By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Neville def. Bad News Barrett (Kickoff Match)
I wasn't surprised to hear Daniel Bryan was pulled from the event because there have been too many rumors recently that have indicated he is not in good health, but I hope he's healed up quickly and is back at 100%. That said, Neville was the perfect person to replace him as he didn't already have a match on the pay-per-view and Neville pinned Barrett this past week on SmackDown. As I knew figured they would, Neville and Barrett contested a very fun match and it was great to see them get as much as they did instead of it running short so they could fit another match on the Kickoff Show. This was further proof that Barrett is a great worker with heavily damaged credibility, though I'd love to see these guys work together again in the near future.
Dean Ambrose def. Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight
This was an ideal way of opening the event and Ambrose and Harper took full advantage of the opportunity by having an enjoyable street fight. The incorporation of weapons was well done and it was cool to see them live up to the stipulation by actually taking their brawl to the streets of Chicago. I appreciated it was something different when they left the building only to return and resume the match an hour later, but I was hoping we'd get footage of them fighting around Chicago as we saw with Roddy Piper and Goldust at WrestleMania 12. Still, it was a fun match and Ambrose was long overdue for a win on pay-per-view.
Dolph Ziggler def. Sheamus in a "Kiss Me Arse" Match
Stupid stipulation aside, these guys went out there and tore it up in the middle of the ring and had a very nice match. I'm sure their match could have been even better, but I assume the feud is set to continue, so there's a chance they were holding back a bit for future encounters. Ziggler winning was a pleasant surprise, but it was smart booking, as Sheamus kept his heat by attacking Ziggler afterward. To anyone who was mad that Ziggler "won but still lost" because he (involuntarily) kissed Sheamus' ass, Sheamus couldn't have gone through with the stipulation at the risk of him ruining any momentum he's built up since his return. Don't worry, Ziggler will be fine.
The New Day def. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd to Win the WWE Tag Team Championship
I've said before that The New Day are three incredible athletes stuck with a silly gimmick, and that this match had the potential to be very good, but I didn't think I'd be as invested in this match as I was. Simply put, this was tag team wrestling at its finest, and probably the best bout either team has had since they formed. There was plenty of suspense down the stretch with all the nearfalls and they had the crowd on the edge of their seats. I wasn't as angry at The New Day winning the belts as I thought I would be because they're finally clicking as heels and if Kidd and Cesaro are positioned as babyfaces in chase mode, then the feud is better off with the belts on The New Day.
United States Champion John Cena def. Rusev in a Russian Chain Match
Personally, I have never enjoyed Strap matches (and that's essentially what this was based on the rules) because they always bore me to tears. While this match started out slow, they incorporated enough innovative and fresh spots that they made the stipulation work to the best of their ability, and as a result, I liked it more than I thought I would. Perhaps the most part of the match was when Rusev instructed Lana to go to the back. I don't know what that means for their future together, but I can tell you right now that without her, Rusev is dead in the water. I really wished this would have been the end of the feud. Why is a rematch at Payback even necessary? Unless they have something special in mind, Rusev losing again will only do more harm than good.
Divas Champion Nikki Bella def. Naomi
I was genuinely surprised that the crowd didn't crap all over this match, and I was very happy they didn't. The reason I say that is because they were both heels and the crowd didn't have any incentive to cheer for either of them, but they were respectful and didn't hijack the match. It was a pretty decent match, too, but again, some character development (especially with the Bellas) would have helped. I didn't expect Nikki to retain, but with Brie aiding her to victory, Naomi had an out for losing and I assume her title aspirations are not yet over.
Roman Reigns def. Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match
Similar to the previous bout, I was fully expecting the crowd to not care about anything these two did, but to the credit of Reigns and Show, they had a much better match than expected. I'm hesitant to call it "great" because I didn't think it was, but considering no one wanted to see their feud continue, they delivered the best they could. I also think it goes without saying it was the best bout they've ever contested together, and another impressive outing from Reigns on pay-per-view. The Spear through the commentary table should have been the end of it; Reigns "burying" Show with the table itself was too reminiscent of what we saw in the Last Man Standing match between Cena and Bray Wyatt last year (also in Chicago).
Ryback Attacked Bo Dallas
It seemed like this would be the time and place that Bray Wyatt would reveal Ryback as the person he's been referring to in his promos as of late, but it's possible they're saving that for Raw. I thought it was a long shot at first, but now I'm starting to believe it. Otherwise, they wouldn't be giving Ryback as much TV time as they have been in recent weeks. His attack on Dallas was short and sweet, but it would be awesome if Wyatt avenged the attack on his brother by laying out Ryback on Raw. I don't at all expect it to happen, but stranger things have happened (this is WWE after all).
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins def. Randy Orton in a Steel Cage Match
While it wasn't the barn burner of a bout that they had at WrestleMania, it was still a fairly solid match where the excitement didn't start to set in until Kane's involvement. I groaned at the interference from J&J Security since it completely defeated the purpose of the cage being there, but it wasn't the first time that happened and it surely won't be the last, so that had to be seen coming. The storytelling with Kane as of late has been spot-on and this was no different. I loved how he attacked both Orton and Rollins, so it's still not clear where his allegiance lies. He can still turn babyface, so this wasn't what I feared it might be (Kane "swerving" the audience by sticking with The Authority). Rollins hitting the RKO, the maneuver that Orton was banned from using in this match to begin with, for the finish was fantastic. Everything about this program has been brilliant since the start, but I hope they find something new for both guys to do going into Payback (though I'm certain we'll get another rematch out of them).
Everyone will have their own opinion of this show, but personally, I enjoyed it and was entertained for the entirety of the three hours. Let's face it: you can't compare Extreme Rules to WrestleMania 31 because that event was above and beyond one of the best in years, but on its own, it exceeded expectations. Most matches delivered, and although some of the results were slightly surprising, they were the good kind of surprising. Furthermore, the Chicago crowd made for an electric atmosphere as they always do and certainly enhanced the experience of watching this event.