Monday, October 27, 2014

The Death of the Finisher: WWE Hell in a Cell '14 Review

Photo Credit:
In TH Style. Get the replay for only NINE-NINET...

/is shot dead by a sniper

  • Dolph Ziggler shockingly swept the best two-out-of-three falls match against Cesaro, winning the decisive second fall with a Zig Zag.
  • Nikki Bella took out her sister Brie with a Rack Attack, securing her services as a personal assistant for the next 30 days.
  • The Dust Brothers retained the Tag Team Championships over the Usos when Goldust hit the Final Cut.
  • John Cena defeated Randy Orton in the first of two Hell in a Cell matches with an avalanche Attitude Adjustment through a table. Cena is now the number one contender to Brock Lesnar's WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
  • Sheamus retained the United States Championship by coaxing Miz to jump into a Brogue Kick.
  • Rusev got Big Show to pass out in his Accolade for the victory.
  • AJ Lee retained the Divas Championship with the Black Widow over Paige. 
  • In a match that saw four different people interfere, Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose after Bray Wyatt appeared to give Ambrose a snap uranage.

General Observations:
  • I could watch Dolph Ziggler and Cesaro work the mat all day long. It's a stylistic choice that works so well, given Ziggler's amateur background and Cesaro's devotion to the English World of Sport style. I would love to see them break out some kind of technical rules match in the future, to be honest, but given how this match turned out, I seemingly doubt it.
  • Cesaro actually stood on the second rope, not the turnbuckle, but the rope.  This man is such an athletic freak.
  • Ziggler floated over from being on the business end of a lateral press into cradling Cesaro for the first fall, and it was one of the most beautifully simple yet innovative things I've ever seen in a wrestling match.
  • Cesaro locked Ziggler up in a hybrid sleeper/camel clutch, and all I could think about was Cesaro telling Ziggler "Why are you putting yourself in the sleeper? Why are you sleepering yourself? Huh? HUH?"
  • The sequence that started with Ziggler locking Cesaro in a sleeper and ended with what looked like a deadlift superplex was one of the most beautiful sequences of wrestling ever witnessed.
  • And while I dug the psychology of Cesaro's gimpy arm figuring into the finish of the match, I was a bit stunned that Ziggler won two falls to zero. On one hand, companies need to have the odd sweep to keep the stipulation fresh, but on the other, I can't help but thinking it was WWE's carny-as-shit way of punishing a dude for speaking his mind...
  • The Bella Twins' implosion was pretty standard until Nikki started yanking Brie by the hair, Gory-special style. That feat was an amazing tidbit of HOSSery that Nikki has been expected to deliver lately.
  • Brie actually worked pretty well in this match, but man, I feared for her life when she came up just a little too short on that Superman dive to the outside.
  • The forearm shot that just preceded the second Rack Attack to win the match was stiff as shit. Fuck continuing the AJ Lee/Paige feud. Give me Lee vs. Nikki Bella.
  • Jimmy Uso did a slide-evade into the corner to get away from a Goldust strike, which set up Stardust grabbing him on the second attempt when he tried doing it in the enemy corner. Everything in a wrestling match should have meaning, and even if the Usos and Dust Brothers work a similar match each time out, it's those little things that make each contest worthwhile.
  • Every time I think Goldust is done surprising me, he goes and does something like take the "over the top face-first to the floor" bump that looks super painful every time someone pulls it off. He might be the oldest active worker in WWE, and he's still doing crazy shit like that. Nothing but respect.
  • Seriously, Goldust hit an Arn Anderson spinebuster and then floated into a cover where he kicked his legs spastically for added leverage. I'm convinced he could go another decade.
  • The dueling superplex spot would have been cooler if Cesaro didn't end up HOSSING THE SHIT out of Ziggler with maybe the coolest one ever in the opener.
  •  The fewer things I have to say about the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the better, but man, you don't know how much I wanted the crowd to start a dueling chant, one half cheering that cancer survivor and the other half booing the ever-loving shit out of the president.
  • Only a couple of minutes into the John Cena/Randy Orton Hell in a Cell match, and they already did something they barely bothered to do back in 2009 - use the cell itself as a weapon.
  • Orton was the second guy to go over the top to the floor face-first. He has secretly been one of the best things about WWE over the last year, year-and-a-half, and who would have thought he would have been the ring general in a match with Cena, who is arguably the best WWE big-match performer in the last 20 years.
  • Between crotching Cena on the ring post outside (and smirking about it like he just stole his girl) and hitting the nutshot later on in the match, I will be totally shocked if Total Divas doesn't incorporate some kind of "Nikki Bella is mad at Randy Orton for ruining her sex life via causing penile trauma to her boyfriend" story next season.
  • Seriously, the match should have ended out of that sick RKO counter out of the Attitude Adjustment. Did these two guys sit down, watch the AJ Styles/Kurt Angle match from the January 4, 2010 episode of Impact and think that was the best way to plot this match out?
