Monday, October 26, 2015

If That's Your Real Name: Hell in a Cell 2015 Review

A pair of surprise returns
Photo Credit:
In the tried-and-true TH Style. This show is worth watching on WWE Network.

  • In a surprise return, Alberto del Rio, aligned now with Zeb Colter, defeated John Cena for the United States Championship with a basement superkick.
  • Roman Reigns overcame Bray Wyatt in the first Hell in a Cell match of the evening with a spear.
  • Big E hit Bubba Ray Dudley with the broken trombone of Xavier Woods, while Kofi Kingston took out D-Von with the Trouble in Paradise to allow New Day to retain the Tag Team Championships.
  • Charlotte retained the Divas Championship with a hard-fought Figure Eight on Nikki Bella.
  • Seth Rollins kept the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and caused Corporate Kane to lose his job with a frogsplash and a Pedigree on The Demon Kane.
  • Kevin Owens defeated Ryback and remained Intercontinental Champion with a pop-up powerbomb.
  • Brock Lesnar tore up the canvas, exposed the steel and wood structure of the the ring, and used a F5 on said exposure to defeat the Undertaker in the main event Hell in a Cell match.
  • After the match, all four members of the Wyatt Family came out, attacked Taker, and carried him to the back.

General Observations:
  • "It's a night of final chapters," exclaimed Michael Cole about Hell in a Cell as I laughed heartily to myself. I'm not sure any of the stories that were visited during the show were completely finished except maybe Kevin Owens vs. Ryback.
  • Sign of the night: PUSH JOHN CENA. Never let it be known that Los Angeles isn't at a loss for potential jokesters.
  • When Zeb Colter came out in his Rascal scooter (or Hover-round, I'm not sure which brand it was), I was afraid that WWE was going to try to make Jack Swagger happen again, but then he started talking about all nations coming together, which ruled out that Biff Tannen-looking goofball.
  • "John Cena, IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME." God, I missed Colter so much. So, so much. Also, it's funny because Cena's one of the few guys on the roster who is allowed to wrestle under his real, shoot name.
  • Yeah, Alberto del Rio wasn't in the top ten of guys I'd considered for the slot against Cena, but it wasn't a bad choice at all. Also, he's still technically the AAA Mega Champion...
  • JBL: "Can you believe the shape Alberto's in? Best shape I've ever seen him in!" Great, del Rio is getting the ol' Lex-Luger-in-1996 treatment from the announce booth. The parallels between WWE and WCW are starting to get way too similar.
  • del Rio picked right up where he left off leaving WWE by doing that whole "missed Boss Man attack through the ropes" bump to the floor. Every time he does that bump, I cringe.
  • I get why Cena didn't lose to the cross armbreaker, but it's still frustrating to see WWE cling to the idea that tapping out emasculates a performer. Submission finishes are never going to get the kind of primacy that they need to have if every time someone taps clean, they're speculated to be in the fuckin' doghouse.
  • Bray Wyatt really broke out some funky and somewhat innovative uses for the kendo stick during his Hell in a Cell match with Roman Reigns. First, he held Reigns' hand down with it on the outside before stomping the wrist, and then he set two of them up in the turnbuckle sleeves in an attempt to "impale" Reigns. Instead, it would be Wyatt taking the brunt of it right in his eye, a tremendous example of imparting violence in a setting where constraints are (allegedly) in place. Additionally (and I know I'm jumping ahead here), Wyatt yelling at Reigns "YOU ASKED FOR THIS" before getting countered into the kendo was amazing shit-talking.
  • I've always wondered why, in the TV-PG environment, why Reigns' leaping apron kick is called the "Drive-By."
  • The first couple of table spots in the match felt ho-hum, but I'm glad I didn't become desensitized enough to breaking tables that the big spear off the apron into the one set up on floor didn't feel banal.
  • Reigns/Wyatt was violent and fresh and the kind of feud-ending match the two needed to have, but it didn't need the cage, especially since none of the Wyatts attempted even to open the door rip open the fencing. Cage and cell matches in WWE aren't laid out to keep the rabble out anymore, which is annoying and frustrating, but hey, Vince McMahon everyone!
  • Kofi Kingston mentioned Tout during the New Day's intro down to the ring, and I'm not even sure the person who INVENTED that social media platform even remembered what the fuck it was.
  • Kingston: "I promise to play the bongos on D-Von [Dudley]'s head." Big E: "And I promise to play the bass drum on Bubba's belly like a Caucasian Kamala." Yeah, I lost it at that line.
