|Image Source: WWE|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: May 4 2014
Location: Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA
The first PPV after the unforgettable WrestleMania XXX, Extreme Rules 2014 felt like a step into the unknown. Whilst there is always a fresh feel to the post-Mania season (well, usually), the first few weeks after Mania felt particularly different with Daniel Bryan now installed as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for keeps, along with the face turn of The Shield, and the strange feeling that remains in the air following the shocking end of The Undertaker’s Streak at WM 30, even if the man who did the unthinkable – Brock Lesnar, of course – isn’t likely to wrestle again until the summer.
Whilst Lesnar wasn’t on hand at Extreme Rules, there were plenty of other big names who, based on the line-up, were in a position to deliver a thrilling night of action. Bryan vs. Kane under Extreme Rules was something different as a title bout, whilst John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt in a Steel Cage had potential. But the match between Evolution and The Shield was the most eye-catching bout that WWE booked for this show, as it marked the first meeting of these supergroups. Would Evolution mark their unexpected return with a victory, or would The Shield claim their biggest scalp to date by taking down the faction which dominated Raw for several years?
The Kick-Off Show provided an unexpected gem in the form of a WeeLC match between Hornswoggle and El Torito. What was assumed to be a comedy match between the two mini-grapplers ended up being a surprisingly exciting match in its own right (a miniature announce team was on hand at ringside, so the comedy element was still present). The smaller tables, ladders and chairs were used to deliver a genuinely good brawl, and although it isn’t saying much given their limited time to show their stuff in a serious manner, this was the best WWE match that either competitor has had to date by far. The ringside extras 3MB and Los Matadores also got involved, with several tables being broken in a huge pile-up of wrestlers at one point. In the end, a senton bomb by El Torito put Hornswoggle through a table and claimed the win for the little bull. This definitely kicked off the show (no pun intended) in a great way, which few could have predicted beforehand.
The PPV event began with a Triple Threat match pitting Cesaro against Jack Swagger and the recently-resurfaced Rob Van Dam. Cesaro’s career has certainly taken an unexpected turn lately: after finally splitting from Jack Swagger at WrestleMania and surprisingly triumphing in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, both of which set him up for that long-awaited babyface turn, WWE instead provided a swerve as Cesaro aligned himself with none other than Paul Heyman. Heyman’s managing of the Swiss Superman should be good for his future, but this still seemed like an odd decision by WWE to keep Cesaro as a heel, which he definitely is by taking on Heyman (who of course manages Brock Lesnar, the slayer of The Streak, a fact that Heyman has reminded us all of on almost every WWE broadcast since WM).
Still, this was an intriguing match as it allowed Cesaro and Swagger to have their score-settling battle whilst also showcasing the returning RVD in a decent position. Surprisingly, it was RVD who pinned Swagger to eliminate him (oh I forgot to mention, this was a 3-way elimination match, or a Triangle match if you remember WCW and ECW), narrowing it down to RVD vs. Cesaro. The two exchanged some cool spots relying on strikes (RVD kicks, Cesaro uppercuts) and some ECW-inspired action, in what would appropriately be a recurring theme on this particular show, when Van Dam brought a trash can into the ring. Both attempted and blocked trash can shots, and it was used again after RVD missed a Five Star Frog Splash as Cesaro dropped RVD with the Neutraliser onto the bin to pick up the win. Cesaro received the desired boost here, although it would have had a bigger impact if he had been properly turned babyface; despite his alignment with Heyman keeping him heel, fans desperately want to cheer Cesaro, as evidenced here.
Next up, the newcomer Alexander Rusev battled R-Truth and Xavier Woods in a handicap match. This seemed like an odd match to debut Rusev on PPV; granted, he needed to beat a low-card babyface as he begins his slow climb up the heel ranks, but wouldn’t Truth or Woods alone have been sufficient? Bearing in mind that Truth and Woods were the babyfaces, it seems strange that the only chance that the good guys had to exact revenge for previous Rusev attacks was to gang up on the big guy. Sure it makes him look strong, but we’re meant to be cheering for Truth and Xavier and not Rusev, right?
