With forklifts, fire, and high dives, Extreme Rules put its show’s theme to good use, but it was a pair of well-built matches that carried the event rather than cheap props. At its worst, hardcore rules can serve as a crutch for wrestling matches that have no story to tell other than violence. This show, on the other hand, featured matches that were exciting and dramatic on their own and used the special stipulations to layer additional intrigue. On top of that, WWE clearly focused its gaze on the future, as mainstays like John Cena, HHH, Randy Orton, Batista, Rob Van Dam, and R-Truth gave way to the next generation of wrestlers like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Bad News Barrett, Paige, and Rusev.
Daniel Bryan def. Kane to remain WWE World Heavyweight Champion
Although Evolution and The Shield shared top billing for the night, Bryan went on last and lived up to the main event slot in his first major title defense. He attacked Kane on the ramp and the match got very violent right away. Kane bodyslammed Bryan onto a chair and side slammed him through another chair. Bryan retaliated with a suicide dive and smashed Kane with a monitor before he hit a tornado DDT off of the announce table. Through the match, Kane no-sold stiff shots and fought back almost immediately. They brawled to the backstage area, where Kane back body dropped Bryan onto the hood of a car, then missed a punch and ended up putting his hand through a car window. Bryan found a tire iron in the trunk of a car and knocked Kane out with it, but had to find a way to get him back to the ring. He loaded him onto a forklift and expertly piloted it back to ringside, where he dumped Kane back into the ring. Bryan climbed onto the forklift’s bed and performed a diving headbutt from the elevated platform. I thought the match could have ended there, but Kane kicked out at two. Bryan kicked out after Kane countered a knee strike with a chokeslam and Kane kicked out after Bryan countered a tombstone with a DDT onto a chair. Kane barely survived a Yes Lock with a kendo stick across his face when he rolled to the floor. Bryan missed a suicide dive and Kane chokeslammed him through the announce table. He set up a table, poured gas on it, and lit it on fire. Bryan jostled free and threw Kane into the flaming table, followed it with a knee strike, and pinned Kane to retain his title. It was a crazy and creative match that I highly enjoyed and it showed that Bryan still has fan support and interest even though his pursuit of the title has transitioned into maintenance of it.
The Shield def. Evolution
Despite going on very early in the show, the show’s second main event was an even better wrestling match that was punctuated with some crazy high spots near the end. The first several minutes of the match were an old school tag match style in which Evolution cornered Seth Rollins and then Dean Ambrose and isolated them from their teammates. Roman Reigns could not get into the match and eventually attacked HHH on the floor for the way he kept him out of the ring, but missed the spear and hit the steel steps. When Ambrose hit a DDT on HHH to finally tag in Reigns, the fans went into a frenzy and the match became a brawl. Batista took a knee from Rollins and a Superman punch from Reigns before a triple powerbomb, and HHH broke up the pin at the last second. As the brawl continued, HHH hit a Pedigree on Reigns, but it took Batista too long to cover and he only got a two. Orton followed with an RKO on Reigns and Rollins came in just in time to break up the cover. Ambrose, Rollins, HHH, and Orton brawled to the outside and through the stands until Rollins hit a crazy splash off of the concourse onto all three of the others on the concrete floor- I have long said that HHH is among the best in the business at taking moves and both he and Orton needed to show that skill here to save Rollins’s life. Back in the ring, Reigns avoided the Batista bomb and psyched himself up to hit the Superman punch and spear to pin Batista and get his team the victory- the second consecutive big event for Batista to end as the clear loser. I was surprised that The Shield beat Evolution on their first attempt. I have no doubt that HHH can easily get his team’s heat back, though, and the strength of the match left nothing to be desired. Every member of The Shield made a big and memorable impact, and Evolution deserves credit for how convincingly they made The Shield look good.
