Saturday, December 2, 2023

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Hell in a Cell in Review: On to the Next

From the outset, the Divas Title match booked for Hell in a Cell seemed like a stopgap in Charlotte‘s reign. As it turns out, it was just that: a box to check, something to get past to we could move on to the next thing. Nikki Bella needed her rematch, and for some reason, it had to be at Hell in a Cell. We just had to wait it out, like it was an obligation.

The match didn’t have to be a waste of time, but the WWE treated it like an afterthought, so it never felt particularly important. The WWE clearly already had their eyes on the next step in Charlotte’s reign, so I did as well. I expect most others did too.

So, when it comes down to it, the most we could hope for was an enjoyable match. Could Charlotte and Nikki deliver on that? Let’s watch:

Prior to the match, we learned that all outside parties – Alicia Fox and Brie Bella for Nikki, Becky Lynch and Paige for Charlotte – have been banned from ringside. It’s a little too late to raise the stakes, WWE, don’t you think?

After a nifty video package, the Divas make their solo entrances. The bell sounds, and they tie up, Charlotte backing Nikki into the ropes. She break up and then tie up again, Charlotte backing Nikki into the corner this time. When Charlotte releases her, Nikki kicks her and tries to slam her face into the turnbuckle. Charlotte blocks it, though, sending her into it instead.

Nikki swings for Charlotte but it’s ducked, and she’s hit with a neckbreaker instead. Nikki backs into the corner and Charlotte climbs to the second rope, delivering blow after blow to her head. Nikki attempts to turn the tides with a powerbomb, but Charlotte turns it into a frankensteiner, sending her across the ring. She climbs atop Nikki and pounds her head. Nikki eventually shoves her off.

Charlotte runs the ropes, but Nikki decks her with a forearm, sending her out of the ring. Nikki follows, tossing her over the barricade! Charlotte battles back, fending off her attack. She climbs over the barricade, but not before Nikki takes back control, delivering a blow that sends her to the floor. She then uses the barricade for leverage, stomping on Charlotte’s back.

Nikki delivers more punishment to Charlotte’s back, driving it into the ring apron and then tossing her into the barricade. She pulls Charlotte to her feet and tosses her back into the ring. Nikki goes for the pin, but Charlotte kicks out.

Nikki locks in a chinlock submission, hooking Charlotte’s right arm to add more pressure to her bad back. After a few moments of this, Nikki switches to a front facelock position and hits a snap suplex. She goes for another pin, but it’s not enough. Charlotte gets to her feet slowly and Nikki grabs hold of her, going for a suplex with the ropes as leverage, but Charlotte flips free of the hold, landing on her feet and nailing her with chops. When she goes for another neckbreaker, Nikki blocks it, pulling her into a backslide pin instead. Charlotte kicks out, but the Divas keep their arms locked. Nikki tries again, but Charlotte’s able to kick out and get back to the seated position.

The stand up in unison and Charlotte spins free, but Nikki grabs her, smashing her face into her knee. Nikki makes another pin attempt, but Charlotte again kicks out. Nikki locks in a half crab submission, bending Charlotte’s back in the process. Charlotte’s in agony, trying to make it to the ropes. Before she can, though, Nikki breaks the hold, slamming her leg to the mat.

Nikki stomps on Charlotte, pacing around before flipping her to her back and dragging her by her legs to the ropes. She catapults Charlotte chest-first into them, sending her springing back to the mat. Another pin attempt, another kick out. Nikki pulls Charlotte back up, sending her into the corner. Charlotte uses her momentum to her advantage, flipping over the turnbuckle and back to her feet, spinning around and laying out Nikki with a big boot. She covers Nikki for the pin, but Nikki kicks out.

Charlotte pulls Nikki to her feet, but she can’t hit a suplex, her bad back too much of a burden. Nikki takes advantage of this, shoving her away and into the corner. She drops herself bodily onto Charlotte’s back and stomps on it a bit before backing up and charging in. Charlotte fends her off with a boot to the face, but she can’t get much momentum, soon succumbing to a spinebuster. Nikki goes for the pin, but only earns a near fall.

