It’s hard to really judge whether Hell in a Cell was a good show, because history is going to focus on the fact that it was the first WWE PPV headlined by women, and the first female Hell in a Cell match in the bargain, meaning that the details of what actually happened will become indistinct. In a way, whether or not the PPV was worth watching is secondary to its historical importance, but while the steps taken at this show were both laudable and necessary for the evolution of the business, for the wrestling fan who watched it happen, it’s equally important that they were entertained while it happened. So, did Hell in a Cell succeed at being more than just a moment in history? Well, we had some thoughts about the show that we’d like to share.
10. Cruisers Being Cruisers
We said in our predictions for this show that we would probably really like the Cruiserweight six-man tag if they just let them go out and do the things that only they can do, and while the reins weren’t completely off, the match delivered fast-paced, frenetic action that served the purpose of warming up the crowd. It likely helped that Cedric Alexander’s been great at using his energetic performances to connect with the audience, and as mediocre as his WWE career has been, Sin Cara is still a recognizable and generally appreciated character who’s now being allowed to work with people more his size, but the end result was a decently hot pre-show opener. We have to give special mention to Alexander for clearly being particularly amped-up, with his Lumbar Check match-ender being especially energetic, and really showing off what an impressive finisher it can be when you have people capable of taking it and bouncing six feet in the air afterwards.
9. Why Won’t You Die?
We’re not sure what was going on with Rusev and Roman Reigns, but they absolutely were not clicking inside the Cell, wrestling a match that could have been described as “pedestrian” at best. The real shame is that their feud is one that has actually been booked with a level of hatred that would actually justify a Hell in a Cell match, but the result failed to deliver on any level. Take away the cage in favor of any other stipulation that allows limited weapon use, and we’re not sure you don’t get the exact same match, albeit without what seemed like two or three dozen Irish Whips into the Cell in a half-hearted attempt to “use the Cell”. Then, of course, there was the problem that Roman Reigns might as well have been the Last Son of Krypton during the match, taking an absolute beating from Rusev with stairs, kendo sticks, and a steel chain, while getting very little significant offense of his own, but still kicking out of every pinfall and powering out of every submission. Then he hit a single Spear and won the match. Corey Graves used the word “unbelievable” to describe the affair afterwards, and so would we, if not for precisely the same reasons.
8. How To Babyface
We don’t want to shine the light on how badly WWE has mangled Roman Reigns by forcing him to play a babyface when he shouldn’t, but just to show that Reigns getting booed isn’t some sort of “audiences want their good guys to have dark, edgy sides and pure babyfaces just don’t work in the modern era” situation, witness the ovation for Bayley when she bounced out minutes after Roman had slunk back behind the curtain. Frankly, nobody in the world plays as pure a babyface as Bayley, the eternally cheerful hugger who never compromises her principles and always stays positive, and can make the most cynical wrestling fan cheer for her unironically. However, it is a weekly reminder that occasionally, wrestling fans need an actual heroic figure to cheer for, an obvious relief from a seemingly unending torrent of “shades of gray” and “edgy” faces who cheat just as much as the heels (remember that we said this for later on). Of course, in ten years, if Bayley hasn’t evolved as a character, she’ll probably be getting the dreaded 50/50 reaction, but for now, what we’re seeing in her reactions is something that we’ve only seen in some of the biggest babyface stars in WWE history.
7. An Epic Case Of Bad Timing
We’d love to sit in on the production meeting where a WWE writer offered an idea to, on the same night that WWE will no doubt be endlessly patting themselves on the back for allowing Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair to make history by both main-eventing a PPV and doing so inside Hell in a Cell, thus solving gender inequality forever, they should have Enzo Amore and Big Cass repeatedly insult their opponents by assigning them female names and telling them that they’re just big girls. More specifically, we’d like to be there so we could smack that person upside the head and ask what the hell is wrong with them. We’ve had as much fun with Enzo’s speeches as the next person, but talk about your “two steps forward, one giant step back” situations. This is in the same category as The Rock making homophobic remarks when he does guest appearances on Raw, and for much the same reason. Yeah, The Rock and Enzo are hilariously charismatic guys who can talk a mile a minute and make absolute garbage seem palatable, but all that means is that they should be able to come up with better stuff than calling their opponents “gay”, or referring to them as “Big Gal”. It’s a new era, WWE, and you shouldn’t be able to trumpet a “Women’s Revolution” on the same night where you’re having ostensible babyfaces cutting promos belittling that same gender. On the bright side, Enzo and Cass lost, so maybe there was an inadvertent lesson there.
6. The Modern Cell Match
First of all, we have to say that the Universal Title match was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a modern Hell in a Cell match. Once you accept that nobody’s going to fall off the top of the Cell and any blood will probably be accidental (both things we completely agree with, by the way), what you’re left with is hoping for a chaotic brawl full of impressive weapon use and enough shenanigans to keep you entertained. Owens and Rollins didn’t have the greatest technical match by any means, especially once Jericho got involved and it became an extended version of a handicap match, but it fulfilled the entertainment quotient of a Cell match well enough, to the point that we found it an enjoyable match that probably didn’t deserve to get overshadowed by the Women’s match later in the evening. Of course, there’s a very important reason why it did, and that, of course, is due to the failings of the WWE Creative team leading up to what was obviously going to be a very good match. Let’s take a more in-depth look at that particular issue next.
