Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2012
by Paul in Wrestling
And normal service is resumed with the post that a small minority of you were waiting for – a preview of WWE Extreme Rules! This, to be honest, is a show I won’t be ordering because I won’t have time to watch it in the next few days – but it’s also an unusually newsworthy B-show, built around the return of Brock Lesnar after eight years.
Extreme Rules started life as a successor to the WWE’s successful ECW reunion pay-per-views which paid tribute to the influential 90s promotion. After the WWE revived the ECW brand for a short-lived and entirely unsuccessful weekly show, their annual PPV was rebranded under the current name, and basically ended up as a show full of gimmick matches. ”Extreme Rules” used to be the WWE’s preferred term for ECW rules (i.e., no count-outs and no disqualification), but for the purposes of this year’s show, it seems that pretty much any gimmick is deemed acceptable – there’s nothing especially “extreme” about a best-of-three-falls match, but they’re doing one anyway. Mind you, it’s not as if wrestling referees are exactly noted for their rigorous enforcement of the rules in the first place.
This year, Extreme Rules also follows Wrestlemania in the PPV calendar. This slot has traditionally gone to a generic show called “No Way Out”, but this year No Way Out is taking place later on and is being rebranded as a show full of cage matches (a gimmick which worked surprisingly well for the distant number two promotion TNA with their annual Lockdown show).
But the main story for this show is…
1. Extreme Rules: Brock Lesnar v John Cena. Let’s start with the stipulation and get that out of the way. This match will be contested under “Extreme Rules”, which, as I said, basically means no DQs and no count outs. The show also has a “Street Fight” further down the card. As far as I can tell, that’s the same thing under a different name.
More to the point, though, this is the return match of Brock Lesnar. Brock had a short but very successful run with the WWE between 2002 and 2004. He was a college wrestling champion who was pushed to the moon from the word go as an unstoppable monster, and he held the WWE Title three times. More to the point, he also had some very good matches during that run. In 2004, Lesnar left in order to try his hand at football, and had a brief stint with the Minnesota Vikings before heading off to wrestle in Japan (in breach of his non-compete clause, which the courts refused to enforce). After that he moved into mixed martial arts and became the UFC champion. Thanks to that, Lesnar is now in the position of returning to the WWE with an unusual degree of legitimacy for a modern-day professional wrestler.
And that’s essentially the basis of the current feud. On the one hand, Lesnar represents the world outside the WWE; on the other (thanks to the WWE’s characteristically warped self-image), he’s a mercenary who doesn’t really care about wrestling and is just here for the money. Last week’s Raw ended with heel GM John Laurinaitis acceding to Lesnar’s increasingly ludicrous list of demands, which included renaming the show “Monday Night Raw Starring Brock Lesnar”. (And if next week’s opening credits are re-edited accordingly, great.)
Supposedly there’s more than a little truth to this; Lesnar is here first and foremost to top up his pension fund. He’s also reportedly driven an unusually hard bargain with the company; he’s working a limited schedule, and he’s even being allowed his own sponsors on his ring gear. Whether this is part of an attempt to subtly build the feud, or a genuine illustration of his perceived value to the company, is impossible to know for sure. It gives you an idea of where we’re going, anyway.
In his first match, Lesnar is being booked against John Cena. This is an odd one. Cena already lost to the Rock at Wrestlemania. He surprisingly lost to mid card villain Lord Tensai a couple of weeks ago. And all logic and common sense says that, if the long term goal is to preserve Lesnar’s value for the rest of his very lucrative contract, Cena has to lose again here. In fact, he has to lose again here decisively. Considering that Cena is meant to be the company’s biggest star, this is strange booking. Presumably it’s heading somewhere, as it’s hard to imagine why the company would be putting themselves in this position otherwise.
The match itself doesn’t need to be great. In fact, it should probably be kept as short as possible, consistent with the fans not feeling that they’ve been ripped off. The bigger picture requires Lesnar to remain dominant, and Cena to continue his losing streak. There’s little doubt about the outcome here (and hopefully the WWE doesn’t have one of its panic attacks about being too predictable; sometimes the best finish is predictable precisely because it’s the only one that makes sense). The interesting question is how dominant Lesnar is allowed to be with one of the company’s main stars, and how rusty he is in there.
2. World Heavyweight Title, 2/3 Falls: Sheamus v Daniel Bryan. They can afford to have a short Cena/Lesnar match because the two main title matches ought to be long and good. This is a rematch from a “match” at Wrestlemania that, to all intents and purposes, didn’t happen. For reasons best known to themselves, the company thought it would be a good idea for Sheamus to begin his babyface title reign by pinning Bryan in eighteen seconds. And to be fair, that did get a good reaction from the live crowd.
