Extreme Rules Review, 2012: Cena Wins, But Doesn’t Survive the Extreme

A bloodied Cena takes his chance to hit Lesnar with a final blow

A bloodied Cena takes his chance to hit Lesnar with a final blow

God I love wrestling. Yes there are bad times, the celebrity shilling, the occasional and relatively harmless PG racism and homophobia, but most of the time it’s good, and then sometimes you see something special, or a special night, and it’s revelatory. Chicago always provides those nights. There wasn’t a bad match on the card, and the three headline matches delivered different, wonderful stories and some great wrestling.

Preshow) Santino Marella def. The Miz to Retain the United States Championship
I’ll keep this short seen as it was a preshow match. Decent match here and a perfect warm up match for a PPV. Relatively short, with both men looking good. Miz did some nice stuff with the Cobra, big booting the Cobra itself. The Cobra recovered though to hit The Miz and hand Santino the retention. Ultimately, this was the right booking. Santino is way over while The Miz is above the US title now. Let’s just hope Miz can ‘use’ this to progress.

Match 1) Randy Orton def. Kane in a Falls Count Anywhere Match
This was a really good opener. These two have had a lot of brawls, and it would have been easy to have mailed this in. Thankfully they didn’t, and like at WrestleMania, they surpassed all expectations. The main thing with Falls Count Anywhere matches is to use the stipulation to it’s fullest; it’s one of the rare opportunities to see brawls all across the arena, and it is the only opportunity to see pinfalls out of the ring, which can be – at their best – inventive and unique. For the most part, Orton and Kane delivered this, brawling around the arena floor and backstage. This was a great choice to start off the PPV because despite spending most of the time outside of the ring,  them brawling in amongst the crowd in close quarters had them going nuts and really invested them in the match. Not only that, but the fighting was so intense, with dropkicks, body drops and more to the concrete and the running knee to Kane’s head against the wall. When they went backstage, the innovation continued, especially when they came across the WWE Superstars watching the event in the back. It was just refreshing; of course with the superstars backstage, there’s a chance that two people fighting might bump in to them, and bump in to another person who has an issue with one of the brawlers. Maybe this says a lot about Zack Ryder, but him seeing Kane and Orton brawling, and trying to attack Kane, makes more sense than pretty much everything he’s done since getting over. Of course Kane just brushed him aside, but as strange as it was, it was a very intelligent section of the match. Coming back out, they headed to the ring, and it got still more brutal, with multiple chair shots to Kane, which the Big Red Machine surviving. There were also some good, dramatic near-falls for Kane, including a Chokeslam which I totally bit for. The finish of the match was ok, if a little formulaic: frustrated, Kane took the natural next step, looking for a Tombstone to Orton on the chair, only for Orton to reverse in to an RKO on the chair for the return win. The formula of the finish aside, which was fine, the real problem with this was that it finish in the ring. This is the one chance where the match can – and is encouraged to – finish outside of the ring, and they didn’t take that opportunity. Some sort of big spot involving the set or something out of the ring leading to a pinfall in the midst of carnage would have made it great, and the finish showed a lack of imagination. A really good match let down a little by the finish. Time for both to move on now; for Orton, I think Bryan is the right way to go to elevate Bryan and deliver some classic matches, and as for Kane – that’s a harder one. I would go out there and suggest Ryback. He’s been jobbing people out enough now; have Kane attack Ryder once more and have Ryback make the save and let’s see what the guy’s got.

Match 2) Brodus Clay def. Dolph Ziggler
This was an unannounced match, and only 5 or so minutes, but it was really efficiently realised. Clay has lost a bit of momentum recently, partly because he’s not had enough serious competition, and partly because, frankly, Clay has toned down his hilarious campness. Well here we had the first time in his FUNKareer where he did have competition. For a while, with it being the umpteenth time that Ziggler has faced Clay, and with Swagger’s involvement, and with Ziggler being the prospect he is, I started to think Ziggler could get the scalp. Ultimately though, Funkasaurus was still too much for the Show Off, withstanding some great offense before striking Ziggler with that headbutt which Ziggler sells to look a million bucks before taking the big splash for the loss. Unsurprisingly with Ziggler involved, this was the best match Clay’s had yet. Now they have to progress him even more by either moving him up to another feud (perhaps a megapower cartoon feud with Tensai) or progress the stuff with both Ziggler and Swagger obsessed with beating Clay between them, leading to Ziggler finally getting the scalp. We shall see.

