Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Hell in a Cell: Jinder Mahal main-evented, WWE turned everyone into Colonel Sanders, a bunch of people fell off the side of the Cell, and get this, the cage was cage-colored. Like, silver? Like it was metal? Super weird.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Hell in a Cell for September 16, 2018.
Worst: “Hell In A Cell” Doesn’t Need Hell In A Cell Anymore
I think I write about this every time there’s a Hell in a Cell match, but in the same way Steve Martin says the worst part of a tuna sandwich is the tuna, the worst part of a Hell in a Cell pay-per-view is the Hell in a Cell.
It made two appearances last night, and actively hurt both matches it was a part of. I guess the first thing we need to talk about is how they spray-painted it bright fucking red and turned it into TNA’s Steel Asylum, which the Internet will tell you was Vince McMahon’s idea to “freshen up” an old match type, but was probably actually Jeff Hardy’s idea.
Jeff is in the first (and brutally longest) Hell in a Cell match of the night, stepping into the uNfOrGiViNg StEeL sTrUcTuRe against an especially viperous Randy Orton. The match features a lot of visuals that will scar you for life if you’re 4-years old, like Orton “ruthlessly” twisting Hardy’s earlobe with a screwdriver. That’s the kind of thing that seems painful if you’ve never known anyone with stretched earlobes, and have never actually touched your own earlobes and realized how bendy they are. When you stretch them out like that you’ve basically got taffy hanging from your face. Orton probably could’ve stretched it out and put it on his head like Howie Mandel used to do with condoms.
The finish, which you’ll see a million times, involves Hardy monkey-barring from the roof of the Cell and falling face-first through a table, which had Randy Orton lying on it like 15 seconds before. Hardy probably should’ve looked down before plummeting to his doom, but I’m not gonna start suddenly pretending I know how Jeff Hardy’s thought process works.
To get back to the larger point, though, this is a normal (and again, way too long) hardcore match with a Fruit Roll-up cage around it. The cage barely gets involved, and actually actively hinders the finish, which is set up for several minutes to be the classic Jeff Hardy “vault from the top of a ladder over a slightly taller ladder and put a guy through a table by extremely sitting on him” spot. After a long set up, Hardy realizes the ladder is too tall (or the ceiling is too low) to allow him to vault, so he changes it up, abandons the first ladder completely, and does the hanging swinging thing. And maybe the story here was that they didn’t think we’d buy Hardy coming up with the ceiling swinging without setting up for a spot he’s more familiar with first, but in my brain it was like, “oh, this was gonna be cool, but we’re in this plastic playset, so we’re gonna have to do a thing that makes way less sense.” Like, if Hardy had done the original spot, he would’ve gone up even higher, with more force, actual velocity, and at least a mild amount of aim. Instead, he does a ridiculous thing that would’ve been completely unsafe and like 40% less effective even if he’d hit it perfectly.
But again, the visual means more to people these days than a visual with a reason to happen backing it up. At some point you stop caring about realistic distance travel and character motivations and just have the Night King fly an ice dragon up to The Wall and melt it, because wow, it looks so cool!
Note: all of this would’ve looked better and cooler if it hadn’t been surrounded by Clifford the Big Red Dog’s kennel crate
Then we have the main event, which again, starts as a pretty good hardcore match with an enormous milk crate around it. Braun Strowman actually attempted to use the cell to his advantage against Reigns, and while it was light years from cage matches actually using the cage as a weapon and cutting people open and shit, it was an effort. Then, when it’s time to do the finish, Strowman and Reigns … faint, I guess? And stay passed out in the ring for like 10 minutes while the camera deals with everything around them.
To recap, this is everything WWE put together to keep us from noticing and/or booing a super popular Braun Strowman losing a Money in the Bank cash-in to Roman Reigns.
