Mike’s March to WrestleMania, Part 9: Hell in a Cell

Hello wrestling fans, and welcome to what is sure to be a memorable day for us all, as WrestleMania 32 is finally here. I’ve said it every year and I’ll repeat myself again in 2016, no matter what you may think about the state of the current product or the WWE in general, you can’t help but get excited when WM rolls around. Over the last week and a half I’ve been breaking down the full slate of matches you’ll be seeing in just a few hours, and I appreciate you sticking with me. We’ve got only one match left on the docket, the rumored closing match tonight, Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon inside Hell in a Cell. I’ll give you the build to this match, the positives and negatives heading into it, and what can and will happen when all is said and done. I’ll wrap up with some quick comments on the Andre the Giant battle royal and the “rest of the roster” Divas tag match before sharing how I’ll be spending my WrestleMania. (Assuming the lights stay on, of course. Crazy weather up the East Coast!)

Matchup: Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker (Hell in a Cell Match)

The Build: The WWE has felt a very healthy need to overcompensate at the top of tonight’s card, mainly because such a large cross-section of their A-listers are unavailable due to injury. That has created build on top of build for this match, much of it centering around the various stipulations that this showdown brings with it. Should The Undertaker win for Vince McMahon, Vince will maintain control of Raw and the rest of the WWE. If Shane-O-Mac gets the victory, however, not only does he gain control of the company but Undertaker loses the opportunity to ever wrestle at the show of all shows again. If these stakes sound dire, that’s exactly what WWE wants you to think. And as my colleague Marc Madison has pointed out, it’s created a bit of a no-win situation as well.

From a practical standpoint, the age and limited availability of both men has prevented the normal type of build that would accompany this match. Early questions about how the match arose in the first place gave way to staredown after staredown, most of which were more focused on what was going to happen to Vince himself than the actual battle between the two. Finally, this past Monday we got a taste of what’s to come as Shane delivered one his patented high-risk leaps and put Taker through a table. Everything about this match has to feel huge because it has to compensate for what fans aren’t going to see. The WWE has found a way to get people to tune in just to see what’s going to happen. Both of these performers share that unique and valuable quality. Control of the company inside a cage with no rules and featuring one of the most popular entertainers in the history of wrestling AND a guy who still gets an amazing pop even being away from the business for years? Yeah, I’d say we’ve hit a fever pitch on build.

The Good: Unlike the World Title match, which I broke down yesterday, the audience is pretty on board with both guys here. ‘Taker is the stuff of legends, and we’ve come to expect his performances to be so good you almost don’t mind waiting another year to see one. As for Shane, rarely has someone not generally considered a wrestler delivered such stellar moments in the ring. While it’s a rite of passage to see a McMahon getting physically involved in the ring, Shane brought a sense of youthful exuberance to his bouts and that resonates. That’s critical, because part of the big story hovering over this match is how Shane can possibly defeat the Deadman at an event he’s owned over the decades. We believe it’s possible because he does, and he’s got the track record to make that claim more than hollow words.

There can be no doubt we’re going to get “the” moment in this match, and early rumored reports have backed that up. If WWE is planning something huge, this would be the matchup to feature it, and that’s good for us all as fans. In addition, both men have shown they can go leading into this. We knew ‘Taker had it in him, and Shane’s risky move Monday placed him right back into the mix. While it would be foolish to imagine neither man has lost or step or the timing of the match won’t be somewhat affected by their limitations, it’s equally silly to think that will overshadow what they are able to do. In short, these guys at half speed would overcome a lot of other folks at full throttle. The swirling maelstrom of McMahon involvement (or other surprise involvement, take your pick) means this is a must-see tilt. This is the only match on the card that has that sort of big match feel the company craves.

The Bad: As I said, the age of both men and Shane’s absence from both the ring and the company for such a long time have to weigh heavily on things. While the big moment is assured, the rest of the contest will have to be a balancing act of creative finding ways to prevent either man from looking bad. The outside interference factor will help here, but too much of that comes off really badly and will feel even more forced than they are already risking. All the stipulations mean we’re paying more attention to that than the actual wrestling itself. I certainly understand why, but it’s still an issue. As for how obvious the WWE is making the ending, ask yourself: are they more likely to give the Undertaker another loss after breaking his streak in unceremonious fashion to Brock Lesnar, or to give the recently-rehired and very well paid son of the owner a flier at running things on television? Exactly. I think there would have been plenty more drama and surprise involved here had they skipped Taker getting no more ‘Manias if he loses. He’s not the type to lay down for everyone, even if he agrees Shane should run the company. We can at least breathe a sigh of relief that we won’t have to see Dad vs. Son or Vince vs. Taker.

