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31 Days of Wrestling (12/27/19): A Divine Comedy (Seth Rollins vs. the Fiend, Hell in a Cell)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies, and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2019 produced for us.

When Bray Wyatt introduced the Fiend, no one was ever sure what kind of career trajectory both characters would go on.

Would it be like the original Undertaker, where he would assert the supernatural horror aspect of the character over random characters? Would it be like mid-2000s Kane after the unmasking reboot, where he would go after somewhat high-profile targets? Or would he just be a part of the machine, interacting with the system around him like he was nothing too special?

By the time we got to October for Hell in a Cell, the answer had been the latter two options. His first true assault was on Finn Balor, who he ended up sending back to NXT, inadvertently corrupting him enough to become the Prince Prinxe again. After that, the Wyatt and the Fiend set their sights on then-Universal Champion Seth Rollins and the title. Nobody knows exactly why a demonic entity needs a man-made wrestling championship, or why a champion would choose to defend his title against one—as if that would stop a haunting, or something—but this is the story we got. 

And as it turned out, this story would end up being Rollins's own undoing: by the time Hell in a Cell rolled around, people were getting sick of him and, strangely, in love with the Fiend. Here was Seth Rollins, top of the WWE totem pole but still ridiculously uncool, mostly because he didn't know how to Twitter. In the opposite corner was Bray Wyatt and the Fiend, creative genius-turned-horror master, who could apparently do no wrong. 

All this tension would come to a head in the actual Hell in a Cell match.


Despite the unbearable red light that comes with every Fiend match, everything the monster did in the Devil's Favorite Playground was cheered by the Sacramento crowd, while conversely, every little bit of momentum Rollins gained was booed. 

This would continue for the whole bout, up until the disappointing climax—realizing that there wasn't much he could do physically to keep the Fiend down for a three-count, Rollins would bury him under a pile of steel, chairs and ladders and all, and brandish a sledgehammer. The referee, sensing what Seth was about to do, tried his hardest to stop the blow; of course, he's just a ref, so Seth went through with it anyway, seemingly destroying the Fiend with heavy blows on the steel pile.

It's at this point where things get muddy.

The ref calls for the bell, and many people are led to believe that he disqualifies Rollins for apparently trying to murder the Fiend. This infuriates many fans because not only did their new demonic idol not win, but who gets disqualified in a Hell in a Cell match? Despite not being the actual monster, Rollins looks like the actual villain here. Fans start chanting for AEW. It's only much later that we learn it was actually a referee stoppage, something like a TKO, which definitely makes more sense—only that in the ensuing chaos after the match, nobody clarifies this, when a simple line from the ring announcer would've saved them all the trouble.

The less-than-ideal reception for that ending wasn't the biggest issue raised here, though. Far from it: it was actually the creeping realization that Seth Rollins as the company's top hero just wasn't working. As it has done many times over the history of the WWE, the real world worked harder to sabotage what the company wanted.

For what seemed to be the first time, though, this was the case when Vince McMahon listened to his paying fans. Thanks to angles well-executed, the Fiend ends up winning in slightly anti-climactic fashion at Crown Jewel, after the moment passes. After Survivor Series, it didn't take too long for Rollins to turn to the dark side and embrace the asshole that was in him all along. That might be the biggest win: learning that WWE could still listen to its fans. 

Maybe it doesn't do it all the time, maybe it's only doing this because of the competition, but knowing that you're getting through somehow is a pretty good feeling for fans who want to like the product and support the roster, but can't find solid reasons to. Maybe the true Fiend was everything they've forced on us along the way.


*****


31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2019. Read our previous entries:

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