One of the most important weeks in wrestling history ended with a resounding dud thanks to a downright odd Hell in a Cell finale between Bray Wyatt's The Fiend and Seth Rollins.
WWE's biggest star and champion fighting against arguably the hottest commodity in wrestling ended with the crowd showering the show in boos and chanting for its biggest competitor, All Elite Wrestling, as it went off the air.
That's all that really needs to be said, right?
How WWE found a way to botch the ending—to the point that at least one of the Superstars might have suffered irreparable harm—is hard to say.
The task was simple. Have a real winner. Make both look great. Instead, it feels like the leadup to the ending and the ending itself was a gross overcompensation after fans ate up what this feud and these characters were selling.
Or put more simply: A Hell in a Cell match ended in a DQ/referee stoppage.
The aftermath says it all:
Even WWE Watch Along wasn't happy (starts at 3:14:00):
Fans should have known something was awry when the entire match was cast in a weird red hue. It quickly devolved into less than 20 minutes of Rollins beating the tar out of The Fiend with an escalating number of weapons before ultimately getting the match waved off because he took out a sledgehammer and used it.
Right after, The Fiend got back up, shoving aside medical personnel, and laid waste to Rollins. This entire sequence of events probably seemed like a money idea backstage, but it was borderline hard to hear the announce team over the chorus of boos.
The whole ordeal reeks of WWE being too afraid to pull the trigger in either direction. It seemingly didn't want to take the belt off Rollins and didn't want to have The Fiend look weak.
As wrestling fans know, though, there were surely much better ways to accomplish all of these things.
The Fiend taking all those curb-stomp finishers wasn't a terrible idea. He looked strong fighting back from them. Things got worse when the weapons came out and he just laid there tanking it and kicking out before the ill-fated decision to bring a sledgehammer into things.
This could have ended just fine for everyone if The Fiend had come out, brutalized Rollins and walked out; he doesn't care about belts, fine. Or if he had—get this—simply won.
One more option: WWE doesn't book this at all.
With so many lifelong people from the business with eyes and ears on this match, it's inexplicable that it ever got to this point. It shouldn't have been booked at all if WWE wasn't willing to commit one way or another. Everybody involved looks worse. The Fiend had perfect booking to this point, why not keep stringing him along toward bigger events in a way that makes sense?
And where do they go now? Rollins was already struggling as a champion. From the endless Baron Corbin feud to the Becky Lynch relationship run to this, the backlash might put a further damper on things. The stomp might just be ruined too.
And The Fiend? His momentum is squashed. Perhaps even worse, considering he popped back up and devastated the universal champion, good luck ever booking a believable way for him to lose a match again.
In a different timeline, The Fiend took out somebody else at Hell in a Cell and Rollins had a usual defense. Fans are still clamoring for Wyatt to get into the title scene and hot for his every appearance.
Now? WWE is clearly angling for some sort of "Wyatt broke Rollins" situation (he "Let Him In"), which has already been done in the past. But the only thing broken is the storytelling here, if not the characters involved.
It's unfortunate that this sort of swing and a miss on a scale of epic proportions might discourage WWE from taking risks in the future. But if there's a silver lining, it's that the company always has a chance to right its wrongs.
This is a very, very hard thing to come back from, but it's doable (maybe heel Seth, Wyatt steals the belt and sets up a Fiend vs. Beast at Survivor Series, something...anything). And this reaction stems largely from an adoration of The Fiend character, so saving him, at least, is feasible.
Even so, this is an unprecedented fumble for WWE given the importance of the week. SmackDown moved to Fox, NXT started the war with AEW on Wednesday nights. Instead of the gimme layup to end the week, WWE decided to do WWE things and, in the process, has perhaps tarnished a few different things past the point of recovery.