On Sunday, the stars of WWE’s SmackDown live will head to Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit for the Hell in a Cell PPV event. Even though all four of the blue brand’s titles will be up for grabs, the anticipation for this event seems to be a bit lower than normal.
Part of the problem is the way the talent is being booked. The top stars on SmackDown are probably AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode. Both Styles and Nakamura are slated for title matches on Sunday. Styles will defend the United States belt against Baron Corbin, and Nakamura will challenge Jinder Mahal for the WWE championship. Neither matchup feels worthy of a headline spot on a major PPV. Blame it on their opponents. Corbin has cooled considerably since unsuccessfully cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase, and Mahal just hasn’t clicked as WWE champion.
Here’s hoping that HIAC delivers more than expected on Sunday.
The Professor’s HIAC Preview and Predictions
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin vs. The Hype Bros (Kickoff Show) – This would have potential to be a decent tag team feud, if WWE had done anything at all to tell a story here. Neither of these two teams was even seen on the go-home show this week. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for this match, unless The Hype Bros are finally going to break up. (It seems like WWE has been teasing this forever.) With that in mind, Gable and Benjamin go over, and Mojo Rawley declares that Zack Ryder “ain’t hype.”
Randy Orton vs. Rusev – Another bout without a real story. The premise here is that Orton and Rusev have each defeated the other in under a minute recently. So, WWE logic dictates that fans, having been subjected to two awful matches in this feud so far, are ready and waiting for a third match. I suppose it’s too much to ask that the third match also last less than a minute and end in double disqualification. Orton needs a refresh (or maybe a move to Raw) and Rusev needs a reboot. Maybe this is the match that starts it. Rusev goes over in a solid match, then sets his sights on either the US or WWE championships.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Bobby Roode – So, Ziggler resents all of the wrestlers that have a better entrance than he does. Unfortunately, since Dolph’s entrance is now usually a bad parody of someone else’s gimmick, everyone has a better entrance than he does. That’s a lot of people to be pissed at. Since Bobby Roode’s entrance is admittedly “glorious,” he’s the obvious choice for a match against Ziggler. I assume Roode will go over here, as Dolph’s main function seems to be to help new arrivals to SmackDown get over. Following this match, Roode will move on to bigger and better things. Ziggler, presumably, will head backstage to wait for the next NXT callup.
Natayla vs. Charlotte Flair (SmackDown Women’s Championship) – Natalya has been one of the best workers in women’s wrestling for the better part of a decade now. She definitely deserves a run with the title. Unfortunately, her run will likely be cut short on Sunday. Flair has been in something of a rut since moving to SmackDown from Raw. She’s participated in countless multi-woman matches and tag team bouts, all seemingly designed to keep her from getting a title shot while also keeping her from taking a loss. Flair as also been somewhat miscast as a babyface. Charlotte needs to win Sunday, and regain her spot as the uncontested queen of the Women’s Division. Unfortunately for Nattie, her reign hasn’t really been inspiring. Charlotte either wins, or Carmella takes advantage of the eventual winner to cash in her MiTB briefcase. Either way, we have a new champ Sunday.
The Usos vs. The New Day (Smackdown Tag Team Championship; Hell in a Cell) – This could easily be the match of the night. These teams match up perfectly. The uber-serious Usos make an outstanding foil for the perpetually perky New Day. This is a chance to see the more businesslike side of New Day. In reality, it doesn’t really matter who wins this match, the feud probably isn’t going to be over any time soon. Since it’s in the cell, which would seem to favor the Usos, I’ll take New Day in a minor upset.
AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin (United States Championship) – Styles is still arguably the greatest wrestler on the planet. However, he hasn’t really been the focal point of SmackDown lately. There was some hope when Styles announced that he was reinstating the US Open Challenge every Tuesday night, but so far, the only two real challengers have been Corbin and Tye Dillinger. Suddenly Styles goes from being a marquee name to being just another guy in just another feud. Either Styles needs to win decisively here, ending the feud with Corbin, or he needs to lose by suspect means, and go on the hunt for the WWE Championship. I doubt that WWE wants to bury Corbin any further than they already have. Styles retains the belt when Corbin is disqualified, and the feud continues.
Jinder Mahal vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (WWE Championship) – I was on board with WWE trying to build Mahal as a credible heel, at least for a while. However, they’ve booked him as a champion who cannot win without the help of his minions. In doing so, they’ve prevented him from gaining any momentum or credibility. It would have been smarter for WWE to give Jinder the US Title and let him build his heel chops in the midcard. That ship has sailed now, and it’s time to give up on the experiment. I think the outcome of this match will be determined by the booking of the US title. If Styles retains the belt, Nakamura has a chance to win. If Corbin wins the U.S. title, freeing Styles up for another feud, Mahal is the more logical choice. I’m going with my heart instead of my head here. Nakamura ends Mahal’s reign, and Jinder eventually ends up challenging AJ Styles for the US Title.
Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens (Hell in a Cell/Falls Count Anywhere) – For all of their booking blunders lately (like booking a Hell-in-a Cell match with a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation), WWE has done a great job of letting Owens become a monster heel. His calm, almost bored, demeanor as he pounded Shane into oblivion Tuesday was both frightening and thrilling to watch. This is the kind of heel that KO should be, and the kind of heel that WWE needs. My biggest fear is that Owens was allowed to dominate, only to make Shane’s eventual victory on Sunday seem like more of a surprise. I hope I’m wrong. Owens should defeat Shane decisively, and continue his reign of terror. I see a KO/HHH match in the future, and this could all be part of that story. Owens wins a slugfest, and leaves Shane in a heap.
SmackDown’s star hasn’t seemed quite as bright just lately. Let’s hope that the blue brand starts to reverse that trend Sunday in Detroit.
See you next time.