How do you preview a show with no matches?
Truly this joins the list of unanswerable questions. What happens when the Unstoppable Force meets the Immovable Object? What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is love? If a WWE PPV takes place in three days and only has three matches announced, does it actually exist?
AEW’s Full Gear, which takes place in 36 days, has two matches announced. New Japan’s King of Pro-Wrestling, which takes place in ten days, has nine matches announced. WWE SmackDown’s debut on Fox, which takes place later this evening, has four matches announced. By comparison, WWE’s Hell in a Cell, a PPV that people are presumably supposed to spend money on, either through a WWE Network subscription or buying the show separately, has had almost no promotion.
This was a big week for WWE, so it’s almost understandable that something had to get pushed to the backburner. It was the “season premiere” of Monday Night Raw, the debut of the two-hour NXT on Wednesday night, and most importantly, the debut of SmackDown Live on Fox. If anyone needs proof that the television deals are the most important thing to WWE these days, all they need to do is look at this week. But this isn’t an excuse for their poor build or promotion, as only two matches from the Raw brand have been announced and they’ve had all week to announce more.
Undoubtedly more matches for Hell in a Cell will get announced tonight on SmackDown. WWE will be counting on a large audience to sell their product to and could use a big win after losing a ratings battle against a wrestling competitor for the first time in over 20 years. I expect a lot of major announcements for Hell in a Cell tonight, but will it be too little too late for the show to be a commercial or creative success?
Creatively, Hell in a Cell is already struggling. Out of the three matches announced, one of them has one of the most ridiculous setups in modern wrestling history. And the funny thing is, depending on your opinion, that could apply to different matches! If you’re not a fan of Firefly Funhouse shenanigans, then Seth Rollins defending the WWE Championship against “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt is certainly making you roll your eyes. Personally, I’m a fan of the Funhouse. In comparison to the usual WWE storytelling, the unveiling of The Fiend has been practically sublime. Taking place over the course of months, WWE has avoided its usual pitfalls and let the character feel organic. Well, as organic as a cross between a juggalo and Mr. Rogers can be. Feeding a series of legends to The Fiend was a smart move, and the Mandible Claw is a great finisher for this kind of character. I guess I should mention that this match takes place in dreaded Hell in a Cell cage, which has not factored into the build at all and I completely forgot about until I was about to submit this.
It’s too bad The Fiend’s opponent is such a dope. Seth Rollins is laughably cringe. If getting dunked on other companies wrestlers weren’t bad enough, he even gets humiliated by wrestlers in his own company! And you might say that Twitter doesn’t matter, but his presentation on television has been even worse. Dominic Mysterio showed more courage in the face of Brock Lesnar than Seth does when confronted with The Fiend. How is anyone supposed to root for him when he sits in the corner screaming in fear while his tag team partner gets tortured? I have no idea where the Universal Championship scene goes from here, but it’s obvious to me that “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt should win the match, win the title, and do so in decisive fashion, provided he avoids any exploding televisions.
The real mockery of storytelling and common sense comes from our next match, Roman Reigns & Daniel Bryan vs Erick Rowan & Luke Harper. If I tried to explain this story here, I’d still be writing it after Hell in a Cell is over (have I mentioned it’s in three days?). It’s involved potential vehicular manslaughter, a string of false accusations and people demanding apologies, a fake Erick Rowan who was promptly never mentioned again, and the only main roster sightings of Buddy Murphy, who after a win against five-time World Champion Daniel Bryan, has once again disappeared into becoming the best kept secret in professional wrestling. Maybe one day someone will realize that’s not a complimentary nickname.
Despite how utterly stupid the story to get here has been, this match could be really good! Reigns and Bryan are two of the best in WWE, especially in tag situations, and a rusty Luke Harper is better than 80% of the roster. Meanwhile, Rowan is Rowan. If this match is able to tap into even a small portion of the energy the Shield/Wyatt Family matches had, then it could go beyond good and be great. Much of that will depend though if they let the story get out of the way. Too much focus on Rowan, or pointless tension between Roman and Bryan could really drag this match down. Hopefully, that’s not the case, and these guys just go balls to wall. Picking a winner depends on how soon they give up on Rowan as a main event heel. It won’t take long, but I think they’re going to keep trying for a while, so I expect The Bludgeon Brothers to get the win.
Finally, we come to the only match where the story isn’t preposterous. Becky Lynch is defending the Raw Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks in the Hell in a Cell structure. Sasha made her return and immediately set her sights on Lynch and the title while taking time to renew her friendship with Bayley, encouraging her turn to the heel side of the wrestling spectrum. The Banks/Bayley relationship is good, showing that there can be layers in a wrestler’s character. You can be a bad guy, and still have a loyal friendship. Here’s hoping they keep it up. The color of Banks’ hair might be the most important thing to some people, but I’m much more interested in her character. Banks’ complaints against Lynch and against being overshadowed feel like they come from a real place, and that makes them so much more compelling than evil Mr. Rogers or Roman Reigns being slightly inconvenienced.
Unfortunately, Becky Lynch has been floundering since winning the title in the main event of Wrestlemania. Stuck in a terrible feud with Lacey Evans and an embarrassing relationship with Seth Rollins, “The Man” has never felt less cool. WWE’s desire to cool off new champions with terrible post-mania feuds is always so mind-boggling, and one of those things that happens so often it goes past incompetence and almost feels like intentional sabotage. And rather than make Rollins cooler, he instead got his dorkiness all over Lynch, making her much less cool by association. This feud is the first thing Lynch has been able to sink her teeth into since Mania, but the damage has been done, and she could stand to go away for a month or so. And even if she sticks around, Sasha Banks should probably win. She’s a much more compelling champion than almost any other woman on the roster save maybe Charlotte Flair.
Speaking of Flair, we’ll end things here with a look at possible matches. Unless the three advertised matches are also hour-long Iron Man matches, WWE will need to fill the card out with some more matches. Flair and Bayley have been feuding, so maybe they have a match, but it’s more likely they get involved in the Banks/Lynch match I think. Brock Lesnar will probably be your new WWE Champion, but will he defend it on the PPV? Give me a ten-minute match between Lesnar and Big E and I’d be happy. Remember when Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens had a Hell in a Cell match? Well I do, and they are somehow still fighting, with a ladder match on SmackDown, so we may see some fall out from that. Perhaps AJ Styles will beat Cedric Alexander again. Maybe someone will defend some tag titles.
For the WWE to have so few matches announced this soon before the show is embarrassing, and shows contempt for its audience that we all know is there but is rarely this obvious. WWE is assuming that it’s fans will set aside their Sunday evening, during football season no less, to watch their show no matter who or what they put on. Out of four WWE shows this week, they have put by far the least amount of effort into the only one that people have to pay money to watch. WWE is hoping that you will watch just because it’s WWE, not because they are presenting an interesting show. They feel that a million or so suckers will watch their show no matter how little effort they put into it, and they might be right. But with new competition already making statements, there’s going to be a limit on how successful this strategy can be.