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I think it is safe to say that a lot of WWE fans would like to see some serious changes in WWE’s product. That is a natural feeling for long-time fans, and WWE understands that their fans do not want to become complacent with the product. SmackDown, which in some form serves as an experiment for certain strategies that WWE is too afraid to attempt on their flagship show, RAW. Hell in a Cell, felt like a PPV that wasn’t going to alter SmackDown at all. It wasn’t that the show did not have any highlights, it actually featured some very good matches, but with the exception of the two Hell in a Cell matches, no WWE fan really needed to watch this show. Everything still feels the same; Jinder Mahal’s putrid title reign continues at the expense of a promising star, who at the very least would be something different as the WWE Champion. The women’s championship match ended via an ancient plot device that shouldn’t be taking place on a PPV in 2017. Randy Orton won a listless match that nobody is going to remember; and even the United States Championship changing hands felt like a lateral move. Sami Zayn becoming involved in the Owens vs McMahon match; that was surprising, but I don’t feel like it is going to be a real difference maker in WWE. At the end of the day you know it is going to end up with Owens turning on Zayn for the millionth time. SmackDown has the ability to be a very good show; and at Hell in a Cell there were some strong moments, but until WWE decides to offer fans something largely different than what has been presented to them for the last ten years, I don’t see SmackDown really blossoming as a brand.
Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon:**3/4
A difficult match to rate considering it was a 40-minute build to one specific spot. McMcahon leaping off the cell was indeed spectacular, but the match could have been done in half the time and been just as, if not more, effective. They spent forever at the top of the cell, which made the fans believe that someone was going to break through the cell and fall to the ring; which never happened. The rest of the match was placated by Shane’s crappy brawling and a few choice spots inside the cell. Some people probably thought this match was awesome, and there were portions when it certainly was, but I don’t think one spot justifies such as a long match. The New Day vs The Usos match was more brutal and felt more like a Hell in a Cell match to me; although this match had that one memorable spot.
Zayn’s involvement in the match was a nice sign. I think the story they should tell is not that Zayn and Owens are now going to be friends that are now teaming up, but rather Zayn still REALLY hates Owens, but that he has a shred of respect and pride left in Owens that he was willing to save him from being destroyed. The story should be that Zayn and Owens have a relationship that has never been seen before in WWE; and that it forces Zayn to act irrationally towards Owens. Of course, this is going to end up with Owens destroying Zayn once again, because although Zayn was a hero tonight, WWE has told fans repetitively that they don’t see Zayn as a big time player in the company.
Jinder Mahal vs Shinsuke Nakamura: **
At this point, I just have to laugh at how hard WWE is pushing Mahal. It seems almost like their business model has determined that since there are approximately four times the amount of people in India than in the US, Mahal needs to be pushed regardless of the impact it has had on business in the United States. The match was crappy, and felt rushed as it was questionable just how long Mahal was capable of working with Nakamura. The result was that it made Nakamura look weaker because it wasn’t like he was worn down to exhaustion in this epic battle, he was relatively easily dismissed by Mahal.
You could make the argument that WWE has a brand is strong enough that it doesn’t really matter who the champion is or who is on top at any given moment, they are all just cogs in the machine. Since WrestleMania, the two storylines that can be linked to improvements in the television ratings, were Samoa Joe taking on Brock Lesnar, and the return of Cena to SmackDown. That shows that the right storyline around the right wrestler or wrestlers, can impact business in a positive fashion. Maybe not seriously altering the path of the business, but can raise TV viewership by a couple hundred thousand viewers. I think Nakamura, with his unique charisma and character, could potentially be someone who accomplishes that. WWE doesn’t seem to feel that way; and obviously the business in India (or potential business in India) is more important than sliding ratings and embarrassing attendance figures. Beating a promising star like Nakamura clean on PPV by someone who is clearly an inferior talent;and whose only real value to the company is his ethnic connection to a POTENTIAL market, is a perfect example of that. In a year, when Mahal has been cast aside, WWE will have to look back and will pine to go back and time and try to reverse some of the damage they did during Mahal’s title reign.