Not that it really matters, because few could have envisioned beforehand that Rusev would lose here. Sure enough, Rusev took care of both of his opponents fairly quickly and rather easily (which is worrying for Woods considering that he was only promoted to the main roster himself in November 2013, and that this marked his first real match on PPV, since he was one of the crowd in the WrestleMania Battle Royal). At least he wasn’t the one designated to take the loss; that task was assigned to R-Truth, who Rusev made submit to the Accolade. This scenario would have been better if Rusev had just fought one of the faces and beaten them, then pounded the other babyface post-match to build heat (and to set up a match between face #2 and Rusev at the next PPV event, Payback). Okay, none of this is massively significant, but it gives a real sense of progression for Rusev, whilst avoiding what was something not massively far from a burial of the babyfaces in their first supercard showdown with the newcomer.
Bad News Barrett won a tournament to earn the right to face Big E on this card for the Intercontinental Title, in a match that had regular rules (WWE didn’t exactly push the boat out on stacking the event with stipulations in every match as they usually do for Extreme Rules). Given that Barrett’s Bad News gimmick has gotten over to the point that many fans are now cheering the Englishman (and joining in with his contagious announcement that “I’m afraid I’ve got some BAD NEWS!”), and that Big E’s momentum has taken a bit of a dip since his previous supercard win over Jack Swagger at Elimination Chamber, the prediction here was for Barrett to claim the championship. Barrett has held the title before on numerous occasions, but his mid-2011 and his two title reigns in late 2012/early 2013 only kept Barrett in a lateral position on the card at best, as opposed to elevating him in the fashion that the title had previously done for the likes of Randy Orton. With his BNB gimmick, though, Barrett could really succeed as champion, and could potentially use the title run to springboard onto bigger and better things for real this time.
Therefore, it wasn’t the biggest shock in the world when Barrett did just that: after a standard yet watchable WWE big man match which included some nice physicality and one or two eye-catching suplex spots, and after Big E had withstood Wasteland, Barrett avoided the Big Ending and, at the second time of trying, connected with the Bull Hammer elbow to pin Big E and win the Intercontinental Title. The title change drew a big pop from the crowd, which is a sign that the title is better around Barrett’s waist at this point than that of Big E. Hopefully for Barrett, this title reign will be the one that finally pushes him up the card again, and allows him to return to the main event scene that he hasn’t occupied for a few years now (his rookie year is looking like his most successful one at this point, unless this title run makes a difference). For Big E, whilst his Intercontinental Title reign wasn’t really going anywhere, the fact that he is now title-less could see some drift around without a meaningful place on the card for some time. Since he only turned babyface in October, he will need another suitable heel opponent to occupy his time in a meaningful way; perhaps he will be the next opponent for Cesaro or Rusev, if an appropriate reason for him to tangle with either of them can be conjured up.
The first really big match of the show was up next as Evolution battled The Shield. This had a real sense of anticipation to it, as it marked something of a dream match between the dominating group of the 2000s and the ruling faction of the current generation. Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista squared up to new babyfaces Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose prior to the bell before an almighty brawl erupted to a huge pop. Rollins built up momentum quickly with his rapid-fire suicide dive to the floor, but he was soon isolated by Evolution, as the three former World Champions took it in turn to beat down the lightest member of the Shield. The action was logical and was nicely building up to the inevitable schmozz that would kick off once Rollins found a way to tag out (to Reigns, most likely). The crowd was into it all the way, and was once again pelting Batista with “Boo-tista!” chants (Batista’s re-membership in Evolution ensures that he is now 100% a villain again, if anyone was confused about his status heading into WrestleMania).