  • Sheamus and Miz had a pretty good match, but the absolute star was Damien Sandow, who was in full ham mode. He's always been this animated as Miz's stunt double (understudy?) but the camera and producers finally have caught wind of it and made him the star of the actual visual narrative.
  • When Miz accidentally hit Sandow, my heart sunk thinking it would lead to the end of the alliance. I hope I'm wrong for RAW tomorrow.
  • Seriously, Nikki Bella kicked out of an X-Factor. Brie took a Rack Attack and kicked out. Cena and Orton had all kinds of silliness. Now Sheamus kicked out of the Skull Crushing Finale? C'mon man. C'MON.
  • Normally, Sheamus acting like a shitty asshole after the match is abhorrent given his status as "anti-bullying" good guy, but seeing Sandow sway and carry himself up like a marionette was all worth it.
  • Rusev working the leg in the Big Show match was the savviest thing I've seen him do since being called up. He's been pretty good against guys like Big E in the past, but I think this Show match was his best overall performance to date. Not surprising, since Show is criminally undersold by certain members of the Twitterati, but that fact is neither here nor there.
  • Suplexing Big Show has become old hat, but the way Rusev strained with it made it look super-impressive.
  • Holy shit, Show broke out the Lasso from El Paso? Or was it the Haas of Pain? I'm more inclined to say the former because Show didn't drape Rusev upside down using his foot as leverage, but who the fuck knows. It was impressive either way.
  • I wonder if painting Rusev as the Russian heel but having him work babyface is intentional. If you put the TV on mute, he totally plays off like the good guy in these matches/segments.
  • I want to know if WWE is telling Ambrose to ad-lib these promos or if the writers are scripting him. Either way, having him promo as what people might imagine John Cena as a crazy homeless guy whacked out on meth is not the best idea, but as always, Ambrose made it work in a roundabout way.
  • Paige did an incredible job of working "big," but I wonder how sustainable that style can be against wrestlers who aren't pixiesque in stature like AJ Lee.
  • Alicia Fox's golf clap with the saccharine smile is breathtaking.
  • Paige carrying Lee around while skipping is just one of those visuals.
  • My feed cut out towards the end, so I didn't get to see how the match ended. TECHNOLOGY *shakes fist*
  • Dean Ambrose coming out and climbing to the top of the cage set such a staggering tone that even before Seth Rollins made his entrance, this Hell in a Cell match already surpassed Orton's and Cena's.
  • "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE." THAT is the Ambrose I wanna hear, not the Dracula's mom horseshit from the pretaped segment before the Divas Championship match.
  • Rollins brought out Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury as backup, which lead to a wild beginning to the proceedings. I seriously thought that either Noble or Mercury was gonna get tossed, Foley-style, and remembered that Mercury's career as an active worker in the company came to an end because a gruesome injury. Thankfully, neither guy ate it.
  • However, even though they didn't fall from the top of the cage, Ambrose and Rollins diving from a mid-cage joust to each of the announce tables set up made for a signature moment in the match for both guys. By the way, the bell hadn't sounded yet by this point.
  • I almost thought that WWE was going to go for a non-finish and have AJ Lee and Paige be the nominal main event, which would have been hilarious on many levels. But Ambrose ripping out of his own gurney and snatching Rollins from his was a totally different and similarly effective twist on the stretcher job tease than what Daniel Bryan did at WrestleMania. Daniel Bryan, now there's a name. I miss him so much.
  • All the use of the cage in the Cena/Orton match felt like a wristlock compared to what Ambrose and especially Rollins did with the cell. Even though most of the moves were executed by Ambrose, Rollins bumped as hard as he ever did, especially on the Ambrose dropkick that sent Rollins from the apron HARD into the cell wall.
  • I won't lie. Kane spraying Ambrose with the fire extinguisher popped me. For whatever reason, I LOVE when the fire extinguisher is deployed as a weapon in wrestling matches.
  • While Wyatt running interference after his hologram producing lantern magically showed up in the ring was shocking and cool and all, Rollins' reaction to getting a freebie from the Eater of Worlds sold that for me. He didn't know whether Wyatt was gonna come for him next or whether it was some kind of divine providence. If only Rollins could consistently cut a promo, he'd be the complete package.
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins, Hell in a Cell - The difference between and good Hell in a Cell match and a great one has everything to do with how the cage is utilized. Two (or more) wrestlers can use the cage as a weapon, but not totally explore what it has to offer. Because the competitors have to be away from where the finish of the match has to happen, it can be difficult to fully explore the studio space. To wit, the Cena/Orton match from the middle of the show was a good representation of what Hell in a Cell could be. But Rollins and Ambrose went to the boundaries of whatever the structure had to offer. Not that it should have been surprising - Dean Ambrose has spent the calendar year of 2014 making the worst straw of what WWE has given him and spinning it into gold like a veritable Rumpelstiltskin.

