Reaction is mixed to last night's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, particularly the main event that saw Randy Orton win the vacant WWE Championship by pinning Daniel Bryan after special guest referee Shawn Michaels superkicked the man he trained. But whether the finish leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth largely depends on the follow-through tonight on Raw and in the weeks and months moving forward.
I've read from multiple wrestlers autobiographies that, contrary to popular belief, one of the things Vince McMahon and WWE Creative does so well is plan out an "end game" to its stories before it begins to carry them out on television. Now, that's not to say that sometimes the narrative doesn't get changed based on any number of intangibles, including crowd reactions and injuries, etc. So believe me when I say that I think there is a bigger picture plan than what we saw happen at Hell in a Cell last night.
The problem, I think, is that a number of wrestling fans -- myself included -- at one point figured that Hell in a Cell would be the blow-off to Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, with Bryan reclaiming the WWE title that was "stolen" from him after the biggest victory of his career. But this storyline has become so much more than just Bryan vs. Orton for a piece of leather with metal attached to it. And, in fact, it was never really about that.
Bryan vs. Triple H's "Authority" is still the big story here. And there was even more fuel put on that fire last night. As evidenced by Triple H's promo during the contract signing Monday, they are building to a Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H match. It's entirely possible -- even likely in my opinion -- that match takes place at WrestleMania XXX, because you know Triple H is going to wrestle at that show. And don't be surprised when Shawn Michaels, who we are supposed to believe did Triple H's bidding last night, is assigned the guest referee of that match to give it more star power and drama.
(If you missed the pay-per-view, the climax of the match saw Triple H come to ringside and start demanding from outside the cage that Michaels "do his job," when Orton was accusing HBK of slow counting. At some point, Triple H tries to climb on the cage to get Michaels' attention, distracting him, and Bryan shoves Orton into Michaels when he blocks an RKO. Triple H demands they open the cage so he can check on his buddy Shawn. Bryan then hits a knee on Orton, covering him for way longer than a 3-count, but there is no referee to make the count. Bryan tries to revive Michaels, but Triple H shoves him aside. Bryan hits a knee on the Game which a now revived Michaels sees. Since nobody messes with the Kliq, he superkicks Bryan. Orton goes for a cover, and realizing what he did, Michaels reluctantly counts the pin. He quickly leaves the ring looking angry, while Orton revives Triple H and celebrates. Got all that? Good. So, realistically, they found a way to temporarily make HBK heel without actually turning him heel, and if he calls the match fairly between Triple H and Bryan and Bryan wins, he gets all his goodwill back.)
Survivor Series is actually a great place to continue this brewing feud between Bryan and Triple H's Authority without having the King of Kings get back in the ring just yet. While it's been widely speculated that Triple H will wrestle Big Show at the "Thanksgiving tradition," I don't think that will be the case at all. More than likely, we'll see Team Bryan vs. Team Authority. Other than Bryan and Big Show on one side and the Shield on the other, your guesses are as good as mine who the other five competitors might be. (For the record, my guesses are Dolph Ziggler, a returning Mark Henry and Big E Langston for the good guys, and probably Ryback and a returning/repackaged Wade Barrett for Triple H's squad.)
I do not think WWE Champion Randy Orton will be among them. As evidenced by WWE's change in booking at last year's Survivor Series, when then-champion CM Punk was to be part of a five-on-five traditional Survivor Series match, only to have Vince McMahon change the match and make sure the WWE title was defended at the show. That's because people are interested in championship matches and when the champion isn't defending the title, it isn't a must-buy show.
So the Viper will likely be defending the belt, and who better to challenge him than CM Punk, who vanquished his nemesis Paul Heyman at Hell in a Cell with a brutal (by today's WWE-PG standards at least) beatdown with a kendo stick on top of the cell. Remember, the story has always been that Punk wanted to get "his" WWE Championship back, but Heyman was a distraction he needed to eliminate first before he could begin his pursuit of the title again. Of note, Survivor Series is the PPV where Punk began his 434-day reign two years ago.
Other thoughts on Hell in a Cell, and the immediate fall-out:
John Cena winning the World Heavyweight Championship in his return match should've come to the surprise of no one. I saw a lot of tweets about how it buried Alberto Del Rio. But here's the deal, Del Rio just wasn't getting over. WWE's been trying to push him for two years -- first as a heel, then again earlier this year as a babyface, and when that didn't work out, turned him heel again. He's a very good worker, but he just isn't connecting with the audience. Cena didn't bury him. If anything, Cena gives him credibility because Cena wanted the World Championship that Del Rio has held most of the year. Cena will give the Big Gold Belt (and Smackdown) some much needed shine the next month or so.
Other than Cena, the Hell in a Cell PPV produced two notable returns: Rey Mysterio and Kane. Mysterio didn't have a physical role -- he did color commentary for the Spanish announce team -- while Kane returned during an angle between the Miz and the Wyatt family. He helped Miz fight off Harper and Rowan, then chokeslammed the Miz because -- why not?
The Tag Team Triple Threat was a great start to open the show and, as far as in-ring work goes, was probably the best match of the night. As expected, the Rhodes Brothers retained after Cody hit CrossRhodes on Seth Rollins of the Shield. The Usos had some cool spots in the match, but I never felt like they were a threat to win. Since they pinned the Shield, I imagine the Rhodes boys will move on to defend against another tag team now -- perhaps the aforementioned Wyatt Family?
Big E Langston wrestles like a big man should. I noted a few weeks ago that Ryback does a few too many holds for a man of his stature and it looks out of place. Langston wrestles like a brick wall and it comes across well. It helped that he had a quality opponent in Dean Ambrose. The match was put together on the fly, so these two did a nice job, except for the collision that required both to get stitches. I'm glad they didn't put the U.S. title on Langston for the heck of it, instead giving him a count-out win. I expect Curtis Axel, when healthy, to drop the Intercontinental Championship to Langston, then Langston begin a feud with Ryback.
The only other babyface to lose at last night's show was Brie Bella. That's notable because she's Daniel Bryan's fiancee, and while a lot was made out of the two winning gold and becoming a "power couple," it makes sense not to put the belt on her before Bryan gets the title. For the second straight PPV, though, it was Brie getting distracted by her twin sister Nikki -- this time, she accidentally hit her with a running knee as Nikki tussled with Tamina outside the ring -- that cost her the match. Is a Bella break-up on the horizon?
Los Matadores can go in the ring, and they are a "fun" act with El Torito, but I don't think the gimmick has legs. Meanwhile, Jack Swagger and Antonio Cesaro with Zeb Colter seem like they could really do something if used as more than a mid-card jobber team.
Most of the rest of the show felt like filler, especially the mixed tag with Fandango and Summer Rae against Khali and Natalya. At least Summer Rae is wrestling now, and doesn't completely stink at it.