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In the run up to Hell in a Cell and post-WrestleMania 37 there really is a strong argument that the weekly product has not been this ambivalent or dry in years. But when we arrive at Hell in a Cell, you always at least hope for something spectacular, even if the structure’s days of being prestigious and memorably brutal are slowly slipping away. On the run-up to the event, arguably the hottest angle on any main show was the Universal Championship picture involving Roman Reigns, The Usos and the Mysterio family. Sadly, the Smackdown before the show blew that by having the announced Rey Mysterio and Roman Reigns title Cell match on TV, and with that came ad breaks and time constraints. The match was by far not what it should/could have been and a letdown. Still, you can never count out a PPV, and while this show looked a little vanilla, there could be a dark horse show here, so here is what went down at Hell in a Cell 2021…
1. Natalya w/ Tamina vs. Mandy Rose w/ Dana Brooke (Kick-Off Show)
In the current Women’s Tag Team Title picture, champs Tamina and Natalya have yet to really be tested, but Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke are up for the task, or so they say. This last minute singles match did not really have much hype but you know it was not bad at all, and kind of was the earliest signifier of the women’s dominance on tonight’s card. Rose gave probably her best pure wrestling match here to date, keeping up with Natalya in the holds department and the match really started picking up. But in the end the submission queen locked in the sharpshooter for the unexpectedly hard fought win.
The show opened with a video package tipping its hat to The Warriors in quite hellacious and stylish fashion, bigging up all the main matches.
2. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship Hell in a Cell Match
Bianca Belair (c) vs. Bayley
After a less memorable showdown at WrestleMania Backlash, it was surprising but exciting to see these two get another championship match but this time within the confines of Hell in a Cell, and naturally the results were something great. Champion Bianca Belair went in to show arrogant (rather unhinged) challenger Bayley that she was no fluke or no joke and did so in a brutal opener to the show. Making good use of some weaponry (most memorably kendo sticks) and with some innovative sequences involving Bayley using Belair’s long braided hair against her, these two really took it to each other. If I am being brutally honest, I do feel that these two have yet to have a match together that lives up to their talents but this was the nearest they have gotten yet. Good start to the show.
3. Seth Rollins vs. Cesaro
After being embarrassed by the Swiss Superman at Night 1 of WrestleMania (also known as the best half), this rematch was set-up at the climax of WrestleMania Backlash. Seth Rollins and Cesaro brought it again here, with a fun match that started on the entrance ramp onwards. Again, I feel like workers of this calibre have yet to quite take it to the level they are capable of but this was another fine effort from the two. And Rollins’ pinfall victory was the right call, as I sense he will be heading for a certain Rated-R Superstar, come fans’ return and thus needed this (or really any) win. Cesaro could go anywhere from here but whatever happens, I still reckon he’s holding big gold before the end of this year.
4. Shayna Baszler (w/ Nia Jax and Reginald) vs. Alexa Bliss
I have to say, I was expecting more shenanigans here than what we actually got, which is saying something considering we received body manipulating voodoo, when Alexa Bliss “gained control” of Nia Jax at ringside, before laying out Shayna Baszler for the win. Baszler is such a strange choice for Alexa’s first – long overdue – victim, as she ought to be tearing that doll in half not hiding in a cloakroom. I digress, Alexa is really giving this character (and it’s nice to see an actual character) her all and some of her joint-twisting movements here were creepy fun but it is becoming clearer and clearer that Alexa/Lilly is no Bray Wyatt/Fiend. Nowhere near. This characters started out great alongside Bray last year but after that unnecessary WrestleMania twist, it has become sadly increasingly obvious, this solo stuff is just not clicking. The women’s division has long needed a masked monster character or disturbed entity but this stuff is just making me miss Bray more and want to see the original Fiend back rather than this decidedly lesser gender swapped reboot. The problem is that this hypnotising demon doll carrying witch character is just muddled, there’s no core or real personality to it like there is with The Fiend, and Alexa’s dark magic just aches of creative trying whatever weekly to see if something sticks, rather than forming a psychological basis and depth as Bray did. Plus, it doesn’t help that the one intriguing part of the act (that furniture-chucking horrible little doll Lilly) has now been put on “a time out”. It just does not feel to be working, there are ideas here but no discipline in their delivery. That said, Alexa winning made sense. Lets hope they pick a character trait and stick to it going forward.
5. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
Arguably the match of the night in terms of the all round package. Off the back of General Azeez’s Nigerian nail attack on Smackdown, Kevin Owens came into this match hurt, against longtime friend-turned-rival Sami Zayn, and it gave this contest a story to tell. As Zayn took full advantage of his, well, advantage, and the ref even had to consider stopping the bout. These two have faced so many times in the last few years but still find ways to draw you in overtime, and with Sami’s amazing conspiracist character work and Owens’ completely believable warrior, this was a gruelling and very well structured match with a strongly told narrative. In the end Sami, again someone who really needed the win, received the victory. These two recently had a Last Man Standing rematch on Smackdown which is a downright masterwork and I really recommend checking out, and it should have been saved for the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV
6. WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
People really went into this one expecting another title win for the Queen, which would make it, what the 200th? Seriously though, these two are talented enough to at least craft a serviceable match but have yet to meet the level they set at WrestleMania 36 last year. This was fine if unremarkable, in fact the most memorable thing was the DQ finish, in which – in what I believe is a first – a desperate Rhea Ripley was disqualified for using the announce table as a weapon (something they do in most singles matches really)…odd. Still, this is clearly far from over and the story of Rhea using Charlotte’s own tricks against her hopefully leads to that long required singles win for Rhea over Charlotte before ‘The Man’ comes around.
7. WWE Championship “Last Chance” Hell in a Cell Match
Bobby Lashley (c) w/MVP vs. Drew McIntyre
If Drew McIntyre could not beat Lashley here, he could not challenge for the strap again, which is a good thing, as it is high time the WWE Championship picture shifted now. That being said, this match for most of its duration was hands down match of the evening and Drew/Bobby brought it in a major way. Using some cool weapon spots, bruising their bodies (Drew’s caned back and Bobby’s skin-sliced shoulder) and keeping the action levels through the roof intense, this match really validated using the Cell structure. As it went on, it almost became a given that something was happening to send the Thunderdome era off on a high and level this PPV up. And that, dear readers, is where the large problem lies. As, this match ended when MVP gained access to the structure and (after previously been taken out) got a second wind by distracting Drew for a Lashley roll up win. In a Hell in a Cell match! What a flat finish! No returning superstar causing the heel to win? No dominant victory? No interesting ending at all to build off of? Nope, just a move they’d pull any week on one of the weekly TV shows. It was such a disappointingly bland end to a feud that has ran rather long and to a match that largely gave us an unforeseen great ending to it. The match wasn’t ruined but it was left with a disappointing full stop.
Overall, Hell in a Cell seemed to further suggest maybe it is time to retire this gimmick PPV, and leave this stipulation for rare occasions as it used to be, as the lustre of the Cell has really been lost – save for a few matches (End of An Era, Underaker/Brock Lesnar 2015, New Day/Usos, etc.) – for years now, and tonight, despite some fun matches, this event (as it has an unfortunate track record of) succumbed to ending on a sour note. Despite some peaks, this really did not feel like a powerful send-off for the Thunderdome era, more like an “oh very well” obligation before they start putting the work back in for the audience’s return. WWE TV really is in need of a shake-up and on the way to Money in the Bank it looks like we are heading there. Lets hope that event brings the summer season in right, rather than this inoffensive but unmemorable night.
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