Even in the decidedly non-conventional world of professional wrestling, conventional wisdom sometimes turns out to be right.
Heading into Sunday night’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view at Atlanta’s Philips Arena, the WWE seemed to have painted itself into a bit of a corner. Surely WWE Champion CM Punk wouldn’t be dropping his belt so close to his one-year anniversary as titleholder, a significant milestone. At the same time, it seemed unlikely that the promotion could get away with having Ryback, the unstoppable monster pressed into service as a challenger after an injury to John Cena, suffer a clean loss without derailing all of his momentum.
As it turns out, there isn’t a corner around that can’t be escaped with a little bit of a plot twist. Punk managed to escape Atlanta with his title, but not without some aid from a surprising source – and not without an ultimate ending that allowed Ryback to end the night literally standing tall.
Punk made his way to the ring first, following a pattern started earlier in the show that saw every champion come out before the challenger. A few “Goldberg” chants rang out during Ryback’s entrance, which probably should have been expected in the former home turf of WCW.
Punk ducked out to the floor more than once in the opening minute. Paul Heyman told the champ he believed in him. He may not have believed quite as much after Ryback tossed Punk around. CM's attempt to unlock the door was futile, and he got bounced off the steel cage several times.
A Heyman distraction finally allowed Punk to pull a fire extinguisher out and spray the challenger in the face. Punk tried following up with a chair but got it kicked back into his face. A gorilla press slam for Ryback was next, but Punk escaped a running clothesline in the corner.
The champ came off the top twice with ax handle shots but got caught on the third try. Punk connected with a jumping kick, then went through the second rope, with both men kissing the cage. Punk used a chair shot and a neckbreaker to slow down his foe, getting another break when Ryback went shoulder first into the stairs.
Back in the ring, Punk scored with a high running knee and a clothesline. Punk leapt to hit the flying elbow off the top, then retrieved a kendo stick from beneath the ring and went to work. Ryback shrugged off the shots, no-selling in fine Goldbergian fashion, and went right back at the champ with clotheslines and a back body drop.
The Meat Hook put Punk on the canvas, but only long enough for him to get picked up in position to get Shell Shocked. Referee Brad Maddox prevented it, though, hitting Ryback with a low blow, and making a very fast count that gave Punk the win.
A furious Ryback took his anger out on Maddox, lifting him overhead and throwing him all the way out of the ring into the cage. Meanwhile, Heyman attempted to drag a weary Punk to safety, but to no avail. Ryback tracked down the champ, who decided maybe it was safer on top of the cell.
It wasn’t. Ryback followed Punk all the way up and Shell Shocked him onto the roof of the cage. The champion kept his gold but the challenger ended the night as the last man standing as the broadcast faded out.
The next WWE pay-per-view is Survivor Series on November 18.
From the “Oh you didn’t know?” file comes our format for the rest of the results, with Dale’s comments in italics and Nick’s in plain type. Let’s do this…
Alberto Del Rio vs. Randy Orton
Orton gets off to a fast start, beating Del Rio into the corner and then knocking him out of the ring. Orton uses the typical environmental weapons: ring post, announce table, etc. Del Rio regains the advantage with some help from Ricardo Rodriquez and locks in an arm hold in the middle of the ring. Del Rio continues to apply the pressure to Orton's arm. Orton counters into a roll up, but Del Rio kicks out. Del Rio locks in another arm grapevine through the ropes, but Orton is able to break the hold and send Del Rio to the floor. Back in the ring, Orton hits an inverted back breaker and looks for the elevated DDT. Del Rio counters, hanging Orton up on the ropes. Del Rio taunts Orton, but the Viper is able to turn the tables and hit the elevated DDT. Del Rio kicks out of the pin. Orton connects with a power slam and once again Del Rio kicks out. Orton is hung up in the corner as Del Rio crashes down onto his chest. Orton kicks out at two, then fights off the cross arm breaker. Del Rio keeps at it and is able to lock in the hold. Orton counters into a pin, forcing Del Rio to break the hold. Orton connects with an RKO out of nowhere and covers. This time Del Rio is unable to kick out.
Winner... Randy Orton at 12 minutes and 39 seconds
Match Rating: 7/10
Josh Mathews talks to Vickie Guerrero about the “AJ scandal,” and the head cougar is in a jovial mood because she claims to have photographic evidence of an affair between AJ and John Cena. As she turns to leave, Paul Heyman attempts to have Vickie cancel the main event. She refuses, but it seems Heyman may have gotten in her head at the end of their conversation. And I'm not sure that's a pretty place to be.
