Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hell in a Cell 2009

It's been a while since I've done one of these. That's not because they've eased off on the pay-per-view schedule; it's because the last show was during my holiday. Actually, the schedule remains as crammed as ever, with another show due in three weeks time.

As I may have mentioned before, the WWE has a new strategy for the second-tier pay-per-views. The current theory is that except for the really major shows like Wrestlemania and Survivor Series which have been around since the eighties, the individual pay-per-views lack identity. Which is true. So the big idea is to take generic shows (in previous years, early October would have been No Mercy), and give them all gimmicks.

So in September we got Breaking Point, a show where all the main events were submission matches. This week, it's Hell in a Cell, where all the main events are Hell in a Cell matches. In three weeks time, there's something called Bragging Rights, which is apparently some sort of Raw versus Smackdown tournament, though it's all a bit vague. After that comes Survivor Series, which is a lynchpin of the calendar, and then December is TLC, a show based around ladder matches with added weaponry. January is the Royal Rumble (another lynchpin), February is still down as the generic No Way Out, and March is Wrestlemania.

The plus point is that at least the shows have clearer identities of their own. The downside is that traditionally, you booked a gimmick match to raise the stakes in an ongoing storyline. So this is a nightmare for the beleaguered writing crew, who have to alter the stories to accommodate the gimmicks, when it ought to be the other way around. Making life even harder for them, the company has decided to book a string of celebrities as "guest hosts" for Raw, which means that show now has to be written to accommodate them. Some of the guest hosts, despite being professional actors, have notably failed to demonstrate any convincingly genuine interest in the product. A couple evidently couldn't be bothered even to remember the wrestlers' names. It's generally excruciating.

But this is a pretty decent card. A Hell in a Cell match, for those of you who don't know, is basically a glorified cage match. The difference is that in a regular WWE cage match, the cage is right up against the ring, and you can win in the normal way or by escaping. In this version, the cage is bigger so that it includes some of the ringside area, and it's got a roof. Since you can't win by escape, every so often the wrestlers go up there to enjoy the view.

1. WWE Championship, Hell in a Cell: John Cena v. Randy Orton. Cena won the title from Orton last month, and this is Orton's rematch. Although they've been feuding forever and a day, the last match was reportedly better than expected, so there's a decent prospect they'll do well here. The tricky thing with this show is that there are three matches with the same gimmick, so they've got to find some variety, and leave somewhere for the main event to go. The match which goes on last has the advantage that it doesn't have to hold back, but the disadvantage that the crowd might be starting to tire of the gimmick by then. Still, I think they'll do fine.

Cena has had the upper hand on the last couple of TV shows, and given the WWE's usual reverse psychology, that would normally mean he's losing and Orton's getting the title back. But that doesn't really make sense. For one thing, it would give Cena a pointless three-week reign. For another, Orton's Legacy faction has to implode over the next couple of months, because Ted DiBiase needs to turn babyface in time to promote his straight-to-DVD movie The Marine 2 for Christmas. (I know, I know.) Orton/DiBiase isn't a main event feud in my book, so in that sense, it's better that Orton doesn't have the title at this point.

On the other hand, Raw is short of main event heels, so Cena has no obvious challengers, nor are there any midcard heels who would be obvious contenders to elevate. He could feud with the Big Show again, but we saw that earlier in the year and it wasn't very good. Orton, in contrast, could theoretically feud with Shawn Michaels (which is relatively fresh) or have a go at elevating a midcard babyface like MVP. I'm betting on Orton to regain the title, then, with this interregnum serving merely to keep Cena strong by ensuring he isn't simply defeated outright by the heel.

2. World Heavyweight Championship, Hell in a Cell: CM Punk v. The Undertaker. Smackdown's main feud is a good example of stories being messed about by the pay-per-view gimmicks. Punk is still the world champion, doing the preachy heel version of his "straight edge" gimmick that served him well on the indie circuit. Though he doesn't always have the best matches on the show, the character is working well. But he's still a recently-elevated upper midcard heel whose claim to main event status is remains a bit dubious.

