WWE returns with its annual “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Ca. On a card with only four advertised matches, WWE will heavily rely on the vaunted gimmick to carry the show. Let’s grade how they did.
Natalya vs. Lacey Evans
Summary: Natalya and Evans continued their seemingly never-ending feud on the Hell in a Cell preshow. The two began by trading transitions and takedowns before taking the action outside of the ring, where Evans used vicious and underhanded tactics, though the impact was diminished by the commercial break. After returning to the ring, Evans controlled the contest, grinding the match to a halt while systematically manipulating Natalya’s joints, particularly the right knee. After attempting and missing her Springboard Moonsault, Evans submitted to Natalya’s Sharpshooter.
Result: Natalya defeated Evans via submission
Analysis: This match sucked. I understand WWE not wanting to overshadow its main show, but what’s the point of a preshow if the matches fail to whet the fans’ appetite. The idea that Evans main evented a WWE pay-per-view in 2019 is appalling, while Natalya’s stock has dropped drastically due to her role of mentor to inexperienced performers. Finally, someone needs to identify the redundancy of airing a commercial for your own subscription-based channel during a match.
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks (Hell in a Cell for the Raw Women’s Championship)
Summary: Banks ambushed Lynch before the cell was fully lowered before commencing a vicious onslaught on the entrance ramp. Once the action moved inside the cell, Lynch turned the tables by utilizing the steel chain as a weapon. Within a matter of minutes, the competitors retrieved tables, ladders and chairs, battering one another with whatever object was in their vicinity. Lynch executed a Bexploder Suplex before transitioning into three consecutive baseball slides into the steel cage. Banks countered with a Meteora that drove Lynch’s head into a steel ladder, drawing an audible gasp from the announce team.
Banks then trapped Lynch’s arm in the steel door, using the door as a battering ram before hitting another Meteora, this time to a seated Lynch. Lynch regained the advantage with a drop toehold into an overturned steel chair, driving Banks face into the exposed chair legs. Lynch then lifted Banks onto a chair supported by three kendo sticks lodged in the steel cage before hitting an Avalanche dropkick. Banks took advantage of a distracted Becky to hit a third Meteora, this time through a table, but it was only good for a two-count. Banks rained steel chairs down onto her opponent only to have her own plan backfire once Lynch hit an Avalanche Bexloder onto more than a dozen steel chairs. Lynch proceeded to lock in the Dis-Arm-Her for the submission victory.
Result: Lynch defeated Banks via submission
Analysis: Creativity combined with a sense of recklessness made this contest an instant classic. Banks and Lynch came out prepared to sacrifice their bodies for our entertainment and they absolutely succeeded in that endeavor. Some Hell in a Cell matches fail to resonate with the crowd due to a lack of individuality and recycling of big spots. Banks and Lynch managed to surprise the crowd in a match type that has fallen victim to a pattern of repetitiveness.
At this point, we have to openly consider whether Lynch’s title reign is one of the greatest in the history of the WWE, male or female. Sure, the Evans feud was a blemish on her resume, but that should be attributed to Evans rather than “The Man.”
Banks, on the other hand, needed this win. However, her momentum can be salvaged should she turn on a vulnerable Bayley, who abandoned her own values for the sake of satiating Banks.
Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns vs. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan
Summary: Harper and Rowan took out Reigns early, leaving the diminutive Bryan to fend for himself during the embryonic stages of the match. Bryan used his in-ring savvy to get in abbreviated bursts of offense, but was overpowered. However, once Reigns re-entered the action, the match evened out.
A nasty suicide dive that saw Harper drive his own nose into the edge of the announce table temporarily revived a crowd eager to embrace the contest. The heels used their cohesion and chemistry to isolate their opponents. Bryan countered an attempted Powerbomb through the announce table into a Hurricanrana, allowing Reigns to reemerge with a Spear that put Erick Rowan through the same table. However, Harper regained the momentum for his team with a Powerbomb off the top rope to Bryan. However, a Superman Punch followed by both a running knee and a Spear put Harper down for the three-count
Result: Reigns and Bryan defeat Harper and Rowan via pinfall
Analysis: This wasn’t your standard cool down match. Harper and Rowan came off as vicious and dangerous while Bryan reinvented himself as a face. As a face, Bryan is electric, his connection with the crowd unparalleled in the modern era. Reigns, on the other hand, continues to suffer from a lukewarm reaction and, at this point, that might be the best WWE can hope for, especially considering the real-life battles he’s overcome.
Unfortunately, this was a relatively weak culmination of a feud that started off both red hot and endearingly personal. A one-on-one contest between Reigns and Bryan would have been infinitely more satisfying.
