We’re coming up on “Hell in a Cell 2014” with a double main event headlining the show. That may sound good on paper, but half of it shows why this show has become a headache that has brought down the king of the WWE’s gimmick matches. We’re going to look at a brief history of Hell in a Cell matches and why the namesake pay per view has almost ruined the concept. Let’s get to it.
The Cell started back in 1997 when the Undertaker couldn’t get a one on one fight against Shawn Michaels. The two had fought at “In Your House: Ground Zero” but Triple H and Chyna interfered multiple times, causing the match to be thrown out. However, the feud had to be settled so the decision was made to put them inside a cage.
It wasn’t going to be a regular cage though. This would be an extra high cage with room to fight at ringside. The door would be locked and there would be nowhere for Michaels to run and hide this time. The match took place at “In Your House: Bad Blood” and saw Michaels taking one of the worst beatings anyone had ever seen. The psychology in the match was perfect as Shawn was trapped in Hell with the Undertaker and had to use his wits to fight the dead man off. Kane made his debut and cost Undertaker the match though, allowing the mangled, bloody bag of bones that used to be Michaels to win.
The Cell next appeared (on pay per view at least) at “King of the Ring 1996”. This was the other concept behind the Cell: two guys, in this case Undertaker and Mankind, who could not coexist on this planet and had to destroy each other. Instead of either man running from the other, this match was all about hurting the other as much as possible.
In one of the most famous visuals in wrestling history, Mankind went flying off the top of the Cell and through the announcers’ table with Jim Ross shouting “GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! THEY’VE KILLED HIM!” This was followed by Mankind being chokeslammed through the roof of the Cell with a chair landing on his face and being chokeslammed onto thumbtacks. By the end of the match, Mankind was a mostly alive pile of bones and flesh which had been completely destroyed.
Over the years, the Cell would be used to blow off feuds such as Cactus Jack vs. Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker, D-Generation X vs. the McMahons and many others. There was rarely more than one match a year and the match was usually treated as something special. This was one of the few match types WWE had that stayed a special attraction.
Then the year 2009 came with the announcement of the first Hell in a Cell pay per view. For the first time ever, there would be three matches inside the Cell in one night, after there had only been three in a year one time. The feuds were different this time as well. Of the three feuds, two of them had a rematch of some sort just three weeks later at the next pay per view. One of the feuds had only started a few weeks earlier and had only seen one match setting up the Cell.
In short, everything changed and it was mainly for one reason: starting with “Hell in a Cell 2009”, the calendar now determined why the Cell match was taking place. It didn’t matter how well the story had been built up or if it belonged in the Cell. Now if it was October, there was going to be a match taking place inside the big cage. On top of that, only one time in the six year history of the event has there been a single Cell match.
So now the story doesn’t matter and there are often gaps of an hour between the matches instead of over a year like there has been at some point. Hell in a Cell is now just another gimmick match instead of the king of the gimmicks like it used to be. Couple this with the violence being toned down due to the PG Era (which isn’t a bad thing) and the Cell is almost entirely different than what it used to be.
Occasionally you’ll get something worthwhile like Rollins vs. Ambrose on Sunday where the story makes sense, but more often than not it’s something like Orton vs. Cena, where the only story is that neither of them has anything to do and the calendar says that it’s time to head into the Cell. As a fan, I have no reason to see them in a huge gimmick match as there’s no hatred other than old issues and there hasn’t been any need for them to be locked away from everyone else.
That all being said, it’s not like the Cell concept can’t be repaired. Flash back to a few years ago with the build to “Wrestlemania XXVIII”. The Undertaker and Triple H were setting up for their rematch and the speculated match was going to be Streak vs. Career. However, Triple H threw us a curveball and put the match inside the Cell.
This was the perfect move for a variety of reasons, including a reason to put them inside the Cell (history between them and their legacy as the masters of the match), the violence that came with the match (all the chair shots the previous year) and the surprise of the match (first Cell match without being at the namesake PPV since 2008). The match had all the ingredients to make it feel special and that’s exactly what happened.
In other words, at the end of the day there’s a time and place for matches taking place inside the Cell, but the build has to be there to make it work. Just having a match due to it being October defeats the purpose of the Cell. Without a backstory of hatred or not being able to get a clear ending, the Cell is just there with no reason to care about it. You have to give the fans more than a gimmick for the sake of having a gimmick and WWE has lost track of that on this series.
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