That would be Brock Lesnar, who needed nine staples in the crown of his head to stop the bleeding after his brutal main-event bout with the Undertaker. Their rivalry-capping cage match featured plenty of the red stuff (at least enough to warrant a hard PG-13 by Hollywood’s standards) and was an all-too-brief throwback to wrestling’s gory glory days, when the crowds were red-hot and the feuds were of the blood variety. Sadly, you couldn’t say either of those things about the rest of last night’s show, but that doesn’t mean Hell in a Cell didn’t deliver – especially when it came to surprise returns and storyline advancement.
Sure, we also got Seth Rollins wrestling a possessed member of WWE’s upper management, a New Day without Xavier Woods and an Intercontinental match that, uh, happened, but ask any Hollywood exec, and they’ll tell you the same thing: They can’t all be hits. Here’s my five-point takeaway from WWE’s Hell in a Cell.
5. Hey, That’s Alberto Del Rio!
Well, that was certainly a surprise. In the hours leading up to Hell in a Cell, rumors had everyone from Daniel Bryan to AJ Styles answering John Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge, but in the end, it turned out to be Alberto Del Rio, the former WWE champ (and current holder of Mexican promotion AAA’s Mega Championship) who was fired by Vince McMahon last year after an altercation with an employee. Del Rio, who also appeared on Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground in 2015, was introduced by none other than the (formerly?) jingoistic Zeb Colter, then handled Cena with surprising ease to become the new United States Champion. It was an interesting move, and not just because of Del Rio’s employment history – or his well-earned reputation as a guy who doesn’t play well with others. With Cena taking a much-publicized hiatus (and, quite possibly, beginning to put wrestling in his rearview mirror) and the recent injury to Randy Orton, there’s a dearth of faces atop WWE’s ranks, and Del Rio might be rushed up the ranks to fill the void. Can he help shoulder the load? Will audiences buy him as a babyface? Is this just another chance to cash a paycheck? We’ll know more tonight, when he begins his reign as U.S. Champ on Raw.
4. Divas Evolution
At least they gave them a lot of time out there (three more minutes than Cena!) To be fair, I was never sure why WWE had Nikki Bella lose the Divas Championship to Charlotte at Night of Champions in the first place; with her atop the division, and the new NXT call-ups in pursuit of her title, women’s wrestling on the main roster showed brief signs of life. And when Bella cheated to keep the belt – and break AJ Lee’s streak as the longest-reigning Divas Champ – the crowd was hot for revenge; clearly, having Charlotte chase the champ for the next few months was the logical play. Instead, they gave her the strap less than a week later, then had her defend it in the rematch at Hell in a Cell. The match itself wasn’t bad (scary screw-up off the top turnbuckle aside), and it’s great to see these bouts evolve beyond mere hair-pulling and roll-up pins (and kudos for Charlotte for taking a nasty Alabama Slam onto the ring apron), but I can’t shake the feeling that Charlotte just isn’t the right woman for the moment, perhaps due to her occasionally spotty in-ring work – psychology isn’t really her strong suit – or the fact that there are two other women just waiting to take this title and run with it. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, time to step up to the plate; I just wish they’d be gunning for Nikki Bella, who has become a truly great wrestler, as she proved once again last night.
3. Bray’s Big Night
As is often the case when he blows out the lantern and enters the ring, Wyatt didn’t win his match with Roman Reigns, and since last night’s caged battle was sold as the blow-off to a rivalry that began at June’s Money in the Bank, that means he lost another feud, too. But, for once, it didn’t matter. Wyatt’s war with Reigns exceeded everyone’s expectations, bolstered by a series of bruising matches that reached a fittingly brutal conclusion on Sunday, and showed how far both men have come as performers since their respective factions were feuding in 2014. It also realigned the Wyatt Family, introduced monstrous enforcer Braun Strowman to the mix and showed that, finally, Bray is capable of inflicting the kind of physical punishment he’s always waxing psychotic about. And all of that is important for where he and his brood are headed next, after they closed Hell in a Cell by beating down – then abducting – a broken Undertaker. All of a sudden, there’s a genuine opportunity for the Wyatts to thrive as an all-destructive heel stable, with Bray pulling all the levers. Or at least the foundation for a really solid Survivor Series match between the Family and the Brothers of Destruction plus two. Either way, for once, Bray Wyatt won…even if he still lost.
2. Who Wants to Challenge Seth Rollins?
Counting his win against Sting at last month’s Night of Champions, Seth Rollins has now scored clean pinfall victories at consecutive pay per views, and for a guy who’s been booked as a cheating, conniving, cowardly chickenshit for most of 2015, I guess that’s progress. Doesn’t make his reign as WWE World Heavyweight Champion any more impressive, though. Rollins retained last night by chopping down Demon Kane (or “Dean McCain,” as Jerry Lawler bleated repeatedly) with a series of knees off the top turnbuckles, a Frog Splash and, finally, a Pedigree, which should signal the end of this insufferable feud. Of course, given how much time and effort has been spent building up the 48-year-old Demon/Director of Operations as a legitimate threat to Rollins – at the expense of both the man and his title – there isn’t exactly a line of clear challengers waiting in the wings. They could have Seth re-establish a pecking order in a series of wins over opponents on Raw, like he did by beating Ryback this past Monday (wait, is Seth Rollins actually on a winning streak?) but that seems too logical; instead, expect his feud with someone in WWE’s payroll department to kick off tonight.
1. Brock and ‘Taker Were Bloody Good
Did this one benefit from lowered expectations? You bet. Did that matter? No way. The fact that Brock Lesnar broke the Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak will always overshadow the fact that their match was a train wreck, and though they both got redemption by bringing the house down at SummerSlam, that bout was marred by a convoluted ending that benefitted no one. So let’s just say hopes weren’t high for their Hell in a Cell main event, billed as the final encounter between the two behemoths (if only so ‘Taker could avoid serious injury). Shows you what us so-called “smart fans” know. The intensity was high from the opening bell – the only time you could say that last night – and the action inside the cage was appropriately electric, not to mention downright brutal. Both men got busted open, and not only appeared to do so the hard way, but seemed to relish the opportunity (Lesnar, in particular, let the blood flow with grisly aplomb). In the current PG era, you don’t see that much of the red stuff, and when coupled with repeated visits by the ringside medic, the violence last night seemed strangely real, and it made the match feel wild, as if it could all veer off the rails at any moment. Of course, it was a work, Brock came out victorious and ‘Taker got his post-match moment, so to call this one anything other than an unqualified success would be incorrect. Sure, the pacing was slow, and I probably could’ve done without the whole bit where Brock ripped back the mat to inflict additional punishment on his foe, but that’s merely nitpicking – and in a match where everything felt big, there’s no reason to sweat the small stuff.