WWE’s annual October event, Hell in a Cell, often feels like the most forced show of the year. The titular cell was introduced to WWE audiences in 1997 as the ultimate feud ending battle. We would witness bloodbaths like Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels or car crashes like Undertaker vs. Mankind or… well, another bloodbath with Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. A lot of them featured the Undertaker at first, but a radical shift occurred in the 23 years since the cell’s debut, which has fortunately expanded to include many other competitors besides Mean Mark.
Yes, it is now simply an annual event, taking place every October and even some years even running concurrent (and very awkwardly) alongside any co-branded breast cancer awareness campaigns. Nothing says HELL IN A CELL quite like pink ropes and lighting everywhere. What this also means is whoever happens to be in a main event feud at the time, congratulations, you get to continue it with a Hell in a Cell match.
Not only that, but WWE has really been challenging the legitimacy of the cell itself in recent years with a string of matches headlining the show having screwy finishes. Even the kinds of finishes that should be rendered impossible by the match stipulation itself, such as DQs, no-contests, and interference. Who could forget the Bray Wyatt/Seth Rollins disasterpiece that ended in a no-contest when Seth attempted to use a carpenter’s hammer during the no disqualification match. I say “carpenter’s hammer” because earlier in the match, Wyatt produced a comically large cartoon mallet which was not grounds for stopping the bout. Or Brock Lesnar just crashing the advertised Braun Strowman/Roman Reigns Money in the Bank cash-in attempt and laying waste to both wrestlers and it just being thrown out. Or Kevin Owens defeating (yes, that’s right) Shane McMahon after Sami Zayn was able to interfere in the match when it left the cell.
So color me practically shocked that an event regarded as such an afterthought by poor booking was one of the most well-rounded, consequential shows of 2020.
There were two major title changes at Hell in a Cell 2020. Sasha Banks finally defeated Bayley for the Smackdown Women’s championship, and Randy Orton won his 14th world championship in WWE, defeating the red hot Drew McIntyre in a stellar main event. The main storyline on Smackdown also featured prominently, as Roman Reigns defeated Jey Uso in the first-ever I Quit Hell in a Cell match, which got 50 minutes at the top of the show.
What makes this year different was all three of those matches made total sense to be in a cage, even if the cage itself was more of background dressing to the main stipulation in the Reigns match. Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre have been having an intense feud for months, and this match had a ton of heat going in. Having this take place in the cell was a natural fit, as this feud has been especially violent. They’ve proven they can work a very good main event style together and Randy getting the win should be the icing on the cake of his huge year. It could even set up a potential clash with Edge down the line for the WWE title.
Sasha Banks and Bayley had been building their feud for almost three years, with callbacks to the entire feud going back to their 30 minute Iron Man match from NXT. Sasha winning was absolutely the right call at the right time. Whether Bayley gets the belt back along the way remains to be seen, but I think this is still being built up for a proper blowoff at WrestleMania. Sasha won with a brutal chair-assisted Banks Statement and Bayley tapped out to end her 380-day reign. A Hell in a Cell match is the kind of match we should see years-long rivalries be escalated to or wrapped up in. It fits the program; Sasha wants a fight and Bayley is a cowardly champion who’s been ducking her.
With Roman vs. Jey, as I mentioned before, the cell wasn’t necessarily the focus of this match, and could have been just as impactful as a standard I Quit match alongside the very compelling Anoa’i family drama. The storytelling has been so strong with this program that Jey Uso’s white lei breaking as he entered the ring could be seen as symbolism, despite probably just being a production goof. Roman winning was always a foregone conclusion, with all due respect to Jey Uso. Jey has worked his butt off to raise his game and profile as more than just one of two identical twin wrestlers to a credible challenger to the Universal champion. That said, it would have been the story of the year had Roman actually lost his title. Afa and Sika, the original Wild Samoans, were in attendance following the match and seemed to acknowledge Roman as the tribal chief to continue the story.
The Money in the Bank briefcase changed hands for only the second time in WWE history, as Otis was turned on by his tag team partner Tucker, allowing The Miz to capture the contract for the first time since 2010. Otis winning the contract was always a curious decision, made by a single, diehard 70 year-old fan in Connecticut. The contract was sort of in the background while with Otis, which he won during the peak of his involvement with the Mandy Rose/Sonia Deville program. Miz has been scheming on WWE television for months as to how to get the contract, implying Otis simply wasn’t the caliber of wrestler who should be holding it. Whether Miz’s win is WWE quietly acknowledging that fact, or simply the next chapter in a longer story, remains to be seen. This could also be a roundabout thank you to The Miz for repeatedly putting Shane McMahon over last year.
This show definitely had its share of filler and wackiness, which is bound to happen when there are only four matches announced ahead of time. Jeff Hardy and Elias faced each other in a match where Elias blames Jeff Hardy for running him over with a car earlier this year, which in WWE canon has already been determined to have been Sheamus. Hardy won by DQ when he hit Elias with a guitar.
In my absolute match of the night, Bobby Lashley defeated [checks notes] Slapjack of RETRIBUTION by submission with the full nelson. So continues the complete undoing of RETRIBUTION, the stable who has only grown more incompetent when the leader was revealed to be Mustafa Ali, who deserves better. This match was also determined by The Hurt Business deciding which member of BOTH factions would have a match. While Lashley looked dominant in the glorified squash, picking what amounts to the weakest link in a group is a heel move. But wait Andy, you say, the Hurt Business ARE heels. Well, dear reader, so is RETRIBUTION. We’re in drawing-your-own-conclusion territory, which is never a good sign for your storytelling.
After stinking up the joint in 2019 against Seth Rollins, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt was suspiciously absent from the show. I’m no fan of the character, but A LOT of people are, and seems like they could have found something to get him involved.
With that, a show I had very low expectations for ended up delivering the goods. The Hurt Business and Retribution feud was the lone ugly spot for a show that advanced all the top stories and had solid, intense in-ring work to go along with it. WWE has spent the last few years really winding down towards the winter months, with Survivor Series becoming nothing more than exhibition matches between competing brand champions. This could be the most consequential show of late 2020 and perhaps the last one before Royal Rumble 2021 where anything actually happens.