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Extreme Close-up (4/26/15): Reviewing Extreme Rules 2015

My name is Stan Sy and I’d like to officially welcome you to the Smark Henry pay-per-view review column. Being a Filipino wrestling fan is not easy, especially when you want to catch PPVs without being spoiled. Both social media and the time difference make it much more difficult to avoid spoilers, so I’m fortunate to have a schedule that allows me to catch PPVs live every month.

For those of you who may not know me outside of wrestling, I’m also a radio DJ and an events host. One of the things I pride myself on as a host is my attention to detail. This pays off whenever I host events for clients who are as particular about the tiniest of details as I am.

It’s because of this that I’m extremely appreciative whenever other performers – particularly those that take part in performance-based storytelling like wrestling – pay attention to detail like I would. And wouldn’t you know it, the little details were a recurring theme in this year’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view. I’ll get right into them as I go through the card and its results. Let’s do this!

Pre-Show: Neville def. Bad News Barrett

Neville leapfrogs over Bad News Barrett in his first ever match on pay-per-view.
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My worst fears about Daniel Bryan are one step closer to being confirmed. I mentioned on the SGP Podcast that Bryan’s latest injury could result in him having to forfeit a championship for the second straight year. If this were to happen, God knows if he’ll ever be considered for a run as the top dog ever again. That being said, his current injury situation forced WWE to pull him out of his scheduled match against Bad News Barrett, and it leaves the status of the Intercontinental Championship in flux.

Left without an opponent, Bad News Barrett was booked to face the up-and-coming Neville, who impressed the Chicago crowd in his first PPV outing. In Neville’s short time on the main roster, he’s been put in matches against credible opponents, which is saying something about the WWE brass’s trust in his in-ring ability. Neville’s aerial offense was on display yet again and it culminated in another spectacular Red Arrow, giving him his biggest win on the main roster to date as he defeated the five-time former Intercontinental Champion.

Dean Ambrose def. Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight

Dean Ambrose and Luke Harper take the fight to the backstage area.
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Dean Ambrose finally picked up his first singles win on a PPV since the Shield broke up. Ambrose and Harper kicked off the PPV and had a crazy battle that was nothing short of what one would expect from a Chicago Street Fight… except that they literally ended up taking it to the streets! Ten minutes into their match, Harper hopped onto an SUV and Ambrose jumped in through the window as the SUV drove out of the Allstate Arena, leaving me and many fans to wonder if that was the no-finish conclusion of the match. If it were, it was a pretty surprising and innovative way to do it.

Thankfully, the match would have a decisive end as both Ambrose and Harper returned to the arena and resumed their brawl backstage, including an Ambrose dive onto Harper and the new Tag Team Champions the New Day. Once Ambrose and Harper returned to the ring, they took out a litany of chairs and they barraged the ring with them. Harper tried to end the match by hitting a sitout powerbomb on Ambrose through a chair, but Ambrose kicked out. Ambrose finally got the win by hitting Dirty Deeds on Harper through several chairs.

The match was crazy fun and as I mentioned above, you wouldn’t expect any less from two guys who know how to play up their crazy characters to a tee. It was a fun match that set the tone for the rest of the night. It gets bonus points in my book for being the rare match that continues on while two other match start and end. What I’m wondering about now is what the hell happened to Ambrose and Harper while they were out of the arena, what streets they were able to bring the fight to, and most importantly, whose damn SUV did they hijack?

Dolph Ziggler def. Sheamus in a Kiss Me Arse Match

Despite winning the "Kiss Me Arse match, it was Dolph Ziggler who kissed ass at Extreme Rules.
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JoJo announcing the stipulation of the Kiss Me Arse match was funny in an endearing way because of the seeming self-awareness she had while on the mic, plus the fact that she absolutely had to use the word “arse” instead of “ass”. The look on her face totally screamed, “This is fucking silly, but I’m paid to do this shit, so I’ll try to announce with a smile on my face!”

The match itself was solid, though not entirely one that would blow me away, which is fine because it looks like these two will be feuding for quite some time and I expect them to save their best for the final blowoff match of the program. What did catch my eye were the following:

  • Has anyone noticed that Sheamus doesn’t yell “FELLA” anymore? Since coming back and turning heel, he’s started yelling “FAUGH A BALLAGH!”, which is an Irish battle cry that means, “Clear the way!”
  • Sheamus playing up his refusal to kiss Dolph’s ass at the end of the match was brilliant. He really milked the crowd for heat, and when he’d reached it, he got down on his knees… and gave Dolph a low blow for maximum heat! Repackaged Heel Sheamus is amazing.
  • On another note, Sheamus created the “Kiss Me Arse” stipulation. So if he were to disobey by not kissing Dolph’s ass, who would have punished Sheamus? He could have just been a bitter kid and walked away like a petulant bully at school who got beaten at his own game. I honestly don’t think the Authority gives much of a frak about petty matters like this.

