When WWE expanded its PPV schedule from 4 to 12 (and nowadays it’s more like 24+), they quickly realized they needed a hook to make these B and C (and let’s be honest, D and F) shows stand out in some way. Thus was born the gimmick Pay-Per-View. Events like TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs (and occasionally Stairs), Money in the Bank and Extreme Rules were built around a singular theme that impacted all of the matches on the card – in the case of that last one, the idea was that the whole event was No Holds Barred. Curious, then, that the 2017 edition of Extreme Rules has so many matches with specific stipulations around disqualifications. The Raw brand has been fighting a losing battle with TV ratings; could this event get them back on the path to success? Well… kinda?
- David Otunga is back (just for the pre-show) so that means Booker T is probably going to be gone come Monday. It’s a mixed blessing, as Booker hasn’t been great on commentary these past several weeks, but Otunga is the dirt worst. Hopefully Graves can continue to carry that booth.
- The Hardyz do an interview segment with Charly Caruso and it’s not great. Jeff is neon orange and shouldn’t be allowed near a mic. Also every time Matt does an interview and it becomes clearer and clearer that the Broken gimmick is just unlikely to happen it gets a little sadder. More on that when we get to their match.
- The only pre-show match is Apollo Crews (with Titus O’Neil) vs. Kalisto, and it’s not that bad. Kalisto actually gets in some good looking offense and goes pretty much botch free (including a super dope springboard 450 to the outside) and Crews shows some heelish mannerisms that will help him grow as a performer. Unfortunately, the ending is pretty dumb (a theme for the night), with Crews and O’Neil arguing long enough for Kalisto to hit a Salida del Sol by running up Titus’ face for the win. Okay match, but the WWE seems to have absolutely no faith in Crews. Dude deserves better.
Match 1: The Miz (with Maryse) Vs. Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship
This is the first match of the evening (but not the last) that breaks the central logic of the entire event. The stipulation for this match is that if Dean gets disqualified, the title will change hands. On a show built around the idea that every match is no DQ. I get that it fits with Miz’s chickenshit heel act, but the stipulation makes no sense in the context of this show. Naturally, this means that the story of the match is Miz doing everything he can to get Ambrose disqualified, and to the performers’ credit, it works for the most part.
One thing to note about this match is that it’s long. With that space to breathe, Miz is allowed to get creative with his Machiavellian efforts, from feigning chair shots a-la Eddie Guerrero to pulling off the turnbuckle pad to set up a corner spot. Every time it comes close, Dean is able to avoid the DQ stretching this thing out longer than this thing needed to go. Late in the match (seriously, like 12 minutes in) Miz does what a lot of people had said he should have done to start and has his wife get up on the apron and slap him in full view of the ref. This is the beginning of the end and is another example of a confusing logic at odds with itself.
So the ref, not being an idiot, recognizes that Maryse is just trying to draw the disqualification, so he ejects her from ringside. So far so good. He follows her around the ring shouting that she needs to leave which…curious, but not unheard of. While he’s doing this, however, Miz pushes Dean into the ref, knocking him out of the ring. Rather than corpse on the outside, as refs are wont to do when so much as a stiff breeze strikes them, the ref gets up and starts blaming Ambrose for hitting him, which…what? He was smart enough to catch on to Miz’s previous trick, but this one is too slick for him? Worse yet, he starts this long awkward walk around the ring toward the timekeeper’s section, as if that’s the only place he can call a DQ. The whole time Dean is following him from the ring, pleading his case and ignoring the Miz who is stewing behind him. This allows the A-lister to run up and hit the Skull Crushing Finale for 3 and the win. Miz is now a 7-time IC champ (the second most in history), which Cole is already making a huge deal about. Enough with the statistics unless they mean something, guys.
Overall this is a solid match with a stupid end–not the first time it happened tonight, nor is it the last time. I’m glad the Miz won, he’s a better IC champ than Ambrose, and can now give some of the upper mid-card babyfaces like Finn Balor and Seth Rollins something to do when they’re not beating up Bray Wyatt or losing to Brock Lesnar. For Dean…man, I don’t know. He was my favorite member of The Shield and he’s just adrift in this terrible Lunatic Fringe character. I’d suggest a heel turn, but Raw has no viable mid- or lower-card baby faces to fill the gap (unless they bring Austin Aries up from the Cruiserweight division), so I guess we’re stuck with bored, directionless Dean.
