When the WWE went to the montly Pay Per View format some 13 years ago, one of the key new components of the lineup was Backlash. The idea behind this show was to push it as retribution for those who lost at Wrestlemania, and the show would feature many rematches from the grand stage. This show became a favorite among fans, and even grew in value recently with the WWE draft becoming a yearly staple as well. With that added event, Backlash became the last time guys could face each other, as they would often end up on opposite shows via said draft. A great tradition was built, but in an effort to modernize and "shake things up", the last year has featured WWE's revamping of the Pay Per View lineup. One of the casualties was backlash, as the decision to go to themed Pay Per Views left Backlash with as much of a future as a hobo in Detroit. Now, in its place, is Extreme Rules, a takeoff of the former "One Night Stand" that supposedly channels the spirits of the fallen ECW. However, in a day where WWE is not looking to disgust and sicken the fans, the concept of Extreme may not satisfy the bloodthirsty, nostalgic fans of the late 90s. With that said, there were enough spots to get you out of your seat, but more ring psychology in 3 hours than ECW had in 3 years. In a PG environment, this show maintained a level of intensity without reverting to cheap tactics like blood to pull in the crowd. Let's take an in depth look back at the first ever April edition of Extreme Rules.
The show opened up with Triple H's music hitting. Immediately, I tried to think of the last time a Triple H match opened a Pay Per View. Nothing came to mind. However, it was not to be anyway, as the smoke on stage puffed, but The Game was nowhere to be found. As it turned out, Sheamus attacked Triple H in the back before he could go out, leaving him motionless after some lead pipe shots. I really liked this booking, as it makes Sheamus come off looking like a man without a conscience, and someone who will do whatever it takes to hurt his opponent and win.
Since that match obviously couldn't happen (at least not then), ShoMiz took advantage of the seemingly open spot on the card and reminded people how great they are and how Bret Hart stills needs to tell them that. This leads to Teddy Long coming out and making them fight a gauntlet where the first team to beat them would get a title shot on tomorrow's 3 hour draft special. Funny spot reminiscent of "The Breakfast Club" where every time Miz talked, Teddy added another team to the gauntlet, until Big Show finally covered Miz's mouth to save them from further trouble. I'm liking the way Miz talks a big game and thinks he can never stop, where Show is like his supervisor and has to stop him when he's going to far. It's an interesting dynamic. As for the matches, Truth and Wisdom are outh first (R-Truth and John Morrison if you have forgotten), and they do well but get disqualified when Morrison neglects to let go of the triangle choke he has locked on to Big Show once Show gets to the ropes. Good to see Morrison on the PPV and they didn't look weak going into the draft which is certainly good. Next out was HenVP who remind me that both men have done absolutely nothing as singles and should probably remain a tag team for their own benefit. On this night, they don't do very well though, as after MVP hit the playmaker (still my least favorite finisher), Big Show nailed him with the knockout punch and Miz lifelessly had his arm over MVP for the pin and a second win. Lastly, out came the Hart Dynasty with Uncle Bret and it was literally a quick attack on Big Show, a Hart Attack on Miz and a pin for the win. This gives them a title shot tomorrow while Bret is still supposed to declare ShoMiz the greatest Tag Team of all time. On a night with very little storyline development, I'd watch for that segment tomorrow as it should be a lot of fun.
Before the next match, we try and get an update on Triple H, but we get Sheamus saying that he hopes Triple H comes out to fight later, but if he doesn't, Sheamus wins either way. Short and nasty, just the way I like heel promos.
The first scheduled match of the night is next and a barber chair is on the stage for it. Obviously that means we're talking about CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio, as the stipulation is that if Punk loses, he gets his head shaved. This match stole the show, as near falls, innovative moves, and incredible psychology defined this match. It's a good thing too, as I criticized their match at Wrestlemania for being short and predictable, and this more than made up for that lackluster performance. The story being told was an even contest which was being tipped in Punk's favor due to his Society interfering at any opportunity. However, Gallows and Serena were removed from ringside, evening the odds and even making it seem Rey finally had the advantage. A good heel is always prepared though, as when Rey set up for the 619, a hooded figure in a Straight Edge hoodie attacked Rey, leaving him vulnerable for the Go To Sleep which Punk hit for the win. The rumor is that this figure is in fact Joey Mercury, the former MnM Partner of John Morrison. That has been the rumor for months, and it looks like it is finally coming to fruition. However, live audiences members have reported that they thought it was Alex Riley from FCW so I suppose we will find out for sure soon enough. This little mystery doesn't take away from the fact that this was a fantastic match that solidified Punk as a great group leader and top notch heel.
From a match that stole the show to a match no one cared about, next we got the "heated" match between former partners Shad Gaspard and JTG from Cryme Tyme. It was a strap match, so if you are a wrestling historian, you could basically predict how it would go. In fairness, both men did the best they could, but I just couldn't care about this match. Shad got himself some new music and trunks which was interesting, but a new look and attitude couldn't get him a win. With the old strategy of being fallen but stil touching the posts that the dominant big guy touches and then hitting your finisher and stealing the win story, JTG emerged victorious, effectively making Shad look like a chump. I'm sure Shad will get an initial push anyway, but he is pretty lame. I actually think JTG with this victory might do ok in the midcard. He can wrestle well and has a presence. Someone compared his character to Eddie Guerrero in a "good guy who cheats" way and I think with his own twist, it could work. I wouldn't go to the extent Eddie went, but JTG has potential.
