Bianca Belair Shines at WWE’s Hell in a Cell

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The brilliance of Bianca Belair is just getting started. And the Bobby Lashley era continues.

Belair and Lashley were two of the standout performers at WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. Both retained their respective title, with Lashley rolling up Drew McIntyre in an extremely physical bout, and Belair hitting a picturesque KOD onto a ladder to defeat Bayley.

Bianca Belair

Belair delivered the single most impressive outing of the evening, further amplified by her opponent Bayley, who belongs on an elite list of most complete wrestlers in the world. Equal parts violent and creative, this was an outstanding showcase of Belair and the perfect farewell to the ThunderDome on pay-per-view before she is brought to an even higher level in front of a live crowd.

The rest of the show had its share of highlights, but overall, WWE is clearly saving its most captivating stories for when crowds return to shows in mid-July.

Here are the results from Hell in a Cell:

—Natalya Neidhart defeated Mandy Rose on the pre-show

—SmackDown Women’s Champion Bianca Belair defeated Bayley in a Hell in a Cell match

—Seth Rollins defeated Cesaro

—Alexa Bliss defeated Shayna Baszler

—Sami Zayn defeated Kevin Owens

—Charlotte Flair defeated Raw Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley by disqualification

—WWE Champion Bobby Lashley defeated Drew McIntyre in a Hell in a Cell match

And here are my takeaways from the final pay-per-view of WWE’s ThunderDome era:

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Bobby Lashley, once again, defeated Drew McIntyre to retain the WWE championship.

This match was a feat in physicality. A key moment late in the bout occurred as the referee was knocked out. Since a replacement was needed, a new referee unlocked the cage door, which also allowed MVP to enter—and breakup McIntyre’s pin attempt after he hit a Claymore on Lashley. Shortly after that, Lashley had the Hurt Lock locked on outside the ring, but McIntyre propelled them both into a table. Both performers put their bodies on the line in this match, and it was the most compelling of their encounters.

As McIntyre was preparing to hit a match-ending Claymore, MVP again interfered, allowing Lashley to roll up McIntyre and pick up the win. McIntyre sold the loss with just the right amount of emotion, adding to the close of the show.

That was not the desired outcome for this match, but there is some long-term storytelling at play. Lashley couldn’t beat McIntyre for the title, so he weakened McIntyre to the point where he was an easy target for The Miz, who possessed the Money in the Bank contract. As soon as Miz defeated McIntyre the belt, Lashley wrecked Miz and started his title reign. Now it is time for the next chapter to be told. McIntyre—who is now unable to challenge Lashley for the belt—needs someone else to dethrone Lashley, so he can get another crack at the title. And, of course, WWE’s next pay-per-view is Hell in a Cell, giving a chance for this story to come full circle as McIntyre eventually regains the belt.

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Bianca Belair is on the precipice of two major events in her career:

She is poised to become an even bigger star with WWE returning to live shows in July, and she will eventually have her rematch—which should be a pay-per-view main event—against Sasha Banks.

Belair had her WrestleMania 37 main event in front of a crowd at Raymond James Stadium. The crowd exploded throughout that match, but Belair missed a key moment in her ascent to stardom when she won the Royal Rumble match in January at the ThunderDome—a moment that needed a crowd.

This was a very creative Hell in a Cell match, which ultimately saw Belair win after hitting her KOD on Bayley on a ladder. Learning more about the set-up of this match will be very interesting, especially with an innovative approach that saw a steel chair, kendo sticks, a ladder, and Belair’s hair all playing a role.

Bayley did her job, and more, in this program. Belair was coming off a massive win at WrestleMania against Banks, and she needed the right opponent to help elevate her even further. Absolutely no one could have done it better than Bayley, who plays the role of the heel so convincingly well.

If this is the end of Bayley in the title picture, at least for now, I think it could be compelling for her to find a protégé and add some energy to the tag title picture. And Belair is set to blow up as crowds return, becoming the next big star in WWE.

****

In a finish that should never happen in front of a live crowd on a pay-per-view, Charlotte Flair defeated Rhea Ripley by disqualification.

DQ finishes have become such a crutch in pro wrestling, especially when there is zero consistency in what causes one. But this was an “intentional” disqualification, as Ripley wanted to inflict pain on Flair.

