The telltale signs that Hell in a Cell was going to be a dud were there long before the action kicked off Sunday night. Even as the go-home show, which doubled as the debut edition of Smackdown on Fox, went off the air, WWE found itself with just three matches confirmed for its card. The result was a number of filler matches announced on the day of the event, which did little to elevate the overall quality of the show. It wasn’t all bad, of course. Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks was a gem of an opener and a quality Hell in a Cell match for the Raw Women’s championship. The Kabuki Warriors vs Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross for the Women’s Tag Team championships was also a solid outing. What decidedly wasn’t solid was the booking of the Universal Championship match between Seth Rollins and The Fiend. How bad was it? Before the bell could even ring, the capacity crowd turned on the match, peppering the competitors with a myriad of boos as chants of “AEW,” “refund,” and “restart the match” filled the arena. It’s not that WWE isn’t allowed a “miss” now and again, it’s that the execution and baffling decision at the end of the match was so infuriatingly bad that seemingly nobody in the company can even defend it.
For those who don’t know, Bray Wyatt’s Fiend has been one of the most intriguing characters in professional wrestling in recent years and has been booked to be an imposing force over the past six months. Throughout that time, he’s seen limited action in the ring, opting instead to resort to ambush tactics on WWE legends and rivals alike. This was especially true for Universal champion Seth Rollins, who’d been attacked by Wyatt on multiple occasions and reduced to a cowering mess in his mere presence. So while it was clear WWE was pushing Wyatt and Rollins into a program for the Universal title, may questioned whether creative would actually pull the trigger on a Bray Wyatt title reign so soon. With that being the case, it was assumed shenanigans would take place, but it looks like nobody expected this particular outcome.
After absorbing more than 10 curb stomps from the champion, Bray Wyatt continued to kick out at a count of 1. He absorbed chair shots, strikes with the kendo stick, blows to the head with a ladder, and even a beatdown with a toolbox. In spite of all of this, he continued to kick out before a count of three. At this point, beside himself, Seth Rollins stacked anything and everything he could find on The Fiend’s head, all while Wyatt remained motionless. When he’d finally prepared his target, he retrieved a sledgehammer from beneath the ring and took aim. At that moment, the official got involved, blocking Seth and telling him not to go any further. While Seth initially appeared to listen to reason, he soon broke from the official and slammed the sledgehammer down atop the mess of metal atop The Fiend’s skull. The official called for the bell, the filtered red lights of the match lifted, and the cage rose back to the ceiling as the medical staff rushed to the ring.
By this point, the crowd had already seen the direction things were heading, leading to a smattering of boos, but the instant that bell rang, they lost their collective minds. Sure, Wyatt snapped back to life to assault Rollins and ended the showing standing over his unconscious body, but the cheapness of the finish was so bad it could not be forgiven. While WWE has said the match ended via a referee’s decision and not disqualification -something that is by rule impossible inside a Hell in a Cell match- it doesn’t make the non-finish any less egregious.
After the show, the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer said that even WWE personnel and superstars were less than thrilled with the booking.
I haven’t seen anyone defend it – I really haven’t heard anything from anybody there [about the finish] other than ‘it’s a disaster’ and that’s an understatement. You know how the sun will rise tomorrow and you know they pissed a lot of people off. I don’t know how bad it’s gonna be. I don’t know what to say, the show sucked.
The thing that makes all of this even more infuriating is that this match shouldn’t have even happened this early. If WWE wasn’t prepared to put Wyatt over, they should’ve put the pair in a different type of match where a non-finish would at least be relatively acceptable. Instead, they managed to walk the line in the least satisfying way imaginable, taking the punch out of Seth Rollins’ curb stomp finisher, reducing The Fiend to helpless and in need of a referee’s saving and cheapened one of their most iconic match concepts in the Hell in a Cell. Across the board, this was an abject failure, and fans everywhere have let WWE know that. The match’s clip on YouTube racked up a staggering 35,000 dislikes against just 11,000 likes before the night had even ended, and even companies like Brazzers are taking potshots on Twitter.
Hey WWE, let us know if you need advice on how to craft logical and coherent storylines with satisfying finishes #HIAC — Brazzers (@Brazzers) October 7, 2019
It’s amazing how in the same week that the WWE debuted NXT on USA, thereby launching a Wednesday night war with competitor All Elite Wrestling, and debuted their Thursday night show, Smackdown on Fox for the start of a new lucrative broadcast deal, they would put so little effort into this show. While those factors make it somewhat more understandable that their attention may have been divided elsewhere, the complete and total give up for most of the card practically soured all of the good faith the company had managed to build in the lead-up. Rest assured, WWE will be fine in the end. This may send a chunk of fans away toward AEW but they’ll ultimately come back. You would hope this doesn’t undercut Bray Wyatt and his push, however, as he was placed in an impossible situation along with Seth Rollins. With booking this bad, neither man had a chance to come out the victor. It was too soon to crown The Fiend, and in WWE’s half-assed attempt to keep him looking strong, they may well have killed Bray’s momentum once again.