Monday, October 9, 2017

Friendship Is Magic: WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Review

🎜Best friend, there when I need you🎝
Photo Credit:
It's the first Smackdown-only Network event to get TH Style in the new brand split era!

  • The Usos regained the Smackdown Tag Team Championships with a chair-assisted Double Uce splash on Xavier Woods.
  • Randy Orton pinned Rusev after a slick sequence of finisher tease exchanges produced a RKO out of nowhere somewhere.
  • Baron Corbin won the United States Championship by attacking AJ Styles after he hit Tye Dillinger with the Phenomenal Forearm and pinning Dillinger.
  • Charlotte Flair defeated Natalya Neidhart via disqualification when Neidhart hit Flair with a chair. Neidhart remains Smackdown Women's Champion.
  • Tyler Breeze and Fandango have opened a new case to be continued this Tuesday on Smackdown, after unwittingly insulting a disguised Ascension.
  • Jinder Mahal retained the WWE World Championship by defeating Shinsuke Nakmaura with Khallas.
  • Bobby Roode pinned Dolph Ziggler with a tight-assisted O'Connor Roll after Ziggler attempted to pull tights on Roode in the same move sequence. Ziggler attacked Roode after the match with a Zig Zag.
  • Kevin Owens outlasted Shane McMahon after McMahon jumped from the top of the cell through a table. Sami Zayn pulled Owens off that table at the last second and then dragged him on top of McMahon to get the pinfall.

