And yet, I'd still term the event a fantastic show, albeit with some caveats. As I'll explain in the midst of this list, a lot of what I watched on this night was fantastic, but they come with some "however..." and "yes, but...". While it seems like we IWCers tend to poke holes for sport, crapping on good things for the sake of being contrarians, this is a case where the criticisms can be valid. There are such things as flawed masterpieces, after all.
And as always, another WWE pay-per-view marks another learning experience. Good show, bad show, in-between show, all wield the power of education. Here's what we learned from WWE Hell in a Cell 2018.
10. Less Is More, Especially In The Case Of Match Quantity
In WWE's recent "best of both worlds" expansion to pay-per-views that are longer than most Senate terms, the company has felt obligated to shoehorn five matches apiece from Raw and SmackDown, in an attempt to justify the bloat on both shows. Rematches from month to month are plenty, and the shows just feel too damn long, especially when you're staging a near five-hour parade (pre-show included) of wrestlers that we already see every week.
Hell in a Cell went with a mere eight matches - five from SmackDown, and only three from Raw, and one blue-brand bout was pushed back to the pre-show. While the main card still dripped past three and a half hours, there seemed to be less fatigue with only seven matches. They could have done with a shorty or two, but I'll take this format over some of the alternatives.
9. Rusev Day May Just Last Forever
Not the Rusev Day tandem, but rather the chants. What began as an offhand absurdity blossomed into an inside joke that everybody except the right people got, an open secret handshake that was fun to share with others. You had a feeling that Rusev and Aiden English weren't about to defeat The New Day for the SmackDown Tag Team titles on the Kickoff show, but it doesn't harm Rusev's popularity any.
And that's a theme: Rusev keeps getting knocked down, and yet Rusev Day persists onward as a rallying cry from arenas full of admirers. Sure, some may chant it ironically, but there is a genuine appreciation for one of the hardest-working, most gifted heavyweights on the roster. It may never be too late for WWE to ride that wave either, since it doesn't appear to be dying down any.
8. WWE Can Make You Cringe, Even Without Blood
The opening pay-per-view bout felt a tad anachronistic, with 41-year-old Jeff Hardy facing 38-year-old Randy Orton in a Hell in a Cell match in 2018, but you know something? It managed to be creatively brutal, and that's all I ask from a match that promises carnage.
And wowee, carnage is what we got. That spot with Orton sliding a screwdriver through Hardy's pierced earlobe, and then twisting it around like a wrench, made the hairs on your neck and arms stand up, and your blood curdle. Speaking of blood, I must admit that I've seen so much blood in wrestling that it's hard for a messy blade job to irk me these days. An ear getting twisted like a coil? That's sick, dude. Well played.
7. Stephanie Wasn't Lying When She Said WWE Listens To Their Audience
Welllllll kinda. Despite the distorted manner in which the Charlotte Flair/Becky Lynch angle has been handled, WWE backed the favourite at Hell in a Cell when they put Becky over supremely cleanly over the SmackDown Women's Champion.
Granted, Becky's still acting the heel (refusing to let Charlotte be gracious in the post-match), but they weren't as tone deaf to this situation as they are the reactions to, say, Roman Reigns. And I'm certain Charlotte's getting the belt back soon enough, and this was just a pacifier for the vocal fans, but hey: take the victories where and when you can get them.
6. Seth Rollins Is The Saver Of Devalued Gold
If 2018 has taught us nothing else, it's that you can take Rollins, put him in the mix with a secondary belt that isn't getting enough love, give Rollins ample TV time with which to work, and presto - you restore the belt to its old glory. The Intercontinental belt felt important once more in Rollins' matches with The Miz, Finn Balor, Dolph Ziggler, and others - and now it's the Tag Team titles turn.
Rollins and Dean Ambrose's loss to Raw Tag Team Champions Ziggler and Drew McIntyre was easily (for me) the match of the night, and arguably one of the best Tag Team title matches in company history that didn't involve ladders. The match was a smooth blend of classic tag formula with balls-out high-impact moves and nifty counters. It was damn near perfect, and here's to more like it.
