5-Star Match Reviews: Seth Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes – WWE Hell In A Cell 2022
If you take Dave Meltzer’s star ratings at face value, then 2022 was arguably the best year in wrestling, ever.
That year, there were 21 matches rated 5-stars or higher by pro-wrestling’s most well-known journalist and chronicler. Of those, only two took place in WWE. And of those two, one of them was only the second-ever HIAC match to be rated 5-stars.
To me that’s an incredibly high standard. In 1997, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker had the perfect cell match. It might not have been the cream of the crop from an in-ring perspective, but from a storytelling perspective it was for sure.
So to claim that this match between Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes was on the same level of greatness as that 90s classic is a very bold claim. Let’s see how well the match holds up now that the hoopla has died down and we can look back at the match from a (relatively) balanced perspective.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
This match was built around a simple premise: no matter what Seth Rollins did, he couldn’t beat Cody Rhodes one-on-one. He tried at WrestleMania 38 and failed. He got a rematch at Backlash and failed again. Desperate to try and even the odds, Rollins managed to get under Cody’s skin enough to goad him into accepting a third and final match between them.
But that wasn’t the only thing under Cody’s skin. A few days before this match took place, Cody tore his pectoral muscle in a brawl on RAW. Days later, Cody’s injury worsened and he tore his pec completely off the bone. But Cody was a tough bastard and he wanted to continue with the match despite having a severe injury.
Cody was determined to fight insurmountable odds, just like his father had in the past. But Rollins vowed to be as vicious as ever and had the biggest advantage possible. Cody might as well have had his arm tied behind his back, that’s how bad things were for him. But could he still do it? Could Cody overcome severe injury and physical impairment and beat Rollins once and for all, or would Rollins apply lessons his mentor Triple H’s and wrestle in the most cerebral manner possible?
This match originally took place on June 5th, 2022.
Rollins has polka dot-themed attire that’s an obvious dig at Dusty Rhodes. Meanwhile, Cody removes his jacket and holy crap is that tear bad. Most of his right side and part of his right arm have turned a nasty mix of dark red and black.
After a tense stand-off, Rollins goes for the injury but Cody brushes him off. Cody lands some jabs and a Disaster Kick but Rollins gets up quickly and goes for a back suplex. Cody escapes and hits a springboard cutter but hurts his injured side in the process. He fights through the pain and goes for Cross Rhodes but Rollins escapes, only to get locked in a Figure-4. Rollins pulls himself to the ropes (not for a ropebreak, though) and pulls out a toolbox and a kendo stick, the latter of which he uses to whack Cody’s injured side.
Rollins hits Cody with the kendo stick in an unconventional manner until Cody catches the stick with his healthy left side and lands more jabs. Cody tries flipping out of a corner Ric Flair-style off an Irish whip but Rollins charges and knocks Cody off the apron into the cell wall. Rollins follows with a running dropkick and pushes the tip of the kendo stick further into Cody’s pec. He grinds Cody into the cell for a while until Cody counters and does the same. Rollins escapes back into the ring and goes for an Irish whip but Cody counters with a big kick and some clotheslines that send Rollins to the floor.
Cody gets some recovery time and goes after Rollins but Rollins hits Cody’s bad side with the steel ringsteps. As Cody writhes in pain in the ring, Rollins doesn’t do the logical thing and pin but puts on Cody’s coat and pulls out a polka dot weight belt. Rollins whips Cody with the belt and covers for a two-count so Rollins grabs a table, which gets a pop even though this guy’s supposed to be the villain. A “thank you Rollins” chant erupts as Rollins acts as despicably as possible and sets up the table. Cody tries cutting him off but Rollins rakes his eyes. Rollins goes for a superplex into the table but Cody escapes. Cody tries a powerbomb but Rollins holds on and then hits two rolling elbows. He goes for a frog splash…but Cody dodges and Rollins goes through the table.
Cody teases using the weight belt but then decides against it and pulls out a bullrope from under the ring. Cody straps one end in and throws the other end at Rollins. Rollins straps in and the match turns into an impromptu bullrope match. They struggle until Cody hits Rollins’ head with the bell for a two-count. The two struggle at ringside until Rollins gets the upper hand and pulls the bullrope which causes Cody to hit a ringpost bad shoulder-first. Rollins frees himself and pulls out another table. He goes for a corner table powerbomb but Cody escapes. Rollins stops himself from running into the table but Cody catches whim with Cross Rhodes. One, two, Rollins kicks out.
Cody teases a powerbomb of his own but can’t lift Rollins due to his weakened right side. Rollins blocks being sent into the table again, wrenches the bad arm, and hits a superkick. That’s followed by a throwing powerbomb into the table. Rollins covers…and Cody kicks out.
Frustrated, Rollins pulls out his trusty sledgehammer and goes to use it but Cody blocks. Then Cody both blocks a Pedigree from Rollins and hits one on Rollins. The referee counts one, two, and Rollins kicks out. Cody grabs the sledgehammer and chases Rollins with it…until Rollins catches him and hits the Stomp. Rollins covers but only gets a two-count. after a long pause Rollins goes for another Stomp. But this time Cody dodges and teases Cross Rhodes. Wait, Rollins counters and lands his own. Then Rollins goes for a second one, but Cody counters that and hits his Cross Rhodes. Both men go down.
