WWE Extreme Rules 2014: Grading Each Superstar's Performance at the Event
A wrestling show is only as good as the performances of the men and women that compete on it.
Sunday night's Extreme Rules was no different. The competitors in two of the three main events of the evening delivered on the potential that surrounded their respective matches, ensuring that the show would be remembered in a largely positive light.
The Shield and Evolution delivered a Match of the Year candidate while Daniel Bryan and Kane ended the show on a high note with a wild and chaotic Extreme Rules match.
John Cena and Bray Wyatt disappointed, but Hornswoggle and El Torito made up for it with a match no one ever suspected would be as good as it ultimately was.
Go ahead, reread that last sentence. I'll wait.
The undercard was fairly decent, with Cesaro and Bad News Barrett turning in solid performances while Paige and Rusev made their pay-per-view debuts.
With the company riding a wave of momentum thanks to solid writing, the Superstars appeared more motivated to deliver matches and performances that fans will remember for weeks and months to come.
Did they succeed?
An accomplished luchador in Mexico, El Torito was the unquestioned star of the WeeLC match between he and Hornswoggle on Sunday night's WWE Kickoff show.
Torito was responsible for some of the best high spots throughout the match and moved with the grace of a much better wrestler than the comedy act he is portrayed as on Monday and Friday nights.
With a lesser wrestler than Torito, the match likely would have gone done in infamy as one of the worst WWE has produced.
Instead, the WeeLC match was a pleasant surprise that wound up being significantly better than it had any right to be. Moreover, it was a much more enjoyable match than some that made the actual pay-per-view broadcast, and that is a clear testament to the performers involved.
Namely El Torito, whose size may be limited but whose talent was immeasurable Sunday evening.
While most recognize Hornswoggle as the subject of God-awful comedy skits for the better part of the last decade, he was actually a trained wrestler prior to entering World Wrestling Entertainment. And during the Extreme Rules kickoff show, fans were treated to a glimpse of what he is capable of when having a crutch such as the WeeLC gimmick to lean on.
Unlike his opponent, Hornswoggle is not a remarkable wrestler in the traditional sense. When allowed to put his mind to work and create crowd-pleasing high spots, however, he excels, as seen in his involvement at WrestleMania 27 during the Money in the Bank Ladder match.
Sunday night, he and El Torito worked together to deliver one of the funnest matches in recent WWE history. While Los Matadores and 3MB played a significant role in the match, especially when it came to taking the big bumps that accentuated the rest of the action, it was a shining moment for the long-tenured Hornswoggle and his heated rival.
The fact that he is not the wrestler that El Torito is and that he needed to rely more heavily on the match gimmick knocked his grade a notch below his opponent's.
The former World Heavyweight champion entered Extreme Rules with little in the way of momentum on his side, and he left the same way.
After losing multiple matches to his opponents in the lead-up to the Triple Threat Elimination match, no one really believed Swagger was any sort of threat to either Rob Van Dam or Cesaro. He proved those doubters correct, becoming the first to be eliminated during Sunday's opening contest and leaving many to wonder why he was involved in the match in the first place.
A strong ring worker, Swagger was his typical self during his stint in the ring. He was fundamentally sound, kept up with his opponents and even had a cool spot where he ran the ropes, brought Van Dam down to the mat and locked in the Patriot Lock for a near submission.
But shortly thereafter, he was superlexed from the ring apron, up over the top rope and to the mat below, then was finished off with a Five Star Frog Splash that ended his evening earlier than he would have preferred.
Where he goes from here is uncertain. During the Extreme Rules post-show, Zeb Colter strongly hinted that he may be looking for a new partner for Swagger, who has always seemed to do his best work in a tag team setting.
Give the lack of true competition in the tag division at this point, that may be the best option for a man once thought of as being a major player in WWE's future.
Rob Van Dam
At this point in Rob Van Dam's Hall of Fame-worthy career, if you have seen one of his matches, you have seen all of his matches.
