WrestleWatch: WWE Hell In A Cell 2019
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I don't normally do this. I never want to be one of those hyper-critical smarks that tears apart a WWE show. If a show is really terrible, I tend to just not review it. I usually give a couple of sentences to the shit shows in the next review of a good show I do. I don't like to get bogged down in negativity, especially when it comes to pro wrestling. Wrestling is my escape from the negative aspects of real life, and besides, paragraphs upon paragraphs of moaning are no fun to read.
But this is different. This will be a talking point for a long time to come. If there was ever a time where WWE couldn't afford to shit the bed and have a show that is not only bad, but caused widespread outrage across the entire fanbase, it's right now. AEW has fully emerged as a viable alternative to WWE, as their debut episode of Dynamite on TNT beat NXT on the USA Network by a significant margin in the ratings, key demographics and critic/fan response. Bryan Alvarez (a wrestling journalist) went on a scathing tirade the other day about the "arrogance" of WWE. Vince and co. have done it their way for a long time. Being the only game in town, they know the die-hard wrestling fan is going to watch no matter what. But the times have changed. Pissed off fans now have somewhere to go if they don't like what WWE is selling.
So how exactly did WWE fuck up so badly? Let's get to it...
Alright, first things first. Sometimes I write a little section called "Context" where I give a brief rundown on the feuds going into a PPV. That's a very difficult thing to do for this particular show because at the end of Smackdown, there were 3 matches scheduled for Hell In A Cell. Seth Rollins vs. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt in the Cell, Becky vs. Sasha in the second ever women's Cell match, and a tornado tag team match pitting the unlikely duo of Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan against the Wyatt Fam- err, The Bludgeon Broth- umm, Rowan & Harper.
WWE obviously have had their attention elsewhere this month, building up NXT on the USA Network to combat AEW, and also debuting Smackdown on FOX. Even so, three advertised matches for a PPV is just about unheard of. I think the last time WWE held a show with so few matches booked in advance, it was WWECW's December To Dismember.. which is commonly regarded as the worst PPV WWE ever put on. So not an encouraging sign here.
They did throw in a few more undercard matches via a last minute Twitter post before the show.
Basic pre-show panel chatter to get things started. I always find the way these shows are done so awkward. They try to give a Sportscenter vibe or something and it just doesn't feel right. Stick to backstage interviews, video packages and filler matches. It's pro wrestling, not football or basketball.
Match 1: Natalya def. Lacey Evans (at 9:25)
Thoughts: We've seen this match on Raw several times recently. It's fairly evident that they're using Nattie in a player-coach type role, working with the green Lacey to get her wrestling skills up to par with the rest of her act, which is great. Decent, but fairly unspectacular action. Lacey misses her twisting springboard moonsault and submits soon after to the Sharpshooter. (**)
Post-match, Natalya clocks Lacey with a right hand, just as Lacey did to her a couple of weeks ago. Well then. The feud continues.
Match 1: Raw Women's Championship- Hell In A Cell- Becky Lynch def. Sasha Banks (at 21:50)
Thoughts: Becky and Sasha worked their asses off in this one. As I thought going in, both wrestled with something to prove. Becky's star had dimmed a little in recent months after the stupid decision of putting her real-life relationship with Seth Rollins on screen, and Sasha was in her first big match since returning on the Raw after Summerslam. They fought with the aggression befitting both their feud and the type of match they were in. The way they used chairs and kendo sticks in conjunction with the Cell structure was highly reminiscent of the New Day vs. Usos Cell match a couple of years ago. This was the second ever Cell match in WWE's women's division, and it was a massive, massive improvement on the original (Charlotte vs. Sasha, which was a really disappointing match to me). The show peaked here, honestly. (****1/2)
Match 2: Tornado Tag Match- Roman Reigns & Daniel Bryan def. Erick Rowan & Luke Harper (at 16:45)
Thoughts: All four guys are actually pretty familiar with each other, even pre-dating this current feud, going back to the Wyatt Family days. That familiarity showed itself here in a really positive way, with great chemistry and intensity throughout the whole match. The tornado stipulation meant that all four men were legal at the same time, with no tags needed, and as a result the action never stopped. It was almost Attitude Era-esque in its chaotic nature. Big spots a plenty, and a very crowd-pleasing finishing sequence, with Reigns and Bryan chaining their signature moves together nicely. (****)
Post-match, Reigns and Bryan hug it out. Naww.