Both men crawl towards the sledgehammer. Cody gets it first but can’t lift it up because of his pec. Rollins charges with it. Cody blocks and hits two more Cross Rhodes. But instead of hitting a third, he drops Rollins and hits him with the sledgehammer. One, two, and three! Cody wins!
Winner after 24:22: Cody Rhodes
That was very disappointing. There’s no way that this is on the same level as Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker in 1997. Not even close. The two matches aren’t even on the same planet, much less in the same atmosphere as one another. This match was fine and unique as far as HIAC matches go. But to call this some kind of 5-star epic would be a huge stretch.
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first: Cody showed guts for wrestling this match more or less with one arm. Throughout the match I think he only used his right arm five or six times. For the rest of it he used his left side and fought like someone that genuinely had no use of a limb. He fought through excruciating pain because that’s how committed he was to wrestling. He did more or less everything right was the ultimate underdog here …but Rollins didn’t take from Cody’s cues and be the ultimate opportunist that he should’ve been.
While Rollins did zero in on Cody’s injury and made it the focal point of his offense, he did so while showboating and grandstanding. As they say about music, it’s as much about the space between the notes as about the notes themselves. And while Rollins had a sound strategy, he didn’t come across as the remorseless killer that needed to win at any cost. Rollins decided to showboat and insult Cody by putting on his coat and grabbing the polka dot belt, instead of pinning Cody right after hitting him with the steel steps. Rollins had a good chance to win right then and there but instead went with the illogical decision and decided to drag this out. If winning was so important to him, why wasn’t he going for more pins? Cody was at way less than 100% here so if there was ever a match in which even the most unrealistic near-fall move could work, it would be here. Yet Rollins didn’t do the smart thing; instead, he just wasted time.
Rollins looked slow, apathetic, and overconfident. Those traits didn’t fit the story or the structure of the match. I never got the impression that Rollins was really trying. He was just going through the motions and hitting his usual moves without making the most out of his circumstances.
Speaking of which, this was another false Hell in a Cell match that featured the overplayed WWE bait-and-switch. The action took place inside a cell, but the cell itself barely played a part in the match. Instead, the match devolved into another hardcore match within a cell. There was no sense of claustrophobia, confinement or special story involving the Cell; as soon as Rollins grabbed the kendo stick, the HIAC stipulation felt less special. And when he pulled out his first stable, the HIAC stipulation became completely irrelevant. If both guys decided to build their match around using those weapons, why did they need the cell? This had the same problem as Rollins’ HIAC match with Edge: it wasn’t “you’re locked in here with me and I’m going to destroy you”, but “we’re locked in here together let’s to spots”. Two different philosophies, two entirely different results.
On that note, why would there be a kendo stick, a polka dot belt, and a bullrope under a ring, unless it was known ahead of time that those items were needed for the match? Think about it logically, not as someone that has seen HIAC matches before: the only things that should be under the ring are things that one can expect to find at any wrestling show. A toolbox makes sense and folding tables make sense. But a kendo stick? A sledgehammer? And a weight belt with a very specific design intended to anger a single person in the whole world? Those things just don’t belong. Sure, each one of them got a cheap pop, but that was only momentary noise and didn’t actually signal any progress in the match. The match even got silly as the crowd chanted for Rollins, just because he pulled out a table. I get that some fans are just bloodthirsty and want carnage, but that just sounded ridiculous.
As a final point, think about the story implications from this match. Rollins lost to Cody three times in a row. In this third match, Cody was literally unable to use one arm and Rollins still lost. Rollins had control for most of the match but he let victory slip through his fingers because he had to be his obnoxious character. If you look at this not as someone that follows WWE regularly but as someone that may, by the off chance, watch this match and have a casual understanding of the story, why would you ever take Rollins seriously again? Why would anyone tune into watch him or pay money to see him wrestle when he loses despite having so many advantages and looks like a dork in the process?
Final Rating: ***
This match only has one real draw: Cody’s injury. Once Cody took his coat off and fans got to see how badly he was hurt, the appeal of this match began to disappear quickly. Once he started wrestling and bumped on his own injured side two minutes in and then continued, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be anything unique from a match perspective. The uniqueness came from how Cody looked; everything else in this match was as by-the-numbers as it gets in WWE.
They tried to make this into something “special” with some overt nods to and digs at Cody’s father. It was cheap heat and sort of worked, but the payoff wasn’t that great. Part of that was the crowd: the biggest pop didn’t come when Cody overcame all of Rollins’ offense and put him away; it came when Rollins got a table. The match might as well have ended there because it was hard for both men to go make the crowd go any further from there.
In hindsight, this is a mediocre and skippable match. The WrestleMania match was better and if you want to see Cody’s bruises then you can Google them. I’m pretty sure both of those things take up less time than this underwhelming affair.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.