By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Hell in a Cell Hits
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship: My favorite match of the night. The intensity of their storyline was matched by their actions in the ring. I was surprised the live crowd was flat for long stretches. Even so, I loved the finish. It was confusing initially when it seemed like Joe was pinned clean. The second camera angle that showed Styles tapping out gave it a new wrinkle that explained why Joe didn’t kick out and even celebrated the win initially. This type of finish usually results in the referee looking like the biggest idiot in the building. That wasn’t the case here, as the referee had to count the pin while Styles tap occurred in a location that he simply could not see. This was really well done and left me looking forward to seeing the rematch in Australia. As much as I enjoy Styles, I’m ready for a Joe title reign with Styles and eventually Daniel Bryan chasing him.
Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy in a Hell in a Cell match: This was the better of the two HIAC matches. It was essentially a hardcore match that happened to be fought inside the HIAC structure (by the way, the red cage is a turnoff in that it looks like it’s out of a WWE toy set). I could have done without so many weapons, but both men worked hard and delivered a satisfying HIAC match. Fortunately, the big Hardy stunt that we all knew was coming turned out to be fairly tame by his standards and yet was still innovative and satisfying.
Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for the Raw Tag Titles: The second half of the match was terrific. It was marred a bit for me in that I had zero reason to expect a title change. The possibility of The Shield holding all the men’s titles on Raw felt counterproductive in that it was hard to believe they would achieve this so quickly after reuniting again because that would have been the peak for the trio.
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A minor Hit for a solid match and the Lynch title win. I just couldn’t help but feel like this could have been a much bigger moment if they had taken the fans on a journey with Lynch playing the babyface character she plays so well and eventually beating a heel Charlotte for the title after a good chase. It’s interesting that they haven’t gone full heel with Lynch lately. She hasn’t been badmouthing the fans in promos, nor did she do anything to mock the fans after she won the championship. I’d love to believe they are changing course, but recent history suggests that the powers that be will simply dig their heels in rather than actually listen to the fans.
New Day vs. Rusev and Aiden English for the Smackdown Tag Titles: A rare Kickoff Show match that actually felt relevant. The outcome was never really in question and yet the wrestlers did a good job of developing a measure of suspense with some quality near falls. Rusev showing frustration with English tagging himself in and ultimately losing the match for their team is interesting. Are they breaking up soon or is English being cast as the lovable loser who tries too hard to do right by his buddy?
Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse: A fun match that was laid out nicely. They built toward Brie getting her hands on Miz, which wisely allowed Bryan and Miz to handle the bulk of the actual work. Maryse had some rough moments, but this was a fun match that ultimately put heat on the heels heading into the Bryan vs. Miz match in Australia, and perhaps a Brie vs. Maryse match at Evolution. I worry about that second one if it comes to fruition.
Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship: The rib injury storyline required Rousey to sell consistently throughout a match for the first time. Her work was impressive in that she had good facial expressions and sold the injury even while she was in the midst of throwing a series of punches. Despite her best efforts, the fans never seemed to buy into the possibility of Rousey dropping the title. And that’s going to be an issue going forward. None of the heel wrestlers have been built up as being realistic threats to take the title from Rousey. I don’t think the fans will buy into a babyface Nikki Bella in a showdown match with Rousey at WWE Evolution, so hopefully a heel turn is coming for Nikki. I assume the plan is to turn Natalya on Rousey at some point, but it’s not like Natalya has been positioned as a world beater over the years. These feuds and an eventual rematch with Nia Jax would get WWE by, but I’m still holding out hope that they will eventually call up Shayna Baszler to serve as the hired gun of Stephanie McMahon.
WWE Hell in a Cell Misses
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman in a Hell in a Cell match for the WWE Universal Championship: Roughly ten minutes of Superman Punches and a lumbering brawl followed by a long rest period with Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose brawling around and on top of the cage. We’ve seen better performances from Reigns and Strowman in the past, and they didn’t do enough to explain why they presumably laid around all that time while their buddies brawled. The surprise appearance by Brock Lesnar was well received by the crowd and presumably sets the stage for a Triple Threat match even though I can’t say I’m anxious to see Lesnar back in the title mix already. The finish of the match was atrocious. We’ve seen Lesnar beat the hell out of Reigns during lengthy matches that went on and on, yet this attack was somehow enough to justify calling of a match? And not just any match, a Hell in a Cell match? WWE raced off the air at SummerSlam to avoid live crowd backlash to Reigns winning the championship, and they followed that up by racing off the air at HIAC to avoid live crowd backlash to this copout finish. The HIAC gimmick was tarnished long before Sunday night and it’s gone the way of the cage match in that no one buys the idea that it will always produce feud ending matches. My bigger disappointment is that WWE ended one of its better shows in such an unsatisfying manner that I was left feeling disappointed on a night that was otherwise highly entertaining.
The Best of The Boom features Eric Bischoff joining Jason Powell in this March 20, 2019 discussion on whether there are similarities between Verne Gagne's booking during the AWA's dying days and Vince McMahon's WWE booking today, AEW, a Turner network shakeup, and more...