Most Valuable Manager: WWE Hell in a Cell Recap and Review

The steel stairs to hell took many bumps last night

The red milk crate above the ring, the same four sound bites from Michael Cole, and the biggest padlocks sold at Lowe’s can only mean one thing; It’s time for WWE’s most difficult to photograph gimmick. Hell in a Cell is a summer blockbuster this year, shifting from its usual spot in the fall to bring us some extra brutality to close out June. This year’s card featured two cell matches to open and close the show, and a lot of Pat McAfee shouting nonsense in between.

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Natalya def. Mandy Rose (Kickoff)

This happened because Natalya and Tamina interrupted Mandy and Dana’s photo shoot with the loud sounds of taking two bumps during their wrestling practice. Feuds have certainly been built on less. I couldn’t tell who the heels were here; Corey Graves put over Natalya like he was auditioning for Total Divas season 10. Natalya went for some early submissions, but Mandy matched her at every move. She got Nattie in a calf crusher for a few moments, then hit the BOAT with a lariat and got her in the body scissors. Natalya powered out of a guillotine and hit a powerbomb, but Mandy locked in an abdominal stretch. A huge drop kick kept Rose rolling, until Natalya landed the discus clothesline and both women were laid out. Mandy escaped an arm bar, but had to tap to the Sharpshooter. This was a solid back and forth for both women—Rose and Brooke fit well together as a duo, I’m glad to see them going for the titles.

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SmackDown Women’s Championship: Bianca Belair (c) def. Bayley (Hell in a Cell Match)

Bianca started with two slams to the Role Model, sending Bayley scurrying outside. She hung Bianca up on the ropes and went for some chairs, and Belair used her braid to fight her off. She went for a suplex off the turnbuckle, but Bayley managed to drop her face first. She took over by ramming Bianca’s shoulder into the ring post and twisting on her arm; she brought the stairs into the ring, only to be dropped onto them by the champ. Bayley tied Bianca’s hair to the bottom rope, trapping her in place until Bianca managed to trip her into the stairs again. Belair dragged her across the cell wall, but Bayley bit her arm to get her off. More wrestlers should use teeth in no-DQ matches. A sunset flip powerbomb from Bayley sent Bianca into the wall; she set up two double kendo sticks, but Bianca slammed her through them for a near fall. Bayley went back to the arm, wrenching it over the seat of a chair. She tied Belair’s hair to the chair in what Pat MacAfee called a double windsor knot, only to eat a right hand from Bianca. Belair took the suggestion and tied herself to Bayley with the braid, using it to send Bayley into the wall. Bayley begged the ref to let her out, before being thrown again into the red walls. A Rose Plant through a ladder wiped out Bianca, but hurt her own knee in the process. Belair hit a Glam Slam into the turnbuckle, followed by a KOD into the ladder to retain.

Excellent stuff from both women here; Bianca looked brutal, and this feels like her biggest victory over Bayley to date. Unfortunately, she is in a similar position as the NXT women’s champ, where the show hasn’t built up anyone else who feels worthy of challenging for the title. A Banks return at SummerSlam would be very welcome, but it would also be nice to see SD put in some work to bring the EST a new challenge.

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Seth Rollins def. Cesaro

Seth jumped Cesaro during his extremely cool green entrance and both men brawled around the ring, but the Swissman still kept rolling at the bell. An uppercut on the outside and he sent Rollins back in the ring, coming off the turnbuckle to nail Seth. More uppercuts in the corner kept Rollins rocked, until the Architect went for an eye poke and hit him with a DDT. Cesaro got a vertical suplex and created space, but Seth hit a springboard knee for a two count. Cesaro and his ruched trunks struggled to get back to his feet, but found a second win as he punched Rollins into the corner and hit a body drop. He pulled off Seth’s glove and shoved it in his mouth, which is pretty kinky even for a Hell in a Cell match. Rollins barely kicked out, so Cesaro punted the glove out of the ring before laying in with more uppercuts.

Rollins mounted a comeback with a Falcon Arrow and yelled some trash about how no one respects cult leaders anymore, but he still couldn’t get the job done. We finally got the Swing—only about 15 this time, ending with Rollins in the Sharpshooter. Rollins, insistent on outdoing longtime rival Mandy Rose, refused to tap. Cesaro stomped away on Rollins and wanted to go for the Sharpshooter again, before Seth maneuvered a quick roll up and managed to get the win. Kind of a surprise this feud is going to continue, but I don’t totally hate it. I’d watch Cesaro fight a plastic bag.

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Alexa Bliss def. Shayna Baszler

Pre match, Reginald offered Shayna a kiss on the hand for luck, but Baszler gave him a slap for his efforts. Despite the stone-cold rejection, Reggie still offered the distraction early on that let Shayna stomp away on Bliss in the corner. Baszler dominated the match, but every time she tossed Alexa, the Fiend friend barely seemed to care. A stomp to Bliss’ elbow left her screaming, until her cries turned into giggles. Alexa forced Shayna to look at her, and a mesmerized Baszler dropped her hold. One may ask why Bliss never uses her hypnosis to simply make her opponents lay down, but I guess she likes a challenge. She had Baszler reeling when she locked eyes with Jax; Alexa made her former friend slap Reggie, then the two screamed in unison. Very spooky stuff. Shayna locked in the Kirifuda Clutch, but Bliss easily escaped and hit Sister Abigail, followed by Twisted Bliss for the win. Reggie, Nia, and Shayna were left very confused as Bliss sauntered away. I don’t mind Alexa having mind control powers, but I do mind her not using them for better things. The best she can come up with is yelling? Come on, Alexa. This felt like a waste of everyone involved, particularly Baszler, who should be in singles title contention by now.