- they had Strowman “turn heel,” removing the thing everybody loved about him — his big personality, leading to big stunt spots involving him flipping shit over and ripping things apart — in favor of having him be a cowardly heel who needs 2-20 other people to help him win fights (that he still runs away from)
- they reunited The Shield, the only bulletproof way to keep Roman from getting “mixed reactions”
- they put Strowman with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre, and threw the Revival under an entire fleet of buses to put the Raw Tag Team Championship on them, making them look like okay, maybe they are the Bad Guy Shield
- had Strowman announce the cash-in super, super far in advance, to kill any pop the cash-in might’ve had and make most of the audience forget it was even because of that
- added Mick Foley as the special guest referee, because the cell turned him into crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th and he has to show up to yell YOU’RE ALL DOOOOMED any time anyone has a cell match because he fell off of one once, back when you didn’t just fall onto crash pads
- had Ziggler and McIntyre run down to try to help Strowman during the match, because BRAUN STROWMAN needs help from two mid-card heels again now
- had Rollins and Ambrose run down to fight them off, leading to them all climbing the cell for some reason and fighting on the roof, which gets “this is awesome” chants not for anything anyone’s doing, but because they’re standing on a tall thing, and people like loud noises and bright colors
- included a shot-for-shot re-do of the Rollins/Ambrose fall off the cell wall from 2014, which was corny and underwhelming four years ago, but at least involved the wrestlers from the match
- then, after all that, they had BROCK LESNAR RETURN
- had Paul Heyman mace Mick Foley for some reason
- had Brock kick in the door of the cell like it was made of cheap plastic (cough) and destroy both Reigns AND Strowman, completely taking away their agency, all to set up a triple threat match for either Australia or Saudi Arabia, because those six-hour international house shows are like winning the lottery for WWE and will probably be their entire business model within a few years
- ended the match — the HELL IN A CELL match — in a NO CONTEST, because Lesnar beat up the participants with his finishing move. The referee tried to stop Hardy/Orton, too, until Orton yelled at him to do his job and made him count a pin.
The result of all that work:
What an absolute pile of garbage. Why did they work so hard to make Hell in a Cell nothing like Hell in a Cell? Why even do it? Why book Braun Strowman to be the Money in the Bank winner if you knew the situation you were booking the championship into? Why have him murder Kevin Owens for an entire season, squash him at SummerSlam when you clearly set up an acceptable “out” for Strowman to give up the briefcase without losing his cash-in, if you wanted him to lose the cash-in? Why was Mick Foley there? He just preached about how deadly the match was, and the only people who got hurt weren’t in the match. And then he got emasculated by a non-wrestler. Why anything? At this point it’s like watching a 4-year old play with action figures and his Hell in a Cell playset, and asking him why his booking doesn’t make sense. Of course it doesn’t make sense. He’s four.
[smashes action figures together]
Quick note of clarification for anyone reading:
- if you liked these matches, that’s great, you don’t have to think the same shit I think
- if you don’t think cage matches need to involve the cage, and that me thinking so means I’m stuck in 1985 wishing everything was Starrcade ’85, that’s fine, but maybe extremely unfair to me as an analyst, and also probably right
- if you don’t think the show needs to make sense or that things that happen should happen for reasons — not complicated, dense, mature reasons, just reasons at all — congratulations on being Mr. Peanutbutter, and I wish I could do what you do
- if you’d like to buy a Hell in a Cell playset, please visit WWEShop.com
Best, Mostly: Lowered Bexpectations
First, the good news: Becky Lynch is the Smackdown Women’s Champion, which is probably something that shouldn’t have changed since she became the first one. The match with Charlotte Flair was good, and Becky got a clean win, which is … good, I guess, because she’s being a heel, but the crowd treats her like a beloved hero, but the announce team treats her like a heel, but Road Dogg says she’s not a heel, but [cont’d].
I thought it was interesting that they spent the entire match telling the story of Becky targeting Charlotte’s arm and repeatedly going for the Disarmer, only for the finish to be a spear countered into a lateral press. You could rationalize that maybe the spear was weaker because of the arm, but she didn’t do it with the correct arm, and nobody on the announce team was making an effort to tell that story. They were busy treating Charlotte like a fragile flower who couldn’t possibly wrestle a match against someone she liked at one point in her life. But that arm-work criticism is more of an “aw, I wish the story of the match had something to do with the finish of the match,” than an “it made the match bad,” because it didn’t, and Becky as champ is the best thing to come out of this show.
I think the post-match stuff was a real missed opportunity, though. It seems like everyone in the world wants to cheer Becky Lynch and boo Charlotte Flair, and they’re doing it whether you’re intending it or not, so wouldn’t it have been fun to have Charlotte flip out on Becky after the win, show her “true colors,” and validate everything Becky’s been saying? That way you get TWO hot characters with real motivations, and the rematch is even better. Now all you have is, “rematch clause,” and, “I’m surprised you disrespected my attempt at reconciliation, despite the month of build of you explaining all the reasons you hate me, and now my feelings are hurt, and I’m still not picking up on the whole ‘entitlement’ part of my character or the complete whiffing of obvious human emotions that makes everyone boo me and cheer you.”
