WWE Hell in a Cell - Best to Worst
Even with the near-oversaturation of Pay-Per-Views following WWE’s brand split, Hell in a Cell remains a highly-anticipated event. While it was disappointing to learn that the show was RAW-specific, most of my doubts were squashed as the card played out. With this year’s HIAC, WWE put on a PPV that actually made history and felt justified in its three hour-plus length.
Having the Women’s Championship match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte go on last was huge. It was the first Women’s Division HIAC match, as well as the first time women have main-evented a PPV. It was the absolute right call, taking things an enormous step forward from the days of the Divas Division.
Sasha and Charlotte are two of the best athletes in the company, and they have a history of great matches throughout their rivalry. The stakes were high, and their chemistry is undeniable. Throw in the even taking place in Sasha’s hometown of Boston, and the crowd was completely fired up for the contest.
Charlotte attacked Sasha as the cell was being lowered, starting a vicious brawl on the outside. The most startling spot of the night followed shortly after, as Charlotte plucked Sasha from the cage wall and powerbombed her through the Spanish announce table. It was shockingly brutal, seeming to injure Sasha’s back and put her out of action. The teased forfeit took way too long, but it was more than justified by everything that followed.
Rushing back into the ring just before her loss was finalized, Sasha kicked off an amazing, absolutely physical contest that easily took the top spot of the night. The long-time rivals thoroughly demonstrated why they’re the best athletes RAW has, pulling out several impressive exchanges. They made fantastic use of the cage and match stipulations, and a number of the spots were unlike anything I’ve seen in a HIAC match. A few tables got destroyed, Sasha inventively used a chair to break Charlotte’s Figure Eight, and the psychology and selling were top-notch.
The problem came with the finish, as Sasha’s devastated back gave out once again, allowing Charlotte to seize the upper hand and catch the pin with a surprise Natural Selection. The combination of Sasha losing the title in her hometown as well as the abrupt nature of the conclusion totally deflated the crowd. There weren’t even many jeers, just disappointed silence. Definitely not the best call, but it ensures the rivalry will continue. Regardless, the women outshined everyone else that night, which surprised no one, and really raised the stakes and profile of the division. Hopefully this wasn’t a one-off and the Women’s Division can continue to headline future PPVs.
Kevin Owens versus Seth Rollins for the Universal Title was the second most impressive match of the night, just as expected. Even if their feud has felt somewhat half-assed, they’re both terrific workers and always capable of an impressive match. Owens desperately needed a clean win to look like an effective champion, especially after his Chris Jericho-assisted win at Clash of Champions. Rollins’ involvement has felt like he’s biding his time on the way to a feud with Triple H, so the cage match should have been the blow-off for the rivalry.
The match picked up a fast pace from the beginning, delivering exactly what is expected of a HIAC match. The whole bout was incredibly physical, and the wrestlers made excellent use of the cell itself, yet again pulling off a number of spots that haven’t been seen before. Most notable were Owens hitting Rollins with a running cannonball splash against the chain link wall, and the champ getting powerbombed through two tables angled over the ropes and against the cell.
The two maintained the masterful pace throughout, with an especially impressive high-speed exchange of kicks and teased finishers at the midway point. The crowd was with them the whole time, even when Owens blinded the ref with a fire extinguisher, allowing Jericho to run in. This wasn’t what I wanted to see, but they pulled it off, and Jericho acted mainly as a distraction, rather than interfering excessively.
The match ended on a particularly savage note, with both wrestlers making good use of the ringside weapons. Owens laid into Rollins with a series of vicious chair shots, finally putting him away with a powerbomb through the seats of two chairs. It was a perfect end to such a physically impressive contest, and they made the right call in keeping the belt on Owens.
Up next in the rankings was the Cruiserweight Title match between TJ Perkins and Brian Kendrick. I was let down by their last encounter at Clash, mainly because it felt like a step down from the excellent Cruiserweight Classic. I wasn’t ready to write them off though, and their meeting at HIAC was a great match, fast-paced and well-rounded.
The company has taken time to build a feud between the two, relating to their long history together, and it helped immeasurably. One of the biggest concerns for the Cruiserweight division was how such athletically-inclined performers would translate to the story-based elements of the WWE. The use of this backstory allowed for real emotional involvement in the match and raised the stakes.
There was little down time in the ten-minute match, and the entire contest was remarkably well-balanced. Both men traded submissions and reversals, demonstrating a fast-paced display of mat wrestling tempered with select moments of impressive high-flying. Also notable was Kendrick tying TJ’s hand wraps around the ropes to deliver more punishment. He played up his desperation for the title masterfully, and his underhandedness worked to his advantage.
The spark that seemed missing from their last PPV encounter was there, and it really felt like a meaningful fight between the two acquaintances. Kendrick faking an injury to sucker TJ and steal the title was a legitimate surprise. The entire match was exactly what I’d hoped for from the division and the only real problem is that the rivalry looks to continue. They’ve had some good matches, but if that’s the case, it seems like they’re the only two men in the division that the company wants to give serious exposure to. Hopefully some of the other Cruiserweights get the chance to shine in the coming months.
