Posted on Sunday, October 28, 2012
by Paul in Wrestling
Hell in a Cell is one of the most talked-about pay-per-views in wrestling circles for quite a while. Granted, much of that talk focusses on the questions “What were they thinking?” and “How are they going to get out of it?” But people are talking.
This show is a hangover from the WWE’s experiment with giving every PPV a theme. That idea didn’t work out so well. It didn’t do much for sales (in fact, sales have increased this year after the theming concept was dropped), and it resulted in gimmick matches being shoehorned into storylines that didn’t really want them, to the mutual disadvantage of both gimmick and storyline. This show illustrates the problem rather neatly.
Once upon a time, the Hell in a Cell match was a heavily protected gimmick that carried a bit of weight in its own right. Essentially, it’s just a cage match, but great effort went into presenting it as a particularly brutal cage match. Of course, when you start wheeling it out for whatever title defence happens to seem suitable in October, the veneer starts to fade.
There are really two main differences between Hell in a Cell and a regular WWE cage match. First, it’s a bigger cage – it extends to cover some of the ringside area. Second, you can’t win simply by escaping the cage (and since it’s got a roof, you really shouldn’t be able to escape the cage, not that this has necessarily stopped people in the past).
Nonetheless, to justify the name of the show, it has been decreed that Raw’s version of the world title will be defended in a Hell in a Cell match. The original plan was for Punk to defend the title against John Cena, but after they’d started the Hell in a Cell build, Cena was knocked out of action for a few weeks with unexpected elbow surgery. Cue the re-booking.
Complicating matters is the fact that they’ve already announced that the Rock will get a shot at this title at the Royal Rumble in January. Conventional wisdom has it that the plan saw Punk keeping the title until then (which would take his reign past the one-year point), and losing it to Rock in January, with Rock returning to defend it (and lose it back to somebody on the main roster, most likely Cena) at Wrestlemania in March. So far so good.
1. WWE Title – Hell in a Cell: CM Punk (c) v Ryback.
The WWE has a depth problem at the moment, which has led to an awkward choice of challenger. CM Punk is a heel, so you need a babyface challenger. Let’s run down the established main eventers – or even borderline main eventers – on the roster.
John Cena? Injured. Daniel Bryan or Kane? Technically heels, though borderline enough to be manageable, but tied up in another storyline as tag champions anyway. Big Show? Already challenging for the Smackdown title. Dolph Ziggler? Heel. Great Khali? Barely mobile, and hasn’t been around for a while anyway, so I assume he’s otherwise engaged. Jack Swagger? Hasn’t been used as a main eventer in years, and currently off TV for repackaging. Mark Henry? Injured, I believe. The Miz? Heel. Randy Orton? Wrestling Alberto Del Rio on the undercard, for some reason. Rey Mysterio? Ill, and tied up in a tag team storyline. Tensai? Not over, and a heel anyway. Wade Barrett? Heel.
Some of these people, most obviously Orton, could have been extricated from their ongoing storyline and slotted in as a substitute for Punk to defeat, but they would also have been obvious placeholders, and with ratings down at the moment, one suspects the company wants to do something a bit more striking. So instead we’re getting Ryback, who has the time-honoured gimmick of the really big guy who demolishes annoying heels in a minute thirty or so. He’s undefeated and he always wins. This can be a great way to build momentum, but normally it would involve a slow build to get to the top guys some way down the line. Still, he’s new, and in some sense he’s seen as a credible threat to the title. It’s not the worst idea in the world, at least in that sense.
Ryback used to be Skip Sheffield, one of the wrestlers from the first season of NXT, who went on to form the Nexus. We’re not supposed to remember that. Fortunately (well, for those purposes), Sheffield was injured and sidelined soon after the Nexus angle started, and never seen again until his recent repackaging as Ryback.
So there are two main areas of discussion here.
First, can Ryback actually wrestle a decent main event match? Whatever happens, there’s no way this is going to be a two minute squash – headlining a PPV with that would be madness. While he doesn’t have to go the usual twenty minutes, he’s certainly got to go for longer than we’ve seen before. Will it be any good?