Which is not meant to be a disparaging remark about Mr. Monday Night. He has put his body on the line in breathtaking displays of athleticism for so long that he has won over a legion of fans that will continue to support him regardless of what he does.
Still, one can only wonder what a Van Dam in his prime would have been able to accomplish with Cesaro Sunday night, what kind of match they would have had and the rub the Swiss Superman would have received as a result.
Van Dam, at the state he is in today, is still better than a large portion of the young roster around him. He knows exactly what moves to do when and what spots to put where in order to elicit a desired reaction. It is the mark of a truly great worker.
Sunday's performance was not one of his better ones, but that may have had a lot to do with the Triple Threat Elimination match stipulation that adversely affected the beginning of the match. None of the three competitors appeared to be on the same page early, and it hurt the flow of the bout.
By the time it got down to Van Dam and Cesaro, there was clearly chemistry between them and reason to believe that they would have had an above-average singles bout. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and Van Dam's return to WWE pay-per-view was a mediocre one.
As he shared the ring with two former heavyweight champions Sunday night, it became clear that Cesaro was the best wrestler in the match.
The so-called Swiss Superman worked his strong style, leveling both Jack Swagger and Rob Van Dam with hard uppercuts and forearms, all the while serving as the centerpiece of the match. It was clear from the very get-go, when he was the last to enter the ring, that the entire match was being booked around the former United States champion.
And rightfully so.
There are very few wrestlers as good as he is right now. His strength, look and ability between the ropes have led to him receiving a fairly sizable push since WrestleMania 30. With Paul Heyman as his mouthpiece, he now has all the necessary tools to achieve heavyweight championship glory.
The work between Cesaro and Van Dam, coupled with a bit during the Extreme Rules post-show, seems to indicate that the two may continue working with one another into the future, perhaps ending their program on June 1 at Payback. If that is the case, it will give them one more opportunity to deliver that truly inspired effort that many expect they are capable of.
Cesaro stood head and shoulders above his peers during Sunday night's opening contest, which was fine enough for what it was. All three are capable of better, and they all know it. For now, the former Ring of Honor standout Cesaro will rest easily knowing that he is in a great place with a great manager, and all signs continue to point toward a major push in the coming weeks and months.
R-Truth carried the workload, what little of it there was, for his team Sunday night as he played punching bag for Alexander Rusev in the 2-on-1 Handicap match.
Truth, a veteran of the ring wars and a former Tag Team and United States champion, did a fine job of bumping around the squared circle for a brute of a rookie who clearly has big things in his future. While booking has not been kind to him over the last year, he remains a well-liked and well-respected Superstar among fans who remember some of his past success and find him to be an energetic performer who keeps them entertained.
He scored some token offense against Rusev but largely made the younger, more athletically gifted star look phenomenal en route to tapping out to the Accolade.
Truth did exactly as he was asked, and the entire match, though not a classic, succeeded because of a it.
Poor Xavier Woods.
The hard-working, well-educated young star was a breath of fresh air and a ball of excitement in both Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT, and many expected that he would go on to great things as an entertaining midcard worker for WWE when he finally got his call-up.
That has not been the case thus far, as he faded from the spotlight two weeks after debuting on the main roster and has been on the losing end of matches more often than not. That continued at Extreme Rules, as he ate a nasty-looking kick from Woods and spent the rest of the match unconscious as ringside.
After the match, as Rusev and Lana were leaving, the Ravishing Russian instructed her Bulgarian Brute to add injury to injury, and Woods found himself on the receiving end of a fallaway slam.
OK, so Lana did not compete in a match at Extreme Rules, but she is an integral part of the Alexander Rusev character, and Sunday night, she got him more heat from the fans in East Rutherford than anything he did during his match.
Dedicating the match to Vladimir Putin may have been an example of the cheapest heat possible, but it worked, as the American fans inside the Izod Center rained down on the leggy blonde with a chorus of boos.
