Hell in a Cell is typically regarded by hardcore fans as a “B PPV,” meaning that it’s not one of the four longest continuing PPV shows, like WrestleMania, SummerSlam, the Royal Rumble, or Survivor Series, nor has it risen to the level of Money in the Bank for its reputation for quality or long-term storytelling implications. Just the same, Hell in a Cell, if only by virtue of its signature match, tends to be noteworthy, including its some history making moments and some very good matches.
The main event of this year’s Hell in a Cell was particularly provocative, as it pitted unofficial face of the company Roman Reigns, who had finally made good on his destiny to win the Universal Championship, against Braun Strowman who is arguably the most organically over addition to the WWE roster from the last few years. These two had demonstrated chemistry going into this match, and the idea of the two big men duking it out inside the cell had an undeniable appeal to it. A hot storyline involving The Shield rallying behind Reigns, and Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler backing the Monster Among Men nicely added layers to the story at hand.
Opinions varied on the actual execution of the match, but it was certainly newsworthy, including an extension of the sixth man feud, the Money in the Bank time bomb getting defused once and for all, and the legitimately surprising return of Brock Lesnar after a month away. This article looks at key observations fans may have missed from Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman.
20 Every Pre-Planned Cash-In Has Ended With A Run-In
Braun Strowman became just the third man in the 13 year history of Money in the Bank to use his cash-in to schedule a match rather than making an impromptu challenge. Rob Van Dam was first, back in 2006, and John Cena did in 2012.
Interestingly, each time we’ve seen this dynamic, things have actually gotten wilder for other stars inserting themselves in the proceedings.
For RVD, it was Edge who actually helped him win with a more overt objective of hurting Cena; for Cena, The Big Show wound up costing him his chance and saving CM Punk when he got involved. Besides The Shield, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre brawling during this match, it was Brock Lesnar who most impacted the match, breaking into the cage to incapacitate both competitors.
19 It Was Braun Strowman’s First World Title Match Not Challenging Brock Lesnar
Braun Strowman feels like a main eventer nowadays and like a lock to eventually win a world championship. It’s interesting to note, though, that Roman Reigns is actually only the second world champion he has ever challenged. Up to this point, Strowman had instead only gone after Brock Lesnar.
The Monster in the Bank came up short twice—first in a Fatal Fourway that also involved Reigns at SummerSlam last year, then in a one on one match with The Beast Incarnate at No Mercy. Finally, Strowman failed in another challenge at the Royal Rumble PPV, though it was Kane who took the fall in that Triple Threat bout.
18 Mick Foley Continued A Story With Braun Strowman
Mick Foley came across, as a somewhat forced addition as referee for this match. It is worth noting, though, that his participation in the match was, in a sense, a continuation of his earlier storyline with Strowman from 2016.
As the general manager of Raw, Mick Foley presided over the show during Strowman’s first big push as a singles star. That time period included Strowman complaining to Foley about a lack of competition, as well as Foley trying to protect Sami Zayn against getting hurt by Strowman. Their dynamic for Hell in a Cell very much fit with Foley trying to retain order, while Strowman warned the Hardcore Legend to stay out of his way.
17 Urgency To The Spear Through The Table
The spear is Roman Reigns’s signature finisher. Like many stars, Reigns is known to set up the move by signaling to the crowd that it’s coming, with a signature pose and battle cry from the corner. It’s not so dissimilar from Shawn Michaels or Seth Rollins stomping in the build to Sweet Chin Music or The Stomp, or like Daniel Bryan’s Yes chant leading into his running knee finisher.
These signals often lead to finishers getting cut off, and sometimes when they succeed it happens without the build up.
When Reigns speared Strowman through a table in the corner at a key juncture of this match, he did so with no signal, largely selling the urgency of the moment, especially after Strowman had controlled so much of the match leading up to that moment.
16 Roman Reigns Has Always Had An Experience Edge Over His HIAC Opponents
Roman Reigns is still a relatively new star on the WWE landscape, having only made his main roster debut less than six years ago. This match with Braun Strowman was his third Hell in a Cell bout, and it's interesting to note that in every single outing, Reigns has had more main roster experience than his opponent.
Reigns had his first match in the cell against Bray Wyatt, who had debuted about a half year ahead of him. From there, Reigns beat Rusev at HIAC 2016, when Reigns was approaching the four year mark of his tenure, and Rusev had only been on the main roster for about two and a half years. Again, Reigns had the edge in experience over Strowman about three years ago.
