|Image Source: Staples Center|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: October 25 2015
Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California, USA
A double surprise return and a brutal main event book-ended this year’s Hell In A Cell card. The action in between was largely unmemorable yet inoffensive, but it is the shocking appearance of a former multi-time World Champion and the violent nature of the headline attraction which will ensure that fans will not soon forget the 2015 edition of Hell In A Cell.
The Kick-Off show featured a six-man tag team match pitting Neville, Dolph Ziggler and Cesaro against King Barrett, Sheamus and Rusev. This was a good choice to start the show (as a pre-show bout, it was questionable, considering that it involved Sheamus, the holder of the Money In The Bank briefcase who nearly cashed it in at the end of the previous PPV, Night Of Champions), due to its frenetic energy and the number of slick moves and dives involved. In the end, Barrett took a superkick from Dolph, a Giant Swing from Cesaro and a Red Arrow from Neville, who pinned his fellow Englishman to win the match. I should point out that this was a rematch, which would actually prove to be the case for every single bout on the night, which may hurt the viewing numbers for HIAC. It’s also worth noting that Stardust and The Ascension sat at ringside with “Stardust section” signs to mock Cesaro, suggesting an upcoming Stardust-Cesaro feud.
The main PPV began with the United States Championship Open Challenge, held as always by U.S. titleholder John Cena. The Open Challenge sees a mystery opponent answer the call to face Cena for his title, which was making its first supershow appearance here at Hell In A Cell. Before the show, there were heavy rumours that Cena would be taking some time off after HIAC (the reason for this was hotly debated at first, but it appears that Cena is hosting a TV show during his absence from WWE TV), meaning that the odds were high that Cena would lose the title here. The big question, then, was, simply, who would be chosen to dethrone Cena? Dean Ambrose? Dolph Ziggler? Maybe even Kevin Owens?
As it turned out, it was none of the above. It was a surprise to see Zeb Colter resurface after a long absence from television, sitting in a motorised wheelchair of some kind (presumably relating to the unseen injury which Colter supposedly suffered at the hands of Rusev prior to TLC 2014). There was virtually no reaction to this, probably because fans were preparing to feel let down by the prospect of Colter’s man Jack Swagger (who hasn’t been properly pushed for ages) coming out next. Instead, Colter seemed to repent his anti-immigrant ways (perhaps taking a shot at Donald Trump and Hulk Hogan for their recent escapades) before introducing Cena’s opponent, who shockingly turned out to be Alberto Del Rio!
Fans were stunned to see ADR return to WWE; Del Rio hasn’t been seen in the company since summer 2014, when he was fired (for real) after apparently slapping a backstage worker for an alleged racist remark. In the meantime, relations between ADR and WWE were apparently very bad, to the point that a comeback seemed unthinkable. But here Del Rio was, having apparently made amends with the company, and with his once-outspoken on-screen enemy Colter strangely installed as his new mouthpiece. (Some speculated that Colter’s comments and his union with Del Rio was, in fact, WWE’s way of acknowledging and apologising for the incident which led to Alberto leaving the company.)
As for the match; this was just as much a surprise for a couple of reasons: it didn’t last that long (less than nine minutes), making it the shortest of Cena’s Open Challenge bouts to date; Del Rio worked as a babyface, perhaps unsurprisingly but still unexpected considering his general heel persona; and Del Rio amazingly pinned Cena clean-as-a-sheet following a Backstabber and a hard-hitting yet basic kick to the side of the head. Even those who dislike Cena were astounded that “Big Match John” was pinned after these moves, considering all of the huge finishers that he has kicked out of over the years. WWE may have held back on wrestlers surviving finishers in recent times, but surely Cena could have put up more resilience here. The big plus for ADR was that, having lost to Cena so manty times before, and having done so in an unflattering manner, this was one of the biggest moments of his entire career. So, Del Rio is now back and should serve as an effective U.S. Champ (if you ignore his Mexican heritage), and Cena is now set to take a break from television, having done his duty before going off WWE TV. Incidentally, those who complain about Cena not trying to enhance talent should now consider that he has cleanly lost to The Rock, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Kevin Owens and Alberto Del Rio over the last few years. Overall, the match could have been better (or at least longer), but the presentation as a whole definitely kicked HIAC off with a bang.