Her expanded microphone time only further proved that there is a bright future ahead for the Ravishing Russian. Lana is incredibly camera friendly, both thanks to her stunning appearance and the manner with which she carries herself. She is, arguably, more over than Rusev at this point and just looks like a star in the making.
While Rusev may not be connecting with audiences this early in his main-roster career, he is excelling in the ring, doing everything asked of him as the company continues to book him like an unstoppable force of nature.
Sunday night, he eliminated Xavier Woods from the equation early with a sickening kick to the face, then turned his attention and fury toward R-Truth. Rusev did a fine job in selling for some of Truth's trademark offense and when it was time for him to fight back and finish off the former United States champion, he did just that, showing great aggression and intensity in the process.
In a day and age where submission moves are more fierce and high-impact finishers are more of the norm, he may need to debut a new maneuver that better captivates the audience. But for right now, the Rusev experiment is working from and in-ring standpoint.
As fans saw Monday night when he met Kofi Kingston in a hard-fought match, Rusev is a superior athletic specimen than the other generic foreign heels that have come through the company over the last decade. He is a better worker than those men, and with a few tweaks of the character as time elapses, Rusev should experience far more success than any of them ever did.
Big E's Intercontinental Championship reign was a major disappointment.
Despite constantly improving and becoming a great old-school babyface, he only defended the title against lower-level heels such as Curtis Axel and Fandango before putting it on the line back in February against Jack Swagger.
From there, he disappeared from television, appearing inconsistently on Raw and SmackDown and making more of an impact on the company's B- and C-level shows Superstars and Main Event.
No matter how good he became or how fun his matches may have been, the company failed to capitalize on his talents. More damning was the fact that the company failed miserably to expand or evolve his character. He was just a generic babyface with a cool power move set who was never given the opportunity to talk.
Sunday night at Extreme Rules, he entered the Izod Center to a smattering of cheers but was otherwise greeted with relative silence. As he has done so often over the last six months, he delivered a very good performance, as he fought back from an onslaught by Bad News Barrett.
Later, he appeared to be surging, but as he hit the ropes, he ran right into the Bullhammer from Barrett and had his shoulders pinned to the mat for the three. The crowd celebrated Barrett's title win while E was left to wonder where that response was when he was winning matches during his title reign.
In the Extreme Rules post-show broadcast, E showed off some of his personality, cutting a promo during a press conference that indicated there is a great deal of humor behind the power lifter. Why the company does not capitalize on that personality and that humor remains a mystery.
Bad News Barrett
Bad News Barrett has had the greatest stretch of his career over the last month, delivering above-average promo work and the finest ring performances of his career as he attempts to climb the ladder back to relevancy in WWE.
Sunday night, he took another step up as he defeated Big E to capture the Intercontinental Championship for the fourth time. The match itself was a quality one. Barrett and E demonstrated fine chemistry as they worked a very traditional heel-babyface formula.
The finishing sequence was fun: E ducked out the way of the Bullhammer, hit the ropes and ran right into a jumping Bullhammer from Barrett, ending his title reign.
Barrett appeared more motivated during Sunday's match. He was quicker, faster and better than he has been as of late, which says a lot given how great he has been since defeating Rey Mysterio on the April 7 episode of Raw.
Barrett has recovered from a mightily disappointing 2013 and proven his determination to be his best in the process. While there is no telling what heights management believes the Brit can ascend to, he seems hellbent on doing everything in his power to one day achieve heavyweight championship glory.
Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton teamed together for the first time in a decade Sunday night.
One would never have known it was that long based on the performance they delivered.
The heel trio worked a formulaic six-man tag match at first, isolating Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins at different times in the match and wearing them down in an attempt to score a pinfall. When Roman Reigns received the hot tag later and the action broke down, they continued their stellar performances.
Batista bumped around for The Shield, taking the team's trademark triple powerbomb.
Triple H and Orton showcased their brawling abilities as they fought through the crowd with Ambrose and Rollins. It was The Game and The Viper who were wiped out when Rollins jumped out of the crowd with a high cross body block, delivering the biggest spot of the match.
