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REQUESTING FLYBY: The Top 10 Matches In Hell In A Cell Pay-Per-View History
By Maverick
Nov 1, 2014 - 6:38:40 AM

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The Top 10 Matches In Hell In A Cell Pay-Per-View History

Well dear reader, welcome along to another one of these pay-per-view top 10 countdowns! With Sunday’s Hell In A Cell pay-per-view in the books, we now have a whole six years worth of matches to consider, which is why I held off in writing this until the weekend’s action was done. In the event, I believe three of this year’s matches did enough to make the list, though this is, of course, a reaction which will need to bed in a little over time to be solidified. Looking at the performers with multiple matches listed, it would seem that a certain Randall Keith Orton is the MVP of the Hell In A Cell pay-per-view. Well done Randy, your prize is in the post. Right, to business!

10) Randy Orton defeated Alberto Del Rio in 12:40 at Hell In A Cell 2012

There wasn’t much of a storyline between these two heading into this, but as with Ziggler and Cesaro, with two workers of that calibre, there didn’t need to be. There was quite a nice line from Del Rio about the match being a representation of the Mexican flag, where the eagle (ADR) ate the serpent (RKO), but really, this was elite midcard filler and everyone knew it, and loved the idea just the same. Neither man was great as a character at this stage, but in the ring...they were going to deliver for sure.

At its outset, the bout was pleasingly stiff, with Orton really snapping into his moves nicely, particularly a clothesline on the outside and the European uppercuts in the ring, sending Del Rio reeling into the corner. When the Mexican Aristocrat took advantage of the Viper’s rage to ground him, he began to work over his limbs with vicious intent and work a ground game predicated on his amateur background and MMA work of the past. It was something ADR was always good at, that stiff work over of an opponent’s weak points. The commentators speculate over whether Alberto has got in Randy’s head, which is a nice story to lay over the in ring proceedings, and it seems that Del Rio is going to wrap up the victory after working the arm and countering the snap powerslam with the rolling cross armbreaker, but the ropes are reached, Orton hits a backbreaker, and turns the tide.

The one real blot on the match is Del Rio jumping off the top rope and just landing on two feet- who knows what the hell he was doing there, and it breaks the suspension of disbelief just that bit too much- but Rodriguez interference allows the armbreaker finisher to be locked in again, reinvesting the crowd in the drama, particularly when Randall is able to turn it into a pinning predicament. Moments later, the Apex Predator hit one of his very coolest RKOs out of nowhere off the attempted step up corner enziguri. Absolutely brilliant finish to a very technically proficient bout.

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

9) Dolph Ziggler defeated Cesaro 2-0 in 12:14 in a two out of three falls match to retain the Intercontinental Championship at Hell In A Cell 2014

Sneaking into the number nine spot is Sunday’s curtain jerker, which could have been much higher up the list had it only been given a little more time to unfold. The story going in was not particularly compelling, but with two wrestlers with this kind of talent, it perhaps did not need to be, though a bit of heat might have helped the match be even better than it was, perhaps. Whatever the ins and outs of the build, it was a perfect choice of opener.

Cesaro was able to use his superior leverage in the opening technical exchanges, but Dolph could counter with quickness leading to a great exchange of pinning predicaments, leading to a roll up by the Show Off for the first fall following the giant swing. This seemed to come too early in proceedings for my liking, but with two Cell matches, midcard wrestlers are always going to be squeezed for time. Psychologically it was interesting as it meant Cesaro had to pursue the next fall, leaving him open to making mistakes as he pushed forwards. The Swiss grappler came out firing at the start of the second fall with vicious strikes and a unique looking submission, kind of like a modified Regal stretch. Ziggler, after his escape, continued to kick out of heinously stiff assaults at two, leading to a pleasingly heelish show of frustration from Cesaro, adding to the old school feel the whole contest had.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the match was the way Dolph came roaring back at the end to take the victory in strong fashion. It was refreshing to have a 2-0 outcome and good to see the title belt being taken seriously and booked as something to covet. I have a feeling that the advancing years will be kind to the match, since there were plenty of innovative spots and the two midcarders went balls to the wall to get the crowd hot for the rest of the show.

FLYBY! Rating: ***½

8) The Big Show defeated Sheamus in 20:15 to win the World Heavyweight Championship at Hell In A Cell 2012

If you look at this match on paper, it does not seem a particularly entertaining proposition, but what you essentially had was two wrestlers prepared to just beat the hell out of each other for twenty minutes, which made the entire thing quite compelling to watch. When he’s motivated, Big Show can pull out impressive performances when the lights shine bright, and Sheamus was working at a career high through 2012 from an in ring standpoint, if not from a character stand point. There was quite an interesting story heading into the PPV, as the Great White had essentially bull rushed his way through previous challengers like Bryan, Orton, Jericho, Ziggler and Del Rio, but there was no way he could be successful doing that against Show...or was there?

