On 30th October, WWE's RAW brand held the 8th incarnation of the Hell in a Cell PPV (the 1st to be entirely RAW branded). The main event was the first ever female Hell in a Cell bout with Sasha Banks putting her RAW Women's Championship on the line against Charlotte Flair, whilst a pair of semi-mains came from Roman Reigns and "The Bulgarian Brute" Rusev battling over the United States Championship and Kevin Owens placing the Universal Championship on the line, both inside the structure. With Cesaro, Bayley, RAW Tag Team Champions The New Day, Karl Anderson and Brian Kendrick on the undercard, how would Hell in a Cell turn out? Let's take a look.
Despite what WWE's "triple main event" billing said, Charlotte Flair winning the RAW Women's Championship from Sasha Banks in a Hell in a Cell match was the main event in pretty much every sense of the term. It went on last, took up the most screen time and got the most hype. So how about that main event? It was always going to be difficult for Flair and Banks to step up not only into the main event, but to join the grand pantheon of Hell in a Cell matches, that includes classics like Shawn Michaels v The Undertaker and Cactus Jack v Triple H. There was a lot of history behind this bout, but at the same time there was none. Never before had two women main evented a PPV, never before had two women stepped inside the demonic structure. Was the match looking to emulate the past or create the future? It's difficult to judge something's effectiveness, if you're unsure of its aims.
A large portion of the action happened outside of the bell, with Flair attacking Banks before the bell, leading to the two brawling outside of the cage. This would include the main angle for the bout that would drive the contest's narrative. Flair pulling Banks from the outside of the cage and hitting a powerbomb through the announce table looked superb. Banks took the bump like an absolute boss (pun intended), with the table collapsing underneath her and Flair's powerbomb looked tasty also. The build up could have been a lot slicker than it was, with Flair awkwardly bumping off the cage and then waiting for Banks to position herself into the powerbomb, instead of simply grabbing her. If the prior work had looked less cooperative then the big spot would have looked even better. The angle with Banks being put onto the stretcher and not wanting any help, only to pull herself into the cage when the announcement was being made, felt a little corny and didn't make a whole lot of sense. The two ladies played it well, but if the doctors had decried that Banks couldn't wrestle to the point that it had been communicated to the ring announcer (Jo Jo) then surely the match still doesn't go ahead? The spot has been played out in various formats over the years, including in a number of Hell in a Cell matches and I would've preferred the ladies had started with something that couldn't be easily compared to things we've seen over, at least, the last five years.
Once the wrestlers were inside the Cell, I thought Banks and Flair did a damn good job, with a number of strong spots, some substantial storytelling and never for a moment looking out of place in the slot they were given. The majority of the bout was wrapped around Banks' back injury, with Flair targeting the damaged area and Banks offence kept to desperation flurries. The Boss' selling was mostly good, but the length of the bout (over 20 mins bell to bell) at times threatened it's believability, especially during a spot that saw her hit the three amigos suplexes (Because Eddie Guerrero). Spots-wise the match had some good use of the cell, from the very beginning where Charlotte hit a wicked monkey flip into the steel and a flurry of double knee shots from Banks that pinned Flair against the structure. A couple of the spots involving tables could have come off slicker, especially Flair's bump off the apron. Had these spots come together as planned then this probably would have been the undisputed match of the night. Flair winning the match with Natural Selection, having thrown Banks into a table twice, was a flat end to the evening, especially with the match in Banks' hometown.
Match in a Sentence - A very good match, with some flashes storytelling brilliance, but it occasionally got lost and some of the bigger spots could have looked better
The show opened with Roman Reigns retaining the United States Championship over Rusev in a solid heavyweight scrap inside the structure. The match was hurt by having to take two other HIAC matches into consideration, meaning that the bout lacked any particularly impressive spots, meaning that Rusev bumping off the apron and into the cell was replayed about twenty times during the match. However, within the confines that they were given, I felt like Reigns and Rusev managed to produce an extremely watchable affray. They'd introduce a number of props to compliment that big lads style, whacking each other with Kendo sticks, the steel steps and a big metal chain. One of my favourite parts of the match was when Rusev had Reigns caught in the ropes and was wailing away with the kendo stick, but with the crowd chanting along, he stopped the beating and broke the kendo stick over his knee. It made me chuckle at home, but also got him a decent big of heat, because Boston loves to count. There was a couple of near falls with Reigns' being sent into the steps and then taking a superkick, which were worked well and had the crowd gripped, especially on the first one!
