TV Classic: Ric Flair vs. Sting (Clash of the Champions)

When it Happened: WCW Clash of the Champions, March 27, 1988 in Greensboro, North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Story: Sting was a rising star in WCW after he was acquired as part of their buyout of the Universal Wrestling Federation. It seemed initially as if he was to be presented as a villain, but the crowds quickly got behind him. His rise was so fast that within six months of joining WCW he was given a shot at Ric Flair’s NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the initial Clash of the Champions special on TBS, which aired opposite Wrestlemania IV. Anticipation was at a fever pitch as the young lion battled the confident champion. As an added wrinkle, there would be a panel of five celebrity judges to determine the winner of the match in the event it went to a draw.

The Match

This is Sting’s first big break. The crowd is into him, but it’s not a huge response. Flair is cool and confident on his way to the ring. J.J. Dillon is in a cage hanging above the ring for the match to prevent him from interfering. Flair is only a five time champion at this point. It’s one fall to a finish, a 45 minute time-limit due to TV time remaining. As always, the title cannot change hands on a disqualification or count out.

The theme of the early portion of the match is Sting’s strength and invulnerability. Flair can’t get anything going as Sting continually overpowers him. Sting gets fired up and knocks Flair over the top with a punch. Not a disqualification because that rule is speciously enforced. He goes for the Stinger Splash and hits his arm on the post. Flair immediately targets the arm. Sting comes back and locks on the Scorpion Deathlock, but Flair makes the ropes as we hit 25 minutes gone by.

Sting misses a Clothesline and falls to the floor, further injuring his arm. Sting comes off the top and hits a Flying Cross Body for a two count. Flair responds with a Knee Breaker and we transition to the leg portion of the match. Flair locks on the Figure Four with thirty minutes gone by. Sting eventually manages to turn it over, reversing the pressure. Flair breaks out and gets Suplexed into the ring from the apron. Sting goes for a Splash, but Flair gets his knees up. Flair goes to the top and gets thrown off. Thirty five minutes gone by. Sting locks on the Figure Four! Flair manages to make the ropes.

Sting sends Flair into the corner and he takes the big bump to the floor. Sting hits another Stinger Splash with five minutes left. Sting gets a Sunset Flip for a near pin with two minutes left. Flair comes off the top and connects with a Crossbody, but Sting rolls through! Only gets two. JR is going nuts. One minute left. Sting hits the Stinger Splash with 40 seconds to go! He’s go the Scorpion Deathlock on with 30 seconds to go! The clock ticks down and Flair refuses to give up. We hit the time limit and the bell rings at 45:00.

Patty Mullen gives the match to Flair. Gary Jester to Sting. Sandy Scott scores it…a draw. There are two other judges, but they don’t announce their decisions. It’s 1-1-1, and the match is declared a draw. Flair retains the title.

Analysis: ****. Damn fine match. Put Sting over huge. He went toe-to-toe with Flair for the entire match, never giving an inch. If the match had gone 30 seconds longer, he would have been the world champion. Of course there are some slow spots, it’s a 45 minute match. But at no point in this match are you not engaged in what’s going on in the ring. I love that this match was presented as sporting event, it felt like a championship boxing match. Jim Ross did a great job on commentary, but what else would you expect?

This match turned Sting into a star overnight, and he would never look back. This show was a huge success, doing a 5.6 rating on TBS and putting a serious dent in Wrestlemania IV’s business. Sting would defeat Flair to become NWA Champion in 1990 and go on to become the cornerstone of WCW and one of the most legendary performers in wrestling history.

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TV Classic: Ric Flair vs. Sting (Clash of the Champions)

King of the Ring 2015

I’m pleased WWE brought King of the Ring back, but I’m not fond of the execution. I would have preferred they stretch this out over the course of a month instead of blowing it off so quickly. There aren’t a ton of compelling storylines on the show right now, the tournament would have been a good way to fill up TV time and create some new rivalries along the way.

The booking surprised me a bit. R-Truth advancing isn’t something that makes sense to me. I was expecting it to come down to Sheamus vs. Ziggler, but I can understand them holding that rematch until Payback.

Great package to start highlighting previous winners of the tournament.

Probably didn’t need the recap package for the qualifying matches. Anyone who is watching this knows what happened on Raw.

I love pre-match interviews. Builds up the match, helps establish the stakes and the characters involved. Neville’s promo was decent, although he started a little nervous. They need to get Sheamus off the “Kiss Me Arse” thing.

Tournament Semifinal: Sheamus vs. Neville

This was a pretty decent match handicapped by time constraint. I have no doubt that these two could have a classic with 15-20 minutes, but here they had less than ten. Sheamus was a bulldozer crushing Neville at every opportunity, but Neville showed great babyface fire fighting from underneath and flying around the ring.

The bump that Neville took onto the announce table looked rough, similar to the one that split Daniel Bryan’s head open. The crowd was really behind Neville, which is nice to see. Lots of “Let’s Go Neville” chants. I liked that Sheamus was smart and didn’t go out to get Neville when he knocked him to the floor. Heel should be willing to take a cheap count out victory.

They were cruising along until Ziggler came out and we all knew where it was going from there. DISTRACTION FINISH! If I were in charge I would ban that finish. Instead we get it on almost every show, and three in the last 24 hours is absurd.

Rating: *¾. Nice match for the time constraint, too short, dumb finish.