The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston w/ Xavier Woods) def. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (w/ Natalya) to become the new WWE Tag Team Champions

New Day, New Champions.
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I really enjoyed this match, and all six players made sure that they weren’t just ceremonial props throughout the entire affair. Here are the little things you may or may not have noticed during the match:
  • Has anyone figured out what the hell Tyson Kidd listens to in those headphones when he enters the ring? More importantly, if they’re not plugged to anything, are they at least hooked up via Bluetooth? I know Mick Foley listens to Tori Amos’s Winter to psyche himself up for a match. What are the chances that Tyson listens to Norah Jones?
  • Normally in a tag team match, the babyface corner is the one that faces the camera, while the heel corner is the one where the wrestlers turn away from the camera. Notice that in this match, Kidd and Cesaro were in the babyface corner while the New Day were in the heel corner.
  • K-Swiss came out to a warm ovation, which isn’t surprising since the show was in Chicago, a smark haven. But it seems that WWE got the memo that K-Swiss are over as fuck and that the natural progression for their characters is to turn face. Now, does this mean Tyson won’t be a douchebag husband to Nattie anymore?
  • Both teams also changed up the way that they wrestled. Kidd & Cesaro, in particular, were less methodical in their approach and used more speed and impact moves. Meanwhile, the New Day took a relatively slower (and more annoying) approach with their in-ring work, which riled the crowd up well.
  • Kidd and Cesaro stomping a mudhole on to Kofi with the same cadence as the “New Day Sucks!” chant was gold!
  • Has anyone realized that Kofi Kingston has been a babyface in his eight-year run on the main roster? The fact that he was the guy to score the pinfall with a firm grip on the tights, mind you, was a nice touch to end the bout.

John Cena def. Rusev in a Russian Chain Match to retain the WWE United States Championship

Cena and Rusev play tug-of-war with a Russian chain that didn't look any different from a Filipino chain.
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Much like the Kiss Me Arse match, the Russian Chain Match was solid but it didn’t have the big fight feel that the WrestleMania match between Cena and Rusev. If anything, this match felt like a setup or a stepping stone for the I Quit Match at Payback in three weeks.

  • I loved the little US and Russia flag stickers on Cena and Rusev’s respective wrists. As much as I hate that the feud became US vs. Russia Part 95, the flags on the wrists were a nice touch to signify the wrestlers’ allegiances.
  • From what we saw during the match, it looked like they were building towards a Rusev-Lana split and a Lana face turn. Lana appeared to be soaking in the crowd’s adulation when she got up on the ring apron. Rusev then called her out, told her to get off, and go back to the locker room. It was also a nice nod to the WrestleMania moment when she interfered during their match and Cena pushed Rusev onto her.
  • This site’s f├╝hrer, Ro Moran, said on the SGP Podcast that Rusev-Lana could very well be this generation’s Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth. The way that Rusev yelled at Lana and made her feel small reminded me of those moments, particularly when Rusev basically forced Lana to go to the Authority’s office to ask for another match against Cena. I almost felt sorry for Lana, like I wanted to give her a hug. Then again, whether or not Rusev yells at her, I would want to hug Lana anyway.

Nikki Bella (w/ Brie Bella) def. Naomi to retain the WWE Divas Championship

Nikki Bella takes the fight to Naomi and her new look.
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Ah, Nikki and Brie. I love ‘em, I really do. But what I hate about how they’re being written over the last year or so is the fact that their stories never seem to have any closure before moving on to the next chapter. We saw this during the Nikki vs. Brie feud late last year, when Brie just turned on AJ Lee all of a sudden and aligned with Nikki with a day to go in their 30-day personal assistant angle. All Brie said at the time was, “Blood is thicker than water.”

Now, it appears that with the Naomi heel turn, Nikki and Brie are the nominal faces. And it was apparent in the way Nikki and Brie walked to the ring, pandering to the crowd instead of teasing them. Nikki also wrestled a less aggressive style while maintaining her power moves, while Naomi upped the ante on her aggression, as she should being the heel.

Some notes on the match:
  • I love Naomi’s new entrance from the song to the shades, the ring gear, to the attitude. Naomi finally developed a persona of her own that’s independent of the Funkadactyls and the Usos. It’s about damn time indeed.
  • THOSE NEON LIGHT SHOES. That’s some #kotd-worthy kicks right there.
  • I hate how Naomi may have modified her style, but she was still building towards the Rear View finisher. No matter how many people try to explain the physics of it to me, I don’t understand how bumping into a hot woman’s derriere is supposed to render me unable to kick out.
  • Traditionally, having a manager or a partner kick your opponent while the referee is distracted would be considered a heel tactic. Therefore if the Bellas were to have turned face, Brie’s kick to Naomi from outside the ring negates the turn. My argument against this is that Naomi kicked Brie first and that Brie was only seeking revenge. It just so happened that her revenge came in the form of an assist to her sister who was in the match. It’s actually no different from when Roman Reigns interfered in Daniel Bryan’s match with Seth Rollins from the main event of RAW on February 2 earlier this year. J&J Security had been at ringside, stacking the odds against Bryan. At some point in that match, the ref was distracted and Reigns nailed Rollins with the Superman Punch, which led to Bryan hitting the running knee for the win. The tactics in themselves were heelish moves, but they were motivated by a thirst for comeuppance. All that being said, Brie was justified in kicking Naomi and I think it still flies as a face move, if the Bellas were indeed turning face.
  • What I will nitpick on is the fact that there was no explanation behind the Bellas’ face turn. They’ve been bullying the other Divas, especially Paige, for the last few months. Why am I supposed to suddenly cheer for them now?
  • Well, that last shot during the pinfall was gratuitous. I expect it to be immortalized on Tumblr.

