In 1997, we were introduced to one of the most deadly match concepts in the history of the WWE: Hell in a Cell. Locked inside this demonic steel cage, it would become a battleground for those who had feuded for so long, shared so many wins and losses, but needed that one final war to bring an end to their rivalry. And for a long time, that’s what Hell in a Cell matches were: war. Fast forward 19 years to 2016, and one must really wonder if the match concept is being utilised in the way it was originally intended?
Somewhat surprisingly, since that first Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, there have been an additional 31 matches using the gimmick. For those who struggle with maths, that’s 32 matches in total (I’m not including a dark match that took place a number of years ago). That’s a lot of feud-ending battles, no?
The problem is, it’s been quite a while since the Hell In A Cell was used to bring a bloody end to a big drawing feud. Ever since 2009, we have had an annual pay-per-view titled after the match concept, and as a result have been treated to 17 fights within the structure. That’s an average of just over two per year.
At two or three per year, you could almost forgive the overuse of the gimmick, if it was being used with a purpose. Unfortunately, on many occasions, it has not. More often than not, it has been a match that has taken place mid-feud, damaging the history of the match-up.
Think of it this way, who remembers Undertake versus Shawn Michaels in the cell? Or The Undertaker versus Mankind, which led to a performance from Mick Foley that will be remembered forever? Okay, now ask yourself if you remember that CM Punk won a handicap cell match against Ryback and Paul Heyman? Did you even know that John Cena and Randy Orton have in fact faced each other twice in the cell? One more match between the two, and they’ll have had a Best of 3 Hell In A Cell series – surely that is not what this match concept is for?
Times change, and so does the business. The problem with the Hell In A Cell match, is that WWE still portray it has the match to end all matches, and one so brutal that the people fighting within it will never be the same again. That was true almost twenty years ago, but now? No, I’m afraid not. Any any young fan, who goes back to see what the old matches were like, will no doubt also feel a little cheated by what they are given nowadays. And let’s not forget that we’ve already had one Hell In A Cell match this year, between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32, which was booked out of nowhere and seemingly only with the purpose of having Shane jump from the roof of the cell.
This weekend, we will be presented with three more Hell In A Cell matches, as Roman Reigns battles Rusev, Seth Rollins chases Kevin Owen’s WWE Universal Championship, and Sasha Banks defends against Charlotte Flair. If you were to look at the history of this match, then you would have a fair point if you were to argue that only Banks and Flair’s rivalry is worthy of the cell this year. I don’t doubt that all six people will put in great performances, but the question really is, should they all even be in this type of match this weekend?
Personally, I’d rather see the PPV retired, and replaced with a new event next year. Now that we have an additional seven events per year, losing Hell In A Cell seems unlikely, but if they want to keep its drawing power, and its reputation, they need to make the match concept go away for a few years much like they have done with the Elimination Chamber these past few years.
That’s my two pence, anyway.