Best, Then Worst: Every AJ Styles Championship Match
All of them. Every single one of them. They all have to be really good for like 10-20 minutes and get you totally into it, then smash you in the back of the head with a finish that makes AJ look like a complete goober, and invalidates pretty much everything you just watched. Whether it’s him getting his leg trapped in a monitor hole on an announce table and getting counted out, or battling to a double count-out, or getting himself disqualified because the guy who harassed his wife 10 times harassed her an eleventh, or TAPPING OUT BEFORE A THREE COUNT AND LOSING THE MATCH BUT STILL PRETENDING HE WON IT BECAUSE THE REFEREE WAS BAD, every AJ Styles Championship match seems built around the idea that the best wrestler in the world can only keep or lose his championship title by ridiculous accident.
Which, again, is such a shame, because the match parts of the matches are really good. This was really good. OF COURSE this was really good. It’s Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. Joe rules, Styles is great at what he does, Joe can bump Styles to the goddamn moon with even basic stuff like shoulder tackles and clotheslines, and the crowd’s invested enough in the story and these dudes’ reputations to KNOW it’s gonna be good, no matter what, and treat it accordingly. It’s the same stuff they did with Styles and Nakamura, where they did the first 20 minutes of a New Japan classic without doing the next 25 minutes that makes it classic. You’re leaving out all the classic parts. You’re ordering burrito filled with nothing but rice.
Part of it’s creative’s insistence that a wrestling championship can’t be prestigious enough to be fought for on its own and needs some kind of absurd personal vendetta to ever be entertaining, and part of it’s that no match ever is the “blowoff” now, so everything has to set up the next thing. WrestleMania sets up Backlash, which sets up Greatest Royal Rumble, which sets up Extreme Rules, which sets up Money in the Bank, which sets up SummerSlam, which sets up Hell in a Cell, which sets up Super Show-Down, which sets up Saudi Arabia 2, which sets up Survivor Series, which sets up Royal Rumble, which sets up Fastlane, which sets up WrestleMania, which sets up Backlash, and whoops, it’s a year later and you’re still setting shit up. END THE STORY SOMETIMES. DO THE FINISH. IT’S FINE. YOU HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE ON YOUR ROSTER AND CAN TELL A LOT OF STORIES, I AND WE DO NOT NEED TO SEE THE SAME MATCH OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES. SHIT OR GET OFF THE POT, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
Best: Ronda Rousey’s Selling, Mostly!
As we’ve said pretty regularly since WrestleMania, Ronda Rousey’s really good at being a pro wrestler. Her moveset keeps expanding, which is nice, and at Hell in a Cell she actually took enough damage that it required her to sell … and she did a pretty good job of it! She even sold on offense, not being able to hit her weird Samoan Drop thing because her ribs were damaged. When it was time for her to power up and hit her moves anyway, she at least visibly acknowledged that by focusing up, doing the great Mick Foley “stab yourself in the knee to get the feeling back in your knee” bit with her ribs, and powered the hell through it. It was the visual storytelling allowing the audience who wants to follow the sequential storytelling to do so, and understand what’s happening without having to be told it by an announce team, which is how wrestling’s generally supposed to work. Really good stuff on that end.
My only criticisms here are that this probably should’ve been the first match in the series (i.e. the one where Ronda won the championship in the first place) because it would’ve made Bliss look like a competitive threat, and would’ve made a rematch with even more pathos and selling mean something. Here, despite the good work both women are doing, the first match in the series was basically a squash. This one’s not a squash suddenly because “reasons.” And it’s fine, I guess, but if you’d done this first, you wouldn’t have to be digging Bliss out of a hole and giving her multiple people at ringside to justify any time she’s on offense.
The other criticism is that I hope Ronda learns how to actually take transitional offense soon, because in every match we’ve seen her wrestle so far, she only stop being in control when she completely stops wrestling and pauses to point at somebody at ringside. She’s stopping to mess with Triple H, or she’s stopping to deal with Alexa Bliss, or she’s stopping to point at Mickie James, or Alicia Fox, or whoever, and that’s when her opponent gets one up on her. I know she’s still a rookie and rookies are supposed to make focus mistakes like that — and you need an explanation as to why she isn’t just destroying everybody in 30 seconds like she did for most of her MMA career — but it’s obvious if you pay attention. Instead of best friend and training partner Natalya, Ronda should spend more time with best friend and training partner Shayna Baszler. Hell, Baszler’s got the WWE Champion stealing her match finishes from a month ago.
Worst: No Mode
I like Daniel Bryan enough that I want to love anyone he loves, but I’m having trouble cheering for him when Brie Bella’s in his corner. WWE really desperately wants us to accept that Brie Bella’s a cagey wrestling legend or whatever, and while I guess I have to take that during Riott Squad tags, I don’t want to have to deal with it during DANIEL BRYAN matches. Imagine if they made Danica Patrick the wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers because she loves Aaron Rodgers. No shade on their love, and I hope to find someone one day who will wear ugly plastic clothes to match mine, but can we get an actual wide receiver in this spot?