Team Hell No (champions) vs. Team Rhodes Scholars (challengers) – WWE Tag Team Title Match
WHAT YOU THINK
What did you think of WWE Hell in a Cell?
It was great - 3%
It was okay - 18%
Didn't like it - 22%
Didn't see it - 57%
Daniel Bryan comes out strong against Damien Sandow, and Kane keeps up the pressure against Cody Rhodes. Sandow finally manages to tag in, giving the heels a chance to show off their teamwork against Kane. A low dropkick keeps Kane isolated in the wrong corner. He finally hobbles over to get Bryan back in, and he's able to send both of his foes to the floor before launching into a suicide dive. That momentum peters out when the action goes back to the ring, and Bryan finds himself scrambling to kick out of multiple pinning attempts. Sandow drops the Elbow of Disdain on Bryan and keeps up the assault. A drop toehold into the corner finally gets Bryan a breather. Rhodes is tagged in, but so is Kane. A series of moves finished by a sidewalk slam get him a two count on Rhodes. Both men go up top, but Rhodes is thwarted on a superplex attempt and eats a clothesline. Bryan tags himself in and hits the diving headbutt only to have Kane break up the pin. Argument time. Everyone ends up on the floor, and Bryan's running knee off the apron nails Kane. The champs get into a shoving match as the ref tries to get them back in the ring. Rhodes obliges and hits Cross Rhodes on Bryan, but Kane makes the save. The Big Red Monster stomps away in the corner even though he's not the legal man, and the ref decides to stop things. Sandow gets a choke slam, making his a pyrrhic victory.
Winners via disqualification… Team Rhodes Scholars (title does not change hands) … at 13 minutes and 8 seconds
Match Rating: 6/10
So glad we paid 50 bucks to see commercials.
Mathews is busy today, welcoming The Miz and asking him about his recent problems with Kofi Kingston. He takes a long, long, roundabout way to make his point about how Kingston being the IC champ is like the apocalypse, plugging one of the show's sponsors, “Doomsday Preppers,” multiple times. #goodsoldier
Kofi Kingston (champion) vs. The Miz (challenger) – WWE Intercontinental Title Match
The Miz goes for his finisher right off the bat and misses, so Kofi counters with Trouble in Paradise. He also misses. The fight goes to the floor, with Miz whipping Kofi into the ring steps. Miz rolls Kofi into the ring and covers. Kofi kicks out. Miz applies a reverse chin lock and slams Kofi's head to the mat before he can break free. Miz connects with a lateral press, and Kofi once again kicks out. Kofi builds momentum, hitting the Boom Drop to set up Trouble in Paradise. Miz rolls out of the ring. Kofi catches Miz with a cross body, and Miz kicks out of the lateral press. Kofi counters a neck breaker with the SOS. Miz grounds Kofi by going after his legs and locks in a half crab. Kofi struggles to get to the ropes but then counters with a small package. Miz kicks out. Miz the walks into a Trouble in Paradise. Kofi covers and gets the pin.
Winner… and still WWE Intercontinental Champion… Kofi Kingston at 10 minutes and 19 seconds
Match Rating: 6.5/10
After the match, Matt Stryker interviews Kofi. He thanks the Miz for bringing out the Wildcat in him.
The Wildcat offense? What did that even mean? Elsewhere, Kane and Bryan continue their bickering backstage. Daniel looks like he may have had his feelings hurt.
Antonio Cesaro (champion) vs. Justin Gabriel (challenger)– U.S. Title Match
Before the match, Cesaro says something in a language I don't speak. Also, Gabriel earned this match by beating Cesaro on Raw. Cesaro starts with some good old fashioned mat wrestling. Gabriel counters with a monkey flip. Cesaro knocks Gabriel out of the ring and then drops him on the apron face first. And the crowd is on life support right now. Cesaro drops Gabriel on the top turnbuckle and then kicks him in the stomach. Gabriel lands on his feet off a belly to back toss and responds with a spinning heel kick. He follows with a springboard moonsault, but Cesaro kicks out. Gabriel flies over the ropes and into an uppercut from Cesaro. The champ rolls Gabriel back into the ring and hits the Neutralizer. Cesaro covers for the win.
