By Steve Ward
WWE emanated, once again, from the Thunderdome within the confines of the Yuengling Center on the campus of the University of South Florida as they push on with their Dystopian Era. Thankfully the WWE has announced they are returning to the road next month with actual people in attendance but it still demonstrates questionable decisions on their part as AEW has successfully, and safely, hosted fans for over a year in nearby Jacksonville while progressing to full attendance with their pay per view last month. This has all occurred while Vince McMahon has been moving forward with budget cuts in the form of mass talent releases - including stars Braun Strowman and Aleister Black.
Now onto the evening’s card…while this show always brings a glimmer of hope to me that we will be treated to a Hell in a Cell match that will make a valiant attempt to pay homage to The Undertaker vs. Mankind from way back in 1998, I am sadly disappointed time and time again. Perhaps it’s the PG rating they’ve carried for several years now or even the talent they book for these matches who couldn’t lace the boots of the Dead Man or Foley. Nonetheless, this evening’s card only featured six bout and showcased two Hell in a Cell Matches with blatant omissions of some of their top tier stars such as Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns.
Smackdown Women’s Championship Hell in a Cell Match
Bayley vs. Bianca Belair (c)
Winner: Bianca Belair via pinfall
The main card kicked off this evening with the squared circle encompassed by the ominous Hell in a Cell structure as Bianca Belair defended her Smackdown Women’s Championship against former champion, Bayley. This match didn’t exactly have the effect that the bookers for the event intended, I would presume, as the fans lining the arena on the TV screens seemed mostly disengaged while the cell was barely used in this contest and fake crowd noise was clearly filtered in at the conclusion of the match after Belair mercifully finished Bayley off with the Kiss of Death (her version of the Death Valley Driver) onto a ladder.
Cesaro vs. Seth Rollins
Winner: Seth Rollins
The next chapter in the rivalry between these two combatants, one that really built momentum with Cesaro’s huge victory over Rollins at Wrestlemania, was written this evening following weeks of endless ridicule directed at the Swiss Superman. This bout wasted no time getting off the ground as Rollins jumped Cesaro during his entrance and a brawl ensued that spilled down to the ring. Rollins appeared to be in dire straits late in this bout as Cesaro was beginning to systematically break him down with a series of submission holds - specifically the Sharpshooter and Crossface - after he executed the Cesaro Swing. As Cesaro was about to attempt to cinch in another Sharpshooter, Rollins rolled him up out of nowhere for the shocking pinfall victory.
Shayna Baszler w/ Nia Jax & Reginald vs. Alexa Bliss
Winner: Alexa Bliss via pinfall
Since “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt has been held off of TV for several weeks now, Alexa Bliss has assumed his role so to speak and has targeted The Queen of Spades recently leading to their showdown this evening. Under normal circumstances, this could have been a phenomenal match, however, WWE continues to push the envelope with the theatrics surrounding Alexa Bliss’ current character. After she used some “mind control” tactics on both Baszler and Jax, Bliss finally finished off Baszler with the Twisted Bliss for the win.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Winner: Sami Zayn via pinfall
Is it just me or does it seem like every time WWE creative has no idea what to do with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, they book them in another program together? Well this appears to be the case once again as they‘ve found themselves embroiled in yet another feud. This match evolved after Zayn cost Owens his match with Apollo Crews’ muscle, Commander Azeez, on Friday Night Smackdown which left him at the receiving end of the Nigerian Nail. After selling his “throat injury” from Friday night and seemingly injuring his shoulder at the hands of Zayn this evening, Owens only real offense mounted was in the form of a Stunner on the arena floor. Aside from that, Zayn controlled the tempo of this entire bout before he finally solidified his victory with the Helluva Kick.
RAW Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley (c)
Winner: Charlotte Flair via disqualification
Charlotte’s quest to ascend to the top of the Women’s Division once again continued this evening as she finally found her way into a singles bout with the reigning champion, Rhea Ripley. Charlotte tactfully targeted the knee of Ripley for the duration of the match by utilizing the steel ring stairs and a figure four leg lock seemingly positioning herself for an eventual attempt at the Figure Eight. This match met its abrupt end as the action spilled out of the ring where Ripley used the cover of the announcer’s table to strike Flair in the face leading to her disqualification. As we all know, this means Charlotte was awarded the match, however, the title cannot change hands in this situation.
WWE Championship Hell in a Cell Match
Bobby Lashley (c) w/ MVP vs. Drew McIntyre
Winner: Bobby Lashley via pinfall
Another chapter…perhaps the final chapter…would be written into the rivalry between WWE Champion Bobby Lashley and former champ, Drew McIntyre, this evening. Not only was this bout contested in the ominous Hell in a Cell, but also held the stipulation where McIntyre would never be able to challenge for the title again as long as Lashley holds it in the event he were to lose. Late in the match, McIntyre turned the tide of the contest after an onslaught of kendo stick shots at the hands of Lashley with the use of a steel chair. Unfortunately for Drew, he inadvertently took out the referee with the aforementioned chair before he took out Lashley with a Future Shock DDT.
With no referee to count the pinfall, the second referee outside the cell needed to remove the padlock and enter the cage. McIntyre again attempted a pinfall only to be stopped this time by MVP who followed the new ref into the cell. After Drew laid waste to MVP, Lashley reemerged to cinch in the Hurt Lock on the arena floor only to have McIntyre break the hold by propelling Lashley and himself through a table. This reopened the door for McIntyre to continue his assault on the champion with a steel chair until Lashley stopped him in his tracks with a choke slam that propelled Drew from the ring apron through a table staged outside the ring. The match reached its conclusion as McIntyre was sizing Lashley up for the Claymore Kick only to have MVP grab his ankles allowing Lashley the opportunity to roll him up for the pinfall to retain his title.