April 29, 2012
Brock Lesnar came home, and the wrestling world hasn’t been the same since. He returned the night after Wrestlemania 28 and crushed John Cena with the F5. And somehow, three years later he’s even hotter than he was then. Now he’s the top star in professional wrestling, and arguably the only crossover star in American wrestling. He’s the first man since The Rock to break through the wrestling bubble and become an actual mainstream superstar.
This is where that run started, as Brock came back to wrestling to battle John Cena in Chicago. Anything goes, two men enter, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen next? And to round out the card we have CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho in a Street Fight for the WWE Championship and Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus in a ⅔ Falls Match for the World Heavyweight Championship. As you might remember, this was a really damn good show.
Opening package is Brock Lesnar killing John Cena with close-up interviews from Brock and Cena mixed in. Builds the contrast between Brock, the me-first prizefighter and Cena, the humble company man who puts the fans first.
Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Booker T are our hosts.
Falls Count Anywhere: Randy Orton vs. Kane
Blow-off from Wrestlemania, as is almost every match on this card. Kane got the surprise win over Orton last month, so you can probably guess who’s taking the pin here. They quickly fight into the crowd, which is actually pretty novel by now after not happening much in recent years. Comparatively, in the Attitude Era almost every pay-per-view featured a match with crowd fighting.
This match demonstrates the problem with the Extreme Rules concept, as Orton and Kane get slammed on the concrete floor for no particular reason. No one cares about this match or this feud, but they have to hurt each other because that’s what the show demands. They fight backstage, where Zack Ryder jumps Kane. I think this is as close as Ryder ever got to revenge on Kane after being put in a wheelchair by him. This match runs a bit long for an opener and backstage fighting isn’t conducive to getting the crowd going.
Orton got the win after an RKO onto a chair.
Rating: **. Wasn’t bad, just dragged a little bit. Cutting five minutes wouldn’t have hurt at all.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Brodus Clay
Dolph being used as job fodder for Brodus Clay. How far we’ve come in the last few years. Things you might not remember: Dolph was tag team partners with Jack Swagger at this point and Brodus had Hornswaggle in his corner. There’s a loud “Let’s Go Ziggler” chant that makes me smile. Because that’s the fan support that forced WWE to notice Dolph deserved better than this.
Dolph busts his ass here trying to make Brodus Clay look good, and only partially succeeds. Everything about Brodus Clay was straight out of the 1980s and he probably would have been fine in that period, but by 2012 the fans wanted more than a funny fat dancing guy. Bizarrely, Clay gets the win with his gigantic Splash in less than five minutes.
Rating: *. Dolph did what he could. And the fact that he always brought it every night, even when he was jobbing to everybody, is the reason he made it.
Tables Match for Intercontinental Championship: Big Show (c) vs. Cody Rhodes
Big Show got his Wrestlemania moment the month before when he knocked out Cody to win the IC Championship. That was the payoff to a good feud where Cody mercilessly mocked Big Show’s innumerable failures at Wrestlemania.
This is an enjoyable match, as the little shithead heel gets his comeuppance from the friendly monster who’s been pushed too far. Cody is slippery and breaks out some nice counters, but it’s mostly just Big Show kicking his ass.
Then the match ends in the most brilliant way I can imagine: Big Show goes to climb into the ring, Cody Dropkicks him, Big Show’s foot breaks the table, and Cody wins.
I can’t imagine a more perfect finish.
Rating: *½. Nothing special, but I’ll rave about that finish until the end of time.
Big Show levels Cody after the match and then Chokeslams him through a table. He’s properly booed for his actions.
Matt Striker interviews Daniel Bryan backstage. He lists all the advantages he has over Sheamus, pumping himself up. It ends with a “Yes!” chant, which the crowd joins him in. Then as he heads to the ring, AJ hovers threateningly in the background. The announcers try to act like the crowd doesn’t love Bryan, which just makes them look stupid.
2/3 Falls Match for World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Mixed response for Bryan at this point, there are definitely still some people booing him. Then the boos for Sheamus are massive. Somehow, he continued to play a face for three more years after this before getting turned.
