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WWE Hell in a Cell lacks an undercard, but trio of headlining matches more than make up for it



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.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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