General Observations:
  • Hey, WWE finally used the term "anniversary" correctly!
  • Letting New Day talk before their matches is the best decision WWE has made in a long time, and before this particular match, they showed that all three of them could do the serious promo effectively as well as the dancing unicorn gyration parade.
  • Honestly, going with Xavier Woods here instead of Kofi Kingston felt a bit odd given Woods was just returning from injury.
  • When Woods pulled out the rainbow-wrapped kendo stick, I could only think to myself that kind of stuff would only get one caned in Singapore.
  • You know war is hell, because Woods sacrificed not one, but TWO members of the Francesca family in service of sticking it to the Usos.
  • I'm shocked it took WWE this long to bring out a cowbell for a hardcore/street fight/no rules match. I'm probably forgetting something crucial along the way, because my brain only remembers children's songs and scattershot work data anymore.
  • Corey Graves name-dropped Aaron Judge as the Usos were wearing out New Day with kendo sticks, and all I could think of was "BASEBALL IS BACK, BAYBAY!"
  • Did WWE buy a bunch of kendo sticks in bulk, or was the local distributor going out of business? This match had HELLA kendo sticks.
  • New Day putting Jey Uso in the kendo stick prison in the corner of the cell, however, was probably the most inventive thing pulled off in a WWE match in who knows how long.
  • In a match filled with as much violence as one can cram into a modern day PG WWE environment, perhaps the most impressive thing personally was how snug Big E got that stretch muffler in.
  • Rusev hit the mat in the beginning of his match with Randy Orton, and it made a sound that I can only describe as if the buzzer on Family Feud had a small amount of helium applied to it. Weird.
  • Orton has an overreliance on barricade bumps, whether taking them or mostly delivering them. That said, he bumped in pretty gnarly fashion on the fallaway slam on the outside. I'm shocked he didn't visibly show signs of a cracked rib.
  • Honestly, this match didn't at all pick up until the very end, when Rusev caught Orton doing his taunt into an Accolade set up that sequenced into the RKO. That sequence of events nearly made up for the entire match with how cool it was. I understand Rusev working Orton raises his profile, but I wish he'd have someone better to bounce off. Orton is great for hot finishes, especially when he's the one going over, but Rusev needs someone with whom he can work a whole match.
  • Tye Dillinger's entrance gear made him look like he was about to demand the head of Flash Gordon within the next 24 hours, lest one of his minions pay with his life.
  • Honestly, chanting "where's your briefcase?" at LABOR HERO Baron Corbin was the rudest thing that crowd did all night. I hope each and every one of them apologized to the Big Breakfast afterwards.
  • AJ Styles' casadora is the best I've seen at least among non-Mexican wrestlers. He has no hesitation, and it actually looks like a move that's more offensive and less cooperative. His example in this match was among his best.
  • Graves talked about the double standard in how Tom Phillips et al. talk about Dillinger's failures vs Corbin's, and it was fascinating to wonder if it was an intentional commentary on the media with Donald Trump and the current administration vs. mainstream, non-Fox News outlets. I doubt it was the case; Graves was probably just channeling Bobby Heenan's heel advocacy, but it's still curious.
  • Every time I think Styles has taken the biggest bump he possibly could take, he tops himself. For example, Corbin sliding him rib-first into the ringpost might not have sounded like the kind of bump that raises eyebrows, but if you had seen it happen in real time, well, you'd be wondering why Styles hated his body so. AJ Styles is the Picasso of taking body-endangering bumps.
  • Corbin and Styles coming together to pull off the Phenomenal Forearm counter into the chokebreaker needed to be timed just right, and they pulled it off with flying colors.
  • If I were booking the match, I'd have had Dillinger falling onto Corbin after getting Pele'd in the head as the finish, just to tie up the way Dillinger got into the match in the first place, but regardless, it was a great tease.
  • The Charlotte Flair/Natalya Neidhart match was a bit rough early on, which surprised me given how good Flair has looked lately working as a babyface, but once they started exchanging submission counters, it settled into a groove.
  • Every time I hear a WWE commentator say "Hart Family Sharpshooter," I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The Sharpshooter as a family knick-knack is probably the most unintentionally hilarious talking point WWE has pushed in the last two years.
  • Flair hit Neidhart with a backslide in the match, showing how much I hate that move in general when it's not done right. More often than not, the person on the offensive side looks like they're abandoning the pin before the victim kicks out, and it just looks ultra sloppy.
  • I feel like the build to Flair's moonsault to the outside deserved a better finish, even if she over-rotated on it. Flair is going to be a great babyface for WWE someday, once she gets a better foil to work against, which is why Asuka should have gone to Smackdown, dammit.
  • Does WWE have a rider that every brand-exclusive pay-per-view/Network event has to have a shitty free TV feud-extending finish on it? If it were me, I'd have had Flair win and Carmella cash in just to get some fresh blood in the main event scene, but who am I anyway?
  • Fashion Files opening on Cesaro's dental calamity face should have come with a content warning of some kind. I was trying to eat my dessert, WWE!
  • The Fashion Files is never going to be high comedy, but fuck it, I love Zoolander and all those other dumb-as-shit Stiller/Ferrell/McKay-hive comedies because they're so fucking stupid but still funny on a non-insulting level. Tyler Breeze remarking about how genius the Ascension's disguises were damn near killed me.
  • Of all the times for Non-Lazy Shinsuke Nakamura to show up, I didn't expect it to be against Jinder Mahal in a non-cell match at the theme pay-per-view where he was jobbing clean. I'm not hating it, mind you. He probably got the best match out of Mahal since he became Champion, but still.
  • That being said, the fact that Mahal's ceiling at this point is "Competent to the point of watchable" feels bad for the WWE Champion, even if the two holders before him were Orton and Bray Wyatt.
  • Dolph Ziggler coming out to no Tron or theme music felt like the most logical progression for a story that is well-crafted but that I have absolutely no interest in seeing. I don't know if I've just got Ziggler fatigue, or if the inherent cruelty of it (the most cruel aspect being my expectation of having to feel sympathy for the fuckin' Ultimate Warrior), but I just want it to end and for Ziggler to go do comedy somewhere I don't have to see him.
  • I'm not sure whether the "CM PUNK!" and "LITTLE CAESAR'S!" chants were in response to how the match was worked or whether it was a reaction to Ziggler (Dylan Hales noted that he thought the match had heat until Ziggler went on offense), but it's not a good sign for what management will probably see with Bobby Roode, which sucks. I may be in a minority, but I think he's been really good outside of his entrance theatrics, but again, who am I?
  • The rolling O'Connor roll spot into the finish was really well-done though.
  • Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon began with a brawl outside the cage because it was FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE, GUYS. At least McMahon's punches were in the same zip code as his opponent's body for this one.
  • Owens grinding McMahon's face in the cage in front of his kids was perhaps the best heel move anyone pulled off all night, and then the camera crew had to go and ruin it by showing those kids laughing and smiling at his dad being mauled. Didn't WWE have anyone there to give them a cue to look horrified when the camera came on them? Diana Hart Smith didn't contort her face into a billion different strained expressions during the main event of SummerSlam '92 for nothing!
  • McMahon sold his knee immediately after getting them up to counter the Owens senton atomico, and then like 30 seconds later he was doing his Simba shtick like nothing happened. Look, I get that Shane McMahon matches have the basic psychology of "Watch him do crazy shit that only the boss' son covered by great insurance would even think about trying" and not "limb work," but again, if you're gonna break the seal, commit to the effort.
  • Owens got a table, which in a bloodlusty revenge match would've been fine except the crowd just chanted for their desire to have tables, and he was supposed to be the heel. Then again, maybe the heel all along was the capricious son of a Trump cabinet member with thin skin and loyalty to a garbage family. Who knows.
  • Honestly, the big fight sequence on top of the cage was a good idea in theory, but I'm not sure whether it was bad cardio or bad footing because it came off looking mostly clunky and drawn out in service of a spot that came a bit too late after they abandoned it.
  • I had the feeling Sami Zayn was going to get involved, but when it happened it still came off as a shock. On one hand, friendship always wins. On the other, because WWE can't get off its PASSION OF THE MCMAHON FAMILY bullshit, Zayn will probably be presented as a heel, which feels questionable. On this third hand I just grew after consuming toxic waste, Zayn's passion can make any character alignment work. On this fourth hand, because I'm Goro from Mortal Kombat, maybe Zayn and Owens are the real heroes of this story. Who knows.