The hardcore fans really rather like Daniel Bryan. They saw him as being screwed out of his chance to have a proper match on the biggest show of the year, and they spent the next few shows vigorously chanting their support for Daniel Bryan – often even when he had nothing to do with anything they were watching. Bryan is meant to be a heel, and they’re trying very hard to keep him a heel, but he’s evidently on the verge of being turned babyface with a segment of the audience. (It is unbelievably difficult to persuade the audience to boo some wrestlers.)
The original plan was for Sheamus to move on to a feud with Alberto Del Rio, but given the reaction, we’re getting this instead – a rematch with a 2/3 falls stipulation. Given the way the company thinks, my betting is that they’ll be allowed to do two full-length falls, and then Bryan will get pinned in fewer than eighteen seconds in the third fall in order for Sheamus to retain and the story to return to what they originally had in mind. (Aside from anything else, they’ve already committed themselves to Del Rio getting a title shot.) But unless the company has completely lost its mind, this time they ought to deliver a full length match, and it ought to be very good.
3. WWE Title, Street Fight: CM Punk v Chris Jericho. Another rematch from Wrestlemania. On that show, Punk simply retained cleanly. The match was good, but had the misfortune to follow an extremely well-received Undertaker match, and came off as a bit of an anticlimax, though the wrestlers finally got the crowd into it in the latter stages. Even though the babyface already won clean, we’re doing a rematch with more of the same feud, as Jericho continues to try and torment Punk by challenging his “straight edge” credentials.
This show is coming from Chicago, Punk’s home town, so there ought to be a much better crowd this time. If they want to drag the feud out a bit longer, Jericho probably wins, and Punk gets the title back down the road. (Jericho is a part-timer these days, so it’s highly unlikely he’s going to have any lengthy title reign.) If Jericho’s nearing the end of his current run and this is simply a case of getting one more match out of him before he takes a break, then Punk retains. They should have a very good match.
4. Falls Count Anywhere: Randy Orton v Kane. Yet another Wrestlemania rematch. On that show, Kane won clean, in a rather underwhelming match. Orton won a rematch on regular television, so this is the rubber. The matches to date have not been particularly memorable; the feud has bordered on the ridiculous, since Kane’s demonic gibberish makes him a cartoon character even by the standards of professional wrestling. Consequently, he doesn’t mesh with Orton. I don’t expect this to be any good. I do expect Orton to win, simply because he needs to rebuild his momentum as one of the major stars on the Smackdown roster.
5. WWE Intercontinental Title: The Big Show v Cody Rhodes. More rematch. Big Show won the title at Wrestlemania in a largely ignored undercard match. Rhodes is getting his obligatory rematch. The match gimmick is going to be determined by “randomly” spinning a wheel. This feud has been ongoing and I’m not sure where the company ultimately wants the title to end up. Conventional wisdom says that Big Show is an established main event wrestler and the IC title (Smackdown’s secondary belt) is beneath him. On the other hand, Rhodes is clearly being groomed for possible promotion to the main event; he’s good, and while he’s small, the company is frankly running out of options on that roster. The company’s usual approach is to take mid card titles off wrestlers who are about to be promoted in that way. Mind you, if it were me, I’d have Rhodes beat a much bigger and more established guy in order to set him up for a title shot. That doesn’t seem to be the way the company normally thinks about these things, though.
My guess would be that Big Show retains. The match is likely to be okay undercard fodder.
6. Divas Title: Nikki Bella v Beth Phoenix. Bella won the title on Raw after Beth Phoenix twisted her ankle (a storyline injury, but an unusually convincingly executed one). This has raised a few eyebrows since it’s been widely reported that the Bella Twins are about to leave the company – aside from the rumour mill, the main evidence for this is that they’ve cropped up being advertised as attendees at a signing event, under their real names. According to the usual sources, this is not as odd as it looks; Bella is a transitional champion, and the idea is for Phoenix to feud with the new champion in due course, so they don’t want to do that match right at the outset.
On that logic, Bella retains here. This is, unusually, a heel/heel match. They may be doing it in order to get the obligatory rematch out of the way, or it may be intended as a vehicle to turn one or other babyface. (Most likely Beth.)
7. WWE US Title: Santino Marella v The Miz. Weirdly relegated to the pre-show on YouTube, comedy wrestler Marella will be defending his title against the Miz, who was a main event guy this time last year, and must now be wondering where on earth he went wrong. No gimmick has been announced for this, and actually winning Raw’s secondary title would be a step back for Miz, who ought to be getting back into main event circulation. My guess would be that Marella wins more or less clean, and we all forget about this when they start trying to rebuild Miz.
Worth getting? It’s got a big newsworthy match and two semi-mains that ought to be good. It’s also got a rather mediocre undercard, but those matches should be short. On the whole, probably worth a look.