15 It Was The First Time Roman Reigns Main Evented Inside HIAC
For better or for worse, Roman Reigns has become the face of WWE, and has worked more than his share of PPV main events. That includes headlining the last four straight WrestleManias, as well as getting wedged into min event position for matches like his largely maligned outing with Samoa Joe at this year’s Backlash.
Interestingly, though, despite having featured Hell in a Cell matches twice before at this PPV, this was the first time he got to close it out.
Even more interestingly, he’s actually the last member of The Shield to garner this specific distinction, after Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins main evented against each other in 2014.
14 A Call Back To The First HIAC Match Surprise
Traditional steel cage matches, and all the more so Hell in a Cell are built to blow off rivalries under the premise that the cage won’t allow either competitor to run away, nor will it permit outside interference.
The very first Hell in a Cell, despite the high regard it is generally held in, nonetheless undermined this concept. At the climax of a barnburner from Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, Kane made his debut. The Big Red Machine broke into the cage, attacked his brother, and handed HBK the win. The way Brock Lesnar made his surprise return felt like a callback as a destructive force made his way into the Cell and had a huge impact on how the match finished.
13 Seth Rollins And Dean Ambrose Continue Their HIAC Story
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose stormed the ringside area during the match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, ostensibly to head off interference from Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Their entry to the proceedings made complete sense given their standing issue with the other team (including a terrific match earlier in the night) and their well established alliance with Reigns.
When Rollins and Ambrose got involved in this main event, though, it also invited fans to think back to four years earlier when they had squared off with each other in this same match type, at this same event, at the peak of their rivalry with each other.
12 A Relatively Traditional Main Event For This PPV
The Hell in a Cell PPV has built an interesting legacy as an experimental show. In its original iteration, in 2009, it featured a tag team match—not even for the tag team titles—between DX and the less established team of Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase. This was not only a big break for two unproven stars, but also a rare Hell in a Cell match contested between two teams.
From there, 2014 saw Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose break the main event glass ceiling as they headlined over John Cena vs. Randy Orton. 2016 featured the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match between Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks getting the first women’s PPV main event nod. While the execution of Reigns vs. Strowman was unconventional, a main event world title match between two established main events was very traditional by the standards of this annual event.
11 Paul Heyman Foreshadowed Brock Lesnar’s Involvement
It was a big surprise when Brock Lesnar showed up at Hell in a Cell. He had lost the Universal Championship the month before under rumors of contract drama and the understanding that he was training for a return to UFC. The prevailing wisdom was that we probably wouldn’t see him in WWE again until after he’d had his UFC fight with Daniel Cormier.
Paul Heyman actually foreshadowed this surprise, though, when he requested Lesnar get his title rematch at Hell in a Cell, only to be rebuffed by Kurt Angle.
The Olympic Hero said Lesnar wouldn’t get that rematch anytime soon, but the door opened to a sooner Lesnar comeback when Stephanie McMahon temporarily relieved Angle of his duties as GM.
No, Lesnar didn’t get his return match at this PPV, but he did make his presence felt.
10 This Was The First Time Universal Championship Has Main Evented Hell In A Cell
The Universal Championship is generally considered the top title in WWE today, by virtue of typically main eventing PPVs that it is defended on, and being featured on Monday Night Raw, which for now still tends to be seen as WWE’s flagship show. It’s interesting to note, then, that this was the very first time the title has ever been on the line in a Hell in a Cell main event.
The Universal title was defended inside Hell in a Cell by Kevin Owens against Seth Rollins in 2016, but the Raw Women’s Championship match wound up closing the show. The draw of Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns, not to mention the surprise of Brock Lesnar’s return, wasn’t to be denied the final spot on the card.
9 Braun Strowman Is A Failure As Challenger
Braun Strowman is one of the biggest stars in WWE today, and the conventional wisdom is that he’s a world champion waiting to happen. However, it’s worth noting that he’s approaching historic kayfabe loser status when it comes to his world title pursuits. In the past 13 months, Strowman has challenged for the Universal Championship no fewer than four times, and that now includes a Money in the Bank cash-in.
It’s rare for a world champ to have failed this much in the hunt, as WWE typically protects top stars that it sees world title potential in. To have failed this many times over this stretch of time is a real oddity, and fans may begin to wonder if Strowman really ever will be crowned.
8 The Most Camera Time Off Of HIAC Competitors
Hell in a Cell is built on the concept of top talents blowing off a rivalry in a situation in which there won’t be interference or distractions.
There have, of course, been a number of times when heels in particular still found a way to get involved in the proceedings.