5. Feuding With The Wrong Guy
The reason why the Universal Title match felt like an afterthought at Hell in a Cell is because the Universal Champion hasn’t been the most important person in the feud. Headed into the PPV, Kevin Owens ranked behind Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Stephanie McMahon, the absent Triple H, and a clipboard in terms of what parts of the main event scene have seemed to matter most on WWE programming in this past month. Even at Hell in a Cell, the final image in our minds was of Chris Jericho planting Rollins with a post-match Codebreaker, while Universal Champion Kevin Owens quietly slunk up the ramp and out of the spotlight. While Owens was the brash and brutal gladiator that made him a Universal title contender in the first place during the match, once it was over, he once again became subservient to a guy who, even if it’s been awesome to watch him perform, has been booked to overshadow the champion at every single turn. When Owens finally turns on Jericho, it’s going to be hard not to point out that he would be fully justified in feeling like Jericho was relentlessly stealing his thunder, because that’s exactly what’s been happening.
4. Hitting The Reset Button
Hey, at least our video game references are timely and clever, and not written by someone who might have seen someone else play Super Mario Bros once. More importantly, as TJP and Brian Kendrick were sent out to die in the aftermath of Owens-Rollins, we can’t help but feel that a large portion of the reason why fans aren’t reacting to the Cruiserweight division is that the guy on top, despite having a cool entrance and not being a bad wrestler at all, just doesn’t have the personality for the role. In addition, his lack of connection with the crowd makes it harder for them to care about his matches, and WWE was absolutely right to take the belt off him and put it onto someone in Kendrick who has shown he can at least evoke a reaction for his slimy heel machinations. Kendrick as champion offers WWE a chance to set up a line of Cruiserweight babyfaces to step up and challenge the wily veteran, and see which ones can garner crowd sympathy before deciding who will become the new face of the division. Plus, while he has been excellent at playing a dirty heel, it`s still great to see a guy like Kendrick, who recognizes that he threw away a promising WWE career when he was younger, figure it all out in time to get another run in a high-profile spot.
3. Can’t Stop Now, Apparently
We`re sorry, but if that`s the finish WWE was going to come up with to stop Cesaro and Sheamus from winning the Tag Team titles and actually giving this endless story some sort of actual climax and payoff, then New Day breaking Demolition`s record doesn`t really mean anything anyway. Of course, it`s inevitable that they`re going to do so at this point, since they`ll almost certainly be in the 10-team Survivor Series match, then break the record before the next Raw-brand PPV, and in fact, that`s where they`ll likely lose the belts to Cesaro and Sheamus anyway. Once again, WWE is stretching a feud beyond the point of where it needed to end simply because they want to be able to trumpet about breaking a record, or see if they can get a second payday out of the same feud, or simply because they don`t have anything better for everyone involved to do once their current storyline ends. So, we`re looking at another couple of months of Cesaro and Sheamus as a bickering tag team that occasionally works together before fighting again, all in service of a payoff that would have already happened if not for WWE once again being obsessed with breaking a record nobody really cares about.
2. Great Expectations
We’re going to be as fair as we can be about the main event, even knowing that there’s no real way to be objective about a match with such legitimately huge implications. It was almost certain that this match would fail to live up to the hype, because it was nearly impossible for even two such accomplished wrestlers as Charlotte and Sasha (and they are both fantastic, make no mistake) to exceed expectations heaped onto a match that was both the first female Hell in a Cell and the first women’s match to close out a WWE PPV, ever. It wasn’t the best match Charlotte and Sasha have ever had, or even the best match they’ve had in the last few months. When the Match of the Year votes are counted, it might get a few, but it didn’t become a no-brainer #1, or even top five. But it was a very good match that told a story and had both innovative and solid wrestling, even if a table broke too early and the finish came out of nowhere. For our money, it was the best match of the evening, but if you wanted to go with something like Owens-Rollins instead, we wouldn’t start screaming about it. Ultimately, while the match didn’t re-define the Cell match or slingshot women’s wrestling into the stratosphere, it was a great match that was more than worthy of the main event of a PPV, and that in itself is an incredible accomplishment deserving of celebration.
1. Evil Always Wins
A common complaint we’ve heard about popular show The Walking Dead, especially recently, is that the unending grind of watching good people fail is starting to turn viewers off. While the bad guys have to get the upper hand for a while, you need to give the good guys that big win, that cathartic moment where everything works out, at least for a little while. WWE has a similar problem. and it’s tied into their desire to stretch feuds for weeks and months longer than the story can support it. Because you can generally only give the babyface that big win once, when a feud lasts a long time, what happens is that the heel inevitably wins the majority of the matches. And then after the good guys (or gals) win, WWE tends to build up their next challenger by having them win matches over them. It’s a near-endless cycle of depression with only rare spots of light, and Hell in a Cell was, as a great philosopher once said, “a series of down endings”, with the only really feel-good moment coming in the second match of the evening (we couldn’t particularly be happy about New Day’s win, given the ridiculous ending and the fact that Cesaro once again got screwed), capped off by Charlotte starting her third reign as Women’s Champion in the last year, after everyone had been expecting a lengthy reign from Sasha Banks when she won the title back only weeks earlier in a hugely emotional moment. At a certain point, the momentary victories aren’t enough to alleviate the relentless crushing depression that comes from evil always winning, and just like on The Walking Dead, eventually people start questioning the point of even going on.