Monday, 27 October 2014

Hell in a Cell 2014 review

The announced card for Hell in a Cell’s 2014 edition did not sound particularly appealing as it came together. Ambrose versus Rollins, the lone sane choice for a collision inside the Hell in a Cell, seemed good but WWE took their time announcing it and stupidly made Ambrose qualify for the thing in a pole match with John Cena. Any time a wrestler has to qualify for a match in what is essentially a blood feud something's gone wrong somewhere.

While mid-card title matches pitting Sheamus against The Miz and Dolph Ziggler against 'Don't Call Me Antonio' Cesaro both sounded enjoyable both taken place numerous times on free TV shows leading up to the pay-per-view. It's hard to look forward to a match-up, no matter how good it’s expected to be, when the combatants have wrestled numerous times in the space of weeks.

The rest of the card was a combination of rematches and unappealing borefests. Qualifying as both was John Cena versus Randy Orton in their second Hell in a Cell match (their first was at the dreary inaugural Cell PPV in '09). They're both legitimate stars but nobody wants to see them wrestle one another, Cell or not. Not helping the bout was the general feeling that it would close the show in place of the more deserving Ambrose v Rollins. Pleasantly this turned out to be incorrect. WWE let their new lads and future headliners close the show. That was a move that should pay off nicely as it helped with the pair’s reception as stars.

Did WWE manage to turn a bland line-up into a captivating special event offering? Let's have a look...

After a pre-show which saw dissension teased between Miz and stunt double Damien Mizdow, Sheamus Brogue Kick a camera (because all babyfaces should have a healthy disregard for expensive technological equipment), and Mark Henry handily defeat Bo Dallas, the show proper got underway with Ziggler's Intercontinental title defence against Cesaro, fought under two-out-of-three falls rules.

Not the greatest picture, but it's suitably dynamic.
The first fall featured a wonderfully crisp pin exchange sequence and a crowd-pleasing Big Swing. 'The Show Off' got a flash pin after rolling up the challenger. Cesaro controlled the pace of the second fall, immediately giving Ziggy a double stomp and battering him with punches and wear down holds. Ziggler survived this, a second double stomp, a double underhook power bomb, a fantastic second rope suplex, and a Swiss Death uppercut. Cesaro took an armbar (which he countered out of for the second rope suplex), and a Fameasser before falling victim to a super kick and a Zig Zag.

It was an electric opener, although somewhat surprising that Ziggler went over two falls to none. The pair have great chemistry. On top of that pretty much everything Cesaro does looks devastating, making him an ideal opponent for salesman extraordinaire Ziggler.

That was followed by a Network shilling spot. 'King' revealed people watching on pay-per-view had shelled out $54.99 for the show. That's a ridiculous price. Even if every match had been great there was no way the show was going to be worth that.

After a reminder that Seth Rollins had Curb Stomped Randy Orton on RAW we were shown The Authority backstage. Orty wanted to find Rollins, presumably to rough him up. Stephanie told him to focus on beating Cena and earning a WWE title match with Lesnar. Trips gave Orty a pep talk, spinning Seth's actions as him attacking Orton before Orton could attack him. After simmering down Orton said he'd do it The Authority’s way but made it clear he expected The Authority to deal with Sethy-B eventually.

Then... BRIE MODE!! The heated sister versus sister rivalry that started in the womb! So heated was this feud that the pair had agreed to a stipulation which would see the loser become the winner's assistant for a month. Because nothing says serious rivalry like someone losing and having to do whatever the winner says.

The commentators spent the match talking nonsense. 'King' opined that Brie v Nikki may have been the ultimate sibling rivalry in company history. Presumably he had forgotten the 2009 Matt Hardy versus Jeff Jardy feud and the many, many matches involving storyline brothers The Undertaker and Kane that were dished out over the course of an entire decade. ‘The King’ also revealed he'd pay money to be the assistant to either one of them. No comment could scream “Vintage Lawler” more.

The match was very good. If you want evidence that the Bellas are better workers than they're given credit for this was it. Brie did Daniel Bryan's suicide dive and Yes Lock while Nikki dished out some snug knee strikes and forearms. She was also very good at playing to the crowd. One pro-JBL chant aside the audience were invested throughout.

Nikki won after the match's second Rack Attack. Layfield and Lawler immediately started gabbling on about what Nikki would get Brie to do as her assistant. It was at this point that I realised how the storyline was the sort of thing Vince McMahon routinely booked himself in in 2003 and 2004. But there’s a charm to Vince’s peversion that JBL and Lawler (particularly Lawler) lack.

The expert panel were up after that. Alex Riley said Ziggler v Cesaro was a match of the year contender (it wasn't) while Booker T declared Nikki v Brie the Shucky Ducky Quack Quack moment of the night (it was). Paul Heyman said the night's most important match was Cena v Orton because it would decide the next opponent for his "challenger-eating carnivore" Brock Lesnar. Booker stared at Heyman in an attempt to make him laugh. Heyman didn’t break but Booker’s amazing for trying.

