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The Road to Hell

A preview of WWE ‘Hell in a Cell’ which, for all its good intentions, is a pit stop on the way to the next three major events

WWE/Ringer illustration

Ohhhhhh, Weeeenndddyyyy, it’s time for this Sunday’s Hell in a Cell PPV. Wendy? You there? Wendy Jones, AJ Styles’s wife, better be on hand in San Antonio, otherwise we may be in for another month of Samoa Joe eerily crooning her name. But we’ll get to all the Stepfather That Rocks the Cradle drama surrounding the Styles-Joe feud soon enough. First, though, let’s set the scene: This year’s iteration of Hell in a Cell, so named for the virtually inescapable steel structure surrounding its combatants, is co-branded, meaning matches from both the Raw and SmackDown brands are on the card. And don’t let the implicit finality of the cage setting fool you: Sunday is merely a warm-up for the hotly tipped marquee events on its heels, namely the Super Show-Down in Australia (anchored by its breathlessly hyped last tango in Melbourne between Undertaker and Triple H) and October’s first all-women’s PPV Evolution, with fan-favorite vintage show Survivor Series in the wings just before Thanksgiving. That is to say, don’t expect tectonic shifts in the status quo, particularly on the Raw side, where there is no discernible order of late. In this case, the cage isn’t a special occasion; it’s just another day on the high-impact hamster wheel.

Still, there may be a title change or two, while blooming rivalries from both Raw and SmackDown—Braun Strowman and his Dogs of War vs. the Shield, Becky vs. Charlotte, et al.—get to flower and some real stinkers (e.g. Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy) can rest in peace. So before Samoa Joe cuckolds us all, here’s our match-by-match preview of 2018’s Hell in a Cell, including predictions that will absolutely not make you rich if you use them as a gambling guide. Now, where the hell is Wendy?

AJ Styles (C) vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship

Oh, there’s Wendy, stuck in the middle of some inexplicable family matter involving her husband, AJ, and his longtime pal Joe. Or, at least, they were pals until Joe—a rightful contender for the belt with or without hackneyed heel shenanigans—started taunting Styles about being a hypocrite and absentee dad during the buildup to SummerSlam, where AJ snapped and then had to assure his wife and daughter he wasn’t some kind of monster. Everything since has been straight out of the blurred-lines playbook of onscreen characters threatening an adversary’s real-life loved ones (see: DDP and Undertaker, Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt, et al.), culminating Tuesday night in the regrettable spectacle of Joe voicing a bound and illustrated children’s book about how he’s going to emasculate AJ. In fairness, Jack and the Beanstalk was taken. (Joe has done a good job with what he’s been given.)

Who Will Win: For Wendy’s sake—and ours—let’s go ahead and call it a Styles W. It feels like Joe’s time, but not necessarily the place.

Roman Reigns (C) vs. Braun Strowman in a Hell in a Cell Match for the Universal Championship (With Mick Foley As Special-Guest Referee)

Phew, that was a mouthful. Though it’s more of an explanation than we got for why Strowman—fearless possessor of the Money in the Bank briefcase, hugely popular babyface big guy, and deserved no. 1 contender—opted for some extra insurance by recruiting Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre as his stable mates and demanded half the locker room’s obedience in thwarting the Shield. True, Roman and running mates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose shockingly preempted Strowman’s effort to cash in that briefcase, and thus Braun felt compelled to do more than just even the odds. And yes, the image of Strowman lording over his Dogs of War, Masters of Evil–style, is objectively awesome. But what was likely intended as a slow metamorphosis got rush-ordered somewhere along the way, coinciding with Roman’s elevation and Ambrose’s return, and it effectively obscured an unpopular but inevitable title run for Reigns. Reigns vs. Strowman has every shot to deliver where a series of Lesnar-vs.-Reigns affairs fell short, but with a three-on-three match already scheduled for the Super Show-Down and Survivor Series looming, this may be a placeholder before Strowman’s dogs do battle with the Shield and a crew of hand-picked hounds. (Consider Hell in a Cell pioneer Foley’s placement as ref tacit acknowledgment that this match was missing an ingredient.)

Who Will Win: Roman Reigns.

Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship

Rousey’s rousing victory at SummerSlam was a mild surprise (at least to those who figured longer-suffering stars like SmackDown’s Asuka might have won their show’s top prize before Rousey, the ostensible rookie), but her genuine athletic superiority helped justify the push—and paper over her continued growing pains as a complete entertainer. Bliss has no shot at winning this, really. It’s a requisite rematch filling a requisite spot on the card before Alexa turns her attention toward Evolution opponent Trish Stratus. And for Ronda, it’s easy money.