Match of the Night: Big E and Xavier Woods vs. Jimmy and Jey Uso - Old fogeys who remember the good ol' days of Undertaker bleeding like a stuck pig courtesy of Brock Lesnar inside the cell like to yell about how modern matches aren't good because they don't have the blood. While the visual of color adds something special, it doesn't mean two people, or in this case four people, can't make sweet, sweet violence happen while keeping their skin intact. The Usos and New Day, who have fomented perhaps the best feud in WWE this year, or at least the best feud on Smackdown this year (luv to Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman), took their hatred into a sweeping crescendo, and none of the four men in the ring had to bleed to do it. In fact, it takes a special kind of violence to look and feel visceral and real without having to resort to color, and the best kinds of matches that don't need blood can make the presence of blood seem like a crutch.

Of course, the risk for color was there, because each team relied on props to get the point across. Whether it was Woods going through an assortment of lighthearted musical plunder or the Usos literally taking the New Day to their penitentiary with handcuffs, each use of a weapon heightened and elevated the match. It wasn't cheap; it all had its place, whether as callbacks to other matches or as attempts to make near falls seem even more titanic as they were broken up. The weapons didn't even have to be used as implements of destruction and bodily harm to be effective. Perhaps the most stunning visual of the match, the night even, came when New Day corralled Jey into the corner of the cell and held him there with fragments of broken kendo sticks as prison bars. Or perhaps the usage of weapons towards grand explosive offensive maneuvering were the best parts for the utter magnitude of the carnage wrought forth. Maybe it was an Uso chucking a chair at Woods while on the top rope looking to hit The Midnight Hour for the sheer suddenness and random nature of its projectile course from offscreen. Perhaps Big E first launching himself into the cage on a missed attempt at the apron spear and then hitting it moments later encapsulated the attrition. Or maybe it was the Usos hanging Woods from the ringpost, handcuffs around his wrists, peppering his midsection with kendo stick shots as he futilely tried to both curl up and kick them away.

But even without weapons, these four men shone as they have been wont to do since their feud began. Whether it was the uranage/lungblower combo New Day did from the apron, or the Usos hitting Big E with the doomsday plancha, each team had a knack for the moment and for exploring completely the studio space allotted to them. No one will confuse this match for the most memorable Hell in a Cell match, not when WWE hagiography continues to replay Mick Foley getting heaved from the top of the cell to his near-death in 1998. Everything was better in the Attitude Era, says Vince McMahon, who mistakes dollars in his pocket for artistic merit. However, the Usos and New Day perhaps had the best Hell in a Cell match. They no doubt made themselves at home within the FIVE TONS OF STEEL like few before them did, and the gravity of their feud plus the gruesome ways in which they manifested said gravity into well-placed spot after well-placed spot deserves all the applause one can produce without making their hands sore to the touch.