Fall One: Sheamus displays surprising technical prowess, including locking Bryan in a Texas Cloverleaf. Bryan is scrappy and is able to take over. There’s a good match going on in the ring, meanwhile the announcers are bickering about some other bullshit. What else is new though? Bryan targets the arm and destroys it. And Sheamus has great fire for his comebacks. He gets rolling and he’s just unstoppable, like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode. He pulls off moves that a guy who’s 6’5 and 250 pounds shouldn’t be able to, flying off the top rope.
And yet, in a tribute to both performers, it doesn’t feel unrealistic when Bryan is in control. Bryan is so intense and Sheamus sells to well that Sheamus seems vulnerable even though he’s twice Bryan’s size.
Sheamus crashes into the post with his bad shoulder, and that’s the opening Bryan needs. Bryan targets the shoulder and tears it to pieces with kicks. He kicks and kicks and kicks, refusing to head the referee’s count. Finally, the referee has no choice but to disqualify Bryan, giving the first fall to Sheamus.
Fall Two: It was all part of the plan. Bryan locks Sheamus in the YES! Lock. Sheamus won’t tap, but passes out from the pain. Bryan is awarded the second fall by stoppage.
Fall Three: Doctors check on Sheamus, giving him a long rest period. It seems to me that after the rest period ends, the match has to either start or be awarded to Bryan. But WWE’s rules usually aren’t enforced consistently. Bryan charges in for the kill, but Sheamus blasts him in the face with a Brogue Kick. He takes a long time to cover and Bryan kicks out.
Sheamus can’t even lift his left arm. Great selling. Bryan has victory within his sights, but misses a Diving Headbutt. Sheamus scores with a huge Brogue Kick for the win.
Rating: ****¼. Awesome match, probably not remembered as much as it should be. Such great work from both guys. They were in the wrong roles in terms of face/heel, but they absolutely made it work.
Ryback vs. Aaron Relic and Jay Hatton
Got the names from Wikipedia. This is a trip to Squash City, as Ryback demolishes these two jabronis. Squash matches are actually a useful tool that has largely disappeared from wrestling. The key is that Ryback doesn’t just beat them, he kills them. This culminated with Ryback being over enough to fight CM Punk for the WWE Championship in a pay-per-view main event in his first real PPV match. So apparently they did something right.
Rating: ½* Good squash.
Matt Striker interviews CM Punk, who says nothing of interest.
Street Fight for WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs. Chris Jericho
This rivalry had gotten insanely personal, with Jericho digging into Punk’s family history and even forcing Punk to drink. Jericho comes to to solid heat, and Punk gets a huge pop. A massively personal rivalry, a street fight, two great wrestlers, a hot crowd. Should have the makings of a classic.
Jesus, Punk looks like a tool in those jeans.
Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s not bad, but a bit disappointing. One of my biggest pet peeves in wrestling is when a match that should be grudge match turns out to just be a normal wrestling match. That doesn’t quite happen here, but there isn’t the 10/10 intensity that it needs. Jericho insulted Punk’s family, and now Punk is fighting him for the world title with his family at ringside. It should be armageddon, and instead it’s more of a normal match but with a bit more pop to it. Punk doesn’t bring the fire the way he needs to, and Jericho doesn’t build nearly enough heat.
Jericho talks trash to Punk’s sister in the front row and gets slapped. He goes after her, Punk cuts him off, and now Punk brings the fire. He slams Jericho through the announce table cover and goes for a Piledriver, but Jericho Back Drops out. Jericho tunes up Punk and talks some trash. Jericho gets a beer from under the ring and pours it out on Punk. I do like that. Just old-school, nasty heel work. This is why I always thought Jericho was better as heel, because he really went for it.
The next few minutes are back-and-forth with lots of counters. It’s sort of just become a normal match between the two of them. Jericho hits a Codebreaker and locks in the LIONTAMER! Then he transitions to the Walls of Jericho and Cole acts like that hurts more. Sigh. Punk gets to the ropes, but the referee doesn’t force a break. I like that, it’s a detail that’s sometimes overlooked. Punk happens to find a fire extinguisher and blasts Jericho with it. Lucky Punk, I guess. Punk knocks Jericho onto the announce table, then goes up top for the Flying Elbow. And he hits it PERFECTLY.
That just boosted this match a good bit. Back in the ring Punk locks in the Anaconda Vice, but Jericho beats him with a kendo stick to force a break. Jericho comes back with a Codebreaker that Punk kicks out of. Jericho tries to GTS Punk, which naturally fails. Punk hits his own GTS for the win.