The match here wasn’t bad, because Bryan and Miz wrestled the bulk of it and the Bella/Maryse interactions were kept short. But if you’ve gotta do that in the first place, why do the match, you know? And I know the answer to that is “reality shows” and “extending the story forever instead of ever doing consequential matches that change things or make an impression of any kind,” but the addition of Arguing Wives didn’t do this any favors. Maryse getting a win and getting called a ring technician for it was pretty funny, though, and if we end this thing with Miz and Bryan in a championship match at WrestleMania it’ll be worth it, but man, whoever wrote Hell in a Cell did everything they could to avoid anyone who matters beating anyone who matters with any kind of impact, didn’t they?
Best: Surprise! Seth Rollins Anchored The Best Match Of The Night
You don’t need me to tell you this if you have a functioning frontal lobe and a set of eyeballs, but the best match of the night was Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Rollins is the ace of the promotion right now and has had the best match on the show pretty much … every show since WrestleMania, and I can’t remember a guy being on this kind of roll since the original “yes” chants version of Goat Face Daniel Bryan. You remember, back when The Shield was really started to get going and Bryan couldn’t stop doing the most vicious looking corner dropkicks ever, and we lost our mind every time he stepped in a ring.
Everyone pulled their weight here. I continue to be happy with Dean Ambrose as a semi-serious ass-kicker, Dolph Ziggler has never suffered for the ability to transform basic offense into Shawn Michaels selling for Hulk Hogan, and Drew McIntyre is such a damn physical marvel right now it’s hard to ignore. When a 6-foot-8 guy who is built like Brad Pitt in Troy does a flying clothesline off the top and then KIPS UP, you notice. And then there’s Rollins, who is such a wizard right now he’s even transforming the most obnoxious thing he does — the Falcon Arrow combo off the top that should Murder Death Kill people but only ever gets two — into an in-match plot point. He did the reverse version to Ziggler a couple of shows ago, and here he’s working it into the finish, getting murked by a Claymore in the middle of a Falcon Arrow attempt. It’s really beautiful work, and I’m not sure I could blow more smoke up that guy’s ass if I tried.
I don’t love that the finish only served to set up the confrontation later in the night, which only served to set up a six-man tag for the Bonzer Royal Rumble, which will only serve to promote their six-man tag at Starrcade (and on and on), but at least it was a finish, caused by a wrestling move, involving someone getting pinned. The only other match on the show that did that was Becky and Charlotte, and that was a COUNTER to a move, and not a move itself. Becky didn’t even counter the spear into something offensive, she just rolled over at the right time. Ronda’s match had the “bend my arm the way arms bend” arm bar. Here, BOOM, kick to the fucking nose. I will buy that.
In the future, we should just start every show with the Seth Rollins match, do the little “all rights reserved” graphic in the bottom left corner when it’s done, and say the other 7-15 matches are an optional post-show.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
This red blood cell is so weak it might as well be called Hemophilia.
Reigns holding up the Universal Title in the new Hell in a Cell is like when a weatherman wears green while giving the weekly forecast.
Jeff Hardy looked like that tranquilized bear falling from a tree.
Awww…he was so close to making it to the next stage of American Ninja Warrior!
The Real Birdman
Foley: “I’ve had chills thinking about Hell in a Cell all day”
*Walks out from behind the curtain”
Foley: “What the hell is that thing??”
Like McDonalds, Ronda only sells the ribs some of the time.
“You see how emotional Brie Bella is.”
*Brie Bella’s face shows no emotion*
AJ must’ve wished for his championship reign on a monkey paw gifted to him by Rube Goldberg
A Samoan wrestler struggles to connect with his new stepchildren, but can their shared love of Polynesian dancing bring them together? Find out this Christmas in WWE Studios’: “Hula’s Your Daddy?”
HHH: Hey Vince, I think we should add some color to the Hell in a Cell matches to give them some intensity.
Vince: Add some color, eh….
That’s it for Hell in a Cell 2018. The only other thing I have to type is love for Alicia Fox, who went full Night Owl II and transformed her Disco M. Bison look into Disco M. Bison SNOW VARIANT. She looked like she should be helping Mr. Freeze plot against Gotham.
Be sure to drop us a comment below and let us know what you thought of the show — yes, even the “I don’t know what show YOU were watching!” positive stuff where you “don’t know, you just liked it” — and share the column to help keep us in the business of writing extremely disappointed wrestling jokes. Thanks as always, and we’ll see you next year for WWE Redbox.