WWE – Extreme Rules 2020 (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 152 minutes approx.
Or to give it its full official title The Horror Show At Extreme Rules. It was meant to add a little spice to the marketing of the show and make it an easy sell given it is the annual gimmick heavy event, but unfortunately, I don’t think anyone, Vince McMahon included, was expecting this to be such a prophetic, nay ominous subtitle for this PPV.
It’s no secret the success rate of WWE PPVs over the past decade has been very hit and miss, leaning further towards the latter, not because of the effort of the wrestlers but the creative end. It was always inevitable it would hit a nadir, and it appears this show might have been it, delving deep into the bag marked “Silly gimmicks for a wrestling match” and picking the dumbest ones possible.
And that is before we get into the head scratching booking…
Extreme Rules took place on July 19th 2020 at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida with a crowd comprised of members of the NXT and WWE trainees while the main event was taped on July 16th-17th also at an undisclosed location. Commentary is provided by Michael Cole and Corey Graves for SD and Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Samoa Joe for RAW.
As ever, while my match review won’t contain any results or major spoilers, expect plenty of opinion and backstory to the matches:
WWE SD Tag Title Tables Match – The New Day (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro
The New Day are on their 600th tag title run whilst Cesaro and Nakamura came together as part of a group with Sami Zayn who has since been trapped in Canada due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. Having defeated the champs on TV, the challengers got to choose the stipulation for this match, made transparent by the fact they put Kofi and Big E through a table on SD the week before.
Despite the presence of NXT rookies behind the screens in place of a paying crowd, they weren’t able to generate the kind of heat a match like this needs, therefore the drama in the near misses of the table bumps wasn’t here. All four guys worked hard and the final bump was brutal – too brutal perhaps as it legit put Kofi on the shelf afterwards. Average opener that didn’t really need this stip.
WWE SD Women’s Title Match – Bayley (c) vs. Nikki Cross
Nikki won the right to challenge Bayley after winning a fatal four-way match on SD. In a feud that has spun off from the pairing of Cross and Alexa Bliss facing Bayley and Sasha Banks, it is a nice change that Bliss wasn’t given this spot instead. Cross has managed to retain some of her feral personality from her SaNity days whilst fusing it with a likeable essence that has made her and Bliss a hit.
It has been a while since Cross was given a proper opportunity in the ring, the last time being a Last Woman Standing Match against Asuka on NXT TV in 2017, so this was a real test for her and I’d say she passed it quite easily Then again she in there with a great worker in Bayley who has become a great heel, resulting in a good match despite the obligatory McFinish, though again it would have worked better with a proper crowd.
We go to the Firefly Funhouse for a horror themed intermission purported to be comedy in Vince’s world.
WWE US Title Match – Apollo Crews (c) vs. MVP
The phrase “WTF?” is likely to be used a lot when watching this show and this is the first example of why. Apollo had been out of action after testing positive for Covid yet WWE continued to promote this match as if nothing had happened right up until the start of this segment. On RAW, MVP revealed has own US title belt with a new design, which he said the winner of this match would wear from now on.
So, MVP and Lashley come out, call for Crews to be counted out by way of forfeiting the match then walks off with the new belt, declaring himself champion even though Apollo is still recognised as champ. Yeah, I know…
Eye For An Eye Match – Rey Mysterio vs. Seth Rollins
We’ve seen a whole plethora of wacky stipulations in wrestling, where losers must leave town/promotion, be tarred and feathered, wear a dress, be shaved bald, forced to be someone’s slave, and so on. In Japan, there have been many dangerous matches like exploding barbed wire matches, piranha tank matches, even loser takes a firecracker up their jacksie.
Trust Vince to go too far with this match where – and I’m not kidding – the only way to win is to “extract” one of your opponent’s eyes. Wrestling is a contact sport and can be violent, but this is encouraging grievous bodily harm in deliberately blinding someone for our entertainment. If there was ever a time it would behove a promoter to renege on a stip it would be here but this is Vince we are talking about.
Rey already had an eye injured on RAW which was the set up for the match, so he was 50% disadvantaged to begin with. The work was fine but it seemed weird to work a regular wrestling match given how it could end. Just to be safe, the match was taped before the PPV with an original finish that involved a prosthetic for the eye gouging spot, but Vince wasn’t happy with how it looked so they reshot it with the ending featured here.
Just dumb all round yet shockingly not the worst thing to happen on this show…
WWE RAW Women’s Title Match – Asuka (c) vs. Sasha Banks
As the Women’s Tag champions, Sasha and Bayley can go on any show they like, which is fine but somehow this also means they can chose to pick their own singles matches too. So, leapfrogging the entire RAW female roster, Sasha challenged Asuka for her RAW women’s title and was granted a match just like that.
