Hell in a Cell sits in something of a no man's land on the WWE calendar. SummerSlam is a month in the rearview mirror, and a lot of attention has already shifted to a pair of October pay-per-view events: Australia's Super Show-Down and the first-of-its kind women's pay-per-view Evolution.
Raw and SmackDown are both in the midst of some major transitions heading into Sunday, and the last few weeks of shows have felt the strain. Sure, the tag team divisions on Raw and SmackDown have hummed back to life, but most everything else seems to be in various states of upheaval. Braun Strowman is the top "villain" on Raw with justification for every single move he's made, save for one, while SmackDown is suffering from a serious case of backwardness as supposed heel Becky Lynch continues to get tremendously positive reactions while champion Charlotte Flair is getting booed.
Hell in a Cell should serve as a clear opportunity to set things straight for Raw and SmackDown alike, but whether or not that's indeed the case is anyone's guess. Let's take a look at Sunday's card and see what we can make of the eight matches announced thus far.
(c) - indicates defending champion
Hell in a Cell match for the Universal championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Braun Strowman (Special guest referee: Mick Foley)
Braun Strowman gave Roman Reigns a full warning that he would cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on two separate occasions. The first time, Brock Lesnar attacked Strowman and hurled the briefcase all the way up the ramp -- a distraction that allowed Reigns to win the Universal championship and avoid the cash-in. The following night on Raw, before Reigns took on Finn Balor in his first title defense, Strowman once again promised to cash in his briefcase. At the conclusion of the Reigns-Balor match, Strowman attempted to cash in, only for Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to rush out to the ring to save Reigns and his title.
Having given far more advanced notice than all but two previous MITB winners, Strowman was well within his right to get fed up with Reigns' numbers game and pick up a crew of his own in Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. That's where everything seems to fall apart. Strowman forfeited all of his power and leverage as the MITB briefcase holder by cashing in weeks ahead of time for a Universal championship match inside of Hell in a Cell. The thought that Hell in a Cell could keep anyone in or out is laughable, considering the bulk of the Hell in a Cell matches have memorable spots outside of the cage itself.
In the second-ever Hell in a Cell match, Mick Foley was thrown from atop the cage and then through the cage -- and he's back to serve as the special guest referee in this match through some even more head-scratching logic. Given all of the holes in this story, from employing all of the heels on the roster to attack The Shield without a response from the other half of the locker room, to Strowman's sudden willingness to take on partners and alliance with recent blood rival Kevin Owens, it's hard to say that most any outcome is impossible on Sunday.
After putting all of the work they did into finally getting Reigns to the top as Universal champion, a loss for Reigns here would be a surprise, to be sure. But another clean loss for Strowman at Reigns' hands could be downright devastating for Strowman. With a special referee and dueling support systems in play for both men, look for this to be a match that ends in chaos -- allowing the rivalry to carry on for the foreseeable future.
Prediction: Reigns escapes with the title, with a little help from his friends.
It's impossible not to draw parallels between AJ Styles' two most recent rivals for the WWE championship. Shinsuke Nakamura had all the makings of a career-defining rival for Styles heading into their WWE title match at WrestleMania, but by the time all was said and done a few months later, the one thing that everyone will remember above all else was the excessive amount of low blows that Nakamura attempted and hit.
For Samoa Joe, will we be saying the same about his obsession with Styles' wife and daughter in a few months' time? There one good way to ensure that's not the case, and that's to have a decisive winner on Sunday at Hell in a Cell. Despite a rivalry that's gotten intensely physical and personal, this match was passed over for the Hell in a Cell format and will be a straightforward one-on-one match. Considering their last title match, at SummerSlam, was pretty strong before it ended in disqualification, it would be a great disappointment for there to be anything but a clear winner here.
AJ Styles' WWE championship reign will stand at 313 days on Sunday, with more than 450-plus combined days as WWE champ over the course of two reigns. While he continues to put on great matches with anyone who steps into the ring to face him, Styles' character has plateaued to a degree despite the hyper-personal nature of his rivalry with Samoa Joe. Whether it's just a short-term swap or a landscape-shifting moment for SmackDown, the timing for Joe to become "the" guy on SmackDown feels right.
Prediction: Samoa Joe pushes AJ Styles over the emotional edge and claims his WWE championship.
