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Before WWE headed to Hell in a Cell, SmackDown was live from the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana on September 11 with a promise of multiple big matches before huge clashes on Sunday. The night was stacked with fresh matches between big stars of the brand.
Brie Bella was booked to finally get her hands on Maryse, who was set to compete in her first singles match since 2011, with Daniel Bryan and The Miz likely in their wives’ corners. Charlotte Flair was also expected to fight Sonya Deville for the first time ever with her former best friend Becky Lynch watching.
Elsewhere on the card, Jeff Hardy would get to fight United States champion Shinsuke Nakamura one more time before his clash in the Cell with Randy Orton while Andrade Cien Almas competed against the unpredictable veteran R-Truth.
Perhaps no match was bigger though than the tag team tournament final between The Bar and Rusev Day with the two tag teams battling for the opportunity to fight The New Day at Hell in a Cell. The winner would get an all-important title match while the loser was left with nothing.
This show had serious ground to cover with a major WWE pay-per-view days away, and it was going to do so with a welcome focus on in-ring action.
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Hardy talked about vanquishing his demons and being ready to go to war against Orton on Sunday. He showed how ready he was by hitting Nakamura with a leaping splash off the steel steps into the barricade early in their match.
The calculating champion though managed to grind down The Daredevil with strikes then kicked him off the apron into the barricade. As Hardy rallied and set up for a Swanton Bomb, The Viper appeared and tripped him off the top rope to cause a disqualification.
The Apex Predator went after The Daredevil with a steel chair before Hardy stole the chair, took down Orton and hit a Twist of Fate into a Swanton Bomb.
Hardy def. Nakamura by disqualification
Hardy has never been a good promo, so it is rarely the right move to have him open the show talking. The crowd went awkwardly silent as he stumbled through his words and seemed to only breathe again when Nakamura appeared.
His match with The Artist was fine with the two never having great chemistry, ending in an expected disqualification that made it questionable why the match even happened. This was an odd waste of 30 minutes that didn’t make Hardy vs. Orton inside Hell in a Cell any more appealing.
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AJ Styles made a clear statement to Samoa Joe in a pre-taped interview from earlier in the day. On the ring steps while the arena was still empty, Styles promised that all of Joe’s games would mean nothing once the bell rang because he had earned his spot by being the best in the business.
In a pre-taped response, The Samoan Submission Specialist told the story of his heroic journey to dethrone The Phenomenal One in a storybook rhyme that ended with a promise that Styles would return to his family soon.
Styles’ no-nonsense promo was great, showcasing his desire to stay focused while attempting to hide his underlying anger and frustration. However, it was Joe’s eerie promo that was the highlight of the night, adding some extra excitement to this potential showstopper.
It is a shame that these two veterans are doing so much great work without being treated as well as they should be. This is a world title match that is being given less recognition than a mixed tag match.
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In an interview, Charlotte explained that she took this match with Deville just before her clash with Lynch to prove she is the best and should never be doubted. Mandy Rose tried to help her friend at multiple points in this battle with little success.
However, the former member of Absolution still managed to grind down the SmackDown women’s champion with technical offense before The Queen turned a triangle choke into a powerbomb then the Figure-Eight for a tap out.
As Charlotte tried to pose for a picture with girls in the crowd, a disguised Irish Lass Kicker assaulted the champion and locked her in the Dis-arm-her. Afterward, she refused to be interviewed backstage, stating she only wanted to focus on taking back her title.
Charlotte def. Deville by submission
This was as good as Deville has looked on the main roster, pushing Charlotte and keeping up her in a series of impressive sequences. While they can certainly be better together, this was far stronger than anyone would have expected of a TV warm up.
The post-match attack only further emphasized how personal this best friend battle has become with Lynch taking every chance possible to knock down The Queen.
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After Kramer Kingsman failed to interview Sheamus and Cesaro face to face, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E watched at their personal announce table as Aiden English came out firing against The Bar. He was eventually cut off and isolated by the veteran tag team.
After a hot tag, Rusev fired off on The Swiss Cyborg, hitting a roundhouse kick and locking in The Accolade, but The Celtic Warrior broke it up. Sheamus set up a Brogue Kick, but English took it for The Bulgarian Brute to allow his friend to hit the Machka Kick for the win.
Rusev Day def. The Bar by pinfall to earn a title match at WWE Hell in a Cell against New Day
This was a fun if formulaic contest that would have been a great way to end the night. The improbable rise of Rusev Day to title contention has been fun and understated as The Artiste has repeatedly taken shots for his friend to make sure they win.
While New Day vs. The Bar would have been a stronger match, Rusev and English trying to take down the all-star trio of champions with sheer will and determination will make for a great story at WWE Hell in a Cell.
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Truth continued to be unpredictable and difficult to stop as he kept Almas on his toes, but it was El Idolo that proved to be the smarter competitor. After Carmella and Zelina Vega began fighting at ringside, Almas managed to use the distraction to roll up the veteran with a handful of jorts for the three count.
Almas def. Truth by pinfall
While not a terrible match, this was a complete waste of time right before Hell in a Cell. The two went only a few minutes before Cien had to resort to a roll up to take the win. While King What’s Up is entertaining, he should not be considered a true threat to Almas, one of the top rising stars on SmackDown.
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After Maryse repeatedly tried to avoid Brie, Miz called off the match only for Brie to force the match to continue. As Bryan’s wife nearly locked in the Yes Lock, Miz pulled Brie off his wife to cause a disqualification.
Afterward, as the A-Lister repeatedly tried to save Maryse from Brie’s wrath, he drew the ire of The “Yes” Man, who knocked him to the floor with a clothesline.
Brie def. Maryse by disqualification
This was a bit of a sloppy way to sell this feud in its final stretch after weeks of great segments. Brie vs. Maryse was never the top-billed match it was built to be, and it was clear WWE knew this as the match was avoided almost entirely.
The post-match fight was more of the same with Bryan getting his hands on Miz once again but Maryse sneaking away. It was fine but not the best way to end the last SmackDown before Hell in a Cell.