WWE creation had only cemented itself as the "only game in town" for a few scant years before the streaming scene changed the game itself entirely. Once obscure hardcore-fan-only promotions like Ring of Honor now draw a wide audience thanks to ubiquitous internet wrestling fandom, as do international operations like New Japan Pro-Wrestling and hyper-stylized mold-breaking outfits like El Rey's Lucha Underground - all of which have carved into WWE's fanbase in by catering to elements like more extreme violence, technical-wrestling fundamentals and elaborate storylines that WWE's mass-appeal mandate has aimed to eschew.
In response, the promotion has once again split its brand and roster in two (RAW and Smackdown), added a separate Network series dedicated to the Cruiserweight Division (complimenting the "developmental" series NXT Live) and doubled the number of yearly pay-per-view events to a twice-monthly schedule. Sunday October 8th brought fans the latest installment of Hell In A Cell, a Smackdown-centric card that reflected the so-called "blue brand's" commitment to fresh talent and unpredictable match-ups - along with the customary "cage matches" of the title.
How did it go down? Here's our full recap of all seven Hell In A Cell 2017 matches.
CHAD GABLE & SHELTON BENJAMIN VS. THE HYPE BROS (KICKOFF SHOW)
In many ways the functioning ideal of a Kickoff Show match (a showy-sounding setpiece with minimal storyline buildup mainly featuring reliable mid-card talent popular with core fans but lacking an immediate push); what buzz existed for this tag-team brawl chiefly centered on expectations of an impending "breakup" for the temporary-feeling "Hype Bros" teaming of perennial underutilized fan-favorites Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley. Likewise, it serves as part of a slow-burning push for physically-impressive rising star Shelton Benjamin and well-liked face Chad Gable - currently seeking a new gimmick following the departure of his American Alpha tag partner Jason Jordan to the RAW brand as part of a kayfabe storyline positioning him as the long-lost illegitimate son of General Manager Kurt Angle.
As expected from these four particular superstars, the match proceeded as a classic-formula tag-team scuffle pitting the move/countermove fundamentals from technicians Ryder and Rawley against Gable and Benjamin's flashy speed/power combo - though Ryder was certainly not above busting out an impressive missile drop-kick early on, reminding a receptive crowd why many devote WWE fans have long seen him as an unrealized main eventer waiting to happen. Other highlights included Gable planting his heels to self-correct after a missed backwards moonsault (only to follow it quickly with a second, successful attempt) and a generally strong example of in-ring storytelling communicating the broad idea of an "in-sync" team (Gable & Benjamin) triumphing over an out-of-step duo (Hype Bros) who can't get on the same page.
Given that this was a kickoff show match, it's unsurprising that the actual story of what will/won't happen with the Hype Bros as a team didn't come to a full head. But after the decisive loss fans will likely be anticipating something like the "last straw" between the feuding teammates being reached on Tuesday's installment of Smackdown Live.
WINNER: Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin
THE NEW DAY VS. THE USOS (SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP)
The first match of the night and the first to actually utilize the Cell itself; if you're looking for a title match outside of the WWE Championship that encompasses what WWE wants the mass audience to think of as the Smackdown brand's "land of opportunity" ethos, this would be it: Tag Team Championship belts being competed over between two teams of diverse young talent respectively comprising a trio of the company's top Black superstars (Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods as "The New Day") and twin brothers Jimmy & Jay Uso - sons of famous 1990s WWE superstar Rikishi and fourth generation heirs to the legendary Anoa'i Family of Samoan wrestlers. It also makes for a grand contrast in tones; with New Day having been beloved by fans for embracing a self-generated gimmick based on the comedy-contrast between their imposing physicality and shared love of video games, anime and geek-culture ephemera set against The Uso's still-evolving gritty street-brawler aesthetic.
Notably the first time the Smackdown Tag Team belts have been defended inside Hell In A Cell (which typically lends itself more to one-on-one or melee-style brawls), the match was held under "Tornado Rules" (formerly "Texas Tornado") stipulation, with all four fighters (Kofi Kingston was initially locked outside of the cage) allowed in the ring at all times and no disqualifications - the later of which was exploited early on as each man retrieved weaponry from under the ring. As tends to be expected, the big spots favored The New Day early on; with Woods deploying a rainbow-colored kendo stick and later smashing a variety of musical instruments across his opponents' backs while Jimmy and Jey countered with more traditional implements (chairs, non-customized sticks) and forceful poundings staged to mimic prison-beatings as part of their "Uso Penitentiary" brand-identity.
In what could easily have been the "spot" of the night, Woods and Big E threaded surplus kendo sticks through the chain-links in the Cell in order to (literally) pin Jimmy Uso into the corner - though The Usos got to turn the tables with two sets of handcuffs and a brutal stick-beating of a strung-up Woods. The back-and-forth continued into the final stretch of the fight (no one in WWE no-sells an "Oh, was that weapon supposed to hurt me?" spot quite like Big E does), but despite a highlight-worthy fighting-off-two-opponents-while-handcuffed turn for Woods (his best "hero spot" in months) the win - and the Championship - went to The Usos after hitting their signature Double-Uce finishing move onto a chair-covered Woods; a nail-biter finish that all but ensures WWE plans to draw this feud out for at least one more Smackdown PPV.
Winner/New Champions: The Usos