The final pay-per-view event of the WWE’s Thunderdome era is just around the corner. The digital fan experience began at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida in August 2020, moved to Tropicana Field in Tampa, and eventually ended up at the Yuengling Center in Tampa after the start of the MLB season. The digital fan experience has carried WWE through the past year, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In mid-July, WWE will return to its seemingly endless touring schedule and tour the United States with full arenas of fans in attendance.
But first there is hell in a cell.
Nobody would blame you for looking through Hell in a Cell and beyond at the endless potential and intrigue of Money in the Bank in a crowded arena. Or on to SummerSlam at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in August.
But there’s a lot to like about Sunday’s card despite the fact that WWE threw a wrench by announcing a Hell in a Cell match and then postponing it. Originally planned for the Hell in a Cell card, Roman rule faced Rey Mysterio on SmackDown instead of pay-per-view – a bit of a headache considering the father-son dynamics of the story and Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States. It was a fresh and fascinating game as Mysterio and Reigns had never played one on one on a stage and Mysterio is never a bad idea in a World Cup game.
But it was coming together at a breakneck pace, and probably too much. Reigns had attacked Mysterio’s son Dominik twice, including a power bomb that knocked the younger Mysterio out of the ring, but no matter how strong the family ties are, a Hell in a Cell world title match based on a few weeks of conflict seems to blow things up disproportionately. It was a good game, even if there was no doubt about the outcome. Significantly more time was devoted to the conflict Jey Uso between his brother Jimmy and Reigns as the lead-up match for Hell in a Cell.
A quick look at the six games currently announced for the card might make you feel like Hell in a Cell’s results aren’t going to have many significant ramifications. In most cases, you’re probably right – but this is exactly where you’re wrong, which makes Hell in a Cell more than a little fascinating.
Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship: Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
A year after their first encounter in WWE, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley are ready to settle the bill once and for all in the Hell in a Cell cage. And unlike some games that feel pushed into the match type advertised as the pay-per-view name, a brutal physical blow to this rivalry feels well deserved.
What works: Long-term storytelling hasn’t been WWE’s forte lately, but this rivalry was spot on. A year ago this week, then-WWE Champion McIntyre successfully defended the WWE Championship against Lashley at Backlash. The following night there was a tag team match with the title at stake, but the conflict was then put on hold.
Lashley wrested the WWE title from McIntyre via The Miz Cashing in the money in the bank briefcase. At WrestleMania 37, Lashley’s credibility as a champion was cemented when he decisively defeated McIntyre. The previously unwavering McIntyre has grown desperate from week to week through disqualifications and detours, and the tension only grew in May in a massive Triple Threat title match between Lashley, McIntyre and the now released Braun Strowman.
Now he’s getting his last chance at Lashley’s title. The Hell in a Cell is the perfect setting. The handicap of the last title shot feels deserved. And now let’s see how it turns out.
– WWE (@WWE) June 17, 2021
What does not work: The biggest mistake in this story is not directly related to Lashley or McIntyre at all. The deafening short-sighted breakup of The Hurt Business is the only real flaw in this story. For the third or fourth time in his WWE career Cedric Alexander began to build a considerable dynamic behind him and get along with it. to work together Shelton Benjamin worked wonders for both. MVP awarded Gravitas to all four members of The Hurt Business, and their collaboration was a big part of why Lashley had the credibility to become a great WWE Champion in a short amount of time.
But within a few weeks, The Hurt Business quartet broke up, Alexander and Benjamin lost the Raw Tag Team Championships in the midst of Pre-WrestleMania, and then the tag team itself imploded. For a company that is mightily struggling to attract new, young talent organically promote it was incredibly disappointing.
While it was a destructive decision in the long run, in the short term it could have benefited this particular story by portraying Lashley as a champion trapped in the trappings of “the guy” and losing focus on what made him do the Top.
This is how it works: It’s too close to call, which is great news when you’re talking about a centerpiece on a card. Lashley was able to successfully defend his title, carry his rule into SummerSlam and beyond, and keep improving. McIntyre had to start over, and digging deeper into his desperation could reveal some fascinating layers.
McIntyre could also take advantage of Lashley’s complacency to win the WWE Championship one more time and keep that title for an extended period of time. That would likely involve another match with Lashley beyond Hell in a Cell. If the past is a clue, it can only mean good things.
Forced to a decision, I believe McIntyre will regain the title after the best match between him and Lashley yet.
Raw women’s championship: Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte flair
Speaking of matches that would have been fit for Hell in a Cell, look no further than Rhea Ripley’s Raw Women’s Championship Defense against Charlotte Flair.
What works: It was a long, slow burn between Ripley and Flair. They didn’t get the big blowoff match in front of a huge crowd at WrestleMania 36 and were forced to settle for the scaled-down Performance Center showcase.