The opening reflected the expected pattern, with the World’s Largest Athlete beating his opponent into the corner, but Sheamus came roaring back at him, not willing to budge an inch. It really was good storytelling. When Show got himself in control, the pace became very methodical, but the selling of the Celtic Warrior was so good that it was actually quite entertaining to watch him tremble and suck up the pain. The focus of the World’s Largest Athlete, playing a character obsessed with the gold, was excellently portrayed, as he continually waited for Sheamus to get to his feet so he could smite him down again. Despite the marks on his body and the crushing blow of the Vader Bomb off the second rope, the Great White showed his resilience by kicking out and continuing to fight his way back into it, first with an attempted Cloverleaf and second with an assault outside the ring.

The bout had a great crescendo, a worthy finish to a contest booked as a legitimate war, with Big Show managing to kick out of White Noise and then catch Sheamus with the KO punch, a great near fall, but matched moments later when the World’s Largest Athlete made it out of the Brogue Kick at two. Finally, the champion went back to the well once too often and got caught with another right hand, allowing the giant to walk out as champ. Not a technical classic by any means, but a very well told story and too big rough, tough dudes beating on each other. Worth a re-watch for sure.

FLYBY! Rating: ***¾

7) John Morrison defeated Dolph Ziggler in 15:41 to retain the Intercontinental Championship at Hell In A Cell 2009

No fancy reasons as to why this one made the list; two hungry up and comers tearing the house down over the widely acknowledged historical “workers belt”. Ziggler had come off terrific matches against Mysterio without picking up the gold, and when a failed drugs test benched the Mexican, Morrison was hand picked to win the gold so the Master of the 619 could go and serve his suspension. That left previous challenger Dolph in line for a crack at the new champ following his victory in a triple threat number one contenders bout with Finlay and Mike Knox, and boy, once thrown together, these two flamboyant stars did not disappoint.

We had a nice feeling out process at the start with plenty of crisp amateur grappling, which then broke down into high octane rope running and a duel of athletic prowess; very much a game of one upmanship from that point of view. Despite their similar move sets, Ziggler decided to try and keep the Friday Night Delight grounded, using his technical prowess to grind Morrison into the mat. Ziggler also displayed considerable awareness in avoiding Starship Pain and taking advantage of the opportunity with elbows. JoMo’s comebacks were well timed and get the audience invested, and included some eyecatching moves, particularly a standing shooting star press that is insanely athletic. There were roll ups and take downs, counters and reversals...it’s just a great midcard match.

The finish was particularly well constructed too, with a frenetic series of missed finishers and two counts, before a countered Zig Zag allowed the champion to hit the shining wizard and the Starship Pain for the hard fought victory. Really fun stuff, and a reminder of how much JoMo brought to the midcard during his tenure. I would welcome him back into WWE with open arms if he ever decided to return.

FLYBY! Rating: ***¾

6) Daniel Bryan defeated The Miz and John Morrison in 13:33 in a triple threat submissions count anywhere match to retain the US Championship at Hell In A Cell 2010

One of my favourite midcard title reigns of recent times was Daniel Bryan’s with the US TItle, and his feud with his NXT “Mentor” The Miz. With long time Awesome One rival John Morrison added to the mix, along with a unique gimmick that allowed Bryan to shine technically, while also allowing Miz to run cowardly heel moves and Morrison to take advantage of the “count anywhere” section of the rules, we were bound to see something interesting, but I’m not sure if anyone was expecting it to be quite as good as it was. Indeed, I’d say it’s up there with the best midcard matches of the past five years, easily.

Both Bryan and Morrison hunted Miz down in the early stages before turning their attentions to each other, with the American Dragon applying a leg grapevine to JoMo both in and out of the ring, before the match’s villain broke up the submission and went to work on his two opponents with stomps. However, in a really cool moment, Miz got caught Miz in the tarantula, and when he shrugged that off, D Bry applied the Cattle Mutilation (one of the few times in WWE he has used it). However, the Prince of Parkour was not to be out done, and after breaking up a leg lock of Bryan on Miz with Starship Pain, he locked a joint manipulation hold on Bryan that seemed to fit his yoga/new age character rather well.