Who Will Win: Ronda Rousey.

Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women’s Championship

Hard to say who will have to work harder to keep fans on their toes for this one—Charlotte, who bested Becky and Carmella at SummerSlam for her seventh women’s title (including both the Raw and SmackDown belts) but in doing so courted fan frustrations a bit too well; or Ms. Lynch, who lost her cool and kicked Charlotte’s ass all over Brooklyn and has since been incapable (no matter how much she scowls and sneak-attacks) of making audiences root against her. The good news is they will put on an absolute show-stealer. Sure, that might further solidify people’s love for Becky, but at least it should put Charlotte back in everyone’s good graces too. For Becky to forge her own path as a believable badass, she needs a new rival and a champion’s ego.

Who Will Win: Becky Lynch.

Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella vs. the Miz and Maryse

Rather than perform promos to empty stadiums (a weird new trend, apparently), all Miz and Maryse need to do is protest their mixed-tag match against Bryan and Brie on the grounds that Brie is violating WWE bylaws by competing on both Raw and SmackDown simultaneously. (Seriously, can someone clarify whether she’s operating under the John Cena free-agent rule?) Alas, that little loophole has eluded the underhanded husband-and-wife duo, and so on Sunday they will clash with their ultimate spousal nemeses. It won’t be the five-star classic that we sometimes pencil in Bryan for, but hopefully it’ll be a lot of fun. The real MVPs here are Brie and Maryse, both of whom have given birth in the past year and are gamely getting in the ring (Maryse, a mere five months out from delivering, should be fairly well protected, as she has been on SmackDown) to help heighten Miz and Bryan’s already epic hostilities. This one probably won’t run too long, but the prevailing feud has no shortage of life.

Who Will Win: Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella.

Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre (C) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for the Raw Tag-Team Championship

Ziggler and McIntyre used the springboard of their newfound alliance with Strowman to wrest hold of the Raw tag belts, and in doing so buried ex-champs the B-Team beyond recognition and relegated everyone else—anybody remember the Revival?—to afterthoughts. And so it is written that A-block counterparts Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose get their shot at Dolph and Drew’s newly acquired gold, divisional standings be damned. From a pure wrestling POV, this could be the men’s match of the night. But far as things ending fair and square, don’t count on it (be that a function of outside interference or Ziggler and McIntyre’s hotheadedness). And regardless of how Strowman fares against his foe Roman (i.e., if we’re destined to witness Dogs of War hoard all the straps), seeing the titles around Dolph and Drew’s waists for a spell looks about right.

Who Will Win: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose by disqualification (Ziggler and McIntyre will retain the championships).

The New Day (C) vs. Rusev Day for the SmackDown Tag-Team Championship

Aiden English looked great in the ring (and sounded a tad less off-key and cockamamie than usual in his opening rap-opera soliloquy) this week, when he and Rusev earned a title shot by toppling the Bar. No one knows or especially cares if Rusev’s sudden détente following a telegraphed split is for keeps, and the crowd in San Antonio may well be torn, given the incredible popularity of—and negligible narrative between—these two teams. (I suppose we’ll at least discover who truly carries the Day.) Eh, who are we kidding? New Day are never not over, and even if the duration of their fifth reign (as with Charlotte, the tally spans both programs) as kings of tandem competition falls short of previous runs, it won’t end here with so little at stake.

Who Will Win: The New Day.

Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton in a Hell in a Cell Match

The history behind this bout is enigmatic. It all started with newly turned villain Shinsuke Nakamura snagging Hardy’s U.S. title at July’s Extreme Rules and staring agape as Orton appeared and dissected Hardy for scarcely an obvious reason. But there was a method to his madness, dating all the way back to mid-April, when Jeff and Randy got into a bit of “watch where you’re walking, bro” one-upmanship after Jeff joined SmackDown in the Superstar Shake-up. A mini-arc ensued over Hardy’s U.S. title before Orton missed time for some surgery (no biggie), and they eventually picked up where they left off with the aforementioned Extreme Rules sabotage. The highlight of the second leg of this animosity tour had to be Orton nearly ripping Hardy’s ear lobe in two. Apart from that, it’s been a bunch of Hardy’s mystical hooey and trick eyelids with a dash of blindside RKOs. Nakamura is the lost soul in all of this, occasionally reentering the picture as a pawn in Randy and Jeff’s machinations, lying in wait (if we’re being optimistic) for someone more interested in his title than bickering over legacy. Still, it’s Jeff Hardy in a cage, so someone somewhere will be chanting, “This is awesome.”

Who Will Win: Randy Orton.