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And now, the Best and Worst of Extreme Rules 2016.
Best/Worst: Good Work You Won’t Remember
I was thinking back about Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows vs. The Usos this morning, and I couldn’t remember how I felt about it. I remember liking the finish — The Club tries to use a ring bell as a weapon but get hit with Uso move one of three (superkick), Ollie Uso goes for a splash, it misses and he splashes the bell. That injures him enough for the Club to hit a Magic Killer and … how do I phrase it? Confidently steal a win?
The running theme of Extreme Rules for me is “good work you won’t remember.” About midway through The New Day vs. The Vaudevillains I remember trying to think back on the opener, and I had nothing. Even the Usos forget about it. The whole point of their beef with Anderson and Gallows is that they were injured by them, and a further, more violent injury happens at the end of this match. Then, when it’s time for everyone to get involved in the main event, the Usos are hopping around and jumping and superkicking like it’s nothing. I’m not asking for minute-to-minute selling realism, but if you jump like 10 feet in the air and land sternum-first on a chunk of metal, aren’t you gonna feel it two hours later?
The good news is that the right team won at the right moment. The bad news is that too many WWE matches forget their own context, and happen so often that you lose the ability to differentiate them. Like, can you remember any one single Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto match, or do they just all mush together in your brain? That’s The Club vs. The Usos for me already, and the Club’s been around for what, a month?
The Tag Team Championship match is more of the same. The work is good, and it’s great to see The New Day rolling and the Vaudevillains getting WWE main roster pay-per-view matches, but aside from some mentions of Xavier Woods telling people to slide into his DMs, you won’t read a ton of heated opinions about it. It just happened. It was a solid match from an episode of Smackdown you missed.
I can’t help but wonder if this was all the original plan, or if Enzo Amore getting hurt made them have to reshuffle everything. The pre-show has a sorta-unnecessary confrontation between Big Cass and the Dudley Boyz that was 1000% made for someone to run in and help Cass (Enzo preferably, obviously) which ends with Cass being TOTALLY FINE and winning the fight by himself. Sure!
The other half of the pre-show was Baron Corbin having his rubber (shoulder skull) match with Dolph Ziggler, who now wears pants designed by a zebra being Being John Malkovich‘d by Lisa Frank. Like the Usos/Club stuff, we’ve seen Corbin and Ziggler fight multiple times in the past month, each time with a slightly different finish, so instead of grudge match or some kind of feud finale, this feels like step 5 or 6 in a 100 step plan. A 100 step plan where they’ve got the first 15 steps plotted out, are planning to wing the next 15, and then like 70 additional steps in the middle of Raws when they don’t have anything better and remember these guys fought before. Corbin won, at least. He won with an End of Days after an uppercut to the Fruit Stripe.
Best: Rusev Crush
Okay, let’s talk about the parts of the show I loved.
Up first is Rusev vs. Kalisto, which exceeded my expectations by being … well, the Rusev vs. Kalisto match we always wanted. These guys are dope, and seeing them mired in the League of Nations and Sin Cara of it all has been depressing. Here, they’re let loose from their chains, and the match we get would’ve been the best of the night if the damn Miz hadn’t brought his worker boots out of his 2010 closet.
The story of the match is that Kalisto’s back is still injured from the attack on Raw, so he’s forced to truly fight from underneath. He’d be doing that anyway because he’s little and Rusev’s built like Mike Haggar, but now he’s little AND at a physical health disadvantage. Rusev coming up with new ways to continually target the match and wrestle like a good and smart wrestler might is fantastic, and the finish with the gorilla press from the top onto the apron was brutal. THAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF THE RING.
The referee teases that the match might end due to the injury (which the announce team decides would be a disqualification for some reason), so SMART BEST RUSEV drags Kalisto into the middle of the ring and locks him the most hardcore f*cking Accolade ever. Like, look at this thing:
It’s not a man eating another man’s heart, but I’ll take it.
For further evidence of Rusev being the best, here are two (!) Backstage Fallout videos about him taking Kalisto’s nameplate off the belt and getting his name on it before he’s even changed out of his Bulgarian fighting underpants.
Spoiler alert: They make a point of having Rusev say he’s going to hold the title for “7 years.” Memorial Day is a week from Monday’s Raw, which means John Cena returns 7 days into Rusev’s title run. Try to figure out how that’s gonna go.