Strowman vs. Reigns took things to a new level, however, in not only seeing other talents get involved, but by including a lengthy stretch of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins mixing it up with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre at ringside, and ultimately on top of the cell. There’s never been a Hell in a Cell match with so much time without anyone actually involved in the match visible on camera.
7 Brock Lesnar Heels On The Crowd
Brock Lesnar understandably drew a favorable reaction from the live audience at Hell in a Cell, if only for the sheer swerve of seeing him at the show, when so few fans expected him to be around for months, if ever again. He promptly laid waste to Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns, and particularly in the latter case, fans were eager to cheer anyone at The Big Dog’s expense.
After he’d yielded his carnage, fans chanted to Lesnar “one more time,” signaling for him to hit Reigns with another F5. Rather than pleasing the crowd, Lesnar stuck to his heel persona and walked, ignoring the audience, and playing his part to a tee.
6 Seth Rollins Is Only The 2nd Man To Take The Same Cell Bump Twice
There are different kinds of cell bumps—off the top, through the roof, from the side, whatever you’d call what Jeff Hardy did in the first cell match from this past Sunday.
Rarely does the same wrestler take quite the same cell bump twice.
That’s in no small part due to these bumps being so high stakes and punishing, but also because the guys involved in multiple Cell matches is still relatively small, as it’s still mostly a main eventers’ gimmick.
Shane McMahon twice went for elbow drops off the top of the cell, though, missing against both The Undertaker and Kevin Owens.
Seth Rollins just joined Shane-O-Mac in the repeat bump club, after he and Dolph Ziggler went crashing off the side of the Cell and through an announce table much the same way Ambrose had done with Rollins in their match four years earlier.
5 Brock Lesnar Is The First Man To Kick Down The Door Of Hell In A Cell
Hell in a Cell is arguably WWE’s best protected structure. Accordingly, few wrestlers have managed to fight their way in from outside during a match (albeit that an alarming number combatants happen to work their way out of the structure after they’re locked in).
In the very first Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, Kane debuted and demonstrated his awesome power by ripping door to the Cell off its hinges. Brock Lesnar arrived to a similar effect in this match between Reigns and Strowman, becoming the first to literally kick down the door the Cell, before he proceeded to climb up it and jump into the ring.
4 Mick Foley Was Ultimately Inconsequential To The Match
When WWE added Mick Foley as the special referee for this match, it prompted a number of questions. Might the Hardcore Legend have one last big bump left in him? Or might he be the scapegoat for Braun Strowman losing under spurious circumstances, or turn heel and cost Roman Reigns the title?
In the end, Foley was mostly window dressing for this match. He was arguably slow to count a couple falls, and generated a little sympathy when Paul Heyman blinded him at the end of the match. More so, though, the biggest surprise about Foley’s participation was what a non-factor he wound up being to how this match played out.
3 All Raw Men’s Champions Involved In The Match
Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman wrestled for the Universal Championship, but the Universal champ wasn’t the only title holder involved in this match.
Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre’s entry into the proceedings meant that Raw Tag Team Champions were also in the mix.
Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins came down to counteract them, too, alongside Dean Ambrose, meaning that every men’s champion from the Raw roster was in one way or another involved in this historic match. That, in and of itself, is a rarity, but particularly so for a HIAC bout.
2 Brock Lesnar Demonstrates His Strength Advantage Over Roman Reigns
In a telling moment of the Hell in a Cell match, before any outside interference, Roman Reigns fetched a table from beneath the ring. He visibly struggled with it, maybe to sell his fatigue from the match, or maybe because it was a heavier than normal table, fit for Braun Strowman to bump through.
Whether there was a legitimate difference in physical strength, or Reigns and Lesnar had subtly worked this difference into their movements, it was noteworthy that Lesnar lifted the same, busted table with ease and swung it like a bat to finish breaking it over Strowman, and use the remaining half in his hands to obliterate Reigns.
1 First Time A Woman Called A Men’s WWE PPV Main Event
Two years ago, fans witnessed the first women’s Hell in a Cell match, and the first women’s main roster PPV main event when Sasha Banks squared off with Charlotte Flair. We’ve since seen a lot of other firsts for the women of WWE, particularly this year, including the first women’s Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches, not to mention the announcement of the first all-female PPV, Evolution, for this fall.
Renee Young made a different kind of history as the first woman to call a full episode of Raw, before being promoted to that role full time. On Sunday, Young made her debut as a full time commentator on a PPV, highlighted by becoming the first woman to call a men’s PPV main event. (Stephanie McMahon did, technically beat Young to calling any PPV main event at all when she provided color commentary for the women’s Royal Rumble).