Match 2: Noam Dar and Alicia Fox Vs. Rich Swann and Sasha Banks
Heels out first and I have to say, I really love Dar’s theme song. Everything else needs a little work, but you know, credit where credit’s due. Swan’s out next and get’s a mild pop until they remind the crowd that he’s actually from Baltimore (where the show is being held) which gets a much larger crowd reaction. It’s weird, did they not realize he was a Baltimore native before the announcement?
Anyway, this is a bit of a nothing match, as the heels never really look like much of a threat in this one. They do have some fun mannerisms playing off their weird “obnoxious swingers” gimmick (that’s my interpretation, but let’s not gloss over the fact that Dar offered Brian Kendrick a three way back at WWE Fastlane to celebrate their impending victory.) most notably because every tag between the two is a clingy hug.
Of the issues with this match it has to be said that both Banks and Fox looked really sloppy on this one. A lot of their sequences were just clumsy and awkward, and their timing never really seemed to sync up. I’m going to blame it on Fox mostly, given Sasha’s pedigree, and she hits a really cool looking diving meteora to Dar from the top rope. It really has to be said that Cole’s calls in this match were also problematic. I already feel pretty uncomfortable that so many black performers in the WWE are given the gimmick of “dances + smiles,” and that these characters are always described with the phrase “he just loves to have fun!” makes that statement feel a bit like coded racism. Not directly evil racism, which is only acceptable in the WWE if you’re playing “the evil foreigner,” but it’s a micro-aggression all the same. Elsewhere he calls Dar and Fox “evil,” but like, why? They’re obnoxious, sure, but that hardly makes them evil.
Anyway, the end comes right after the meteora, as Swan throws Dar back in the ring, hits a phoenix splash and earns the win. The faces dance in the ring as the swingers head to the back to lick their wounds and…nope, too easy, not going to go there. Not a great match, but it was a fine cool down spot and gave the crowd a face win, which the night was pretty short on. The heels are no better or worse than they were going into this, and Swan reverses the WWE curse on hometown performers. As for Banks, hopefully this lets her move on. She was slumming it in this feud, so it’s good she got a victory out of it, but now it’s time for her to do something better.
Mid-match nonsense: Elias Samson
If there’s one thing that defined this event it was a lack of logic. If there’s a second thing, it was stretching for time. They clearly underbooked the card, so we get stuff like this mid-match concert from Elias Samson, who (sadly) is no longer going by ‘The Drifter’ moniker. This was fine and earned what really felt like genuine heat on a performer who has struggled to connect with crowds in the past. It is also the first time I noticed that Samson has a bit of a lisp – not ideal for a guy with a singing gimmick and three s’s in his name. I would’ve rather seen Samson run in on the Miz’s match (as he had hinted in his song on Monday) to set up a program with the Lunatic Fringe, but it’s good to see he got a spot on the show.
Match 3: Bayley Vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship in a Kendo Stick on a Pole Match
Bayley’s out first and several of her wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men fail to properly inflate. Bayley goes up to try and jostle them loose to no avail. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for the performer’s run on the main roster, I don’t know what is. Not to get melodramatic, but remember NXT Bayley? The lovable underdog who became a sensation by being the relatable underdog who struggled to get ahead? The girl who we saw improve with each match just come up short against the better developed characters, endearing her to an audience that just wanted her to have her moment in the sun? Whose title win over Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was a genuinely moving moment that proved that women’s wrestling was legit to a Western audience? Well, that Bayley is gone, and this new “nerdy superfan” Bayley is just…sad, I guess. It’s just sad.
