. Why would he be scared of coming off a ladder that didn't even clear that third cable?
  • I will say, however, that everyone in this match took some major bumps. It may not have been "good," but it surely was a spectacle.
  • Paul Heyman came out to work the crowd before Cesaro's introduction in the three-way match by invoking ECW. When he predictably announced that his client Brock Lesnar had ended The Streak, the crowd booed him. He then went into saying the 11th Commandment of Extreme was never to boo him. Even though I'm getting tired of the whole gloating over The Streak shtick Heyman is using (not the fact that he's gloating, but how he's choosing to gloat), I thought that line was good.
  • An Iron Sheik fathead in the crowd? C'mon Jersey, do better.
  • Cesaro started a Giant Swing on Jack Swagger, and Rob van Dam, who had gotten solid support to that point, interrupted it. I don't know, but I think that was his big heel turn.
  • RVD eliminated Swagger with the Five Star Frogsplash, which I totally missed because the camera work was pretty shitty all night and missed the shot. For as good as WWE's production team is at making recap videos, its cameramen are disappointingly subpar.
  • I move to name Cesaro's rolling gutwrench suplexes Die Drei Freunde. All in favor, say "ja." All opposed... well shut up, no one wants to hear from you.
  • Cesaro countering RVD's counter-stepover kick of painful waiting time into an Everest German suplex was perhaps the best-executed spot of the night.
  • I spotted a "LOUD NOISES!" sign later on in this match in the crowd, which was infinitely better than the goddamn Sheik fathead.
  • RVD broke out an honest to God Van Daminator with a trashcan on Cesaro. Did anyone on the announce team bother to pick it up? Nope.
  • Stephanie McMahon walked into Daniel Bryan's locker room as he was getting medical attention and continued to prove why she's the best character in WWE today. I loved her concerned mom delivery. She gets my vote for most improved stage presence ever.
  • Lana dedicated the Alexander Rusev handicap squash match to Vladimir Putin. Strong troll game, but the show was in North New Jersey. She should have dedicated it to Mikhail Prokhorov. I mean, he moved a team out of that same arena two years ago into Brooklyn. He would've gotten nuclear heat!
  • Was I the only one who thought R-Truth had Cthulhu on his left pant leg?
  • Crowd sign "Where is Phil Brooks?" He's at home. Try to keep up.
  • I am a terrible person, but I thought someone should have come out and tried to heel on the Special Olympics kids to get nuclear, nuclear crowd hate. Then again, with some of these WWE crowds nowadays...
  • Bad News Barrett came out and immediately started talking about the MERS virus. I wonder how many people actually got that reference. Not sure how many people anywhere read news anymore.
  • Big E Langston came out to crickets. I blame WWE. Dude is a transcendent, quirky guy, and the company shoehorned him into the generic big guy babyface role. Disappointing all around.
  • I have to wonder if Big E's spearing Barrett through the ropes off the apron into the table was called on the fly as an attempt to get people to cheer him. Either way, it was a gnarly-looking move.
  • Seth Rollins kicked off the non-brouhaha portion of the Shield/Evolution match by landing a plancha to the outside... and nailing his head against the barricade. Dude is gonna get himself killed, but at least it will be for the crowd's enjoyment.
  • Rollins tried to make the hot tag at one point, drawing Triple H and Batista charging across the ring to knock both his teammates off the apron. Stuff like that happens all the time in tag matches, but I was impressed by the unison the two guys achieved racing across the ring.
  • Dean Ambrose may not have perfected in-ring crazy yet, but he's goddamn close.