Back inside the squared circle, The Animal proved to be a company man, selling Reigns' Superman Punch as if he had been shot and laying down for the second-generation star following the Spear.
It was clear that Sunday was meant to be The Shield's coronation as legitimate headline stars for WWE, and Evolution did a tremendous job of putting them over as such.
There is no act in WWE that has seized more opportunities and delivered in more high-profile situations than The Shield. Whether it was against the cream of the crop, such as John Cena, or against stars lower down the card, like Cody Rhodes and Goldust, the Hounds of Justice have consistently stepped up to the proverbial plate and knocked it out of the park.
They did so again on Sunday, delivering the Match of the Year (to this point) in the process.
Rollins and Ambrose were great as the babyfaces in peril throughout the middle portion of the match while Reigns continued to show great fire as the hot-tag recipient. The second-generation star tore through Orton, Triple H and Batista, the latter of whom he paired off with in the final moments of the bout.
After fighting into the crowd, Ambrose took a nasty fall down a flight of stairs and looked to be moments away from being brutally beaten down by Triple H and Randy Orton. Then, from out of nowhere, the dynamic and risk-taking Seth Rollins took a leap of faith from some 15 feet in the air, taking out both The Game and the Viper, allowing Reigns to deliver the Superman Punch to Batista back in the squared circle and finish him off with the Spear.
As great as the trio were as villains, they have proven to be that much better as fiery babyfaces fighting for justice and going through the most powerful stars in the industry to do so.
A great match, and one of the shining examples of the greatness of The Shield.
John Cena tried Sunday night. He really did. Unfortunately, a dead crowd following a great six-man tag match coupled with an in-ring story that never really clicked with the audience doomed his contest with Bray Wyatt from the start.
Like their WrestleMania XXX bout, Cena and Wyatt's Steel Cage match at Extreme Rules continued to demonstrate that the two performers simply do not have a natural chemistry with one another. Moreover, it proved that, as great as the story has been between them, they need to focus more on the actual in-ring product rather than telling complex stories in the middle of their matches that just simply do not connect with a live audience.
Cena was his typical hard-working self Sunday night, taking bumps someone in his position does not have to and really fueling the match. He was cut off from trying to escape the cage on numerous occasions by Erick Rowan and Luke Harper but was smart enough to bring them into the cage to neutralize them.
The creepy kid with the Big Show's singing voice rattled him and cost him the match, but Cena will recover, as he always does, and will probably knock Bray off in the rubber match at Payback.
Hopefully, for all involved, that match finally delivers the showstopping match so many believe Cena and Wyatt are capable of.
Bray Wyatt is a once-in-a-generation performer. He is believable in his character and speaks with such conviction that fans young and old completely buy into it. He's cut the best promos of the last decade and captivates audiences with his presence and the aura that surrounds the character.
As great as the presentation is and as phenomenal as Wyatt's performances have been since debuting a year ago, he has yet to prove that he can produce the steak to go along with the sizzle.
Yes, he had a great match with Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble. In all fairness, lots of Superstars have great matches with Daniel Bryan.
Yes, he had a great match against Sheamus on Main Event as late as last Tuesday night. Again, in all fairness, Sheamus is the most underrated worker in WWE and has great matches with many different shapes, sizes and talent levels.
And yes, he worked a very good match with Chris Jericho in NXT. But again, Jericho has made a Hall of Fame career for himself by being one of the best workers of all time.
No one is taking away his contributions from those matches, but one great match against great workers every so often will not be acceptable given his position on the card.
Wyatt is a strong worker, as evidenced in some outstanding six-man tag team matches. But in lengthy singles matches against Kane, Roman Reigns and John Cena—the latter himself being a great big-match worker—Wyatt has disappointed. Worse yet, his weaknesses have been exposed.
At some point, he is going to have to back his phenomenal dedication to his character in every other aspect of his performance with consistently strong ring work.
His facial expressions and the little nuances of his performance at Extreme Rules were strong, as they always are, but overall, his performance at the show was hugely disappointing given the hype and the story surrounding the Steel Cage match against Cena.
