Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.
Alright, let's talk about the elephant in the room—the new cell introduced here. For some reason, WWE decided to paint it red. The internet has been flush with jokes about the new cell looking like TNA's old jungle gym cage. At first I thought it was an eyesore, but I got used to that. But the real problem is it looked like a giant toy. Hmmmm, maybe that's the reason. Anyway, on to the show proper.
Pre-Show Match: New Day vs. Rusev Day
Before the match even begins, we get a duel of throat-clearings between New Day and Aiden English—pretty funny stuff. For a pre-show match, this over-delivered. There was energy, they kept the flow going. The Shakespeare of Song showed just how skilled he is in the ring. Plus there was a good story: Aiden accidentally tagged in Rusev. English tried to save the day with a splash and even an Accolade. But Kofi overpowered him to keep the New Day's titles.
Match Rating: 3.75 stars (Out of 5)
Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton—Hell in a Cell
I wondered how this match earned Hell in a Cell instead of the blood feud between Joe and AJ. Considering this was the opener, having it as a cell match made sense. Besides, the feud has been intense too. While part of this match was a little slow, they made up for it in unique brutality. In a way, this felt like TLC in a Cell and they made it work. There were table spots, chair spots, etc. Jeff slammed a table into Orton by way of baseball slide. Hardy put a ladder upside down and Orton just slammed Jeff into that. But the most memorable spot had to be when Orton drove a screwdriver through Hardy's pierced ear. I've watched WWE matches with blade jobs, and this made my skin crawl way more than most of those. I feel like WWE shut down people who complain the company lost its edge since going PG.
The ending was another unique spot. Hardy couldn't leap frog from two ladders but still dangled from the cell. Orton snuck out of the way and Hardy ended up eating a table. Despite Hardy being knocked cold, Orton demanded the ref count the fall.
Match Rating: 4 stars
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte—Smackdown Women's Title
Since the so-called Women's Revolution, it's felt like despite women being featured prominently on the card, they're still getting shortchanged. With the upcoming Evolution and matches like this, women are clearly getting their due.
Women like Charlotte and Becky would have to go out of their way to have a bad match—they even had a fine match on Smackdown a few months back. The difference is they had a good Smackdown match. Tonight, they had a good PPV match. The intensity between these two was clear. At less than 13 minutes, these two hardly wasted any time. The action was back and forth enough with it feeling like either woman's game. One cool spot saw Charlotte counter a top rope move into a Boston Crab. That lead to the finish where Becky countered Charlotte's spear into a pinfall. Becky may continue playing the heel, even refusing Charlotte's handshake. But this victory felt so satisfying.
Match Rating: 4 stars
Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose vs. Drew McIntyre/Dolph Ziggler—Raw Tag Team Titles
The first few minutes of this match felt like the standard tag team fare—heels dominating and preventing the heroes from tagging in. But these guys took it to a whole new level. The latter half of this match was an absolute nailbiter, again feeling like either team could take it. One exciting spot saw Drew and Dolph catch Seth's plancha. But their success was brief as Dean dove on top of them. There was an exciting pin combo that ended in a Zig-Zag. The finish came when Rollins attempted his Superplex-Falcon Arrow combo. Seth scored the Superplex. But when he went for the Falcon Arrow, Drew McIntyre Claymore Kicked Rollins into next week.
McIntrye and Ziggler retained in—hands down—the match of the night.
Match Rating: 4.25 stars
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe—WWE Championship
The crowd was out of it for the first half of this match. No doubt they were expecting a much more brutal and physical match from this blood feud. Alas, they went for a more technical meetup. Even an impressive dive from Joe didn't wake up the crowd. Part of the problem may be that Joe dominated for so long, fans may have expected a Super-AJ formula match.
Fortunately, that was not the case: The two picked up steam as the match went on. And the audience gave it the respect it deserved. That was part of their psychology. Like Styles' match with Nakamura months ago, this match built and built. AJ played the role of underdog in peril—bouncing around like a pinball. He made Joe look like a legit killer. The crowd got so into it that even when AJ went for a Samoan Drop on Joe, it felt like a big moment. The finish was exciting with Joe locking in the Coquina Clutch but he couldn't quite get AJ to the ground. AJ turned it into a pin and kept his title... Or did he? Okay, he kept his title. But video footage revealed AJ did tap to Joe's submission.
