The Hell in a Cell Report Card: Welcome to the Uso Penitentiary

The Hell in a Cell match has taken a strange place within the WWE product’s structure. No longer the gimmick match saved for a feud’s final fight, the Hell in a Cell is now mapped out on the schedule every year, with fans knowing that they’ll see the match at the October PPV with its namesake. This can lead to Cell matches that feel unnecessary placed inside the structure but tonight’s show feels rather unique in that sense. Say what you will about it but Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon’s rivalry has been very smartly handled and enters the Cell with more than enough personal animosity to make it worthwhile.

On the other hand, for four months The Usos and New Day have been trying to destroy each other and so it only makes sense that they take that violence into Hell in a Cell. Outside of those two matches there’s not much else of real excitement to see but there are some matches with the capabilities of over delivering so all things considered, this should be a good show even if SmackDown hasn't been exactly red hot as of late. Either way, let’s get this Report Card started so I can praise The Usos regardless of the quality of their performance.

DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

Pre-show

The Hype Bros vs. America’s Greatest Alpha Tag Team

We get things started with our pre-show match as the team of Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable take on the recently struggling Hype Bros. Gable and Benjamin out-wrestled Mojo early until Ryder came in for standard babyface spots with both Chad and Shelton. You know, the kind of spots when guys grapple, stop, stare at each other and wait for applause….oh no never mind, Shelton just spine-bustered him instead. This kind of meanness upset Gable and that’s neat storytelling but either way this led to their makeshift heat segment as they worked on Ryder’s shoulder.

Gable got really vicious here and even commented “that felt good.” I’m unsure as to what’s happening right now but I like it, I like it a lot. Big Shelton, who has gained 5 inches of height due to the current roster’s shortness, began to absolutely batter Ryder with forearms until Zack’s awesome missile dropkick got him time to make the big hot tag to Rawley. Mojo’s hot tag rules, Mojo rules in general in fact. He soon missed a big splash though and Gable destroyed him with a belly to belly suplex and moonsault.

They couldn't put Mojo away though and he began to ‘Hulk Up’ on the understandably confused Shelton. Rawley ran wild but couldn't set up the Hype Ryder and Shelton hit Paydirt on Zack. Mojo broke the pin up but was then thrown out and the new team hit their double team finish for the win. A really fun match that furthered the Hype Bros dissension and made me want to see more of Shelton and Chad as a unit. Good stuff.

Grade: B-

Main Show

Hell in a Cell

Smackdown Live Tag Team Title

New Day (c) vs. The Usos

We dive straight into the guaranteed match of the night right away here as my close, personal friends Jimmy and Jey Uso take on the New Day duo of Xavier Woods and Big E. Both teams went straight for weaponry and chaos broke out immediately. Woods floored Jimmy with a forearm and then nailed some chain-based tandem offense to really get this party started. Big E missed his spear through the ropes because of course he did and this led to Jimmy hitting his insane big dive over the top rope because of course it did.

Just moments after swinging and missing though, E is back in the ring now and actually hits his spear in a moment of sheer violence. It was now time for trombone destruction as Xavier Woods shattered two of them on Jey Uso. He also used a cowbell and a gong. This man is incredible at pro wrestling. New Day began to set up for their finish but Jimmy cut Woods off with a thrown steel chair and Jey capitalized with a superkick to E. This made way for a dual kendo stick attack on E as The Usos took control, wonderfully taunting Kofi along the way.

The big man soon fought back but only briefly as he was knocked unconscious by K1 level striker Jimmy Uso. New Day’s tandem offense came back into play again as E and Woods did something insane involving Xavier’s knees and Jimmy Uso’s back. They then hit UpUpDownDown but Jey broke up the pin which inspired Xavier to retrieve an army of kendo sticks, using them to “lock” Jey into the corner of the cell. The now alone Uso was battered with the steel steps but Jey fought free and the challengers fired back with more insanity via an electric chair suicide dive.

The next vehicle of destruction came from handcuffs as The Usos tied Woods to the post and murdered him with kendo stick shots. The Usos actually got booed for this and that’s uplifting, tremendous stuff. Big E had now had enough and was getting hit by no more kendo sticks, making a big comeback on both Usos and hitting the Big Ending for a two count that the crowd bit on huge. As usual, superkicks led to E’s demise though and he was hit by Double Uce but again the fall was broke up, this time by a still handcuffed Xavier Woods.

His punishment for this was more kendo stick violence until Woods headbutted free but it wasn’t enough as the numbers game was just too much. Woods went out on his shield but a Double Uce onto a steel chair spelled the end as The Usos regained the SmackDown Tag Team Titles. This was incredible. Violent, intense, emotional and dramatic. Just beautiful professional wrestling and one of the best matches I’ve seen in recent memory.

