Hey, did you know WWE is doing a really big house show in Australia next month? If you watched last night’s Hell in a Cell PPV you sure do, because literally every break between matches (and even one during the only pre-show match) had a commercial for the damn thing — even if it’s questionable whether or not the event will take place within the central WWE continuity or be a weird side story like the Dragon Ball Z movies. Still, despite the near constant promotion of the Broly of WWE house shows, Hell in a Cell was a rather fun, if at times forgettable, show that harkened back to a grittier, pre-PG day at times, all while maintaining the elevated work rate that makes the modern product stand out. How did it all shake out, you ask?
- Coach is doing these now.
- When they aren’t promoting the Royal Rumble on the barbie or whatever, the company is constantly shilling for its tile-match mobile game, WWE Champions — which only recently began to feature female superstars. Now as far as Bejewelled clones go, the app is adequate yet repetitive, but I’m happy that the ladies get a chance to be just as commercialized as the dudes. That being said, the commercial features the digital avatars of half the women’s roster across both brands hitting their finishers and signatures on Asuka. I don’t know if this was an accident or a continued degradation of the Empress of Tomorrow, but JEEZ. They can’t even give Asuka a win in a commercial for a free-to-play mobile game.
- Similarly, they promote the upcoming return of the Mixed Match Challenge and it’s all fine, much like the show itself, except that Kevin Owens complains in his vignette that he “just can’t get away from Braun Strowman.” Like…dude, you’ve been helping him and his buddies out for the past several weeks — and it appears to be by choice. So like…which is it? Is he a good member of the heel roster working with the Dogs of War to stomp out the Shield or is he the lone opportunist who quit the company a few weeks back because he was unfairly being targeted by the Monster Among Men?
- Let’s also talk about the aesthetic for this show because blegh. It’s all reds and yellows with the same font that Rob Zombie used for his Halloween movies for the text. It’s kind of an ugly mess, especially when they trot out the blood-red cell looking like the top of a Makers Mark bottle. I know the WWE title match headlined TNA Sacrifice in 2007, but that doesn’t mean we need the Steel Asylum match to come back. Considering the red hunk of paraffin wax they pulled out of Randy Orton’s leg later on, I’m thinking this may be a one-and-done kind of thing. The less said about the absolutely awful poster of Roman and Braun as literal monsters, the better.
- The only pre-show match is the SmackDown Tag Titles bout between The New Day and Rusev Day (no relation). It’s a fun one, like all New Day matches are, and it even manages to make Aiden English look like a threat at times. That being said, the ending was exactly what you’d expect, with English f-----g up, costing the duo the match, and kicking the can down the road toward what is clearly the inevitable split of Rusev Day. Sorry Ru Ru, maybe you’ll get a push when you’re a solo act again…
Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy (Hell in a Cell)
So unlike the old TNA shows built around steel cage matches, WWE only runs two Hell in a Cell bouts to bookend the event that bears its name, and honestly it’s better that way. It doesn’t wear the gimmick down, and allows the crowd some time to breathe between the high spots. This match in particular was a good way to start the show because it was a gritty throwback to the HIAC matches of the Attitude Era – fitting, since these guys are the only two full-time performers from that era on the card. While they couldn’t get as raucous and bloody as both of these guys may have wanted, it was a nasty, violent affair with a number of high spots that left indelible marks on both competitors, and worked the crowd into a frenzy in a way that neither man has been able to do in recent weeks, quite frankly.
You know what else was a throwback? Jeff Hardy’s mesh shirt. I know he’s still popular, but I wish he had dropped the mid-90s mall goth look years ago. Also a throwback? The return of creative Jeff Hardy. Though he’s on the wrong side of 40 and still moving slower than his moveset demands, Hardy’s out here surfing tables into Orton’s gut, setting up logical Poetry in Motions against the cage and getting suplexed into ladders like the Hardy of old. For his part, this is invested heel Orton, which is to say, best Orton. This was a return to form for the Apex Predator, with Randy’s vicious side shining through with every chair shot and slap from Hardy’s studded Hot Topic belt. At one point, he even dumps over a toolbox hidden beneath the ring and uses a screwdriver to pull and twist Jeff’s gauged ear holes in maybe the most wince-inducing thing I’ve seen in WWE since Sami Zayn trotted out three local workers dressed as Bobby Lashley’s sisters. This fires up Hardy who sets the Viper on a table, climbs to the top (of the inside) of the cage and swings himself into a belly flop…only for Orton to move, resulting in Jeff going face-first through the table. It was a great spot, and treated as instant death, with the ref somewhat reticent to count the pin rather than just stop the match. Still, solid heel work from Randy to force his hand.
