Two things were certain after the WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view Sunday night.
Seth Rollins is still the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
And Kane doesn't like anybody.
Rollins left with the title only after taking a beating from challenger Randy Orton and fellow Authority member Kane -- and surviving controversy at the end of the steel cage title match.
Kane -- who started the night just as annoyed with Rollins as Orton and was serving as gatekeeper -- slammed the steel cage door into both combatants' heads after getting knocked to the floor accidentally by Rollins, who was trying to nail Orton.
Kane entered the ring and chokeslammed both men -- Kane also managed a double chokeslam for Rollins flunkies J&J Security to everyone's delight -- then placed Rollins on top of Orton for the pin. But Orton kicked out at two. Kane tried to come back with a tombstone piledriver, but Orton responded with an RKO.
The distraction allowed Rollins to hit Orton with an RKO, and then escape the cage.
When the RKO -- Orton's finishing move -- was banned as a match stipulation, was that just for Orton, or for Orton and Rollins? The argument was still going on as the show went off the air.
One thing that can't be argued is how well WWE has established Rollins as a worthwhile heel champion while re-establishing two guys who still have plenty to give in Kane and Orton. WWE's problem the last few years has been a lack of nuance in trying to build stars without burying stalwarts.
The company is finally getting a little better at this.
Roman Reigns beat The Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match
The Big Show came into pro wrestling billed as Andre The Giant’s son.
It wasn’t true, but Sunday night Show did something that would have made Andre proud as a pop.
Big Show “made” a guy.
Hulk Hogan was already a star when he showed up at WrestleMania III, but Andre officially turned Hogan into an icon by doing the honors and losing to the Hulkster.
After so many months being dismissed as someone who was handed the ball instead of earning it, Reigns outlasted Big Show in a legitimate Match of the Year candidate.
Reigns survived a chokeslam from Big Show in which Show launched him out of the ring and onto two tables. But Reigns made it up on the nine count and responded with a pair of spears -- one though the ring barrier, then another through the Spanish announce table after running up the ring steps and catching Show, who was standing on top of the table the English-speaking announcers were using.
When Big Show somehow managed to start moving again, Reigns finished him off by lifting up the table that wasn't already destroyed and throwing it over Show’s back.
If that can’t get fans to finally give Reigns a legitimate chance to become a player, then he shouldn’t feel bad. He’s done everything he can.
And so has Big Show.
Nikki Bella retained the Divas Title by beating Naomi
It wasn’t the most memorable women’s wrestling match in history, but look at it this way: This is the time most scribes used to get in their joke about whether they were able to make it to the bathroom and back in the 49 seconds given to the Divas match.
WWE has made fans care about the Divas as wrestlers, with announcers hyping up Naomi’s athletic ability and Nikki busting out moves like a judo armbar attempt. The match ended with Brie Bella landing a karate kick on Naomi with the referee not looking, allowing her twin sister to get the pin.
Most importantly, people will actually remember what happened next week.
John Cena retained the United States Title, beating Rusev in a Russian Chain Match
Cena came out of the curtain and proclaimed to the nearest camera that Chicago was where it all started. That’s not exactly true -- yes, it’s where he made his WWE debut, but unlike many wrestling fans growing up in Massachusetts he actually knew who Magnum T.A. and Nikita Koloff were. So in this new era where Cena is enjoying the ride instead of having to carry the company, this seemed like a bucket-list labor of love. He spoke about how much he was enjoying his new role in his recent podcast interview with Chris Jericho on WWE Network.
And in the end he got the win, as the first to touch all four corners. The bigger question is what happens to Rusev, who during the match dismissed Lana for accepting the adulation of the fans. His streak of victories could now be an albatross for WWE’s creative team. On a old “Legends of Wrestling” episode Kevin Nash explained how bad Goldberg’s streak was in WCW -- namely because if all someone has is a streak and the streak ends, what else is there?
That’s the question everyone’s asking about Rusev right now. Hopefully it'll get answered at the next pay-per-view, Payback, as it was announced Rusev would face Cena in an "I Quit" match.
In the “Kiss My Arse” match, Dolph Ziggler beat Sheamus (kind of)
Ziggler got the pin with a rollup, and it was no surprise when Sheamus hesitated for several minutes paying off the match stipulation. When it finally looked like he would man up, he instead nailed Ziggler with a low blow followed by a Brogue Kick, then made an unconscious Ziggler do the honors on Sheamus’ backside.
We’ll see how Sheamus eventually gets his comeuppance. As Curtis Axel’s months-long entrance in the Royal Rumble proved, these things don’t get forgotten that easily. Let’s hope Mr. McMahon, the Grand Poobah of the “Kiss My (Tuchus)” Club, gets involved in this controversy.
In a Chicago Street Fight, Dean Ambrose pinned Luke Harper
OK, it wasn’t “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Goldust in the “Hollywood Backlot Brawl,” but give WWE some credit. It’s hard to do a toned-down version of Attitude Era script, but Harper jumping into an SUV to escape and Ambrose jumping into the passenger window before the vehicle sped off is pretty good for the PG era.
To show up 30 minutes later and continue the match by brawling into other guys trying to do a post-match interview was one of the better backstage moments in recent years. (Extra credit to Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry “The King” Lawler for believably pondering where in Chicago they had been fighting since they left.) Ambrose and Harper finally made it back to the ring and threw enough folding chairs in the ring to make Terry Funk proud. Ambrose eventually hit his Dirty Deeds finisher for the win.
The New Day beat Cesaro and Tyson Kidd to win the WWE Tag-Team Championship
It’s always fun when one heel team is so poorly thought of that the other team becomes fan favorites by default. That’s how things went Sunday night.
But being despised didn’t keep The New Day from winning the tag belts. Is Kofi Kingston and Big E (with Xavier Woods at ringside) really working as bad guys to the point where they deserved the straps? Or is WWE trying to disguise a bad gimmick with a title reign, something it has been guilty of before?
On the preshow, Neville pinned Bad News Barrett
Did the most interesting match of the pay-per-view take place before the pay-per-view started? Maybe. Neville (with the exception of one Michael Cole “Adrian” reference he’s going only by his surname) debuted on a pay-per-view stage, looking sharp while hitting his Red Arrow finisher off the top rope for the win.
The big question is what happens from here. WWE has been reticent to move up guys even when they’ve been amazing in NXT, like Neville and Sami Zayn. (Neville got this shot after Daniel Bryan’s injury kept him from defending his Intercontinental Title against Barrett.) In one sense it can be viewed as a measured and thoughtful approach -- if you don’t have a vision of what to do with guys in the big leagues, you’re just exposing them on TV. Plus, WWE wants to build NXT as its own moneymaking brand as opposed to just a developmental system.
That said, NXT is the singular confirmation of Triple H as a success or failure in his second life as an executive. At a certain point everyone’s impatient to see if the in-ring business model Triple H has staked his reputation to is viable.
Next month ESPN’s E:60 is airing a special on NXT. If three or four of the guys on there aren’t doing something significant at WrestleMania next year, the question of NXT’s effectiveness in building main-event talent will be a fair one.