Match 3: Randy Orton def. Ali (at 12:10)
Thoughts: So, to show you the lack of planning for this show, this match was made during a confrontation backstage during the Kick-Off show. Orton and Ali have actual history, with Orton injuring Ali back in February, taking him out of the Elimination Chamber, which led to Kofi Kingston replacing him and that's how Kofimania started. Someone in WWE remembered about all that about an hour before the show, so what could have been a tremendously heated rivalry coming in is just getting thrown out there cold. Fortunately, Orton and Ali are two consummate pros, and were able to put together a nice display on no notice. The highlight was Ali doing a handstand to counter the RKO in one of the most innovative counter moves I can recall. Moments later, he would fall victim to the move for the 3 count, but that one spot will live in gif infamy. (***)
Match 4: Women's Tag Team Championship- The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka & Kairi Sane) def. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross (at 10:25)
Thoughts: This match really came out of nowhere, booked because reasons? Even Michael Cole acknowledges that the Kabukis are yet to hit their stride as a tag team. Kairi and Asuka are both showing a more heelish, aggressive side, even attacking Bliss while she was minding her own business standing on the apron. Asuka uses green mist to blind Cross, followed by a kick to the head, and we have new champs! Wow. I'm guessing FOX want Alexa as a singles star, as the end to that title reign was very abrupt. The Women's Tag Titles don't feel very prestigious. The inaugural match inside the Chamber was great, Mania had a nice moment for my girls The IIconics... but yeah, that's about it. Even the 24/7 Championship seems to get more screen time. (**)
A video package airs showing highlight of Smackdown's debut on FOX. I still haven't seen the whole show, but I did catch The Rock's segment and it was a joy to watch. The man pisses charisma.
Match 5: The Viking Raiders & Braun Strowman def. The O.C (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson) via DQ (at 8:15)
Thoughts: This match felt completely out of an episode of Raw. Nothing special about it whatsoever. How the hell can you have a PPV and not have a promoted match for one of the best wrestlers in the company and the current United States Champion, AJ Styles? They announced- via social media, of course, no TV build- that the Vikings got to pick a mystery tag team partner. With a bit of forward planning, they could have made this a lot more fun. Braun was the obvious choice as the biggest name babyface not booked on the show. After a few minutes of basic action, AJ, Gallows and Anderson all jump in the ring at once and attack, leading to the match getting thrown out. Again, completely unsatisfying as a PPV match. (*1/2)
Post-match, AJ does a comedy bit where he stumbles out of the arena clutching his US title. Meh. Very slapstick. I didn't really appreciate it because the tone was "we're not taking this seriously", which is the strong message WWE are sending throughout this show.
Backstage, we get a standard Street Profits hype bit. R-Truth and Carmella run into frame, and all of a sudden Carmella is rolled up! We get a 3 count and Tamina is the new 24/7 Champion! She takes off and a confused Truth and Mella ask where she went. Dawkins and Ford point in opposite directions. More shitty comedy. The 24/7 stuff was funnier when Maverick and his wife were running around with it.
Video package airs on the recent Baron Corbin/Chad Gable feud, including Corbin's King Of The Ring win. They have a match now.
Match 6: Chad Gable def. King Corbin (at 12:40)
Thoughts: This match felt a lot longer than it actually was. Pre-match, Corbin calls Chad "Shorty Gable", which Graves runs with on commentary. The match featured Corbin in control with a deliberate pace for 90% of the time. Gable gets the roll up outta nowhere to give the heel his comeuppance. Nowhere near as good as their match in the finals of the KOTR tournament, seemed like they were just out there to fill time really. (*1/2)
They show the international announcers' row, and new 24/7 Champion Tamina runs in. Truth and Carmella are chasing each other. Tamina hides behind Funaki (former Cruiserweight Champion and once upon a time was Smackdown's No. 1 Announcer, he does Japanese commentary these days). Truth and Funaki do a Karate Kid face-off. Okay, that was a little funny. Carmella blasts Tamina with a superkick, and R-Truth covers for the 3 count. Michael Cole checks his notes, he believes this is Truth's 20th reign as 24/7 Champion.