What Should Happen: Creative has painted themselves into a bit of a corner here, as no matter the outcome something will change. Undertaker losing doesn’t have as much of a dramatic feel as it once did, so that would be the safe bet. It also upsets the apple cart and allows the WWE to drift away from the status quo of the hated Authority running the show, and given the reactions of many paying customers, that’s something the company should be actively looking to do. All of that said (and with all due respect to Shane), he has no business beating the legendary Deadman at WWE’s biggest event. That’s why whoever else shows up ringside will be the real story. We’ve heard everything from Goldberg to Steve Austin to John Cena, but whoever it is has to assist with sending the Undertaker to defeat, even if it’s not meant as a shot at Death Valley’s favorite son. That would make Cena the favorite, as having him square off with Taker next year is a major event and a great way to cap a career. I hear you saying that would break the stipulation that Taker can’t work WM, but remember please that this is wrestling. Wrestling rules are as pliable as it gets, and with Shane in charge he can course correct that rule in a heartbeat.

This outcome also works well with the likely result of the World Title match, particularly if Roman Reigns does indeed turn surprise heel. Triple H takes the double hit of losing the gold and his power courtesy of a Shane McMahon win, thus allowing him to escape the limelight for a time and center his focus on NXT. Both he and Stephanie have become a bit of a tired act over the last few months, and a break is needed. These guys understand the critiques and criticisms and know exactly what’s on the line here. It will be ugly at times, but it will be damn good. It pretty much has to be. Undertaker takes a second loss in his illustrious career in order to get WWE out of their creative rut.

What Will Happen: Shane wasn’t brought back to lose, unless you buy into the idea that this was all an elaborate ruse by Vince to wrest control of the company from Trips and Stephanie and set them up for eventual return face roles. The whole thing’s just too damn complicated at this point. As crazy as it sounds, ‘Taker goes into this match as a significant underdog based entirely on the stipulations and asterisks. It would make zero sense for Reigns to win the belt unless a sea change was in order at the top as well. Given WWE’s tendency to overuse their surprises, I wouldn’t be shocked if other folks made appearances here as well, perhaps setting up some future feuds, but what’s most important is that we are left staring at our screens in shock. The ending mentioned above is the best way to accomplish that. Some tweaked version of it is what will go down Sunday. It’s what has to happen in order for Titan Tower to take our minds off all the negatives heading into this event. Is it enough to wash that out of our mouths completely and make this an above average WM? That’s a tougher sell.

Random Rant: Two matches I did not break down completely are the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and the 10-Divas tag match. The former is really due to the nature of the match, as we don’t even know the identity of every participant just yet. The latter is because I abhor the existence of the match. In deference to completeness, though, I feel the need to comment upon both at least a bit. The Battle Royal is irritating to me because I love the idea on its face but hate the way it’s been executed thus far. The WWE did a terrible job capitalizing on the momentum that should have been created when Cesaro won, and the Big Show’s victory was nice as an homage but a time waster otherwise. Early returns seemed to indicate the WWE would be allowing a Wyatt member to win, and that would make sense given their notable absence on the card as a whole. With Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt nursing injuries, though, as well as Braun Strowman’s push seemingly paused, don’t be shocked to see the aforementioned Cesaro become a two-time winner. This makes sense on a whole bunch of levels, from the fact that Cesaro has indicated he is indeed in Arlington to the need to get him in a prime spot to continue the momentum achieved before his injury. Cesaro has connected with the fans, and WWE should use this opportunity as an apology letter for screwing it up the first time.

On the Divas side of things, I have to give WWE credit for actually making me feel sorry for Brie Bella. If this is her last match, what fresh hell it is. From the inclusion of Eva Marie from relative obscurity to the frightening lack of wrestling development that is Lana, land mines await all over the ring. I would imagine this is mercifully brief, and Eva factors into the decision particularly based on her horrifyingly bad reaction by the wrestling community upon her return to Raw. Brie’s time is nearly up, though, so you’d have to guess she gets a moment to remember and her team wins. I actually think this match reduces some of the luster the division will get later when the triple threat happens, that’s how bad it is. I feel for the actual talent contained herein.

Final Thoughts: I hope each and every one of you has had an excellent WrestleMania weekend. It’s been great already, from the incredible NXT show Friday that blew my mind to the Hall of Fame inductions Saturday that contained some epic moments of their own. I hope to interact with you from 2-4 on the Main Event Madness podcast, as I and the rest of the panel will give you our thoughts leading up to showtime. I’ll also be on after WM to break down what went on. As always, thank you very much for spending the time with me and I’ll see you soon.

Twitter: @DharmanRockwell