The Undertaker is just back from a hiatus, and would normally be expected to win his first match back. Given that the character's whole schtick is utter dominance, he can't possibly lose cleanly to the likes of CM Punk. So, traditionally, what would happen here is that you'd do a string of matches where Punk was clearly losing, but managed to save his title by cheating, or even just by getting himself disqualified (since the title doesn't change hands on a DQ). Then, you build to a gimmick match where he can't win on a technicality like that. Simple.

But last month was the submission match show, and it's very hard to come up with screwy endings for a submission match. So what we ended up with was yet another retread of the dreaded Montreal finish (where the company doublecrossed Bret Hart to ensure that he dropped the title in his last night with the company, by declaring that he'd submitted when he actually hadn't). This was supposed to be a conspiracy between Punk and Vince McMahon, although you'd have thought that if Vince was that keen to stop the Undertaker becoming champion, he just wouldn't book him in title matches in the first place.

So. Here we are again, with another match that doesn't have disqualifications, and where it's hard to avoid a decisive ending. Undertaker is supposedly coming up for retirement in the not too distant future, so there's something to be said for giving him a last run with the title. Except if he does win, what the hell do they do in December, which is the ladder match show? I don't see the Undertaker doing ladder matches at his age - though they could conceivably protect him in a six-man match or something of that sort, so that he woudn't have to do anything particularly dangerous.

Short of massive outside interference, though, a CM Punk win is almost unimaginable. Luckily for these two, their characters are strongly enough defined that I think they can probably have a good match here without needing to overplay the gimmick.

3. Hell in a Cell: D-Generation X (Triple H & Shawn Michaels) v. The Legacy (Ted DiBiase & Cody Rhodes). DX versus Orton's henchmen for the second month running. Normally, I'd be irritated that this match is higher up the card than the tag team title match, since there's been something of a tendency in past reunions to treat DX as being above the tag team titles. But this time, they've re-formed the team specifically to deal with Legacy, so they've got something of an excuse for not pursuing the titles.

As already noted, there's a slow-burn storyline here where Cody Rhodes is slavishly loyal to Orton, and DiBiase shows a bit more independence, laying the groundwork for him to turn on the group eventually. Surprisingly, Legacy actually won their first match against DX last month; most people are betting on DX getting their win back here, but it seems to me that if the company is intent on elevating Legacy, as they should be, the correct booking here is for them to win the second match in vaguely contentious manner, and for DX to finally get their win back at Survivor Series.

This will probably be pretty good, as long as they resist the temptation to squash Legacy solely to re-establish DX as being in a higher league. And with DX, there's always a real risk of that happening; if Legacy do emerge enhanced after a feud with them, it'll be a first. Still, that seems to be the genuine aim.

4. WWE Tag Team Championship: Chris Jericho & The Big Show v. Batista & Rey Mysterio. An odd one. The tag titles have taken on a new importance since they were unified. Under the new rules, the tag champions are the only people who get to appear on all three shows - Raw, Smackdown and ECW. (Not that they ever go to ECW. Being allowed to appear on Raw, Smackdown and ECW is a bit like being allowed to work in London, New York or Dagenham. Poor old ECW don't even have a match on this show, and from the sound of it, they won't have a match next month either.) This means that the tag titles aren't just regular title belts, they're also a device to get wrestlers onto other shows.

Jericho and his giant mate have been mainstays of Raw and Smackdown since winning the titles, and it would be a terrible waste to see them lose. But on the other hand, they're facing two returning wrestlers: Batista is just back from a lengthy injury, while Mysterio is coming back from a drug suspension. Returning wrestlers usually win their first match back, to re-establish them. But are Batista and Mysterio really more valuable to Raw than Chris Jericho? I don't think they are. Batista's been given enough wins on television, and Mysterio's absence has been played down enough, that I think Jericho and the Big Show ought to retain. They're natural opponents for DX once the Legacy storyline is completed - in fact, the only natural opponents for DX - so it would be a shame to throw all that away.