Match 3) Cody Rhodes def. The Big Show in a Tables Match to Win the Intercontinental Championship
This match was booked simply, but effectively. I loved the stipulation choice; it was different to the other matches, which tended to be several ways of saying ‘No DQ’. I didn’t see Rhodes winning, until it was announced as a tables match, simply because of how objectively impossible it would seem for Rhodes to get Show through a table. For the most part, the match told the immediate story of Rhodes not being able to get the best of Show, and at one point not even being able to set up a table for Show stopping him. Rhodes got a few moments of offense in, including that brilliant Disaster Kick off the propped-up table to Show, but it mostly consisted of Big Show dominance via chest slaps and some huge, nasty-looking throws in to the barricades. This doesn’t win a tables match though, and Rhodes had enough intelligence to take advantage of Show’s mistake in setting up a table and treating Rhodes complacently. With the table below him, Show was on the apron, and Rhodes dropkicked him so he fell backwards and put his foot through the table. This showed the intelligence of Rhodes, and gave him a legit but technical victory over Show, which also allowed Show an out for losing since he was hardly driven through the table by Rhodes. I was pleased to see Rhodes get the win, but it also makes me wish he hadn’t have lost the title at WrestleMania, and makes me think Show’s victory was given to him out of good will. If Rhodes would have kept the title, he would be on his way to an even more impressive reign than it already was. Ending here, I would have presumed the feud would have continued, but with Show getting the bitter Chokeslam through the table to Rhodes and then the ugly looking bump he gave Rhodes by pressing him from the ring through the table outside the ring, it gave the story a feel of closure. I hope it’s the end for the feud. It was interesting, but it’s run its course. Show should move on, perhaps to a tag team while Rhodes – if he’s ok after that final table bump – should find a new Intercontinental Championship challenger of course; and hey, if we want something fresh, give Tyson Kidd a shot. Wishful thinking I know, but it’d be great!

Match 4) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan in a 2-Out-of-3 Falls Match for The World Heavyweight Championship
This match always promised to be fantastic, even before WrestleMania, but was finally realised last night at Extreme Rules. This one did a great match of putting on a pure wrestling match while largely ignoring all of the stuff surrounding their feud. They teased AJ involvement, and talked about the ’18 seconds’ victory a little, but for the most part, they let this be what it was: a match to finally determine the winner of the feud. 2-out-of-3 falls always produces interesting, old skool storytelling, and this was no different. I was expecting a very quick first fall for Sheamus, but what we got was better; a long, technically sound first fall, building to the first decision. Bryan was wrestling Sheamus down, working in his arm in anticipation for the YES Lock while keeping some really tough, strong grapples and strikes, while Sheamus was out-powering Bryan when on top, and adapting to Bryan’s style, like when he pulled out a very apt Cloverleaf following from a cool chain wrestling progression. The first fall finish came with Bryan smelling blood after Sheamus ran in to the ringpost and took an ungly spill to the floor with his arm caught in the turnbuckle. After Bryan worked his arm around the ringpost some more, he rolled him in to the ring, and started stiff kicking him to the arm, and in classic 2-out-of-2 falls match style, he played the long game, taking the DQ fall for Sheamus for the benefit of severely weakening his main target in Sheamus’s arm. The dividends came quickly as Bryan locked in the YES Lock. At this point, I even believed Sheamus might tap; but having Sheamus as the fightin’ babyface, it was probably best to have him refuse to tap, only to not be able to continue in the fall, and the second one therefore being given to AmDrag. Here, we had a fall for each without either man looking weak, and telling a great story about a wily heel and a brave face in a war. By this point, the match was becoming an epic saga. With Sheamus unresponsive, Bryan started leading the crowd in YES chants, getting the crowd really hot, and leading to dueling YES/NO chants. Sheamus struggled to get up, but showing both the effect Bryan had on him, and his own resilience, he hit a basic, desperation Brogue Kick which led to a good near fall which allowed Bryan to show his resilience. At this point, it became a blow for blow war as Bryan got a good near fall with a sickening stiff kick to Sheamus’s ear, which was requited with stiff forearms and other blows. Bryan tried to keep on top of him, but missed his turnbuckle dropkick and flying headbutt. With Sheamus back on top he managed to build to his finish; an Irish Curse backbreaker leading to the final, decisive Brogue Kick – sold with amazing backflip from Bryan – for an impressive win in which Bryan also looked great.  Both men gave their all, and the crowd were really into it. A great way to finish this feud and quite probably a Match of the Year candidate. For Sheamus, it looks like Alberto Del Rio will be in his future, which should lead to some good matches. As for Bryan, he needs a high profile feud to move on to now he’s so over. I support my idea about him being given Randy Orton, and I think that against a face so over as Randy, Bryan’s heat will be condensed in to more pure heel heat.