Winner … and still U.S. Champion … Antonio Cesaro at 7 minutes and 19 seconds
Match Rating: 5/10
A video package goes back through Ryback's undefeated run. It's helpful for anyone who's been away from WWE for six months and wonders why this guy is in the main event. Afterwards, Heyman tries some reverse psychology to get Guerrero to cancel the main event. It doesn't work.
Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara vs. The Primetime Players
Both masked men get to work early on, but Darren Young's big throw slows down Rey. Sin Cara unleashes a flurry of kicks against both of the Players, though Titus O'Neil grabs him and drops him on his knee repeatedly. O'Neil and Young double team Sin Cara on the apron, forcing Mysterio to come in for the save. Then comes a lengthy sequence of Sin Cara getting his butt kicked. Rey gets the hot tag as you know he would, and he manages to drop the dime and win the match. Replays show that O'Neil dropped Sin Cara on his head and neck somewhere during the action.
Winners … Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara at 12 minute and 27 seconds
Match Rating: 6/10
Sheamus (champion) vs. The Big Show (challenger) – World Heavyweight Title Match
The two men go head to head with Sheamus gradually gaining the upper hand. Show puts a stop to that by throwing the champ over the top rope to the floor. The giant keeps stalking the Great White, sending him hard into the retaining wall. Spurred on by the fans, who have been dead since the Cesaro match, Sheamus tries throwing a series of shots at Show back in the ring. That goes for naught, and Show continues to wear out the champ. J.R. almost gets taken out as Show sends Sheamus flying over the announce table. Show gets a quick near fall in the ring before tossing Sheamus back to the floor again. More of the same for a few more minutes, but Sheamus digs down deep to try a rally. A bear hug halts that. Show comes off the middle rope and scores a near fall. A desperation DDT by Sheamus finds the mark, but he only gets a two count and finds himself on the outside for the umpteenth time. A choke slam drops Sheamus when he climbs back in, yet it's still not enough to take the title. Both men unsuccessfully try for submission holds, managing to end up out of the ring again. Sheamus finally gets his rally back in the ring, chopping Show down with low kicks and a clothesline. White Noise connects, but Show kicks out at two. Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick and it's countered by the KO punch. Incredibly, Sheamus kicks out again. The champ manages to connect with the Brogue Kick, but Show kicks out. Now the fans are very much into this. Sheamus revs up for a second Brogue Kick, but Show sidesteps it and delivers the KO punch. That does it, and we've got a new champion.
Winner… and new World Heavyweight Champion… The Big Show at 20 minutes and 12 seconds
Match Rating: 7/10
Before the match, Eve tries to get a word with Booker T, but he needs to attend to Sheamus. Teddy Long tells Eve that she will get hers tonight. Zack Ryder shows up in costume as a witch and grabs the Diva's title, saying he is Eve. The real Eve storms off and Santino joins the party dressed as Lady Gaga. Cue Ron Simmons: “DAMN!”
Punk takes his appeal straight to Vince McMahon, asking for the main event to be called off. Is it because he's lacking confident or because he's afraid? CM says no. Vince suggests he go out and prove that he is indeed the best in the world.
Eve (champion) vs. Layla (challenger) vs. Kaitlyn (challenger) – Divas Championship Triple Threat Match
Eve gets the pin after breaking Kaitlyn or Layla with a move from the top rope.
The most entertaining part of that match was JBL forgetting who was who and having Michael Cole and J.R. give him crap about it. J.R. also suggested that they just let “the Spanish guys” call the match.
Winner… and still Divas Champion… Eve at 6 minutes and 23 seconds
Match Rating: 4/10
Mathews gets a word with Big Show, who is pretty psyched about reaching the top of the mountain. He dares anyone in the locker room to try taking the title from him. Elsewhere, Matt Striker checks in on medical personnel examining Sheamus. A video package sets up the main event.
CM Punk (champion) vs. Ryback (challenger) – WWE Title Match
Winner… and still WWE Champion… CM Punk at 11 minutes and 21 seconds
Match Rating: 5/10
Total Event Time: 2 hours and 53 minutes
Event Rating: 6/10
Dale and Nick are considering writing all of their future PPV reports as heels and then claiming that they are just “Heyman guys” when their editors complain. Encourage or discourage this thinking by following Dale on Twitter at @dplummer627 or Nick at @nick_tylwalk.