Rating: **¾. Meh. That went on forever and wasn’t especially good. I outlined by complaints above.
Punk celebrates by diving into the crowd. Cena (deservedly) gets shit for no-selling his matches afterward, and Punk should be held to the same standard.
Backstage, we find out Beth Phoenix is not medically cleared to compete. Instead, Nikki Bella will defend the title against a surprise opponent.
Divas Championship: Nikki Bella (c) vs. Layla
Layla has been with WWE for almost a decade at this point, but I honestly can’t tell you anything about her. I vaguely recall Lay-Cool, but I wasn’t really watching Smackdown at that point. Nikki had won the title the week before on Raw. Layla tore up her knee and had missed almost a year before this.
They wrestle for three minutes, the Bellas switch and Layla wins with a Neckbreaker. This was the end of the Bella’s first run, so that sort of makes sense, although I don’t know why the gave Nikki the title in the first place.
Rating: ¼*. People complain about the diva’s division now (rightfully) but it’s gotten so much better.
Fantastic video package highlights Brock’s career accomplishments. John Cena is the top guy, Brock is there to prove he’s the big dog. Nothing fancy.
Extreme Rules: John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar
It wasn’t clear what to expect from Brock Lesnar here. He’d been gone from WWE for eight years, in UFC for the previous three. Last time we saw him, he was stinking up the ring with Goldberg at Wrestlemania. He had been a good wrestler before, but only had great matches with a special opponent (Undertaker, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle).
And here we found out that Brock was way better than he had ever been. He massacres Cena. Right off the bell, takes him down, hits him with elbows, and this is the result:
Blood adds a lot to wrestling. It was overdone for years and years, but now I think it’s underdone. Used judiciously, blood can add drama, build heat, make the wrestlers look tougher. Here, it showed that Brock Lesnar was no ordinary man. We saw Punk and Jericho fight for 25 minutes without spilling a drop of blood, now Brock Lesnar has cut John Cena in less than 30 seconds.
The referee forces a break, which I actually kind of like. Feels more legitimate, once more makes the match stand out. Brock has forced Cena to receive medical attention in less than sixty seconds. The ground and pound is awesomely barbaric.
Next, we have a trip to Suplex City as Brock rolls off a couple Germans. The referee is down, which doesn’t mean much of anything in a match with no rules. Lesnar comes up with a fun new way to torture Cena:
At this point Brock wants the referee back, so he goes to get him:
What must Charles Robinson weigh? 180 pounds? Brock lifted him one arm. Lifting 180 pounds of weights is hard, much less a body. Lesnar hits the F5, and knocks out the referee in the process. A second referee shows up and Cena kicks out, so Lesnar beats up referee #2. Lesnar throws the steps into the ring. Cena’s comeback lasts ten seconds before Brock locks in the Kimura. Cena reminds everyone just how strong he is by lifting Brock and slamming him onto the steps, but misses the Leg Drop.
Brock looks around confused, a predator searching for his prey. He’s just messing with Cena now and launches himself off the steps with a Flying Knee. He’s hurt for a second, then gets up and plays to the crowd. Lesnar sets up for another leap, a decision which proves costly:
Rut roh. Cena fires up…for a really long time. Lesnar is taking his time getting up, Cena should have just grabbed him. Cena goes for the killing blow:
Knockout. John Cena wins.
Rating: *****. Yup, the full boat. I hate that Cena won. But it doesn’t diminish that this match was amazing. Brock showed himself to be the best monster heel since Vader was running wild in WCW in the early 90s. He beat John Cena mercilessly. The brutality here was amazing, but they didn’t have a ton of highspots, it was just that Lesnar laid his strikes in so well that they were more effective than weapon shots would have been.
Brock stumbles to the back. Cena gets on the mic for some reason and proceeds to cut a promo. He thanks the fans. No idea why this was shown on the air, should have been arena only. He alludes to being sent home, which would have been a great idea because the shit he did for the next few months was some pretty shitty shit.
Overall: Two genuinely great matches. Rest of the card wasn’t much, but any show with two matches as good as Cena/Brock and Sheamus/Bryan is worth checking out.