If anyone ever deserved to be lauded for “pulling out all the stops,” it was surely Sasha Banks and Bayley at Hell in a Cell.
Think of all the most memorable moments in Hell in a Cell‘s history. There’s Mick Foley getting thrown off the top of the cage, Foley being launched down the roof of the cage, and Foley being launched down the roof of the cage, again. Those are moments that live forever because of the impact of the moments themselves and WWE‘s refusal to let us forget. But not everyone’s Mick Foley, and that’s fine.
We have Sasha Banks and Bayley. Two stars who live to wrestle each other. We’ve watched the documentaries and know the stories. These two are best friends who love pro wrestling with a love so strong that is felt by fans through their words and performances in the ring. The cage’s limits are only limits in structure; these “limits” gave two ultra-creatives like Banks and Bayley free rein.
Bayley arrived wielding a spray-painted steel chair, the message on the chair? “1-0.” That record suggested Bayley would be winning her first match in the cell, she said so herself at the top of the stage. I took it as a knock toward Banks, who had already competed in two cell matches and lost both. The chair will come into play again, but first, a bit on Sasha and Bayley’s history.
Bayley and Banks are inseparable. Not because they are best friends outside of WWE television, because they have been tied together in storyline for years. Their match at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015 is regarded by fans as one of the greatest wrestling matches ever, and their pairing as tag partners and on-screen besties was one of the highlights of a year disrupted by a pandemic.
Hell in a Cell was Sasha Banks’s chance to return the favor to Bayley
I don’t think I’m wrong to say that they, along with several others, are pioneers of long-form women’s wrestling in WWE. Women in WWE accomplished so much before Bayley and Sasha Banks, but what they couldn’t reach was true main event status. That changed when they were allowed to work longer, more story-driven matches in NXT. When Banks, Bayley, and more women from NXT eventually made their way to Raw and SmackDown, they were treated with the same respect they received in NXT.
The odds were in Banks and Bayley’s favor to add another all-time match to their record with each other, and so they did.
Bayley’s chair was tossed outside the cell before it completely enclosed the ring by Banks. Still, Bayley was the first to dig under the ring for another weapon. Her choice was a kendo stick, which is the PG era’s most versatile weapon. Strikes, submissions, and structures, you name it and a kendo stick can be used for it. Sasha removed it from her hands and launched it out a hole in the cell, almost hitting Michael Cole in his seat, whose reaction was hilarious.
My favorite thing about Sasha is how she just goes for it. This characteristic of her creates some really wild moments in the ring with very slim margins of error she normally succeeds in avoiding.
My favorite spot of the match came next. Banks and Bayley tussled for a table and banks drove her force behind one edge of it to ram Bayley into a cage wall. One table leg was up while the other was down, creating a makeshift ramp that Banks used to run up and jump off to knee Bayley’s head against the cage.
Sasha would later use that same table, still positioned as a ramp, to inflict damage on Bayley. Banks laid on the table after landing outside the ring and avoided a chair shot to her back by sliding underneath the table, where she then boosted the table up with her legs to smack Bayley in the face. Tell me that isn’t genius.
Corey Graves said it best during the match, “offense in a Hell in a Cell [is] only limited by the competitor’s imagination.” He said this as Sasha lodged some kendo sticks between the holes on the sides of the steel steps and the holes of the cage, a creation that backfired when Bayley used it against her.
Bayley was set on matching Sasha’s brilliance, but her first attempt did not succeed. Trying to tape together some sticks to use as some sort of table, her frustration led to her abandoning her project. Thanks to some improvisation, Banks used the time spent by Bayley unsuccessfully creating a new weapon to prepare an effective fire extinguisher attack on her.
Momentarily blinded, Bayley rolled back to the outside of the ring and neared herself to the lone door in the cage. She realized her customized steel chair was leaning on the exterior of the cage wall near the door and she pushed it open as much as the lock and chain allowed and squeezed the chair back inside. More on that chair, later.
What Bayley did to Sasha Banks was evil, and a match like Hell in a Cell — with its inherently violent nature — gave Sasha a chance to return the favor and finally unleash on her former on-screen best friend. There was a somber and forgiving tone in Sasha’s voice the week following Bayley’s betrayal, so it was great to see that progression into pure disdain culminate at HIAC.
This match was MacGyver in spandex. The next contraption came from Bayley, who used two steel chairs as table legs and a ladder as a tabletop. Here is what became of that:
Bayley’s title reign solidified her reputation as WWE’s best workhorse wrestler
Do you see what I mean about Sasha’s boldness? The jump off the horizontal ladder could have ended very badly, but Banks is fearless, and you need to be to have a memorable match in this “demonic structure.”
Sasha Banks escaped a Bayley-to-Belly attempt and dropped her opponent face-first onto the “1-0” chair. The chair was then used as a sadistic neck brace by Banks to lock Bayley’s head and neck for her Banks Statement submission hold. Picture a Crossface but with the back of Bayley’s neck grinding against the backrest of a steel chair, ouch. If that wasn’t enough, Banks repeatedly stomped on the chair and forced Bayley to finally tap out. Because of the chair’s upside-down angle, the camera captured Bayley’s chair reading “0-1” as she tapped.
Bayley did not win her first Hell in a Cell match.
A moment to commemorate Bayley’s 380-day reign as SmackDown Women’s Champion. “The cream rises to the top,” as her idol Randy Savage once said. Who would’ve thought four or five years ago that the childlike altruist accompanied by a handful of colorful inflatable tube men for her entrance had the potential to be one of the best heels in wrestling? Maybe many, maybe few, but what matters is she got the opportunity to prove her flexibility.
It’s not over for Bayley, of course, but a reign that began over a year ago is. Asuka, Naomi, Carmella, Tamina, Lacey Evans, Dana Brooke, and Nikki Cross comprised the list of names Bayley defeated to retain her championship. She rose to the main event as a loud-mouthed, arrogant, sometimes delusional champion, and earned recognition as a company workhorse in the process.
Bayley’s run proves all you need is a chance to either sink or swim, and she swam and swam some more. She, along with Banks, took advantage of their chance at Hell in a Cell.
The creativity of the competitors in this match wasn’t meant to overshadow the general brutality of the match. The two embraced the danger that comes with a match like this and took different kinds of risks to make this one of the best matches of the year.