Well, Ryback and CM Punk have been wrestling each other on house shows for the last few weeks, and by all accounts the results have been at least acceptable. The standard ending, if you’re wondering, is that Punk gets himself disqualified, thus retaining the title on a technicality. But you can’t get disqualified in a HiaC match, so that ending isn’t available tonight.
Which brings us to question two – who wins? If Punk wins, then that’s Ryback’s winning streak up in smoke. He faces a main eventer for the first time and he loses. It’s a major blow to his momentum.
But if Ryback wins… he’s the champion. He’s got to go on and defend the thing, and he’s untested in that role. And then he’s got to either lose the title back to Punk on the next two shows, or lose it to Rock in January. Punk’s year-long title reign never happens, Rock doesn’t get to end the longest title reign since Hulk Hogan in the 80s… basically, a lot of long-term planning gets screwed up. Plus, Ryback becomes your central babyface, at the time when they were trying to manoeuvre John Cena back into that role – and with the company showing little confidence in his abilities on the mike. (He rarely says more than a few words, and Cena has more or less been acting as a makeshift mouthpiece for him in the build to this match.)
There’s one finish we can certainly dismiss: a clean win for Punk. If he wins, they’ll want to protect Ryback as much as possible. There would have to be at least some shenanigans, such as an attack on Ryback by cronies before the match starts. If they decide the long-term plans are too important, that Ryback isn’t so valuable that he’s worth protecting, and that his momentum can be rebuilt, this is probably the way they’ll go.
So. Option two is that Ryback wins, in which case it ought to be short and pretty decisive. He can then do a rematch in November and retain, and lose it in December. Luckily, December is the TLC show, so they can always put the title on the line in a multi-way ladder match and have him lose it without being pinned. This option is not without its merits. Ratings are down at the moment (though they have been running against major sports events and the presidential debates) and a new champion after a very long time without title changes could be attention grabbing. There’s a case for doing it and rolling the dice. Plus, the next show - Survivor Series – is in only three weeks time, so if it’s a disaster, they can get the belt off him very quickly.
Option three is the spectacular non-finish, with Punk retaining on a technicality – and it would have to be spectacular in order for them to get away with it. Since Hell in a Cell is an “anything goes” match, the usual option of Punk getting himself disqualified isn’t available to them. Nor can a bunch of guys run in to disrupt the match, since there’s a bloody great cage there. I suppose technically you could do a draw by simultaneous pinfall, but that’s an awful idea. No, if they want to avoid a proper winner, it’ll probably be something like the cage collapsing and Punk fleeing through the crowd. But rumour has it that the company is still vacillating about the finish, and if it’s going to be a last-minute call, I don’t see it involving major structural work to the prop.
Given that the WWE themselves don’t know what they’re going to do, trying to pick a winner is a coin toss – and that always helps build interest in a match. The WWE has a dodgy track record of bottling it when it comes to new stars, though, so my guess is that when push comes to shove, they’ll decide (possibly wrongly) that Ryback can be rebuilt from a loss, and Punk will win.
2. World Heavyweight Title: Sheamus (c) v The Big Show. Meanwhile, over on Smackdown, Sheamus is fighting the Big Show. This is not nearly as interesting. We’re supposed to get excited about whether Sheamus can actually deliver his finisher (a kick to the head of a standing opponent) against a man as tall as the Big Show. This is a nice idea in theory, but for what it’s worth, the answer is “yes, he can, he does it all the time on house shows”.
Most of the interest here actually lies in the fact that Dolph Ziggler has strangely pledged to cash in his Money in the Bank title shot after the match. Quite why Ziggler would bother telling everyone in advance, when he has the option of just ambushing the opponent like everyone else does (except John Cena, who used the Raw Money in the Bank title shot to headline Raw #1000 earlier in the year, and lost), is a bit of a mystery, though the commentators have acknowledged it, so presumably it’s deliberate.
Ziggler isn’t booked on the rest of the show, and they do have to deliver on him appearing, I think. My guess would be that Sheamus retains, Ziggler wins the following match (thus giving the supposedly indestructible Sheamus his excuse), and we move into Sheamus chasing Ziggler to get the title back over the next few months leading to Wrestlemania.