New Day vs The Usos: ****
Having a Hell in a Cell match open up the show sort of takes away from the idea that it is some sort of amazing stipulation. Having pink ring ropes sort of takes away from the fact that this is supposed to be an incredibly violent match. However, this ended up being a really good match that turned extremely violent, despite the fact that up until the start of the match The New Day hadn’t taken the stipulation seriously. I thought the storytelling was very good, particularly with The New Day really losing control in the match and turning into psychopaths. If you examine the attitude of The New Day, they are clearly a trio of insane people. They are outgoing and benevolent, but insane. So watching them run around Hell in a Cell, taking out musical instruments, trapping one of the Usos in a prison of Kendo sticks, and gleefully pulverizing their opponents by using the cell, only made sense.
My favorite part of the match was when Xavier Woods was handcuffed to the ring posts and had his arms forcibly raised so The Usos could hit his abdomen over and over again with Kendo sticks. The spot looked brutal, and perfectly told the story of why this match is so violent and feared by the people who take part in it. They obviously can’t use blood, and since the Shane vs Owens match was going to have the big huge spot, they were limited in what they could do to make the match seem extreme, and both teams did some creative stuff to sell the appeal of the stipulation. Another strong tag team match for WWE.
Tye Dillinger vs AJ Styles vs Baron Corbin: ***
Good match, that saw Dillinger added during the pre-show so that he could do the job, which takes the United States Championship off of Styles without having him pinned. I imagine he is going to eventually be moved to the WWE Championship picture, which will be a real test of his talent. Not because being the top guy on the brand is difficult, but that he will have to make Jinder Mahal matches passable. Corbin gets the title in a heelish fashion, which gives him something to boast about after the embarrassment of flunking out with the Money in the Bank contract. Dillinger got on PPV and looked good; and WWE is going to need to expand their depth on SmackDown as more resources are going to continue to be pushed towards RAW.
Natalya vs Charlotte: *1/2
The match for the most part wasn’t that bad; Natalya tried to build her heat by working on Charlotte’s knee, but the crowd didn’t really get into the match. Charlotte selling the knee but then hitting the moonsault on the outside was one of those spots that will drive old wrestlers crazy because it contradicted the entire storyline of the match; that Natayla had worn down Charlotte and had her in a vulnerable position. The DQ finish is what really killed the match; it is a lazy booking explanation for them to have a match in the future without anyone taking a pin or tapping out. No other company would do a DQ finish on a major show except WWE, and the DQ wasn’t very good. Natayla hit Charlotte with some weak looking char shots and that was that. At the very least have Natalya do a prolonged beat down, have her bring Charlotte into the ring and do the whole spot where she puts Charlotte’s knee through the chair and stomps on it.
Dolph Ziggler vs Bobby Roode: **1/4
From a storyline standpoint, the match was effective in that Roode got his first PPV win on SmackDown, and clearly looks like someone WWE is considering for the main event, which is good. I don’t know if it was Ziggler, or that Mahal defeating Nakamura bummed them out, but the crowd really wasn’t into this match. Ziggler does all of the right things inside the ring and has tried hard to gain heat since his heel turn; but the crowd doesn’t really buy him. He has talent, but at some point the crowd becomes fatigued by the same performer, particularly someone like Ziggler who viewers have been told time and time again is not a real threat. The win was fine, but I don’t think we need to see another Roode vs Ziggler match, which was the indication following the match.
Randy Orton vs Rusev: **
This was a typical Randy Orton match; fundamentally very sound but creatively simplistic and ending with a pinfall victory that he probably didn’t need. It isn’t necessarily that Orton isn’t trying hard right now, but this match never felt like it could be anything other than just a spot-filler on the card. Rusev is a guy with real talent, but WWE seems to have him pegged as a mid-card heel that rarely wins his feuds.