I figured that with Hell in a Cell on the way in a few days it was time for a Retro Recap of one of the previous offerings of this event. It’s only been around as a standalone pay per view since 2009 I believe so there’s some history but not like Summerslam or WrestleMania. In recent years it’s also lost some luster as an event although last year’s show did offer up some great stuff with The Usos vs New Day and Shane McMahon vs Kevin Owens, We’ll see how things go in 2018 but first a little history. Hell in a Cell 2012 came in the middle of a force fed heel turn for CM Punk (you can see my Retro Recap on WrestleMania 29 for more on that) that wasn’t taking, largely because they were playing him against John Cena which was not the right move in 2012 for sure. This particular show was notable for Cena not being on it at all which in itself was a big deal in 2012.
They were also at a point where the dust had finally settled on the ending of the initial brand split and so a lot of people who’d been on the roster for a few years were being swept away – guys like John Morrison, Ezekiel Jackson, Mason Ryan, Ted DiBiase Jr., Evan Bourne – while others like Darren Young, Heath Slater, Drew McIntyre, and Jinder Mahal were undergoing repackagings to try and salvage opportunities that had gone awry. And then you had guys like Husky Harris and Michael McGillicuty who were sent back down to NXT for a makeover and would return as Bray Wyatt and Curtis Axel, respectively. While all that was going on the few guys who were on good solid footing – Randy Orton, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler, Big Show and some others like Kofi Kingston – were holding down the entire midcard while the future of the roster was being figured out. And yeah, there was a guy named Daniel Bryan who was getting what could essentially be called a stealth push that would land him in a ring across from Cena almost a year later at Summerslam. That made for a lot of matches that seemed like business as usual but were in fact quite good in retrospect.
We can’t talk repackaging without mentioning Ryback. The former Skip Sheffield (his real name) of the ill fated Nexus disappeared for a while and then returned under this guise, a Goldberg clone with a lot of the same moves and mannerisms that did manage to get over despite a lot of ‘Goldberg!’ chants during his matches. He’d gone undefeated since his return, and with a void as far as challengers for Punk after burning through Daniel Bryan and a virtual two month stalemate with Cena he would get his chance here. So how was life in October of 2012? Let’s see:
Alberto del Rio vs Randy Orton
The story behind this one is that Del Rio jumped Orton after he lost a match with Big Show, then began mocking him before Orton got him back. Basically this was a quick heat up for match to put on the pay per view. We used to be ok with that kind of thing so long as the resulting match was good; seems like we aren’t like we used to be.
The match itself was a good one. Orton mainly was trying to beat up Del Rio while he worked on Orton’s arm to set him up for a cross armbreaker and hinder him from hitting the RKO. The crowd was solidly behind Randy here. Both guys hit some good spots and the setup for Orton hitting the RKO was a good one. Good opener.
Tag Team Title Match: Team Hell No (c) vs The Rhodes Scholars
The Rhodes Scholars were Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes. Team Hell No was in the middle of their reign as champs, and Bryan was going through his transition to a full fledged face. The dysfunction between he and Kane was still running high as was a major factor in their matches.
Here we got a well done but mostly standard tag team match until the finish. Both guys hit their finishers but were interrupted by their partner, almost costing them the titles when Rhodes and Sandow took advantage. The DQ finish was a kinda wacky but was done to serve the angle and not kill off the Rhodes Scholars.
Intercontinental Title Match: Kofi Kingston (c) vs The Miz
Kingston won the title on one the earliest episodes of WWE Main Event, essentially a ‘this is why you should watch!’ title switch. Miz spent the match working the leg to slow Kofi down and make it easier to hit the Skull Crushing Finale. It’s easy to forget how good Kofi was as a singles wrestler back then. Good match, and good work out of both guys here.
(We go next to a backstage segment between Kane and Bryan where they argue over the end of their match and take potshots at each other. I mention this because stuff like this was an important part of building Bryan’s character to the point where people wanted to see him win a main event for the world title)
US Title Match: Cesaro (c) vs Justin Gabriel
Gabriel won a special challenge match against Cesaro to get this title match. Cesaro was playing an ‘I’m better than you fat, lazy Americans’ heel and Gabriel was a guy who in 2018 would be a ‘hope he doesn’t leave the indies to get buried’ all star. He was a great high flyer but was too small to be a big star and couldn’t talk at all.
