SmackDown’s other intensely personal championship rivalry fell smack dab in the middle of the card at Hell in a Cell on Sun., Sept. 16 in San Antonio.
As befitting a story which has seen the challenger target AJ Styles family with psychological warfare which even left the WWE Champ’s young daughter in tears at SummerSlam, things were violent from the opening bell. Samoa Joe was rocked with a knee in the early going, and the Phenomenal One proceeded to inflict punishment.
The challenger managed to roll out before Styles could springboard off the top rope, and landed a kick right to AJ’s knee when he tried to follow him to the floor. From there, it was time for the Samoan Submission Machine to bring the hurt.
The champ didn’t roll over, but his comebacks were for naught, right up until this forearm blast from Joe which drove Styles straight into the announce desk.
Frustrated that none of his offense kept AJ down for a three count, the Samoan Submission Machine looked for a superplex. The champ slide through Joe’s legs and pulled him face first into the top turnbuckle. Styles was still dazed, but he made the most of the opening he’d created, getting nearfalls off a forearm and a nifty somersaulting DDT.
Joe wasn’t ready to give up his plan of making AJ say “Night, Night”, however. Styles managed to get a foot on the ropes to break a crossface, then managed to get the bigger man up for rack bomb. It still wasn’t enough to get three, though. Neither was a springboard 450!
A follow-up Styles Clash attempt was thwarted, and Joe got back on the offensive with a brutal lariat which sent the champ spinning.
But he wouldn’t stay down. More attempts at finishers followed, and one of them eventually ended things... but not the way the challenger wanted.
Catching a Phenomenal Forearm attempt and locking in the Coquina Clutch, it looked like Samoa Joe would indeed put Styles to sleep in the middle of the ring. But AJ rolled through, and the referee counted three, meaning the belt stayed with the man who brought it to Texas.
Joe thought Styles tapped, however. He complained to the referee, the announcers and eventually grabbed the title to pose with it. But Styles wasn’t having it and kicked the challenger out of the ring.
The plot thickened after both men exited, as a new angle of the replay clearly shows the Phenomenal One tapping before the ref counts three.
Get complete Hell in a Cell results and coverage of the entire card here.