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Hell engulfed the squared circle Sunday night aspresented Hell in a Cell, a pay-per-view headlined by the latest and, hopefully, final showdown between Drew McIntyre and .
Did the WWE champion successfully defend his title or was The Scottish Warrior able to earn title No. 3?
What else went down on a card peppered with title clashes and grudge matches? Find out the answers to those questions and more with this recap of the June 20 spectacular.
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Women’s tag team champion Natalya kicked off Sunday’s festivities, squaring off with Mandy Rose in a preview of her impending title defense with Tamina against Rose and Dana Brooke.
Early grappling gave way to Rose earning the upper-hand, grounding the more established in-ring competitor and working her over with body scissors, then a guillotine. Natalya fought back into the match, rocked Rose with a discus lariat, but could not put Rose away.
Reversals, counters, and near-falls dominated the closing moments of the match until the Queen of Harts trapped her opponent in a Sharpshooter, forcing the submission and earning the hard-fought victory.
Natalya defeated Rose
Much was made of Rose’s attempts to prove herself as a wrestler through her improvements, and for good reason. The former fitness model was damn good here, showing definite improvement as she worked with one of the best in-ring performers in the women’s division.
Nattie was excellent, selling her opponent’s offense admirably and going a long way in showcasing Rose’s evolution as an in-ring performer.
The argument can be made that Rose should have gone over to help her and Dana Brooke continue to build momentum ahead of their title opportunity, but there is a counterargument to be made that Natalya is definitely the more experienced worker and should be able to beat Rose, regardless of how good she may be at this point.
A solid match with strong performances from both women, it was a quality way to kick off the show, even if most are unlikely to remember it by the time the cage lowers to signal the beginning of the main card.
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The SmackDown Women’s Championship Match kicked off as Bianca Belair defended her title against Bayley, The EST of WWE setting foot inside Hell in a Cell for the first time in her young career.
The cerebral champion targeted her opponent’s arm, bit her, used a kendo stick and added a sunset flip powerbomb into the cage as she dominated the action. Belair absorbed it, fought back, and tied her own hair to Bayley’s wrist, making it easy to beat her around ringside without an easy escape.
Late in the bout, Bayley introduced a ladder that would prove her downfall. Belair avoided damage, delivered a senton to the lower back of her opponent, and finished Bayley off with the Kiss of Death on the open ladder for the definitive victory.
Belair defeated Bayley to retain
Kudos to Belair and Bayley for delivering a match that was innovative and creative, inside a steel structure that has been anything but in recent years. Whether it was Bayley’s taped kendo sticks, the tying of Belair’s hair to the ropes and a steel chair, or The EST’s emphatic KOD, there was a ton to love about this one.
Bayley looked like the cerebral, smart, focused former champion she is while Belair’s toughness again was on full display. She fought from underneath, proved her resilience, and earned another hard-fought victory to preserve her young title reign.
The question now is where this leaves both women moving forward.
Bayley is almost certainly out of the title picture after a second loss to Belair, especially given the exclamatory finish in this one. Could a program with Liv Morgan that helps elevate her be in the cards? There aren’t a ton of fresh faces for her to work with on the SmackDown brand otherwise, unless the creative team renews her rivalry with a returning Sasha Banks.
As for Belair, she also faces uncertainty due to a lack of credible opponents. Lately, we have seen renewed interest in Carmella by the creative staff. Could she be in line for a showdown with Belair? Whatever the case may be, The EST figures to hold onto the blue brand title for the foreseeable future, especially given the effort put into building her by those in power.
Performances like this one will only intensify those efforts.
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Seth Rollins attacked Cesaro during his entrance, immediately putting The Swiss Superman on the defensive. Outside of a few spurts of offense from Cesaro, Rollins dominated the action, seeking to avenge his WrestleMania loss. Cesaro fought back, using uppercuts and jabs to stun The Architect.