5. Styles And Joe Can Have A Great Match And A "Meh" Match - Simultaneously
I defer to the sage words of the man who hired me, one Adam Pacitti, when he tweeted on Sunday night about AJ Styles and Samoa Joe: "We know these two can wrestle. They should have had a fight." Given the circumstances of the grudge between the two TNA icons, and how deeply personal it's gotten with Joe constantly making crude remarks toward Styles' family, you'd expect a gritty slugfest.
Instead, we get something that fuses WWE's main event style with their brilliant skillsets, and that would be great...if the story wasn't about Styles trying to tear Joe to shreds for his repeated taunts toward his wife and daughter. Hell, in Styles' promo earlier that night, he threatened to rip Joe's heart out a la Kano from Mortal Kombat. So why are they having a straightforward wrestling match (one that was admittedly technically stellar)? Have we learned nothing from Gargano vs. Ciampa?
4. We're Gonna See A Ton Of Range At Evolution
It's not clear at this time if Maryse or Brie Bella are going to wrestle at the Evolution pay-per-view next month, but if they do, the event will certainly live up to its name. Given what's slotted in as the Mae Young Classic tournament final, and the fact that we'll probably see Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Ronda Rousey, and other gifted females in action, we're going to see how far women's wrestling has come in WWE.
Brie Bella and Maryse can be at least minimally excused on account of ring rust, but were their parts of the mixed tag match with respect to husbands Daniel Bryan and The Miz rough? The two were a big part of the division at the turn of this current decade, and the comparison between eras will be stark. Actually, given how good the other two women's bouts at Hell in a Cell were, you already saw the difference on Sunday.
3. Ronda Can Have A Give-And-Take That's Plausible
I'm a big fan of Ronda Rousey's, going back to her watershed run through UFC's women's Bantamweight division, but even I was a bit sceptical at how she'd fare in picking up the nuances of professional wrestling. WrestleMania 34 was something of a revelation, that Rousey is a Kurt Angle-esque freak, and since then she's looked nothing short of phenomenal. Putting the belt on her five months in was necessary, given both her Q rating and her freakish skill level.
My concern was how she'd look in giving offense to her opponent since as the Baddest Woman on the Planet, the only plausible way for anyone to get in offense on her would be through some sort of chicanery. While Alexa Bliss did have some distraction help from Mickie James and Alicia Fox, it didn't look at that weird to see Alexa taking parts of the match on sustained offense. I mean, once Stephanie McMahon-Gracie blocks the armbar twice, anything's plausible, I guess. But it's nice to see Rousey in a give-and-take scenario that looks good, especially a smaller opponent.
2. Reigns And Strowman Have Inconsistent Physical Limits
I'm not quite sure how to feel about the main event. It wasn't a terrible match, but it didn't feel all that special either. If anything, Orton/Hardy blew Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman out of the water when it came to making the Cell seem like a truly dangerous place. This was just a weapons match with very little creativity, in the vicinity of a bullseye-red cage and Mick Foley.
After Strowman kicked out of Reigns' table spear, Rollins, Ambrose, McIntyre, and Ziggler insinuated themselves to the degree that for a lengthy period of time, all focus was on their climbing-and-falling hijinks while Reigns and Strowman, ostensibly the two most powerful forces in WWE, laid there as about as motionless as discarded lawn furniture. Given that Reigns can kick out of 40 finishers and Strowman can overturn entire continents, this seems a wee bit far-fetched and convoluted.
1. WWE Still Sees Brock As Valuable
Brock Lesnar, beard and all, stormed the cage at the end of the night, and laid waste to Raw's worldly powers with a relentless beatdown. Clearly, he's signed on for more dates, and with his price tag, WWE either has huge plans for Lesnar, or just sees his attendance as extremely valuable to the overall brand.
Tell that to the fans in San Antonio, who reportedly chanted "THIS IS BULLS**T" once the Cell match was thrown out, necessitating the show fading to black earlier than expected. Lesnar's character stock took many hits in 2018 when his part-time schedule and general aloofness were used by Reigns to demonstrate why he doesn't belong in the company. The idea of part-timers has already been weakened by these not-so-secret revelations by Reigns (used to try and curry fans in his direction - didn't exactly take), and having Lesnar around only diminishes part-timer value even more. But WWE wants Brock around, seeing him as a major chip. What happens next is up to them.