Overall Thoughts: I got to play dad today. My wife and I took the kids to see My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, The Movie today at the theater. I missed the Eagles throw down on the Arizona Cardinals in Carson Wentz's best game as a pro yet to watch talking ponies learn lessons about friendship and forgiveness. Also, I'm pretty sure Pinkie Pie has a coke habit, but I'm not judging. What does this have to do with WWE Hell in a Cell on The Award-Winning WWE Network™? Well, basically, like the ponies (and the cat, and the bird pirates, and the hippogriff, man MLP was made for furries just as much as it was for children, wasn't it?) learned over the course of the movie, true friendship is a bond that cannot be broken, even by the thoughtless actions of one of the friends. Of course, Twilight Sparkle doesn't powerbomb any of her friends onto a ring apron repeatedly and with malice, but the point isn't to be made about degrees of neglecting friendship, it's that no matter what the tribulations, true friendship survives no matter what the spat is. Sami Zayn does not forget that he was Kevin Owens' best man. He wasn't about to let Shane McMahon attempt murder on him because what, Owens headbutted a father that he didn't like all that much anyway and talked shit on kids who smiled and mugged for the camera while their father was getting his face raked along chain-link fencing?

In all honesty, why would anyone root for McMahon in this story anyway? He was handed his job despite failing to live up to the conditions of employment the last time he was in the cell. He can't handle his rage when Owens mentions his family, especially since management, especially nepotistic management, should always be held to a higher standard. I'm not saying Owens was the babyface here, inasmuch as WWE's ideas on alignment and what makes someone a sympathetic hero are distorted more heavily than a post-World War I Dadaist painting. But what's the hook on wanting McMahon to get "revenge" on Owens, other than "I like seeing a man with horrible strikes and dad-bod throw himself recklessly off of and into stationary objects?" The real babyface in the story was, and honestly always has been Zayn. He's the only one who tried talking sense at all, and his actions were the only one that carried nobility. In a vacuum, he sentenced one asshole to save the other asshole's life, but when you consider that the one asshole has actually been in Donald Trump's White House on cordial terms, well, it wouldn't have been a big loss anyway, right?

WWE has never been big on friendship as magic, white magic at least. No, relying on others is seen as weakness in character. Maybe Vince McMahon's cold and harsh upbringing informs that ethos, but even without placing vlaue judgment on the man, you don't need to be an EXPERT SOCIOLOGIST to know his life has decidedly not been normal. In real life, friendship and forgiveness and sympathy are all great qualities to possess. To the cold, logical mind, Zayn had no reason to be out there for the save, but to anyone who has had to bail a friend out of a sticky situation that they got themselves into, it's not only noble and sensible, but also insanely relatable. Of course, unless the Smackdown booking office somehow has an epiphany that allows its members to inject nuance into a story, this will more than likely be played off as a heel turn for one of three characters for whom a change in color of their hats from white to black would be a terrible idea (Bayley and Johnny Gargano being the other two). But make no mistake about it, tonight's actions were magic, because within friendship is locked the greatest magic of them all.


Hell in a Cell didn't have much of any advance vibe going into it. Smackdown has been on a downturn lately, and a lot of it has to do with the creative team basing angles on confusion, insider winking and nudging, and racism. Yet, all of the matches had something to them, whether they were overall good, great, or even mediocre. For example, the Rusev/Randy Orton match, though dull and grey through 95 percent of it, had a finish that could have lit the deadest arena on fire. Charlotte Flair and Nattie Neidhart built to a moonsault to the outside masterfully, even if the actual move itself was a bit off and led into the wettest, nastiest fart of a finish of the night. Hell, even dead dick Dolph Ziggler came alive for a little bit with Bobby Roode en route to another match with a big finish. It sucks that one has to praise a show like Hell in a Cell couched in the mire of low expecation exceeded with ease, but it shows the biggest disconnect between the roster and its management that WWE has had since at least 2010.

You can't go out and give performances like the wrestlers did across the board at the Little Caesar's Arena and shoulder the blame for why your brand on the whole is lagging. I mean, Xavier Woods taking the lashes from the kendo sticks while in makeshift manacles hanging from the ringpost was about as powerful an image as you can get, wrestling or otherwise. Its framing was artful, and Woods brought out so much anguish and desperation while hanging there. The person who saw the Usos and New Day hurl homophobic insults at each other and decided to skip the show didn't do Woods a disservice. Rather, it was Michael PS Hayes, Brian "Road Dogg" Armstrong, and the rest of the people running the ship that did the disservice not only to the fans, but to the workers who went out and bore their souls. It isn't some misguided attempt at wrestling poptimism to heap praise upon Hell in a Cell, because more often than not, the proletarian roster is fighting for just as much a piece of the pie as you and I do in the real world workforce. But even in handing money over to the McMahon dynasty, one can still appreciate that a roster full of hungry wrestlers, whether new or veteran, can still deliver and bear their souls to you in an attempt to create art, no matter how badly mismanaged it is.