Monday, June 5, 2017

More Like Pedestrian Rules, Am I Right, Guys: WWE Extreme Rules 2017 Review

The Destroyer punches his ticket to meet The Beast Incarnate
Photo Credit:
The time has come to get EXTREME with the TH Style review, folks.

  • Using trickery and a Skull Crushing Finale, The Miz became a seven-time Intercontinental Champion by pinning Dean Ambrose.
  • Bucking the WWE trend of hometown failure, Rich Swann and Sasha Banks defeated Noam Dar and Alicia Fox after Swann pinned Dar with a Phoenix Splash
  • "The Drifter" Elias Sampson played a musical interlude for the crowd
  • Alexa Bliss retained the RAW Women's Champion, pinning Bayley after throwing her into the kendo stick in the corner and hitting a DDT.
  • Sheamus and Cesaro touched down before Jeff Hardy could exit the cage, thus winning the RAW Tag Team Championships from the Hardy Boys.
  • Neville retained the Cruiserweight Championship with a Red Arrow on Austin Aries' back and the Rings of Saturn following.
  • Samoa Joe is the new number one contender to Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship after winning the Fatal Five Way main event. He choked out Finn Bálor with the Coqina Clutch after Bálor took out Roman Reigns with the Coup de Grace.
General Observations:
  • I don't cover the pre-show usually, but Nia Jax claiming that Bayley has wanted to be a WWE superstar since she was "I dunno, a swimmer" made me spit Vanilla Coke Zero all over my basement. Since Bayley's time as an athlete in the pool has never been a part of her character, I can only imagine Jax meant to say she's wanted to be a wrestler since she was a sperm, and now I can't stop imagining a little sperm with a headband and a ponytail speeding her way down the Fallopian tube to get her first big win as an organism.
  • Michael Cole cited that the only time a title in WWE has changed hands on a disqualification was when Christian won the World Heavyweight Championship from Randy Orton in 2011. Gee, I wonder what specific event housed that title match. Could it have been the one built around the guy the company doctor is suing for defamation? If only Cole had clarified...
  • Look, I don't mean to get all male-gaze on here that much anymore, but it should be illegal to be as good looking as Maryse is. She was dressed in gear and was probably the most nuclear hot person in the entire DMV.
  • I appreciate when a dude goes whole hog in embracing a match's/story's gimmick, so Miz blatantly trying to spark Dean Ambrose's anger nerve from jump was A+ storytelling.
  • It took him, what, five years, but Ambrose finally had a dive that didn't look like absolute dogshit in this match. It actually looked good, but honestly, who in WWE or even in all of non-Mexico wrestledom does a good tope suicida? It's the easiest dive to do, yet it rarely ever looks good.
  • The hard-camera facing side took a break from bringing "Wenger Out" signs to bringing both a fathead-sized Arsenal logo and a sign promoting their Arsenal Fan podcast. I mean, am I the only WWE fan who supports a Barclay's Premier League team OTHER than Arsenal (Crystal Palace, for the record), or are they the only ones who are tryhard enough to bring their footy associations into wrestling?
  • Setting aside doing a "title changes hands on a disqualification" stipulation at a pay-per-view famous for NO RULES, Miz and Ambrose hit clean on their exchanges and counters all match without seeming to sterile or choreographed. The best example was when Miz countered the Nigel attempt into his reverse DDT backbreaker/neckbreaker combo.
  • Honestly, I don't know which is the more off-putting, Miz continuing to antagonize Daniel Bryan by doing his spots after getting moved off his show or Cole not recognizing that Miz hit the Solid Knee Plus, calling it a dropkick. When Booker T has to remind you of story beats...
  • Bayley gets a lot of shit for bad promos, but honestly, she got a pass last night just for shouting out Steve Blackman.
  • Cole reminding everyone about WWE's gender-segregating mixed tag rules just made me shake my head and want to see Sasha Banks throw knees into Noam Dar's face even more.
  • Banks is an accomplished wrestler with a long streak of tremendous matches in NXT to her credit, and Alicia Fox is an underexposed worker whose oeuvre skews more technical, especially with her execution on the Northern Lights suplex. So why is it that their feud has devolved into them doing catfight shtick? Did the agent who laid that match out think all Women of Color take their template for fighting from Worldstar Hip-Hop?