Golden boys.
The evening's third match was for the tag team championship. Stardust and Goldust defended against the Usos. It was the sort of competent match the two teams always have: fine but tough to get excited about because of how often we’ve seen it. It was essentially a reminder that these are the only two teams WWE has that currently mean anything. Goldust retained for his team after an elevated Cross Rhodes on Jey, set up with a kick to the leg by Stardust.

Surprisingly, and pleasingly, the Orton versus Cena match followed the. It was preceded by an excellent, if ridiculously hyperbolic, video package. Cena and Orton's seemingly never-ending rivalry was compared to Hogan-Savage, Flair-Rhodes, and Austin-Rock. Anyone who's seen any of their matches knows how ridiculous that is: they do not have the heated, energetic of those more famous rivlaries. The video was on safer ground paralleling the pair's rise through the ranks and making note of them starting in WWE at the same time. This is the sort of thing WWE does well, so it's not surprising this was as good as it was.

Orton brought a chair into the match almost immediately. Cena was tasked with some early selling, which he did as good a job with as could be reasonably expected. It was a logical thing to do. Having Orton keep the pace slow, battering Cena with a chair and ramming him into the cage and ring posts, should have gotten the crowd invested in Cena, encouraging them to desire a grand comeback. Unfortunately the crowd seemed mostly disinterested, not that they can be blamed for that.  

Cena got a few hope spots, one of which saw him smack 'The Viper's' head into the cage long enough to grab a table from beneath the ring. His AA attempt failed when Orton flipped the table, drop kicked him, and ran him head-first into a chair. Moments later Orton hit an RKO (outta nowhere!) for a two count. He followed that up by lobbing Cena through the table.

Ring steps were next on 'The Apex Predator's' list of weaponry. But their introduction backfired on him: Cena shoved his way out of an RKO, hit his shoddy belly-to-back- suplex-slash-blue thunder bomb and followed up with a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Boos rang through the arena. Orton escaped an AA. Cena evened things up by avoiding a Punt and slapping on the STF.

Orton looks delighted to have that chair, doesn't he?
The match chugged on for a while after that. Cena lobbed ring steps at Orton, who side stepped them, before dropping him with an AA. ‘The Viper’ kicked out and turned another AA into an RKO. In perhaps the most boring advancement possible Cena simply picked Orton up and hit another AA. That got him a two count so he set up a table in the ring and, after a little back and forth in the corner, AAed Orton through it from the top rope for the win.

The match could have been far better. It could also have been far worse. On balance I think we should be pleased with what we got.

Backstage Big Show told Mark Henry he was going to beat Rusev. For Texas. For Mark Henry. For AMERICA!!

Back in the ring we got the US championship match, Sheamus defending against The Miz. It followed the pattern of their TV matches. Sheamus dominated Miz until Mizdow provided a distraction that set up a change of pace. After several minutes Sheamus escaped an SCF and a figure four then got distracted by Mizdow, who distracted the ref during a Shaymo pin. Surprisingly that didn't lead to a Miz victory and a title change. Instead ‘The Awesome One’ got lamped with a Brogue kick as he jumped off the top rope.

After the match Sheamus manhandled 'The Awesome One' and Mizdow mimicked it all to the delight of the crowd. ‘Great White’ then floored Miz with another Brogue kick. What happened to being a star, Sheamus?

In the car park Brie was shown putting a bag in Nikki's car. Nikki showed up to make sure Brie had made her dinner reservations and then poured a smoothie over her. Then she drove off. Leaving before the final bell? Nikki's lucky Bill Watts isn't around.

A video reminded us that Rusev is Russian and Big Show is American. Then 'The Bulgarian Brute' went to the ring. Lana cut a promo asking people to show respect and rise for the Russian national anthem. That was the cue for Show's music to blast over the speakers and 'The World's Largest Athlete' to lumber to the ring.

Bulgarian brutishness.
Rusev dominated the first few minutes of the match. He targeted the giant’s leg and also busted out an impressive suplex. Show came back with a Haas of Pain-like hold and then muscled Rusev around a bit. Both guys did a good job of selling when required. That has been a consistent strength of Rusev’s.

After Show had speared Rusev, Mark Henry walked down to ringside. Show hit what Maggle Cole referred to as a "choke slam for America" which only earned him a two count. Rusev got back to his feet and hit Show with a super kick. Henners lumbered onto the apron and took one too. Show was sent to the mat with a further two super kicks and then placed in The Accolade. He tapped out, failing himself, the crowd, Mark Henry and… AMERICA!!

Henry checked on Show after the match. No swerve turn occurred but there was a little hug between the big lads. That was nice to see.