Once the action moves into the crowd and around the arena, things heated up beautifully, and Mizanin came into his own, using the environment as a leveller and applying a modified dragon sleeper to his former partner with the aid of the handrail. Then, in a brilliant comedy moment, Miz used a wheeled flight case to literally run JoMo down like a dog! Bryan went for a ride on that same case, but Morrison then used it to hit a kind of Prince of Persia kick over the top of it. Inevitably, the former Johnny Nitro decided to take an insane risk, leaping from atop the giant WWE sign to the stage below and wiping out both himself and his competitors. He locked Miz in a beautiful looking Texas Cloverleaf, but A Ry appeared from behind to knock him down, only to be flung off the stage by the US Champion, who then locked Mr Money In The Bank in the LeBell Lock for the tap out win. A highly competitive and entertaining title match...I’d love to see the gimmick return sometime.

FLYBY! Rating: ****

5) Randy Orton defeated Daniel Bryan in 22:07 in a Hell In A Cell match (with guest referee Shawn Michaels) to win the WWE Championship at Hell In A Cell 2013

With the build to this match being such a tribute to the Attitude Era- in particular the Corporation vs. Mankind and McMahon-Helmsley Faction vs. Cactus Jack portions of that time period- I absolutely loved all of the screwy finishes and title “abeyance” that led up to it, as it justified the use of the cell as a feud ender and as a gimmick which would finally force a definitive finish. We should also not underestimate just how important it was in adding meaning to the eventual Triple H match and triple threat main event at Wrestlemania XXX a few months later.

As you’d expect from two such technically accomplished workers, the opening is hot, crisp and full of great counters. It was in this match that they really clicked as a pairing, and they told on an interesting story of Orton being the one with the cell experience, giving him an advantage when it came to using the hardcore surroundings at first, but with the Yes Man gradually learning how to use those environs himself as both a leveller and as a means to unleash his arsenal of kicks and suplexes. However, D Bry’s enthusiasm for taking his frustration out on the Face of the WWE led to an extended period of Orton dominance as the Aberdeen native dived face first into the chain link. In a passage that showed how well these two understand how to put together a match, the advantage very gradually reversed back to Bryan as he squeezed in more and more offense until he caught the Viper in the Yes Lock with no way for the third generation star to force a break; even when he slithered out of the ring, Goat Face got out the chairs and punished him severely.

In a move that seemed more Dean Ambrose than Daniel Bryan, the bearded one threw a whole heap of chairs into the centre of the ring, snapping at guest referee Shawn Michaels in his fury, but also getting caught by Orton when he returned to the ring. The chairs in the ring proved an error on Bryan’s part as he was superplexed onto them, but his resilient kick out brought out Hunter, who demanded that Michaels count to three. It’s this moment that showed how much outside interference can bring to the match; the story of the babyface and heel best friends squabbling, bringing back all their rich history together. Interestingly, both The Viper and The American Dragon got paranoid about HBK’s integrity, but the ref bump occurs due to Bryan, and it is this that meant that the three count off the busaiku knee never took place, and it is this that provided the storyline motivation for the Sweet Chin Music after D Bry had taken out Trips, gifting Randall his title win. A very good modern cell match with plenty of entertaining spots that ended part 1 of Daniel Bryan’s quest to be WWE Champion.

FLYBY! Rating: ****

4) John Cena defeated Randy Orton in 25:47 in a Hell In A Cell match to become number one contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Hell In A Cell 2014

While their 2009 match inside the roofed steel structure was rather tame in my view, despite the supposedly sadistic nature of Orton’s character at that time, the bout from this past Sunday had the sense of two men who have been written off by the “smart” audience going out to prove a point. Many have been impressed by Randall’s fire over the past two weeks, and he certainly brought that intensity and focus to the cell this time around, while Cena was his usual competitive self and actually did quite a lot of bumping around for his dance partner. Both men worked their tails off, in summary, and the result was a highly enjoyable contest, despite the slightly less than intriguing result of a Franchise Player victory.

Although Orton was conclusively in charge for much of the match, he kept the pace and intensity high, which is when he does his best work, and the spots the two put together were quite interesting in many cases; the chair wedged in the turnbuckle coming into play a good while after it was put there was one good example of that. Randall Keith Orton has long been the master of the counter attack, and there were some absolutely wonderful reversals, particularly the tipping of the table while in the AA position, and of course, the pair of sudden RKOs. He really can hit that move from absolutely anywhere, and it never gets any less impressive. Cena’s comebacks were kept to short bursts, and he avoided his tendency to rely on the same old spots, just as he did against Del Rio a year before in a straight singles match over the World Heavyweight Title.

