At Extreme Rules, it’s funny that rules (and the writing team’s abuse thereof) was the pay-per-view’s downfall.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz – Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose having to control his emotions for the entirety of a match is a fun angle to struggle with. I enjoyed myself for most of the match, watching Dean be very careful about five-counts and very careful with the ref.
Near the end of the match, as it became obvious that Dean was going to win, Maryse slapped Miz to try to get the DQ in their favor. Luckily, the referee quickly saw through the plan, which was smart on the surface but immediately falls apart when a human ref thinks about it for two seconds. It was refreshing to see some common sense used.
Unfortunately, as the ref was ejecting Maryse from ringside, Miz threw Dean into him, and the same referee who just exhibited remarkable reasoning skills was suddenly convinced that Dean definitely jumped him from behind for absolutely no reason. And then, during his agonizingly slow walk to the timekeeper which was happening FOR NO REASON, Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale for the win.
Some decisions just can’t be complained about in complicated ways that pick apart the bad reasoning. Sometimes wrestling decisions are just mind-boggling in how ridiculous they can be. Everybody looks like an idiot in this situation, but nobody more than the writing team. Unfortunately, this was going to be a theme throughout the night.
Rich Swann and Sasha Banks vs. Noam Dar and Alicia Fox
This match was fine. I wish it was more, or even less, but it was just a fun match to get the crowd going again after the mess that was the previous match’s finish. Sure, it was another installment in the saga of “half of the cruiserweight division centers around women as trophies” – what people smarter and funnier than me have dubbed “The Alicia Fox Championship” – but out of that context it was a nice little pick-me-up.
At least Rich and Sasha dancing after they won was fun.
Elias Sampson vs. The Audience
“The Drifter” Elias Sampson grinding the show to a screeching halt so he can perform a song on his guitar (about how much he hates whatever city he’s in) is perfect, simple heeling. He’s if someone turned “Anyway, here’s Wonderwall” into a pro wrestler. More self-indulgent concerts and less matches; it’ll make it so much more satisfying when someone punches him in the face.
Side note: his song was basically a whiny re-lyriced mashup of Wish You Were Here and Pigs on the Wing and I didn’t think I could love someone mangling two of my favorite Pink Floyd songs so much.
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Bayley – Kendo Stick on a Pole Match – RAW Women’s Championship
It’s not often that a match sets up silly, nonsensical rules and then proceeds to ignore those silly, nonsensical rules, abandoning entertainment and internal consistency in one fell swoop. But this match did just that, and in barely over five minutes.
“On a Pole” matches are hard to justify in any circumstance and often turn out as hard-to-watch messes – the only one I can remember being slightly enjoyable was Cena vs. Ambrose in Contract on a Pole in October 2014, but even that might have just been a side effect of really wanting to watch Ambrose maul Rollins at the time. Even then, there’s really no situation in which a pole match isn’t just “Hey, what if we had a ladder match, but worse?”
So the gimmick of the match is that whoever gets the kendo stick off the pole first is legally allowed to use it. This rule pretty much only works if the heel gets the weapon, stacking the odds against the face, or if the story of the match somehow prevents the face from using the weapon to its fullest potential. Credit where credit is due: the story of this match was that Bayley was afraid to “get extreme,” which is a clumsy phrase that was used about a thousand times. So that’s all well and good, but Alexa quickly gains control of the kendo stick and uses it to beat Bayley. In full view of the referee. And that’s fine, apparently.
The match centered completely around one really absurd rule and they couldn’t even follow it for five minutes.
That, in conjunction with making Bayley look completely incompetent in every aspect of being a professional wrestler (which we know she is not,) pretty much killed any chance this match had.
Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Hardy Boyz – Cage Match – RAW Tag Team Championships
Speaking of matches hurt by their own rules, the tag team steel cage match was a fun, hard-hitting brawl with a few logic problems.
To win, both members of a team need to escape the cage. In their last run in WWE, the Hardys actually found themselves in the predicament that naturally arises because of this: one member of the team escapes, and the other is then outnumbered. Really, it’s silly not to just let one of your opponents escape, totally destroy the one who’s left, and then escape easily with your partner.
But an obsession from both teams with not letting one opponent leave really hurt the story. Near the end of the match, Matt Hardy struggles to keep Sheamus in the ring when, if he’d just let Sheamus leave and then follow him out with Cesaro incapacitated, the Hardys would’ve won. Small things like that really piled up.
Don’t get me wrong – I still had a good time watching the match, I love Cesaro and Sheamus as the champs, and I’m excited to see where this leaves the Hardy’s. (Broken, maybe?) But it’s definitely hard to ignore if you think about it too hard, and I always think too hard about wrestling, so this match is firmly in the category of good, but with a few screws loose.
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries – Submission Match – Cruiserweight Championship
The finale of the Aries/Neville trilogy was their best match yet.
Watching wrestlers just trade holds is satisfying to me, though that might be a matter of taste. But what is objectively satisfying is watching Neville tap to the Last Chancery… outside of the ring, so it’s a little sad that it wasn’t an actual victory.
My one gripe with the match was that it was theoretically only winnable via submission, but the ref was still counting for rope breaks and count-outs. I suppose that’s what separates it from an I Quit match, but the falls-count-anywhere thing could’ve separated them just fine. But given the nonsense that had been occurring with rules all night, it sadly didn’t stick out too much. I’d pretty much given up on internal consistency for the rest of the show.
The finish of this match was absolutely brilliant. Neville hit the Red Arrow – which has never been kicked out of – on a face-down Aries, which kayfabe inflicted a tremendous amount of damage to the very same body parts as the Rings of Saturn, which he immediately applied for the win. Submission specialist Aries didn’t have to tap to a “straight” submission and Neville won with no shenanigans like he had been relying on in the past.
Both guys looked incredibly strong and now get to move on to other things. Although, to be honest, I kind of want Neville to hold the title for like fifteen years and retire with it.
Just kidding. I want Tozawa to destroy him for it. But one thing at a time.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe – #1 Contender’s Match
On the pre-show, Kurt Angle was asked if he was nervous putting essentially all of his main eventers into the same match, where, in kayfabe, they could get hurt. But this was an accurate assessment – outside of Dean, this match contained pretty much every believable contender on Raw. When a match hits five people, it pretty much automatically reaches trainwreck status.
Not that this is a bad thing. Sometimes it’s great to just watch all of your favorites hurt each other, especially when you have conflicting styles like Rollins/Balor’s agility against Bray/Roman/Joe’s strength. Everybody got to get their spots in, and anybody winning was believable. (Maybe not Bray until he gets rehabbed a bit more and not Roman because Brock/Reigns II isn’t happening at a B-show.)
The brief alliance between Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt – which saw them knock Finn Balor halfway back to Japan with the stairs – was a delightfully brutal sequence that made me really want to see the two of them in a tag team. Of course the alliance wasn’t going to last, but it was fun while it did.
Joe was a wrecking ball for the entire match, which is why it was so perfect when he won by killing – sorry, choking out – Balor in the Coquina Clutch. Balor looked like a sympathetic fighting babyface overwhelmed by the numbers game, and he lost to Joe without having to tap. Great finish.
“Great Balls of Fire” still might be one of the worst pay-per-view names I can imagine, but Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar are going to murder each other, so that takes some of the sting away.
Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy of WWE.com