My main problem with the bout was that it felt like a missed opportunity to make Rusev into a legitimate top guy in WWE. This was all down to how the story of the match unfolded and also, in part, the finish. The conclusion saw Rusev wrap the steel chain around Reigns' chin and apply a modified Accolade with the chain, with the two on top of the steel steps, now for me, unless you can do a run-in, that's the end of the match, right there. Instead, Rusev was made to look a bit dim, by dropping the chain to lock in a normal Accolade, allowing Reigns to power out and hit a Samoan Drop on the steps, followed by a spear to get the win. Why on earth would Rusev drop that chain? It just made him look a fool. Have Reigns pass out or if The Big Dog HAS to win for whatever reason, work an injury angle where Rusev can't keep the hold on because X, Y or Z, anything that gives a reason for The Bulgarian Brute to drop the chain. With the knowledge that Reigns was going over, I would've liked to have seen Rusev get more offence in during the first act of the match, where it seemed like Reigns always had the upperhand, even when the former champ resorted to raking the eyes, Reigns somehow rebounded and sent Rusev into the steps. There was a more interesting story to be told, with a few simple changes, that would've lead to both being elevated at the same time.
Match in a Sentence – Big heavyweight scrap, that utilised a number of props well, but could have done with cutting time and also feels like a missed star-making opportunity for Rusev.
The third Hell in a Cell contest on the card was Kevin Owens retaining his Universal Championship against Seth Rollins, after Chris Jericho had got himself locked inside the structure. There were a number of different elements that went into this, with the near 25 minute bout moving through a number of distinct segments. Each of these sections had their own merits, Owens focusing on Rollins injured tapped back had some good spots and suited the pairs styles, a lightning quick sequence of reversals sent the crowd into a frenzy and Jericho's involvement in the finish bought more storyline into the action without feeling over-booked. Everything on it's own was entertaining and the variation of styles meant that the 25 minutes went past fairly quickly, but (there's always a but) it wasn't melded together as good as it could have been. The back and forth sequence felt so out of place for what had come before, the run-in was awkwardly ambled towards with fire extinguishers and shit. It felt like when it was booked everyone had a load of good ideas, but not the time to make them fit together.
Everything from when Jericho got inside the cage to when Owens pinned Rollins was very good. Rollins looked great fighting from underneath, managing to keep Jericho out of the action, only for Y2J to comeback just in time to keep Owens in the match. The spot where Rollins powerbombed Owens through a ridiculous structure of tables on the outside was superb stuff with the highspot itself looking insane. Similar to the Banks v Flair announce table spot, the build up could have been slicker, but the duo managed to recover the moment well, as when Rollins seemed to be unable to get Owens in position it could have been a lot worse, both visually and physically. The finish built up nicely with Owens unable to put Rollins away with a Pop-Up Powerbomb, before Jeri-KO were finally able to combine for a sustained period, hammering away with chairs, before Owens hit a DDT on a chair for a near fall and finally won with a Powerbomb through a pair of seated chairs. It protected Rollins by having him scrap til the very end and also included some pretty cool looking moments along the way. I feel like everyone will benefit from this story ended, with Rollins able to stretch his babyface wings in a separate feud, whilst Jeri-KO can step up their best friends storyline that is obviously only heading in one direction.
Match in a Sentence - Good bout that goes through a number of different section, but doesn't quite manage to thread them together.
The biggest bout on the undercard saw Sheamus & Cesaro defeat The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods, accompanied by Kofi Kingston) by disqualification, meaning that New Day retained the RAW Tag Team Championships. At times this match had some great wrestling, at times it was super awkward. Sheamus being the only heel in the contest, just meant that the structure of the whole thing was a bit off and that the first half of the match played out in front of a crowd that didn't really know how to react to it. The hot tag sequence was exciting stuff, with Big E having overhead belly to belly suplexes for days, Woods hitting a lovely tope conhilo and then Big E blocking a Brogue Kick and hitting a sit-out powerbomb for 2, but it didn't have enough substance or heat heading in to make it as satisfying as it could have done. The finish had way too much going on to set up the DQ finish, with Kingston retaliating Sheamus hitting Big E with Francesca 2 (the trombone, if you're not keeping up) with a Trouble in Paradise, whilst Cesaro got Woods to tap out to a Sharpshooter. After the match, I don't feel like anyone involved came out of the show looking any different from before the match took place.