The narrative heading into this match was that no one thinks that Bayley can get “EXTREME!!!!” even as Bliss has spent the past several weeks wailing on her with a kendo stick. Earlier in the show, Bayley does a backstage promo where she says she’s been studying up on ECW originals like Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman (even name checking Mr. Personality Steve Blackman in the process) to learn how to get extreme. She then destroys any credibility that research may’ve built by saying she also saw Wonder Woman this weekend and it reminded her that she became a wrestler to be an inspiration to young girls. Now that’s a noble endeavor, and I’ve heard Wonder Woman certainly is a female character that knows how to kick ass, but a grown woman getting inspired to fight her (much smaller) bully by a superhero movie isn’t hardcore. It’s also not likely to intimidate an opponent who has been beating the shit out of you with a practice sword for the past several weeks. It’s just weak writing.
There’s little denying that this booking of Bayley as total nerd has hurt her appeal either, as Bliss gets a noticeably larger pop when she hits the ramp. Sadly, this match just doubled down on the character flaws that have made Bayley lose so much steam. The very first thing that happens is Bliss stepping aside and telling Bayley she’ll let her go for the kendo stick only for Alexa to attack her from behind. Bayley looks like an idiot. They quickly bring the stick down and Bayley grabs it then lingers with it for a solid 30 seconds. Seriously, she does that “stare at the stick, stare at your opponent, stare at the stick” thing like four times before she even attempts a swing, allowing Bliss time to hit a spear on Bayley and grab the stick herself. Once again, Bayley looks like an idiot.
Alexa goes on to (once again) beat the shit out of Bayley with the Kendo stick in what fast becomes a squash match. Yes, at one point Bayley catches Bliss in a Bayley to Belly, but Alexa holds onto the stick and is able to get a few more licks in. Eventually she drop-toe holds Bayley into the corner where the kendo stick has been set up (side note: Bayley loses like all of her matches by being unwittingly driven into the corner for some reason) which allows Bliss to then hit a DDT for the win in five minutes. Yeesh. Stupid ending number 3.
Don’t get me wrong, I like that Alexa Bliss is still champion, but this felt like a character assassination on Bayley more than anything. It wasn’t a particularly competitive match and for a super fan, Bayley made so many stupid mistakes that it’s like she’s never watched the product before. She looks like a total chump who can be taken advantage of by anyone with half a brain, which is not a trait that should be a part of your “inspiration to little girls” character. WWE is doing something similar with Sami Zayn over on Smackdown, turning him into a neurotic Woody Allen-type nerd who loses all the time, with only his in-ring work keeping him above water. Talented as she may be, Bayley just isn’t the kind of performer that can survive bad writing like this, and the WWE is just destroying her potential here.
Match 4: Sheamus and Cesaro Vs. The Hardy Boyz for the Raw Tag Team Championship in a Steel Cage Match
I don’t know if this is a contentious opinion or not, but I like Shesaro. I like them better than I like the current iteration of the Hardy Boyz. I’m not in love with their entrance attire (the kilts are cool, but the jackets and glasses bit not so much), but I think they’re a fun bruiser team that are deceptively athletic. Contrast that with the Hardys, whom necessity has forced to revive the antiquated “Team Xtreme” gimmick despite its (and their) advanced age. These guys have been performing a very high-impact style of wrestling for over 20 years, meaning neither is the spring chicken they used to be. Sure, they can still hit the high spots and put on decent matches, but you can’t deny that they’ve lost a step or two in recent years. Even with their career-revitalizing turn as the Broken Hardys, it wasn’t their in-ring work that got them over. It was the over-the-top character stuff that made them stand out, and helped hide the fact that these 40-year-old men can’t move like 19-year olds anymore. Putting these two teams in a highly physical gimmick match with a lot of built-in rest spots is only going to expose the physical disparity between them.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that here. Both teams go for a number of tandem spots and team-up moves that just look sloppy or take too long to be exciting. Matt in particular looks pretty gassed through a lot of the match, which is unfortunate because he’s in it longer than Brother Nero. Naturally, this means there are a lot of rest spots in the match, which typically takes the form of one or two people lingering near the top of the cage about to escape only to be thwarted by the other team. At least I hope that’s why they went to the well so much, because if not it’s just another logical fallacy in the writing and pacing of these matches. I’ve never really understood why you would let people go through the doors of the cage in a cage match, because if that’s an option, why would anyone try to climb up and over? It takes much longer, has got to be tiring, and when your opponent inevitably gets up to stop you, you’re just going to fall from an even higher position. Look, we all know it’s to milk the excitement from the audience and build suspense, but then again, why even make the door an option? But I digress.