Match 5) Ryback def. Two Local Jobbers in a Handicap Match
Ryback isn’t ready for PPV really, but he had a job tonight in cleansing the palette between the MOTY candidate World Heavyweight Championship match and the Jericho-Punk match which would be looking to follow it. The heel jobbers – which I still don’t really understand other than Ryback can’t get over as a face without them I suppose – were actually quite good heels here with their repetitive ‘2 is bigger than 1’ routine. The crowd wanted to see them get beaten, and Ryback did that job well. Beating two jobbers rather than one is more impressive than his victories so far, but the people he’s beating are still essentially jabronis and his victories aren’t that impressive. Now he’s got this out of my way, I support – again – my own idea, to have him face Kane and see if he can get over as a babyface.

Match 6) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho in a Chicago Street Fight to Retain the WWE Championship
CM Punk emerging in Chicago is always the best. It is something that encapsulates what I love about pro wrestling: well, love. Part of me feels like the Ryback squash didn’t do enough to recharge the crowd from the awesome World Title match, but this reaction was at least it’s equal, and so was the match. The match itself – apart from the unfortunate formality of the Championship introductions – didn’t waste any time in then getting going, straight in to a ‘Pier 6’ brawl and the early introduction of kendo sticks and some sick kendo shots (seriously, look at the welts on Jericho’s back, if you can!). An impassioned Punk was dominating, so it made sense when the cowardly Jericho went to the referee for salvation before the veteran Jericho used the position to give Punk a thumb to the eye followed by a nice dropkick. There then followed some very unscientific but compelling brawling at ringside, punctuated by Jericho exposing the steel of the barricade in front of Punk’s sister and slamming Punk’s head in to it, before eyeing up Punk’s sister, being slapped by her, and looking to go after her. This was an important point in the match, not only in storyline with Punk’s sister’s involvement, but because the heinousness of Jericho’s implied intentions brought Punk’s urgency, and that of the match, up a further gear. Not only that, but this was pretty much her only involvement in the match aside from visual reminder of the personal nature of the feud. Best use of family in wrestling since, well, CM Punk and Rey Mysterio. Forcing himself to recover, Punk leapt on Jericho just in time to stop him before going nuts at ringside and tearing up the announce tables in foreshadowing of carnage. Until this point, i’ve always though attacks with announce table hoods are weak and shouldn’t be done, but in this match, it really worked, when Punk slammed Jericho through one that was propped up against the announce table,  before Jericho would later hit Punk with a tough blow with the broken half of the hood. Punk went on to tease a stomach-churning piledriver on the concrete, but Jericho managed to reverse in to a back body drop before taking the initiative with a shot to the spine of Punk with a monitor. This really was a nonstop, drag-out, brutal brawl, and it was unsurprising that they changed pace a little following it, returning to the ring for Jericho to dominate some. In fact, Jericho got such a hand over Punk that he was able to leave the ring to get a beer to pour on Punk before getting another for himself. The second was too far though, and showed the exact arrogance of a guy who thinks he’s the best in the world despite losing to the best a month prior – it allowed Punk t come back with some sweet, stiff kicks which led to multiple beer spits from Jericho. This was closely followed by more harsh kendo shots, including a brilliantly timed and executed kendo-assisted heel kick from Punk. This was the next step up in gears as the action quickened and we moved towards signature and finisher territory with Punk shouldering Jericho for a GTS which was reversed in to a Liontamer/Walls of Jericho attempt which was really convincing and made Punk look great and resilient to escape from. Shortly after came another, even better progression which could only be pulled off by two of the best, with perfect timing. Again attempting a GTS, Jericho escaped and hit a bulldog; looking for a Lionsault, Punk recovered, and caught Jericho exactly as he hit the ropes, and with Jericho caught on the ropes, Punk grappled him back to his shoulders for another GTS attempt, which Jericho again escaped before sending Punk into a wedged chair in the corner. This section in the ring really started to combine well the brutality of earlier with the drama of great wrestling and near-falls, and this only got more tense after Jericho hit a surprise Codebreaker from nowhere and then locked Punk in another Walls of Jericho, with Punk looking ever more likely to tap before eventually, again, making the ropes. With Jericho exploiting the Street Fight rules, Punk was forced to take what was at hand to escape, and what he used was the fire extinguisher which he first sprayed Jericho with before brutalising him with it. Punk followed Jericho on his escape, with the extinguisher, to the outside, a final shot laying Jericho out on the Spanish Announce Table. It was obvious what was coming, but that anticipation in pro wrestling, like with a lot of great spectacles, only makes the event sweeter, and so (despite the exhausted Punk barely being able to stay on the turnbuckle) when Punk finally flew through the air to connect with a Macho Man elbow through the table with Jericho, the crowd went mad and were simultaneously even more amazed by what they saw, especially given the table crashing looked even more devastating than usual. Punk then – after recovering himself- pushed Jericho in the ring and went for a count. This signified the beginning of the end. Punk only got a good near fall, but obviously unsatisfied, he went straight for an Anaconda Vice. Now I don’t know if this was intentional, but this section mirrored HHH in Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate from both WrestleManias 27 and 28 in that it involved the victim reaching out for, and then dropping a nearby weapon; the only difference here being that Jericho managed to keep a hold of the weapon and used it to bash Punk over the head to escape. Following this came the best near-fall of the night, and a really inventive one. Punk tried to keep control of the match, reaching for a chair he had tossed in to the ring ages earlier; driving it in to Jericho’s gut, Jericho grabbed the chair in that position, and used it for an amazingly smooth, chair assisted Codebreaker. I was convinced of a Jericho win, nut no! Punk survived! A frustrated Jericho, ever the meglomaniac, then picked up and shouldered Punk as if looking to beat him with his own move, only this time, Punk escaped, slingshotted Jericho in to the exposed turnbuckle before finally (after setting it up for the whole match, several times) hitting his GTS for a great, Match of the Year worthy, win! It was the best finish of the night by far in its inventiveness and unpredictability, and let Punk add another great defense to his ever-swelling reign. It was a totally different match to their masterpiece at WrestleMania, and just goes to show the breadth of their capabilities. I loved the carnage left behind them after the match: weapons, broken wood, a stripped and a destroyed announce table, and two spend warriors. This was another war. The only problem is, it’s going to get hard to justify the continuance of this great feud. Jericho was ‘given’ another shot after WrestleMania, but it perhaps needs too much grace for him to get another one, especially given Punk has now beaten by pin and submission. I hope they do get ‘one more match’, but if it does, it will need a significant progression from the alcoholism angle, most righteously involving Jericho ‘needing’ to beat Punk. If not then both men will need new opponents. For Jericho, it’s wide open, but I would figure he’d move on to a young up-and-coming face (and there aint too many of them! – Kofi Kingston, again?). As for Punk, I figure there could surely be only one man in line for a title shot, and i’ll speak on that later in the report.

