The eight-match card for WWE Hell in a Cell seemed ambitious considering how few matches they were given the allotted time of the event, but considering how everything wrapped up on Sunday night from San Antonio, Texas, it certainly made sense. In addition to a major title change earlier in the show and a controversy in a big title match smack in the middle of the pay-per-view, WWE gave us the return of Brock Lesnar on Sunday -- just one month after he seemingly left the company for the near-future to focus on an expected upcoming UFC heavyweight title match with Daniel Cormier inside the Octagon. Beast beard styles.
Lesnar impacted the Hell in a Cell match main event between universal champion Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar (more on that below), which became a cluster as it featured seven superstars, an "advocate" and a special guest referee by the time Hell in a Cell went off the air. There was a major spot off the cell in that match as there was in the bout that kicked off the main card, another cell match between Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton.
Ronda Rousey also stood out in a major way on the show in her rematch with Alexa Bliss for the Raw women's championship, and the SmackDown women's championship bout between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch was also something to write home about. The Raw tag team title match may have been the best on the show, while the SmackDown tag championships were relegated to the kickoff.
Ultimately, 2018 WWE Hell in a Cell was entertaining and much of the booking did make sense. It once again did not live up to the true potential of what WWE can give us from a pay-per-view, and the individual matches (as you will see below) were better than the sum of their parts. Grade: B-
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2018 WWE Hell in a Cell results, recap, grades
SmackDown Tag Team Championship -- New Day (c) def. Rusev Day via pinfall to retain the titles (Kickoff Show): Aiden English was the recipient of the hot tag, which not only injected some energy into the sparse crowd but looked to telegraph the finish. Instead, after English kicked out of an elevated double stomp by Kofi Kingston, Rusev Day took over outside the ring by taking down Kingston and Big E with a couple strong maneuvers. When Rusev went to the corner in an attempt to take out Kingston, English tagged himself in to Rusev's dismay. Rusev missed a splash from the middle rope, but English followed by hitting one on Kingston only to get a two count. He then locked Kingston in Rusev's Accolade, and Rusev prevented a breakup from Big E with a Matchka Kick. With Kingston not submitting but the Accolade still locked in, Rusev called for the tag. This distracted English and allowed Kingston to worm his way out and hit Trouble in Paradise on English as Big E knocked Rusev out of the ring and held him down outside. This definitely delivered as a fun 10-minute match, though the crowd would have popped huge if Rusev Day won. Grade: C
Baron Corbin confronts Mick Foley backstage: Before the show, Foley said he's excited to have the "best seat in the house" for the main event. Corbin put himself over as doing a good job as acting general manager and rejected Foley as he attempted to offer some advice for succeeding at the position. Foley looked dismayed at this.
Hell in a Cell -- Randy Orton def. Jeff Hardy via pinfall: Hardy got in his slate of offense early as the match was slow and uneventful until Harrdy set a ladder upside down in a V; he attempted to suplex Orton through it, but Orton instead lifted Hardy and threw him chest-first into the horizontal supports. Orton grew angrier as the match went on, blasting Hardy in the back with a steel chair, tearing his shirt off and slapping him across the back with a weight belt. He also placed Hardy's head and neck between the rungs of a flat ladder as he stomped it repeatedly. Orton then pulled a toolbox out and grabbed a screwdriver; he locked Hardy's arm between his legs and began pulling on the gauge hole in Hardy's left ear before placing the screwdriver in the hole and twisting it more than 360 degrees. Hardy's eyes bulged out of his head as he sold the pain, and he countered with a backward low blow with his leg to break the hold. He then grabbed the same weight belt and chair Orton used and pummeled his opponent, but Hardy used the stud connector part of the belt to hit Orton, which resulted in dozens of bloody holes on his back.
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Hardy countered an RKO with a Twist of Fate, placed a chair on Orton's torso and climbed the top rope to hit the Swanton Bomb -- but he only earned a two count as blood began to spurt from Orton's left thigh. Frustrated, Hardy grabbed a tall ladder, short ladder and table, setting them up next to one another with the tall ladder in the middle. He hit Orton with another Twist of Fate and placed him atop the table before climbing the short ladder. Hardy planned to leapfrog the taller ladder but instead climbed to the top of the tall ladder and grabbed the top of the cell with his arms, swinging his body back and forth. Orton moved at the final moment as Hardy released and splashed face-first into the table. The referee called for medics as Orton demanded he do his job; Hell in a Cell began to raise as the ref counted the 1-2-3 and the crowd provided a relatively silent reaction.