Jeff manages to escape up and over the side at one point, leaving Matt to get double teamed for a few minutes before Brother Nero climbs the corner and dives back into the fray and onto Sheamus and Cesaro. It’s the typical Jeff Hardy spot, and while it’s just as good as it ever was, I’m just kind of bored with the familiar Hardy match template that I’ve been seeing since the 90s, and it’s a little lame that these dudes are still pushing the same moveset and Hot Topic aesthetic all these years later that made them household names in the Attitude Era. The other part of the “Jeff jumps off the cage” trope is that it ends up costing the Hardys the match – which it does! So spent is Brother Nero that Sheamus and Cesaro have time to get up and climb over the cage as Matt tries to drag his lifeless carcass out of the door. They try to milk it like it’s a close race, but it’s not and Shesaro wins.
Despite my bitching, this was a good match between these two teams, with Shesaro getting to showcase a lot of power moves and the Hardyz getting a lot of their signature offense in. Shesaro has a lot of strong double-team moves – the assisted white noise and the double razor’s edge were particularly cool – but it took a lot of work to get Matt (who took both) into position for them. The Hardyz played their part, but never really caught my eye in this match. It felt like Shesaro could’ve had this caliber bout with pretty much anyone.
Match 5: Austin Aries Vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship in a Submission Match
They recently shortened Aries’ entrance theme and it bothers me. You’d figure on a show where they literally had Elias Samson sing about how Baltimore is covered in filth, they could cram the missing 12 seconds of AAs theme song back in for a title match. That being said, this was another strong match from these two with another unfortunate loss for Aries. Unlike the last bout, where you could chalk his loss up to shenanigans, this time The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived just got beat. Yes he did technically make Neville tap out on the outside of the ring, but that’s not really going to protect him from the stigma of being a three-time loser to the King of the Cruiserweights.
As one would expect from these two, the action between the ropes was top notch. They start off working a more cerebral catch-as-catch-can style before moving into a lot of their high-flying spots and ending in a reasonably cerebral way. Aries runs much of the beginning of the match before tweaking his knee on a dive to the outside to turn the tides. Aries crawls back into things and misses a missile dropkick that lets Neville slap him into the Rings of Saturn that Aries just barely gets to the ropes for. Neville tries to go for it again, but Aries reverses it and instead slaps Neville in the Rings. As a callback to their last match, Neville grabs the referee to try and force a disqualification, but Aries calms the situation only to turn around into a superkick. The match is littered with cool little sequences like this too, and it’s a credit to both performers that they can still find interesting twists on these callback spots.
At one point Aries hits a sunset flip powerbomb and transitions into the Last Chancery, only for Neville to pull them both outside. Despite this, however, Aries holds on and makes Neville tap – but on the outside of the ring, so it doesn’t count. After some great back and forth, Aries goes for a suicide dive, but Neville….I guess ducks? There are actually a few camera issues in this final sequence, as it looked like Neville was never there and Aries just whiffed it. Neville goes up for the Red Arrow and hits it on Aries’ back before slapping on the Rings of Saturn to make him tap and retain the title. Again, the camera sort of exposed the business here, because it’s clear that Aries needed to move into position to let Neville hit him – a fact that is only made clearer on the slow-mo replay.
Much like the Bayley match (though of significantly better quality) I like the winner retaining their championship here, but I worry for what this does to the losing competitor. Aries put on a great performance and is a likable wrestler with a great moveset and a connection to the crowd, but he’s also now a three time loser. He looks like a total chump who just can’t get it done against Neville, even if there are asterisks on those wins. Where he (and the creepy smile the he shot the camera after his loss) go from here, I don’t know. A program with Miz over the IC title would be cool…though I think he’d probably lose that one too, so I don’t know.