Match in a Sentence - Some really well worked spots, but also incredibly awkward at points and did very little for anyone involved.
Brian Kendrick won his first singles title in WWE, taking the Cruiserweight Championship from TJ Perkins. The contest was technically sound but struggled to grab to crowd's attention and at points risked the audience turning on it. One of the matches biggest challenges was that it came directly after the Owens v Rollins HIAC bout, which had included the stupidly quick back and forth section. There was nothing in this match which even came close to the excitement of that piece of work. The spot that seemed to turn the crowd off was Kendrick trying to tape Perkins to the bottom rope by his wrist tape, which made absolutely no sense (the commentary team said Kendrick was going for the countout) and looked awful. WWE have weaved a story into the cruiserweight division that nobody wanted to see and have shown a clear misunderstanding of what made the Cruiserweight Classic so popular. The majority of the wrestling content was fine, because Kendrick and Perkins know what they're doing, but by the time Kendrick had won the belt I didn't feel anything or at least felt nothing near to how emotional I was for any of Kendrick's matches during CWC.
Match in a Sentence - A match that struggled to get the crowds imagination, but included some decent wrestling
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson got a big victory over Big Cass & Enzo Amore, in a simple but enjoyable tag team match. Gallows, Anderson, Cass and Amore didn't reinvent the wheel here, but each part of the wheel was constructed well. Enzo & Cass' face shine was fun, Gallows and Anderson controlled the bout well, the build to the hot tag was good, Cass looked like a hero during his come back and the heels got the win thanks to some over exuberance from Cass and a swift double team on Amore. I would've liked to have seen Gallows & Anderson get a bit more time to work over Jersey's Finest and to have really ground on him to the point where the crowd were absolutely desperate for Cass to come lay waste to them, but in a show that went three and half hours, asking for more is an odd request. Gallows & Anderson needed this victory, after no supercard win since May and especially after the New Day feud had killed their momentum as two bald bad asses. Don't worry about Enzo & Cass they could lose week in week out and still turn things around with one promo, plus Cass looked like a beast, so all is well.
Match in a Sentence - Solid tag team match, that finally gives Gallows & Anderson a bit of momentum!
Rounding out the show we had Bayley picking up a victory over Dana Brooke in what was both women's first singles match on a main roster supercard. It was clear to see where both women were at in their careers in this match as Bayley shone, whilst Brooke looked average (that's being me being uncharacteristically nice). From the awkward spot where Brooke tried to drop Bayley shoulder first onto the top buckle, it was clear that the contest was a little too sophisticated for a Brooke who should probably still be in NXT. Brooke working the arm was mostly sloppily executed, including a move that I believe was supposed to be a Bow and Arrow, but Bayley's selling was strong enough that it pretty much carried the match. Little touches, like only using one arm to do the wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man dance, made the contest for me and gave me a big smile on my face. The logical next step would seem to be moving Bayley into either a one on one feud with Charlotte or Nia Jax, the top two female heels on the RAW brand currently.
Match in a Sentence - Very good performance from Bayley in a match that wasn't always as tight as it should have been
Best of the Rest
- Big Cass & Enzo Amore knocked their pre-match promo out of the park, with a number of funky references to their opponents, such as renaming them Big Gal and Andy.
- The New Day's pre-match promo was mainly pandering and talk of potential merchandise for Cesaro & Sheamus, it wasn't great.
- Backstage, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley shilled the upcoming Survivor Series PPV before Chris Jericho canvassed for position on the RAW Survivor Series team, with all the signature catch phrases.
- Backstage, Tom Phillips interviewed Kevin Owens – Cesaro & Sheamus argued about something
ATPW Scale Rating - 6.27/10
Show in a Sentence - A good show, with three good to very good Hell in a Cell bouts, even if each would have been improved by not having to take the others into consideration, accompanied by an average, yet mostly entertaining undercard.
Match of the Night - Sasha Banks v Charlotte Flair
All content - James Marston
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