Hell in a Cell 2020 finds WWE at a time of chaos and transition. A large portion of the Raw and SmackDown rosters was shuffled up in the WWE Draft in recent weeks, and that hasn't allowed for enough time for most of the title pictures to shake out properly before Sunday's pay-per-view.
And yet the three headlining matches, which will all take place inside the bright red Hell in a Cell cage, appear to be strong enough to carry the show and make it one of the most must-see WWE events of the year. The WWE championship match between Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton is almost certainly the peak of their months of conflict, and their physicality and the story they've been telling seems particularly suited to that environment.
Roman Reigns' second Universal championship defense against Jey Uso, perhaps the most surprising breakout star of 2020, feels intensely personal and real. Reigns has wielded his power and anger to try to squeeze Uso into submission, and yet he's failed at every step of the way. Adding the "I Quit" stipulation to this Hell in a Cell match makes it feel significantly different from the other two matches inside the structure, and will likely serve as a fitting setting for Reigns to further descend into unbridled aggression and ruthlessness.
Then there is the long-awaited clash between Bayley and Sasha Banks. Bayley, the longest-reigning SmackDown women's champion in history, has carried that title for over a year, most of which was spent with Banks by her side. Together, they were the most consistent and entertaining attraction of Raw and SmackDown's "Performance Center" era. Their shared history in the ring and willingness to put everything on the line in big matches make accelerating the timeline for this chapter of this rivalry right past a traditional one-on-one match and into Hell in a Cell, make sense.
With the WWE making several of their "themed" pay-per-views focused on a particular type of match, including Elimination Chamber, TLC, Money in the Bank and Hell in a Cell, sometimes it feels like the matches that are pushed toward those stipulations are forced. The rest of the card might be up in the air just days out from the pay-per-view, but there's no doubt that these three cornerstone matches live up to the hype.
Hell in a Cell match for the WWE championship: Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Randy Orton
In the leadup to SummerSlam, Randy Orton was on his biggest roll in a decade. Drew McIntyre was just settling into his first reign as WWE champion and was nigh unbeatable. The match was seemingly impossible to call, and ended with a fluky pin by McIntyre in a match in which neither man hit any of his signature moves.
It left the door wide open for another match. The path to Clash of Champions was a bit rockier, with Keith Lee briefly getting folded into the mix and muddying the waters. But there was no lack of Claymore kicks, RKOs and punts to the face. Ultimately, the resulting Ambulance Match was another entertaining effort. The ghosts of Orton's "legend killer" past came back to haunt him, and with the assistance of Big Show, Christian, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, McIntyre won that match and it felt as though he had been elevated in their presence.
But Orton was undeterred. He utilized night vision goggles to take out the four legends during their celebration. Orton then scored a pinfall on McIntyre in a six-man tag team match, which may not seem like much until you dig a little deeper. It was only McIntyre's second loss of 2020 -- the first coming in a mixed tag team match with Asuka against Dolph Ziggler and Sasha Banks. It was the first time McIntyre had been pinned since Reigns had eliminated him in the 5-on-5-on-5 men's Survivor Series match on Nov. 24. In fact, McIntyre had lost only six times since August 2019.
That brings us to the crossroads of Sunday night. Orton has absorbed two losses without feeling like he was overmatched in either bout. McIntyre has been shown to be vulnerable, but still feels pretty unbeatable when it comes down to the big moment.
Prediction: When it's such a close call, there aren't really many bad options. McIntyre winning cleanly and decisively would continue to build up his momentum heading into the end of 2020. It would likely mark the end of his war with Orton, but there are plenty of fresh faces on Raw to battle with. Orton could beat McIntyre and claim his 14th world title in WWE, inching closer to Flair and John Cena and their record-setting 16 reigns. That would likely stretch the conflict with McIntyre out, and the only question would be how to escalate things after an Ambulance Match and a Hell in a Cell. It could go either way, but I'll go with McIntyre walking out of Hell in a Cell with his championship intact.
'I Quit Hell in a Cell match for the Universal championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Jey Uso
Reigns and Uso are cousins who have been close since childhood, as we've been reminded countless times, and their continued tension and anger comes down to the most childish type of conflict there is. After Reigns, the bigger, more established star, crossed the line and refused to stop attacking Jey Uso until he recognized Reigns as the "Tribal Chief" and the head of the family, it took Jey's brother Jimmy coming out and throwing the towel in to stop the match at Clash of Champions. Jimmy even called Reigns the Tribal Chief, but that didn't give Reigns the recognition he craved.
