Remembering Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair: The first women's Hell in a Cell
In 2016, WWE was in a full-on push for legitimizing women's wrestling in their company. While WWE had a great cast of characters in the division, most specifically Becky Lynch and the recently debuted Bayley, the two biggest stars, bar none, were Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair. They were two of the biggest Superstars in WWE, period. The second half of 2016 proved that. Before we get there, let's take a look at how we got there.
Charlotte made Becky Lynch tap out at WrestleMania 32 (in a triple threat match that included Sasha) to win the Women's Championship in April. She was champion for almost 4 months, but it may have only been that way because Sasha Banks wasn't around to get the title shot she deserved. Sasha made her return from injury in July, and in a tag team match (with surprise partner Bayley), she defeated Charlotte by submission at the Battleground event on July 24th. Between not being pinned or submitted at WrestleMania and making Charlotte tap out at Battleground, Banks had earned her title shot. She had it granted the next night on RAW. July 25th, 2016 marks the end of Charlotte's first title reign and the beginning of Sasha's. It was also the true beginning of what would become to many, the best feud, at least in North American professional wrestling, of the year.
It would be a see-saw rivalry for the rest of the year. Less than a month after her victory on RAW, Sasha lost the belt back to Charlotte at SummerSlam. In fact, during their rivalry that lasted for almost 5 months, neither woman was able to claim a successful one-on-one title defense. Charlotte did keep her title at Night of Champions in September by defeating Sasha and Bayley in a triple threat match, where Bayley took the pin. Sasha won the title for a second time just 2 weeks after that triple threat on the October 3rd episode of RAW. That title win also marked the second time a women's match took the main event spot on RAW. The first time happened nearly 12 years earlier when Trish Stratus and Lita battled in December 2004.
The battles between Banks and Flair had escalated to the point where there was no question to be asked -- October 30th was WWE's annual Hell in a Cell PPV event, and it was clear that Sasha and Charlotte were going to fight inside the Cell. Not only that, but it was going to be the main event.
WWE ran two other Hell in a Cell match that night. Roman Reigns successfully defended the United States Championship against Rusev and Seth Rollins was unsuccessful in his attempt to win the Universal Championship from Kevin Owens. Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair went on last when WWE had two members of The Shield in title matches on the same show, both also inside Hell in a Cell. This was quite an amazing feat for these two amazing young women. Not only were they the first-ever women inside Hell in a Cell, but they did it while also being the first women to main event WWE pay-per-view event. And on top of that, they had a great match. That's magic.
The match started with a bit of a tribute to the Mankind vs. Undertaker match from King of the Ring 1998. The Cell was lowered while the women were brawling outside of the ring, so they decided that since it was there, they may as well climb up! As expected, this didn't end well, as Charlotte was able to powerbomb Sasha through the announce table from about half-way up the Cell. Ouch. They tried to take Sasha out on a stretcher, but she fought the doctors and EMTs off, got off of that stretcher and they began the match like the warriors they are.
Tables, chairs, steel steps, the cage itself -- you name it, they used it. It was a war. In the end, Charlotte would defeat Sasha and pick up her third Women's Championship, once again ending Sasha's reign without a successful defense, and keeping her PPV winning streak alive. This match was everything a fan of women's wrestling, and a fan of wrestling in general could have wanted. It was the best match on the show and the women let the hatred come to the surface. You never forget your first -- especially when it's this good.
On Sunday, October 6, 2019, just shy of 3 years after the first women's Hell in a Cell match, WWE is doing it again. Sasha Banks will be walking into the match this time as the challenger, and will be facing off against a familiar foe, RAW Women's Champion Becky Lynch. The anticipation is at a fever pitch, and it's definitely a possibility that just as it was in 2016, the women's Cell may end up with top billing. Unlike the men's cell matches, which we see at least two of every single year, we have had to wait 3 years for another one with the women. That makes the first one special, and the second one special as well. If history is an indicator, wrestling fans are in for a treat this year at Hell in a Cell.