Seth Rollins (c) vs The Fiend
Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Universal Championship
Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California, United States
Every decision made here was a bad decision. Let’s run down the list:
- The Fiend gimmick? Bad. People cheering for a thing does not disqualify it from being bad. If you’re still struggling with this concept, see me after class.
- WWE booking the Fiend, who they know to be wildly popular in spite of his badness, in a match where neither wrestler can really afford to lose and the traditional understanding of the stipulation itself is that there must be a winner? Bad.
- WWE painting themselves into a corner by booking this match in said winner-required stipulation when they’ve already got a Hell in a Cell feud with Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks? Bad.
- Picking the feeble old pedophile, the brand new commentator, and the blandest play-by-play guy in the company as the team to lead the audience through this inexplicable match? Bad.
- The red lighting? Obviously bad.
- Sticking with the red cage? Bad. Even more than just thinking the thing looks cheap and gaudy as hell, the red cage makes the aforementioned lighting meaningfully worse. Like, here, let’s compare two screenshots from two different Hell in a Cell matches:
- First image is from this match, second one is from shortly before the Kane vs Mankind match from RAW in August 1998. Even accounting for the haze of 21 year old footage, you can discern at a glance everything going on in the ring of that ‘98 match because the cage itself isn’t the same color as the light shining on it and everything else. Everything onscreen in this match just blends together into red mush thanks to that red cell.
- Having the Fiend shrug off every bit of offense when he’s explicitly just Bray Wyatt, who has been a midcard nobody for basically the entirety of the last five years? Bad.
- Rollins doing the same thing ad nauseam when the Fiend pops up after one of his moves? Bad.
- Treating the Fiend’s neck snap, one of his only established moves, like an afterthought when it’s practically killed other wrestlers? Bad.
- The Fiend kicking out of everything Rollins does toward the end without actually getting up? Bad. This one might not sound like much but think of the classic slasher movies that the Fiend is, in part, imitating. Whenever Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers would lurch to their feet again after taking some unbelievable amount of punishment, it was scary not just that they were still alive but that they were still coming for the frightened babysitter or camp counselor. The Fiend isn’t doing anything like that here. Rollins’ fear and shock lies not in the fact that this monster is coming after him but in the fact that this monster is kicking out of his precious movez, same as anybody else on the roster. Based solely on his behavior, the Fiend is exactly as intimidating as Shane McMahon.
- Rollins sticking this chair in between the legs of this ladder as if it’s gonna hurt more this way? Hilarious, but bad.
- The sluggish pace of this finishing stretch as Rollins wanders around to find more stuff to hit the Fiend with? Bad. I’ll never complain about Okada’s languid pacing ever again. Okay that’s a lie but goddamn is this match awful.
- WWE choosing to continue crawling toward the scheduled finish even after the crowd has lustily booed Rollins and his offense for minutes on end? Bad.
- WWE relying on Rollins to express fear, trepidation, indecision, and remorse throughout the course of this match in spite of him being an empty husk of a human being? Bad.
- The way the sledgehammer is eventually introduced, obscuring it almost completely behind a needless cut and Rollins bizarrely holding it like a cane, not to mention the red lighting that makes it difficult to discern anything? Bad.
- The use of the sledgehammer itself, with the signature weapon of the company’s king regent being so powerful and feared even outside of his hand that it can end any and all matches? Bad.
- The referee’s sudden change of heart and appeal to humanity in spite of everything Rollins and the Fiend have done in this match, as well as the entire history of Rollins’ WWE career? Bad.
- The referee referring to Rollins as Colby? Bad.
- WWE booking this bitter, baffling finish at maybe the worst possible moment in time? Beneficial to the industry in the long term, hopefully, but still bad.
- Stretcher job for a monster heel? Bad. (Wait, he’s supposed to be a heel, right?)
- The Fiend being totally fine after the whole rigmarole of the not-finish, meaning that the match was stopped and Rollins had this Big Emotional Moment™ for nothing? Bad.
- Rollins coughing up blood due to the use of the Mandible Claw, which is, as I understand it, a nerve hold? Bad.
Don’t mean to go full Cinema Sins on y’all but good lord this is a real shitshow. I’m not sure I can say that this is quite as bad as some of the utter dreck I’ve seen lately—which, shockingly, also came from WWE!—but I think I can say this is the dumbest match I’ve ever seen. It makes practically every mistake I can conceive of and still managed to shock me with a few more. The only proof that anyone even remotely thought this through beforehand is the sheer spectacle of its bewildering thoughtlessness. It’s as if WWE, feeling the pressure of their first serious competition in nearly twenty years, decided to try something new but instead of aping any of the companies nipping at their heels they decided to rip off Blackcraft Wrestling, who put on such a bad show over Mania weekend that they’ve shut down entirely.
So clearly the issue with WWE’s “making movies” mentality is that they don’t have the slightest idea of how movies work. The lighting in this match is evidence enough, not to mention the other problems here and in so many of their other offerings. The thing is, I think they also don’t understand how or why their own material has worked in the past. I look at a match like this and I see an unlearning of everything that made Kane’s debut ominous and frightening, or everything that made Gargano’s hesitance to strike down Ciampa compelling. This match isn’t frustrating just because it’s incoherent, unconvincing, or obnoxious; it’s also frustrating because it’s another step back from a company that used to be better.
Of course that regression isn’t new but that idea is worth addressing too. Aside from pea-brained takes about how no one was mad when ‘97/‘98 WCW put on good shows with bad main events—painfully oblivious both to the contemporary reactions from fans as well as where that mentality took WCW in the end—the thing that annoyed me most about reactions coming out of this PPV was shock that so many other fans would care about a match between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt having a conclusive finish. Which, hey, I get on some level. Lord knows I checked out on caring about WWE a long time ago and I’m certainly not shocked when Rollins puts on another bad match. But still, I think that sort of reaction misses the point entirely. The point is that this was a singularly bad match, bad enough that WWE stans might finally get fed up enough to pull the plug entirely and move on to other wrestling. That potential silver lining is the point. It might be questionable that it took these folks this long to arrive at that obvious conclusion but we—as a culture or a fanbase or whatever you want to call this nightmare conglomeration—don’t gain much of anything by mocking when exactly the scales fell from someone’s eyes. I’m not yet convinced that any of these competitors to WWE are going to be meaningfully different in the long run but even a dumbass like me knows that they won’t ever be better if I keep shouting people back toward the status quo. If you want things to improve, focus more on wrestling that isn’t quite so embarrassing as this and less on the people for whom this was the final straw.