Best: The Main Roster Match Of The Year So Far (Maybe)
And now, HOT FIRE EMOJI.
You probably assumed it was going to be good going in, but the fatal four-way for the Intercontinental Championship was outstanding. Really great. WWE’s got a solid formula for matches like this, so if you fill it out with four guys who can go — okay, three guys who can go and one guy who’s a better character than wrestler but can hold his own when he needs to — you get magic.
There’s a ton to love here, and if you haven’t seen it, seek out the show and just watch the Rusev/Kalisto to IC title block. The opening shot of Sami hustling across the ring to kill Kevin Owens with a massive Helluva Kick because ETERNAL FOREVER HATRED is perfect. I also liked how much effort went into making the convoluted double-team spots at least look like they were happening organically. Cesaro tries to swing Miz, Miz scoots back and grabs the ropes with both hands. Cesaro’s trying to pull himself in one direction and Miz is trying to pull himself in the other, so he’s in a perfect natural position for Owens to come off the top with a bullfrog splash. Moments like that. It’s not a guy holding himself in position for a tree of woe double-stomp and having to do it forever because taunts are happening.
The Miz winning is an interesting call, but I like the way they did it. The way the match was laid out it could’ve gone in any direction, so everyone crashing into everyone else and someone being in the right place at the right time makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure I would’ve kept it on Miz, and I’m definitely not sure I would’ve had him pin Cesaro to keep it — Sami is the Michael Jordan of taking pinfalls … the Crying Jordan of taking pinfalls — but the match was too good to stress about it.
It’s not Zayn/Nak, but as far as main roster WWE matches in 2016 goes, it’s near the top of my list.
Worst: 800 Minutes Of The Worst Cage Match Ever
“Worst cage match ever” is a total exaggeration, but holy sh*t is the Asylum Match a pile.
There’s some good to it. Jericho’s doing his best to look like he’s scared to be trapped inside the cage with Ambrose, which is nice. His facial expressions are wonderful, and I like that he kept going for the door. What I didn’t like was literally every other aspect of this.
It was long. It was SO LONG. Reports online say that a talking segment was cut at the last minute and 10 extra minutes went to the match, which could explain why only the last five was any good. They like, plotted out a good 15-minute match and fell the hell apart when it got bumped to 25. Also, what the f*ck is up with building an entire feud around a potted plant being used as a weapon, blowing it off in a match with a bunch of weapons hanging over a cage, having a potted plant be one of those weapons and then having EVERY SINGLE WEAPON BESIDES THE POTTED PLANT get used? How do you not bring that plant down for the finish? I legitimately would’ve rather seen a Dirty Deeds into a houseplant than into thumbtacks. Maybe I’m weird.
I also hate that people are gonna only remember the thumbtacks and think this was a cool match. It was terrible. On a much smaller scale, it was Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker from WrestleMania 32. The first 20 minutes of that match are a goddamn embarrassment, but you don’t hear anyone talking about it because the big crazy spot at the end was so cool. That’s all that matters to most people. The moment. People are gonna remember Jericho going back into the tacks and getting DDT’d onto them, which was admittedly pretty f*cking hardcore for a part-timer in his mid-40s who absolutely didn’t have to take it, and that’s it. I urge you to remember the 7 hours of match before it.
Also funny: the announce team saying Jericho had been in “every type of WWE match” except the Asylum. Was Jericho in a inferno match? Bra and panties? Was there a Chris Jericho/Great Khali Punjabi Prison match I missed? It’s a cage with a mop in it. It’s semantics.
Best: Dana Brooke As Ric Flair
That’s nothing I never thought I’d type. “Dana Brooke as Ric Flair.” That’s like “Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson.” But yeah, the stipulation of the Women’s Championship submission match is that Charlotte will lose the match and forfeit the title if her dad interferes, so she enlists free-floating neutral evil character Dana Brooke to dress up as her dad and cause a distraction. I don’t like the moment, but I’m giving Dana’s Flair strut a best. It’s better than Charlotte’s in a walk. In a fancy walk.
