WWE Hell in a Cell took place Sunday night at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
We had Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns reigniting their titanic feud for the Universal Championship. We had the rematch of Ronda Rousey and Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship and the destruction of best friends in Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch fighting over the SmackDown Women’s Championship. And in the opening bout, we had “The Enigma” Jeff Hardy enter “The Devil’s Playground” for the first time in his career.
Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton
For as many wars we’ve seen the Viper compete inside “Satan’s Structure,” we have never seen Jeff Hardy within its walls. For me at least, a majority of the hype behind this match was the speculation over whether or not Hardy would utilize the cell for a massive spot. After all, the guy who was willing to take a back-bump on the ring apron against Shinsuke Nakamura at SummerSlam would more than likely be jumping off the top of the cage with no fear, either. I have to say that these two veterans have put together a really intriguing personal feud with each other since Extreme Rules. Orton playing the obsessed character assassin and Hardy playing the defiant hero. These two have put together a low-key solid feud on SmackDown this summer.
Hardy came right out of the bell gunning for Orton’s head. The two used all kinds of weapons they could find to inflict damage, including Jeff’s own belt, an inverted ladder and the cell itself. These two felt like they’re just beating the absolute hell out of each other for over 20 minutes. Orton inserting and twisting a screwdriver in Jeff’s gauge piercing was disgusting and borderline barbaric, but the moment got everyone in the AT&T Center to collectively gasp in grossed-out unison. Jeff swinging from the cell roof like a monkey before falling head-first through the table was a death-defying spot that ended the match on a “Is this real or kayfabe?” question mark for the fans at home (even though Jeff clearly protected his head from any serious injury on the fall). But above all, I thought this match was very well-booked, very well-paced and kept my attention on high from bell-to-bell. One of the best Hell in a Cell matches in recent memory. Spectacular job by these two.
Winner: Randy Orton
Rating: 4 Stars
Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Becky Lynch
These two had the unfortunate task of following Randy and Jeff trying to kill each other for nearly a half hour. But as we would see over the next near-15 minutes, they would revive even the most exhausted crowd member. Between lock-ups trying to feel each other out and trying to weaken each other’s extremities in submissions, this match started out in a slow but logical way to get each woman to find the weak spot of the other. There was some great grappling and storytelling like with Becky targeting Charlotte’s left arm which she would eventually place in multiple Dis-Arm-Hers.
The crowd was visibly and audibly behind Becky throughout this match. Not in the sense that they were anti-Charlotte per se, but that they just wanted this great worker and fan-beloved underdog to finally reach the mountain top again after nearly two years. I’m sure these two fought each other as many times over the years as Sasha Banks and Bayley had before their five-star classic in Brooklyn three years ago, so the chemistry they had in the ring was as good as it’s ever been. These two felt like two equals slugging it out hoping to get the upper-hand on the other. I thought the surprise ending with Becky getting the win on a surprise roll-up was a great way for her to say “I got you. It doesn’t matter if the lead was by 100 or by one, I won fair and square.” After their stand-off in the ring post-bell, you just knew that this feud is anything but over. If the next matches are anything like this one, I can’t wait for round two between the Queen of SmackDown Live and Becky Balboa.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre (C) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose
Drew McIntyre is a main-eventer-in-training whose just about to graduate. I think it’s just a matter of months before he will be main-eventing pay-per views for the Universal Championship, with or without Ziggler in his corner. But going back to the match, it’s hard to add any more surprises to a feud when the two sides have been touching each other for three months now. The addition of Ambrose last month added a good transfusion of new blood, but to me it felt like they were just scraping the bottom of the jelly jar in terms of jaw-dropping antics from these four great workers. All that said, I will say the end of the match had a great series of spots between roll-ups and Zig Zags and broken pins that really got the crowd invested. It really felt like it would take a lethal attack by one team to take down the other with the number of unbelievable two-counts there were. After a so-so beginning and middle, the ending really elevated this match.
Winner: Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre
Rating: 3 Stars
AJ Styles (C) vs. Samoa Joe
I have absolutely loved Samoa Joe’s promo work these last few weeks specifically targeting AJ’s wife and children. Especially with his story book promo this past Tuesday, he is reading straight from the “Mind Games 101” instruction book on how to play a great villain. Pit him against an uber-likable babyface (and common foe going back to their days in TNA) in Styles, and you have all the ingredients for a match-of-the-night special.