Great heat on Sheamus after the match. Loved the intensity from the brawl. Wrestling is better when guys punch each other. Damn, that’s a nasty cut on Sheamus. Adds a lot of fuel to this feud.

Bad News Barrett vs. R-Truth

I’m not really sure why Truth was in the tournament, much less won his first match. There’s nothing wrong with him, there’s just nowhere for him to go at this point. He does fine here, hitting some nice kicks and showing that he’s freakishly athletic for a guy his age.

Not a ton of interest happens and Barrett goes over in five minutes with the Bull Hammer Elbow.

Rating: *¼. They didn’t have a ton of time, but it shouldn’t take Barrett long to beat R-Truth anyway.

Good of WWE to pay tribute to Verne Gagne. Absolute legend in the sport of professional wrestling. Hall of Fame wrestler, promoter, and trainer.

Tournament Final: Bad News Barrett vs. Neville

There’s a clear story here as Neville had a rough match with Sheamus whereas Barrett pretty much cruised past R-Truth. Neville had his ribs battered and Barrett is all over them. This makes sense, as it gets heat on Barrett and also makes Neville look courageous for fighting through the injury.

Neville flies around the ring to start. He’s so smooth and never botches anything. Makes these impossible moves look routine. He also does a great job of selling his ribs and building sympathy. I appreciate that he sold even while on offense. Too many guys forget about their injuries once they make their comebacks.

Lots of cool stuff here: Asai Moonsault to the floor, Barrett’s massive Winds of Change, and a Wasteland with some stank on it. Neville also shows off that he’s insanely strong for a guy so tiny, if his physique hadn’t already demonstrated that. The rumored “Mighty Mouse” gimmick might have been apt.

Neville went for the Red Arrow, but Barrett moved. Neville rolled through but got caught with the Bull Hammer and Bad News Barrett is the 2015 King of the Ring.

Rating: **. Fine match within the time constraint. Would love to see an extended program between these two.

Barrett is a good choice for the winner. They’ve given him a lot of gimmicks at this point and never quite found the right presentation, but he’s got all the tools to be a big star so it makes sense to keep searching.

Overall: I thought this was a good special. More live content for the network is needed. I’ll be interested to see what kind of viewership numbers this did. I could go for more network specials. Bringing back Saturday Night’s Main Event on the network is an idea that appeals to me.

Grade: B

King of the Ring 2015

King of the Ring 1993

June 13, 1993
Nutter Center
Dayton, Ohio 

A gravelly-voiced Vince McMahon welcomes us to the show. He goes over the tournament bracket.

Here’s the bracket:

Jim Ross, Bobby Heenan, and Randy Savage are on commentary tonight.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon

That’s a great way to kick things off. Bret was given a bye through the qualifying round as a result of his being screwed at Wrestlemania while Razor defeated Tito Santana to advance. These matches are contested under a 15 minute time limit, so they can’t mess around.

Somewhat oddly, the pace proves to be pretty deliberate as Bret works the arm. Razor turns the tide by slamming Bret’s shoulder into the ringpost. Then he stomps Bret’s fingers, which is one of those things that makes me cringe to watch. Razor hits a series of big slams, but doesn’t go for the pin. Bret comes back with some fire and runs through the Five Moves of Doom. Bret goes for a Bulldog but ends up staking his chest bump into the turnbuckle. Razor sets up for the Razor’s Edge, but Bret slips out, goes for a Backslide, jumps over Razor, and rolls himup for a super close two count.

Razor goes for a Back Suplex from the top rope, but Bret is able to change directions in mid-air and comes down on the top for a pin.

Rating: ***½. Just wish they had gotten more time. That was barely ten minutes, and they had about as good a match as possible in that time.

They recap something that happened on Superstars, as Mr. Hughes stole Undertaker’s urn.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Mr. Perfect vs. Mr. Hughes

Perfect is the face here after he turned against Ric Flair in late 1992. Hughes has Harvey Whippleman in his corner and has the urn in tow. The ability of Mr. Hughes to wrestle in sunglasses always impressed me. Hughes throws Perfect all around the ring, allowing Perfect to show off his great bumping ability. Perfect gets going and Back Drops Hughes, which is an impressive feat by both men.

Hughes grabs the urn and waffles Perfect right in front of the referee for a disqualification.

Rating: *. Not much there. Minimum quality match possible from Hennig.

Gene Okerlund interviews Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji. There’s a Japanese flag in the background, a cassette playing vaguely Asian music, and a small garden. Subtle.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Jim Duggan vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

Not a ton happens here. Bigelow gets the win with a Diving Heabutt after Duggan misses a charge in the corner.

Rating: ½*. Pure filler.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Tatanka vs. Lex Luger

That’s “Undefeated,” “Native American” Tatanka. Both men are undefeated. Luger is still “The Narcissist,” the All-American thing wouldn’t start for a few more weeks. He’s also been exposed as having a metal plate in his right forearm, so he has to wear a pad covering it.

They run through a perfectly acceptable, but not terribly interesting match. JR interviews Bigelow in the corner about who he wants to face next. He says it’s “The Indian.” Well, not as bad a Hogan calling Yokozuna “The Jap.”

They trade the advantage until the time limit expires. Both men are eliminated as a result of the draw.

Rating: *. I don’t really need to see 15 minute Lex Luger matches.

Luger says he wants five more minutes, but ends up just smacking Tatanka with his exposed arm.

Mean Gene interviews Perfect and Bret, and they end up arguing about whose dad was a better wrestler. Perfect gets mad and refuses to shake Bret’s hand, establishing himself as the heel in the upcoming match.

