Like most aspects of life in 2020, WWE television was terribly grim; if I’m still doing my bi-weekly Art is War column in 45 years, I’ll shut it down before I have to review the pandemic era Raws.
But while WWE trudged along with hostage-like matches in empty rooms, they also saw an upside to the lack of live audience. Two upsides, in fact.
Now, they could transcend the genre with cinematic matches and moments via post-production…
…and they could put on unbelievably awful matches and moments with no fans around to voice their disgust.
It was unclear which one of those the Eye For An Eye match was supposed to be.
The story began when Seth Rollins, who was calling himself the Monday Night Messiah, heinously attacked Rey Mysterio. It seems this messiah was out to cause blindness, not cure it…
…jamming Rey’s eye into the corner of the steel ring steps.
Soon after, Rey and his son tried to put out Seth’s eye…
…and Seth tried to do the same to Dominik.
All this eye-for-an-eye business couldn’t possibly end well. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, this angle sucked.
Rey and Seth would square off at the upcoming pay-per-view, but it would take some truly extreme rules to settle this feud for good. Thus, when Rey won a tag match to determine the stipulation, he announced the first-ever Eye For An Eye match…
…where the only way to win was to tear out your opponent’s eye. That seems like something he should have run by WWE’s legal team.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time a wrestler had targeted his opponent’s eye in a match; Magnum TA and Tully Blanchard had a classic I Quit match that ended nearly the same way.
But there’s a huge difference between that match and the Eye For An Eye match:
A great feud and great performers can convince fans a wrestler is willing to gouge his opponent’s eye out…
…but no booking or talent in the world can convince fans a wrestler actually will gouge his opponent’s eye out, for real, on camera, to fulfill a pre-match stipulation.
It’s also why we’ve never seen a beheading match, a throat-slitting match, or an amputation match.
The Eye For An Eye match would take place at Extreme Rules, befitting the pay-per-view’s tagline, “The Horror Show”. (Not befitting that tagline was the possible James Brown sample they used in their video packages)
To keep this dismemberment match from sounding, you know, violent, WWE settled on the verbiage of “extracting” the opponent’s eye when explaining its goal. (Or “extract out”, as Tom Phillips kept redundantly putting it)
The two men tried all sorts of methods to pull the others’ eye out — some sneaky, some straightforward. Seth and Rey attempted to get the job done with everything from wrenches to rebar.
In such a match as this, safety was always a concern. Here, the referee checked on Seth Rollins to see if he’d lost an eye…
…and, if not, to make him keep fighting until he did.
To put across how much Rey hated Seth, throughout the match the ultimate good guy repeatedly called Rollins a “son of a bitch”…
…language as coarse and ill-fitting as a PWTees shirt.
After a lot of back and forth action, both men’s eyes were no closer to coming out than when they’d started. That’s when Rey got Seth right where he wanted him outside the ring.
Some wrestlers show they mean business by taking down the straps of their singlet. Rey showed it by taking off his eye patch. You could tell his eye was in bad shape because the iris was missing.
Rey attempted to smash Seth’s eye against the steps just as Rollins had done to him…
…but Seth narrowly escaped by mule-kicking Rey in the groin. This absolutely stunned the crowd of NXT rookies…
…who could not fathom Seth stooping to such barbaric, cheap tactics just to save his eyeball.
Seth shoved Rey toward the steps as Mysterio, one hand still on his crotch, tried to resist.
Under such desperate circumstances, Rey could be forgiven for impotently crying out like a sniveling bitch (to quote Gandhi again).
Tom Phillips was especially concerned that Rey’s “damaged right eye is exposed”, as if he’d prefer his good eye gouged out.
As I mentioned earlier, in 2020, WWE took full of advantage of its lack of live crowd in two ways: using special effects, and doing incredibly dumb things that would ordinarily get booed out of the building.
Guess which one they chose for this match’s finish.
For fans watching on Peacock, the payoff for this match was simply Rey clutching his eye socket and yelling in agony. That’s it! Sorry, folks.
Maybe WWE figured viewers would be too frightened to look at the screen, so why bother with blood or gore or special effects or anything — anything — that would have paid off this ludicrous feud and stipulation?
Seth Rollins, for one, was so disgusted by what he did to Rey that he puked.
But WWE did include one small detail to reward fans with iron stomachs:
A googly eye.
This company regularly works with Tom Savini, by the way.
The attendees were unforgiving. Seth was on the receiving end of a double-thumbs down by a man wearing his wife’s merch…
…and a “WTF, dude?” look from a guy in an Usos shirt. The Performance Center guests banged on the plexiglass barriers…
…incredulous about what Seth did, as if it weren’t the only way to win the match and save his own eye…
…and as if the match weren’t Rey’s idea to begin with.
It’s not like Seth did it entirely on purpose, anyway. How was he supposed to know that, by pushing Rey’s eye into the steps exactly as he’d done on Raw, Mysterio’s eye would actually pop out as if spring-loaded?
Luckily, WWE’s quick-acting medical team was able to stuff Rey’s eye back in its socket, allowing him to make a full recovery within a year.
In real life, Seth Rollins, ever the company man, had no regrets about the match; touting his creative freedom, he claimed Vince McMahon had nothing to do with 99.9% of it —
— except for, no joke, the finish and the stipulation itself. But aside from the entire concept and execution, the Eye For An Eye match was a Seth and Rey original.
As for Mysterio, at least his eyeball was only the second-dumbest thing he’d had to lose in a match.