Bray Wyatt def. John Cena in a Cage Match
Cena and Wyatt simply tried to do too much in an overbooked mess of a match that made the heel look like a weak babyface and made the good guy look like a buffoon. There was not much pace to the match because there was almost no wrestling from the beginning. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan blocked Cena every time he tried to escape, either over the top of the cage or through the door. Cena eventually pulled Harper into the cage and fought through all three members of the Wyatt Family. After an AA from the second rope on Wyatt and a leg drop on Harper, he started to walk through the door. The lights went out and a little kid in a robe with a distorted voice started to sing “He’s Got the Whole World.” Cena was startled enough for Wyatt to hit him with Sister Abigail’s Kiss and pin him before he walked off with “Little Johnny.” I get that the kid is supposed to represent a former fan that Cena has lost, but the voice distortion is beyond cheesy, the storyline has strayed very far from its roots of symbolic good and evil, and the Wyatt Family looked incredibly weak as they all got beat up by Cena.
Bad News Barrett def. Big E to become Intercontinental Champion
Fans were squarely behind Barrett from the beginning even though he entered the match as the nominal villain. Big E got an early advantage as he threw Barrett into the ring post and hit a big shoulder block. Barrett answered with a cross-body and several big boots and Big E fought back with a belly to belly. Barrett hit Winds of Change and Wasteland, each of which earned him a two count. Barrett went for the Bullhammer, but Big E countered with a big side slam. He set up for the Big Ending, Barrett got off of his shoulders and hit the Bullhammer to win. It was a fairly entertaining match and the fans were clearly excited to see Barrett win the title. Given the quality of Barrett’s work lately, I think he deserves credit for pulling the relatively raw Big E to even a respectable match.
Cesaro def. Rob Van Dam and Jack Swagger in a Triple Threat Elimination Match
Swagger got his offense in early in the match with a Swagger Bomb and Patriot Lock on Van Dam. Cesaro superplexed him from the apron and Van Dam followed it with a Five Star Frogsplash to eliminate Swagger quickly and confuse the announcers who seemingly forgot the elimination stipulation. Cesaro hit three gutwrench suplexes on Van Dam and followed up with a German that he held for a two count. Van Dam responded with a flurry of his own offense- a spinning leg drop on the barricade, Rolling Thunder, and a split legged moonsault. He also hit a spinning heel kick into a trash can to knock Cesaro down. He set up for another Five Star, but Cesaro got out of the way and Van Dam hit the trash can. A jagged edge of the can caught him above the eye and ripped him open for the only significant blood of the night. Cesaro quickly finished things with a Neutralizer into the can to pin Van Dam and earn a solid win. It was another step in the right direction for Cesaro, who opened the show and made his mark.
Paige def. Tamina Snuka to remain Divas Champion
Tamina worked a deliberate pace early in the match to use her power over Paige’s technical superiority. When Paige tried a hurricanrana from the apron to the floor, Tamina caught her and swung her into the barricade. Paige countered an attempted superplex with a powrbomb to get some momentum back, but Tamina quickly responded with a big side slam. When Tamina tried to put Paige away with a superkick, Paige caught her leg, took her down, and turned it into her modified scorpion cross-lock to force Tamina to submit. Once again, Paige simply worked a better match with fewer low points than almost any woman in recent WWE history. If WWE finds a way for her stories to match her ability in the ring, she will become a major star who will elevate the division.
Alexander Rusev def. R-Truth and Xavier Woods in a Handicap Match
Rusev attacked both of his opponents on their way into the ring and dropped Woods to give him a one-on-one matchup with Truth. Truth actually got in a flurry of offensive moves to everyone’s surprise and managed a two count. With Woods still down outside, Rusev locked Truth in the Accolade and made him submit. He attacked Woods again after the bell and the crowd remained completely disengaged. Simply put, if Rusev is supposed to be a “super athlete,” he needs to be in feuds and matches that mean something.
El Torito def. Hornswoggle in a Wee-LC Match on the Extreme Rules Pre-Show
The opening match was extremely entertaining and surprisingly filled with big spots. The little wrestlers worked with miniature tables, ladders, and chairs in front of a little announce team of Micro Cole, Jerry “The Mini-King” Lawler, and Wee-BL. Drew McIntyre performed a crazy somersault out of the ring and through a table on the floor that missed its intended target. El Torito also hit a big splash on Jinder Mahal through a ladder outside. El Torito finished off Hornswoggle with a seated senton through a little table to pin him. Hornswoggle’s partnership with 3MB has not worked well for his win-loss record. He was much more successful when he faced Chavo Guerrero every week.