Rollins re-established control of the match momentarily but Cesaro delivered the swing. He looked for the Sharpshooter, then a crossface, but Rollins ultimately out-wrestled the babyface with a rollup for the pinfall victory.
Rollins defeated Cesaro
From a strictly in-ring perspective, this felt like a better wrestling match than their WrestleMania showdown. The lack of a live crowd and the raw energy they greeted Cesaro’s singles push definitely hurt, but the performers made up for it with physicality and good, old-fashioned grappling.
For all the good, though, there is one glaring issue: Cesaro lost.
The Swiss Superstar was, just two months ago, as hot a babyface as there was in WWE. Not only did he cool down significantly following WWE Creative’s insistence that his feud with Rollins continues, he now lost clean in the center of the ring to the former world champion.
Some will suggest there is no harm in losing to someone as established as Rollins is but, in reality, The Architect is creatively bulletproof. He’s not going to be hurt by losing a second straight time to Cesaro. If anything, he will be helped long-term because more established acts make for stronger opponents down the line.
Instead, 50-50 booking struck again and, unless the goal is to book a rubber match between the two, further watering down the effect of Cesaro’s WrestleMania victory, this served no purpose and did more damage than help.
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Shayna Baszler sought to exorcise the demon that is Alexa Bliss in the night’s third match, taking the fight to her from the opening bell. Bliss responded with laughter, smiles, and further mind games. Baszler doubled down, targeting the left arm of her opponent with a sickening stomp, only for Bliss to menacingly laugh it off.
Bliss fought back, hypnotized Nia Jax into slapping Reginald, escaped the Karafuji Clutch and delivered Sister Abigail to Baszler. She followed with Twisted Bliss for the win.
Bliss defeated Baszler
Bliss is great with the facial expressions and has very clearly bought into the storyline. She is wholly invested in what she’s doing right now and that, at the very least, helps the quality of her angles and matches.
But that’s really where the positivity ends.
This was hokey supernatural stuff that makes the Papa Shango-Ultimate Warrior shlock of 1992 cultured. It’s not particularly well-executed and is the sort of thing that will make fans of the industry embarrassed to show their friends.
Bliss, like The Undertaker and before her, believes in what she is doing but that devotion to the character only goes so far. Eventually, the creative has to support it or it all looks like third-rate, sci-fi nonsense.
We’ve crossed that line with this story at this point.
Worst of all, Baszler has been sacrificed in its name, further devaluing someone who was the most badass, dominating woman to ever come out of NXT.
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The neverending feud between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn wrote its latest chapter in the fourth match of the night.
Owens, still reeling from the Nigerian Nail he endured at the hands of Commander Azeez Friday on SmackDown, found himself on the defensive through much of the early portion of the match. Owens nursed his arm, speculated to be a shoulder or wrist injury by the commentary team, essentially making him a one-armed man in a fist fight.
Owens would mount one valiant offensive but Zayn, his mouth bloodied by the intensely physical battle, sprinted across the ring and delivered the Helluva Kick for the win.
Zayn defeated Owens
These two performers could wrestle every week for three months and have a unique, engaging match every time. Their chemistry between the ropes is such that they are almost guaranteed never to have a bad match. At least not at this point in their careers.
Owens appeared to be hampered by the arm injury and, if it was not legit, did a hell of a job of selling it. Lately, he has taken a page from Bret “Hitman” Hart’s playbook and demonstrated an unmatched ability to take an ass-kicking and build sympathy through it. This was no different, as he put over the tenacity and ruthlessness of his former best friend en route to yet another loss.
Hopefully, someone on the booking team is paying attention because there is a hell of a story to be told surrounding Owens rediscovering his edge and no longer allowing himself to be the punching bag in WWE.
As for Zayn, it was nice to see one of the company’s low-key MVPs pick up a quality pay-per-view win. He has been extraordinary over the last year, developing a character that has been a blast to watch evolve and grow. Who knows where he goes from here, especially as a character of its type would seemingly have a ceiling on it, but Zayn will absolutely thrive out of sheer willpower alone.