While the spot was brutal for Hardy, it was so telegraphed that everyone was prepared for it in the moment and no one stood in shock or chanted accordingly. It was also disappointing not to see Orton counter the fall into an RKO considering Hardy's perfect positioning. Hardy was placed in a neck brace and stretchered off in an angle clearly written to give him extensive time off. There is no criticism here for Hardy, but it's also tough to say the spot or match lived up to the exceedingly high expectations of fans. Still, a good Hell in a Cell match overall. Hours later, WWE announced that Hardy is suffering from an abdominal injury and coughing up blood. Grade: B
SmackDown Women's Championship -- Becky Lynch def. Charlotte Flair (c) via pinfall to win the title: The match began with an abundance of mat wrestling as neither woman truly gained the upper hand for a significant period of time. Lynch worked over Flair's arm, and Flair did a great job selling it throughout. Flair attempted her moonsault too early, but after Lynch dodged it and attempted to lock in a submission, Flair lifted her up for a fantastic sit-down powerbomb. Fans were somewhat split early but clearly started favoring Lynch at this point. Like Flair, Lynch missed a high-risk maneuver of her own but quickly escaped the Boston Crab she was locked into. Lynch drove Flair's shoulder into the ring post outside the ring and reversed a pinning combination into the Dis-Arm-Her, but Flair escaped under the bottom rope to force a break.
An unrelenting Lynch looked to be done for as Flair launched herself in a spear, but Lynch caught her in a roll-up and earned the sudden pinfall victory. Flair sat stunned as Lynch celebrated until she decided to get up and extend a hand to raise Lynch's arm. Lynch responded by raising the title in her face, yelling, "You won't take my moment!" and walking out. The title change was necessary, but the booking is still a little perplexing, and it would have been nice to see Lynch either pin or submit Flair with a finisher. Grade: B+
Raw Tag Team Championship -- Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre (c) def. Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose via pinfall to retain the titles: The Shield members entered separately. McIntyre called out Ambrose shortly after the match started, and the two enforcers went at it early with Ziggler and Rollins also primarily working in tandem. Ziggler & McIntyre worked tirelessly to single out Rollins and prevent the tag; even when Rollins did tag Ambrose, the team had the referee distracted so he missed it. A blockbuster from Rollins cleared the way for the hot tag to Ambrose, who stomped a mud hole in McIntyre but could not get a fall. Ambrose threw McIntyre into the ring post and Ziggler into the ringside barricade but got caught in a high-risk maneuver and was thrown belly-to-belly into the turnbuckles. Rollins' signature tope suicida was caught by the champions, so Ambrose followed suit to complete the maneuver.
A Falcon's Arrow by Rollins got a 2.8 on Ziggler, so Rollins called for The Stomp. Ziggler avoided it, and Rollins ducked away from Ziggler's attempt to replicate the move. The two then reestablished their rolling pinning combination bit, which ended with both men standing and Ziggler hitting the Zig-Zag and Rollins; he kicked out at 2.9. As the champions attempted their Claymore-Zig-Zag finisher, Ambrose pulled Ziggler out of the ring. Rollins hit a superkick on McIntyre and followed with a frog splash to McIntyre's back for another 2.9. An attempted double suplerplex by The Shield teammates was thwarted by Ziggler, who also avoided a high-risk maneuver by Rollins to the outside. A couple blind tags were made, and it left Rollins and Ziggler as the legal men. Rollins was attempting his superplex-Falcon's Arrow combination move on Ziggler when McIntyre, who previously knocked Ambrose outside the ring, reentered and nailed Rollins in the face with Claymore as he was lifting Ziggler in the air for the second half of the combo. Ziggler fell on top of Rollins as the referee counted to three. Fantastic match with a fantastic finish and the right result. Nearly perfect. Grade: A
Mick Foley confronts Braun Strowman: The special guest referee in the main event stepped up to Strowman backstage, suggesting they have a talk before the match. After Strowman finished celebrating his friends' victory, he basically told Foley to stay out of his way and only worry about counting 1-2-3 unless he wanted trouble.