That promised big brawl did indeed kick off when Reigns was tagged in, as the big moves, close calls and chaotic ringside spots were inserted into the match at an increasing frequency. Of note, Batista took the Shield’s triple powerbomb, but Reigns was dragged out to avoid the likely win for the Shield (which led me to think that Evolution would win, since the faces had just fired their strongest bullet at the heels). At ringside, Ambrose dived off an announcer’s table onto Orton and HHH, which led to the match entering the stands. Near the back of the arena came a strong contender for insane spot of the night as Rollins paid tribute to ECW’s New Jack (ECW nod number two) with a crazy balcony dive onto Evolution. Rarely seen in WWE, and especially in the PG era, the balcony dive practically blew the roof off the arena. The match wasn’t over yet, though, but it was soon brought to a close when Reigns whacked Batista with a Spear back in the ring to pick up the upset victory for The Shield. This was a great match, and hopefully step one of this developing gang war. The six men certainly had chemistry, and Evolution looked great as they provided The Shield with a major boost in the form of the result. Not forgetting The Shield, of course, who are tearing it up in 2014 after Roman’s domination in the Royal Rumble and their superb battles with the Wyatt Family.
Speaking of the Eater of Worlds, Bray Wyatt and John Cena certainly had a hard act to follow with their Steel Cage match. Did they do that? Erm, not really. Okay, let me clarify: the Cage match was a good effort, but it couldn’t compare to the previous six-man war, and I felt that it was a shade below their lengthy WrestleMania duel, largely due to the finish. It was obvious that Wyatt would win here to even up the score with Cena and to probably set up a rubber match in the future, especially since Bray’s popularity has surprisingly exploded since WrestleMania. The fans have really begun taking to Wyatt and his Family, joining in with Bray when he sings “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. The latest storyline has seen Bray play mind games with Cena by stating that the Cenation have essentially been brainwashed, with a perfect example being the unpredictable and superbly-executed angle on the pre-ER episode of Raw, whereby a large choir of children came out singing Bray’s war anthem, followed by them all revealing lamb masks (which Bray has never worn, incidentally; so are they actually loyal to Erick Rowan, since he does wear the sheep’s head?).
Back to the action here then: as stated, it was an entertaining match, but it didn’t feature much from a wrestling standpoint that we hadn’t already seen before. It felt like Cena vs. Wyatt 2 inside a cage, as opposed to a Cage match between Cena and Wyatt, if that makes sense (it probably doesn’t). Cena repelled interference from Rowan and Luke Harper (a little too easily, I might add) and had Wyatt beat once he had taken down all three Family members within the confines of the steel, but as he made his escape, the lights went out and one of the choir kids appeared on the steel steps next to the cage door, wearing a Wyatt mask, and singing HGTWWIHH in a slow, Darth Vader-esque voice. This distracted Cena enough for Wyatt to drop him with Sister Abigail and escape the cage to win. The finish was certainly unexpected, but was it really a good way to end the bout? Probably not, since it just felt … strange. Like, not strange in the intended, “Bray Wyatt’s kooky” way, but just, erm, strange. Some will also argue at how Cena lost to Wyatt, as to me it rekindled memories of the slightly far-fetched way that Hulk Hogan lost to Yokozuna at King Of The Ring 1993 (when a “Japanese cameraman” shot a fireball into Hogan’s eyes). Nevertheless, Wyatt wins, and it remains to be seen if he will win when he and Cena do battle once more, as they no doubt will. Something tells me that he won’t triumph on that occasion.
If you hadn’t watched WWE television since WrestleMania XXX and then popped on Extreme Rules, you may be wondering what happened to AJ Lee and her longest-in-history reign as Divas Champion? Well, on Raw the night after Mania, NXT Women’s Champion Paige arrived to a nice pop, and after a muddled promo/challenge, Paige hit AJ with a bungled Paige Turner to win the Divas Title in her first bout. AJ has since not been seen on television (could this be related to her real-life romance with the absent CM Punk?), whilst Paige has slowly began to establish herself as a worthy champion (a tough task for someone who won the title in her first Raw appearance). On this night, she had an appropriate first opponent from a storyline standpoint in the form of Tamina Snuka, previously AJ’s bodyguard.