  • And of course, Cole painted the entire Dar/Fox romance angle as Fox being an "evil woman." Again, when Booker (and to be fair, Corey Graves too) speaks more sense as the counterpoint to the "voice" of WWE...
  • As one might expect, I hooted and hollered at the television when Banks hit the top rope knees to Dar's face on the outside. I really hope WWE isn't directly connected into my head. Just kidding, people barely read my actual writing on here.
  • Rich Swann getting the pin in his hometown was the most shocking booking decision in WWE history. Either McMahon doesn't care enough about cruiserweights to make them feel the vicarious disappointment he did while at home, or, well, y'know what, I don't think another choice is on the table here.
  • The only real problem with Elias Sampson's interlude was that his guitar was tuned. No, man, the appeal of him as a shitty bad guy is that everything about him needs to be shitty, down to his guitar having as much harmony as the romantic entanglements Fleetwood Mac had during Rumours recording sessions.
  • "The ability to use a kendo stick isn't the same as the will to use it." Graves accidentally made a scathing critique of the "Good guy with a gun" myth used to prop up pro-Second Amendment literal absolutism to build up an "on a pole" match.
  • I wanna know who's teaching WWE's women how to throw elbows, because I want to send them a fruit basket. First Nikki Bella, now Alexa Bliss. If Liv Morgan shows up to RAW or Smackdown Live with the spirit of Misawa imbued in her, I will start a religion.
  • The kendo stick came tumbling off the pole pretty quickly, and the match ended in such short order that I have to wonder whether it was planned that way.
  • Bayley is gonna get a lot of shit for not using the kendo stick or being made to look "weak," and I can see the argument. However, the character needing to have a moral crisis over whether to use it fits her better than most things she's done even in advance of this specific match. The sooner wrestling fans and critics stop looking at analyzing wrestlers based on bulk alignment and start doing it on an individual character basis, the better the discourse will become.
  • That being said, god fucking dammit, that match was way too goddamn short.
  • Adam Jones, the Orioles outfielder, not the Bengals cornerback and former TNA Tag Team Champion, showed up in Virgil cosplay in between two dudes with title belts dressed as Money Inc. I wonder if he had racial insults hurled at him the way he did at Fenway Park last month if whatever the hack journalist equivalent in the wrestling world to Albert Breer or Clay Travis would question whether or not it actually happened...
  • Speaking of Money Inc., Cole left out their classic cage match against the Steiner Bros. for the Tag Team Championships from the early '90s in recounting history. Then again, the important part was that the Hardy Boys were involved in the other two.
  • Cesaro jumping from the ring to the top rope to the top of the cage was yet another example of him surpassing his own expectations of athleticism. He's as close as the world will get to Luigi from Super Mario Bros. 2.
  • Cesaro doing the Scott Hall/Razor Ramon chest pointing and stomping taunt made me realize HOSS International are the Outsiders if they were European and not lazy.
  • Of course, because WWE really probably didn't think through the logistics of a tag team cage match, the rules felt nebulous. To wit, both guys had to leave the cage for that team to win, but Jeff Hardy escaped the cage and then instead of just being in the cage to be in there, he reset when he got back in to save brother Matt.
  • Though I did get a massive chuckle out of Cesaro and Sheamus playing tug of war with Matt's body with Jeff at the top of the cage.
  • The big problem with the match stipulations was having Matt trying to keep the various members of HOSS International in the ring, basically keeping himself at a two-on-one disadvantage.
  • That being said, pt. II, even though it was dumb as rocks to get back in the ring, Jeff's mode of entrance, the top of the cage Whisper in the Wind, was pretty as hell.
  • The only solace taken out of the dumbfuckery surrounding the finish (which would've been good with some context removed) is that tonight, maybe Broken Matt finally emerges?