Before we get the next match, we finally do get an update on Triple H. Todd Grisham reports that Triple H has suffered a neck injury and it's doubtful that he'll be able to compete. At this point, there are 2 possibilities:
1) Triple H doesn't compete and takes his break from WWE, leaving Sheamus to brag about injuring Triple H ad nauseum.
2) Triple H comes out to fight even though hurt, which is a classic face move, but he loses because of the injuries, making Sheamus look dastardly by taking down the valiant face.
We would find out later which of the choices WWE went with, but before that, we got the first title match of the night. It seemed early for it, but I like when I cannot predict the match order on a card. In this case, we're talking about Randy Orton vs. Jack Swagger for the World Heavyweight title in an Extreme Rules match. Going in, I felt this match style would play out well for Swagger since he could find a way to win without cleanly beating arguably the top wrestler in the entire WWE. Of course, I didn't think about the fact that Orton is still "the viper" and even though he's a face, is still vicious. Highlight of the match was the trash can shots from Orton on Swagger as they looked brutal. Solid match though as it could have gone either way, but after an RKO counter, Swagger hit the Dr. Bomb on Orton onto a chair for the win. It's about time Swagger got a big win, and the way it happned still makes Orton look pretty strong. Not the greatest match of all time but certainly a solid Pay Per View contest.
A cool moment happened after the match, and after Orton RKO'ed Swagger (why not since the match was over) he started to walk up the ramp when Sheamus' music hit. They had a litle staredown which reminded us all of their match a couple of months ago and hinted that perhaps the future holds more between the two. In the present, Sheamus was out to cut a promo about how he promised it would be a bad night for Triple H. Of course, the downtrodden face valiantly makes his way out of the trainer's room despite injury and attempts to avenge his attacker. After fighting bravely for about 10 minutes and even having the advantage at a couple of points in the match, The Game finaly succombed the the FOURTH, that's right FOURTH bicycle kick to finally suffer defeat. Classic storytelling where the face fought hard but could not overcome his injuries inflicted by the bully heel. Great story with an ending, as after the match, Sheamus attacked again and Hunter left on a stretch. It looks like he will be out for at least a little while, and Sheamus will reap the benefits as you KNOW he will brag about this feat for a long time to come.
Short interview with Edge was next as he made it clear that Jericho would not escape the cage and he won't try to himself. Obviously he wants to inflict pain on the annoying Jericho, and since you can pin or subit someone inside the cage, it looks like Edge will go that route to try and get the win.
Before that match, we got the Women's title match. I still don't understand the "Extreme Makeover" stipulation, but there was a huge table of makeup out there. Perhaps Vickie Guerrero should consider using some. Anyway, it was basically an Extreme Rules match with "female" equipment as there were some brutal looking ironing board shots to start the match. Pretty short match that saw Beth Phoenix hit her Glam Slam to become new champion. This furthers my prediction that Beth will head back to Raw with Eve going back to Smackdown in the draft.
Cage match is next, but first Jericho gets interview time as well, and he decalres that he'll end Edge's career. That wasn't quite the case, but they did put on an excellent cage match. No blood under PG rules, but it wasn't necessary. There was a great story told as both men really wanted to kill each other. Interesting spot where Jericho had the door open and could have easily left, but chose to come back and inflict more pain. It ended up costing him, as when he tried to escape later, he took a spear for the loss. While I don't like cage matches that ended with a pinfall or submission, I guess it made sense in this case. I just would rather see an exciting conclusion with one man emerging from the cage while the other is bruised and battered. Either way, Edge gets his big win which he has needed since his return from injury.
The main event was of course Cena vs. Batista in a Last Man Standing Match. This type of match plays well to two brawler types, as they could beat the hell out of each other to the point where they literally can't stand. That is what happened for most of the match, with the high spot being an Attitude Adjustment through the announce table. Another great spot was Cena being kicked through a table in the corner of the ring in an innovative maneuver. The story being told in this bout was that both men did absolutely their worst to keep the other down, but neither man would stay down. After about 20 minutes, Cena gets innovative and duct tapes Batista's legs around the ring post, making him unable to stand up and thus not being able to answer the 10 count. Based on recent rumors, is this the last image we'll see of "the Animal?" It's very possible, and if so, I'll remember his work over the past 6 months as the best of his career.
I'm sure there are some that will find an "Extreme" Pay Per View without blood to be a dud, but I am not one of those people. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories being told throughout the night, and the use of weapons is something you don't see at every Pay Per View. Match of the night was clearly Punk/Mysterio, but Edge/Jericho and Batista/Cena were excellent as well. Overall a solid night and definitely a great last hurrah before the draft changes everything.