Ambrose set the tone early on by climbing to the top of the cage and daring Rollins and his goon squad of Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble to follow him up. Even though it technically wasn't part of the match, Ambrose having to fight off all three of the Authority's minions served as a powerful first act, culminating in both announce tables being wrecked after tense jousting on the side of the cage. Even though the stretcher tease had been used on the biggest pay-per-view of them all in the same year, Ambrose and Rollins made it work in their own way, and then they upped the violence to levels past their original stereo table destruction. Tables were broken, chairs dented, kendo sticks frayed. Even inside after the match officially began, the two made use of the cage, not only directly (best example being Ambrose raking Rollins' face across it like cheddar on a grater), but as a fulcrum for other props, the tables most especially.

Of course, the overbooking is what most people will end up talking about, and it's fair to point out that maybe having four people interfering on Rollins' behalf might not have been the best way to end a pay-per-view or conclude a match that had been as visceral as this one was up until the end. However, it worked to me. The story between Rollins and Ambrose is one that didn't require a blowoff at a piddling "B" event like Hell in a Cell. Commentary on WWE's self-proclaimed signature match from the last 20 years becoming a signpost rest stop rather than an ultimate blowoff aside, these two deserve to end their feud at Mania. But whether it was Kane's fire extinguisher (note, I am an unabashed mark for that used as a wrestling weapon) or Bray Wyatt's devil magic, the fuck finish worked in this match's favor.

Overall Thoughts: A lot of hay was made about the booking on this show on social media, and even though WWE's week-to-week booking leaves an infinite chasm of yearning for better, looking at the arc from pay-per-view to pay-per-view makes the overall direction not seem as woebegone. If the strokes don't make sense in the desert of RAW equidistant between the two special events, they usually end up ringing somewhat sanely if one pays attention only to the broader arc. That method of viewing can be construed as intentionally dense, but when a company like WWE whiffs so hard on its weekly serial, why should anyone pay it mind when a less-frequent look in can be more satisfying?

However, my biggest beef with the show is symptomatic of a greater devil that has been encroaching on WWE starting from the top down. WrestleMania XXIX's main event saw The Rock and John Cena cosplay as AJ Styles and Kurt Angle in how many times they kicked out of each other's finishers, and wouldn't one know, killing finishers dead was the theme of Hell in a Cell, emblematic in Cena's match with Orton. On one hand, the conceit of an all-powerful finishing move being enough to put down everyone in every match might seem a bit hokey, but then again, wrestling is not a sport, and it really should never aspire to resemble pure sporting. The finisher as a protected entity has worked in wrestling for the better part of its history for a reason.

So, why would WWE, the most straitlaced, traditional-to-a-fault company on the planet, even dream of wrecking finishers wholesale? Basically, the Brogue Kick and the Zig-Zag were the only finishers that weren't kicked out of when hit. Everyone else seemed to have their big moves nerfed in the name of telling the greater story, but finishers need protection so that in the rare chance someone is telling a story that requires the gravitas and the surprise of one rendered ineffective, it can still have the Pavlovian effect. Even if Hell in a Cell signified a sea change away from traditional finishers towards something new, I would think it a mistake. Throwing away such a precious tool in crowd popping for a more modern approach seems to me to be the rare case of change not being all that good.

The shame part of it all was that Hell in a Cell was a rebound event from Night of Champions, even with the screwy finish. Going back to the point at large in the first paragraph, I don't mind paying for story development that used to be the domain of RAW/Nitro when that development is leading somewhere interesting. I don't know why Bray Wyatt picked Dean Ambrose as a target, but having Wyatt stand tallest at the end of the night seems to be a step forward. This guy is way too talented to be jerked around and treated as the non-entity he's been relegated as since the John Cena feud ended. If he and Ambrose can get my ass excited on Monday nights, I'm all for it. Even if not, I'm still for it because the conceits at the pay-per-views are going to be memorable, at least.

But even if "lol Cena wins" is tiresome (and believe me, even if his win came against Randy Orton, who by the way would be WWE's Sixth Man of the Year if such equivalent awards existed, it is pretty lame), at least four matches on the show other than that delivered. Even the Bella Twins IMPLODING was a perfectly cromulent wrestling match, the first performance from Brie Bella that might suggest that she could have some value as a performer above getting people to unironically cheer her sister or Stephanie McMahon. And Damien Sandow continues to be WWE's unsung hero, taking a jokey gimmick and elevating it to the point where he arguably has overtaken his leading man as the focal point of the gimmick. Even if Hell in a Cell wasn't one of the best shows WWE produced this year, I found a lot to like about it. I'm still troubled by the sheer amount of finishers murdered during the show, but conversely, when I can say that I was thoroughly entertained after sitting through a full show, I see it as a net win.