  • JBL: (on the absent Xavier Woods) "Xavier was trained by Chief Jay Strong-bone." Between that and the "gettin' jiggy with it" line, JBL outed himself as the most basic white boy in the history of pro wrestling. Even Cena, who has been described as WWE's Ned Flanders, has more cred than Ol' Maggle-man.
  • New Day teased doing the WAZZUP headbutt to the groin, but they were interrupted by the Dudleys. In the process, Bubba Ray mocked Big E's sensual dancing and then played his own belly, bass-drum style, like a Caucasian Kamala. Never let it be known that the Dudz don't know how to play along.
  • At one point, the Dudleys tried to get Kingston up for a combo backbreaker/leg drop, but either Bubba fucked up the lift or Kingston didn't get himself up right. D-Von went through it with it anyway, and it looked just terrible. The announcers tried covering for it, but it was probably the ugliest botch I've seen in WWE all year.
  • Towards the end, Kingston tried pulling the old Eddie Guerrero "throw the chair to the opponent and pretend he used it against you" gag with Woods' broken trombone. The ref, instead of immediately disqualifying the Dudleys, heard the appeal and had no idea how to judge it, which came off awkwardly at first, but once it led into the actual finish of Big E laying out Bubba with it during the chaos, it came together perfectly.
  • I don't know how much I note it, but Nikki Bella's forearm/elbow strike looks just as stiff as if it were Mitsuharu Misawa delivering it himself. I know it's a popular meme and everything right now, but it's true. She hits that shit like a goddamn boss.
  • Charlotte and Bella rolling around the canvas in that backslide tease spot was one of the best-looking sequences of the night, and it was reminiscent of the Charlotte/Nattie Neidhart match from the first Takeover. It was the first match Charlotte actually looked good in, in part because they hit the mat hard.
  • In contrast to the ugly botch from the tag match, that weird-looking corner counter where Charlotte flipped back and Bella landed on her back actually added to the match, although Bella nearly took a bad landing on her neck. They lucked out.
  • Yeah, you couldn't pay me to take the Alabama slam against the apron like Charlotte did. Not at all.
  • Having the rest of Team PCB coming out after the match like nothing was going on between the Charlotte/Becky Lynch team and Paige at the time was complete and utter horseshit. I guess Kevin Dunn is getting his way and going back to no attention to detail being paid at all whatsoever to the women. Either that, or any and all connection between RAW and the pay-per-view narratives is being erased and they're separate universes. I highly doubt the latter though.
  • I'm going to be completely honest; I was mostly checked out on the Kane/Seth Rollins match after the beginning bit where Rollins was outright accusing Kane's split personalities being one in the same.
  • Except that bump that Kane took on the Spanish announce table, where the table didn't break and it just tipped over onto him as he fell badly to the floor? Yeah, either Rollins is snakebitten, or maybe WWE should just stop having people go through the announce tables.
  • I had high hopes for Kevin Owens and Ryback because their match at Night of Champions was so good, but it was way truncated, and Ryback was so bad here. Like, Mark Henry made more of an effort on a throwaway RAW match to get up for the pop-up powerbomb. Ugh.
  • It's hilarious to me how Undertaker can do the big five minute demonic, theatrical entrance and then step in the ring like he's a real live MMA fighter with Cole yapping about him being the "BEST PURE STRIKER IN WWE HISTORY." The disconnect is so hilarious.
  • Okay, I'm not sure if Brock Lesnar bladed or not. His head seemed to only have grazed the ringpost when Taker sent him into it, but at the same time, Lesnar is getting into that Ric Flair/Dusty Rhodes territory where his forehead will bleed if he strains too hard eating a Jimmy John's sandwich. Undertaker though? Yeah, bet your ass that motherfucker cut his forehead.
  • I really dug Lesnar removing the glove to start punching at Taker. It was a simple thing that conveyed desperation, brutality, and hatred all in one simple action.
  • Taker Pillmanizing Lesnar's wrist was a great, violent spot, but even though Lesnar is as close to a leviathan as WWE or humanity is ever going to get, I didn't like him almost immediately rolling and reversing into a German suplex.
  • Lesnar ripping up the canvas was a great touch as well. It's kinda weird how in all this time in WWE, no one has ever thought to rip up the canvas and expose the wood, especially since WWE is one of the only companies that can afford to do that.
  • The first thing I thought when the Wyatts came out to battle the Undertaker was "Oh great, ANOTHER WrestleMania revenge tour coming too late," but the dynamic with the way it played out was actually intriguing.