Roman Reigns def. Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match

Big Show getting buried by the announce table in an effort to make Roman Reigns look strong.
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When this match ended, Michael Cole tried to put some gravitas into Reigns’ victory by saying, “We have learned more about Roman Reigns tonight.” To which I ask, “What exactly did we learn about Roman Reigns… that we don’t already know?”

Reigns defeating Show in a Last Man Standing match was a necessary stepping stone for the guy that Vince is looking to turn into the next franchise player. I just wish they did it in a way that was less Cena-esque. Burying a guy underneath something incredibly heavy? It’s been done. See: John Cena and Bray Wyatt’s Last Man Standing Match at Extreme Rules 2014. That ending was a great one because it just displayed Cena’s superhuman strength overpowering the supernatural Wyatt.

I understand that Creative had to (literally) make Roman look strong through a great feat of strength to really build him up as a top-level star. My problem is that the way they did it has already been done. My only consolation is that he at least did not use duct tape to hold Show down. As a parting shot, let me just say that Roman’s dives from over the top rope have been slowly winning me over. If Roman were to display more feats of athleticism via a super-finisher, I would have eaten that shit up.

Seth Rollins def. Randy Orton in a Steel Cage Match to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Since the RKO was banned, why not use the Pedigree, right?
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In a match where the RKO was banned, where Kane was supposed to be the “guardian of the gate”, and where J&J Security were not allowed at ringside, you can expect the following to happen: 
  1. An RKO will happen “outta nowhere”,
  2. Kane will get involved in the match as more than a gatekeeper, and, 
  3. J&J Security will show up.
True enough, all three things happened, and then some, with Kane slamming the cage door on the heads of both competitors, J&J Security entering the cage to assist Rollins, resulting in Kane delivering a double chokeslam to Noble and Mercury.

To add to that, Corporate Kane also teased another turn beautifully, and then he proceeded to pull the rug from under us by chokeslamming Orton instead. As if that weren’t enough, Kane also chokeslammed Rollins, and then put his limp body over Orton’s for the supposed pinfall. And it was supposed to end there. Except it didn’t.

Randy kicked out, and then Kane decided to pick him up for a Tombstone Piledriver, which got countered… …into an RKO OUTTA NOWHERE! And right as Randy dropped Kane, RKO OUTTA NOWHERE… from Seth Rollins to Randy Orton! Rollins crawled out of the cage and retained his title right after that.

I’m a huge fan of that finish because (1) Seth doesn’t really have a finisher right now, so he might as well steal his opponent’s move, which is the most over finishing move right now anyway, and more importantly (2) the RKO was only banned for Randy Orton. JBL was right when he said on commentary that Seth didn’t technically break any rules since only Orton was banned from using the RKO. Rollins could have used any move he wanted, so what he did was within the boundaries of the stipulations they set. What a brilliant finish!

* * * * *

As a whole, Extreme Rules was actually a pretty decent pay-per-view, given that there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about when the card was first announced, and then completed. Granted, there are a still loopholes in the stories that need to be resolved immediately because a lot of developments that took place over the PPV – most specifically, the turns – need to be justified.

This type of storytelling is still inherently lazy, and a writer shouldn’t have to assume that his readers can fill in every blank by themselves. The writer is in power and has control over his story, that’s something that Creative should be reminded of so they can own the corners they back themselves into.

Overall, the PPV deserves a grade of B. The card was solid, and there were some pretty interesting developments, along with some nice surprises that made me legitimately mark out.

As easy as it is to dismiss WWE and its brass as taking another two steps backward after it moved one step forward at WrestleMania, I must remind you that this time of the year is typically a transition period for the roster. If it’s any consolation to any of you, this transition period means a lot of our favorite wrestlers are getting an opportunity to make an impact on a big stage. These are the guys who are still continually working on their craft, the guys who are constantly finding ways to improve, the guys who pay attention to the littlest details. These are the guys worth rooting for. And these guys are the reason why I still watch the product.

Follow Stan Sy on Twitter: @_stansy and listen to the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast by subscribing to them on iTunes!

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