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Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens

A heated Kevin whipped Sami back and forth into the corners, then knocked him down with an elbow. KO struggled with his breathing as a result of the thumb-to-throat action on SmackDown from Commander Azeez. Zayn took advantage and hit a clothesline to the throat, leaving Kevin coughing. Not to be held down by his inability to breathe, Kevin hit a cannonball for a two count. Sami dropped him on the ropes throat first, then followed it with a dive to the outside. The ref called Sami off as Kevin coughed up a lung, yet KO somehow still managed a comeback and landed a clothesline. Sami got the knees up on a Swanton, then hit a Blue Thunder Bomb, but still Kevin kicked out. Zayn countered a stunner attempt for another near fall, then continued to stomp on Kevin’s chest until he rolled off the apron. Sami was split open on his lips from some punches, then suffered a stunner on the outside. Both men slugged it out in the center, but things came to an end when Zayn landed a Helluva Kick, which miraculously got the win for the first time in recent memory. We got some dancing Sami to end things, bloody mouth gleefully bragging to Michael Cole about his victory. This was wonderfully physical and played up both guys, with the surprise win for the Great Liberator. I’ll never get tired of the chemistry here. Or of Sami’s dance skills.

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Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley (c) by DQ

Charlotte snatched the title from the ref then chucked it at Rhea’s face, because she’s wild and unpredictable. She then went for an immediate roll up at the bell, and Rhea fled to the outside. Ripley got back in the ring to eat a boot in the corner, before Charlotte got her in a headlock. A big boot into the barricade and Charlotte continued to roll, targeting Ripley’s knee. Rhea got momentum with a superkick, then scored a near fall from a dropkick. Charlotte escaped the Cloverleaf to knock Rhea into the turnbuckle and hit Natural Selection, but couldn’t get the three. Ripley kicked out of a moonsault as well, infuriating Flair, who tried twice for the Figure Four, but just couldn’t secure it. Both women climbed to the top, where Ripley landed a superplex for two. Rhea landed the Riptide, but Charlotte got a foot on the ropes to save herself. A dropkick to the knee into the steps sent Rhea screaming, and she got her revenge by ripping off the announce table cover and tossing it at Charlotte. This caused a DQ, but the two kept fighting. Ripley landed the Riptide in the ring, then limped off with her title. They exchanged insults, with Charlotte busting out the b-word.

This was probably their best encounter so far; I’ve found Ripley hit or miss as champ, but she performs very well with Flair and showed some much needed intensity here. Admittedly, the ending was flat, and I don’t know if we really need this feud to stretch to Money in the Bank.

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WWE Championship: Bobby Lashley (c) def. Drew McIntyre (Hell in a Cell Match)

Lashley tried to go under the ring right away, but McInture cut him off and knocked him into the wall. Drew went for the stairs and nailed the champ twice in the face. Lashley was able to escape the FutureShock DDT, but got hit with a belly to belly suplex to throw him clear across the ring. MVP tried to urge Lashley to shake it off, which sounded about as effective as the sidelines of parents blandly clapping during a little league game. McIntyre set up a table as MVP slipped Lashley his cane; Bobby took it right to Drew’s throat. He crushed McInryre into the wall, controlling until the Scot turned things around with a variation of White Noise on the stairs. McIntyre bounced Lashley off the steel right in front of a bummed MVP. Drew tossed a handful of chairs into the ring, then got an Alabama Slam onto the chair for a near fall. McIntyre slid out of the Hurt Lock to deliver a powerbomb for another close count; MVP grew even more distressed just outside the red crate.

A rejuvenated and furious Lashley slammed McIntyre’s head into the chain wall repeatedly, then went for a kendo stick to make matters worse. MVP helped him trap McIntyre with the kendo as Lashley laid into him with punches. Two DDTs into the chair probably should have killed McIntyre, but he realized he hadn’t gotten to do his kip up and scream move yet, so he hung in there. After the requisite accidental ref bump, McIntyre called for another ref to come in before he landed a Claymore, but MVP stopped the count. A new ref locked the door, leaving the best manager in the game stuck in the cell with McIntyre. A Claymore took MVP out of the equation, but Lashley came from behind to get The Hurt Lock, forcing Drew to send them both through a table to break it. McIntyre evaded a spear to land the Future Shock DDT. He wanted a Claymore to finish things off, but MVP grabbed his legs, stalling enough to let Lashley roll him up to retain.

You already know I’m going to complain that this was too long. Still, it was really good, very physical stuff from both men, and it certainly felt more high stakes than their previous encounters. It’s a relief to see Lashley finally close the book on this feud.