Tournament Semifinal: Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect

Rematch of their classic from Summerslam 1991. They start with scientific wrestling, which is unsurprisingly flawless. Bret is just a touch better than Perfect, forcing him to resort to a cheapshot to take over. Perfect sends Bret to the floor with a Dropkick and he cockily paces around the ring. Perfect holds the ropes for Bret, then kicks him in the ribs as he comes back in. Perfect throws Bret from the apron down onto the railing. Sounded like it hurt.

Total domination from Perfect now. He goes to the top and hits a Missile Dropkick, something I’ve never seen from him. Bret takes the sternum bump now. Pace here is unbelievable. Perfect goes back to the top, but Bret wracks him up! Superplex! That only gets two. Bret kicks Perfect’s knee out from under him and he does a flip. Then he goes to the Figure Four.

More knee work from Bret follows. Perfect gets out and applies a Sleeper Hold. Bret makes the ropes but can barely stand. Perfect gets the Sleeper back on, but Bret is able to slam him into the turnbuckle and escape. Bret runs through his stuff: Russian Legsweep, Inverted Atomic Drop, Diving Elbow. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter, but Perfect wrenches his broken fingers to escape. That’s so smart. Love little things like that.

Perfect goes for the Perfect-Plex, but Bret blocks and they both end up going over the top rope. They tease a double count out, which would make Bigelow the winner of the tournament. Back in the ring, Perfect rolls up Bret in a Small Package, but Bret turns it over into his own Small Package for the win.

Rating: ****½. Awesome, awesome match. Everyone remembers their match from Summerslam but they should remember this one too. I’m blown away by the pace they brought here after they’d both wrestled a match already. Phenomenal athletes. Two legends in their primes going at it. Everything I love about wrestling.

Perfect teases walking out with a handshake, but comes back to the ring and does the right thing.

Okerlund interviews Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart. This will be Hogan’s first defense since winning the title from Yoko back at Wrestlemania.

WWF Championship: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Yokozuna

Yoko is accompanied by Mr. Fuji and flanked by tons of Japanese photographers. For some reason Savage and Heenan keep exaggerating the length of the Bret/Yoko match from Wrestlemania. They say it was “nearly 30 minutes” when I think it was barely ten. Hogan comes out and the arena explodes. The old gunslinger is back for one last fight. But the young lion awaits.

Deliberate pace early. Yoko wins the test of strength and throws Hogan to the mat. Yoko eventually misses a charge into the corner and Hogan goes to work. Savage just said “these people would pop” if Hogan slammed Yoko. Savage was fun as an announcer because he really just talked without a ton of thought put into what he was saying.

Hogan tries to slam Yoko but can’t get him up. He tries another slam but once more can’t lift the massive challenger. Yoko misses a Splash. Hogan bounces right off him on a Shoulderblock and Yoko goes to a Bearhug. They keep emphasizing that Hogan “slimmed down” for this match. Which presumably means he went off the steroids.

Yoko follows with a Belly to Belly Suplex. Hogan kicks out and its time to Hulk Up. Three right hands, Big Boot. Yoko doesn’t go down, so Hogan hits another three right hands and another boot. Yoko’s still standing. Third Big Boot finally puts the giant down. Leg Drop! Yoko kicks out at two and an eerie silence comes over the arena.

And then, the infamous finish.

Yoko follows with a huge Leg Drop for the win.

Rating: *. Didn’t hate it. Slow pace, but these are two huge men. They shouldn’t be flying around the ring.

Hulkamania is dead. And he wouldn’t be seen in a WWF ring for another nine years.

Definitely feels like the end of an era. And so it was.

Okerlund interviews Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Shawn is happy Hogan’s gone. This is the first time Shawn revealed that his mysterious, mulleted seven foot bodyguard went by the moniker of “Diesel.”

Steiner Brothers and Smoking Gunns vs. Money Inc. and The Headshrinkers

This is a filler, cool-down match, but a fun one for the spot. Lot of talent in the ring here. JR starts to get fed up with Heenan at this point and they get into it. Then JR slips up and acknowledges IRS having been an NWA Tag Team Champion and that he went to Syracuse. Most of this match is the heel team tuning up Billy Gunn. DiBiase puts Gunn out with the Million Dollar Dream, but lets him go and poses. He ends up getting rolled up for the pin.

Rating: *. Like I said, acceptable filler.

Okerlund interviews Yokozuna, Mr. Fuji, and WWF President Jack Tunney.

Intercontinental Championship: Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Crush

Shawn regained the title from Marty Jannetty at a house show shortly before this. That match saw the debut of Shawn’s bodyguard, the man now known as Diesel. Crush looks like an idiot here:

Savage speculates that Crush could slam Yokozuna. There were rumors at the time that Crush was under consideration to be the new Hogan, and Savage’s commentary makes me wonder if they were for real. As we know, that position was given to Lex Luger instead. Crush sends Michaels flying all over the ring, and then breaks out a couple pretty nice Dropkicks. Diesel pulls Shawn out of the ring after he gets hit with a Tilt-a-Whirl Backbreaker.

Crush gets distracted by Diesel and Michaels slams him into the post. Diesel does another one behind the referee’s back. Michaels proceeds to post the back of Crush’s head repeatedly. Crush fights back and slams Michaels from the top rope. The crowd is pretty apathetic towards Crush’s comeback. Two Doink the Clowns show up.