Match two of the PPV was Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt inside the Hell In A Cell structure. This feud began way back at Money In The Bank in June, and whilst their one-on-one efforts have generally been very watchable, the segments, the tag bouts and everything else definitely felt like they had dragged on prior to HIAC. Therefore, whilst one may question the decision to put this match in the big cage (especially considering that Taker vs. Brock had already been announced to take place in the Cell), it did feel like we would get a natural conclusion to the rivalry, and what better place than inside what Jim Ross once called Satan’s Structure?
Roman received a certain amount of boos when he came out, which is starting to bother me, never mind Reigns: since the anti-Reigns brigade was at its peak in the first few months of 2015, Roman has noticeably improved in the ring and on the mic, and has in my opinion done enough to show that he at least warrants his upper mid-card position (never mind that he had already done this previously as a member of The Shield). Fortunately, Reigns delivered another strong performance here which should win him some more new fans (and judging by the crowd reactions during the match, he definitely gained support within the Staples Center). Wyatt also looked good, and along with Reigns, he seemed determined to ensure that their feud-ending clash would be of a high standard.
There was a certain amount of weapon use in this match, primarily kendo sticks, a steel chair and tables. The sticks were used quite violently at several times (Wyatt at one point was sat down at ringside while driving the sticks into Roman’s mid-section), but the biggest spots involved the tables. Wyatt’s Rock Bottom-esque slam to Reigns off an apron went through one table, Reigns powerbombed Wyatt off the top rope through another, and lastly, Reigns hit a spectacular Spear to Wyatt off the ring apron through a third table stationed at ringside. That didn’t get him the win, though, nor did an earlier sequence of great skill where Reigns very quickly turned an attempt at Sister Abigail into a roll-up, and followed that with a lightning-quick Superman Punch which also didn’t get the three count. Reigns would later survive Sister Abigail when it did connect. In the end, Bray set up two kendo sticks into the turnbuckles at a ring post, sticking outwards, with the intention of ramming Reigns into them. But Roman fought back, drove Wyatt face-first into the top stick, and then hit a Spear for the victory.
This, fittingly, was the high point of the Reigns-Wyatt rivalry, and definitively brought an end to the long-running saga (by the way, the extras for both men were banned from ringside for this clash). Reigns had to win this one, because despite his perceived strong push in 2015, he hadn’t actually scored a major win in singles action for months. If Roman is to be the next big thing, as he was supposed to be this time last year, he had to go over here. Which he did, and hopefully his generally powerful performances on PPV this year, combined with the increased emphasis on his character being tough and rough rather than cartoonish and kid-friendly, will allow him to get the fans on his side should WWE direct him into a title feud again over the next few months. As for Wyatt, the defeat here seemed to be a setback, even if Roman needed the win more; however, before the show ended, the Eater of Worlds would manage to regain some momentum (more on that later).
Next up, we had the WWE Tag Team Title match between The New Day and The Dudley Boyz. Xavier Woods wasn’t present on this occasion, having apparently been injured in a table attack by The Dudleyz on Raw the previous Monday, which Kofi Kingston and Big E acknowledged with a pre-match promo and by wearing an armband saying “XW” (which gave the impression that Woods had died rather than being injured in the storyline). This match was a bit weaker than their previous clashes, largely due to some miscommunication where a spot involving Bubba backbreaking Kofi while D-Von legdropped him somehow went wrong, noticeably enough to get the LA crowd in a sustained boo. There were other dodgy moments a bit later on. Besides those blunders, though, this was alright, with the crowd popping for Kofi’s homage to Eddie Guerrero’s Lie, Cheat and Steal philosophy by suggesting that Bubba had hit him with the New Day’s trombone behind the ref’s back. The official nearly falsely called for a(nother) DQ, but he decided that Kofi was lying, and the match continued. But a trombone shot by Big E to Bubba led to Kofi hitting Bubba with Trouble In Paradise and pinning him for the win.