Up until the finish, there was a lot to like in this match. The chemistry between Flair and Ripley continues to grow, and standing as Flair’s equal does so much for Ripley. Flair also added some flair of her own, including a double moonsault, a move right out of the playbook of her fiancé Andrade.

Ripley is still seeking that star-making moment on the main roster. If the plan is to save her pay-per-view win against Flair for when crowds return, then that makes sense. We’ll see if Ripley is put in that position next month at Money in the Bank, which would be a big moment in her career.

****

If you are among those awaiting Cesaro’s post-WrestleMania push, keep waiting.

There had been some momentum, especially during Cesaro’s return on SmackDown when he laid out Seth Rollins during Bayley’s “Ding Dong, Hello” segment. But it is one step forward, two steps back for Cesaro in WWE, which was evident again as he lost to Rollins, courtesy of a roll-up at Hell in a Cell.

The finish helps protect Cesaro to a point. He was in control of the match, and the end sequence was positioned by commentary as an upset, despite the fact it was a clean pin fall. Cesaro had one of the best moments of the entire WrestleMania 37 weekend during his victory against Rollins, but now drops another pay-per-view bout. After losing in consecutive shows—first to Roman Reigns at Backlash last month, and now to Rollins—where does the story go next for Cesaro? The best-case scenario is that the crowd will help propel him back into something meaningful as WWE builds toward SummerSlam in August.

For Rollins, the victory reinforces the fact that he is a constant factor. But he is just so established, I don’t see how another loss to Cesaro would have diminished him. If anything, it would have added a unique wrinkle; the story could have been that Rollins has beat practically everyone, yet he could not overcome Cesaro.

This finish left me deflated, and takes away even more of the momentum from their fantastic match at WrestleMania.

****

Another WrestleMania rematch—and flipped result—took place as Sami Zayn defeated Kevin Owens.

The narrative here made sense. Owens was selling a throat injury caused by Commander Azeez from this past Friday’s SmackDown, so this loss is an easy pivot for Owens to re-emerge as the top challenger for Intercontinental champion Apollo Crews while also seeking revenge against Azeez.

Zayn was still bloodied and beaten by Owens, yet he capitalized on the pre-existing injury and found a way to win. This is one of the most brilliant stretches of Zayn’s career, and there are few better heels in pro wrestling. His style and approach would add considerable life to Raw, a show that needs to be much more interesting in front of live crowds than it has been over the past year.

****

WWE took a different route in promoting Hell in a Cell by putting the Roman Reigns-Rey Mysterio match in the main event on Friday’s SmackDown. Rather than having three Hell in a Cell cage matches on the pay-per-view, and risk watering down the entire concept, it was smart to have Reigns-Mysterio—a match with an outcome never in doubt—instead, add a special element to SmackDown.

Right now, Reigns has no peer in WWE. Running through opponents, and in the case of Mysterio, a legend, is an extremely smart move for WWE to highlight his greatness. The impending Reigns-John Cena showdown at SummerSlam will be special. Before then, I’m still hopeful we will have the chance to see Reigns and Shinsuke Nakamura make magic together in the ring.

****

Shayna Baszler and Alexa Bliss both need new opponents.

Not everything is a fit in pro wrestling, and the contrast in this story is just too jarring. WWE has committed to Bliss’s story, which includes this otherworldly hypnosis, but she couldn’t have an opponent more poorly suited for that than Baszler, whose entire reputation in the industry is built off her legitimacy and authenticity.

This match was physical, but it is a reach to ask viewers to suspend disbelief to the point where Bliss is feeding off Baszler’s punishment. Opponents shouldn’t be able to get up from Baszler when she is laying them out. Again, this just isn’t the right fit.

Bliss got the win here, and I hope that there is a new program for each of them beginning this week on Raw.

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WWE’s holding pattern continued through Hell in a Cell. The product will definitely jump when crowds return, which should provide instant momentum. That will be further amplified by returning stars, like John Cena, Edge, and Bray Wyatt. From that point, the question will be whether the weekly product can continue to resonate with viewers.

It will certainly help to have Bianca Belair as a face of the company, as she continues her rise to superstardom—with no ceiling on that ascent. The Lashley-McIntyre story now also hits an interesting point in its stride, especially with the next challenger for Lashley waiting to emerge. And, especially given the way Hell in a Cell played out, Rhea Ripley is still searching for that monumental win against Charlotte Flair.

The ThunderDome served its purpose, but it is time for WWE to return to a live crowd.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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