The distraction allows Michaels to Superkick Crush in the back of the head and he gets the pin.

Rating: **¼. Not a bad match, but it was really all Shawn. Never saw anything in Crush.

Mean Gene interviews Bam Bam Bigelow. He’s confident for the final. He’s only wrestled a few minutes tonight, Bret has had to wrestle for nearly 30 minutes already.

Tournament Final: Bret Hart vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

The winner will be the King of the Ring. The announcers all agree that Bam Bam is the favorite based on being better rested. Good job of establishing Bret as the underdog despite being a former world champion. Bret comes out fast, knowing he doesn’t have long to last at this point. Bam Bam Gorilla Presses Bret and throws him out to the floor. Bigelow throws him back into the ring rather than take the count out win. Second match in a row where that’s happened.

Bigelow dominates for the next few minutes. They got to the floor, where Bigelow slams Bret into the post. Luna Vachon, Bigelow’s valet, shows up to hit Bret with a chair behind the referee’s back. Bigelow throws Bret into the ring, slams him, and then hits the Diving Headbutt. Bigelow gets the win to become the King of the Ring.

Wait, you don’t remember Bam Bam being King of the Ring? That’s because Earl Hebner shows up to inform referee Joey Marella of Luna’s interference. The match will continue.

Bigelow is still in control. Bret manages to slip out of an Argentine Backbreaker and score with a Back Suplex. But he can’t follow up. Bret escapes another Backbreaker with a Sleeper Hold.

Bret Dropkicks Bigelow to the floor, then hits a Suicide Dive. He’s got his second wind. Russian Legsweep, Diving Bulldog, then he goes for the Sharpshooter.

Bigelow powers out. Bigelow reverses a Back Suplex attempt into a lateral press for a near fall. Bret comes back with a Victory Roll for the pin.

Rating: ***¼. Solid match there, especially considering it was Bret’s third of the night. Bret wrestled close to 50 minutes between his three matches. Unbelievable performance.

Bret goes to the top of the ramp, where he is crowned as King of the Ring.

Jerry Lawler shows up to proclaim himself the one and only true king of wrestling. Bret responds that Lawler is a Burger King. Bret leads the crowd in a “Burger King” chant, provoking Lawler to attack him. Hot angle to close out the show.

Overall: Excellent show. Some great wrestling (thank you Bret) and a strong establishing of Yokozuna as the new champion. Arguably the best King of the Ring ever.

Grade: A-

King of the Ring 1993

WWE Extreme Rules 2015

WWE Extreme Rules 2015

When we last left off, we were coming off a strong Wrestlemania and there was a lot of heat on the WWE product. And a few weeks later…things have cooled off a lot. The post Wrestlemania exodus meant that Brock Lesnar, Sting, Undertaker, and Triple H are all effectively gone from TV for now. Randy Orton was the obvious challenger for new champion Seth Rollins, but he hasn’t been generating much of a reaction as a babyface. And for some inexplicable reason, Kane has been the center of WWE TV for the last few weeks.

Meanwhile, it’s the midcard that’s been delivering where the main event has been lacking. John Cena’s United States Championship reign has been inspired, Sheamus has been rejuvenated in his heel turn, and the debut of the Lucha Dragons and the New Day’s heel turn have the tag division in stronger form than in recent memory. So who delivers tonight? Let’s find out.

Match between Neville and Barrett on the pre-show was good. I think I’d have preferred Barrett win to keep him strong for the upcoming match against Bryan, but I won’t complain about Neville getting a big win. It made sense to shift this match to the pre-show due to Bryan’s injury. The tag match became a much bigger deal with New Day’s heel turn rescuing them from the trash heap.

Chicago Street Fight: Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper

Carryover from Wrestlemania, as they two engaged in a few entertaining brawls the last few weeks. Ambrose gets the expected huge reaction in Chicago, and Harper actually gets booed. This is the right choice for the opener, as it definitely has the crowd engaged. I just find myself wishing Ambrose was challenging Rollins for the title instead of Orton. I know that crowd wouldn’t be dead for that main event.

No messing around here as they’re brawling on the floor within the first thirty seconds. The pace here is deliberate, but that’s because they actually take the time to sell the shots they’re taking instead of bouncing right back up. The violence level goes up quickly, as Ambrose takes a sick Suplex onto a standing chair.

Nearly impaled him. Looks like it would hurt. I mostly like this match, although some things Ambrose does hit me wrong. His offense is just a bit contrived and Harper has to wait for it. They head to the back, and I like how it’s presented. The camera isn’t where it needs to be so it feels unplanned.

And then…they jump into an SUV and drive off. Shades of the Hollywood Backlot Brawl from Wrestlemania 12. Not sure why this was necessary, but it would be fun if they fought throughout the night.

Rating: *½. Fine opener, but the non-finish rubbed me a bit wrong. Just put Ambrose over in the middle and be done with it.

Backstage segment with Triple H, Kane, and Seth Rollins

This went on for a really long time. And it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. They got the crowd chanting “boring” within the first 20 minutes of the show, which isn’t great.

Kiss Me Arse Match: Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler

Sheamus has been so great since his return. I love the whole package. The new look, the new music and entrance, the heel attitude. It’s perfect. He was an unlikable dick before, and now they’ve just turned it up to 11. I think he’s going all the way with this new character.

Chicago loves Dolph Ziggler. Which isn’t surprising, but it makes me wish it was him challenging Rollins. Why can’t they use people the crowd actually cares about in the main event? I like that they start the match swinging here. It always bugs me when a blood feud match starts with the guys locking up and doing holds.

