By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
Over time, things change. Think of how the sports landscape has transformed since our preview for SummerSlam. The once-moribund New York Jets now have an exciting young quarterback and their fans have hope for the future. The Yankees went from “doing damage,” to trying to hold on to a playoff spot. In sports entertainment, things have also progressed quickly. For example, there recently was real buzz around an independent show for the first time in forever. While WWE doesn’t have to worry about any competition just yet, it was nice to see something get some attention outside of WWE other than people making fun of TNA’s collapse.
In WWE, the creative team has decided we don’t need a dozen matches on a PPV card, which is a nice change of pace, and they are about to give us our second consecutive solid show. Maybe they feel some heat from New Japan, or maybe the current run of good storylines has the company in such a good position they can’t screw it up. OK, I won’t go that far, but there’s certainly a lot to be excited about right now.
Another exciting change is how we’re going to do this preview. We’ll do the big matches first and save the petty arguments (my favorite part) for the lesser matches at the end of the post. This way you get to see our thoughts on the main events first, and Brad has to wait until later to get back at me for my shot at his Yankees. So let’s take it from the top this month and break down Sunday’s Hell in a cell show, which has a chance to be quite good.
Universal Champion Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
(Hell in a Cell Match with Mick Foley as Special Guest Referee)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE has given us many examples over the years of its stubbornness. When they decide they want you to root for someone, they will stop at nothing to make you do so. Often this means sacrificing another babyface character just to get that done. They spent years trying to ruin Daniel Bryan because they wanted everyone to cheer Roman Reigns, and if you weren’t going to do it, they would just take away the guy you wanted in order to punish you. Now, WWE has a new, organically-developed character in Braun Strowman who the fans love. The problem is, he’s not who WWE wants you to cheer for. WWE has a character they really want to push instead, and it’s a new guy named… oh who are we kidding, it’s still Roman Reigns. The difference this time, however, is that it seems to be working. The reunion of the Shield, which very few of us saw coming since we all thought Dean Ambrose was going to turn on his brothers, has actually made people cheer for Roman. They aren’t as in love with him as WWE wants you to be, but he’s not getting mercilessly booed anymore, which is a step in the right direction. And if WWE had to sacrifice Strowman to get this far, so be it. Strowman, to me, works better as a heel anyway, even if the fans love him. The problem I have with his turn is putting him with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. The alliance is being built as a strong one, which makes no sense because they were together for about six days when WWE started hyping them as a tight group. The problem I have with this match itself is the removal of the groups which got the main characters into their current positions. Will WWE fans go right back to booing Roman without the Shield? Can Strowman be a heel without standing next to a real heel to remind people they’re supposed to boo him? My guess is we see the Shield and Dolph and Drew at some point in this match. Their arrival and Mick Foley’s sudden addition make it easy to get out of match without anyone losing heat. Mick can’t jump off anything anymore and Shane (stunningly) isn’t on this card, so the other wrestlers will have to be the distraction here. Roman can’t lose, and Strowman can’t lose his push by being pinned, so something weird is going to happen. Roman wins, but only after there are at least seven people in the ring.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub, as we all know by now, is a strange dude. From his past love affair with John Cena, to his crush on Ryback way back when, to his now years-long affection for Roman Reigns, Straub has found new ways to get under my skin, and probably everyone else as well. But he’s gone a little off the deep end this week. But, hey, he says I can’t talk about that yet, so let’s let Straub have his moment and give him his way. So, the main event for a tight, and therefore highly anticipated Hell in a Cell PPV. Why highly anticipated? Because there’s no filler. It’s straight up matches that make sense, even if some of them could have been done a whole lot better. But this right here, Reigns vs. Strowman, has really been done the complete opposite of what it easily could have and should have. The WWE had everything at its fingertips when Strowman announced his intentions to cash in the night after SummerSlam on Reigns. It was perfect and made complete sense. This is what everyone was waiting for and ready for. So, what does WWE do? Make the Shield reunite and turn heel, by cheating the system to block the cash-in by Strowman. Of course, the WWE didn’t see it that way. Those morons saw it as the Shield being the good guys in this instance and Strowman now being the heel. What? Really, what the hell? It makes absolutely no sense and it’s really turned me off to this entire feud. If this was the route Strowman was taking, why wouldn’t he just keep the briefcase and cash in whenever he wanted? He’s a heel, right? That’s what heels do. Heels don’t give forewarning, let alone hand in the briefcase to set up an actual match at a later date. Why oh why WWE do you offend me so much? Seriously, I hate you for it. Even Strowman joining forces with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler isn’t a heel move. It’s a face move. Get help to take out the heel bullies. Those bullies are the Shield. But maybe just maybe I have a brain and that’s a very bad thing when it comes to being a fan of pro wrestling. And it’s why I’m glad I get to write these previews, so I can educate the masses, even though it probably just amounts to an old man trying to send soup back at a deli. Fans are eating up the Shield. They are booing Strowman, for some reason. As Straub points out, however, without the Shield by his side in the cell, will the fans revert to cheering Strowman instead of Reigns? Who knows. I don’t know anything anymore, especially when it comes to this feud. If this was set up the way it should have, Strowman would finally win the Universal championship. WWE isn’t going to do that cause they got the Shield, which really just amounts to Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose being hired goons to protect Reigns. Welcome back, Dean. Reigns wins.
WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: If you can tell me why this isn’t in a cell, you’re smarter than I am. Everything about this build, which has been phenomenal, screams Hell in a Cell. Joe has done the best work of his life lately, showing the mainstream wrestling audience what it missed out on for years with Joe not being in the limelight. He’s a special talent who has the total package of in-ring work, an old-school wrestling mentality which allows him to tell stories with his matches instead of making them spotfests, and incredible ability on the mic. I think it’s his time. Everything about this feud has been wonderful, and a true throwback to when wrestling feuds meant something. It’s 1980s storytelling with Attitude Era edge. I hated the way the SummerSlam match ended, as I feel a PPV match should always have a clear winner, but if more of this is the result of that mess, I’ll take it. Usually getting in a cell is the end of the program, but this has been too good to stop now. Joe wins, giving him his deserved spot on top and a reason for this to keep going. AJ will still be popular as the face chasing down the belt, so his position in the company will still be strong when the video game he’s on the cover of comes out. He doesn’t need a win here, but Joe does. And the world needs more Joe. When he came to WWE I openly wondered if he could be a top guy, but he’s worked out better than I could have dreamed. Hey Brad, have I ever mentioned how big a fan I am of Joe?
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub loves Joe, Samoa. But it’s more of a cover for his love of the other Joe, his top choice when it comes to Joe, as in Leati Joseph Anoaʻi, you know, Roman Reigns. Straub is sly with his love choices. Anyway, yeah, what Joe has done has been gold, although it’s definitely Attitude Era gold, which can be a turn off for many. Me? I love it, but that’s because I was brought up in the Attitude Era, and still miss it. The storybook was brilliant by Joe on Tuesday and he’s completely schooled AJ Styles in the build of this match. AJ looks pretty ordinary, honestly, and isn’t holding his own. He’s great in the ring, no doubt, and he’s the real champion of the entire company, but Joe has done so well this just screams it’s his time to take the title and run with it. He deserves it. Plus, this feud seems far from over. If Styles wins, then this feud is done and Joe has nowhere to go. If Joe wins, we get a rematch and probably more. Styles is still the favorite to win, and while it really would be a surprise, despite what I’ve written above, I’m going with Samoa Joe getting his moment and taking the title.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: No one has worked harder to keep the women’s division going strong in the last year or so than Alexa Bliss. Heck, she showed up at a tennis tournament in Connecticut a few weeks ago to meet a Make-A-Wish kid and plug SummerSlam. And it wasn’t even good tennis. She’s a good worker and an excellent, excellent storyteller who has made her mark with the fans and has done anything the company has needed from her. Which is all to say it’s a shame she’s the one being thrown to the wolves here. WWE made a decision a couple of months ago. Rousey’s original build was slow, which was the way to go. They picked her spots and put her in matches where she’d look good. Suddenly WWE has decided to hotshot it and make Ronda the face of the women’s division right now, whether she’s ready or not. For her to be as big as her push, not only does she need to be champion, she needs to be Hulk Hogan in a kilt and sports bra. She’s going to beat Bliss while fighting off Mickie James and perhaps Alicia Fox. If WWE can figure out a way for her to overcome interference from seven other women, it will. Ronda might start judo throwing people from the crowd. Remember the “Alliance to end Hulkamania”? In 1996 WCW had Hogan and Randy Savage (hey, he needed SOMEONE) beat Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Kevin Sullivan, Meng, the Barbarian, Lex Luger, the Ultimate Solution and Zeus in one match. Yes, it was two-on-eight, and at no point did you think for a second the eight had a chance. I fear this is going to have a similar feel. WWE wants to push Ronda to the moon, but has to make sure she doesn’t completely clear out the rest of the division before Wrestlemania when she goes with Charlotte. More importantly, they have to make sure she doesn’t bury the entire division Sunday.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Before Ronda Rousey came along I wrote on Twitter how Alexa Bliss was the MVP of the entire women’s division. Others, including Straub, took me to task on that assertion. But guess what? All this time later, who would you choose as the MVP of the division? Even with her loss to Rousey at SummerSlam, there isn’t a woman on the roster who has done a better job than Bliss in not only bringing it in the ring, but on the mic as well. She’s been completely awesome. (Of course, Becky Lynch, who was always my favorite of the four horsewomen, has really taken the mantle as best woman overall right now). Yes, it’s too bad Bliss’ prime had to run into a freight train with no end in sight, but I hope fans realize Ronda Rousey isn’t champion this quick without Bliss carrying her to it. Rousey has been impressive on her own, for sure, but it’s getting to be a little bit repetitive. Her arm drag flips were wow moments originally, now they are getting into same old you know what territory. Add to the move-set, already. I know there’s some who are against Rousey’s sudden rise, but while on the surface all those takes are correct, it’s not reality when it comes to pro wrestling. The best rarely becomes the best. Rousey isn’t the best, but she’s going to continue as the Raw women’s champion because she gives the division legitimacy to outsiders. I just wonder who’s going to be next and if they will be able to hide Rousey’s numerous faults as well as Bliss has.
Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton (Hell in a Cell Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Everyone is ripping WWE for putting this match in the cell, but I actually get it. The cell is the only thing interesting about this match or this feud. This match should open the show. Having the first thing fans see be the cell getting lowered is always a fantastic look on TV and will get the fans in San Antonio into the event right away. The house will go so nuts it won’t even remember it’s watching Jeff Hardy face Randy Orton in a match which lacks a title or any semblance of a good feud. If you’re going to do a match, it needs either something to be fought over or a storyline which brings the combatants together. Or, in the absence of any of that, give them a giant cage for Hardy to play with. And if the match gets boring, it’s a good chance to go online and start looking for Jets Super Bowl tickets. Ok, at least we can dream about being 3-0 in about five days.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Although I agree this feud doesn’t really make sense on the surface, it has been put together well and they have kept the animosity going over several weeks, leading to a suitable conclusion in a suitable place. This match should take place in a cell, and actually, every match on this card except for the SDLive tag title one could theoretically make sense in the structure. But this certainly qualifies, sorry Straub. The Orton ear pull heard round the world was one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve seen in a long time and each has gotten their shots in since then, leading to this match. Orton is going to win, but Hardy should give us at least a couple of moments to look on in disbelief, or horror, whatever you fancy. Lost in the shuffle here is Shinsuke Nakamura, the US champion with nothing to do.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Sometimes, WWE can’t make people root for who it wants. Just as we talked about with Roman, the plan here was to get Charlotte’s momentum, which WWE stupidly killed after Wrestlemania, back by having her play the victim. Her real-life best friend had just turned on her, and we were all going to root for her to destroy Becky. Instead, the fans have thrown out the idea and decided to root for Lynch to finally win her title. For the first time, Charlotte’s twitter has been invaded by people rooting for Lynch. Granted, this is the “it’s still real to me,” crowd, but it’s a clear indication of a mood shift in the WWE universe. Charlotte is still over, but the fans want Lynch to get the belt, and don’t care who she beats to do it. I believe WWE would love to have Charlotte Flair put down the fans’ revolt once and for all, but I don’t think Ashley Fliehr would allow it. Becky gets her day in the sun, which could last as long as a month. I’d rather see this title change happen at Evolution, but I don’t see a way Flair can win and there be a reason for them to meet next month again, so it happens here.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I’m so happy the WWE fans have ignored the company’s plan and have cheered Becky Lynch non-stop since her amazing heel turn at SummerSlam. Lynch is actually an uber heel, and it’s even more uber that she’s a heel who’s getting cheered. I couldn’t love this storyline more, and it’s actually the best work the WWE has done in creating a feud, even though it’s gone against the original and current plan. WWE wants you to cheer Charlotte and hate Becky. No chance. Just like the Strowman-Reigns, it makes no sense for Lynch to be anything but a sympathetic figure. WWE really is just beyond stupid. Anyway, I thought SummerSlam would be Becky’s moment, but now, I really think it is. Lynch wins and the crowd is going to go wild. In your face, WWE.
Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: The only good thing about this match is that it keeps The Miz and Daniel together. This is going to go for awhile, and WWE doesn’t have any other good ideas to keep it fresh, despite it being one of the easiest feuds to sell in recent memory. There’s real-life tension and years worth of storyline heat to work with, but instead we get this mess. I can’t remember being so disappointed in the build for a feud in a long time. By the way, you people have made it this far in the preview, and we appreciate you as always. You guys deserve a good, old-school Brad rant. Hey Brad, the Bellas are back! Care to comment?