Slightly lower in the rankings is the tag team match between Gallows & Anderson and Enzo & Cass. It’s great to see Gallows & Anderson move on from their frustrating rivalry with the New Day. They’re the top heel team on RAW, and they should be intimidating, not dressing up like doctors for bad comedy skits. They need to be seen as a credible threat, and allowing them to move on to new challengers was a smart move.
The match wasn’t too remarkable on its own, not even lasting seven minutes. The wrestling was solid throughout, with Enzo & Cass getting in some nice work in particular. It was most notable for finally giving Gallows & Anderson the opportunity to take the win on a PPV. They put their competition away in a quick, brutal fashion, just as they should have been doing all along, and their intimidating aura was somewhat restored. That said, the match could have easily been twice as long and given more time to develop. It wasn’t bad by any stretch, hitting few sour notes, but both teams deserve the chance to put on a longer contest in the future.
A few notches down on the scale was the Tag Team Title match between the New Day and Cesaro & Sheamus. There was some buzz that the challengers stood a chance of dethroning the champs, but that was a long shot. The commentary team is finally acknowledging Demolition’s 478-day, record-setting reign, which raises the question of whether the New Day will beat it or fall just short.
The in-ring action wasn’t bad, and despite the thrown-together nature of their team, both Cesaro & Sheamus are talented enough to put on an entertaining match. The New Day are all great wrestlers individually, but they’re hardly known for long, impressive PPV matches. On top of this, they haven’t had a credible threat to their championship in months.
Cesaro & Sheamus did actually pose a threat, winning the match but not the championship when the New Day got themselves disqualified, escaping with their record intact. Too much emphasis was placed on Cesaro and Sheamus bickering, but wresting was solid all-around. The match was perfectly serviceable, but you really have to wonder when the New Day will have a challenging contest where they struggle for their position on top.
The match between Bayley and Dana Brooke wasn’t really bad or offensive in any way, but it sure as hell wasn’t remarkable either. There’s been little build to the feud, and Bayley deserves better than to be stuck in a throwaway midcard rivalry. There were no surprises, and the crowd was clearly aligned with Bayley. Her taking the win in a few short minutes was predictable, and the match had no time at all to develop—not that anyone really wanted it to. Luckily it was placed early on the card, and it did at least get off to a better start than the first match of the night.
The company made an interesting booking decision in placing the US Title HIAC match between Roman Reigns and Rusev up first. Their feud has been going on for three months now, but should have ended long ago, but that’s not the case. They both need to move on and start some fresh rivalries.
Both Reigns and Rusev caught some real heat during their entrance, and the deafening boos hardly get things off to a great start. Unfortunately for everyone, the match took on a lumbering pace filled with repeated spots and little actual wrestling. The entire thing just felt incredibly slow, filled with far too many rests and down time. The two honestly just seemed bored to be fighting once again, and I can’t deny feeling the same watching them. It also didn’t help that the match was the longest of the night at twenty-five minutes.
Things did pick up in the last five minutes or so, with some weapons spots and use of the cell. Most impressive was Rusev locking Reigns in the Accolade on top of the ring steps while pulling a steel chain across his face. It was surprising in its brutality, as were some of the uses of the stairs themselves. Reigns predictably won, and the show was able to move on. Had the match been half as long, most of the problems would have been fixed, and the pace could have been overlooked. As it stands, it was the wrong call to kick things off, and the feud needs to end now.
Results and Grade
Once again, the WWE provided us with a solidly entertaining show that contained little in the way of bad matches, and a number of unquestionably good ones. The decision to have the Women’s Title match go on as the main event was a huge deal, and Sasha and Charlotte proved exactly why they earned that spot. Even with the few filler matches (which are part of every PPV), the whole event was fairly satisfying. The Hell in a Cell matches were pretty damn good and inventive, with the exception of the opener, and perfectly demonstrated why the show is so highly regarded. It’ll be interesting to see how things are handled heading into the cross-brand Survivor Series next month, but as it stands now, HIAC was easily the best, most satisfying PPV since the brand split.
An easy 75 out of 100.
Gallows and Anderson
Cesaro & Sheamus
Enzo & Cass
The New Day
Rumors and Speculation
In the meantime, we have to wonder if Goldberg actually stands the chance of winning his match with Brock Lesnar. The company clearly wants him as the returning babyface hero, but judging by the cheers Lesnar got on RAW, they have no idea how to properly handle this. And besides, given the talk of WWE’s big Wrestlemania plans for Lesnar, how likely does it seem that they’ll mess with his prestige by having Goldberg go over him this month?
Also worth noting is the fact that the Undertaker is booked for SmackDown midmonth, possibly beginning to build to his Wrestlemania match. Either way, it’s safe to say he isn’t retired yet, so maybe that John Cena match is coming in the near future. Cena hasn’t been around much since No Mercy, so god knows he isn’t busy with any other angles.
Last, how damn great is it to hear that there’s going to be an entire Cruiserweight-centric show coming? Maybe the division will finally get some real exposure, rather than occupying the midcard of RAW.