  • Cole referenced 1994 Survivor Series as the only time a title changed hands on an "I quit"/Submission match on pay-per-view, noting that Bret Hart lost to Bob Backlund. Once again, he neglected who threw in the towel on Hart's behalf, perhaps someone who lost his life thanks to McMahon's gross criminal negligence and whose widow isn't too happy about that fact?
  • The two barricade bumps Neville took early on in the match, one flipping one on his back on the hard camera side and then running straight into it on the hard camera-facing side, were the hardest on the show by far. Say what you want about his reign (and to be fair, most of it is positive), but he's been working hard since coming back.
  • The look on Neville's face when he wrenched Austin Aries' leg while on the ground was everything right about his title reign distilled into one expression. The dude IS the Goblin King of the Cruiserweights.
  • The most confusing part about the match's direction early, and about the feud in general, was why a submission match was built around Aries' bum leg instead of an arm since Neville's submission, the Rings of Saturn, is an upper body sub. Of course, Aries forgot to sell it by the middle of the match, so it was all good.
  • The crowd went south somewhere in the middle of the match. I thought it might have been due to yet another cruiserweight match being worked like John Cena vs. Randy Orton, but apparently, security confiscated beach balls. I'm not one to chastise the crowd for not reacting the way I think it should, but for fuck's sake, wrestling is interactive as fuck. Leave the boredom props at home, okay?
  • Aries whiffing on the tope suicida after Neville dodged was legitimately one of the best spots of the year, and not because it was laugh-inducing either. I understand why it doesn't happen in every match, but every once in awhile, someone whiffing on a dive is a great visual.
  • Honestly, if the Aries feud continues after this match, then it's clear something's broken in WWE's creative structure. Well, something is broken, and has been forever, but still.
  • Remember when WWE pushed Deuce and Domino as an actual tag team, like people were clamoring for the return of the '50s ten years ago? Yeah, imagine how hard you cringed then and multiply it by about 50, and you get the promo video for WWE California Girls Great Balls of Fire.
  • Finn Bálor and Bray Wyatt, and Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe pairing off in brouhahas leaving Roman Reigns standing there befuddled was one of the most appropriate visuals for WWE's current state.
  • The entirety of the first part of that fatal five way match cycled through Roman Reigns. The camera stayed on him as he looked at the brawls going on, and then each of the four individuals came in to take their lumps. Like it or not, Reigns is the straw that stirs the drink, and WWE isn't abandoning ship anytime soon, and that main event last night showed why, even if Reigns didn't come out on top.
  • Holy shit, Bálor got MAD air his tope con hilo to the outside. Hopefully, McMahon doesn't see that and decide to shunt him onto 205 Live... lol, just kidding, Bálor is too exciting to work main event style BUT SMOL.
  • Of course, the camera missed the follow up of Reigns tossing Bálor into the barricade right after. A lot of people want Kevin Dunn fired for his political machinations, real or imagined, but I want him gone because he's legitimately bad at his job.
  • Joe picking Reigns off as he was trying to do the Drive-By was legitimately one of the best-timed spots of the year.
  • Every time someone stomped on a downed Reigns on the outside of the ring, the "ROMAN SUCKS" portion of the crowd roared with approval as if Daniel Bryan made a surprise return every time. Reigns' prolonged push is worth it just for those moments. He gets the crowd engaged, man
  • Okay, the big cluster spot of Reigns putting Joe and Bálor through the barricade while Joe had the Coqina Clutch locked in with that spear was badass.
  • I seriously thought WWE was gonna put Bálor over clean when he hit the Coup de Grace on Reigns, but on second thought, him vs. Brock Lesnar is more of a SummerSlam main event, not a WWE Runaround Sue Great Balls of Fire main event. Joe snaking the clutch, however, was brilliant.
  • I'm not saying I called this match over a year ago, but I was excited for its prospect:

