Well, better late than never, lets take a look at Hell in a Cell from a couple of weeks back, with some benefits of hindsight! Call me crazy but in the weeks leading to the event, WWE did seem to have really picked up a bit. Admittedly, they have this awful knack of putting on huge matches (see The Fiend vs. Kevin Owens and Sheamus vs. Big E a couple of weeks back on Smackdown or The Hurt Business vs. Retribution on Raw) instead of saving this stuff for PPV but there were many intriguing storylines mounting, in Mustafa Ali being brilliantly revealed as Retribution’s leader (and the Smackdown hacker…remember that angle?) and their initial targeting of The Fiend and Alexa Bliss (who have been terrorising WWE together – Alexa’s now even in the Funhouse), while over on the blue brand Roman Reigns and Jey Uso’s family feud was a scorcher! Indeed, as we headed to an event I wondered if we’d ever get back when shows were in the Performance Center (crikey, it seems so long ago…but that’s 2020 for ya), things seemed pretty darn hot. And, thanks to the Thunderdome experience, the Cell beckoned.
And after the recent brand shake-up saw the newly returned The New Day split-up (say it ain’t so!!) after 6 years and Raw become a monster of a roster, things looked kinda cool for things going forward. And this years Hell in a Cell card – with its three main event Hell in a Cell matches alone – looked like it could be a, pardon the pun, hell of a night. Despite WWE leaving much of the card until the last minute outside of the main events (a move they pulled last year too at this PPV)! Roman and Jey in the Cell was enough to draw after their Clash of Champions showdown but with this being the first ever “I Quit” Hell in a Cell match the stakes went through the structures roof! Meanwhile Sasha Banks and Bayley fighting for the Smackdown Women’s Championship inside “satan’s structure” was a mouth-watering prospect, and Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre’s summer WWE Championship rivalry coming to an end in the Cell was wholly appropriate.
Anyway, lets get this show (well, review) on the road, as we see whether the highway to Hell in a Cell resulted in salvation or damnation…
1. (Kick-Off show) WWE 24/7 Championship Match
R-Truth (c) vs. Drew Gulak
This was not as random as it appears on paper, considering R-Truth and Drew Gulak’s run-ins for this rather forgotten title on TV. Nevertheless R-Truth is always fun (he was unaware he had a match and had to be told by the kick-off panel!) and the opening of this match with Gulak attacking Truth’s invisible friend Little Jimmy was funny. Other than that not much to discuss here, this was any old match you could see any week on TV, Truth got the win and the usual runaround 24/7 stuff continued. With a frustrated Gulak insulting Truth’s “boyhood hero” and saying, “John Cena Sucks”.
The main show opens with a video package hyping up the horror of the Cell’s history, even though those days of the stipulation’s true violence are probably gone, and we get some ominous voiceover, prophetic dialogue and light shed on the main events of course…
2. WWE Universal Championship Hell in a Cell “I Quit” Match
Roman Reigns (c) w/ Paul Heyman vs. Jey Uso
The show started strong with the high stakes Hell in a Cell match between cousins Jey and Roman and, unlike their Clash of Champions encounter, Jey got off to a great start this night. Taking it to Roman, before “The Tribal Chief” would get his way back into it. The story was one of a defiant Jey being prepared to literally die rather than quit and Roman toying with people’s emotions and making us all think he cared and was conflicted, but ultimately, like last time, it was a well-meaning Jimmy Uso who cost his bro the match, as Roman attacked the injured Uso, forcing Jey to quit on his injured brother’s behalf. These two tell a great story and had a hard hitting match but truth be told, I thought their first match was far better and that – with a similar ending – it proved quite a predictable finish and that, with the “I Quit” stipulation, the Cell was not really needed for this one. Still, those quibbles aside, this was another old fashioned war, and in loss Jey would now serve “the head of the table” Roman, less he and his family be ex-communicated. And in the weeks since, the story has grown increasingly compellingly cruel for a tortured Jey, as Roman’s heel game continues to be top notch.
3. Jeff Hardy vs. Elias
I was actually happy about this match being made the week before, because Jeff Hardy and a returning Elias seemed like they could deliver. Unfortunately, WWE has once again gone the route of “Junkie Jeff” storytelling and while it is admirable they have thought longterm (Elias blames Jeff for being hit by a car – which happened months back in the Hardy/Sheamus feud) but his logic is odd, as I’m sure we already found out that Sheamus was the one who actually did it. Anywho, the match was actually quite a disappointingly plodding affair, with a wholly unsatisfying DQ finish, as Jeff whacked Elias with his own guitar. Sadly, this storyline has not got off the ground, despite both guys being great…it happens.
4. Money in the Bank Briefcase on the Line
Otis w/Tucker vs. The Miz w/ John Morrison
Speaking of illogical plots, why The Miz feels to have any legal claim to Otis’s MITB briefcase and contract is so random, though I did actually enjoy seeing JBL, Ron Simmons and Theodore Long on that ‘Law & Otis’ skit. Anyway, this match was ok, did what it needed to in making the Briefcase relevant, as Tucker unexpectedly betrayed his pal (which TV has made virtually nothing of since), leading to Miz getting the win and the contract. I feel like it was done because they did not have any idea where to go with Otis as a cash in, which admittedly many voiced concerns about when he won the case back in May. But Miz is a great briefcase holder and this match was enjoyable enough, if unmemorable.
5. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship Hell in a Cell Match
Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks
For my money, this match was the match of the night. I’ll be honest, I think they have set this feud in motion too soon and should have saved it for WrestleMania but who can argue when the results are this good? The feud has been personal and involving, and this feeling was transplanted into the in-ring action in this fantastic Hell in a Cell match. Featuring innovative uses of weaponry and some back and forth action, this one could have gone either way and that made it even better. Banks and Bayley threw it all at each other in the similar way Banks and Becky Lynch did in the Cell last year and likewise it delivered brilliantly. The aggressive final hold to finally score a determined Banks the submission victory over her former bestie was the icing on top of a well told and delivered story in “satan’s structure”. Marvellous stuff!
6. WWE United States Championship Match
Lashley (c) vs. Slapjack
This match was set up on the Kick-off, with Mustafa Ali challenging The Hurt Business to a ‘one guy from each faction’ match. Then earlier on this show MVP upped the stakes and made it a title match. That excited me because after a submission defeat on Raw and The Fiend annihilating them, Retribution needed a big win here. However, this was the most infuriatingly pointless match on the entire card. Instead of actually giving Slapjack a win in a creative way or building any steam for Retribution, all this useless filler match did was bury Retribution and put over Lashley (which is strange as he is already set as a threat and has no immediate future ahead of being the muscle for The Hurt Business). This random match did literally nothing but make it harder for such an interesting, talented and diverse faction that is Retribution to thrive. All I can hope is that the masked group has a reset (as is being currently suggested) and gets a big win of some sort because this was an absolute waste of time and so so badly booked!
7. WWE Championship Hell in a Cell Match
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Randy Orton
With this main eventing, I kind of expected some kind of shock to come, and while that hurt the match to some degree, this was not a bad way to end a feud (well, so to speak, as in the weeks since we have seen it advance). The match result was rather obvious, considering how Orton has fared so far against McIntyre, so it seemed like the time was nigh for Orton to claim his incredible 14th championship. McIntyre has been a fantastic champion and he will definitely wear that title again and hopefully gets a run with a live crowd when this pandemic has ended. I digress, the match was fun (though not as enjoyable as their ambulance match at Clash of Champions), with McIntyre and Orton battling in an equally matched fashion. They even made it to the roof, with McIntyre taking a Cell-side fall through an announce table. They delivered a good main event all told and Orton has been on fine form in 2020, so his title win should yield some greatness to come in this reign.
Overall, Hell in a Cell was a fine show, not bad but not great either. The undercard was largely bad to forgettable but the Cell matches were luckily strong enough to compensate for that, with Bayley and Banks absolutely stealing the show. Now, I try not to rant but crikey the Raw that followed Hell in a Cell was terrible. With a near fatal bolt to the brain being delivered again to poor old Retribution and worse still the return of Raw vs. Smackdown for Survivor Series. I had hoped, with the exciting Undertaker tribute news (Survivor Series marks his 30th anniversary), that this year’s Survivor Series was finally skipping the brand warfare stuff, alas here we are again, as matches were thrown together. I hate the Raw vs. Smackdown deal, it’s often lazy, very dated and it shackles the card in such a damaging way.
Now any actual interesting potential feuds (like the cool Fiend/Bliss/Orton/McIntyre/Miz title picture on Raw) are put on hold in favour of yet another brand warfare theme and a bunch of ‘get in the way’ matches that are random and/or meaningless. They practically are all friends or married or jump onto each show as “guests” and share every PPV together, so the brand stuff nowadays is very much pointless now. WWE announced US Champ Lashley vs. Intercontinental Champ Sami Zayn, WWE Champ Orton vs. Universal Champ Reigns and Raw Women’s Champ Asuke vs. SD Women’s Champ Banks…and they all just prove the point. I hope they get rid of this brand warfare gimmick next year, it peaked 15 years ago, now it’s just rehashed and infuriating year-on-year. Not even the announced matches are particularly intriguing (save for New Day vs. Street Profits) or dream encounters, just reheated past rivalries, many of which were dreadful (I’m getting Lashley’s sisters flashbacks here).
Luckily this past week’s Raw was a great improvement and added some intrigue to the men’s SD vs. Raw classic Survivor Series match (with Braun Strowman, Keith Lee and Sheamus’ triple threat qualifier being a belter), I just wish we didn’t have this theme, meaning we had to do these random largely unbuilt matches instead of focusing on some genuinely fun title matches/feuds they could make instead. However, to end on a positive, it is at least something that the matches were announced so far ahead and the men’s Raw vs. SD match after this week looks more promising, plus I am looking forward to seeing what happens with The Undertaker…who will be appearing at Survivor Series for his “final farewell”? Will it be? I have my own thoughts but whatever happens, I’ll always welcome back The Phenom with open arms!