10/25/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Hell in a Cell vastly exceeded any reasonable expectations. The monotonous, exhausting march of WWE’s weekly TV made the top of the card feel stale or irrelevant. Instead, both Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker and Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt felt like cathartic, satisfying conclusions to long-term rivalries. The rest of the card filled in around those matches nicely, and the show-closing storyline set the table perfectly for the next month.
Brock Lesnar def. Undertaker in Hell in a Cell
Lesnar and Undertaker did not take long to get to the physicality. They exchanged knees and punches in and out of the ring from the opening bell. Undertaker hurled Lesnar into the ring post and gave him a gash on his forehead that would have made Dusty Rhodes proud. When Undertaker rushed at Lesnar, he ate a big spinebuster and Lesnar went to work with a chair. With blood smeared across his own head, Undertaker continued to fight back and rammed Lesnar into a chair, trachea first.
Well into the match, Lesnar finally delivered his first German suplex and quickly followed it with a second. Lesnar immediately hit the F5, but Undertaker kicked out at two. As a trainer checked on Undertaker’s cut, Lesnar threw the trainer to the floor and hit a second F5. Once again, Undertaker kicked out at two. Lesnar retrieved a set of ring steps and smashed Undertaker with them. Sure enough, Undertaker got his shoulder up before the referee finished his count.
Lesnar tried to smash the steps onto Undertaker while he laid on the mat. Undertaker used both legs to kick the stairs backwards and the fell onto Lesnar’s head, reopening his cut in the process. Undertaker put Lesnar in Hell’s Gate, but Lesnar used elbow’s and fists to fight his way out. He pummeled Undertaker until neither man could stand.
An exasperated Lesnar ripped up the mat and exposed the wooden planks that form the substructure of the ring. Undertaker sat up and chokeslammed Lesnar onto the boards. Lesnar struggled to his feet and hit a Tombstone, but Lesnar somehow kicked out at two to the utter amazement of the fans. Undertaker delivered a throat-slash gesture and Lesnar hit Undertaker with a crushing low blow. He hit his third F5 on the exposed wooden beams and finally pinned Undertaker.
This match will be remembered as a spectacle of violence, but it was more than that. Creative details like Lesnar removing his gloves and the exposed beams added to the drama. The flowing blood and the vicious moves that brought out the blood showed the punishment that the wrestlers went through inside their bodies and out. As Lesnar staggered away from the ring, I wondered whether he was in real physical danger. It was a moment when wrestling did not force fans to suspend disbelief- it took disbelief off the table entirely.
As Undertaker slowly made it back to his feet, the Wyatt Family encircled him. He could barely stand while Luke Harper, Eric Rowan, and Braun Strowman assaulted him. When he was completely incapacitated, they carried him away from the ring as the show went off the air. The conclusion sets the stage for Undertaker’s 25th Survivor Series anniversary with real animus. In the longer term, Wyatt looks like a viable opponent for Undertaker in a possible retirement match at Wrestlemania- a chance for Wyatt to truly receive the mantle from the trailblazer. On top of that, the next month will gradually reveal who joins him on his team.
Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt in Hell in a Cell
From the opening bell, Wyatt started to inflict pain on Reigns. He abused him with the cage, kendo sticks, and chairs to leave Reigns almost completely incapacitated. Reigns finally managed to put together enough offense to set up a pair of tables. He tried to suplex Wyatt through one, but Wyatt blocked it and side slammed Reigns though the table.
Back in the ring, Wyatt attempted a superplex through the table. Reigns ducked out and hit a powerbomb through the table for a very near fall. Reigns followed by slipping an attempt at Sister Abigail into a schoolboy. He hit a Superman Punch and speared Wyatt off of the apron and through a table. Even after all of that offense, Wyatt kicked out at two. Wyatt’s foot blocked another spear and he hit Sister Abigail, only for Reigns to kick out at two, as well. Wyatt wedged a kendo stick into the turnbuckle and tried to impale Reigns on it. Instead, Reigns countered and shoved Wyatt into the stick, face first. He finally hit a spear to get the win.
Although man fans continue to resent Reigns, this match won over the live crowd by highlighting how well Reigns sells a major beating. Many of his best matches have followed a similar template- Reigns takes a hellacious whooping and absorbs some crazy spots before launching a courageous comeback. The psychology of the matches works well and we wins over more fans each time. If fans focus on Reigns’s rapid in-ring improvement rather than his clumsy promos, it’s easy to see why WWE views him as a future star.