Lawler makes a joke on commentary about ass hygiene. Could have done without that. Also, JBL for some reason thinks the most important part of this match is the fact that he predicted Sheamus would win, and he managed to talk about it for the rest of the night.

They work a good story here where Ziggler wants to run and gun and Sheamus wants to ground and pound. Sheamus works his holds in a way I haven’t seen in awhile, as he actually applies some torque to his Chin Locks. And Dolph is Dolph, doing all sorts of amazing things and making it look easy…like slipping out of a Texas Cloverleaf into a Small Package.

They’re going…and then Ziggler gets the win out of nowhere. Less than ten minutes. Wish they had more. Hope we haven’t seen the end.

Rating: **¾. Want more from these guys. Give them 15 minutes next month.

The aftermath goes on for about as long as the match. I like Sheamus being a chickenshit about the stipulation. Absolutely the right way to get out of that. More heat for Sheamus. I’m 100% on the Sheamus train.

WWE Tag Team Championship Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (c) vs. The New Day

The New Day have gone from the worst thing on the roster to one of the best. All it took was for WWE to realize that everyone hated their corny face act and let them be heels. They just tweaked the presentation a little bit and now they’re hugley over as heels instead of lame babyfaces. Great things can happen when you listen to the fans.

Kidd and Cesaro seem to be babyfaces now, which is intriguing. It seems like Kidd had developed a great heel character on NXT that never really got explored properly on the main roster. On the whole, he and Cesaro seem likable and I think they’ll do better as faces.

The best part of this match was probably Xavier’s antics at ringside. He has the most personality of the three, and he’s hamming it up all the way now. When the crowd chants “New Day Sucks” it looks like it’s physically hurting him.

The big thing about this match is how freakishly athletic these guys all are. Big E is an absurdly strong powerlifter, and somehow Cesaro is even stronger despite being half his size. Kofi Kingston can jump out of the gym and has balance like an Olympic gymnast. And Kidd flies around the ring making death defying leaps look like nothing.

They do a lot of fun things here, and I wish they had more time. The heat segment didn’t last as long as I think it should have, because they were running out of time and had to go to the big finish. Everyone gets involved, Natalya bitch slaps Xavier…and New Day cheats to win. That shocked me, but now I think it was the right move. New Day has a ton of heat, and I think the crowd will get behind Cesaro and Kidd chasing the titles. Imagine if we had a good, old-school title chase that lasted all the way to Summerslam? Could do wonders for the tag division.

Rating: ***. Strong tag match, about as good as it could have been given the time constraint. So happy for everybody involved here. A few months back they all looked finished, and now they’re headed for big things.

New Day Interview

Those slimy villains celebrate with their titles. The heat on these guys is going to be absolutely nuclear. Ambrose and Harper roll into the arena, and we get the conclusion to their match. It’s okay, but I don’t think it added a ton over just having Ambrose win back in the opener.

Russian Chain Match for United States Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Rusev

The John Cena redemption tour has been spectacular so far. His matches have been the most interesting thing on Raw for the last month. Seeing him scrap with midcarders is so refreshing when he’s been feuding with the same few guys for years now.

Lost in the shuffle has been Rusev. He’s been so interesting for so long, but the last few weeks he hasn’t been doing much at all. I’m not convinced it was the right move for the program with Cena to continue. More losses for Rusev aren’t going to benefit him. And Lana has been emasculated. She’s gone from being one of the best members of the roster to cowering in the corner.

It’s hard to make one of these matches interesting. The good chain matches I’ve seen have been brutal gorefests like Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine. Can’t do that in the PG era. No blood. Can’t even choke someone with the chain. So you can…do tug of war and whip and punch. And that’s about it.

The touching of the turnbuckles was designed to let Cena win without getting a pin on Rusev, but it’s hard to get into watching people try to touch the corners. These guys had two really good matches the last few months, but there’s not a ton they could do to make this work.

The one thing that stands out is Rusev kicking Lana out. I don’t like that she’s become so subservient to him, but I think it can get a lot of heat if they become a Russian version of Randy Savage and Elizabeth.

Cena gets the win in the worst match of his title reign so far. Hopefully these two can move on from each other. Rusev needs to get some wins, Cena should keep fighting the midcard.

Rating: *½. Not much they could do with the stipulation.

Diva’s Championship: Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi

This is an awkward match. We’re 50% into Naomi’s heel turn and…25% of the way into a Bella face turn? I can see the Bellas as faces, but I don’t think the writers have figured out whether they turned face yet. Naomi’s new music and entrance are…different, but she hasn’t figured out how to be a heel yet. I didn’t look it up, but this might literally be the first match she’s ever wrestled as a heel.

Naomi working as a heel just consists of slowing things down and grabbing holds. Meanwhile, Brie yells “come on Nikki!” every 30 seconds. Maybe Nikki is supposed to be a face and Brie is still a heel?

Thought they might give Naomi the win here to setup a title feud with Paige, but I’m glad they didn’t. I don’t think she’s ready for the title yet.

Rating: ¾*. Never really came together. Weird time for this match to happen since neither has been solidified in a face/heel role. It feels wrong that we’re watching this while the NXT girls are still making $500/week down in Tampa.

Last Man Standing Match: Roman Reigns vs. Big Show

Roman had a starmaking performance at Wrestlemania, so I guess the natural next step was a feud with Big Show? They’ve been stuck in the Super Cena playbook with Reigns from the beginning, and this is the next play in that book.