Somewhere in the building Dean Ambrose said Seth Rollins looked like a descendant of Dracula and that he was prepared to burn in Hell in the main event. It was not his best work.

Paige and AJ Lee's latest Divas championship match took the pre-main event slot. They had another disappointing match, although it wasn't the worst entry in their series. AJ won when Paige submitted to the Black Widow. After the match Paige gave Alicia Fox (the new BFF she'd brought to ringside) a slap, blaming her for the loss. Fox looked surprised, as though she wasn’t aware that Paige is not the most stable of women. Maybe she should start watching RAW.

The main event was Ambrose and Rollins in a spot they deserved but many (myself included) didn't think they'd get, as discussed above. They were also treated to a top notch video covering their history as part of The Shield and the four month rivalry they’ve had since Rollins turned heel and joined The Authority.

Ambrose entered first, a kendo stick slung across his back. He threw half a dozen chairs into the ring and then climbed onto the roof of the Cell. Because why not, right? Rollins walked out and heelishly dispatched New Stooges Mercury and Noble to retrieve 'The Lunatic Fringe'. This move was met with laughter from Ambrose and a "You sold out!" chant from the crowd.

Mercury and Noble took a caning, allowing Rollins to scale the Cell and attack Ambrose from behind. Ambrose was beaten down for a minute or three before dispatching The New Stooges with a suplex and a clothesline. Rollins went to escape, climbing down the commentary side of the structure. Ambrose caught up with him halfway down. After trading blows they took simultaneous Shawn Michaels bumps off the cage and through the announce desks. It obviously didn’t come close to matching the iconic Mick Foley falls from King of the Ring ’98 but it was impressive and should make for excellent additions to highlight packages and career retrospectives on the two in years to come.

Medical staff came out and both men did stretcher jobs. Cole did a particularly poor job making the devastation seem real. Instead of talking about the career-shortening, potentially career-ending, falls Ambrose and Rollins had just taken he emphasised their storyline feud, reminding us that what we were watching was a scripted wrestling show and making it all the more likely that one or both men would leave their stretcher to attack the other.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened. Ambrose leapt off his stretcher and attacked Rollins, throwing him inside the Cell and slamming the door on his head. Despite protests from New Stooges Noble and Mercury the bell rang and the match officially started.

Once inside the cage they had a fulfilling brawl which included chairs, tables, the Money in the Bank briefcase, cinder blocks, multiple finishers and finisher attempts and liberal use of the Cell wall. Each man took a turn smashing the other with a barrage of chair shots. Ambrose elbow dropped Rollins through a table while Rollins power bombed Ambrose through one, the latter after Kane had teleported down to ringside and squirted a fire extinguisher into Ambrose’s face.

The finish began when Ambrose puts Rollins’ head on cinder blocks and prepared to unleash a Curb Stomp on him, calling back to an episode of RAW where Rollins did that to Ambrose (in order to write Ambrose off TV to go and make a movie). Just before the move could happen the lights went out. The crowd booed and we heard some chanting over the speaker system. A light came back on to reveal a lantern in the ring. Smoke billowed out from it and Ambrose puzzled got up to look at the thing. As he got close Bray Wyatt leapt through the smoke and pummelled Ambrose, flooring him with a high Uranage suplex. He then slumped down in the centre of the ring as Rollins crawled over and covered Ambrose for the three count.

The match was a satisfying collision, one that provided a good cap on their current feud. I’m sure they’ll feud again in the future, and probably get back together as The Shield alongside Reigns. But a Cell match made sense for them at this time and they delivered a good performance. They showed that WWE was right to put them on last.

 Wyatt versus Ambrose. Best for business.
After the match Ambrose’s new rival picked him up and gave him a Sister Abigail. That met with boos, as had the interference in general. That’s a promising sign. That the audience was willing to boo somebody monstrously popular for costing Ambrose a match with the hated Seth Rollins shows how invested they are in Ambrose and his cause. Ambrose versus Wyatt is a new singles pairing featuring two guys who are over but new to the top of the card. It’s exactly the kind of thing the promotion needs to be doing right now.

As good as the main event was, and as promising as the new direction for Ambrose is, the show as a whole was not that great. While only one match was less than good (Paige versus AJ) there were too many rematches on offer. The show felt more like a polished episode of RAW with some particularly fancy gimmick matches than a special event.

Results summary:
Dolph Ziggler defeated Cesaro two falls to none to retain the Intercontinental championship
Nikki Bella defeated Brie Bella
Goldust and Stardust defeated Jimmy and Jey Uso to retain the tag team championship
John Cena defeated Randy Orton to earn a WWE championship match
Sheamus defeated The Miz to retain the US championship
Rusev defeated Big Show
AJ Lee defeated Paige to retain the Divas championship
Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose

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