Seth Rollins def. Kane to Remain WWE World Champion
Kane used everything around the ring to his advantage early in the match while he overpowered Rollins. A topez con giro by Rollins got him back in the match and stayed on top until a nice superplex by Kane. The challenger fought out of a Pedigree attempt and hit a chokeslam for a very near fall. Rollins saw the Tombstone coming and escaped to the outside.
Kane tried a chokeslam through the announce table. Rollins freed himself and powerbombed Kane onto an unwavering Spanish announce table. It took a pair of flying knees and superkicks for Rollins to put Kane down for a Frog Splash, though it only got him a two. Kane tried to make a late rally, but Rollins hit him with a Pedigree to get a clean victory and retain his title. It’s fair to say that the match was not good enough to be a PPV main event. Of course, on this show, it was not supposed to be the main event. It was a satisfying conclusion to Rollins’s interlude with Kane and a reminder that Rollins gets good matches out of everyone.
Alberto Del Rio def. John Cena to Become US Champion
The internet was abuzz with speculation about who might challenge (and presumably beat) Cena for the US Title before he takes a sabbatical. One name that I did not hear mentioned was Alberto Del Rio, who returned alongside Zeb Colter to beat Cena. Del Rio controlled most of the match and Cena had trouble stringing together more than one or two offensive moves at a time. Del Rio showed his great understanding of pacing by decelerating to build tension and accelerating to big spots. Cena finally lifted Del Rio for an AA, but Del Rio freed himself. He hit a back stabber and a superkick to pin Cena cleanly.
It was a bit odd to see Cena lose to a move that was often treated as a set-up to Del Rio’s finisher after a run as champion that saw him kick out of almost every finishing move in the company. Nonetheless, the big picture is a very good one. Del Rio is not just a good wrestler- he is one of the best in-ring performers in the world today. His time in Lucha Underground proved how much he has improved, even since his debut in WWE. Bringing him back to the company is a coup. He is an instant main event-caliber star with enough credibility to enhance the young generation on its way up.
Charlotte def. Nikki Bella to Remain Divas Champion
Nikki looked great in the early going as she focused on Charlotte’s back. She used the barricade, a variety of strikes, and stretching submission holds to target the vulnerable body part. Charlotte finally found success when she took her dad’s flipping turnbuckle bump and followed it with a big boot. Nikki quickly reasserted herself with a seated senton to the back and a spinebuster. The women traded chops until the bridge of Charlotte’s nose bled. Nikki tried a super side suplex, but Charlotte flipped over her head and turned it into an awkward backbreaker.
Charlotte could not finish the match with her Figure Eight because her bad back allowed Nikki to reach the ropes. Nikki remained focused on the back with a vicious Alabama Slam onto the apron. She brought Charlotte back into the ring and lifted her for the Rack Attack, but Charlotte rolled through to apply the Figure Eight once again and win. Despite a couple of imperfect spots, it was a strong match. It told a consistent story around Nikki targeting Charlotte’s back. Charlotte showed resilience and intelligence in how she won, which helps to elevate her fledgling title reign.
New Day def. Dudley Boys
New Day paid tribute to their fallen partner Xavier Woods before the match and brought his bent trombone to the ring with them. The match went back-and-forth for several minutes. While the referee dealt with Big E, Kofi Kingston threw the trombone into Bubba’s hands and pretended to be injured. The referee deliberated before deciding not to disqualify the Dudleys. They took advantage with a double-team neckbreaker and set up for the 3D. Instead, Big E hit Bubba with the remnants of the trombone. He took Devon outside and Kingston pinned Bubba. It was a decent match, though a little over-booked at the end. Nonetheless, New Day deserves credit for continuing to find ways to draw boos in spite of their charisma and humor.
Kevin Owens def. Ryback to Remain Intercontinental Champion
This match slotted into the unenviable spot between the WWE Title match and the main event. The fans siding with Owens over Ryback made it even more difficult for them to put together a quality match. Owens was a step ahead of everything Ryback did until he met the cannonball with a spinebuster and followed it with a powerbomb. Ryback blocked a Pop-Up Powerbomb with a shoulder block. Owens quickly regrouped and hit the finisher on his second attempt. From the moment this rivalry started, it felt like a way to get Owens to a higher place on the card. He achieved that status by winning the feud conclusively, but the matches it took to get to that point were forgettable across the board.