Randy Orton vs. Ali
Summary: Ali and Orton jockeyed for position within the company in an unannounced match. Orton used his size advantage to negate Ali’s speed, grinding the action to a snail’s pace. The “Apex Predator” compromised his opponent’s ligaments, launched him into the ring post and dropped him on the announce table, forcing Ali to retreat into survival mode. Ali used his evasiveness to get back into the contest, forcing Orton out of his comfort zone by speeding up the pace. After a brief flurry of offense, Ali countered one RKO before succumbing to a second.
Result: Randy Orton defeated Ali via pinfall
Analysis: This was was no more than a filler contest on a poorly constructed card. The match was inoffensive, but seemed as though it would be more at home on an episode of Raw or Smackdown. Ali countering the RKO by extending his arms and blocking its impact was an impressive display of creativity, but not nearly enough to salvage a throwaway contest
Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss (C) vs. The Kabuki Warriors (WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship)
Summary: A passive start saw the Kabuki Warriors outclass the champions early on. Every maneuver Bliss attempted was countered by an angry, arrogant Asuka. Once Kairi Saine entered the match, she adopted underhand tactics and heelish mannerisms, poking Nikki Cross in the eye as she stood on the ring apron. After being isolated for nearly five minutes, Bliss tagged in Cross for the hot tag. Sane regained the momentum for her side before Cross got her knees up to counter an InSane Elbow. Cross’s swinging neckbreaker almost netted her side the victory, but Asuka broke up the pnfall attempt. Asuka used the Green Mist (yes, you read that correctly) and a kick to the side of Cross’s head to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles.
Result: The Kabuki Warriors defeated Bliss and Cross to win the Women’s Tag Team Titles
Analysis: There’s a lot to unpack with this match. First, the long overdue coronation of Kabuki Warriors has finally come to fruition. Asuka is arguably the most talented worker on the roster and deserves a brighter spotlight. Second, it seems as if the Kabuki Warriors’ affiliation with Paige has come to a premature end. It will be interesting to see if they are able to stay afloat independent of their desperately needed mouthpiece. Third, it appears that Sane and Asuka commenced a heel turn, which will help revive their main roster run. The Green Mist, popularized by the Great Muta and later Tajiri, is a classic heel tactic. Their mannerisms dripped with arrogance and Sane poking Cross in the eye was grossly out of character. Finally, this match suffered from its lack of a proper build, an issue WWE needs to make a concerted effort to remedy. The women’s division deserves as much.
The OC vs. Braun Strowman and the Viking Raiders
Summary: The announce team hyped up the suspense of a mystery opponent before Strowman was announced as the big (literally) reveal. All six competitors put in a strong performance, but the match really found its legs once the traditional tag format devolved into a free-for-all. For a brief moment, it seemed as if the OC were going to pick up the victory after a Phenomenal Forearm from AJ Styles, but the Club instead opted to gang up on Strowman, prompting the disqualification. After the match, Strowman knocked out Styles with a straight right hand, further hinting at a future clash with Tyson Fury.
Result: Braun Strowman and the Viking Raiders defeated the OC
Analysis: This was another throwaway match to fill out the Hell in a Cell card. Nothing of consequence happened here other than getting six top talents on an incomplete card. The DQ finish was the right move as neither side, particularly the OC, can afford a clean loss. However, having the United States Champion knocked out by one punch is a narrow-sighted booking decision that does no one any favors.
King Baron Corbin vs. Chad Gable
Summary: a third unannounced match was delayed as Corbin spent three minutes outside of the ring mocking Gable’s height. Once the match began, Gable used his wrestling prowess to gain the advantage, masterfully transitioning from one submission to the next. Corbin and Gable would then go on hit their impact maneuvers; Corbin laid Gable out with spine-shattering Spinebuster before Gable recovered to hit a rolling, deadlift German Suplex. After getting peppered with punches, Corbin would counter Gable’s cannonball into a Powerbomb. A Deep Six nearly got Corbin the win, but Gable was able to kick out at two. Corbin let his frustration get the best of him when he grabbed his scepter, prompting the referee to intervene and affording Gable the opportunity to roll-up a distracted Corbin up for the win.
Result: Gable defeated Corbin via pinfall
Analysis: Crowd indifference permeated throughout the arena for this one. These two put on a great match during their King of the Ring Finals contest, but their rivalry has outlasted its welcome. There’s not much to say about this match other than how it’s nice to see Gable featured in a pay-per-view contest, even if his inclusion was the byproduct of WWE struggling to fill four hours.
Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley (C) (WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship)
Summary: Charlotte overwhelmed Bayley in the early going, forcing Bayley to rake Charlotte’s eyes to negate an early disadvantage. The two would trade momentum throughout the match, with Bayley strategically targeting Charlotte’s left leg in hopes of eliminating Charlotte’s ability to perform the Figure-Eight submission. Charlotte went on to respond in kind, targeting Bayley’s right knee by slamming it into the ring post. Charlotte would use her advantage to land a Natural Selection, but Bayley grabbed hold of the ring rope to break the count. Bayley would regain the advantage by countering Flair’s Moonsault. In desperation, Bayley rolled up Charlotte, attempting to use the ring ropes for extra leverage. While Bayley was arguing with the referee, Flair tackled Bayley before applying the Figure-Eight for the win.
Result: Flair defeated Bayley via submission to win the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship
Analysis: For whatever reason, Bayley’s popularity in NXT has failed to translate to the main roster. A heel turn was expected to revitalize a stale character, but instead she ended up playing a subservient second fiddle to Sasha Banks. At this point, Bayley’s membership in the original Four Horsewomen is operating as a crutch to keep her relevant.
Charlotte’s issue is a little more complex. The law of diminishing returns states that when something is repeated too often, the input loses its ability to obtain the desired result. Since debuting in 2015, Charlotte has won 10 women’s titles. While there is little doubt over Charlotte’s status as one of the greatest to ever enter a WWE ring, the audience has witnessed Charlotte ascend the mountain too often to become emotionally invested. WWE will face an uphill challenge booking a title run that fans care about.
Seth Rollins (C) vs. Bray Wyatt (WWE Universal Championship)
Summary: WWE seems to have decided to take the Sin Cara route with Bray Wyatt matches, having his matches contested under a stark red hue. Rollins seemed taken aback from the onset, bypassing formalities in favor of immediately retrieving a weapon. A kendo shot to the abdomen had no effect of Wyatt, setting the tone for the remainder of the match. In the early going, Wyatt had an answer for everything Rollins threw at him, even countering a suicide dive into a cage-assisted Sister Abigail.
Wyatt no-sold both a Frog Splash through the table and a Curb Stomp before hitting another Sister Abigail for a two count. “The Fiend” then held Rollins head in place and attempted to snap his neck in a display of brutality seldom seen under the WWE banner. Wyatt withdrew a mallet from beneath the ring and used it to pin Rollins against the steel.cell. However, a gutsy Rollins used the mallet to his own advantage, hitting a second Curb Stomp onto the mallet. Two superkicks, ten curb stomps and a Pedigree weren’t enough to put Wyatt away, though it did incite audible boos from the crowd. Rollins resorted to breaking one of WWE’s cardinal rules by landing a chair shot to Wyatt’s head, good only for a one count. Rollins positioned a steel chair atop a prone Wyatt and spiked a ladder onto Wyatt’s head, this time earning a two-count and unhinging Rollins in the process. Rollins then resorted to stacking weapons atop Wyatt before hammering him with a full toolbox. The match ended when the referee called for the bell after Rollins swung a sledgehammer at a prone Wyatt’s head. However, after the bell sounded, Wyatt sat up and gagged Rollins with a Mandible Claw.
Result: Wyatt defeated Rollins via disqualification;
Analysis: Bray Wyatt’s new gimmick is eerily reminiscent of that of the Undertaker and Kane during the infant stages of their respective runs. The manner in which he saunters to the ring, no-sells finishers and engages in psychological warfare is a modernized version of pre-biker ‘Taker, injecting WWE with a much needed dose of adrenaline. Rollins–who up to this point has been both a courageous and capable champion–resorting to actual attempted murder effectively hammered home that idea that “The Fiend” is an uncommon opponent.
However, I think WWE put Wyatt over a little too strong here. A single Curb Stomp, arguably the most protected move in WWE, should be able to finish a match.. Three curb stomps would cause permanent brain damage. Six would probably cause death. Ten would render a corpse unrecognizable. The idea of Wyatt kicking out of ten Curb Stomps, two Superkicks, a Pedigree and a Frog Splash makes one wonder how this man (thing?) can possibly be defeated. Credit to WWE for going all in on a supernatural gimmick, but they should perhaps explore scaling it back a bit so that he’s not immune to punishment. Furthermore, having Rollins outclass Wyatt so thoroughly that Wyatt was unable to finish the match, only to regain his heat later on, does neither competitor any favors.
Finally, a disqualification finish deprived the fans in attendance of a coronation that shouldn’t be delayed. WWE needs to learn to strike when the iron is hottest rather than elongating feuds for the sake of elongation. WWE fans, myself included, are a fickle bunch. WWE ruined Strowman by delaying a title victory. They can’t take the same chance with Wyatt.