WWE is a constantly changing landscape. Because of this, WWE must now rely on their younger talent in Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to rile up fans for the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view—and it’s succeeding with aplomb.
It’s no secret that professional wrestling is cruel to the participants in the long run. Some succumb to the gradual wear and tear of wrestling in the ring on a nightly basis. Others, like WWE legend Mick Foley, give more than their bodies can take in matches like Hell in a Cell, a 20-foot-tall, five-ton steel structure associated with cringeworthy violence. And as quickly as one superstar ascends to the upper echelon of the roster, one will invariably fall at the same rate sooner or later. With the exception of John Cena and Randy Orton, not much has remained the same, leaving WWE with no choice but to give their younger stars airtime to thrive.
The constantly changing landscape can be seen by examining last year’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view card: John Cena faced Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship, Randy Orton went up against the wily Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, and Ryback faced CM Punk.
Alberto Del Rio has since been released from the company after allegedly slapping an employee who told a racist joke, Ryback and Daniel Bryan have both been absent from WWE programming for months due to injuries, and CM Punk infamously walked out on the company after being unhappy with the direction they were going.
Even the championships are notably absent from the picture this year. The WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship were unified late last year. In their place is the singular WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which will also not make an appearance at this year’s iteration of Hell in a Cell since reigning champion Brock Lesnar is not participating. It’s just one of the many benefits of the reality ethos.
This Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, only two of those aforementioned superstars will participate in this year’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-vew: John Cena and Randy Orton, who two will face each other, which is perplexing given that the stipulation usually demands egregious personal conflict between the two participants.
Despite having the two most well-established performers of the current generation, not much buzz is surrounding this match. Both competitors have faced each other an insurmountable amount of times during the course of their careers which span more than a decade; there’s very little bad blood between these two superstars at this point. But a small tidbit that may pique fans’ interests is that the winner of this match will be declared the No. 1 contender for Brock Lesnar’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Randy Orton against Brock Lesnar would be a breath of fresh air, though a seemingly familiar one. The two first faced off about a decade ago when they were in their early twenties. Brock Lesnar versus John Cena would merely continue the feud from WWE’s last pay-per-view.
In contrast to the overly official, familiar mileu of Randy Orton versus John Cena for the umpteenth time is Seth Rollins versus Dean Ambrose inside Hell in a Cell. This feud has very little to do with the title belts and prestige and the participants are still fairly new to fans. But don’t be fooled: this is an old school, bad blood feud. In short, it has all the makings of a violent fight as opposed to an old-fashioned technical wrestling match.
And fans have taken a liking to these two so much that WWE has made this match the main event of the night as opposed to the match between the two veterans.
Dean Ambrose has been painted as an unhinged psychopath who is willing to do anything to get revenge on his former partner Seth Rollins, who betrayed him and ex-Shield member Roman Reigns when he struck Reigns with a chair and aligned himself with Triple H and The Authority of WWE. Throughout, the violence has escalated like clockwork. Rollins would gloat about his new success as a singles competitor and Ambrose would spoil his fun. Ambrose has jumped Rollins from the crowd, dumped a bucket of ice water on him (allegedly for charity), and has even popped out of a giant present in order to get his hands on his former best friend.
The violence, as absurd as it’s gotten, escalated and became serious when Rollins got the best of Ambrose on an episode of RAW. With the help of his cronies, Seth Rollins was able to knock Ambrose out. He then grabbed his head, placed it on a pile of cinder blocks (conveniently placed ringside), and proceeded to kick Ambrose’s face in. This put Ambrose out of action for a few weeks, but it didn’t quell the conflict; in fact, it escalated it. Ambrose, now with a head injury that exacerbated his already-irrational desire to pummel Rollins, is seeking revenge.
Most of the action taking place between Ambrose and Rollins hasn’t occurred within the confines of the squared circle. Instead, the program has taken a more renegade route through the use of nostalgic backstage segments, overtly meta ambushes, and even a stolen hot dog cart from Coney Island. Simply put, it’s fun to see Dean Ambrose get the best of the dodgy heel Seth Rollins, who will fall victim to an Ambrose ambush. It’s a contemporary Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner for pro wrestling fans.
It’s a wonderfully welcoming strategy: create personal animosity, make it fun, and add a touch of violent spontaneity. After all, isn’t that the core of professional wrestling? Now with the Hell in a Cell match, WWE is looking to physically encapsulate the tension that has seemed so difficult to contain within the WWE ring.
A match taking place within the confined steel structure usually signifies a finality for the storyline that two wrestlers have been engaged in. But this year, it signifies more than simply an end to one of the most refreshingly entertaining programs in recent memory. It signals a focus to Ambrose, Rollins, and the future of WWE.
If the shift from the established veterans in Orton and Cena to the young bloods in Ambrose and Rollins wasn’t implicit enough, WWE made sure to get its point across this past Monday. Mick Foley, who infamously fell from the Hell in a Cell structure and became a legendary daredevil in the process, interrupted Rollins and Ambrose. “This match will define you the same way it did me. I look at my life in two very distinct phases: pre-Cell and post-Cell,” said Foley as he shifted his attention from Ambrose to Rollins to the cell hanging above them. And as much as the Hell in a Cell will define the two competitors this Sunday, they themselves will define WWE even more in the years to come.