Sunday, June 07, 2009

Extreme Rules 2009

Another pay-per-view I don't have to buy! This one's on Sky Sports 1, so I get it as part of the standard subscription. Fortunate, as it's a bit of a mixed bag.

Extreme Rules is the show that used to be called ECW One Night Stand. The first one was a reunion show for the influential and fondly remembered nineties indie promotion; the second (still bizarrely called One Night Stand) promoted ECW's relaunch as a WWE brand. Once it became apparent that the revived ECW was a lame duck that couldn't support its own pay-per-views, One Night Stand was turned into an annual show based on the theme of gimmick matches. "Extreme rules" was the WWE's euphemism for ECW rules, which were basically complete anarchy.

Why the name change? Well, it's not prompted, as you might think, by a belated recognition that One Night Stand V makes no sense. No, it's because the WWE is currently striving for a PG-13 rating, partly because they think it'll make them more attractive to advertisers (they feel, with some justification, that their advertising rates don't fairly reflect the size of their audience), and partly because Linda McMahon is trying to get into local politics in Connecticut.

So, with its ECW roots almost totally forgotten, it's now just a show of gimmick matches - some only very slightly gimmicky, to be honest.

1. WWE Championship, steel cage match: Randy Orton v. Batista. Last month, Orton retained the title against Batista by intentionally geting himself disqualified. (Titles don't change hands on a count-out or disqualification.) So, reasonably enough, we're doing a rematch with no disqualifications. Originally, the point of steel cage matches was supposed to be to stop the heel running away, and to stop his lackeys from interfering. We're going back to basics here.

This all makes reasonable sense, but I can't honestly say that Batista and Orton make a particularly inspiring pairing. And they've rather booked themselves into a corner here. Batista has mounted so many unsuccessful title challenges in the last year or so that he really needs a win at some point. But this isn't time, Orton is better in the role of champion, and so they're going to have to find some convoluted way of letting Orton win while preserving Batista's credibility as much as possible - unless, perhaps, he's about to turn heel, which wouldn't be such a bad idea. Much of the build-up for this match has actually centred on a side feud between Orton and retired (but probably not for long) wrestler Ric Flair; but it's not obvious how you got Flair involved in a match like this.

Orton retains, almost certainly by escape from the cage; match should be okay.

2. World Heavyweight Championship, ladder match: Edge v. Jeff Hardy. We've seen these two many times before, but that doesn't really matter, because they both have a track record of putting on spectacular ladder matches. It'll be a stunt show, but it'll be a very good one.

Hardy is supposed to be taking a break in the not-too-distant future, though nobody knows precisely when. That makes it unlikely that he'll win the title here. Mind you, with Edge and Hardy practically guaranteed to destroy one another in this match, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of CM Punk bounding down to the ring afterwards to cash in the any-time-any-place title shot he won at Wrestlemania. After all, he's been circling Edge like a vulture for weeks.

That possibility aside, Edge probably retains. But it should be a great match.

3. ECW Title, hardcore rules: Christian v. Jack Swagger v. Tommy Dreamer. All WWE three-way matches are no-DQ, so the "hardcore rules" stipulation actually adds nothing.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Strictly speaking, in a no-DQ match, cheating is still illegal, but the referee can't punish you for it. So the subtle difference is that the referee ought to at least try and remove weapons from the ring in a regular three-way. Oh, and come to think of it, in a hardcore match, falls count anywhere - so expect lots of brawling around the arena to take advantage of the one thing unique to this match.

Tommy Dreamer is the last remaining wrestler from the original ECW - or, as many people would have it, the real ECW. His character was a sort of long-suffering nearly-man, who would continually be on the verge of winning the title, but always get screwed somehow or other. He did actually get it in the end, but that's not the bit anyone remembers. The story here is that Dreamer has pledged to retire unless he can win the title before his current contract expires, which means it has to be tonight.

Even though the ECW title is not very important, I really don't see the company having Dreamer as the champion of that show. He's not their type. And he's had periods of semi-retirement before. So my bet would be that he nearly gets there, and Jack Swagger - as the only heel in the match - screws him out of it to win the title. Then they can build to a one-off return match down the line, or perhaps Dreamer can take a protege under his wing.

It'll be a brawl, and I'm not sure it plays to the strengths of Christian or Swagger. But it'll probably be entertaining enough.

4. Intercontinental Title, no holds barred: Chris Jericho v. Rey Mysterio. "No holds barred" is just one of those endless euphemisms for a no-DQ match. Jericho's current gimmick is that he's irrationally and paranoically convinced that he's the one honest man in wrestling, and that everyone around him is a coward and a hypocrite. His current target is Rey Mysterio, who wears a mask. Why does he wear a mask? What does he have to hide? So Jericho wants to win Mysterio's IC title but, more importantly, remove his mask.