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I said it before, if this rivalry morphs into something involving the women, you know Daniel Bryan has absolutely no momentum left. And guess what? Bryan has no momentum left. He’s beyond stale and generic and all those terms his fans hate to hear. Does anyone care that Brie Bella is back? Or Nikki for that matter? Holy hell no. Straub knows what’s coming here … the Bellas represented everything that was terrible about the women’s division before the current Evolution or Revolution or whatever it is. The Bellas are terrible, and Brie is infinity worse than Nikki, horrible in the ring, talking, mannerism, facial expressions, everything. The Bellas are the Divas. Nobody wants to see the Divas again. She failed twice to dive through the ring ropes in her return to the ring a couple weeks ago. Ring rust? Ha. That’s what she is. Put the Bellas next to everyone on the women’s roster and they wouldn’t make the top 10. This is a totally skippable match because we know Brie and Daniel Bella will win. The Miz and Maryse will make it interesting, though. Just like their reality show, they are way more entertaining than the Bellas.
Raw Tag Team Champions Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntrye
vs. Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: We talked about these two groups earlier, but there’s one part of their development I didn’t get to. The IC belt has become such a big deal, and Seth and Dolph did such a good job making it the “worker title” again. It’s a damn shame it’s been pushed back to irrelevance already. Their match at SummerSlam was an absolute treat. They told a story both about their feud and in the match itself. They built to something, as opposed to having high spots early with nowhere left to go at the end. They sold for each other for more than two seconds at a time, which is a lost art in wrestling today which can add so much to a match. And they even managed to cover up a blown spot by turning it into something good. It was an absolute clinic. Instead of more magic, we get this hastily constructed mess. I wouldn’t have wasted these performers, who were in the middle of interesting things, with a battle for the tag belts. My assumption is they want the Shield to have all the titles, which makes sense, but I think it’s the wrong way to go. Since I can’t think of another way to go with this, however, I’ll use that logic and give the Shield the win and all the major belts in the company. That is, of course, assuming WWE remembers the IC belt still exists. The belt’s importance fell faster than the Yankees’ hopes of winning the division.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Matt is so right about the intercontinental title because after reading his breakdown I actually had to go out and find out who the champion actually was. I totally forgot or was just programmed to forget Seth Rollins is still the champion. As Straub mentions, how sad is that? The WWE is dumping one title, after a long rebuild, and focusing on another title, which was dumped a long time ago. I know everyone loves the Shield, I just don’t at all. I don’t care. I’ve always hated Roman Reigns. I never thought Dean Ambrose was any good. Seth Rollins I enjoyed as a heel, but never got as a face, even though he put in the work and turned people into fans after a rough start to his face turn. I wrote it earlier, by it bears repeating, right now Ambrose and Rollins are merely Reigns’ bodyguard. But they are also likely to hold three belts when the night is over. Drew McIntyre is better than he was in NXT, where I didn’t really get behind at all, after runs by Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode at the top of the brand. But he is going to be a main event player for a long time and real soon. He could be next for Roman Reigns. Dolph Ziggler is the pesky heel who needs to be here to move things along. McIntyre and Ziggler just won the belts so it would be tough to take them away so soon. But the Shield is everything for WWE now. I’m going to switch it up and say McIntyre and Ziggler keep the titles through some dastardly deed. On a side note, Straub is a typical Boston sports fan, talking up the Yankees instead of focusing on his own team. Straub and the Red Sox fans aren’t even the little brother here, they are the annoying neighbor who constantly wants to borrow your stuff. Nobody cares. The Red Sox have to win the World Series or it will be the most epic failure in baseball history. Deal with that one.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The New Day vs. Rusev & Aiden English
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is a perfect match to use between two of the big matches to give the fans a chance to rest. It also gives us a chance to ask some key questions. For starters, is it still Rusev Day? And can anyone think of a reason he and English aren’t feuding yet? Why do the angles we want good builds for end quickly while the ones which should be completed right away take forever? If you had to pick one breakfast, would it be Booty-Os or pancakes? Am I the only one who finds it hysterical when Lana and Rusev forget to even try to do accents anymore? Are the Jets the greatest team in NFL history, or just the best team this year? Sorry, I had to throw the last one in there. I wanted to end my half of this on a positive note since I fear WWE isn’t going to give me as many good things to write about in the months ahead. Oh, New Day wins when Rusev and English split.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Maybe Rusev and Aiden English split. But who would care? Rusev wins that feud easily. They will always be better as a team. Plus, Rusev Day is only a thing right now because of English. Split them, but be prepared for no one to care. This spot should have been give to The Bar, though, which were the last team on Raw to make those tag titles important and would bring legitimacy to the SmackDown version as well. Maybe we’re just biding time until that happens. In the meantime, we get Rusev Day and the New Day. Which Day will win out? Does it matter? New Day wins. Hope you enjoyed the new, opposite format. Follow us on Twitter @gamedayishere and we'll be sure to follow you back as well.