This was probably the best match from either of these guys in years, and it was all because they were allowed to get rough with each other. The shots were all crisp, the movements were all slick and purposeful, and though there were clear signs of fatigue, it never felt sloppy, which is super rare for Hardy these days. I didn’t care about this feud and it didn’t earn a spot in the Cell, but these two definitely made the most out of their time in the “satanic structure.” Hopefully Hardy will get to take some time off now and rehab his many injuries. For Orton, I’d like to see his newfound “cruel heel” character give the rub to a babyface who could use it…say…one Rusev, maybe?
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair (c) for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
Maybe I’m reading too far into it, but why did they try to rush all the SmackDown matches to the first half of the card? Does Tom Phillips have a bedtime or something? Anyway, this was a feud that I thought would have benefitted from a spot in the cage. The beef between Disney princesses Merida and Aurora has been exceptionally personal, complete with sneak attacks, earnest accusations of entitlement and repression and a character so undeniably popular that a heel turn had to be hastily rewritten. Still, this was (unsurprisingly) a really well-told match from two of the best performers in the company — even if it was a little understated compared to the spotfests that would precede and follow it. What impressed me most was the storytelling both women were able to wrench out of a very technically wrestled match. You forget that both women can really go with chain wrestling, even if it eventually descends into one-armed powerbomb reversals and hammerlock DDTs that actually do the job of working the shoulder (Which is the whole point of the hammerlock, if you think about it).
The finish comes when Flair goes for a spear, only for Becky to roll through it with (a somewhat sloppy if I’m honest) inside cradle for the clean, if a little sneaky pin. After the match Charlotte offers to raise Becky’s arm in victory, but Lynch just hoists the title in her face and says “You won’t steal my moment.” Pitch perfect. This wasn’t the most spectacular outing on the card, but it told a great story and gave the audience what they wanted: Becky as champion. I’m sure these two will likely face off again at Super Show-Down (Remember that? It’s coming up soon on the WWE Network!…oh god, it’s happening to me now), and that should be a good match, but I’m most interested to see where they take the Becky Lynch character going forward. Will they continue to push her as a heel or will they lean into the sort of “no nonsense badass” character that she’s cultivated in the past few weeks? I hope it’s the latter, but this is a company that torpedoed their top face so Roman Reigns could sell a few more T-shirts, so who knows.
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre (c) for the Raw Tag Team Championships
You know, I know he’s tried to abandon the whole “Steal the Show” tagline in recent weeks, but ever since Dolph Ziggler teamed up with Drew McIntyre he’s been consistently in the match of the night. A lot of that has to do with the duo’s ongoing beef with the Shield giving them the immensely talented Seth Rollins to work off of (also wacky berserker Dean Ambrose), but credit where credit’s due: them boys been putting in work. This was easily the best worked match on the card and it never really let up as far as pace and structure goes. Each one of these guys delivers and the bout actually manages to build to one of the rarest things in the modern WWE: an exciting, clean heel victory.
There’s a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) symmetry between the two teams that makes them natural foils. Both teams come out as individuals (even though Seth and Dean really should just come out as the Shield), are comprised of speedy technicians (Seth/Dolph) and a muscley madman (Dean/Drew), and are part of a dominant trio currently at the top of the card — and facing off this October at SUPER SHOW-DOWN…no, fight it! FIGHT IT! — anyway, this bout never lets up and is always competitive, making the finish of Drew hitting a Claymore Kick on Seth while he was in the middle of his Superplex/Falcon Arrow combo come a little out of nowhere, but in a good way. Let’s be real here, Big Mac is a future world champion, so I like him standing out as the baddest dude in a match with three former champions. The image of him throwing an exhausted Ziggles (as well as both titles) over his shoulder as he leaves is super telling too. We all felt like he was carrying the team, now we just have a literal visual representation of it that will inevitably feature in the video package whenever they shoot the breakup angle for this team.
As I said in our predictions piece, I don’t see the Dogs of War lasting for a long time, so they’ll probably drop those belts soon enough, but not dropping the titles to the Shield was the right move. Those dudes do not need it, and Seth should be out there defending that IC belt, not holding it hostage because his trios team is too popular to allow for singles defenses (see: Dean Ambrose’s lengthy US Title reign). I do think the fist pals will end up costing Drew and Dolph the straps on a random Raw between now and the SUUUUUUUPPPPEEEERRR….the next PPV, but I think these guys are big enough to beef without holding Raw‘s tag division hostage. I just hope it’s dropped to someone who needs the run like, oh I dunno, a few Top Guys?
Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles (c) for the WWE Championship
Honestly, I could have copy+pasted the first 3 sentences from my Becky/Charlotte write up for this one. Why is the WWE Champinoship match right in the middle of the card? AJ Styles is one of your best performers and eminently popular, so why can’t he ever headline a show? Is there some unwritten CM Punk rule that says indie guys can be champ, but can’t be at the top of the card? Also, this was maybe the most personal and violent build to a match on the entire show, why wasn’t it in the Cell? You couldn’t afford to drop Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube a third time in one night? This one literally brought AJ’s wife and daughter into the feud, but Randy gets his hands (and we know where they’ve been) on Jeff in the cage because he wiped off dude’s face paint? Come on, man.
Still, predictably, these two put on a great, if not entirely memorable match. There’s an obvious chemistry between the two that has been cultivated over the past decade or so that these two have been working together. Joe is out there working his ass off, and hitting every move with such snap and vigor that you forget the dude is pushing 40. Unfortunately, AJ’s motions, though fluid and often beautiful, sort of pale in comparison. He looks the other side of 40 out there and I don’t think it’s because he can’t keep up — it feels like he’s just not using his full effort. It’s a lot like the past several years of Randy Orton (man, that dude keeps popping up), where his moves were technically precise and well-performed, but he’s just kind of dead behind the eyes. It’s like a dancer going through a routine they’ve done a million times before, rather than an athlete pulling out desperation moves to fell a foe. And this is a match that really would’ve benefitted from a more intense and scrappy Styles, as he was on the backfoot for most of the match.
That’s even true in the finish, as Joe slaps Styles in the Coquina Clutch, only for AJ to flip through to pin the Samoan Submission Machine’s shoulders to the mat. Unfortunately, while the ref was counting the three, AJ was tapping out on the opposite side. As such, Styles retains even though he quit, and Joe is left looking foolish again. Later on there’s a backstage interview where Joe demands his rematch at Nathan Jones’ Spring Break 2: Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbie be no DQ, but like…why? It wasn’t a lack of rules that led to Joe’s loss here, it was s----y officiating. I get that he wants to brutalize Styles without restriction, but he did a pretty decent job of kicking AJ’s ass within the rules, so what’s the big deal there? Anyway, it should be a decent match. I just want fired up AJ to show up. The Styles/Roman AJ. The Styles/Cena AJ. The Styles/Nakamura AJ…wait, maybe scratch that last one. Also, just let Joe win, dammit. He deserves to have some kind of title on the main roster.
The Miz and Maryse vs. Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella
First up, it has to be said: I hate EVERYONE in this match’s gear. Whoever told Bryan that the Seahawks colors was a good idea lied to him, and nowhere is that more evident than in Brie’s hideous outfit. Not only does the color make her look like a failed attempt at Breath of the Wild Cosplay, but the cut on both her and Maryse’s outfits just fail to flatter either of these exceptionally beautiful women’s figures like their old gear did. I get that both women have recently had children, and I know that it’s not an easy road back to the kind of physical fitness the industry often demands of women, but that should have been considered when drawing up designs for the their costumes. The Mizanins’ outfits aren’t as egregious, but MAN are they too busy. Silver on black could work, but Miz’s trunks look like they have one of those New Era hat stickers on them, whereas Maryse has a glittery cat’s cradle on her stomach. Honestly, Miz’s gear has been questionable since WrestleMania, and dude needs to rethink his look.
Unfortunately, the match itself is about as bad as the decision to put aqua and lime tights on your most popular performer. The Miz and Bryan parts are mostly fine, but a little tepid compared to their one-on-one encounter at SummerSlam. No, where the match fails is in its psychology and (unfortunately) in the limitations of the female performers in this particular match. Let’s get this out of the way early: though Nikki Bella did put in the work to improve in the ring and become a decent wrestler, her sister never really earned that distinction. Similarly, I don’t really remember Maryse being a standout performer of the Divas era, and 10 years away from ring and five months removed from giving birth isn’t really going to help her much. Perhaps that’s why the idea was to have Maryse run from Brie at every drop of the hat. On one hand, I get that you craft that narrative as an excuse to keep the professionals who do this day-in and day-out in the ring for the bulk of the time, but surely they could have done something that doesn’t imply that Brie is a competitor to be feared. I mean, did Maryse see the Bellas’ match with the Riott Squad? Brie’s more likely to hurt herself than her opponent — just stand ringside and wait for her to attempt a dive.
