Congratulations to the WWE for completely ruining one of the greatest gimmick matches our pseudo-sport has ever known. This Sunday, live on PPV, we will witness the culmination of a successful three-year effort to neuter what was once the brutal structure that stood as the embodiment of excitement in professional wrestling.
The Hell in a Cell match, dating back to its inception at Badd Blood in 1997, has immediately sent a surge of interest throughout the fan base. The general apathy toward this Sunday’s PPV is a demonstration in to-destroy-something-that-was-once-so-great.
The Hell in a Cell match was a natural growth out of the classic cage match that dated back decades. The cage match, in it’s many incarnations, was the standard bearer for big matches. Flair won his first world title in a cage match against Harley Race.
The combatants notwithstanding, when Vince McMahon needed to up the ante after a successful first Wrestlemania, he put a cage around Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy and it main-evented the show for the World Title.
After years, viewers became numb to the cage match. All of the potential spots had been done. We knew all of the psychology that goes into a cage match.
So WWF raised the stakes.
They made the cage bigger, hiking it up to 25 feet. The made it wider, so it actually engulfed the ringside area. They changed the rules. No longer was escape a viable mode of winning the match. The idea wasn’t to escape the goal. It put the emphasis on survival. The cage wasn’t in play to keep the competitors contained, but rather to allow them to inflict the most damage on one another.
They even moved to the top of the cage, creating an array of potential spots. The spectacle of watching two men on top of a cage, 20 feet in the air, slugging it out, was a sight to see. Then Undertaker threw Mankind off the top and through a table – then he through him through the roof of the cage to the ring. The matches were brutal, and the fans liked it that way.
Of course, there were a few missteps along the way.
They held an 8-minute HIAC match on Raw in 1998. That was followed by the Taker-Bossman HIAC match at Wrestlemania, which we all remember for poor taste. You could also say that the six-man WWE Title match at Armageddon was forgettable, if only for the involvement of Rikishi following the poorly executed “Who Ran Over Stone Cold” storyline. Otherwise, though, the cell has been home to numerous legendary matches, most of which included Triple H and The Undertaker as participants.
In 10 years, from 1998-2008, there were 16 matches held in the structure. On one night in 2009, there were three. After Sunday, there will have been seven in a three-year period. At that, it will have taken place two weeks after the most recent PPV.
Hell in a Cell used to end storylines.
The purpose of the match was to bring about the close to the most brutal blood feuds of the year. Think about Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H at Bad Blood 2004. Or what about Edge vs. Undertaker at SummerSlam 2008. Or all the way back to Triple H vs. Cactus Jack at No Way Out 2000.
These were matches that will always be remembered, not just for the match itself, but for the storyline that led to such a conclusion. Instead, this Sunday, we’ll get two matches that mean absolutely nothing.
First, we will see Mark Henry face Randy Orton . This may sound hypocritical, but Hell in a Cell isn’t a match that necessitates a championship belt. The vast, vast majority of the matches have been for a top title, but that is because the best storylines were built around the belt as well. A ladder match is one that needs a title (or a shot at a title) to make sense. Hell in a Cell is about settling personal disputes.
This match does not have that feel.
Mark Henry and Randy Orton do not have a personal rivalry. They are two guys that want the belt. Henry feels he has been held back for a decade and a half and finally has proven the naysayers wrong, but that has nothing to do with Randy Orton.
Nobody is chomping at the bit to see Orton and Henry tear each other limb from limb. Had Henry used Orton as a symbol of his frustration, of the type of pretty white boy that has kept him down for all of these years, and beaten him to a pulp for the last two months as the two cut promos back and forth, we might like to see a blood bath between these two. But, due to a lack of storyline, and lack of blood, this match is flat. Nobody is going to buy a PPV to see Mark Henry, no matter what kind of match he’s in.
Then we have the true “headliner.” Two months ago, if you told me that the CM Punk-John Cena storyline would continue to revolve around the WWE Championship, stirring week-in and week-out until the two couldn’t be contained any longer and forced into a Hell in a Cell match to settle things once and for all, I’d be buying it. Instead, we have Alberto Del Rio forced into the confrontation, fresh off an embarrassingly short title reign and decisive loss to Cena the month before. You also have CM Punk, fresh off a loss to the non-active-wrestler authority figure in the main event of the last PPV, that is now suddenly the top contender for the championship.
The Punk-Cena rivalry was dropped like a sack of bricks after SummerSlam, with Cena continuing to be a superhero and Punk looking like a chump. Now, along with former champ-chump Del Rio, they face off in a match designed to blow off feuds without a feud.
As a fan, if given the ultimatum that I could give up Hell in a Cell matches for five years, or have them happen twice on a September night every year in meaningless feuds, I’d opt for the former.
If it meant that some day, two rivals amid a vicious, personal feud would step into the cage, rip each other to pieces, someone would get tossed through the cage, and both competitors would be left in a puddle of blood, it would all be worth it.
Unfortunately, WWE Creative will look at the poor buyrates for this Sunday’s PPV and determine that people must not want to see Hell in a Cell matches. They’ll figure it’s not interesting to people any longer, that they’ve passed their expiration date in the same way the cage match lost it’s luster.
Of course, a gallon of milk will spoil much more quickly when you over expose it, leaving it in the sun all day. Thank you, WWE, for over exposing the Hell in a Cell match and spoiling it for the lot of us.