Well, all those new subscribers who signed up for the free month of April and gratis screening of Extreme Rules can at least boast that they're up to speed on all the new and upcoming original WWE Network programming. And, if they've read this far, run-on sentences.
On Sunday night, WWE went to Chicago with stipulation matches aplenty, and largely delivered with a night of solid matches – though lowered initial expectations certainly helped raise my opinion of the final product. But before this preamble prattles on past its welcome, here are the five things I took away (and the usual smattering of Twitter-worthy sidebar notes) from the seventh-annual edition of Extreme Rules.
5. Time to Postmortem Preshow Matches
Seriously. These broadcasts already (and somewhat unwarrantedly) balloon to the length of a Bachelor-plus-After the Final Rose finale. Not to mention Sunday nights are prime real estate these days. So fine, I'll DVR Mad Men, Revenge (don't judge), Veep and Last Week Tonight and even try and dodge spoiler landmines regarding the Mets vs. Yankees rubber match. But don't keep asking me to squat on my couch before the sun goes down to catch a "kickoff" match, plus have the nerve to put a title at stake (or, in last night's case, pull a swerve and sub in Wade Barrett vs. Neville to compensate for Daniel Bryan being shelved). Eight to 11 p.m. Very simple. Or, as was evident watching Extreme Rules, a condensed couple hours for an intermediate PPV might be even more prudent.
4. Too Long for This WWE Universe
Or at least this loyal member of it. Professional obligation bounds me, but had it not, I may well have checked out of Extreme Rules before Randy Orton and Seth Rollins ever clocked in for their Heavyweight Championship bout and caught up with the aforementioned, infinitely more compelling Subway Series send-off. How many prematch packages summing up non-starter feuds, random squash segments (OK, re: Ryback vs. Bo Dallas) and countless pauses for self-promotion that make the proceedings feel anything but live can one individual withstand? Oh, right, but it's only $9.99! Keep telling us that.
3. Neville: The Man That Good Timing Remembered
Alternate title: Daniel Bryan's spot is Neville's if he wants it. Not necessarily in the hearts of fans or the larger culture, but certainly on the roster, where there's suddenly a big fat gap for a high-flying, multi-discipline "little guy" to take on and cut down his competition. Especially during a moment when heels like Sheamus are going on about matters of size. And it's hard to imagine Barrett being asked to job out at an event where he was originally challenging for a significant title unless it were confirmation that they're putting a rush order on Neville's rise. It's too bad that Bad News was limited to making a rookie look good (especially after how impressively he performed a couple weeks back against John Cena), and hopefully time and health are on Bryan's side, but for Neville, sky and ceiling do appear to be his only limitations.
2. Roman Rescued Super Cena
Sadly, Rusev and John Cena's Russian Chain Match was neither brutal nor particularly stirring, although it did beg the question: Were WWE's prop masters watching re-runs of I'm Telling! when they erected those flashing lights? But lo and behold, Roman Reigns and Big Show exceeded probably even their own expectations and executed a Last Man Standing confrontation that provided thrilling near-finishes and spot after spot. It was, shockingly, the match of the night, and credit to both guys for keeping us on our toes and taking as good as they gave. That's three straight PPVs in which Reigns in particular has delivered exactly as he'd promised, even if plenty of fans still have him on the hook for some kind of upside left unsaid. He may still be a work in progress week to week, but Roman's got me thinking he's big money when it counts, or at least worth $9.99.
1. Twenty Days And Counting…
That's right – it's less than three weeks until the next PPV, Payback. Will all the lucky viewers who caught Extreme Rules on the house pony up for several months now that they have a reasonable idea what to expect during marquee events and a very clear understanding of the Network's broader slate of original programming? Maybe, if there's a main event at Payback that actually leaves them feeling like they witnessed something more special than Kane inconclusively interfering in Rollins and Randy Orton's climactic contest before Rollins RKO'd Orton and kept his title in a bloodless, lifeless steel-cage affair. Much of last night set the table for rematches and continuations of ongoing stories (New Day defending against Cesaro and Kidd, Cena and Rusev battling till one quits, Sheamus and Ziggler kissing their rivalry goodbye, etc.), leaving us with those fateful three weeks of Raw and SmackDown to create an enticing main-event picture that zeroes in on Reigns, Rollins, Orton and, perhaps, Bray Wyatt. Godspeed, bookers and writers, because should you fall short come Payback, subscribers may be the ones looking for redemption.
Below the Belt:
- I get it: Ride this New Day heat to warm up interest in the tag division.
- Still, Kofi deserves better.
- Maybe Orton vs. Triple H at SummerSlam?
- Great observation by Miami Herald's Scott Fishman about Naomi biting Sasha Banks. Maybe it's setting up the Boss' debut?
- Not sure I get Sheamus losing.
- Props to the fan dressed as Goldust.
- Is the Chicago Street Fight over?
- Well, now we're just making the Accolade look weak.
- Jeez, Michael Cole, don't sound too surprised that the Divas are putting on a good match.
- Sign of the Night: Plenty to choose from, but I'm going with "Roberts < Garcia" and "Fink > Roberts".
- Line of Night: "Whadda ya mean Big Show needs to lose weight?" Paul Wight with the improv!
- Move of the Night: That was a pretty sweet leaping spear from Reigns on Show through the announce table. Though Roman getting choke-slammed through the tables was solid, too.