It was the ebb and flow of this match that really impressed, a slickness and an organic feel that bouts between these two have so often lacked. The closing sequence saw a few too many false finishes for my tastes, with another couple of AAs and another RKO OUTTA NOWHERE. Orton tried for his finisher off the second rope (and out of somewhere rather than nowhere) the final time, but got shoved off. He then tried for the superplex, but got AAed through a table instead for the hard fought Cena victory. These two wrestlers have so often put out lazy work against each other, but this was proof that they can work well together. The formula was simple: they avoided clichés, worked at a hot pace and designed some intricate sequences that invested the fans. Well done to them both. With a bit more violence, I would have rated it even higher

FLYBY! Rating: ****

3) Alberto Del Rio (with Ricardo Rodriguez) defeated CM Punk and John Cena in 24:09 to retain the WWE Championship at Hell In A Cell 2011

This bout has been strangely neglected in chronicles of recent WWE history but the fact that it’s the first ever triple threat hell in a cell match is enough in itself to ensure that it should retain some significance. Furthermore, it’s a veritable “how to” guide to wrestling a three way dance in the WWE style. The basic pattern of the three man title match is clear enough to us all: one competitor is out of action for a time, allowing for the other two to beat the living daylights out of each other until the third man returns to break up a pin and restart the cycle. With that being the formula, it’s down to the three grapplers concerned to make this process look realistic and to time their high spots effectively. This Hell In A Cell triple threat was amongst the best choreographed that I have seen; one breathless sequence had Del Rio break up a Cena pin on Punk following an AA, only for the Second City Saint to break up a Cross Armbreaker and for Del Rio to prevent a pin off a GTS on the Franchise Player just after that. It was all so clean and well timed, and also focuses the mind on another advantage of triple threat matches; the addition of the third man prevents the heinous over-use of finisher kick outs that can infect WWE main event matches in the current era.

Another dimension of this match that demands historical attention is the use of the cell gimmick itself. Many have questioned the use of the devil’s playground at a time where blade jobs and hardcore wrestling in general have been out of favour (at least until the rise of Ambrose), and it’s certainly true that there have been some fairly anodyne cell bouts in recent years. It’s also true that giving the match-type its own pay-per-view over-exposes it and diminishes its impact, but this is as good a use of the cell surroundings (in terms of the quote unquote “unforgiving” aspect of the structure) as I can remember seeing since PG was instituted. Firstly, the way that Punk’s back was lacerated from being thrown viciously into the chain link by Del Rio gave the match that sense of brutality it needed to be convincing as “the most dangerous match in WWE.” Secondly, the use of weaponry was excellent throughout; I particularly enjoyed the Mexican Aristocrat suplexing Cena back first onto a steel folding chair and tossing CM Punk off the top rope and through a table the Chicagoan himself set up earlier in the contest. Then there was the finish, where a double steel pipe shot was used to put Chick Magnet down for the three after John Boy was locked out of the cage by Ricardo Rodriguez. It was a perfect way to get Del Rio over as a rulebreaker.

If you’re not already convinced that you should give the main event of Hell In A Cell 2011 another look, there’s this too: the bout was wrestled at a breakneck pace that meant there was very little lag at all, something which can often a problem with “hardcore” match types. With the Del Rio vs. Cena vs. Punk iteration of Hell In A Cell, there were no wasted minutes, just bell to bell action of the hard hitting, well timed, quick paced variety. It remains very easy on the eye indeed.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

2) D-Generation X defeated Legacy in a tag team Hell In A Cell match in 18:02 at Hell In A Cell 2009

Until last Sunday, this tag team tornado version of the gimmick from the inaugural pay-per-view was the best of these more modern cell matches. Michaels and Helmsley busted their asses in this feud to get DiBiase and Rhodes over, and it has always been a mystery to me that the put over job didn’t stick better. It was the perfect blend of young and old, and probably the only “reincarnation” DX feud I ever enjoyed. Legacy stepped their game up hugely through the rivalry, and their hunger to hang with the veterans was palpable. Looking back on all of this, I find that I rather miss Ted DiBiase Jr and a Cody Rhodes that isn’t gimmicked up. They really did have a nice run as Orton’s back up and I remember pulling for them both to make it to that next level.

