At the turn of the century the WWF would routinely secondary level pay-per-view s to move guys up the card. Never was this more apparent than at Fully Loaded 2000. At that show the three most established guys on the active roster, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Triple H, faced Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho, three men the company were keen to turn into stars.
Those three matches alone did not make those three men stars. They were part of a process of star building that the WWF was known for at the time. The practice of pitting big names against men lower down the card and having competitive matches with them was the norm. Even if the non-headliners lost their profile was raised by association.
Compare that approach with the modern one. Feuds stretch on forever and WWE generally does a poor job of utilising popular acts. I'm not talking about Daniel Bryan or CM Punk two years ago. Bryan is being, and Punk was, handled right for the most part. I'm thinking more of guys like Fandango, Bray Wyatt, and Dolph Ziggler. Men who do everything in their power to get over ith fans yet find themselves playing diminished roles on TV and pay-per-view. It's impossible to imagine WWE's three most established names, Punk, Orton and Cena, being pitted against the likes of 'The Show Off' in competitive pay-per-view bouts. Which illustrates how WWE's approach to building stars has changed over the years.
This was a thought that occurred to me at several points during Hell in a Cell, usually when two established names were wrestling each other or mid-card guys were facing off in unadvertised "bonus" matches. I wrote about this a few weeks ago after Battleground. WWE needs to spend more time creating worthwhile undercards for its shows, and gradually start pitting lower card guys against the big names. That's their best chance at creating names that people will pay to see.
Hell in a Cell kicked off with the triple threat tag team championship match. This resulted in it peaking early, because Goldust and Cody Rhodes' title defence was the best bout on the card.
The Uso brothers took on the Rhodes brothers for the first few minutes of the match before Roman Reigns tagged in and started the task of isolating Goldust. There were nice moments that The Shield knock Cody off the apron and then pull the Usos down to ringside to keep Goldy isolated.
Eventually 'The Bizarre One' got the hot tag to Cody, who came in with a very nice missile drop kick and followed up with a crisp moonsault to a standing Rollins. The former Tyler Black continued to kick out as he was he with a cross body block and a splash by an Uso. Moments later Jey Uso leapt over the top rope and landed on Goldust and Reigns. Back in the ring the false finishes continued with an elevated Samoan drop from Jimmy to Seth. Cody tagged himself in and tried for a Cross Rhodes on Rollins but it got reversed. Moments later the two men were up on the top rope to perform an impressive superplex to the outside (cushioned by the other four men in the match). Cody went for a pin but it was broken by an Uso. Not much of a landing committee
A series of spears and punches wiped out the Usos and Reigns, leaving Cody free to try a Disaster kick on Rollins. That was reversed (for the first time that I've seen) when Rollins caught him and held him in position for a power bomb. Cody slipped out, Goldust gave Seth an uppercut and then Cody hit the Cross Rhodes for the win.
It was exactly how a show opener should be. It was fast, filled with near falls and exciting moments, and it energised the crowd.
The Miz marched to ringside and called out Bray Wyatt. 'The Eater of Worlds' appeared on the Titantron (does anyone in WWE still refer to it as that?) and wittered about a monster that lives behind his eyes. Rowan and Harper ambushed 'The Awesome One' as the crowd chant, presumably bored by and with Miz, chanted "We want Kane!" Seconds after the chant died down Kane strode out. He battered the Wyatt boys before giving Miz a choke slam and setting off his pyro. The fans approved.
Faaaaaandaaaaaan goooooo and Summer Rae salsa'd to the ring for match two. Fandango should be booked as a womanising, heart-breaking, tweening lothario. Instead he's a comedy heel. Just a few minor tweaks and 'The Ballroom Brute' could be a far more important part of the WWE machine than he currently is. This ties into what I was saying at the start of this post. Perhaps WWE will use TLC to give us some experimental match-ups. But I won't hold my breath.
Fandango talked some smack about being a great dancer (presumably Miami is known as a city big on dancing?) and then danced like he was in a night club. Khali's music put a stop to the heels' shenanigans. The crowd booed the roar he emitted as he clambered into the ring. Good for them, says this observer.
The match was a waste of Fandango and Summer Rae, although it was notable for being Summer's first televised match since being promoted form NXT. She's a solid wrestler and possesses far more personality than most WWE Divas. Fandango, as I've already mentioned, should be doing more than making Khali look good.
The finish saw Summer Rae wriggle out of a Sharpshooter before rolling Natalya up for the three count. They may have been wasted but at least they won. That's something.