Match Rating: 4 stars
Daniel Bryan/Brie Bella vs. The Miz/Maryse
Miz and Bryan are having possibly the best main roster feud right now. Since both have prominent, wrestling wives, not involving them would feel like a missed opportunity. MIz and Bryan brought it as would be expected from them. Bryan even brought out the Flying Goat, which I thought he retired... As he probably should. Not to mention this match actually earned some mileage with the "men fight men, women fight women" rule.
Surprisingly, even Brie and Maryse looked really good. It wasn't just Bryan and Miz carrying them. (Though that definitely helped.) Granted, the two didn't do anything groundbreaking, but they proved they can hang in their. Miz and Maryse played their roles as cowardly to a tee, even trying to leave the match at one point. Maryse earned the W over Brie. This only adds gas to the fire of their feud. In the end, this is another match that overachieved.
Match Rating: 3.5 stars
Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss—Raw Women's Championship
After a dramatic squash match at Summerslam, it became a question of how they'd plausibly have Alexa give Ronda a competitive match. Working in the story that Rousey had injured ribs was a good way— it made Ronda look sympathetic too. Other than Alexa taking one Suplex rather awkwardly, this was another solid match. Much of the story centered around Alexa trying to use her posse to cheat for her. Ronda fought off Alicia and Mickey with little resistance. Ronda kept the women's title after Alexa tapped quickly to the armbar.
Match Rating: 3.5 stars
Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns—Hell in a Cell Match for the Universal Title
Alright, there was a lot to be excited about—two absolute beasts clashing in Hell in a Cell. With Mick Foley as special guest referee. The first half lived up to expectations, with Braun and Roman just mauling each other. Braun chokeslammed Roman onto the apron. Reigns denied Braun's attempt at using steel steps. Both men scored their finishers. Roman speared Braun through a table. Strowman kicked out at two, but both men were down for a long time... a LONG TIME.
Because out came McIntyre and Ziggler. Evening the odds, Ambrose and Rollins came out. This began to feel like an odd match-within-a-match, but it was exciting. There was some nailbiting action on top of the cell. Rollins and Ziggler even took table bumps. Then HE came back.
That familiar Terminator-sounding theme played, and Lesnar is back. To paraphrase Godfather III, "Every time we think he's out, they pull him back in." In a cool spot, Lesnar just kicked out the lock. Heyman maced Foley. Then Lesnar F-5'ed both Reigns and Strowman, left. And... the match was called off? It's bad enough that there's no winner, but the ending feels unsatisfying. Like him or not, Lesnar's return is a big enough deal to warrant headlining the PPV. But two of the biggest toughest men were laid out after one F-5 each on a night when Jeff was stopped after what looked like an actual killer spot? I'm not the kind of person who clamors for reality in wrestling, but I do expect internal logic in any medium I watch.
Still, even if the ending was a little unsatisfying, it was at least exciting. I mean, no one can accuse this match of being boring. I also think it bears mentioning that fans went from chanting "Suplex City" to "This is bulls---". It was so bad, the PPV abruptly cut to black. That feels like what you can expect from Lesnar's return: short term excitement, long term disappointment.
Match rating: 3 stars
Hell in a Cell has already gotten some flack for the maligned return of Lesnar. But I think that's unfair to a PPV where so much good happened. WWE has been going through a slump this year. Fortunately, nothing else has been as bad as Backlash this year, but little else has set the world on fire. This felt like the first PPV since Royal Rumble 2017 where every match was good from top to bottom.
After all three four-star matches and everything else being at least three-star is pretty good. Even the pre-show was good. Part of the success was that WWE decided to go for a few big matches instead of cramming as many matches into one show as possible. This gave room for every match to breathe, and leaving nobody feeling shortchanged. Even if the return of Lesnar and the lack of finality in the main even is a turn-off, don't let that sour what was still the best PPV WWE has done this year (so far).
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