The opening promo segment started off with Ambrose stating that he’d like nothing more than a Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins. That made sense: the pair have been embroiled in a very personal feud (what could at one time have been dubbed a blood feud) since June. There are no two men on the roster better placed for a Hell in a Cell match right now. Ambrose then acknowledged the finisher exchange he and Cena shared last and declared that his plan was simply to beat Cena in their contract on a pole match to earn his match with Rollins.
All of that was fine. Ambrose ran through what was essentially a recap and exposition in entertaining enough fashion and his motivations and “plan” made sense. He wants Rollins because Rollins wronged him and wants to beat Cena for no other reason than because he needs to to get to Rollins.
|"I'm the star!"|
Things started unravelling once Cena showed up. He patronisingly told Ambrose to relax, reminded him that their pole match (which he referred to as the match of Ambrose’s life) was still two weeks off, and offered up some veteran advice (which was basically “Prepare for the match”). As was the case on the October 10 SmackDown Cena seemed to be going out of his way to undercut and marginalise Ambrose, doing everything he could to remind viewers who was the bigger, more established star.
Ambrose offered up a spirited response. Cena came back with more of the same (although he made the addition of calling Ambrose “son”). The crowd booed Cena heavily. So much so, in fact, that Cena turned his head towards the entranceway, mistakenly thinking that The Authority had made their scheduled arrival early and without music. If even Cena is mistaking his heat for lead heel heat there’s definitely a problem.
When Trips and Stepher did join the segment they segued it into a triple threat match. Ambrose and Cena were paired up to face the Usos and the dust brothers. Naturally as the feuding main eventers who’d never worked as a tag team before Ambrose and Cena won. The Authority then returned to reveal that the pole match was being moved forward to the RAW main event.
And it was in that main event that the real hatchet job took place.
The match started with both Cena and Ambrose making a dash for the corner1. Neither of them managed to grab the contract, obviously, and so they went into a regular match. The handful of times Cena had Ambrose downed he made a play for the contract, and got stopped. By contrast Ambrose was booked to ignore the contract on five distinct and separate occasions, opting to continue beating up Cena rather than grabbing the contract to win (which, remember, would have earned him the Cell match he desperately against Sethy B that he craved). Michael Cole made an attempt at covering for the way in which Ambrose was booked to behave by talking about how he wanted to prove himself against Cena (which in storyline terms was plausible enough). Sadly that was quickly trampled over by JBL, who was far more interested in denouncing ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ as an idiot. Oh, and for good measure Triple H, Randy Orton, Kane and Rollins, all of whom were at ringside for the match, had a good laugh about Ambrose ignoring the contract too.
|Lovely font work on the contract.|
The right decision was made for the winner at least: Ambrose left victorious. But the way in which he managed it was less than inspiring: after being tossed aside by Kane, Ambrose left the Authority henchmen to target Cena and took the opportunity to climb up the turnbuckle to grab the prize. So he was only permitted to beat Cena because Cena was distracted by heel interference (which he overcame, leaving him to dejectedly stare at Ambrose’s unassailable position). And that’s overlooking the fact that the reason this was a pole match in the first place was to avoid having Cena getting pinned.
The final touch was Cena’s response to losing. He applauded Ambrose’s ingenuity and gave a wry smile. The message he was conveying seemed pretty clearly to be that Ambrose had one because Cena took his eye off the ball, not because Ambrose was a serious competitor who was on Cena’s level.
I’ve defended Cena on this blog before. I’ll probably do so again. But he was wrong here. The booking was not designed to help Ambrose. In places it seemed to be intended to hinder him. That’s not Cena’s fault and ultimately he couldn’t do anything about it. But he could have done more to help Ambrose within his own, unscripted promo material. Not patronising, undercutting and generally belittling his foe would have been a start. And a slightly more heated reaction to the loss wouldn’t have hurt either.
I understand why WWE protects Cena so much. They rely on him a lot, and for far more than just merch sales. But protecting him doesn’t have to come at the expense of establishing new names. Sooner or later the company’s overly protective attitude towards Cena is going to do real harm.
1 If you’re new to this, item on a pole matches see a pole attached to a ring post, from which the item in question is hung. Generally speaking you win by being the first to grab the item, although there are variations2.
2 Apologies if this explanation is patronising. I just feel that pole matches can be a particularly bewildering aspect of pro wrestling if you’re not au fait3 with the logic.
3 It’s French. Deal with it4.
4 Yes, that is a deliberate reference to Batista.