For weeks afterwards, as the familial bond continued to fray, Reigns continued to seek Jey's acknowledgement, but couldn't get it. Everything escalated to the point where an "I Quit" match inside of Hell in a Cell became Reigns' only solution. On SmackDown, just over a week out from the pay-per-view, the last strands of respect between the two frayed to nothing, as they traded attacks with a steel chair.
That leads us to Sunday. As overwhelming a favorite as Reigns may be heading into this match, Uso took part in one of the greatest Hell in a Cell matches of all time -- a tag team title match between The Usos and The New Day. This environment allows for all manner of creativity in violence, and expect Uso to continue to show off what he can do when it's one-on-one in the cage.
Prediction: Reigns wins, and finally drags what he wants out of Uso. But Uso makes Reigns work hard to get it.
Hell in a Cell match for the SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Bayley and Banks spent almost 100 days as women's tag team champions during their second reign with the belts, and a significantly longer stretch of 2020 carrying a lot of weight in WWE's women's divisions with both Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair away. While they held those belts, Banks won and briefly held the Raw women's championship as well. After a long stretch of "will they/won't they" as a potential breakup loomed through late 2019 and early 2020, holding all three main roster women's titles at once seemed to be a forge that would strengthen their bond and allow them to run roughshod over Raw, SmackDown and NXT.
And yet it was the weight of all of those titles that drove Bayley's selfishness and paranoia past the point of no return. Banks sacrificed herself to save Bayley's title from Asuka at SummerSlam, and given the same opportunity, Bayley declined to help Banks in the same way, costing her that Raw women's title. After a few weeks and a failed attempt to reclaim the women's tag team titles, Bayley brutally attacked Banks and then continued to attack her injured neck in the weeks that followed.
The story of Banks and Bayley has so many layers, and this attack was the perfect wrinkle in a long and complex story. Bayley feeling like she was merely beating Banks to the punch has some historical basis, as Banks was a bitter rival who has shown those types of tendencies in the past. And yet, in this instance, it was the ultimate betrayal, as Banks felt all of that was in the past and had dedicated herself to helping the woman she truly saw as her best friend stay on top of the SmackDown women's division for over a year.
After their 2015 NXT TakeOver match in Brooklyn that helped reshape the perception of what women's wrestling could look like, Bayley and Banks haven't had the right platform and story to prove themselves like that again. Sunday's match is that chance. Banks has already had great Hell in a Cell matches against Lynch and Flair, both in losing efforts. Bayley has wrestled on a couple of Hell in a Cell pay-per-view cards, but never inside the cage.
While the other two Cell matches will be great in their own right, Bayley vs. Banks has the potential to be the explosive clash that launches an entirely new chapter in their storied rivalry and steals the show.
Prediction: In her third Hell in a Cell match, Banks finally breaks through. She will also successfully retain that title in the return match, breaking the impossible streak of five title wins and no successful title defenses.
Jeff Hardy vs. Elias
This match, added Monday, boils down to Elias smashing Hardy with a guitar upon his return, and Hardy returning the favor on Monday during a surprisingly proficient performance of Elias and his band's new song. Thus far it's the only other match announced on the card, although it's likely we'll hear from The Hurt Business, Retribution, Bray Wyatt and any of at least a dozen others between now and Sunday.
Prediction: Elias is newly returned, so he wins. On a side note, Elias being bad at music is part of what makes his gimmick so great -- a terrible musician thinking he's the best, and that being the major driver of his ego. I'm not sure what his slowly growing proficiency means, but it's a strange adjustment that may not actually do Elias many favors in his wrestling career, in a strange, backwards way that only makes sense in this particular business.
Friday night's SmackDown brought the confirmation of a fifth match at Hell in a Cell -- the culmination of The Miz's months-long plan to snatch the Money in the Bank briefcase from Otis. This match was made during a court segment presided over by JBL, and while it didn't add any context to why Miz has any rights to the briefcase or even a challenge for it, at least there will be some closure. After the absolutely stunningly short-sighted idea to separate Otis from both his love interest Mandy Rose and his tag team partner Tucker, Otis has been getting by on his overwhelming charisma and a snazzy luchador disguise.
Come Monday, even if Otis retains the briefcase (which seems likely), he won't have anything left, as both his allies and enemies (Miz and John Morrison) are all on the Raw roster, while he's been left behind on SmackDown. WWE has certainly not done any favors to someone they seemed to be pretty high on.
Prediction: Otis finally has something fall his way and he retains the Money in the Bank briefcase. His chances of successfully cashing in on Reigns by himself, however, seem low.