The ambush of the young guns as the established babyfaces made their overcooked entrance was a perfect way to get over their ruthless characters, and the Attitude Era twosome bumped like crazy for their young opponents in a thrilling ringside brawl that went all the way around the arena and into the crowd before they ever got near the structure itself. The fluidity of the action was a real achievement and a hot pace was established early on that never really let up. The psychology of divide and conquer that Randy’s boys had used throughout the feud came into effect again very memorably as they dissected HBK’s knee and then destroyed Hunter on the stage, before heading back to Michaels and locking him inside for the two on one handicap assault. The focus on the leg looks particularly convincing here, and the way a recovering Game had to watch his best friend be beaten to a pulp while he’s trapped outside was truly excellent storytelling, as was Mr Wrestlemania’s stirring comeback while Helmsley tried to find a way, in to no avail, by which time Legacy had reasserted their dominance over Shawn, locking in the double submission that sealed their win at Breaking Point the month before.

When Triple H finally made it into the cell with boltcutters and went on a tear, you knew that it was only a matter of time before the heroes pulled out the victory, but their offense was interesting enough to keep everyone invested, even so, and the turnabout of throwing a knocked out DiBiase out the cell and locking the door with the boltcutters inside was interesting poetic justice, while the sledgehammer shot/Sweet Chin Music combo was a great way to finish things off. What an interesting match that was; awesome storytelling and psychology throughout.

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

1) Seth Rollins (With Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble) defeated Dean Ambrose in a Hell In A Cell match in 13:54 at Hell In A Cell 2014

Number one with a bullet is the incredible climax- for now- of the epic Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins feud. The hope going in was that they would redefine the cell gimmick for a new era; they didn’t quite do that, but took an approach that was just as valid, riffing on the entire seventeen year history of the structure by taking ideas from all the best cell matches and putting a modern spin on them. The idea of a match not starting for its first ten minutes has appealed to me ever since the incredible intensity of the ill fated Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart match from Montreal, which people forget was an incredibly awesome brawl around the arena before the screwjob finish made the actual action moot. The same of course goes for the beginning of the Mankind vs. Undertaker bout, which the two former indy grapplers riffed on by fighting atop the cage, though their double table bump was more inspired by the angle of fall of Shawn Michaels in the very first version of the match type in 1997. The stretchers came out then, and well done to WWE for selling both men as being done for the evening for such an extended period- it really helped the suspension of disbelief.

Back in the cell, it was all about the unique brand of deranged violence Ambrose brings to the table, and the vile chair shots he used were a nice nod to the original betrayal, and Seth’s constant attempts at escape being foiled reversed the polarity of the feud to that point, in the sense that this time he had nowhere to go and had to take his punishment like a man. However, the psychology the two men used dictated that the wolverine frenzy of the Lunatic Fringe could be used against him, so when Ambrose went to suplex his hated rival onto a giant pile of chairs, The Architect was able to block twice and hit a belly to back on his former colleague onto the steel. However the opposite was true when Rollins got the table out, as Dean blocked and then dropped a beautiful looking elbow onto Seth and through the wood! Kane’s brief intervention was a nice nod as he had been so integral to the creation of the gimmick, and his use of a fire extinguisher allowed the Rollins comeback, with the Authority hitter taking Ambrose through another table with a sick powerbomb.

From there, with the action still breathless, the kerb stomp was hit cleanly, but the Lunatic Fringe would not lay down and got the shoulder up. Incredible pacing and heat here. Rollins unleashed a series of crazed chair shots that recalled Austin on Rock at the climax of the ‘Mania XVII main event and set up for kerb stomp on the briefcase, but Ambrose sprang up, and even an enziguri couldn’t stop him as that awesome rope bounce clothesline and a briefcase shot got the babyface a two count. Ambrose got the cinder blocks out, selling the idea of poetic justice, but just as he was setting up a stomp of his own, the lights went out and weird chanting in tongues began, sending us older fans back in time to the Ministry of Darkness days. It was so creepy that I wondered if WWE’s production had been hijacked or something. A fluorescent lantern appeared in the middle of the ring and that was when I suddenly thought of Bray Wyatt. As the light grew brighter, his form became discernible, and he attacked with that gnarly Rock Bottom/chokeslam hybrid to Ambrose. A wary Rollins rolled over to get the pin, whilst Dean Ambrose received a Sister Abigail after the match, with Bray posing to end the show.

Of course, we will need proper historical perspective to see just how well the match ages, but as of right now, I would call it the best bout in the young history of this much maligned pay-per-view, and a couple of rewatches have revealed to me no significant weaknesses beyond perhaps the perennial complaint of not seeing any blood to really sell the brutality of the steel walls of the prison.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¾

So dear readers, over to you...what is your own Hell In A Cell pay-per-view top 10? Do let me know in the comments below, or tweet me here:

This is Maverick, requesting flyby!