Match 7) Layla def. Nikki Bella to Win the Divas Championship
This match was more of a rollercoaster before it began than it was once it began. Initially, it seemed we’d get Beth vs Nikki for the title and Kharma would come out to dominate. Then it seemed we’d get Kharma vs Nikki and Kharma would dominate. Then what we got was Nikki Bella defending against the returning Layla (though I initially thought it was Michelle McCool given the music)! I’m a huge fan of Layla, so I was in no way disappointed to see her return. Both she and the Bellas are very underrated wrestlers, and for the limited time they had, they put on a decent match (ring rust etc permitting for Layla). Some good, impressive moves from both women, but especially Layla, who was being showcased – including a crossbody from the top rope. This was all after some good, scientific focusing on Layla’s rehabbed knee from Nikki, but after Layla got control, they attempted Twin Magic. Usually, that spells the end, but Layla managed to simply beat Brie with her tough neckbreaker finisher for an emotional win. Yes, the fans were disappointed, but this was the right way to do things. This was an intense PPV, and a Kharma return wouldn’t have had as much impact, while her being mentioned and thought of as a generally terrifying prospect will only make her eventual return more impactful. Meanwhile, the belt is now back on a babyface that Kharma can terrorise when she returns, and hopefully, Layla will be able to have some impressive, Gail Kim style matches with her before Beth returns for the showdown! Oh yes, and come back soon, Bellas.

