WWE Extreme Rules 2014: Galvanizing the New Generation

It would be difficult to justify this year's Extreme Rules as a Pay-Per-View of surprises, per se. After all, apart from one minor detail regarding a DQ, each of my predictions for the event came true, and they weren't very far-out predictions, either. I was also quite hyped for the event, being invested in every angle except the two most minor, those being WeeLC and the handicap match, so I would have been suitably satiated if everything had been merely adequate as opposed to incredible.

The real surprise is just how damn good this event really was overall. I had to check and make sure I hadn't suddenly reverted to being 13 years old again.

No stops were left intact, even before WeeLC commenced. That pre-show showdown of height-challenged performers was shockingly an acceptable amalgam of comedy (the stand-in commentators' punny names made me chuckle) and actual sports entertainment as El Torito, Hornswoggle and their respective entourages performed legitimate spots and told a character-based story in the ring instead of pulling the usual small-people-doing-big-people-things gags.

The breakout star of the night for me was by far Alexander Rusev. I had once seen him make a Raw appearance as his Brigitte Nielsen-esque advocate Lana spoke in Russian about him, and I saw his very brief segment on the most recent SmackDown, but I have been otherwise blind due to Hulu+'s episode trimming. Not only did Lana dedicate the match to Vladimir Putin and put a huge image of Putin on the Titantron, the beautifully anti-patriotic heel likes of which are so rare anymore, Rusev himself didn't boringly squash his opponents but still took it to them with gusto and won with the Iron Sheik's finisher! This whole match gelled perfectly for me, including Lana instructing Rusev to "Smash!"

And match of the year goes to The Shield v. Evolution. It would truly be something to see this slobberknocker topped in 2014, as The Shield mopped the Izod Center with their predecessors, making Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista look like they had just been wheeled out of a retirement community. I don't think I've ever been so excited to see my main man HHH get schooled. Amazing spots rapidly abounded, topped by a Superfly splash from Rollins in an unlikely location and immediately followed by Reigns' incredible and clean three over Batista. The not-so-promising six-man tag nature of this thing did not keep it from being an absolute classic. In case it wasn't clear already, it is now chiseled in stone that The Shield belongs at the top of the WWE.

Gotta hand it to two popular dudes I've been down on of late, as well. Due to creative ideas, talented opponents and fresh enthusiasm, Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan fired me up with their performances that involved chillingly demonic theatrics, forklifts and a burning table.

Hurray for Cesaro even though his match was the most dull of a card stacked with good matches (almost by default due to Swagger being the jobber of the feud and RVD being completely useless... but I hope his face is okay after that last sequence). Still decent, though, and I'm glad they made it elimination style at the last minute (better late than never).

Huzzah for Barrett after a solid match against Big E. I like these guys about equally but Barrett had 100% of the momentum going in to the night and deserved this win. Big E needs a better opportunity to show who he is outside the ring. Sometimes I feel I'm the only one on the Internet who knows he's amazing when given freedom on the mic. Actually, he and Barrett could probably have an excellent feud if they were allowed to make it personal.

And whoopee for Paige, as well, as she pulled off a beautiful-looking rendition of her signature submission finisher on the big bad Tamina, who also lived up to my positive feelings about her in-ring work. This Divas Championship match may have featured the only bad moment of the night when a cover was botched by... well, I'm not sure who is to blame for that one, but it was awkward for a moment or two there.

From top to bottom, Extreme Rules 2014 delivered on all cylinders. WrestleMania XXX signaled the shift: a new generation has finally dawned. The variables seem to be coalescing in its favor. Here's hoping WWE doesn't take its foot off the accelerator.