Photo Credit:
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz, WWE Intercontinental Championship Match - I could go on about where the match fell short, like the totally superfluous abandonment of the disqualification tease for dueling leg selling during that one portion of the middle of the match, or Ambrose forgetting to sell said leg for a chunk, or the total circus feel to the ending, or even that it had a disqualification gimmick on an event that was supposed to be NO RULES. However, it wasn't just the best match on the show, it was an actual good affair, based in strong storytelling and panache in selling the drama from the Champ. It had everything a good WWE match should have: theatrics, clean exchanges, solid if not huge bumps, character integrity, and adhesion to the overall contextual story.

Ambrose may have had his best individual performance in a match since the AJ Styles feud last year, working in concert with Miz's prickish attempts at weaseling his way to the title. But where he shone brightest was in his attempts at making Miz's on-the-level work look brutal. He didn't take any huge bump for Miz's offense (his biggest bump was on his own elbow drop to the outside), but his exaggerated reactions helped Miz look like a threat to take the title even when he wasn't attempting chicanery. Miz, as always, ran his game well. He's become a perfectly acceptable WWE-formula hand, which in this day and age isn't so much a bad thing now that WWE's baseline for wrestling is actually good. While it might've only been better than House of Horrors or Joe/Rollins at Payback, it was still a fine wrestling match for this event.

Overall Thoughts: For a pay-per-view named Extreme Rules, the action seemed pretty normal, rote even. Had this event been plopped down in the middle of the company's dismal run of PPVs in the late '00s, maybe it might have seemed like a breath of fresh air, but, man, this event followed a string of at least three strong showings in a row starting with WrestleMania. Even filtering out Mania and the Smackdown event Backlash, compared to Payback, everything felt like a sharp decline. Payback was tonally appropriate and had great action up and down the card. Extreme Rules, conversely, didn't feel like an event borne out of the homage to ECW, nor did any of the matches feel larger than they were. Even the best matches were plagued with fatal flaws that brought them down substantially.

The lance that pierced deepest was that the wrestler presented as the biggest deal wasn't even on the show. Extreme Rules felt like a giant placeholder before Brock Lesnar was going to get there, and it permeated down the card like rain working its way down a windshield. Sure, Lesnar wasn't associated with all the feuds, but after the Elias Sampson interlude, everything felt designed to be unimportant. The Women's Championship match got what, five minutes if that? The Tag Team Championship match in the moment felt like it was laid out by someone who never watched a cage match before (although tonight, the consequences from it could give WWE its first glimpse into Broken Matt Hardy). The Cruiserweight Championship match may have been damaged by the crowd completely going sour after beach balls were confiscated, but why did those fans wait for Neville and Austin Aries to start bopping them around? Could it be because WWE has taken something that should be an exciting change of pace and turned it into its heavyweight main event scene, except SMOL? The world may never know.

The main event felt like it had actual stakes but only because Lesnar was directly germane to the result, and that's the problem with WWE's reliance on part-time stars and its even bigger problem with sinking the most valuable macguffins on them. Basically, once the time comes for that part-timer to get fed, the creative team and direction of the company seem to lock up and focus on that one thing because Vince McMahon has apparently lost his confidence to promote anything on the strength of his own roster anymore. The thing is, people more interested in the numbers deal than I am have already showed that Lesnar's drawing power is a bit overblown, and at this point, Lesnar's ego is the only thing being sated through this conga line of sacrificial lambs being fed to him.

That being said, at least the end result of the vetting process has manifested itself in the most interesting possible matchup left for Lesnar in WWE at present time, at least among the healthy members of the roster. If Braun Strowman can't be well enough to pick Lesnar up by his flappy Minnesotan ears and toss him from pillar to post, then Samoa Joe was the best option. At his best, Joe casts and ornery projection, one that can make him appear capable of knocking down Lesnar more than anyone else in the match excepting Roman Reigns, who already has. Besides, if Reigns is going to take the strap from Lesnar, either at SummerSlam this year or WrestleMania next year, the next best thing would be fresh matches.

Unfortunately, WWE was more concerned with setting the table for Rockin' Robin Great Balls of Fire than going all in on Extreme Rules. The shame part is that it wasn't so much a bad show as much as it was a boring one, and in the age of $9.99 price points per month for scads of content instead of $49.99 for only three hours of graps, that's not so much as cardinal a sin as it used to be. Still, for those watching in the moment, it's still frustrating to carve out time on a Sunday night to dedicate to mediocrity.