WWE gave itself a big obstacle when it decided to book PPVs without WWE Title matches at the top of the card. With no automatic main event, WWE had to come up with a way to keep the events compelling enough to fans to seek them out- even with a lower base price through the WWE Network. If successful, the structure would have dual benefits: the eventual return of the champion will create a must-see special attraction, and those who filled the main event slot in his absence would ascend to a higher level on the card.
With those goals in mind, I think that Hell in a Cell was a success. Would a Lesnar match in the cell have been fun to watch? Sure. But even without him, we got three excellent matches including a main event that positioned Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Bray Wyatt in a stronger position on the card than they had ever experienced before. On top of that, the anticipation for Lesnar’s return grows even higher as we approach the winter and WWE’s big money season.
Seth Rollins def. Dean Ambrose in a Hell in a Cell Match
The expectations were high for the match that filled the main event slot on the PPV and the wrestlers met those expectations. Ambrose went to the top of the cell before Rollins even entered. Rollins sent Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury to retrieve Ambrose and joined the group atop the cell. It was a highly dramatic scene because every fall appeared to test the strength of the cell roof. Eventually, Ambrose and Rollins started to make their way down the side of the cell, fighting all the way down. An Ambrose headbutt wobbled both of them and they fell about ten feet through the announce tables at ringside. It was not quite Mick Foley going off the top of the cell, but with a much larger cage than was used in the ‘90s, the falls were probably even higher than Shawn Michaels’s fall at the original HIAC match. They were put on gurneys and stretchered up the ramp until Ambrose got to his feet and hauled Rollins into the cell to finally begin the match.
The match stayed stiff in the ring. Ambrose annihilated Rollins with many chair shots and tried to stab him with a screwdriver. He sacrificed his own body with a suicide dive that sent them both into the cage wall. Rollins finally fought back with a suplex onto a pile of chairs. Ambrose recovered quickly and delivered an elbow drop through a table propped between the ring and the cell. Director of Operations Corporate Kane helped Rollins from outside the cell with a fire extinguisher that he sprayed on Ambrose. It allowed Rollins to hit a running powerbomb through a table and the Curb Stomp, which only earned him a two count. Ambrose avoided Rollins’s attempt at a Curb Stomp onto the Money in the Bank Briefcase, hit Rollins with the briefcase, and set up his own Curb Stomp into a cinder block. Before he could deliver the move, the lights in the arena went out and a lantern with a hologram appeared in the ring. Ambrose looked at the hologram while Bray Wyatt ran out of the dark and laid him out. He hit a huge side slam that allowed Rollins to get the pin and continued the attack after the bell.
Judging by the responses on social media after the match, the finish was very divisive. For me, it worked very well. Wyatt was primed for a big reintroduction and a rivalry with a red-hot Ambrose can do a lot for both of them if handled well. It fits Rollins perfectly to fall into a win he doesn’t deserve and it will only get more heat on his character. Ambrose had the most to lose, but it was not as if he was about to move into the WWE Title picture anyway. Rollins go this comeuppance with the fall through the tables and a variety of crazy moves throughout the match, so Ambrose already got everything he needed from the match. Now, the question becomes how Ambrose and Wyatt can both look great against one another as they emerge as two of the company’s top young stars. I am very excited to see how it plays out.
John Cena def. Randy Orton in a Hell in a Cell Match to become #1 Contender
It seemed to benefit Cena and Orton to have the storyline weight of the main event removed from their match. Instead, they just had a tough, old-school match that made them both look very good. Even their long history added to the match in multiple ways- the pre-match video package with classic rivalries in and out of wrestling made them feel vibrant, and their constant counters to each other’s moves were fun to watch. For example, Orton kicked Cena when he went for the Five Knuckle Shuffle and followed it with a snap powerslam. Cena responded by back-body dropping Orton to the floor when he tried the hangman’s DDT. Both wrestlers went into various tables, chairs, and cell walls in a hard-hitting match and took their time to appropriately sell the high impact. Orton kicked out of two AAs and fought his way out of an STF. He hit an RKO and he countered another AA into an RKO for two counts. Cena went to the top rope to try a leg drop through a table. Orton tried to counter into a superplex, but Cena blocked him and finally hit an AA off the top rope through the table to win. It was a good finish to a very tough match by two old pros. Cena-Lesnar III will be a fun main event, even if we have to wait a couple of months to see it.