Given the tension between the two, it’s wild to consider that the aforementioned match is still the only time they’ll go one-on-one. The three triple threat matches they participated in together – in November 2019 (with Sasha Banks), June 2020 (with Io Shirai) and last month at WrestleMania Backlash (with Asuka) – were all very entertaining.
And while most of the storytelling in the women’s section on Raw was a mess, the big matches work.
What does not work: Flair’s losing streak at the start of this game is puzzling. If she loses to Ripley again, it seems to subtract from the value Ripley would gain from such a win. If she wins and Ripley wins, what does Ripley look like?
Participate Nikki Cross and trying to increase it in the process is good in theory, but has not really helped in practice.
This is how it works: Ripley gets her big win and her revenge on flair. Maybe it happens that Flair strikes and the rivalry extends into the summer.
Hell in a CellSmackDown Women’s Championship: Bianca Belair (c) vs. Bayley
Following the disappearance of Sasha Banks in WrestleMania, Bayley is the first female challenger to Belair’s SmackDown Women’s Championship.
What works: Bayley feels trapped in the moment, both in and out of the ring. One of the WWE’s biggest struggles in recent years has been figuring out how to organically weave different storylines and move them all forward without falling into overused tropics. Bayley’s “Ding Dong, Hello!” Talk show was an excellent tool for this, from which both this and other storylines benefited – most recently between Cesaro and Seth Rollins.
It has increased tension between Belair and Bayley and given Bayley a platform to spread her wings and delve deep into her character. It has allowed Belair to focus on what she does best right now – strong, confident, and using just a few words to get her point across while sitting under the learning tree with one of the industry’s most honed artists.
Belair will have a platform to show off exactly where she is in the WWE hierarchy in Hell in a Cell, and just as Banks was a great dance partner at WrestleMania, a match of this magnitude couldn’t be much better foil than Introducing Bayley.
What does not work: Was it a little abrupt moving this match to the Hell in a Cell structure just a few days before the show? Probably. But in general there isn’t much to complain about here. SmackDown is generally on the way up and building this match has been consistent and enjoyable. The anticipation for a great match at Hell in a Cell is also great.
This is how it works: Belair takes a win and strengthens their influence on the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Bayley does a great job and reminds everyone how good it is. With banks’ potential returns on the horizon and a flurry of new potential challengers ahead of us at Money in the Bank, things are looking bright.
What do flickering lights, broken mirrors, and a demonic doll named Lilly have to do with professional wrestling? More than you think!
What works: Is there a reason Shayna Baszler from. to separate? Nia Jax and getting them back on track for a single track is good enough. Even if it has to be about the supernatural. And while Baszler feels like too serious a character for a story like this, serious characters often turn out to be satisfactory slides.
What does not work: As well as Bray Wyatts The “Fiend” personality has long struggled to merge with the rest of the WWE ecosystem when forced out of its bubble of fun and creativity. Bliss’ move at the funhouse seems to have a shelf life. The segments are fun and varied, and offer Bliss a chance to immerse herself in something new, but it’s hard to predict where she might be going.
This is how it works: Expect some special effects and some jump scares. Bliss hits a DDT and gets the pinfall, but the outcome of the match is secondary.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
Like Batman and The Joker, Owens and Zayn seem to be in each other’s lives until the end of time, as their struggle is the only constant before an ever-changing landscape.
What works: Have you ever really seen a bad match between Owens and Zayn? They’ve been wrestling with each other for two decades, and the only complaints usually come from playing too short matches or comparing recent matches against the insanely high bar of their previous matches. Another pay-per-view match can only lead to good things.
What does not work: Their WrestleMania 37 match didn’t start boiling until it ended in less than 10 minutes. Since then, Owens has tried to put some sense into Zayn and they seem to be on a collision course towards some tough love, causing Zayn to spiral and bottom out, followed by reconciliation and partnership. If that’s not the goal, the past few months have been a lot of turning with no real progress.
This is how it works: Exactly as planned – Owens wins again, Zayn completely collapses and eventually reaches his old friend who has nowhere else to go.
Seth Rollins vs. Cesaro
In two matches of a little more than 24 minutes in total, Cesaro and Seth Rollins showed what each of them can do so well in the ring. It instantly made Cesaro a worthy title challenger and resulted in over a month of great moments that felt overdue for one of the most talented in-ring performers in the industry.
What works: Cesaro and Rollins are magical in the ring together and it’s hard for them to have a bad match. You have rekindled the tension in the last few weeks and the anticipation for this game is great.
What does not work: Cesaro had to sit in a shoulder sling for a month following his loss to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania Backlash, which was difficult to swallow due to the dynamic Cesaro brought to the match and his performance against Reigns. It seems unlikely that Rollins will lose three games in a row to Cesaro as well, so Cesaro is likely to dive one more time. Hopefully the quality of the game will at least partially make up for that.
This is how it works: Rollins is losing his bad luck and is likely to cheat in the process. It wouldn’t be surprising to see these two guys in the Money in the Bank ladder battle, and Cesaro would be a very interesting dark horse to hold the briefcase.