Grade: A+

Rusev vs. Randy Orton

Anyone having to follow that would have struggled but considering the build, this Rusev/Orton match especially seemed set to struggle. I was still recovering personally so forgive me if my analysis is worse than usual (unimaginable right?) but I’ll try my best anyway. Randy got the better of things early and almost hit the RKO but Rusev soon cut him off with the top rope before using the barricade to target Orton’s back and ribs. Rusev’s control segment was quite forgettable but his work on the ribs was fine and Orton unsurprisingly sold it brilliantly.

Orton would have sparks of offense but was constantly unable to maintain it and Rusev went for the Accolade but Orton escaped and rolled to the outside. Rusev responded to this by sprinting to the outside and kicking Randall in the face. His follow up splash was unsuccessful though and Randy soon hit his “VINTAGE DDT”, only after milking the referee’s five count though. The people were going absolutely crazy for Orton here as he began to set up the RKO but Rusev almost countered it into the Accolade but Randy again escaped and finally hit the RKO for the win.

They were in a really rough spot here but still had a very good match. I know Orton’s style isn’t for everyone but I have to say that personally, I love it and thought he was quite brilliant.

Grade: B

United States Title

Tye Dillinger vs. Baron Corbin vs. AJ Styles (c)

This match was obviously changed at the last minute with the insertion of Dillinger and that’s immediately the story as the babyfaces team up on Corbin. Tye soon tried to get a quick pin on Styles though and the two traded covers until Corbin came back in to beat up both babyfaces for a bit. They then briefly went into that cool sequenced offense stuff that we’ve all come to expect from triple threats involving AJ Styles and that left Corbin alone with Tye which allowed him to beat Dillinger up with punches and trash talk.

I believe at one point Corbin even used a man’s girlfriend to insult him and for obvious reasons, this is good, very good. All of AJ’s attempts to re-enter the action were thwarted and this was all good but the admittedly necessary focus on Baron seemed to be hindering the excitement a little. Styles was eventually back in and floored Corbin with a huge flurry of strikes, improving things immediately just with his crispness and energy. He also really bumped brilliantly here, elevating both men as threats in admirable fashion.

Tye scored some big offense on the champ himself and they went back and forth until Styles caught him in the Calf Crusher. Corbin pulled Dillinger out of the submission though and soon came back with his own cool moves including that always awesome chokeslam backbreaker. More of that aforementioned sequenced offense followed now as all three men hit big moves which even led to Tye being Pele kicked directly into a cover. This was a great false finish and things were really picking up as Styles busted out his 450 splash on Corbin but Tye broke up the pin.

Styles then hit the Phenomenal Forearm on Tye but Baron came in, very angrily kicked AJ out the ring and stole the pin, becoming the United States champion in doing so.

Grade: B

SmackDown Women’s Title

Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya

Time for another title match now as Natalya defends her belt against Charlotte. After some of the standard disrespect spots early (slaps and such), Natalya began to focus on Charlotte’s leg. I try not to dwell on the negatives but I have to say that Natalya’s heat segments simply couldn’t be less interesting. Her actual work is flat, uninspired and forgettable and her character stuff is just bad. Considering that much of the match was built on this aspect, it wasn’t exactly my favorite of the evening. On the bright side, Charlotte’s selling has improved greatly even if she still seems a little miscast.

Flair soon made an all chop comeback and attempted to go for a moonsault off of one leg but Natalya cut her off and hit a powerbomb instead. Things began to pick up as the women traded big strikes but unfortunately, people just didn’t seem interested at this point. Natalya went back to the leg next and put on the sharpshooter but Charlotte countered and hit the moonsault from the top to the floor. This was well built to but considering how much work came before it, I feel it should’ve been a little more dramatic.

Nonetheless, the match ended when Natalya got herself disqualified with a chair shot to the leg. Not much to see here and a nothing finish that wasn’t really needed. I’m struggling to get really interested in this division and the days of it being a high spot for SmackDown feel a distant memory.

Grade: C

A Fashion Files segment followed and I don’t really know what happened but a briefcase was involved. Cool.

WWE Title

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. JInder Mahal

Time for the rematch of a SummerSlam stinker now as ‘The Modern Day Maharaja’ defends his WWE title against Shinsuke Nakamura. There was a feeling out process early with Shinsuke soon getting the better of things but Jinder quickly used the barricade to gain an advantage. He then worked the back and the crowd just straight rejected this portion of the match but regained some interest as Shinsuke made his comeback. Nakamura’s success soon came to an end though when he missed his apron knee and Jinder once again took over.