Although New Day have been heavily pushed lately, it felt like their squabble with the Dudleyz should have ended here, with the Dudleyz becoming champs, and preferably in a Tables match. It’s possible that we will still get that natural end to this doubles rivalry at Survivor Series, but what began as a fresh feud is starting to feel a bit stale. The supposed injury to Woods may liven it up, but I think that it may be a challenge to keep this interesting over the next four weeks. One possibility is Bubba and D-Von bringing in their old little brother (that sounds weird) Spike to even the odds, but considering the lack of other notable teams who have enough momentum to challenge The New Day, it seems inevitable that The Dudleyz will continue to chase Kofi and Big E for their straps. As I said, though, this should have been the Dudleyz’ night, and the Table stipulation would have been better than what ended up being a bit of a disappointing match here.
Prior to Charlotte defending the Divas Title against Nikki Bella, WWE strangely aired what appeared to be the exact same pre-match video that we saw before their previous PPV encounter at Night Of Champions. I thought that the video would begin the same and then change midway through, or at least have something different, but no: besides a very quick showing of Charlotte becoming champ at NOC, the video wasn’t any different at all. This included no acknowledgement of Paige’s apparent heel turn after NOC, nor of Nikki continuing to build momentum in the run-up to her rematch at HIAC.
While the video suggested a lack of effort by WWE, the same can’t be said for the match itself. Charlotte and notably Nikki stepped up to deliver a superior match to their last supercard bout. There weren’t a great deal of memorable spots, besides Nikki hitting Charlotte with a dangerous-looking Alabama Slam into the ring apron, but everything that they did was well-executed. I’m the first to admit that The Bellas bore the hell out of me (their Raw entrances are generally the signal for me to go to bed around 2am-2.30am and watch the rest of the show the next day), but the staleness and “this is a performance” feeling of their act overshadows the fact that The Bellas (or Nikki, at least) can actually wrestle. Nikki definitely showed it here: in what could be her last Divas Title match for a while, considering the momentum of such performers as Sasha Banks, Nikki delivered what was probably her best match of recent times, if not ever.
Some fans must have shivered when Nikki escaped an attempt at the Figure-Eight, believing that the Bella Twin was about to regain the championship. But it was a false alarm, as Charlotte hit a Spear (how overused is that move?) and did apply the Figure-Eight for a convincing win, triumphing in what at that point was the second best match of the night. Afterwards, Paige and Becky Lynch celebrated with Charlotte, a bit strange considering that Paige is meant to be their enemy (she did try to act a bit heelish in her mannerisms which helps, I guess). We should get some really good Divas Title matches going forward, considering the potential for clashes involving Charlotte, Lynch, Paige, Sasha and Bayley if she is promoted at some point. That being said, we definitely got a worthwhile bout here, and a performance which Nikki should be proud of. That she had to wrestle this match alone (i.e. without the annoying Team Bella hangers-on at ringside) was undoubtedly a reason why this particular bout was a success.
The WWE World Heavyweight Title match was next, between Seth Rollins and Kane. The story here was that Kane, as in the demonic Big Red Machine, is supposedly unaware of the existence of Corporate Kane, despite it being blatantly obvious to everyone else. However, Kane is clearly aware of his dual personality (in the storyline; he’d be a right basket-case if he wasn’t in reality), making for an uncomfortable few weeks for Rollins (who attacked Kane after Brock Lesnar injured him in July, hence the reason for this bout since Kane’s return at Night Of Champions). I’ve enjoyed this storyline because it’s something different (by WWE standards; I know a version of this happened in TNA, but WWE is right to believe that most fans won’t have been aware of that; hell, WWE itself might not have been aware of the TNA tale), although WWE strangely decided to not have Kane appear on Raw the Monday before HIAC. Corporate Kane was supposedly suspended after taking advantage of the Authority’s absence the previous week, which makes sense; but why not have Demon Kane make one last appearance by attacking Seth? WWE wonders why PPV numbers/Network show numbers aren’t rising, but storyline gaffes like this are a big reason.
