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Since the first Hell in a Cell PPV in 2009, the concept of having an entire PPV annually branded under WWE's most famous singles match has been debated. In a previous era, the Hell in a Cell match was a last resort for feuds that had escalated beyond the parameters of a simple No Disqualification match. For the record, that wasn't always the case as there have been several Hell in a Cell matches from the 90s that were extremely forgettable (does anyone really remember Mankind vs Kane?), but the general principle was that the match was only brought out under extreme circumstances.
Since WWE decided to have a thematic Hell in a Cell PPV, the biggest determining factor in what match would take place inside the cell was not the strength of a feud, but rather the calendar. It no longer mattered if the feud was hot enough for the cell, it only mattered who was feuding when October rolled around. Sometimes, the first match in a feud takes place inside the Cell, which is about as backwards as it gets. Personally, I would like to see the concept of the PPV scrapped and go back to only having the cell when it is deemed absolutely necessary. The gimmick of having a Hell in a Cell PPV has run its course at this point, and the fact is the matches feel less important than before because the concept has been watered down by too many substandard feuds getting to have matches inside the cell.
The two matches taking place inside the Cell this weekend will be Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon and The New Day vs The Usos. While nobody would have had these two matches as being the cell matches at the beginning of the year, both feuds have been going on for quite some time, so it isn't like WWE threw something together at the last minute.
While this will be the first match between Owens and Shane, the feud has been building for months over Owens' hatred of Shane and the way he runs SmackDown. This is very similar to the build for AJ Styles vs Shane at WrestleMania this year, in that Owens feels Shane has overstepped his boundaries and is abusing his power to reduce Owens' chances at success. Owens has been brilliant over the last several weeks in building the match, from his assault on Vince McMahon, to his faux apology, he has been very efficient at garnering heat and getting sympathy for Shane. I thought the segment where Owens' "apologized" to Vince but accused Shane of provoking him into action, was one of the best segments in WWE this year.
As for Shane, he serves an important role in WWE. The fans really do believe in him and despite the fact that he doesn't have the sharpest mic skills, he comes across as honest and likeable which is something many of the babyfaces in WWE cannot say. Shane isn't a very good wrestler, but he tries very hard to put on entertaining matches and most importantly, he is able to lose and put the heel over, without really losing anything as a babyface. It is an interesting development in that his character is expected to lose, but as long he puts on a good show, the fans have no problem rallying behind him time and time again.
On Tuesday, the match was announced as a Falls Count Anywhere match, which pretty much indicates that the match is going to end outside the ring. With Shane in the match and with that new stipulation, WWE has pretty much put themselves into a situation where someone (presumably Shane) has to fall off the top of the cage; anything less would be a disappointment. I also don't think they will do the same spot as they did at WrestleMania 32, which was having Shane miss a dive off the top of the cell and into the announce table, with a crash pad underneath. They could do that same spot again and get a good reaction from the crowd, but I suspect they might try something else; probably involving some sort of crash pad that is introduced into the match, such as when Rikishi fell into the bed of a pickup truck at Armageddon 2000. Whatever they end up doing, I'm sure it will be spectacular.
The other Hell and a Cell match is the Tag Team Championship match between The Usos and The New Day. In a lot of ways, this is the anti-Hell in a Cell Match in regards to how serious it is being taken by the participants. The storyline is basically that the comedic New Day never really take any threat seriously, so while The Usos have been trying to convey to them the beating that they are going to dish out, New Day are just too positive to see the danger in front of them. I actually enjoy this perspective; it is much more honest from WWE's point of view. The idea of Hell in a Cell being the extremely rare match that promises carnage has been debunked by too many mediocre matches and feuds over the years, so New Day are treating it like any other match; and the fans should too.
Oddly enough, the WWE Championship match will not be defended inside the cell and will instead be just a basic singles match. By almost any calculation, Jinder Mahal has been a very poor champion. Ratings and attendance for SmackDown have nosedived since crowning Mahal as the face of WWE's India market, albeit losing John Cena to RAW didn't help matters. His matches have been consistently poor and his talking segments repetitive. Every match he has had to defend his title has ended the same way, with the Singh Brothers interfering; yet here we go again at Hell in a Cell, and there is no stipulation in place preventing the Singh Brothers from interfering for the hundredth time.
His opponent, Shinsuke Nakamura, is a guy with real talent and the potential to be a big star. Yet, his first major feud has him being duped by the Singh Brothers predictable interference and having to work with the most under-prepared WWE Champion in history. Nakamura is working a main event feud for the WWE Championship and he is LOSING MOMENTUM every week! Think about that for a second. Nakamura had one-off matches with Randy Orton and Cena, both of whom would have provided much sturdier opposition to help Nakamura get over, so he could have a months-long feud with freakin' Jinder Mahal.
I imagine that Mahal will manage to retain the championship, hopefully in a way that isn't too embarrassing although at this point I kind of doubt it. Maybe Nakamura actually wins the championship, but with the India tour coming up in December, it would seem like Mahal would hold onto the title until then. SmackDown hasn't been very good lately, despite having a lot of talent on the roster, and a lot of that comes down to the WWE Champion not being particularly good at his job. For the record, I don't really blame Mahal himself, he tries hard but WWE management has put him into a position which he is not qualified to be in, and a lack of fan interest is a result of that.
The United States Championship will be on the line as Styles defends against Baron Corbin, who is still trying to recover from being unceremoniously defeated by Cena in a forgettable match at SummerSlam. Corbin still lacks some of the skills necessary to be a top guy in the company, but he could be capable of holding a mid-card championship like the US title and by making him a dominant force, WWE may be able to rebuild him a bit. Styles at this point can really do whatever WWE needs him to do; he can be a face, a heel, open the show, close the show, have the best match and put other guys over without losing much momentum. Since he can do all of those things he should probably be the focal point on SmackDown, so he could lose the title to Corbin and actually be better off for it. However, if the plan is to have Styles vs Nakamura at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship, it makes sense to have him out of the main event picture for the next few months.
The Women's Championship will also be defended, as Natalya defends against Charlotte. Despite not having the same amount of focus nor the TV time, the SmackDown Women's division has significantly more depth than RAW, which has blunted some of their potential stars by poor booking. Outside of Natalya and Charlotte; Naomi, Carmella, Becky Lynch and even Tamina have been presented as potential champions or contenders at any given moment. I still think Charlotte is the most talented woman they have right now, and pushing her as a dominant heel champion would be the best move for the division long term. This could be a really good match as well, as could most of the matches on the show.
The last couple matches on the card could also be good. Rusev lost to Randy Orton at SummerSlam in kind of an embarrassing way, but he won a ten second match on SmackDown and has been tremendous bragging about his heroic conquest. Rusev could easily be a great babyface if WWE decides to turn him, and since Orton works better as a heel anyway, this might be the night to do a double-turn. The final match is Bobby Roode vs Dolph Ziggler, which could be very good. Ziggler looks like his time as an upper mid-card wrestler is probably over, but he and Roode could have a good match and it will establish Roode if he gets a clean victory, which he totally should.
Despite Mahal's poor performance and the loss of Cena, I think SmackDown still has the potential to be a very good show. Following this PPV, WWE would presumably have a top tier of babyfaces consisting of Styles, Orton, Roode and Nakamura and a top tier of heels consisting of Mahal, Owens, Rusev and Corbin. I think the heel side is a little weak, so an Orton turn would be appreciated, but that along with their deep women's division could be the makeup of a good product. Now if only they could find something for Sami Zayn and Luke Harper to do...