  • At one point, Ambrose tried to lock in the figure four, which I bet caused The Miz to punch a monitor backstage.
  • Trips and Orton were mauling Rollins in the timekeeper's area, and Ambrose galloped across BOTH announce tables and leaped into the fray like a kid jumping into a lake. Seriously, he ran across two tables just to leap into some action. I love his crazy.
  • That led into the awesome fray on the outside which featured Ambrose getting thrown down the steps and Rollins leaping from the concourse onto Trips, Orton, and Ambrose as the final bit of action before the finish in the ring. Rollins keeps proving he's the best possible Jeff Hardy every big match he's in.
  • Bray Wyatt pulled in both his minions before the cage match began and whispered instructions into their ears. The look in Luke Harper's eyes was supremely eerie. I loved it.
  • Early in the match, Wyatt tried tossing John Cena into the cage, but he blocked it. Cena maneuvered into an offensive sequence, but Wyatt countered that and threw Cena into the cage like he first intended. It was a neat sequence, and a good example of two guys "earning" a spot in the match.
  • Cena had all three Wyatts wasted inside the cage and went to exit when the trademark Wyatt BLEARP happened and the arena went dark. When the lights came back up, one of the choir kids from last Monday was there singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" in a super-altered voice. I generally don't seek out horror movies, but I love when wrestling angles visit horror tropes, and nothing from that genre is creepier than possessed children.
  • My Internet kept ducking in and out during the Divas Championship match, but holy crap, Tamina Snuka and Paige recreating the Cesaro/Miz swing-into-the-barricade spot looked goddamn stiff.
  • Another Wyatt BLEARP, and the camera went backstage. The child was there with the Wyatts, and he has a name, Little Johnny. A lot of jokes about being related to "Little Jimmy" flew on Twitter, but the kid bore a striking resemblance to a certain "Big Johnny" who used to be the General Manager of both RAW and Smackdown. Hmmm....
  • As a lot of matches in WWE, extreme rules or otherwise, tend to have done in them, Daniel Bryan and Kane broke down both announce tables like someone was going to through one, which set up a great spot with Bryan kicking Kane from the Spanish one and then following up with a tornado DDT to the floor.
  • The brawling went all the way up the ramp, and Kane tossed Bryan into the video wall right by the entrance. I think someone in the production truck was slow on the draw, because the screen didn't go out in response to the move until a second or two later. Kane upped that ante right after by throwing a flatscreen TV into a tub full of ice water in the Gorilla position. THAT reaction - an explosion - was real and immediate.
  • Who knew that Ezekiel Jackson's first appearance in years on TV would be AFTER he was released? In other news, how often does WWE replace the wraps on its production truck so that Ezekiel Jackson was still one of the trailers in 2014?
  • Bryan and Kane went full Street Fighter on a random car in the production area, with Kane putting the final blow on it by tossing a heavy metal gas canister through the windshield. My friend Tom K. joked that it was Zack Ryder's car. I laughed until I realized that he was probably right.
  • The entire sequence with the forklift was brilliant and inventive and the most Daniel Bryan hardcore match thing ever. However, I hope OSHA wasn't watching when Bryan stood on the pallet with the forklift raised up to do his headbutt. You can get a major violation for doing that.
  • The easiest explanation for the existence of gas cans underneath the ring is that Kane put them there with the blessing of the people running the company, you know, the ones who unleashed him on Bryan in the first place, before the show began. Occam's Razor, people.