I loved AJ “coming in hot,” to steal a line from Tom Phillips, to start the match. In AJ’s eyes, this isn’t a championship match, this a fight for respect. They brawled in the corners, threw each other into the announcers’ desks, they basically used everything they could at their disposal to inflict pain without getting disqualified.
Joe flying through the second rope to give AJ a “Phenomenal Forearm” of his own looked like a school bus hitting the WWE Champion. AJ sold Joe’s moves like Joe was twice as strong as him. It’s just another example for why AJ is often regarded as the best wrestler in the world today. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t a fan of the “AJ got the pin, but Joe got the tap-out” dual finish because it’s a very lazy way to keep the feud going all while not giving a decisive winner, at least in my eyes. This feels like retreading old ground from the Shinsuke-AJ feud a few months ago where no man was able to “get over” on the other and the heat and intrigue slowly diminished with each match. I really wish this match would have used a different ending, but to be honest, this was still very entertaining and hard-hitting despite my gripes.
Winner: AJ Styles
Rating: 3 Stars
Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse
Miz and Maryse need to teach a master class at the Performance Center on playing antagonizing heels. The way they played with anti-climactic tags to spoil the crowd’s hopes for an early Brie-Maryse lock-up was pure “Heel 101.” When Brie finally got her hands on the former Diva’s Champion, San Antonio came alive in one of the louder ovations of the night.
The ending surprised me a bit with a Maryse “roll-up” on Brie to get the win, giving team Miz two wins to Bryan’s goose egg. Seeing as though these two will meet up in Australia for a number-one contender’s opportunity in the future, logic would dictate Bryan finally getting a win. But for me, I think Miz takes match three for the trifecta on his way to becoming WWE Champion by year’s end. This was an alright match, but not very eventful in terms of in-ring action.
Winner: The Miz and Maryse
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Alexa Bliss
After the four-minute devastation that came at SummerSlam, logic would dictate Alexa would last just a little longer in this match, especially with Alicia Fox and Mickie James in her corner at ringside. Ronda continues to show off new moves and showcases her kung-fu master-like speed. Whether it is her natural movement in the ring or an order from the back, Ronda looks about five times faster than any other women on the roster inside the ring. Alexa was able to get a few more kicks and submission holds in this go-about, especially targeting Ronda’s tender ribs and mid-section. Alexa told the best story she could, given she was going up against a former UFC fighter with bad ribs, but she really gave Ronda some tough competition in this match. This to me seems like the end of their summer feud, with new opportunities on the horizon for RAW’s top face and heel in the women’s division.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Roman Reigns (C) vs. Braun Strowman
If the Big Show is all but retired, Braun Strowman is pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch the biggest threat on the RAW roster for Roman Reigns. These two have put on wars against each other in the past, so pitting these two together in a locked cage sounds like all the makings of a great main event for the night. Both men were able to get in strong strikes in the beginning of the match, but once thing’s got going, the Monster Among Men started picking apart the Universal Champion with steel ring steps and angry punches.
The addition of Ziggler and McIntyre as well as Rollins and Ambrose added another layer of intrigue to the match after Reigns speared Strowman through a propped-up table. The surprise appearance by Brock Lesnar took that spark the four men created and poured a gallon of gasoline all over it. Brock’s appearance was unexpected and a firecracker few minutes. That being said, the idea that a match would be stopped after just one F5 to each competitor (when one man in the ring had survived five at WreslteMania) as well as a few whacks with broken table fragments was a huge letdown. At the benefit of making Brock look like a cross between a silverback gorilla and a Canadian grizzly bear, this ending at best made Braun and Roman exhausted after an extended “rest” while their four cohorts were fighting on-top of the cell, or at worst, WWE’s doctors look like hypochondriacs. After Brock blew up the AT&T Center, the same excited crowd was now vehemently booing a pay-per view that seemed to be cut short at 10:45 EST.
Rating: 3 Stars
Overall Thoughts: Despite the flat finish, I thought Hell in a Cell was a fun night. While tempos slowed down at times, the matches tonight were solid with little to no botches. My match of the night winner goes to Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton in the opening contest, putting their bodies on the line in a stand-out battle. Runners-up go to Charlotte-Becky Lynch in the second bout of the night, followed by the Universal Championship match minus the ending. With the Super Showdown in Australia, a lot of the endings tonight seem to hint at directions and storylines that will be focused on in-depth for the rest of September.
Final Hell in a Cell Rating: 3.5 Stars