Match 8) John Cena def. Brock Lesnar
It should be noted that I was highly skeptical about this match before it took place, and after it, I disliked Brock Lesnar slightly less, so that bodes well. My main concern was about the MMA influence and how that could make the match a bit of an eyesore. The first bit of positivity came when Lesnar’s sponsored gear didn’t actually look quite as stupid as it seemed beforehand (though it was still kinda stupid). More importantly, I was worried we’d have long period of grounded grappling, MMA style, so imagine my dismay at the first few minutes of the match which was just that. Saying that, the MMA influence was, for the most part, well incorporated in to the professional wrestling match, and Cena being so bloodied, so early on, gave the match a distinct, uneasy feel, but in all the right ways. In many ways, this would be emblematic of the whole match, or at least most of it; Cena looking kind of incapable and defenseless against Lesnar. Doctors swarmed around Cena, and not for the last time while Lesnar seemed to relish his animalistic destruction. Lesnar was brutalising the face of WWE, and putting him in some pretty horrifying looking holds, especially that Kimura hold, and all Cena could muster was some pithy attempts at AA’s, which were quashed as quickly as they ever began. Otherwise, Lesnar was just finding inventive ways to torture Cena, including using Cena’s own chain to lock Cena’s feet together before assaulting him unprotected; and hanging him upside down from the turnbuckle by the chain and beating on him. As time went on, Lesnar only became more animalistic, thriving in the blood, wiping Cena’s all over him and licking it off his gloves. The match turned, however, after a big move which must actually have been a botch. With Cena hanging on to the apron, Lesnar sprung off the ropes and launched off the steps (which had been moved to the ring), but instead of just knocking Cena from the apron, he overshot and while knocking Cena off the apron, spilled over himself, taking a nasty tumble. Nonetheless, he got back up soon, remarkably, and went for the move a second time. This time, however, Cena had managed to grab his chain, and when Lesnar launched himself this time, it was in to Cena’s chain-loaded fist. This busted Lesnar open and allowed Cena to finally hit the AA, on to the waiting steel steps for a three-count few people saw coming. Some people were annoyed at this finish, and I understand why to an extent; the ultimate definition of SuperCena is when he wins a match after taking a lot of offense and hitting a few moves out of no where for the win. Usually, I hate Cena when he’s SuperCena as much as the next man, but this time it was different; Cena had been tortured, brutalised, and still stayed in the game while Lesnar was a sadistic monster. Cena earned everyone’s respect, which in the Allstate Arena shows just how epic and deeply brutal the match he survived was. A really well thought out match to manipulate the fans in to sympathising with Cena while providing a genuinely different aesthetic for a match, which is something laudable. I may not like Lesnar over a lot of top guys, but he is great in this animalistic killer role, and if he can stick to that, I think him and I will be just fine. A further shock came when Cena seemed to announce he was hurt and would be taking some time off. I think that was a work to justify some well-deserved time off, but whatever it is, it’s interesting. We don’t know how long it will be, but we will have a period of Cena-less time. This will obviously provide a huge spot for some up and comers (hopefully) to fill – i’m looking at you, CM Punk! Speaking of Punk, with him moving on possibly from Jericho, and Cena taking time off, it seems like Punk and Lesnar surely must be on a collision course. After Lesnar beat the hell out of Cena and put him on the shelf, Lesnar hasn’t lost much as a monster heel, and surely the only legitimate challenger for the title at the time of writing is Lesnar. This can make for a great feud, as long as Lesnar doesn’t squash Punk with ease. Punk has a lot to say about Lesnar, and could maul him on the mic while potentially having interesting, great matches. As for Cena, when he eventually returns, it’ll be to face a rampant Lesnar, and he’ll get a huge heroes pop.

Extreme Rules always delivers, possibly because they take the ‘extreme’ mantra seriously, and really push the boat out in terms of innovation and bodily sacrifice. Another plus point is that it coming off WrestleMania, it often provides the definite, concrete end points of quite a few feuds, which adds a a certain satisfaction to the event. All the matches here were entertaining, and at least acceptable in quality; some were very good, and the three headline matches – the most important ones – were exceptional, with the two title matches providing Match of the Year candidates. Another excellent Extreme Rules, and another excellent WWE PPV, which have been of a very high standard for the most part for a long time.

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