Charlotte is slow to her feet, and Nikki sends her right back down with a kick. She adds insult to injury, slapping Charlotte across the face. Charlotte answers with a chop. Nikki delivers a forearm, and Charlotte hits her with another chop, following it up with a series of chops that send Nikki backing into the corner. Charlotte delivers chop furiously until the referee forces her to back off. This gives Nikki time to regroup and hit Charlotte with a back elbow. She leaps up and goes for an enziguri, but Charlotte ducks it, and Nikki lands hard on the mat.

Nikki backs into the corner and tries to kick Charlotte away, but her legs are caught. Charlotte sweeps them over the ropes and hits a vicious neckbreaker. Charlotte pulls Nikki free of the ropes and goes for the pin. Nikki kicks out. Charlotte climbs to the top rope, but before she can do anything, Nikki delivers a blow to the back, climbing up with her. Nikki tries to hit a suplex, but Charlotte merely flips backwards, landing safely while Nikki lands on the back of her head!

Nikki somehow gets to her feet after this, only to be drilled with a spear from Charlotte. Charlotte locks in the Figure Eight, but Nikki’s immediately fighting it, twisting to mitigate the pressure and then crawling to the bottom rope and forcing the break. Charlotte goes to grab Nikki, but she gets dumped through the ropes, landing on the outside. Nikki follows, lifting Charlotte and hitting an Alabama slam onto the ring apron!

Nikki brings Charlotte into the ring and going for the Rack Attack! Charlotte slips free and locks in the Figure Eight! Nikki has no choice but to tap out.

Charlotte is joined in the ring by Becky and Paige, who celebrate her victory. Paige seems a little too enthusiastic about this. Hm…

Post-match, Charlotte spoke about her win in a exclusive:

Charlotte says Nikki took her places she’d never been before, and her perseverance made her realize that she deserved to be Divas Champion.

Thoughts: This wasn’t a bad match by any means, but it completely lacked urgency, and that’s all to do with the lack of story attached to this. Like I said in my HIAC prediction, this felt perfunctory, like the WWE felt obligated to go through with the rematch when they were clearly more interested in weaving different storylines. Thus, Charlotte and Nikki had little to no heat between them, and it hurt them here.

Charlotte and Nikki damn sure tried to generate heat, though, taking a lot of punishment in the match. It just goes to show, though, how hollow a decent match can be if the story’s not there. I can’t fault the WWE for building up multiple storylines, but they should’ve blown off Nikki’s rematch on an episode of Raw if they weren’t interested in giving it a decent buildup. Charlotte’s been hurt most by it, her title reign feeling pretty unspectacular so far. Wasn’t the Diva Revolution supposed to inject life into the division? If so, why is the embodiment of the Revolution such a drag as champion? Yes, I know, I know.. Half-assed booking.

It’s hard to get angry about it, though, because I can tell this isn’t meant to last. If Nikki swore revenge or we had a clear path to Charlotte/Nikki III, I’d be annoyed. Instead, it looks like we’re setting up for a Paige turn (for real this time), which will position her as Charlotte’s next challenger. That, at least, has some heat behind it.

I guess its success or failure depends on the execution, because they’ve been doing this weird song and dance with Paige for weeks now, having her turn heel, then try to convince Becky and Charlotte that she can be trusted, then (probably) attack Natalya… Does Paige have some master plan in the works? It makes sense that she’d be thrilled that Charlotte retained the title, because now that Nikki’s out of the way, she can unseat the Diva who’s been the focus of her frustration, the woman she deemed unworthy of the title. It’s a nice story to build on, but I hope the other Divas (including Natalya) are included in this in some way, and not in some half-assed “Survivor Series Elimination match” sort of way.

So no, Hell in a Cell didn’t set the world on fire (*rimshot*), and like most problems in the Divas division, its due to a lack of effort from the Powers That Be. However, the groundwork for this match appears to have been sacrificed in the name of the next storyline, so when we move on to put Paige in the challenger’s position, we will already have had weeks of stealth buildup to it. Did Hell in a Cell die so Survivor Series could live? It’s looking that way…

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