Last Man Standing is another awkward stipulation. A few of these matches have been excellent, but I think most have been pretty dull. It tends to degenerate into hitting a move, then standing around for 30 seconds waiting to see if the guy gets up.

This one very much follows that mold, albeit with bigger spots than usual. The first thing that stands out is that the crowd really isn’t backing Roman. They’re not really booing Show either, they just don’t seem to care that much. The Chokeslam from the top through the tables is absolutely sick, but then it seems like several minutes pass without Show doing anything to follow up. Momentum gone.

The match accomplishes what it’s supposed to as Roman takes another beating and comes out on top. I don’t hate it, I just think it would be better if he was having a good match with someone more interesting than Big Show. The finish is an old classic, although it seems like a sneaky heel way of winning.

Rating: **½. Probably would have been better without the Last Man Standing stipulation.

Kane and Orton Backstage

Hey, more exposition about Kane’s ethical dilemma!

Bo Dallas Promo

Bo is fun. Ryback killing people is fun. This wasn’t a bad way to fill up a few minutes before the main event.

Rusev/Lana Promo

Jesus, not another Cena/Rusev match. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I think Rusev has lost to Cena enough times. Issue is settled, time to move on to something else.

Steel Cage Match for WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton

I’m a little worried about Rollins as champ. I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong, I just think he’s like a star basketball player trapped on a team with no supporting cast. His stablemates are Mercury and Noble, a comedy act that belongs in the midcard and not the main event, Kane and Big Show, who are beyond washed up, and Triple H, who has been on TV way too much in the same role for coming on two years.

And his antagonist is babyface Randy Orton, who is great when he’s flipping out in psychotic rage and killing people, but dull when he’s doing anything else. He can’t be in psycho killer mode all the time, so we get a lot of robotic promos.

They really packed the gimmricky onto this match. It feels like a Vince Russo TNA main event. It’s a steel cage for the title, and the RKO is banned, and J&J are at ringside, and Kane is the “Guardian of the Gate.”

And this definitely turns into a TNA main event. It’s a Cage match, but that does nothing to deter repeated interference from J&J and Kane. Kane keeps running in. And he destroys both guys. I don’t know what the point of Kane beating up main eventers is. He was a big star in 1998. Since then he’s been a midcarder. And now in 2015 he’s in one of the most important positions in the company, and there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for it. There are so many people on the roster who would be better in this role: Sheamus, Rusev, Luke Harper, Mark Henry, Big E…but instead it’s 45 year old Kane.

The match is fine when it’s just Orton and Rollins fighting. They tell a decent story with Rollins trying to escape at every opportunity like the weasel he is and Orton taking his time hurting Rollins rather than escape because he’s a vicious sadist. The RKO stipulation doesn’t come into play a ton, Orton never seems tempted to go for it. I liked that he hit the Pedigree, and if anything it would have been nice if tried some other classic finishers: Stunner, Rock Bottom, maybe Sweet Chin Music.

Then Kane Chokeslams everyone. No one is interested in Kane’s dilemma, I think they’d all just rather see this match between Orton and Rollins. The finish is weird, but inconsequential. Orton RKOs Kane, Rollins RKOs Orton and escapes the cage. There’s supposed to be some controversy here because the RKO was banned and the meaning is ambiguous, but since Rollins can’t lose his title on a disqualification anyway it doesn’t matter if Orton won or lost. I guess this will be used to justify Orton getting a rematch, but there were better ways of accomplishing that.

Rating: **½. I didn’t hate it, but I just wanted to see Seth Rollins wrestle Randy Orton. This match was overloaded with too much stuff, and it ended up detracting from the match.

Overall: It wasn’t a bad show, but there’s nothing that seemed essential. The undercard was pretty good although Rusev and Cena disappointed. The last two matches weren’t great, but I wasn’t really expecting them to be. It was a weird month for WWE where the undercard was far better than the main event scene, and I could see that continuing with the midcard being Cena, Bryan, Sheamus, Ziggler, Ambrose, Rusev, and Neville while the main event is Rollins, Orton, Kane, Reigns, and Big Show.

I think the gimmicks were a net negative tonight. The roster is so talented that they’re more than capable of having engaging matches without tons of stipulations attached. The chain match was just about the worst match Cena and Rusev are capable of having, same with the cage match between Orton and Rollins. The “Kiss Me Arse” shenanigans meant the Sheamus/Ziggler match was cut short. The best match of the night was probably the tag match, which was just a straight-up wrestling match.

WWE has a lot going for it right now, but there’s a weird inversion where the guys are the top of the card are less over than most of the midcard. I’m not looking forward to the expected Rollins vs. Reigns vs. Orton match next month, because I don’t see the crowd really being into Orton or Reigns chasing the title right now.

Grade: C+

WWE Extreme Rules 2015

TV Classic: Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit

WWF Championship: Steve Austin (c) vs. Chris Benoit

When it Happened: WWF Smackdown, May 31, 2001.