Match 5: Fatal Five Way to Name the Number 1 Contender for the Universal Championship
Before the start of this match they run the first promo for the upcoming (heavy sigh) Great Balls of Fire PPV. Yes they’re going to stick with that, and there’s no going back now. Worse still, the logo is…well there’s no two ways about it, the logo looks like a dick and balls. Like, it’s not even subtle. This is a thing that passed through one, if not many committees of professionals and is being supported by a Fortune 500 company. What a time to be a live.
Anyway, this match was the entire selling point of this pay per view, and you know what? It delivered. Everyone got some time to shine in this bout, and the action is constantly moving. Yes, for an Extreme Rules match it doesn’t get very extreme, but it’s a solid main event that uses everyone well and leaves you with a good impression of every participant. Before I get to the action, you’ve undoubtedly heard by now that Samoa Joe is your winner, and I for one am elated. Joe has been one of the biggest names in wrestling for the past nearly 20 years yet despite that, he has only been on the WWE main roster for about four months. As such, Joe vs. Brock Lesnar has been a dream match for hardcore wrestling fans (read: nerds) for more than a decade – one that no one thought would happen outside of Fire Pro Wrestling or the create-a-wrestler feature of a WWE 2K game. It has the potential to be a seriously intense wrestling match between two monsters with shoot fight experience, or (unfortunately) a one-sided squash, as it’s widely rumored that Brock is expected to carry the belt until next Wrestlemania and run through Raw‘s entire main event roster (i.e. everyone in this match plus Braun Strowman) en route to a WM 31 rematch with Roman Reigns that I find hard to believe anyone actually wants to see. Nonetheless, it’s great to see Joe get this win and I am genuinely looking forward to the match with Brock at (heavy sigh) Great Balls of Fire.
There’s a lot going on in this match, so let’s fire off some bullet points on your main event spot:
- Finn comes out as Fonzie Balor rather than the Demon King, so it does telegraph that he’s probably not going to win, and that’s good. He’s very popular, but I don’t think he’s a big enough star (yet) to get mulched by Lesnar and recover. He needs a few more signature wins under his belt to avoid falling into Neville circa 2015 territory.
- When the match starts everyone pairs off and starts brawling on the outside except Roman, who just chills in the ring getting booed mercilessly for what (arguably) is a smart move. Discretion being the something something of valor.
- Reigns then runs through most of the competition till Joe and Wyatt team up and start wrecking everyone. Finn gets it the worst, but everyone gets knocked around by the duo for most of the middle of the match. It’s a bit of a revelation. Bray and Joe work really well together. If they somehow thematically matched more than “we’re large bad guys” they’d be a cool team.
Bray and Joe are the ones to introduce anything “extreme” into the match, with Bray smacking Finn around with a chair several times, then he and Joe putting the chair on Balor’s chest and hitting dueling senton splashes on him. Later they actually pick up part of the steel steps and run around the ring smacking it into Finn and Roman, which is the first time I’ve seen that in a match (including the terrible stairs match from TLC 2014).
Best buds Joe and Bray break up when Wyatt pulls Joe into the path of a suicide dive from Rollins. Joe then breaks up Wyatt’s pin attempt on Rollins (who does the best sell for a Sister Abigail I’ve seen) and they beef throughout the rest of the match.
- Finn sets Bray up on the Spanish announce table but Joe drags him away in a Coquina Clutch, only for both gents to get speared through the barrier by Roman on the outside. This, the spot of the match, was followed up by Seth frog splashing Bray through the announce table to great applause.
- This leads to a few minutes of Roman vs. Seth which (of course) Roman gets the best of. Eventually it’s an everyone in the pool scenario until Finn hits Reigns with the Coup de Grace and goes for the pin, only for Joe to run in and put him in the Coquina Clutch. Finn passes out to give Joe the win.
There was a lot of talent on this card, and yet only two “better than okay” matches on the show. The main event was great, and the Cruiserweights were strong as always, but the rest of the card was a mix of average (tag/IC titles) to passable (mixed tag) to just straight dreck (women’s title match).