The first point i’d like to make is that Extreme Rules was under quite a bit of scrutiny last nigh simply because it has replaced Backlash on the PPV schedule. Happily, it seems to add something to the ‘unfinished business’ character of this time of year, with it’s gimmick matches adding a touch of ceremony and credibility to the intensity of the feuds.
The first full match was the unbilled tag-team gauntlet match. Unexpected matches are always nice, but I was more expecting (and hoping for) Drew McIntyre vs Matt Hardy for the IC title – he really needs more defenses. Miz talked about the lack of competition in the tag-team division, and for sure, WWE is in a between teams situation right now that needs to be addressed. It was good to see the talent of Morrison, Truth, Henry and especially MVP make the card, and they put on a decent match for what it was. Good to see the Hart Dynasty finally pull through to get a title shot. They deserve it, and I think if anyone’s going to bring credibility to the division, it’ll be them (if they win, that is)
Then came the hair match between Punk and Mysterio. I had high hopes for this match, and right up until the end I probably would have classed it as the weakest showing of the night. The match was certainly enjoyable, but in it’s first half, a lot of the progressions from hold to hold and stage to stage were a bit clunky I thought. This improved a lot in the second half of the match, and with the S.E.S. intervering and being barred from ringside, the tension built as it seemed innevitable that Rey would take the match. I was pleased, however, to see the decisive interference of the ‘masked man.’ Not only has it been a while since we’ve seen that kind of thing in WWE, but if fits the underhand S.E.S. very well. The next question is who is it? Darren Young perhaps? or someone completely new or unexpected? My appetite is whetted.
Shad took on JTG next in what was at times a very intense strap match. They’re still inexperienced at this level, and struggled to get the crowd going consistently (though they certainly did get a reaction when the strap was involved or when they were particularly energetic). There is still much more to see from them, and I hope they can continue to improve. One bigger problem I had however, was with the way the match was won. While i’m sure there’s only a limited way you can entertainingly win this match, I remember Sable beeting Luna (I think) using the exact same method. A bit of a shame, but not too much to ruin it.
Orton vs Swagger came next, and these two showed again that they can work very well together. The match made both guys look strong while continuing (importantly) to develop Swagger’s character (as the overly confident, complacent champion). These two are great technical wrestlers, so perhaps it was to be expected that the ‘extreme’ content would be kept to a minimum (that, and on a card of extreme matches, there have to be varying degrees of brutality), and I agree with that move. They don’t have a hot, personal feud going yet, it would be a bit strange to see them trying to cripple each other (however, that shot by Orton with the belt was pretty great). While perhaps a bit abrupt, I enjoyed the ending of this match, putting Swagger over not only as physically capable, but mentally so too without making Orton look weak.
Probably the best storytelling of the night went to HHH and Sheamus. I was starting to think that there was only so far this feud could go with things like backstage attacks and whatnot, but this time it worked really well, really picking up heat for Sheamus too. The use of ‘accessories’ was befitting of a street-fight as well. I think in a street fight, things like metal bars and the ring surroundings should be used more than tables and chairs and the more usual sort of stuff. It builds a solid, ‘down and dirty’ character of the match making it meaningful, rather than just a tarted-up no-DQ match. It was great for Sheamus to get over (and a pox on those that call HHH a buryer!) in a way that genuinely made him seem like a straight-up bad person. I did however think the 4 kicks was bit excessive. Maybe 2 and then his crusifix-esque other finisher (Cole gave it a name, ‘Pale ____’, but I can’t quite remember), but this is more of a minor qualm.
There was a lot of skepticism going in to the divas match (specifically to do with the ‘extreme makeover’ concept), but I have to say, I think both divas made a very good accounting of themselves, and even brought the division along somewhat. I don’t know how frequently this stipulation can be used, but make no mistake, this was a pretty brutal match, with both Beth and Michelle taking big bumps and shots with foreign objects. This is what I mean by bringing on the division. Occasionally, certain, more confident divas, have toyed with ‘hardcore’ elements, but this was the first in WWE that i’ve seen (at least in a long rime) that has involved such a strong and well realised hardcore element (Beth’s bump on to the two ironing boards was pretty impressive, for instance) and not only that, but my worry about the inclusion of the ironing board in a ladies match were alleviated when Striker said of Michelle something like: “I guarantee this is the first time Michelle’s been near an ironing board.” The divas matches have been much improved recently (at least on Smackdown). Lets hope it continues.
The pnultimate match was the the cage match between Jericho and Edge, and like the HHH-Sheamus bout earlier, this match told a strong story (one, in this instance founded about 8 months ago with Edge’s injury). It was a very good cage match, with good use of the structure, but even more important than that, it gave us a good ending to the feud with Jericho (who decided to defer his victory in order to further injure/threaten Edge) was instead put in Edge’s position with a devestating attack to the ankle. I’d also like to give kudos for the innovation involved in Jericho’s springboard super codebreaker. Jaw-dropping. A poetic, cyclical and fitting end to a great feud. Perhaps the match of the night.
I think in many ways, the main-event was one of the lesser-anticipated matches on the card, but to be fair, like at Wrestlemania, Cena and Batista put on a great match. With the PPV certainly extreme but nonethless lacking in sheer devestation up until this point, this match cetainly provided it. There’s not much more to say than that about this match, other than Dave’s intensity was again very well pitched and some of the spots (especially the Attitude Adjustment through the announce table) were brilliant. I liked the way it ended. The story being that neither of them could keep the other down, and so Cena found another way to do it. It was innovative and (in terms of the match) made Batista look good and resiliant, though the duct-tape may have been a little too embarrassing, and I can’t help but wonder whether it has anything to do with Dave’s potential decision to leave WWE. If he does, it was a good match to retire on.
On a side not, I broke my own record for predictions, getting 6 out of 8 right, for what that’s worth!