The Story: Benoit and Chris Jericho defeated Austin and Triple H for the tag titles on the Raw after Judgment Day. Due to Triple H tearing his quad in that match, Austin was left to fight both Jericho and Benoit on his own. On the Raw before this Austin defeated Benoit in a re-do of the Montreal Screwjob, as Austin locked Benoit in the Sharpshooter and Mr. McMahon called for the bell. Now Benoit faces Austin in a rematch in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The Match

Huge pop for Benoit in his hometown. Mr. McMahon comes down second in a referee’s shirt to serve as outside enforcer. Earl Hebner is the referee for the match. Benoit has his ribs taped up, but he comes out hot and takes it to Austin. Austin takes over with an awkward Swinging Neckbreaker. Benoit slips out of a Suplex and goes for the Crippler Crossface, but Austin makes the ropes before he can lock it in…but Benoit drags him to the middle of the ring and hooks it! Austin fights to the ropes, but Benoit goes right back to the Crossface. Austin gets the ropes and bails to the floor.

Benoit throws Austin over the announce table and then puts the boots to him. Feels like it’s his night, he’s absolutely dominating. They go back to the ring and Benoit immediately Clotheslines Austin to the floor. Austin kicks Benoit in his bad ribs and takes over. In the ring, Hebner gets bumped. Austin brought the WWF Title belt into the ring, but ends up getting hit with a DDT onto it. Benoit goes to the top for the Diving Headbutt, but Austin hits him in the face with the belt! Cover only gets two. Austin locks Benoit in the Sharpshooter as we see that Benoit is cut. Benoit reverses! He’s got the Sharpshooter locked on! Austin screams in agony…but is able to reserve the hold back into a Sharpshooter of his own. Benoit makes the ropes.

Austin pulls him back to the middle of the ring. Benoit reverses! Austin makes the ropes, Benoit pulls him back to the middle of the ring. Austin makes the ropes and Hebner forces a break. Never seen anything quite like that sequence. Both men struggle to stand. Benoit goes for a German Suplex but gets kicked below the belt. Austin goes to the top, but Benoit crotches him. Superplex! Jesus, the crowd is going crazy here. Delayed cover only gets two. Benoit locks on the Crossface, but Austin quickly gets the ropes.

Austin bails, but Benoit goes out after him. Austin slams Benoit into the announce table, then drops him onto it. Austin drops him on the table again and I think Benoit’s head hit the concrete floor. That’s the kind of thing that makes me cringe, especially when it’s Chris Benoit. Austin keeps working the ribs, including throwing Benoit into the steps. They go back to the ring and Austin keeps pounding Benoit. This is tremendous heel work, he has an insane look in his eye as he’s doing it.

Austin shuts down Benoit’s comeback with a huge Spinebuster. Now Austin goes to a Boston Crab. An elevated version, like the Walls of Jericho. Benoit makes a comeback and the German Suplexes start coming. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Yes, ten straight German Suplexes. That’s the definition of Suplex City. Unbelievable display of strength and endurance from Benoit.

McMahon gets up on the apron and Benoit throws Austin into him. Crippler Crossface! But McMahon knocks out Heber. He comes for Benoit with a chair but gets kicked in the balls. Benoit gets the chair and nails Austin with it. He hits him like ten times with the chair…but that allows Austin to sneak in with a roll-up for the pin!

Rating: ****½. Such a great match. There was never a dull moment. The crowd was going crazy the whole time. The psychology was there, as Austin battered Benoit’s injured ribs. Benoit had all the intensity you could ask for from a babyface fighting for the world title in front of his hometown crowd. And Benoit looked like a superstar. He kicked Austin’s ass, and Austin had to cheat to beat him. Interference from McMahon and a handful of tights to keep the Wolverine down. Maybe the best match in the history of Smackdown.

The Aftermath: Austin, Benoit, and Jericho continued their rivalry. It led to a Triple Threat Match at King of the Ring where Austin retained his title. In the process, Benoit suffered a major neck injury and ended up missing almost a year. Austin continued as champion as the WCW invasion storyline took center stage.

TV Classic: Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit

In Your House: Revenge of the Taker

April 20, 1997
Rochester Community War Memorial
Rochester, New York

This is the fall-out show from Wrestlemania 13, and the matches proceed nicely from there. The main event will feature the rematch of Steve Austin and Bret Hart’s epic battle, while the sub main event will see newly crowned WWF Champion The Undertaker with his first title defense against his old rival Mankind.

Opening package focuses on Undertaker. There’s some nice poetry in there that I think may have been re-used in the packages for his Inferno Match with Kane the next year.

Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler, and Jim Ross are our hosts tonight.

World Tag Team Championship: Owen Hart and British Bulldog (c) vs. The Legion of Doom

Owen and Bulldog were on the verge of breaking up until Bret Hart set them straight and they joined up with him (along with Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman) to form The Hart Foundation. JR says Bulldog and Owen are the greatest team in WWF history. I’m all for putting guys over, but that’s a massive stretch.

LOD dominate the early portion of the match with their superior power. They cut backstage (split-screen, actually) to show us Steve Austin arriving at the arena. That’s a nice little touch that they don’t do anymore, something happening during a match. Owen levels Hawk with an Enziguri and he and Bulldog work their heat segment. Miscommunication leads to a hot tag, a pier six brawl, and a Super Powerslam on Bulldog for the pin.

LOD is announced as the new champions, but it’s revealed that Owen was actually the legal man when Bulldog was pinned. Owen and Bulldog balk at coming back to the ring, so they do the classic “if they do not return by the count of ten, they will be stripped of the titles.” Super old school stuff, but it works.

LOD set up for the Doomsday Device and hit, but Bret Hart runs in to break up the pin for the disqualification.

Rating: *½. Respectable opener, but LOD didn’t have a ton left at this point.