Lack of logic aside, this was a stonking match with Banks reaching outside of her usual working mode to meet Asuka with submissions and counters, pushing Asuka further than she is used to. It really could have gone either way…then the finish happened. For our third “WTF?” of the night they pulled off something so irredeemably stupid, inane, and devoid of any sense it literally killed the buzz of the match with its utter crassness.
The original plan was to have Asuka win by submission but Vince wanted something to hook viewers into watching RAW the next night and decided this was the match that would to be sacrificed to achieve this. I don’t think I have ever felt my enjoyment and investment in a match fall of a cliff as fast as this one did. Thanks Vince, you twerp!
WWE Title Match – Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler was drafted over to RAW in exchange for AJ Styles moving to SD and straight into a title match against his old friend McIntyre, because they are saving Orton for Summerslam and there is nobody else. Drew was so confident he could beat Dolph that he let Ziggler choose the stipulation which he kept to himself until the start of this match. His choice? An Extreme Rules match but only for him – Drew must wrestle a straight match and can also lose the title via DQ or countout.
Admittedly, it is an intriguing idea to put the champ behind the eight ball but it also helps if the nuance of the psychology is relayed by the announcers if the audience misses it which they often failed to do. It also effectively telegraphed the outcome as nobody buys Ziggler as champ in 2020 and certainly not when Orton is the next big challenger, so with him being less of a threat to Drew made so obvious, it was a wasted premise.
They worked hard and made the stip more plausible than it deserved to be in a decent match, but ultimately it amounts to very little in the long run because the fans are more ahead of the curve than Vince would like them to be, but that is his fault not ours.
Swamp Fight – Braun Strowman vs. Bray Wyatt
And they saved the biggest “WTF?” till last with his cinematic match that didn’t just jump the shark it cleared the entire ocean! Braun is still Universal champ but this is a non-title affair in case you wondered or cared.
Basically, Braun showed up at a remote swampland location to confront Wyatt (not The Fiend) and ended up fighting off some masked minions before being killed – by himself! Yeah, just work with me here. Braun then wakes up in some sort of afterlife where Bray lectures him about stuff. I don’t recall fights outside of anime being so verbose but Wyatt is a better talker than he is a wrestler.
Somehow Braun returns to reality and the fight restarts, but then he encounters a vision of Sister Abigail, who looks just like Alexa Bliss. Why? Well, they teamed up together in the Mixed Match Challenge a couple of year ago and Braun would gush about how cute Alexa was. Of course, if you didn’t see the MMC (which very few people did as it ran on Facebook) this would seem ludicrously random even for Vince.
Anyway, the fight eventually reaches the titular swamp where someone apparently dies – except people don’t actually die in wrestling but either way this didn’t make a lick of sense, and was the worst kind of indulgent excess and counterproductive direction we all knew Vince would take the cinematic match in once he got a taste for it. And this was the main event…
I’m actually struggling to sum my feelings for this show because I don’t want to appear like I am flogging a dead horse in repeating what I have already said above. A show that compromises mostly or gimmick matches is always going to be problematic in how they are applied and executed to keep the general vibe fresh – a bit like how TNA/Impact would have a whole PPV of steel cage matches.
The problem is the “horror show” motif is one that sounds good on paper and might have worked if this was October and everyone was in the Halloween spirit, but in the middle of summer it was destined to backfire. Plus there is always the temptation to go overboard in wrestling which sometimes can work and other times needs tempering; Vince is at the stage of delusion now where the latter is necessary more often than not.
But this is only half the story. The booking of the matches is also compromised to attain a goal that only Vince sees that the fans don’t agree on, thus we lose out. The Asuka vs. Sasha match is a prime example – fans just wanted to enjoy a great wrestling match and Vince wanted to hijack it to save his floundering TV ratings. Sure, I could see why he did it but not the way he did do it, when far more intelligent and more credible options were available.
Also, booking a match where you are promising one of your wrestlers will lose an eye on TV might create some ghoulish interest, but this is wrestling where stips are reneged and bailed on all the time, subtly is rarely a consideration. In this case going over the top just might be the best course of action but the ever mercurial Vince strives for something others can’t see and in the end the fans (and the wrestlers) are the losers of this old man’s whims.
Never has a PPV name been so apt as this slow train wreck of a show. At least it is only 2 ½ hours long…
Best Match – Asuka vs. Sasha Banks (until the finish)
Extreme Rules Kick-Off Match: Kevin Owens vs. Buddy Murphy
Rating – **
Man In Black