Mysterio actually wrestled without his mask for several years towards the end of WCW, but we're evidently supposed to have forgotten that.

Jericho and Mysterio are probably set for a long programme together, as it's probably the best fit for either of them right now. (Jericho, who has some influence in his own stories, seems to prefer extended ones - so long as they involve a good opponent.) That suggests Jericho should probably win the title here, leaving space for title vs mask matches down the line. These two should have an excellent match.

5. US Title, four-way: Kofi Kingston v. MVP v. William Regal v. Matt Hardy. Just a regular four-way, it seems. Kingston, who claims to be from Jamaica but is actually from Ghana (which I'd have thought was a much more interesting gimmick, but whatever), won the US Title from MVP on Monday. That was an odd piece of booking, since this match was already scheduled. But it was a good match, and probably did some good in boosting the credibility of this third-tier title.

Kingston and MVP are the babyfaces. Regal and Hardy are the heels, and there's a tentative suggestion that they're in the orbit of Raw's evil general manager Vickie Guerrero. Hardy, in particular, is currently wrestling with a cast on his hand after suffering what was initially a genuine injury. The idea is meant to be that he's lying about his injury so that he can keep using the cast as a weapon, although frankly, you'd have thought the advantages of that were outweight by the disadvantages of having a cast on your hand. Regal is just sort of floating around looking for something to do; as an old-fashioned mat wrestler, he seems very out of place in a four-way match.

I'm not expecting wonders here. There are good wrestlers in this match but for some reason I can't shake the feeling it's going to be a bit of a confused mess. Kingston should presumably retain, as otherwise the title change on Monday seems senseless.

6. Submission match: John Cena v. The Big Show. Quite how a submission match, traditionally a contest of mat-wrestling prowess, fits the "Extreme Rules" theme, I have no idea. And quite why anyone would book a submission match, traditionally a contest of mat-wrestling prowess, between John Cena and the Big Show, neither of whom is renowned for any such thing, is beyond me.

Cena does at least have a submission hold, the STF, as his secondary finisher. The Big Show doesn't, normally, so they've been hastily building up the camel clutch as his submission hold of choice. Broadly speaking, the story is that Cena can't win this match because there's no way he can get his hold on the seven-foot giant. A nice idea in theory - but in practice, it's a submission match between John Cena and the Big Show, and I can't shake the feeling that this has to be someone's idea of a joke.

Cena probably wins - the WWE's reverse psychology means that the more adamantly they tell you somebody can't win, the more certain it becomes that they will. But I can't imagine this match possibly being any good.

7. Strap match: CM Punk v. Umaga. This is, hopefully, the pay-off to the Punk/Umaga feud. The idea is that Punk keeps trying to cash in his title shot and take the world title from a weakened Edge, and Umaga keeps interfering for... hey, did they ever give a reason for that? Oh well.

I can understand what the writers had in mind here. It's a fresh pairing of two wrestlers on the fringe of the main event. But it's also a feud where both of them would be hurt by losing. And the in-ring chemistry hasn't been spectacular. Umaga won last month, this is a rematch with his chosen gimmick, and so as night follows day Punk should overcome the odds and win.

The strap match gimmick means they get to hit one another with a strap. It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.

8. Miss Wrestlemania, hog pen match: Vickie Guerrero v. Santina Marella. God help us. This is the comic relief segment. Santina Marella is comedy wrestler Santino Marella in drag, and s/he won the meaningless "Miss Wrestlemania" title in a battle royal a couple of months ago. Vickie Guerrero, Raw's evil general manager won the non-title from him/her a few weeks back, in an angle which also served to turn Santino babyface.

A hog pen match was a gimmick they used to do 25 years ago, and it's pretty much what it sounds like. Vickie isn't a wrestler, and the company has so little faith in Santino that they rarely let him do more than 90 seconds, so it's highly unlikely that this will be any sort of "match", so much as an extended lowbrow comedy segment that is likely to be about as funny as drinking bleach. Actually, Santino is generally very funny, but more for his delivery than for the material the company gives him. He hasn't been able to make this work, and I doubt anything will change tonight.

Worth buying? Well, on the plus side, Edge/Hardy and Jericho/Mysterio should both be very good; Orton/Batista and the ECW match should be fine; and on paper the US title four-way at least has good wrestlers. On the other hand, Cena/Big Show is ludicrous, Punk/Umaga might politely be called uninspiring, and Santino/Vickie will be excruciating. There's probably more good than bad, though.