Shinsuke fired back again which prompted the trademark Singh Brothers interference which this time almost cost the champ his belt as Nakamura attempted a quick roll-up. The Singh Brothers were ejected and Shinsuke hit the Kinshasa but Mahal grabbed the bottom rope. Jinder then bailed but Shinsuke dragged him back through the crowd and into the ring. It was all for nothing though as Jinder quickly scored the pin with the Khallas. Down the stretch, this was quite fun and had genuine heat so that’s good but let’s all just move on and pretend none of this ever happened now.

Grade: C+

A Kevin Owens promo was up next and hot take, he’s very good at talking.

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

I was actually looking forward to this match quite a lot coming in but at this point in the show, the writing was on the wall and my interest had dwindled greatly. Dolph’s ‘big entrance’ was of course that he had no ‘big entrance’ and instead walked out to no music. They grappled early and went back and forth until Ziggler cut Roode off on the top rope. Dolph then got the heat on and focused on Roode’s throat a little until eventually sidestepping Ziggler and punching him in the face a ton.

Ziggler soon came back with his own big moves though, before tuning up the band for tremendous heat but Roode moved and hit an ARN ANDERSON style spinebuster. This led to multiple roll-ups and lots of tight pulling until Roode pulled the tights just enough for the pin. The finish made sense for what they wanted to achieve but I question why they actually want to achieve it. It was a fine match but just in a tough spot and quite uninspired.

Grade: C

Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens

Main event time now folks as MMA legend Shane O’Mac takes on a Prizefighter. Shane immediately jumped Kevin with a flurry of absolutely horrific strikes. He then was launched into the cell only to stand back up, climb onto the barricade and hit a big clothesline. Owens then entered the cell but Shane kicked the door into his face. He was cut off on the apron though and Kevin beat him up with the cell, making time to taunt Shane’s no-selling sons. KO just beat Shane up at this point until Shane got his knees up to block Owens’ big senton and made a big bad strike filled comeback.

He missed his absolutely insane Shooting Star Press though, which allowed Owens to hit his own frogslpash. However, his Pop-Up Powerbomb was countered into a triangle choke in a genuinely great spot but KO dragged him to the apron and powerbombed Shane onto the steel steps. Owens then began to set up tables for destruction and missed a cannonball off the apron through the setup table in a crazy spot that allowed Shane to take over and beat KO up with broken table pieces. He even hit Coast to Coast but Owens grabbed the rope to kick out…even though it was Falls Count Anywhere. Corey Graves rightly called this poor officiating out.

Shane now wanted to leave the cell because he’s an insane person and he used bolt cutters to do so. Owens cut him off with a low blow though and DDT’d him on the ramp. He then took Shane round to the announce table and stood on the barricade before instead opting to climb the cell, making me very scared. After climbing, Kevin was seemingly also very scared and rightly decided against the idea. Meanwhile, Shane began to climb up the cell himself and Kevin’s attempts to knock him off were unsuccessful as they instead met on the top for a big brawl.

They now traded big moves on top of the cell and I was again, very very scared. Owens even hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb up there and tried to throw Shane off but McMahon quickly escaped his grasp. Owens was tired of this silliness now and attempted to climb down the cell but Shane chased him down and they brawled on the side of the cage. This, of course, led to Owens eventually falling through the announce table in full on stuntman fashion. Shane opted against pinning Owens though and decided that he had more climbing to do, therefore setting up another table for Elbow Drop destruction.

Shane missed because that’s his gimmick but this time it was because Sami Zayn pulled Kevin out of the way as Shane went plummeting through the table. Then, Zayn frantically pulled Kevin over Shane for the pin and I think we just went to heel turn city. This was a little too long for me overall but the finish was great and the match was filled with spells of pure must-watch stuff. It was fought intensely and though it obviously wasn’t perfect, you just couldn’t look away. Considering the build-up, this delivered exactly as you’d hope and left us all with a reason to watch SmackDown on Tuesday so for that reason, it was undeniably a thumbs up.

Grade: B+

Final Thoughts

I think it’s fair to say that this show was bookended quite spectacularly and though the middle lacked anything truly great, it had nothing particularly bad either and did have a couple of still very strong showings. As great as the main event was for what it was though, this show for me will always be about the opener. That Usos/New Day match was probably my favorite WWE match of the year so far and represented everything I personally love about professional wrestling. From that point, I was always going to be positive about this show and the main event just punctuated it for me.

Grade: A

Please comment your Hell in a Cell thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. See you at Full Sail folks.

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