Match 7: Smackdown Women's Championship- Charlotte Flair def. Bayley (at 10:15)
Thoughts: Bayley, despite being a newly turned heel, gets some cheers from the Sacramento crowd. She's from nearby San Jose. Bayley and Charlotte have had much better matches than this in the past, this felt very formula. The result makes Charlotte a 10 time Women's Champion, and it gives me vibes similar to the Brock/Kofi match on Smackdown last week- it's like they're getting their championship on the "proper" stars in time for the Draft. (**)
Match 8: Universal Championship- Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend Bray Wyatt ends in a DQ/No Contest (at 17:30)
Thoughts: Okay. Here we go. The absolute clusterfuck this was... first of all, having the red lighting ALL MATCH was a genuine eye-sore. As in looking at it for 20 minutes actually made my eyes hurt. Then we had Rollins spamming Stomps like a video game. And while I appreciate the attempt to make the Fiend look Superhuman by no-selling Seth's finish, it crossed the line into ridiculousness when he hit like 10 of the fuckers. Then the ending... remember when Hell In A Cell was the most intense, violent match WWE could do? X-Pac said it best on the WWE Watch Along show- "how do you get DQed in a Hell In A Fricking Cell?!?!" You can argue semantics about it- WWE have listed it as a No Contest and Wiki has it the same, but it means the same thing- the ref stopped the match because it "went too far". (DISASTER- NO STARS)
So, how do you pay off this story? You take a match stipulation that historically has no rules and then place arbitrary restrictions on it... they stopped it when Seth used a sledgehammer. But minutes prior, the Fiend was using a mallet that was larger than the sledgehammer and that was fine. Triple H used a sledgehammer for years in Hell In A Cell matches. Undertaker threw Mick Foley off the top of the Cell. Shane McMahon dived off the top of the new higher Cell in an attempt to destroy Undertaker. Batista and Triple H used barbed wire steel chairs and steel chains on each other. But Seth took it too far. Okay. How can this feud end now?
The yearly Hell In A Cell PPVs have really killed the appeal of the HIAC matches- let's face each other in a Cell because it's October! Not because our feud has gotten that heated!- and Rollins vs. The Fiend might be the final nail in the coffin. Last year, they threw the Cell match out because of Brock Lesnar interference. I absolutely hated that too, but if I wanted to be a massive WWE apologist, I could say, "well, that was outside influences and not the men involved in the match" (but Kane in the VERY FIRST EVER HIAC, I KNOW). But there's no excusing this. I don't think I can ever be invested in a WWE Hell In A Cell match again. They might attempt some crazy, insane, violent stunt... and it might all be for nothing, just a mechanism to throw the match out so no one has to take a loss. Here's a crazy idea... if you have a situation where neither man can afford to take any kind of loss, don't book that situation! Or find a set and make a decision either way.
The backlash has been brutal over the past 24 hours. The fans in the arena were PISSED. Loud chants and boos ringing through the building.
"Restart The Match!"
And my favourite- "AEW! AEW! AEW!"
WWE deserve every bit of negativity they get. I couldn't watch all of Raw today, but I kept an eye on the report to see if they would do anything about the controversy, and I turned on the last half hour to see if they would deliver a big ending to make up for the Cell debacle. They basically ignored the existence of this main event, not mentioning Rollins or the Fiend throughout the show, sneaking in a standard still shot recap of the match that lasted about 2 minutes. And then they ended Raw with another WOAT ending, the weakest "pull-apart brawl" I've ever seen between Braun Strowman and champion boxer Tyson Fury. What the fuck is happening to WWE? Almost makes me believe the conspiracy theories that Vince is behind AEW, he's sabotaging WWE that badly at the worst possible time!
For better or worse, Hell In A Cell 2019 will certainly go down in history as a memorable show. It started incredibly strong, with a thrilling, innovative and brutal battle between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks inside the Cell structure, and continued the momentum with a wild tornado tag. Ali delivered a viral moment with his crazy counter to the RKO... and then the show fell off a cliff. The way that WWE handled the Rollins vs. Fiend Cell match is up there with the worst decisions in wrestling history. It was Katie Vick bad. It was Fingerpoke Of Doom bad. It made Mae Young giving birth to a hand look like inspired writing. In the span of 20 minutes, WWE completely killed one of its most iconic gimmick matches, got nuclear heat on their TOP BABYFACE Seth Rollins, and killed the mystique of one of the most over characters to enter WWE in years in The Fiend. Referees stopping the match, medics checking on Wyatt.... only for him to pop up seconds later to take Rollins out... it just defies logic. "Defies logic" is a phrase that would sum up a lot of this show, actually. One of the most disappointing shows I can recall... the bar was set pretty low, anyway, but WWE managed to limbo under it.
Overall Score: 3/10
Until next time, take care,