Match of the Night: Charlotte (c) vs. Nikki Bella, WWE Divas Championship Match - It almost felt like this was the match the two wanted to have at Night of Champions. The psychology was in place then, but they bungled around telling the story. Here, they, specifically Charlotte, learned a lesson and turned in the finest performance of the night, based around hard, bullying action on top by the challenger and selling a body part while building towards, and earning, a climactic finish with a signature submission spot.

Bella's merchandise bills her as "fearless," but it was Charlotte who had to have been the one without any trepidation with the number and the severity of the bumps she took. Bella wore out the barricade early on in the match, culminating in an awkward-looking, but ultimately brutal (in a good way) leap from the barricade into Charlotte's leg while she had her leg perched on top of it followed up by a hard toss into the aforementioned crowd control device. Later on, Charlotte took perhaps the most painful-looking and otherwise ill-advised bump in an Alabama slam into the apron. Not even the worst-looking Pro Wrestling Guerrilla apron spot looked as brutal. Bella was able to use those big spots as well as her own assertiveness and stiffness away from those huge set bumps (especially on her big elbow and the single leg crab) to create enough pathos for Charlotte to use in her big comebacks.

Where Charlotte failed at Night of Champions, she succeeded at here at Hell in a Cell. She didn't abandon selling the leg after the work Bella put in it. The best sign of improvement on this trope was that she didn't authoritatively lock in the Figure Eight on the first attempt. She had to earn it, and the layout of the match allowed her to do just that. Even the unconventional way that Charlotte locked in the move at the end worked into her favor. All in all, it was not only a vast improvement on their match from a month prior, but it also stood out the brightest on the entire card.

Overall Thoughts: Every time WWE basically spends each Monday night between pay-per-views doing the visual equivalent of taking long, painful three hour dumps, the show those abominations end up building towards tend to be good at the very least. Hell in a Cell was no exception. The card was packed with decent action and meaty storytelling throughout, although neither category was completely perfect. For example, the Seth Rollins/Kane and Ryback/Kevin Owens matches were both legit stinkers, and Paige back to being on the exact same... uh, page as Charlotte and Becky Lynch stunk of the same kind of lazy, no-attention-to-detail storytelling that WWE has traditionally employed for post-Sable women. It's that last thing that was the most troublesome because it's the biggest sign so far that the women on the main roster are about to backslide into the kind of irrelevance they inhabited before Charlotte, Lynch, and Sasha Banks migrated to the main roster. I hope I'm wrong, but the vibrations given off by that post-match celebration with the heel turn that never came were anything but good.

Still, the strengths of the show were able to outweigh those missteps. Alberto del Rio coming back with the backing of Zeb Colter was a head-scratcher at first, but the two are great enough at what they do respectively that I'm willing to give the partnership a chance. Colter has the kind of quick wit and verbal charm that may help complete del Rio's image rehabilitation that was begun with his year-plus hiatus from the company. No better way to kick that tour off than by soundly defeating the man who pretty much ruined the aura his character had originally in 2011 in John Cena. Speaking of people who have beaten Cena cleanly this year, Owens' booking thus far on the main roster looks a lot more sensible in the long term.

The most pleasant surprise, however, came with the main event. Undertaker's last two matches against Brock Lesnar saw him unable to keep up with Lesnar and look his age, but their mutual commitment to beating the shit out of each other was impressive and probably how the first two matches should have gone. While one could argue this match (and the Roman Reigns/Bray Wyatt one as well) didn't need the cages to be laid out the way they were, the action for both was fine. Lesnar tearing up the ring especially added a brutal touch, and it innovated in a way that not a whole lot of other hardcore/extreme promotions really could (in fairness to those indies, not everyone can afford to replace/repair a ring like WWE can).

The post-match/show close abduction by the Wyatt Family induced a lot of virtual garbage thrown at the event, but at the same time, while revisiting hostilities between Taker and Wyatt might feel recursive (especially given Taker has just finished up another delayed-from-a-prior-WrestleMania feud), but it felt fresh in a way. It's been 20 years since someone other than Paul Bearer has tried commandeering literal control of Taker, and whether the Phenom is a prisoner of the Wyatts or a brainwashing candidate, it's something interesting. Of course, it's fair not to expect WWE to play this angle off right since the company has bungled Wyatt ever since the end of his feud with Daniel Bryan, but at least the start felt like a moment. Honestly, if WWE can at least end its big shows with something notable, then it's won no matter how shitty the shows leading up to them end up being.