That aside, the big stipulation here was that, if Demon Kane lost, then Corporate Kane would no longer be Director Of Operations. This led some to speculate that Kane would win by disqualification, but as it turned out this would be Seth’s night. To be fair, it had to be: while WWE needs to make Rollins look a bit cowardly if that is his character, the World Champion has lost far too many times on TV lately, and lost too easily at that. Seth needed a decisive victory here, and he achieved it following a Pedigree. In the interim, Kane clearly grafted to try and deliver a memorable performance (the man is 48 years old, don’t forget), and Rollins worked a bit more heelish, as opposed to relying on flashy offence (not that we should complain if Seth unleashes impressively acrobatic moves), although he did launch a stunning senton onto Kane at ringside. There appeared to be a blown spot when Rollins’ attempt to put Kane through an announcer’s table backfired when the table didn’t break and Kane awkwardly bounced off it (potentially making it two injuries in a row for opponents of Seth, or three if you include John Cena’s broken nose; to blame Seth for all of these would be a bit harsh, though). But they held it together to give us an enjoyable if unspectacular title match, capped off as stated by Rollins pinning Kane cleanly for the win.
This should mark the end of the Rollins-Kane storyline. Seth’s next opponent could be Roman Reigns, who in a backstage discussion with Dean Ambrose after his match with Wyatt noted that he is planning to target one particular thing, which will probably be Rollins’ title. As for Kane, the Corporate character is done, or will be done after Raw the night after HIAC. But it probably won’t be the end of Kane himself, who may be required for another big match at Survivor Series (again, more on that later).
The penultimate match of the evening saw Kevin Owens defend his Intercontinental Title against Ryback. A(nother) rematch from Night Of Champions, I previously noted that this would happen, and was hoping that this would be an improved encounter on their NOC battle. It kind of was, but not enough to be anything approaching a show-stealer. It didn’t help that Ryback was booed out of the building by LA fans for unknown reasons. I do sometimes wonder about wrestling fans: there is always a cry for new talent to rise, but if they resemble the bodybuilder “type”, then the crowd will often reject them, even if they are talented (and Ryback is definitely a better performer now than he was during his “Goldberg” phase in 2012 or his ill-advised heel run a year later). Mind you, it could be because Owens is an undoubtedly entertaining heel. He’s an interesting performer in that he is clearly talented and he makes you laugh, but he’s that much of a disrespectful scumbag that he is a career villain; someone who just wouldn’t feel right as a fan favourite. But the fans love the guy!
Anyway, Owens won here, in what was another clean finish (and another clean win for a heel too), with a Pop-Up Powerbomb on The Big Guy (not a mean feat to pull off; his PUP on Mark Henry last Monday on Raw was even better). Ryback’s character looks likely to struggle a bit for the time being, with no obvious direction for him to take. Owens, however, is slowly building himself up as one of WWE’s most reliable and entertaining performers. A double-title clash with Alberto Del Rio would be an intriguing path to take him down, although it’s more likely that we’ll see him next defend his IC Title against someone else (Neville or Dolph Ziggler, perhaps?).
Which brings us to the main event: Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker inside Hell In A Cell for the second time, and in the third and final match of their 2014/5 rivalry. WWE chose not to acknowledge their 2002/3 feud, including their original HIAC match from No Mercy 2002, instead focusing on WrestleMania XXX onwards. WWE did a great job of promoting their SummerSlam 2015 clash, but to be honest they didn’t do so well in hyping up this showdown. Sure, we had Brock’s Go To Hell Tour, but his only real interaction with or concerning Taker came last Monday on Raw when he backed down from a potential confrontation. Still, expectations remained high that this would be a feud-ending match to remember. The big questions going in were: a) who would win (the odds seemed to favour Lesnar), and b) could this match succeed in a PG environment?
I’ll get back to the outcome in a moment, but as for the PG rating, it may as well not have existed on this night, because this was brutal. It was probably the most violent, bloody match that WWE has presented since going PG back in 2008. Lesnar was split open early on the ring post (a self-inflicted hardway blow, if that makes sense), and within seconds blood was pouring out of his head. WWE did its best to not show the blood-soaked Brock, but at times they didn’t have a choice, and fans were clearly happier (if that’s the appropriate word) to see crimson because they booed heavily when the doctor came in to wipe blood off Brock’s turnip. Taker was later cut too (although it looked ever so slightly like a blade job by Taker, albeit an inoffensively basic one), and when the doctor tried to help him (again to boos), Lesnar threw him aside and charged at the Phenom to a huge ovation. Brock was cut open at least once more before the match ended, too. It wasn’t as gory as their absolute bloodbath from 2002, but it wasn’t that far off, and any fans who sigh at the PG rating for modern WWE content should have been more than satisfied by the bloodshed that we got here.