SmackDown women's championship: Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Becky Lynch
Of the combinations of matches that could be made between the WWE's "Four Horsewomen," Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch was one of the deepest story wells that hadn't yet been tapped. It's hard to say what the WWE expected in terms of a reaction when they decided to have Lynch attack Flair after the latter won the triple threat SmackDown women's championship match at SummerSlam. Lynch got the most explosive reaction of the night, and the enthusiasm for the long-down former champion has put Lynch in an interesting spot heading into Hell in a Cell.
After a well-choreographed attack from the crowd on the final edition of SmackDown heading into Sunday, Lynch seems to have the upper hand in almost every way. Will the WWE actually consider making the change while Lynch is at the peak of her popularity and momentum, two years after she initially began her first and only stretch as SmackDown women's champion. It's clear from crowd reactions that the fans want it, but WWE has shown themselves to be almost entirely unwilling to allow crowd reactions dramatically sway the course of a story in recent memory. There's also the small danger of a Roman Reigns-like effect by proxy for Charlotte Flair, should reactions go too far sideways, but at least Flair has proven herself more than capable of performing at her peak as a dynamic heel should the need arise.
Prediction: Becky Lynch finds an ally (or allies) to help swing the match and become a two-time SmackDown women's champion -- putting some serious heat behind this rivalry.
Raw women's championship: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss' concerted effort to take every shortcut in the book to injure Ronda Rousey's ribs is exactly in line with something her character should do. Rather than having her attempt to be a physical powerhouse, which has strangely been the case in more than one of her major rivalries and matches considering her offensive repertoire, making Bliss the diminutive and manipulative undersized villain is pitch-perfect for her. All that being said, it would take a tremendous effort to convince almost anyone that the result of this match will be anything but straightforward. Bliss already has a match set against Trish Stratus next month at Evolution and this feels like a clean way for Rousey to move beyond her first major rivalry towards the next step in her WWE career.
Prediction: Rousey stumbles briefly early, thanks to the aforementioned rib injury, but puts Bliss away in convincing fashion.
Raw tag team championships: Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre vs. Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins
This impromptu tag team title match was a late addition to the Hell in a Cell card, but it's a logical extension of the rivalry surrounding Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. The animosity between these two pairs is palpable, and there's no clearer way of rejuvenating a tag team division in a hurry than to take four accomplished individuals in established alliances and having them go at it. There will be time yet for The Revival and others to take over the division, but for now this should be a strong central rivalry for the titles. Sure, the Intercontinental championship has taken a back seat for the moment, but this should be a great match that could steal the show at Hell in a Cell.
Prediction: Ziggler and McIntyre cheat their way to victory, to the surprise of no one.
Brie Bella & Daniel Bryan vs. Maryse & The Miz
The still-growing rivalry between The Miz and Daniel Bryan has entangled both of their wives in the match and, fortunately for all involved, they're wrestlers too. With The Miz pulling Brie Bella out of the ring Tuesday on SmackDown, and the various strikes back and forth over the last few weeks, the most interesting dynamic to keep an eye on is how physical things get between these four. This is certainly not going to be the last note in this long-running rivalry, but it's a chance for a deeper dynamic to come into play.
Prediction: The indicators are pointing in two different directions. With Miz winning the pay-per-view match at SummerSlam, Bryan seems likely to strike back. But Bryan and Brie Bella got the last laugh to close out SmackDown. Let's say that The Miz and Maryse get the upper hand, further frustrating Bryan and his clan heading into the fall.
Hell in a Cell: Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton
Randy Orton putting a finger through Jeff Hardy's gauge holes in his ears and pulling was one of the most uncomfortable moments in recent WWE history, but with three or four more intensely personal rivalries more well-positioned for this decisive format, what are the stakes and why is this happening? Sure, Hardy and Orton had quite a few run-ins between 2006 and 2008, including a memorable WWE championship match at the 2008 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, but there hasn't been enough here to justify a Hell in a Cell match in this instance when presented so many better options.
Hardy is sure to attempt something insane inside of the Hell in a Cell, his first match inside of this cage, but having the gimmick as the central attraction of a match rather than the participants inside of it cheapens things.
Prediction: Randy Orton wins and puts himself squarely into the WWE championship picture.
SmackDown tag team championships: The New Day vs. Rusev Day (Rusev & Aiden English)
Rusev Day would not have been the choice of any prognosticator looking at the six teams vying to be the first team up to challenge The New Day, but it does give us a fresher than usual match for Sunday. New Day is just starting to get rolling on their fifth tag team title reign, so it's hard to imagine any change, but Rusev and Aiden English each have a chance to prove themselves opposite a hungry, dynamic tag team that continues to prove itself every time out.
Prediction: It's New Day, yes it is.