Crowd was damn near dead for this one. The WWE clearly knew they had something with Cesaro but were still figuring out what to do with him, and the fans hadn’t really taken to him at all. Pretty short match (7 minutes) that could have easily been done on RAW.
Sin Cara & Rey Mysterio vs The Prime Time Players
Sin Cara and Rey were the precursor to the Lucha Dragons (Cara & Kallisto). The Prime Time Players were a once promising tag team of Darren Young & Titus O’Neill. Good match with the usual high flying stuff from the Lucha guys but it was clearly here to kill time.
World Title Match: Sheamus (c) vs Big Show
Everything about this match was underrated. Sheamus had a great year in 2012 both in accomplishments and ring work, while Big Show turned in a far better than expected performance here. This was just a great, two big dudes beating each other up match, and was match of the night. The hook here was that Sheamus normal size advantage was non existent against Big Show.
The match told a great story of Big Show dominating and Sheamus fighting back valiantly only for Show to regain the advantage. The finishing sequence was just excellent, and you need to see it for yourself to appreciate it.
Diva’s Title Match: Eve Torres (c) vs Layla vs Kaitlyn
The then-Diva’s division had been absolutely decimated at this point – within the last year and change Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly, the Bellas, Kharma, Michelle McCool, and Maryse had all moved on, leaving us with a women’s slate that consisted of these three ladies, Alicia Fox, Natalya, and…….not much else to be honest unless you want to count Askana. And the only woman getting any real TV time was Eve, who was pulling double duty as a personal assistant to Smackdown GM Booker T as well as wrestling and had used the former to weasel her way into a title match and victory to become Diva’s champion.
You want a good indicator of how far the women’s division has come? This was the height of the time when the women were getting two minute TV matches and not even ten minutes on pay per views to show what they could do. It’s arguable that this was worse than the bra and panties stuff in the late 90s/early 2000s because at least they got real TV time. Here you had women that, given the chance, could do good work in the ring but were just getting their legs cut off at every chance. This match got 7 minutes, was essentially a bathroom break match (crowd was dead for it), and while it wasn’t bad it gets surpassed pretty much every week on Raw and/or Smackdown. But it did feature Eve Torres, who was and is a major wrestler crush of mine. So it wasn’t a total waste for me.
Main Event – WWE Title Match: CM Punk (c) vs Ryback
There’s been a bit of revisionist history about this match, where a few podcasters I’ve heard say that they could have put the belt in Ryback here and made a new headliner. My answer to that is to watch this match. Was it bad? Not at all but Ryback was extremely limited and for CM Punk at the height of his in ring abilities to only be able to get 11 good minutes out of him despite pulling out every trick in the cowardly cheating heel bag says a lot. They literally exhausted everything they could get out of Ryback in 11 minutes on a pay per view while Sheamus and Big Show, two guys saddled with the same kind of reputation, gave us 20 minutes of great big man work with no gimmicks.
The one thing this match, and the program it ran with through the following January, did accomplish was finally get some heel heat on Punk unlike the previous two months of pay per view matches with John Cena. Ryback did not have the 50/50 relationship with the fans so it was easier to get Punk some boos against him, and by matches end the crowd was not feeling him. And in his defense Ryback had gotten pretty hot in this undefeated streak run but a title victory would have been a classic ‘Now what?’ case.
The match itself was good, a rightly timed quasi sprint to suit a guy who can’t do a whole lot, but the finish was an awful overbooked mess with a crooked referee and a fast count.
Good show. Every match was at least ok, and they all had something positive to offer. A real hidden gem amongst WWE pay per view shows. Another special tidbit is that this was the last pay per view before three guys in all black would jump the rail and change history. The last six years are littered with shows like that came and went but are actually quite good if you go back and watch them again. Definitely recommend this one.