Up in the skybox Kaitlyn talked about the mixed tag match and related it to the Divas championship match that would happen later. R-Truth was keen on the tag title match, while Dolph Ziggler was impressed by Miz calling out the Wyatt Family. How convenient that each performer was interested in a different segment. It's almost like it's scripted!
Michael Cole provided a handy recap of the pre-show dispute that set up Ambrose v Langston as the United States champ made his way to the ring. Ambrose's facial expression as Big E stood bellowing on the apron was priceless, a mixture of contempt, puzzlement and disinterest.
The match was good. It would be tempting to attribute that to Ambrose, the man with more experience and greater charisma and the one taking the bigger bumps, but that would be unfair (and would also overlook him loudly calling a belly-to-belly). Langston did a good job playing the face, showing weakness and rallying the crowd. Anyone who saw his work in NXT will be aware that he's better than the average muscle guy.
The ending was presumably designed to setup a rematch. Langston speared Ambrose off of the apron to the outside of the ring. Both men were up before the ten count but Ambrose opted not to get back into the ring, taking a deliberate loss. Big E caught Ambrose before he could leave and flattened him with a Big Ending. It seems to have been decided that Langston's getting a mid-card title. With Curtis Axel unable to compete expect Langston to get the US champion.
CM Punk versus Ryback and Paul Heyman nestled in the middle of the card. It was not pretty.
The nonsense started early when Heyman was driven to the ring on a cherry picker. Both JBL and 'King' referenced the entrances at WrestleMania III, Lawler clearly not listening to his colleague. What a pro. Heyman cut a promo in which he stated his name twice and claimed to be WWE's answer to Satan (that's PG, that is). The cherry picker was there to grant Heyman access to the top of the cage, where he stood for the entirety of the match.
And what a match it was. It was slow, dull and sloppy, a perfect advert for CM Punk not being 'The Best in the World' he claims to be. I'm not alone in this belief: scattered "Boring!" chants could be heard during the match. That's something even Khali avoided.
After what seemed like an eternity , but was probably about five minutes, of 'Big Hungry' controlling the pace 'The Second City Saint' made a kendo stick assisted comeback and added a chair to proceedings. Instead of someone going through it straight away Ryback crotched his foe on it as it lay on its side. He went to follow up with a power bomb but got low blowed. He did the natural thing and had a lie down on the table to recover (wrestling logic!). Punk then did a particularly clumsy Macho Elbow.
CM Punk then hit 'The Big Guy' with a kendo stick and a GTS to win. Just like that the match was over. It should have been a hot finishing sequence but it wasn't, thanks mainly to the boring nature of the match.
After getting his win Punk grabbed a kendo stick and clambered on top of the cage to give Heyman a beating. The crowd warned up for that considerably. Yep, a babyface battering a heel non-wrestler with a weapon is, apparently, a great way to get over. Based on the post-match reactions the smart thing would have been to have Heyman inside the cage avoiding Punk and breaking up pinfalls.
Backstage Daniel Bryan told Renee Young he just wanted a fair chance, one-on-one match with Randall Keith Orton. He (incorrectly) referred to the post-WrestleMania XXVIII RAW being the start of people screaming yes, then kicked off a chant.
Match five was another unadvertised affair: Los Matadores v The Real Americans. Everyone knows the sort of promo Colter cuts by now but he changed things up a bit here by referring to El Torito as a half-man, half-bull. Basically Zeb thinks Torito's a Minotaur. Diego and Fernando survived the big swing and an ankle lock to get the win with a weak-looking double team move. After the decision Cesaro, Swagger and Colter all took bumps for Torito.
The video for the Cena v Del Rio match was great. Footage of Cena's surgery and rehabilitation was intercut with footage putting over the cross arm breaker as a submission hold to be feared. It was very effective and set up the story of the match perfectly. Alberto Del Rio: a true Mexican hero
The champion was introduced first, eschewing tradition. JBL, who was very outspoken about Ziggler "disrespectfully" wearing the championship belt backwards in the summer, didn't utter a word. ADR got boos. Cena got a strong mixed reaction, although I think there were more cheers than there usually are.
Cena used a tornado DDT, drop kicks, and top rope body blocks in addition to his usual repertoire, which combined nicely with ADR's diversity to create an unpredictable and highly enjoyable contest. Cena sold well and often, particularly beautiful was his flop forward off a superkick. It was a stirring performance from the challenger.