Eventually, Brie and Maryse end up in the ring and legal, allowing Maryse to score a sloppy rollup on Bella for the clean win. I think they wanted to imply she grabbed the tights for the pin, but that didn’t happen, so they dropped it immediately. Still, this is an interesting wrinkle in the Miz/Bryan feud, as Miz is now up 2. Common consensus would be that it means Bryan’s taking the win at SUUUUUUUUUUUUU…in Australia, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Unless WWE has been reading my letters, Samoa Joe isn’t winning that title any time soon, which suggests that AJ will be needing a heel to face off against when we get to Survivor Series, so I still think Miz takes that one, while Bryan moves on to a new feud to help restore his credibility after a thorough stomping by the king of soft style. Just please, WWE…don’t have him squash Samoa Joe. Joe only works if you let him win sometimes. Don’t Bray Wyatt Samoa Joe.
Alexa Bliss vs. Ronda Rousey (c) for the Raw Women’s Championship
If I’m honest, the best part about this match is Alicia Fox’s outfit. While Mickey James (the other half of the Blisstourage™) makes an effort to match Alexa’s color scheme, Alicia decided “Nope, I’m dressing as ambiguous starship captain or nothing at all!” I’m glad too, because nothing else about this match is really notable. Ronda’s green, but is mostly fine from a performance standpoint. She’s out here throwing judoka and tosses that hit with a snap that rivals Samoa Joe’s offense, but peppering the rest of the bout with these sloppy ass 2016 Dean Ambrose strikes and a really unconvincing armbar that a legit combat sports athlete like Rousey should know better than. For her part, Bliss is similarly competent with the storytelling, but just not a really convincing in-ring performer. This bout is far more competitive than their SummerSlam encounter, but it never earnestly feels like Ronda’s in trouble. It’s not that Ronda doesn’t know how to sell or anything; Bliss’s offense just doesn’t really work for me.
That all being said, whoever is choreographing Ronda’s matches has a real eye for logical setups. This is one of the only matches I can recall with a tree of woe spot that doesn’t feel contrived or forced, and all of the rib work on Rousey pays off when she struggles and fails at some moves to sell the injury, it even makes the double crossbody late in the match make a ton of sense. The finish comes with a quick armbar tapout, despite some shenanigans involving Nattie, Mickie and some drag queen that just finished performing karaoke as both Captain and Tenille. It was what it was, which is to say it was fine, but no one will be talking about this as anything other than Rousey’s first title defense. Oh well, on to Evolution where Ronda breaks the arm of a part-timer. Man, the Brock allusions are so clear.
Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns (c) for the Universal Championship
Speaking of Brock, where did this ending come from? I get that you don’t want to put the belt on Strow yet, and have to take the MitB briefcase off him while not making him look like a chump, but where do we go from here? Is Brock going to be around while he’s in fight camp for his UFC bout with Daniel Cormier? Let’s hope so, because otherwise this is one hell of a cliffhanger to just leave out there without resolution. Still, this was was one hell of an entrance for Brock, which we’ll get to after we talk more about the actual match.
This was very much a Roman and Braun match, with the pair hitting a bunch of their greatest hits. Spear through the table? Check. Superman Punch being caught and turned into a chokeslam? Check. Roman doing that thing where he runs around the ring only for Strowman to chuck something at his face? Sadly not a desk chair this time, but check. It’s no stretch to say that all of the interesting parts of this match had nothing to do with the two men in this match. It was all fine, as Ro and Strow have great chemistry and know how to work with one another better than anyone at this point, but we’ve seen it all before.
Unsurprisingly, then, they send out both men’s cliques around the 12 minute mark to brawl around the cage. Then climb the cell and brawl a bit up there…then…climb down and brawl on the side of the cage…then drop both Rollins and Ziggler through the announce tables from the halfway point in the PG version of the Mick Foley memorial spot. With everyone wrecked in, on top of, or around the cell (side note, this took like eight minutes with Roman and Braun playing dead the whole time. If there weren’t all the madness going on around the ring, this would have been a ridiculous amount of time) Brock Lesnar’s music hits and the Beast literally kicks down the damn door to the Cell and beats the s--t out of both of them with whatever’s left of the table Braun went through, then F-5s both of them (even F-5ing Roman ONTO Braun). This was an interesting development in this match as there’s a lot you could do with this trio at the top…unfortunately the rumors have this angle paying off in Saudi Arabia of all places, so who knows when that will happen.
Stupidly, though, this leads to the match being thrown out which….what? This is a no DQ Hell in a Cell match: There HAS to be a winner. It’s not like this is the first time a third party has interjected themselves in a cell match to affect the outcome and those weren’t thrown out? Shoot, Kane literally ripped the door off the hinges (much like Brock) and beat the crap out of the Undertaker to give Shawn Michaels the win. Bray Wyatt teleported in with a hologram to cost Dean Ambrose a Cell match. Just because Paul Heyman maced the referee they throw this one out?
Oh yeah, Also Mick Foley was there…
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