Match of the Night: Batista, Randy Orton, and Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins - Triple H has been involved in the best match in two consecutive WWE pay-per-views in 2014. Call a priest for some expert opinion, because I think that omen is a sign of one of the Great Seals of the Apocalypse being broken. Snark aside, The Shield continued its streak of absolutely stunning performances in six-man tag team matches, this time continuing down an even newer path than what brought its excellence to the forefront in the first place. Evolution didn't need to be much more than canvases from which its opponent group needed to work, but the trio of Trips, Randy Orton, and Batista provided just enough more to make this match an all-timer.

Both Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had stellar, superlative face-in-peril sequences that dominated the early portion of the match in completely different ways. Rollins went the stunt bumping route, both on insane highspots like his plancha to the outside where he rammed his head against the barricade, and on taking routine offense and adding just enough juice to his bumping that it would make his gassed-up opposition wrestlers look like they had the strength to back up their inflated musculature. To Evolution's credit, the spot where Batista and Triple H rushed across the ring to prevent Rollins from making the tag was glorious in their synchronicity charging across the ring.

Ambrose's turn being taken to the woodshed was brilliant because of his manic, "take on the whole world" style of offense that led into it. He took the hot tag from Rollins and immediately charged into the foreign corner like a Viking berserker on methamphetamine. He went down because he was eventually overcome, but even he still had a few charges in him, swinging punch drunkenly at Triple H at one point like an overzealous drunk getting rope-a-doped by the boyfriend of a target of a cheap pickup attempt at the bar.

But the final act of the match is what people will be talking about for good reason. From the finisher derby that took place before the action spilled out into the crowd on, the air of the arena took a chaotic turn, and entropy is an environment where The Shield excels. The brawl on the outside built to such a tense crescendo, especially with Ambrose being flung down the steps in his own, manic style, that when Rollins came off the concourse and wiped everyone else in that fray out, it sparked a powder keg in the arena. It immediately made Batista's and Roman Reign's layabout session in the ring go from tacked-on to climactic, and Reigns hit an epic spear to put a cap on the match. Excellent work was put in by all six men to punctuate a weird but wild pay-per-view/special event.

Overall Thoughts: This show was a microcosm of WWE's current card structure. The top of the show seems to be humming along nicely, and the three matches that were on top of the show overdelivered, the pre-show comedy match was polarizing if not a spectacle, and everything else just felt like it was there. For an overall company mission statement, that layout is a problem, but when three strong matches anchor the end of a show, then the chaff can be forgiven.

Firstly, the main event of the show was such a fun, popcorn match, and a departure from the standard Daniel Bryan main event match. Sure, it had the length and Bryan adopting the ultimate underdog role within the match. For a guy who is the most able and convincing pro wrestler in the world, a fact adopted by everyone at this point, he's so adept at selling the fact that he might end up dying in a match. Here, he and Kane also took up the trend of trying to recreate the Attitude Era with a modern flair. One could argue that a Kane match in 2014 needed to have forklifts, flaming tables, gas canisters being thrown through car windshields, and chokeslams through tables, but I can't hate on anything that worked.

With that statement in mind, I also thought the John Cena and Bray Wyatt match worked. I could see why it would be polarizing the way it was laid out, and those complaints are nested within the way WWE cage matches often work. The escape-the-cage stipulation is out of character for many WWE faces, and it often makes guys look foolish. One complaint that I feel is a bit needy however is that "[insert action here] makes this guy look dumb." Maybe the story calls for a character to look dumb sometimes, mainly because in sport, or in real life, people act awfully stupid from time to time. Even folks whose reps supposedly make them out to be smart can make a bad rash decision in the heat of the moment.

To be eminently fair, Cena's not the Cerebral Assassin. Loyalty can be blind and misplaced. Hustle means acting before thinking, and respect can be given against better judgment. And the shock horror value of the little kid with the voiceover singing in his face as a failsafe for Wyatt was far greater than any value in Cena looking like a brilliant strategist. Great characterization doesn't mean making everyone look as cool and tough and strong and smart as possible. If that were the case, Triple H would be the model of great wrestling personae over the last decade, and lord knows no truth exists in that statement.

Speaking of Cerebral Assassins, well, the match itself between Evolution and The Shield spoke volumes about its quality and place on the show. The match that was given the most attention in the build delivered the most bang for buck on the telecast. I wonder if the wrestlers get that vibe and end up producing better with more proportionate attention (with some exception, as Cesaro pretty much put in another godly performance in the proper opener). OR maybe the agents are more careful in laying the matches out due to story attention. I honestly don't know, but no other card seemed to show that stratification more than Extreme Rules. Whether that sign forebodes well or poorly for WWE is fodder for a whole other post, but at least it made for a eminently entertaining special event.