Tamina is a very solid wrestler whose power advantage lends itself well to matches against some of the smaller women on the roster. This made her the perfect first challenger to Paige's Divas Championship.
Tamina tossed the champion around the ring throughout the course of her championship opportunity. On one occasion, she caught the petite Brit and slammed her entire body into the guardrail in a scene that could have caused serious damage.
She controlled a large portion of the match, wearing the rookie Diva down and preventing her from making a comeback. A slip-up allowed said comeback, however, and Tamina found herself on the defensive. Still, she managed to throw a kick but probably wished she had not.
Paige caught the foot of Tamina, applied the Scorpion Cross Lock and finished the daughter of "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka's night in disappointing fashion.
Not a Diva to typically get expanded time to showcase her skills on pay-per-view, Tamina delivered a fine performance in front of a crowd that died off significantly following Shield-Evolution earlier in the broadcast.
In her first defense of the Divas Championship, Paige showed the tenacity and aggression that helped her stand out among the other NXT Divas as she took on the bigger, stronger Tamina in a hard-fought contest.
Paige gained the early advantage, pounding away at her opponent and catching her with repeated knee lifts to the face.
As Tamina took control of the bout, Paige had to prove her toughness and resilience. She fought out of a headlock and ultimately finished her challenger's evening with the Scorpion Cross Lock for the win.
For a number of reasons, the crowd in East Rutherford was not behind the match. Much of that may have been the result of the super hot match between Evolution and The Shield, some may have been due to the, um, interesting finish to the Cena-Wyatt match and the rest may have been related to the fact that the company dropped the ball in building the match as anything but a generic title bout.
Still, Paige made the most of her first pay-per-view exposure, working hard and showing the potential she has to be the first true breakout Diva for the company in years.
Kane delivered his best performance in years Sunday night at Extreme Rules.
He worked hard to make WWE World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan look great and took big bumps to play up the Extreme Rules match stipulation. Most importantly, he made fans forget about the awful Corporate Kane character by reverting to his violent and sadistic ways in a main event-worthy match.
One of the most decorated, accomplished and respected wrestlers in WWE history, the Big Red Machine did not have to take some of the bumps that he did Sunday night. Nothing he did or did not do against Bryan would have hurt the legacy he has built for himself. But by giving his all in a match designed to strongly put over his former tag team partner, he sure did enhance that legacy.
The flaming tables spot was unexpected and dangerous, but Kane still took the big bump, doing so without the protection of sleeves like he had when he wrestled in the Attitude Era Inferno matches. That one spot added to the match significantly and helped elevate it above a generic Hardcore match.
While many may have groaned at the prospect of another main event push for Kane, the Big Red Monster more than proved his worth and has earned himself an expanded role at the top of the card for another month at least.
After missing television time thanks to his honeymoon and the unfortunate passing of his father, Daniel Bryan was in need of a strong performance to help regain some of the momentum he lost in the weeks between his title win at WrestleMania and his match against Kane at Extreme Rules.
He delivered that strong performance and did so in a match that does not necessarily play to his strengths as a wrestler.
With the image of Kane attempting to abduct Bryan's wife, Brie, fresh in his mind, the beaded one was intense and aggressive as he took the fight to his former championship-winning partner. He unleashed with kicks, forearm strikes, kendo stick and chair shots to the Devil's Favorite Demon.
He fought him through the backstage area, commandeered a forklift and delivered a breathtaking headbutt from 20 feet in the air.
Bryan withstood a chokeslam through the announce table, sent Kane crashing through a flaming table and landed the running knee for the win.
While most would have liked to see Bryan defend in a more traditional match against a more talented worker than Kane, the champion proved his greatness by working around Kane's limitations at this point in his career and crafting a fun, exciting main event.
The only criticism is that Bryan never really felt like he was in danger of losing the title. That will have to be worked on to prevent boredom or predictability. Luckily, that is a quick and easy fix.