Dolph Ziggler def. Cesaro in a Two out of Three Falls Match to Retain the Intercontinental Title
The show’s opener was another outstanding match between two wrestlers from whom you would expect nothing left. They wrestled on the mat for a long time at the start of the match until Cesaro set up for the Big Swing for the first time in months. At first, Ziggler rolled him into an inside cradle, but Cesaro recovered and swung Ziggler. At the end of the swing, he went for a cover and Ziggler rolled through to pin Cesaro and win the first fall. The match got even more aggressive from there. Cesaro countered a DDT into a side slam that appeared to hurt his arm. He stomped Ziggler and hit a double-underhook powerbomb for a two count. He turned Ziggler’s sleeper into a superplex for another near fall. When Cesaro missed Ziggler and dove into the post, Ziggler hit a famouser that nearly got him the second fall. Instead, Cesaro threw Ziggler into a big uppercut that surprisingly only got two once again. After a backbreaker, Cesaro set up for the Neutralizer. Ziggler countered with an armbreaker, a superkick, and a Zig Zag to sweep the two falls and retain his title. The match told a unique story within the stipulation. Cesaro dominated most of the action but could not keep Ziggler down. It made sense for each wrestler within his persona.
AJ Lee def. Paige to Retain the Divas Title
While the top three matches were spectacular, the rest of the card was mostly just fine. AJ’s improved work stood out as the next best thing to me in what was supposed to be a come-down match before the main event. There were some great spots that usually do not make it into women’s matches, including a Paige slamming AJ repeatedly into the barricade and Paige fighting out of a guillotine choke and turning it into a fallaway slam. When Paige tried to climb the barricade, AJ tripped her off of it and Paige hit her head on the way down. Alicia Fox got her friend back in the ring at a nine count, but AJ quickly put her in the Black Widow to force a submission and get a nice win. After the bell, Paige slapped Alicia and terminated another friendship.
Rusev def. Big Show
Like a couple of the mid-card matches on this PPV, the problem was that the participants have had better matches with one another on free TV within the last month. Rusev targeted Big Show’s knee early, and when Big Show finally got to his feet, Rusev suplexed him. Big Show fought back and countered an attempt at the Accolade with a leg lock. He followed that with a spear as Mark Henry came to ringside to cheer him on. Big Show hit a chokeslam to get a two count, but Rusev fought back with superkicks to both Big Show and Henry. Rusev then put Big Show in the Accolade to force a submission. It was a perfectly clean win and it was not clear why Henry was present in the end.
Nikki Bella def. Brie Bella to make Brie her personal assistant for 30 days
After such a drawn-out buildup and improved work from both Bellas, I expected more from this match. Instead, it was a pretty bland and formulaic match. Brie hit a suicide dive and a top rope splash, Nikki responded with a Rack Attack to get a two count. Brie applied the Yes Lock, but Nikki reached the ropes and hit a second Rack Attack to win. In addition to a bland match, I am not at all interested in the personal assistant gimmick.
Stardust and Goldust def. The Usos to Retain the Tag Team Titles
These teams have had better matches on Raw and Smackdown, which is no surprise since they have wrestled about a dozen times in the last two months. The biggest spot was a double superplex by both Usos that Jey followed with a splash to get a two count before Stardust broke up the pin. Jey tried to hit a Samoan Drop on Goldust, but Stardust took out his knee and Goldust hit the Final Cut to retain the titles for his team. The Dusts need to become more heelish and move on to another adversary quickly. There is simply no meat left on this bone.
Sheamus def. The Miz to Retain the U.S. Title
This match was an average Sheamus-Miz match that Damian Mizdow helped to slightly upgrade. He tied himself in the ropes to take the Beats of Bodhran along with Miz. A Mizdow distraction allowed Miz to hit a Skull Crushing Finale, but he only got a two count. Miz tried to follow it up from the top rope and got hit with a Brogue Kick as he came off to end the match. After the match, Sheamus moved Miz’s limp body around like a puppet and Mizdow copied to movements right up to a second Brogue Kick. All things considered, there are much worse comedy matches.