WWE Championship -- AJ Styles (c) def. Samoa Joe via pinfall to retain the title: The angered Styles attacked Joe immediately after the bell, taking him off his game and allowing Joe to get the early upper hand. Styles also a tweaked hamstring at the onset, and Joe used that to ground the aerial artist. Joe threw a thunderous forearm on a tope suicida to flatten Styles and continued his onslaught from there. A moonsault into a reverse DDT gave Styles a breather, but Joe got his knees up on a springboard moonsault, powerbombed Styles, rolled him into a Boston Crab, locked in an STF and then applied a crossface until Styles broke the submission on the ropes. Styles eventually hit an incredible spinning rack powerbomb on Joe to elicit a roar from the crowd and hit a springboard 450 three-quarters of the way across the ring to get a 2.5 count. After Styles paused for a moment to yell at Joe, he reversed Styles into a slingshot and hit a massive lariat that turned Styles inside out. Styles tried to roll Joe into the Styles Clash, but Joe booted his way out of it and nailed the champion with an insiguri.
A Pele Kick from Styles wounded Joe, but Joe was sound enough to reverse a Phenomenal Forearm into a Coquina Clutch. Styles attempted to reach for the ropes, but Joe took him to the canvas; Styles rolled backwards on Joe, pinning the challenger's shoulders to the mat for the 1-2-3. Joe immediately celebrated only to be surprised that Styles' music played as he claimed Styles tapped out before the referee slapped the mat. He took the WWE title away from a bloodied Styles, so Styles kicked him in the back of the head and knocked him out of the ring before falling to the canvas clearly wounded. After the match, replay showed that Styles tapped out prior to the three count but his hand was away from the referee's view. Though slow throughout, the match was of high quality. The only problem is that Joe should have walked out having beaten down Styles in anger as opposed to the champion getting two up on the challenger in the closing minutes. Grade: B
The Miz & Maryse def. Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella via pinfall: Bryan and Miz did the heavy lifting throughout, as one would expect, and portions were near-replicas of their prior match at SummerSlam. It was Bryan missing a diving headbutt that created the need for a tag, but when he did, Maryse chose not to enter. She dropped off the ring apron as Miz took a beating from Bella until she slid between his legs and bashed Maryse's head into the announce table. Bryan took Miz out with a flying knee form the ring apron, but Miz countered by throwing Bryan into the ringside barrier. Bella hit a dropkick from the second rope that would have resulted in a pin had Miz not broken it up. This led Bryan to attack Miz and scream that no one touches his wife. Bryan and Bella then hit synchronized Yes! kicks on the It Couple until they simultaneously rolled out of the ring and headed for the back. Bryan and Bella caught them. Bella threw Maryse into Miz, who got knocked off the ring apron, but Maryse reversed a pinning combination by Bella, grabbing her tights to keep her down for the pinfall. Whereas one can argue the SummerSlam match underdelivered, this one overdelivered and was quite entertaining all things considering. Most importantly, it keeps the rivalry between Miz and Bryan. Grade: C+
Raw Women's Championship -- Ronda Rousey (c) def. Alexa Bliss via submission to retain the title: Natalya joined Rousey at ringside, while Bliss brought Mickie James and Alicia Fox with her. Bliss focused on Rousey's injured ribs as her lonejudo counter to Rousey's onslaught of moves. Rousey's first attempt to lock the armbar on Bliss was thwarted as James pulled the challenger outside the ring. Distracted again by the duo, Rousey later dodged a diving Bliss, who took our her friends. Bliss pulled Rousey's hair to snap her ribs on the ring ropes and attacked the champion's midsection with strikes and an abdominal stretch in an extended burst of offense. Rousey's attempt to reverse the stretch into a maneuver failed due to her injured ribs, and Bliss took advantage with a pair of knee strikes to the area. A superplex attempt was equally impossible for Rousey, and Bliss was able to hit a dropkick with Rousey hung up on the top turnbuckle. Bliss then wrapped Rousey around the ring post and pulled her arm and leg simultaneously to further injure the ribs. When Bliss distracted the referee, James and Fox did the same until Natalya broke it up. Rousey knocked James off the ring apron, and the two collided in the middle of the ring with a double crossbody.