Things picked up considerably when the two exchanged submissions. Del Rio went for the cross arm breaker but Cena nipped out and applied the STF until the champ grabbed the ropes. 'The Essence of Excellence' would be luckier moments later as he successfully applied his hold to wear down the challenger. The selling Cena had given us earlier was ignored at this point as he powered out, injured arm and all, to hit ADR with a power bomb.
Back on their feet Cena hit an AA for the win. It was mildly anticlimactic but not to the extent that it ruined the match. It was one of Cena's better matches of 2013. What's interesting is that in his last match before this Cena lost the WWE title. I don't think anyone's ever lost a world title in one match and won a different one in their next. If anyone was ever going to do it it had to be Cena, didn't it? The champ is here...
I'll be interested to see what happens with Cena World Heavyweight title reign. It seemed like ADR was safe as champ for the foreseeable future because there's nothing much else for him to do, and Cena doesn't really need the championship. It would be nice if it was an early move towards a title unification, ideally at next year's WrestleMania. That both worlds titles are now on major established names makes me think it's a possibility.
Up in the skybox Kaitlyn and R-Truth predicted victories for Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan respectively. Dolph gave a firm "maybe" on the subject of Bryan being champ.
AJ got a positive reaction when she entered the arena. Brie did too, but it was noticeably quieter and didn't last as long. The match was okay, but nothing special. Hopefully this will be Brie's last pay-per-view match with AJ for a while. The finish saw Brie accidentally boot her sister in the face. While she stood there looking confused AJ applied the Black Widow and got the win by submission.
Backstage Bob Backlund and The Prime Time Players advertised the WWE 2K14 game. Then they danced. It was as wonderful as it sounds.
Elsewhere backstage we saw Shawn Michaels (who's now sporting stubble as opposed to that massive beard he had a month or two ago) and Triple H have a heated conversation. HBK walked off looking peeved. Tripper stood still, staring after him, also looking peeved. It's the sort of thing WWE always feels compelled to insert into shows when there's a guest referee around.
After the (very good) video package Michaels was introduced, followed by Orton and then Bryan. Triple H sauntered down to the ring with the WWE championship and shook hands with 'The Viper'. He offered Bryan a handshake to Bryan but it was refused. Non-adherence to the Code of Honor from Bryan? Strong stuff!
Bryan and Orton had what I think is the strongest entry in their current series. They made the most of the relaxed rules the Hell in a Cell gimmick allows by using ring steps, the cage itself and a bundle of chairs as weapons, setting a fast pace that took them all around the construct, and hitting their signature moves in unconventional ways. The turning point came when Orty threw Bryan onto a pile of chairs with a superplex. That 'The World's Toughest Vegan' kicked out angered Orton and brought 'The Game' back out to ringside. As the DX pals bickered Orton went for a cover. That Shawn wasn't there to count infuriated him further and caused him to leave the ring to have a scream at Michaels.
Orton went for an RKO but got shoved off into 'The Heartbreak Kid', who was busy looking at Triple H emulating his hero Ric Flair, going mad and climbing the cage. Bryan hit a knee as Triple H had the Cell opened, supposedly to check on Michaels. After shoving Bryan out of the way Tripper checked on Shawn and then turned around into Bryan's running knee. Bryan celebrated and then turned around into a surprise move himself, this one a Sweet Chin Music from Michaels. 'The Apex Predator' went for the cover and, after a brief pause, Michaels counted the three. He left immediately, looking dejected, while Orty celebrated winning his eighth WWE championship with Triple H. There's a knee coming Triple H's way
The obvious question is: why did Shawn Michaels cost Daniel Bryan, who's been acknowledged as his student, the WWE championship? Expect the "best for business" line to be trotted out on RAW, as well as fluff about Michaels having faith in Triple H's vision for the future of the company. It seems likely that Michaels will play to unwilling accomplice and I wouldn't be surprised to see him manage Triple H in a match against Bryan at some point. That would be a nice point for him to seek retribution and abandon his pal, allowing Bryan a clean win.
A lot of people have taken this development as a sign that Michaels is going to wrestle again. For what it's worth I don't think that will happen. Michaels seems content in his retirement from active wrestling duties. Just as importantly he went out on top in a highly regarded match. He's made it very clear over the years that he wants to be remembered as a good wrestler. I don't think he'd have a bad match if he did wrestle again, but I also don't think he'd want to take the risk. An HBK in-ring return seems a stretch.