Worst: The Rest
That’s a kayfabe Worst, mostly, because we’re still stuck in that nexus period between Charlotte winning and establishing the WWE Women’s Championship, and the inevitable whomping at the hands of Sasha Banks at SummerSlam. I’m gonna keep typing it until it happens. Sasha’s been injured but will be back soon, so let’s collectively pretend that wet noodle challenges from Natalya with the worst finishes ever are a “whoops, sorry” plan B from WWE creative. They’d already scheduled Becky Lynch for a consolation thing with Emma, but now that Emma’s hurt and Sasha’s in stasis, meet Charlotte and her new best friend Dana Brooke. You do what you’ve gotta do.
And just to say it, the match isn’t bad. Charlotte vs. Natalya matches have been slowly descending in quality since their first big one at the NXT live special, but they aren’t in “oh god, get me out of here” territory yet. At least it didn’t take place inside the Asylum.
Best: Extremely Ruled
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the swat team vest in the room.
I’ve read a lot of criticism of this match from people who are upset that Roman Reigns took a bunch of chair shots, a bunch of finishers and a bunch of chair-assisted finishers before just hitting a spear and winning. There’s some truth to that — outside of the WrestleMania match with Brock Lesnar, Roman isn’t great in that transition between “having been injured” and “back in control” — but you have to look at the larger context of the match.
These guys beat the SH*T out of each other. AJ wasn’t fresh as a daisy when he got that springboard into a spear finish. He’d been bumping like a f*cking freak for 20 minutes, getting swung into barricades and powerbombed onto announce tables. Styles might get thrown into announce tables better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He took that DOPE Splash Mountain from Reigns, too, which should ABSOLUTELY be a finisher. To me it seemed like Reigns was in control for most of the match, but that it was even enough for us to buy the nearfalls and think maybe Styles could pull off a win amidst all the chaos. That’s important. We all KNEW he wasn’t winning, but the in-ring action was so good it let us buy into the story they were telling. So yeah, it wasn’t Cena popping up to hit an AA and being totally fine. Roman’s better than most of you (us) give him credit for. He’s just unlikable as a personality and a putz like 60% of the time he’s got a microphone in his hand.
This, combined with Rusev/Kalisto and the IC title four-way, make Extreme Rules one of the better shows of the year for me. It wasn’t perfect, and the Usos still haven’t been thrown into the back of a garbage truck like Shredder at the end of the first Ninja Turtles movie, but they built to a story and told the hell out of it. What more can you ask for?
Styles deserves a Pulitzer for getting a month and a half of entertaining TV out of a post-WrestleMania-reaction Roman AND contextualizing multiple characters inside a gray area of alignment. It’s good work from every side. Okay, every side besides “these teams only ever fight each other.”
Best: Oh, And One More Thing
Welcome back, Captain.
A Curb Stomp would’ve really cemented the moment, but whatever. Seth Rollins is back way ahead of schedule, and (assuming he doesn’t spend 20 minutes cutting promos at the beginning of every show for the remainder of the year) that’s a great thing. Seth as the Champion who never lost his title, paired against his old friend who got way too many chances from Seth’s old boss to win the championship, is right where it needs to be. Plus, tell me you don’t want to see Dean Ambrose win the Money in the Bank briefcase now and creep around while Seth and Roman tear each other apart? The timing of this couldn’t be better.
(You couldn’t have done that during the match, though?)
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
I like to imagine Vince is backstage with a giant list of wrestler finishers, and he happily crosses off a name whenever roman kicks out of one.
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
With all those superkicks, the Usos look like a million Bucks.
Full Nelson Reilly
“Where’s your dad now?”
“You sound like my mom!”
Natalya is the Asylum match of the Women’s Division
Jericho: I am not trapped in here with Ambrose. The crowd is trapped in this match with US.
It was the Fatal 4-Way of times, it was the Asylum Match of times.
Jericho: “I’m just gonna walk across the ring swinging this barbedwire two-by-four and if you get hit it’s your OWN fault.”
Ambrose: “Fine, I’m just gonna walk across the ring swinging these nunchuks and if you get hit it’s YOUR own fault.”
Iron Sheik crying: Enough, enough, he is already humble. :(
This match is so good that Miz is retroactively on the Ring of Honor roster in 2010.
The only way Zack Ryder’s championship reign could have gone any worse for him is if he had to be the special guest referee for this match.
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