This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Mazza and I are back at the helm as we discuss four of WWE’s biggest stipulations and their variations, talking about how they’ve evolved over the years as well as positing some of our favourite matches concerning ladders or cages and cells, multiple falls or no disqualifications.
It was a recording session that left my cogs whirring, as I began to mull over the sheer amount of excellent in-ring efforts we’ve seen among the pantheon of Extreme Rules over the years (especially when including its forbearer, One Night Stand (ONS)). The rate of in-ring success found on ONS and Extreme Rules cards over the years is quite staggering, when considering the otherwise wildly inconsistent hit and miss record of practically every other pay-per-view in the company’s history.
As early as 2006, this was a pay-per-view pumping out minor and hipster classics left, right and centre. Rob Van Dam (RVD) vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship lives in infamy, but 2007’s RVD / Orton Stretcher Match curtain jerker isn’t to be scoffed at either. 2007 provided a second sterling effort too, albeit not one to my tastes, in the form of the Hardy Boyz vs. World’s Greatest Tag Team for the World Tag Team Championships in a Ladders Match. 2008’s card, featuring a fun Jeff Hardy / Umaga Falls Count Anywhere Match, a character-driven Batista vs. Shawn Michaels Stretcher Match and an outstanding Edge vs. Undertaker TLC Match for the World Heavyweight Championship is an excellent event end to end, really.
Then, after those formative years, once the event evolved into Extreme Rules as it is known today, the trend of minor / hipster classics continued at a pace, with no single iteration of the event failing to offer at least one very good match, with the best offering up several. Oddly enough, Extreme Rules stood as a beacon of relatively consistent quality during the particularly bleak creative years of 2010, 2011 and 2012 – the latter being particularly good – before hitting greater inconsistency once the wider product became stronger through the years that followed on.
The question I have to ask, then, is why do I have to justify this plethora – and plethora really is the word to use – of classics with the words ‘minor’ or ‘hipster’? Why are so many of these great matches, like the Edge / Chris Jericho Steel Cage Match from 2010 for example, sentenced to be forgotten by the mass fan base?
I have a theory, and I can express it quite simply.
The ONS / Extreme Rules pay-per-view lineage is peppered with matches that achieve greatness despite their gimmick, rather than because of it.
In other words, while the aforementioned bouts all deserve to be praised and recognised as the above average in-ring achievements they are, the reason they might not be is because, despite their quality, they aren’t necessarily great examples of the gimmick they’re attached to.
Admittedly, I have not tested this theory, may be wearing some rose-tinted glasses and, indeed, would greatly appreciate your own insight as a result. It is based primarily on two things: my memory of, more often than not, and more frequently than with any other pay-per-view, feeling like ONS / Extreme Rules lived up to or exceeded its hype over the years of its existence, and the fact that all these great matches have proven to be far from memorable if the popular mindset of the fan base is to be considered. The two just don’t seem to marry up to me.
What makes a Steel Cage Match great, for example? Is it blood? Is it stunt work? Is it a long and bitter rivalry as pretext? I’m not sure, but quite clearly it is not psychological intrigue and subtle character work as seen in the aforementioned Edge / Jericho encounter at Extreme Rules 2010, that brilliantly takes the basis of their WrestleMania encounter and builds upon it. In that match, Edge seems to deliberately seek to injure Chris Jericho, who had not only mocked Edge’s own Achilles tendon injury heading into the Showcase of Immortals but also boasted of his own apparent physical infallibility. To then see Jericho’s mental and emotional resilience crumble as injury becomes a frighteningly likely possibility for him at the hands of a vengeful Ultimate Opportunist casts truly compelling light on the characters of both men.
I find myself now wondering, had Edge vs. Jericho been a regular singles match and happened in exactly the same way, if people would still chatter about it more excitedly than they currently do (or do not, as the case may be!). Maybe that is the very issue I’m exploring here: that Edge vs. Jericho could have happened in exactly the same way without the Cage could be exactly why it doesn’t get remembered. It was, after all, a Steel Cage Match, and thus was judged within that context.
It boils down to an issue I explore at length in my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, one that sits at the heart of adopting a performance art perspective on WWE’s product. I am talking of genre. What a sports entertainment mindset would simply call a gimmick match, my performance art view considers a ‘genre’ – a match type fans define mentally according to a series of criteria we have created for ourselves and by which we then judge it. It is, essentially, an issue about identity, rooted in the question I posed some moments ago: what makes for a good example of any given gimmick? If a gimmick match – a genre match – doesn’t meet the criteria we use in our own minds to answer that question, it is likely to be met divisively, with hostility or be doomed to simply be forgotten.
This could very well be the Extreme Rules issue, then. It has hosted a plethora of above average to excellent ‘minor’ or ‘hipster’ classics over the years, that may only be ‘minor’ or ‘hipster’ because, while focussing on telling great stories, they have demonstrated a distinct lack of concern with their own genre. Edge vs. Jericho was less concerned with being a great Cage Match, for example, than it was with simply telling a great story.
I need to test this theory out, and look forward to doing so. Sitting down and watching a playlist of forgotten greats from the history of Extreme Rules and One Night Stand sounds like it will be a lot of fun, precisely because of the show’s surprising hit rate. Maybe the theory holds no water, maybe it does, but either way it has become obvious to me this week that Extreme Rules might just be, even if silently, the strongest and most consistent pay-per-view of the last decade when it comes to the issue of in-ring quality.
Unless I’m over-thinking it all, that is. Maybe people are just sick of these genres altogether, given the age of excess we currently suffer through, and would just rather forget that we have to sit through a not-so extreme Extreme Rules event every year? I hope not though, because that seems horribly unfair.
But you can hear more on all of this, and on the Superstar Shakeup, from Maverick and I in just a couple of hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on Extreme Rules, or on gimmick matches as genres and what defines them, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!