Intercontinental Championship: Rocky Maivia (c) vs. Savio Vega

As you know, Rocky Maivia was horrible. He’s literally become shorthand for “terrible generic babyface who the fans hate.” Savio Vega was part of the Nation of Domination at this point, and has the whole Nation in his corner.

Rock was still totally green here, so it’s all basic stuff from him. Savio was good, but didn’t seem terribly interested tonight. Eventually Rock gets thrown to the floor, hit with the Heart Punch by Crush, and counted out. Savio is pissed that Crush screwed up.

Rating: ½*. Boring.

The Nation beats down Rock and Ahmed Johnson ends up making the save.

Doc Hendrix interviews Marc Mero and Sable backstage. That’s just the set up to Austin getting beaten up by Bulldog and Owen with a tire iron.

Jesse James vs. Rockabilly

New Age Outlaws go at it in their much less interesting forms. Honky Tonk Man had spent months searching for a protege, who he said would be the next great Intercontinental Champion. Here he reveals that it is Billy Gunn, repackaged as “Rockabilly.”

This match is super boring. Road Dogg ends up winning with a Small Package. No idea why they’d have Gunn lose in the debut of his new character.

Rating: ¼*. There can’t have been anyone in the audience who cared about this.

Kevin Kelly is backstage with Steve Austin. Austin says he’s going to beat Bret’s ass tonight. Gorilla Monsoon, authority figure at this time, says that in order to give Austin more time to recover his match with Bret will go on last and the WWF Championship match will be next. That’s a smart explanation for the title match not being the main event.

Lance Wright (never seen this guy before) interviews The Hart Foundation.

Great video package highlighting the brutal history between Undertaker and Mankind.

WWF Championship: Undertaker (c) vs. Mankind

Only makes sense that Undertaker’s first challenger would be his greatest rival. Mankind was probably the only guy with multiple televised victories over Taker at this point. Mankind hit Undertaker with a fireball on Raw the Monday before this at the behest of his current manager (and Taker’s former mentor) Paul Bearer.

It was always a treat when these two would go at it. They beat each other up in and out of the ring, with Foley taking his typical sick bumps. Paul Bearer distracts Taker, which allows Mankind to level him with the urn and take control. They fight back to the floor and Mankind smashes a pitcher in Undertaker’s face. Mankind follows with a chair shot to the head. Big Elbow Drop from the second rope to the floor follows. Two Piledrivers from Mankind don’t finish it. Taker’s comeback results in a ref bump, at which point Mankind locks on the Mandible Claw. A second referee shows up and Mankind puts him in the Mandible Claw. Illogical, but makes sense from a crazy character.

Mankind gets a chair and the ring steps, but Taker Dropkicks the steps into Mankind’s face. Wicked chair shot levels Mankind. Then we get the famous spot where Mankind gets hit with the steps, knocked off the ring apron, and gets stuck in the announce table.

Chokeslam and Tombstone finish it as Undertaker retains.

Rating: ***¼. Good match. These two always brought it. Taker gets a solid win in his first defense, and Mankind took and gave out such a beating that he isn’t hurt by it.

Taker beats up Bearer, then hits him in the face with a fireball. Somehow this lead to Paul Bearer no longer having his crazy voice and his hair going back to its natural color. Seriously, that’s how they explained it.

Doc Hendrix interviews The Hart Foundation and informs Bret that Gorilla Monsoon has banned Owen and Bulldog from ringside.

Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart

They go right off the bell. Wouldn’t expect anything else. Austin kicks Bret’s ass all over ringside. Bret manages to get control and wails on Austin’s bad knee with a chair. Bret just smashes Austin’s knee. Breaks out the ringpost Figure Four, then gets in some more chair shots. Austin never lets too much time go by between his comebacks, but Bret is always shutting them down with shots to the knee. Bret removes Austin’s knee brace, which adds a lot to the drama.

Austin’s a huge badass, but he doesn’t hesitate to show vulnerability here. He screams in pain. Builds the sympathy, and looks even tougher when he makes a comeback. Bret goes to the Figure Four, which Austin manages to turn over. Austin manages to Back Drop Bret over the railing and they fight in the crowd. This is before crowd brawling had been overdone. Back in the ring Austin goes for a Piledriver but his leg gives out (or he tripped and they just covered it well).

Bret grabs the ropes to block the Stunner, then mule kicks Austin in the nuts. Superplex by Bret. He tries to follow with the Sharpshooter, but Austin blocks, smacks Bret in the face with his knee brace, and then locks Bret in the Sharpshooter! At this point Owen and Bulldog show up, but Austin fights them off. Austin gets the Sharpshooter back on, at which point Bulldog hits Austin with a chair. Austin wins by disqualification.

Rating: ****¼. Yeah, that was awesome. Not as good as the Wrestlemania match and probably not as good as Survivor Series 1996, but still a borderline classic.

Austin gets the chair and beats on Bret’s knee with it. He locks the Sharpshooter back on.

The next night on Raw featured a classic angle, as Austin called Bret out for a street fight and proceeded to just destroy him with a chair. And he wasn’t done and attacked Bret as he was being loaded into an ambulance. Check it out:

Overall: First hour pretty much sucked, second hour was strong. No complaints about the title match or Austin vs. Bret. Balances out to an above average show.

Grade: B-

In Your House: Revenge of the Taker

WWE Extreme Rules 2012

April 29, 2012
Allstate Arena
Chicago, Illinois

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.

Grade: A-

WWE Extreme Rules 2012