A roll-up and backslide by Rousey resulted in a couple two counts, but when Bliss started taunting Rousey, everything changed. Rousey became enraged, immediately hitting a gutwrench powerbomb and punching combination on Bliss before throwing her across the ring. Bliss kicked the champion in the ribs to slow her down, but when the challenger attempted a punch, Rousey hit her rolling judo move and locked in the armbar for an immediate submission. This was easily the second-best match of Rousey's WWE career and also a bright spot for Bliss, who came alive on offense only to change her expression on a dime when it was time for Rousey to dominate. Despite neither woman being as accomplished or having the in-ring acumen of the SmackDown duo earlier, this somehow wound up being the slightly better match on the night. Grade: A-
Samoa Joe explodes backstage: Joe was shown lambasting an official while pointing at video of him making Styles tap out during their match earlier in the night. SmackDown general manager Paige stepped in to calm Joe down, but he would not have it and said he did not want to wait three weeks until Super Show-Down to fight Styles again. When Paige refused to make the match sooner, Joe demanded a no diqualfication match, to which Paige agreed because there needed to be a clear and decisive winner.
Universal Championship (Hell in a Cell) -- Roman Reigns (c) vs. Braun Strowman ends in a no contest: Mick Foley served as the special guest referee in the match. Before the bell rang, Strowman ripped the title out of Reigns' hands when he held it up during the ring announcer's introduction; Reigns attacked in response, but Strowman began dominating at the onset. Once Strowman grabbed the steel steps, Reigns countered with a Superman punch, but when he attempted to hit another, Strowman caught him with a chokeslam on the ring apron. The two traded shots with weapons until Reigns dodged Strowman and allowed him to slam shoulder-first through the turnbuckles. Strowman later caught a Superman ppunch for a chokeslam, and after Reigns kicked out past 2.9, Strowman became angered with Foley for a clearly slow count. This distraction allowed Reigns to hit a pop-up Superman punch, but Strowman also kicked out.
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As Strowman wobbled around the ring unable to stand on his own, Reigns grabbed a table. Instead of using it immediately, he put it down and ran around the entire ring for a spear only to be with steel steps to the face. Back in the ring, Strowman hit Reigns with the steps again for a two count before screaming, "Why won't you stay down, you moron?!" The challenger next rammed the steps into the champion's chest before throwing them over the ropes against the cell wall. Strowman hit Reigns with the running powerslam in the center of the ring, and Reigns got his shoulder up again at 2.9 as the challenger became increasingly incensed with Foley for his count. With the table set up in the corner, Reigns countered Strowman with two Superman punches before spearing him into the table. Reigns rolled Strowman over but also got a 2.9 count.
At this point, Ziggler and McIntyre ran down to the ring demanding the referee to let them into the cell; Rollins and Ambrose immediately came out to make the save. The men removed the tops of two announce tables, and eventually all four made their way to the top of the cell (Ambrose with a kendo stick in tow) to slug it out. Ziggler and Rollins started climbing down but began fighting once they reached the first panel; they simultaneously rammed one another's head into the side of the cell and crashed through the announce tables below. McIntyre and Ambrose did not move.
Out of nowhere, Brock Lesnar's music hit as The Beast and Paul Heyman made their way to ringside. Heyman screamed at the referee and demanded the key, but Lesnar grew impatient and kicked the cell door off the hinges. Wearing a full beard, Lesnar walked up the detached cell door into the ring and dragged it into a corner as Heyman pepper sprayed Foley in the eyes. Lesnar took the broken table pieces and beat both Reigns and Strowman with them. He then hit Strowman and Reigns with consecutive F5s with Reigns landing atop Strowman. A new official entered the ring once Lesnar exited and called for the timekeeper to ring the bell and declare a no contest.
Whoa. There's a lot to take away from this. The first, of course, being that WWE went with yet another messy finish and felt they needed to utilize Lesnar in order to avoid a clean win for Reigns or Strowman in a match that obviously should have been saved. Next will be questions about what this means for Lesnar and his expected upcoming UFC match with Daniel Cormier. Initial thoughts are that nothing has changed as WWE set this in motion when then-Raw GM Kurt Angle refused to give Heyman a rematch for Lesnar after SummerSlam. This provides the chance for WWE to keep Lesnar in an extended storyline while he fights Cormier and likely returns to the squared circle in 2019. Finally, what becomes of Strowman's Money in the Bank briefcase. Conventional wisdom would say that Strowman cashed in the briefcase, got a match and saw it result in a no contest; there's no rule that says it has to be fought to a decisive finish. Then again, WWE could easily storyline their way into giving the briefcase back to Strowman or telling him he deserves another opportunity at Reigns.
As for the match itself, it was solid albiet unspectacular. Reigns and Strowman did nothing inside the cell that has not been done better previously, and the insertion of the other four men simply for the chaos and table spot was seemingly unnecessary. The surprise of Lesnar did amp things up in a major way and raised this at least a half of a letter grade. Grade: C+