Batista and the Big Show aren't great, but with Jericho and Mysterio, the match should be good overall.

5. WWE United States Title: Kofi Kingston v. The Miz v. Jack Swagger. This is Raw's midcard title. Kingston is the defending babyface champion, Miz and Swagger are obnoxious midcard heels. There's a rudimentary storyline here about the heels both trying to steal the title belt, which doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, but at least serves to establish that everyone cares about the title.

Kingston's had the title since June, and frankly he's had about as much benefit from it as he's going to get, so it's probably time for a change. Either Miz or Swagger would be a defensible choice, since they're both rising stars as singles wrestlers with genuine promise. I suspect Miz would gain more from the title, and has better prospects of being elevated further in the short term, so I'd go with him. Match quality is hard to predict here; I see these guys as people who could probably have a good three-way match with other people, but who might be a bit choppy left to their own devices. We'll see.

Incidentally, I was surprised to notice on Smackdown that Kingston is now being announced as "from Ghana, West Africa." This is actually true, but after years of trying to convince us that he's Jamaican, it seems a bit odd to suddenly change tack. Especially when he's still got an entrance video full of beaches and Jamaican flags. Still, at least he won't have to attempt the accent any more. (There may be a movement to diversify the home towns, since Rosa Mendes has also suddenly relocated from San Mateo, California to San Jose, Costa Rica. She's actually Canadian.)

6. WWE Intercontinental Championship: John Morrison v. Dolph Ziggler. Smackdown's secondary title is mired in a rather lacklustre feud right now. The original idea was for Ziggler to beat Rey Mysterio for the title, but Rey had been promised a lengthy run with the belt, and that was the end of that. After Rey's drug suspension, the title was hastily transferred to midcard babyface John Morrison, presumably on the reasoning that it didn't make sense for Ziggler to win the title after all that build in an un-promoted match. Unfortunately, this feud hasn't really played to Morrison's strengths; he's not a guy who should be doing lengthy speeches before the live crowd written for an ultra-charismatic babyface, because his mike work isn't really at that level (and, to be fair, neither are the scripts he's being given to work with).

These two could actually have a good match, but they're so far down the card that I'm not holding my breath for a classic. My inclination is that Ziggler should probably win, because after months of telling us that he's in the same league as main eventer Rey Mysterio, he should not suddenly be struggling against a babyface a couple of steps down the ladder.

7. WWE Divas Championship: Mickie James v. Alicia Fox. Raw's version of the women's championship - and really, they ought to unify the two women's belts as they've done with the tag belts. They don't have the depth of talent to support two divisions. This is the usual deal of poor Mickie having to drag an inferior wrestler to a vaguely watchable match. Let's hope it's short and Mickie retains.

8. R-Truth v. Drew McIntyre. This was added to the card at the last minute. The storyline has been under way for weeks, though. I suspect somebody belatedly figured out that they can't do it on the next show, because the next show is a Raw vs Smackdown tournament. McIntyre is a Scottish wrestler who, for once, is legitimately Scottish and doesn't wear a kilt. He drifted around the lower end of the card for a few months at the tail end of 2007 before being booted back down to developmental.

This time, the company seems to be serious about him. He's spent the last few weeks attacking midcard babyface R-Truth for no discernible reason, which in itself wouldn't be such a big deal - but they've also had Vince McMahon go on TV and specifically endorse him as a future world champion, which is a very odd thing to do with somebody so far down the card.

McIntyre has yet to actually wrestle since returning to the show, so after the weeks of build, it seems quite bizarre to do this match virtually unannounced. This should be a TV match. But plainly he has to win, and the only real question is whether he looks good doing it. Since he's been out of circulation for so long, who knows?

Worth getting? It's not a bad card, to be honest. The women's match will be brutal, but it'll be short too. Everything else is likely to be good or better. Might well get this one.