It wasn’t just the blood that made this a violent war, though; several moves were brutal to watch. Both men rammed each other hard into the cage, and at one point Taker unleashed one of his old tricks, driving his opponent’s throat into a steel chair standing on the canvas. This and other big moves and finisher exchanges, along with the blood, made for one hell of a fight. Near the end, Brock surprisingly ripped off the cover from the ring canvas, leaving the wooden ring boards exposed, with the intention of slamming Taker onto them.
However, it was Brock who felt the wrath of the wood when he was chokeslammed and Tombstoned onto it, although he did kick out. Taker signalled for one more big move only to taste a very painful-looking low blow from Brock (paying Taker back for previous, erm, shots), and then hitting a third and final F5 onto the wood to get the one-two-three. Lesnar had won a scorching brawl, which after Taker-Triple H from WrestleMania XXVIII was WWE’s best HIAC match of the last few years. Brock triumphed, perhaps unsurprisingly; for him to remain virtually invincible, he had to win here, and the victory sets him up for his next big feud (another go at the WWE Title, perhaps, by winning the 2016 Royal Rumble?). Meanwhile, for Undertaker, a standing ovation was well-deserved: anyone who said that he no longer had it has now been well and truly silenced. Despite his age and injuries, it appears that The Phenom will remain a force in WWE for some time (there’s even rumours that he is now planning to wrestle beyond WrestleMania 32).
However, the show wasn’t over yet. As Taker went for his trademark pose (despite losing), we suddenly had an interruption by the entire Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman), who slowly sauntered down to attack Taker and carry him out of the building. Fans booed, and you got the impression that they were legitimately angry at The Wyatts, which is quite an achievement in the modern age. JBL on commentary humorously referred to the group as “sick b——ds” more than once (so much for the PG rating). Either way, this was a huge heat magnet for the odd stable, which helped to rehabilitate Bray after his HIAC loss earlier to Reigns.
Advertisements throughout this show stated that the upcoming Survivor Series would celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker. Judging by the way in which the card ended (and, by the way, it’s good to see that Undertaker is well and truly a babyface again now), it looks like we’re gonna get a Survivor Series-rules match pitting The Wyatts against an Undertaker-led team which will no doubt include Kane. The identity of his other partners remains unknown, but how cool would it be if, injuries aside, it turned out to be Sting? A Survivors square-off between Taker and Sting could also kick off promotion for a titanic dream match at WM 32, which would be a thousand times better than the rumoured Taker-Strowman bout for Mania. Whatever happens, Undertaker will play a big part in Survivor Series, 25 years to the date of his first ever appearance in the WWF/WWE.
Overall, then, what of Hell In A Cell 2015? It had its ups and its downs; nothing was a massive failure, but it didn’t have the consistency of previous PPV events. Nevertheless, it boasted two strong HIAC matches, including one Match Of The Year contender (which concluded WWE’s biggest rivalry since John Cena vs. The Rock), as well as one or two mid-card gems and a shocking return by Alberto Del Rio (or two if you include Zeb Colter; by the way, will we get a comeback by Ricardo Rodriguez too?). It also sees John Cena written off TV for the time being, while setting up some new, intriguing directions for several stars, or at least putting some big names in a position whereby they can pursue new things. I do still feel that WWE will continue to struggle in the ratings; Del Rio is a positive step, but he’s not exactly someone who everyone will watch Raw to see, and even if Taker appears each week, something tells me that WWE will need a little bit more, especially with Cena going off TV and with Randy Orton apparently injured. There have been whispers of a reappearance by The Rock, but they remain unfounded. One option could be to truly have Taker and Lesnar bury the hatchet by putting Brock on Team Taker at Survivor Series?
Whatever happens going forward, though, I felt this card was a worthwhile three hours on the whole. Hell In A Cell 2015 wasn’t a flawless card by any means, but it delivered plenty of action in the big matches, a shocking return, some surprising results, the end of some big rivalries, and an absolute war of a main event which pushed the PG rating to its very limits. A lot of fans may not be watching Raw right now, but for the opening and closing contests at least (as well as Reigns vs. Wyatt), I do recommend that they watch this year’s Hell In A Cell supershow.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good