3. WWE Tag Team Titles: Hell No (c) v Rhodes Scholars. The tag division has seen something of a resurgence of attention from the writers of late, partly because Triple H is supposedly a big fan of tag team wrestling, and partly because Raw is now three hours long and they’ve got to fill the time with something. This match sees the odd couple champions Hell No – Kane and Daniel Bryan – defending against the winners of an eight-team tournament.
Hell No are odd in more ways than one. Notionally they’re heels, but since their main feud is with one another, they rarely do anything very heelish – which makes it a bit odd that Daniel Bryan’s act still revolves around reacting to the fans as if they’re tormenting him. Since they’re defending against an outright heel team here, the champs are de facto babyfaces tonight.
The idea of Hell No is that Kane and Daniel Bryan have been shoved together as a team by an inept anger management guru, and since they actually won the titles (which they each claim to achieved singlehandedly), they’re kind of stuck with one another. Kane, with his weird vaguely magical gimmickry, is the “hell”. Daniel Bryan, who turned himself heel by pretending that the fans were chanting his “yes yes yes” catchphrase to mock him, and now spends much of his time having “Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “No!” screaming matches with ringside fans, is the “no.” The act works better than you’d think, since while they started off just hating one another, it’s now developing into a sort of love/hate dynamic where they still yell at one another all the time, but will also try to protect each other from anyone outside the team.
The Rhodes Scholars are Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow (the “scholar” bit coming from his “intellectual” gimmick). They’re a perfectly good heel unit, particularly if the aim is to get some credible wrestlers into the tag division for rebuilding purposes – and I suspect they’re sticking around for a while, given that they’ve now got a shared entrance video, even if it’s soundtracked by Rhodes’ merely serviceable entrance music.
That would tend to suggest that they’re winning the title, and probably going on to feud with Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara. But I think there’s a bit more mileage in Kane and Bryan as champions, so if it were up to me, I’d have them retain tonight, and hold off the title change till November.
4. WWE Intercontinental Title: Kofi Kingston (c) v The Miz. This is the obligatory rematch after Kingston won the title from Miz on WWE Main Event a couple of weeks back. That match in turn was preceded by Kingston beating Miz in a non-title match. So yes, they’re doing on PPV a match that has already aired twice on free TV. It looks like they’re trying to give Kingston some momentum as a solo act again, if only in recognition of the desperate shortage of main event babyfaces. I’d be absolutely astonished if this was anything other than Kingston winning again in a relatively short match.
5. WWE Divas Title: Eve Torres (c) v Layla El v Kaitlyn. Eve is the current champion, and the heel in this match. She won the title from Layla a couple of shows back, having taken Kaitlyn’s place as challenger on the Night of Champions show after Kaitlyn was attacked backstage. It’s pretty clear that Eve is supposed to have been ultimately responsible for that attack, though she denies it. (Her current gimmick is that she’s a disingenuous heel who acts unconvincingly like a babyface and gets all wounded when the other women don’t fall for it.)
Eve should win here, probably by pinning Kaitlyn to get her out of the picture. Layla’s previous title reign never really took off, but then she won the belt out of nowhere and never had a strong storyline to work with; having her chase Eve to get the title back seems a reasonable direction.
6. Randy Orton v Alberto Del Rio. Pretty much a generic feud to keep two otherwise unoccupied headliners on the show (which makes it particularly odd that Orton hasn’t been transferred to WWE Title match, thus avoiding a lot of problems). Orton is supposed to be making a movie over the next while, though it’s not clear that he’s going to be coming off television in the meantime. Nonetheless, I’d inclined to the view that a win for Del Rio would benefit him a lot more than it would hurt Orton, which would make it clearly the right finish even if they didn’t have further matches planned.
Worth getting? Well, it’s certainly an interesting show, and there’s a lot of curiosity surrounding the Ryback match – in terms both of how they end it and of whether it’ll be any good. The rest of the card is a bit more average, but there are no obvious duds here (except perhaps the women’s match, which will be short). On balance, worth a look.