Mind you, while casting Tamina as Paige’s opponent is a logical step, Tamina isn’t the most exciting performer to watch in the women’s ranks, outside of her Superfly Splash. The size difference also meant that the story here would be Paige trying to valiantly overcome her larger opponent, as opposed to a showcase of the Norwich-born titleholder’s in-ring skills (of which she has many). So, whilst this was a competent match and a decent first PPV appearance for Paige, it was never going to be a memorable match on the card. Paige will have been satisfied though, and she was still able to show off some of her wrestling talent with a flying headscissors towards the end and the PTO (Paige Tap-Out) to earn the submission victory. Clearly, Paige vs. AJ will happen at some point, but if AJ’s absence is indeed linked to CM Punk’s probable departure from WWE, then such a match may not happen for a while yet.
The main event between Daniel Bryan and Kane, held under Extreme Rules and with the WWE World Heavyweight Title at stake, was a divider amongst hardcore fans. This was Bryan’s first big title defence, and Bryan being the defending babyface champion in a PPV headline attraction is obviously satisfying for the audience. But some lamented the presence of Kane in this match, suggesting that he is past his prime. To that, I say that I personally felt this was something different, and that Kane was due another title shot at some point. Plus, Kane still has it in the ring, and let’s not forget that he and Bryan were previously tearing it up as Team Hell No, so this match provided nice symmetry to that. And besides, since Kane wasn’t likely to win the title, it guaranteed that Bryan would remain the WWE Champion. As far as I can see, there were only benefits to this pairing, and their feud was set up nicely with the “demon” version of Kane replacing Corporate Kane, and dismantling Bryan on Raw with three Tombstone Piledrivers.
Bryan came out of the starting blocks like a house on fire as he seeked revenge on his former friend. After exchanging shots with a kendo stick (ECW tribute number three? Actually, probably not; almost everyone has used this item in a WWE brawl over the last five years) and a steel chair, Bryan hit a risky-looking top rope hurricanrana and a suicide dive, in between Kane using his power to essentially pummel the smaller champion. After Bryan hit a ringside Tornado DDT, Danny Boy avoided a Tombstone as they both began destroying parts of each announcer’s table, before Kane and Bryan fought up the aisle and the demon utilised the LED boards on the entrance way as a weapon.
At this point, the battle went backstage (there were some boos, especially when the picture temporarily took a vacation due to electrical issues), and the brawl took in some unexpected tools in the form of a car (used as a platform for a Kane backdrop to Bryan) and a forklift (which Bryan laid Kane out on after some shots with a tyre iron). Bryan then drove the forklift back into the arena and towards the ring, left Kane between the ropes, and hurled himself off the forklift platform (which had been raised to its highest level) to hit an insane diving headbutt as the crowd lapped it up, “Yes!” chants aplenty. I thought that would be it, but no: Bryan then signalled for a Running Knee, which Kane intercepted with a Chokeslam for a close near-fall. After both men dodged further finishing moves, Kane chokeslammed Bryan through one of the announcer’s tables, and then in a shocking moment, Kane began lighting a table on fire (one more ECW tribute!). There was genuine intrigue here: would the PG-Era WWE allow a man to be driven through a flaming table?
Well, yes and no: Bryan dropkicked Kane off the ring apron and sent him through the burning wood, but Kane had cleverly lit it in such a fashion that the centrepoint of the table was not ablaze, and guess which part Kane went through? Correct. It was still a really cool spot though, and something nobody would have expected in the 2014 version of WWE. Bryan then hit a Running Knee to pin Kane in the ring and win the match. Afterwards, Brie Bella came out to celebrate with her husband, only for the evil monster to sit up and laugh like a madman, indicating that this feud will continue. However you analyse it, this main event over-delivered, and whilst not a technical classic from a wrestling standpoint, it was a really entertaining main event, and a strong first PPV title defence for DBryan (or as Booker T says, “My boy DBryan!”).
Extreme Rules 2014, then, was a really fun show. The big three matches were either as good as expected or better (Cena vs. Wyatt was the weakest of the three, but it was still enjoyable), and the undercard was never anything less than watchable. It’s likely that the top matches here will also be the featured bouts at Payback, since all three key rivalries have the legs to be stretched to the next supershow, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing judging by the action here. It may feel like a strange time in WWE with all the change and the huge highs and lows of WrestleMania XXX still being felt, but if this PPV is anything to go by, it should be an intriguing time in WWE over the coming weeks and months.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good