As we head into yet another special event on the WWE Network, I’ll try to answer one simple question: What are these guys and girls fighting over? As always, we welcome your feedback. Send an email to [email protected].
Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (Hell In A Cell Match)
What’s At Stake: Final bragging rights in a rivalry that began more than a decade ago. Potentially, Undertaker’s career.
This is it. The final chapter. The final battle. WWE wants to make sure you get the message. This is the last match between Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. The Beast Incarnate dominated this rivalry for more than a decade. That includes a victory inside Hell In A Cell at No Mercy 2002. Looking back, the athleticism of Lesnar during his rookie year is still ridiculous. So is Paul Heyman’s ponytail.
I remember a lot of the fans at the time were disappointed by the first Undertaker/Lesnar Hell In A Cell match. It was only the 8th in WWE history, and the bar had been set very high. This was a departure from what had become the standard formula for a Cell match. In fact, it’s the first to not involve anyone on the roof.
On Raw Monday night, JBL said “a legacy is at stake”, but whose? Lesnar secured his place in history for all time when he conquered The Streak at WrestleMania XXX. Undertaker’s seems more tenuous. He defeated Lesnar in a televised, one-on-one match for the first time at SummerSlam in August, but it wasn’t pretty. In fact, Taker cheated. It’s a tainted victory. Can Undertaker beat Lesnar without resorting to such tactics, and how would fans react if he uses them again?
One more thing about this match. Last month, at Night Of Champions, we were reminded of a harsh reality. The legends of professional wrestling who choose to repeatedly pursue that “one last match” risk suffering a career-ending injury in the ring at almost any moment. Can Undertaker avoid the misfortune that befell Sting? Can he survive in what is clearly a more dangerous environment against a far more physical opponent?
Seth Rollins vs. Demon Kane
What’s At Stake: WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Corporate Kane’s job as Director Of Operations. Seth Rollins’ credibility as WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
It’s hard to say who has momentum going into this match, because both versions of Kane were absent from last Monday’s Raw. Kane’s split personality has been fun, but it also feels like it’s fallen short of its full potential. Meantime, it’s been a rough stretch for Rollins. He has a losing record in televised singles matches over the past several months. He’s also been challenging John Cena for the United States Championship on house shows instead of defending his own title. It’s bizarre, but Rollins endures and survives as the champion. To me, this looks like the safest bet on a WWE special event in a long time, but Rollins isn’t the biggest favorite heading into Hell In A Cell according to one sports book.
Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt (Hell In A Cell Match)
What’s At Stake: A path back into contention for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
While it’s nowhere near the epic history between Undertaker and Lesnar, this is another long feud WWE wants you to believe will come to a decisive and final conclusion inside Hell In A Cell. These two have been at it for months, but it’s hard to define what they’re fighting over. Wyatt appears to be blocking Reigns’ road back to world title contention, but the Wyatt Family itself has momentum of its own. That’s not just because of the addition of Braun Strowman and the return of Erick Rowan. Bray Wyatt hasn’t lost a televised singles match since June 1, and has lost just 2 since WrestleMania. So, why does it feel like he needs a win here more than Reigns?
John Cena vs. ???
What’s At Stake: WWE United States Championship. Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge. WWE’s mystery opponent/partner stipulation.
Last week, I laid out the case for John Cena in 2015 being North America’s best wrestler in a decade, but he’s going away for a while after Hell In A Cell. That’s no secret. That’s also why it seems inevitable that whoever answers what could be Cena’s last U.S. Open Challenge will win the title, finally delivering a payoff to Cena’s string of successful title defenses that started the night after WrestleMania 31.
Who will answer the challenge? If you follow Total Divas, Dolph Ziggler appears to have a ready-made story line with Cena that could be incredibly compelling. The favorite may be Dean Ambrose, who went from the pre-show to having no scheduled match on Sunday. Those sound good, but some fans may be hoping for something even bigger. Daniel Bryan? Samoa Joe? Those who are dreaming big could be setting themselves up for a big disappointment.
Managing fan expectations is not a new problem for WWE. Last month, it promoted a mystery partner for Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. It ended up being Chris Jericho, which was cool. But in the end, it meant nothing. WWE would be wise not to repeat that mistake, and deliver something big in this spot.
The New Day vs. Dudley Boyz
What’s At Stake: WWE Tag Team Championship. What could be the Dudley Boyz’ last shot at a major championship.
The Dudley Boyz’ return to WWE has been fun, and their rivalry with The New Days has been entertaining. Now, it’s time to find out if WWE considers the Dudleys mere nostalgia or championship material. Kofi Kingston and Big E have twice escaped major title matches against the Dudleys. In both, Xavier Woods was the deciding factor, causing a disqualification. Monday on Raw, the Dudleys set out to eliminate Woods from the equation.
Is Woods really out of the picture for Hell In A Cell? The Dudleys appear confident he won’t be there on Sunday, and Kingston and Big E were paying tribute to their fallen partner on SmackDown with very tasteful “XW” armbands.
If Woods is truly out of the mix, the pressure is squarely on the Dudley Boyz. The excuse for twice coming up short is gone. Plus, there’s the very real possibility this could be Bubba Ray and D-Von’s last shot at a major championship after nearly 20 years as a team and at least 25 championship reigns.
Charlotte vs. Nikki Bella
What’s At Stake: WWE Divas Championship. Nikki Bella’s spot in the title picture.
Speaking of last shots, this could be it for Nikki Bella. No matter how ugly the process can be at times, WWE is turning the page on its Divas division. Fresh challengers like Sasha Banks, Paige and Becky Lynch are waiting in the wings. Nikki’s improvement in the ring over the past couple years is remarkable, but if she drops this rematch she may find herself pushed out of title picture once and for all.
Kevin Owens vs. Ryback
What’s At Stake: WWE Intercontinental Champion
Owens flat-out cheated to win the Intercontinental Title from Ryback last month, but this match still feels more like an obligation than an opportunity for the Big Guy to get revenge. Owens doesn’t look complete without championship gold, and he’s already having one of the better runs as IC Champ in recent memory.
Dolph Ziggler & Cesaro & Neville vs. King Barrett & Sheamus & Rusev
What’s At Stake: A fresh start.
None of these guys had much going on when this match was announced Monday night. The seemingly endless love rectangle story line involving Ziggler, Rusev, Lana and Summer Rae is apparently over, but the Show-Off didn’t idle for long. On SmackDown, Summer introduced new opposition, in the form of Tyler Breeze.
So, Ziggler’s course coming out of Hell In A Cell appears to be set. What about the rest of these guys? Sheamus could use some momentum if you believe he’ll cash in his Money In The Bank anytime soon. King Barrett is focused on Neville. Cesaro appears to be back in a holding pattern, and what’s next for Rusev is anybody’s guess. On the first WWE special event since Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s arrival from the year 1985, perhaps these men can find wisdom in the words of the great scientist and inventor.