By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
CM Punk vs The Undertaker 10/4/09
WWE Championship Match
The Hell in a Cell was the greatest new gimmick match the WWF/E had introduced in many years when it was first held in 1997. Helped by the stellar Shawn Michaels versus The Undertaker match that christened it, with the huge reveal of Kane giving Michaels the victory, alongside the King of the Ring 98 pay-per-view that saw Mick Foley take one of the biggest bumps seen on a global scale by being thrown off of the cell, its use in the early years made it feel important in a way few gimmick matches still did.
Fast forward over a decade from the debut, the Hell in a Cell as a match with gravitas had somehow managed to rise above the Undertaker versus Big Boss Man match from Wrestlemania XV and deliver some absolute classics: Brock Lesnar versus the Undertaker and Cactus Jack versus Triple H two of the most significant matches to take place within the confines of the structure. What kept it feeling important was the rarity with which it was booked; from the turn of the millennium to 2009, there were only eleven matches that the WWE saw fit to warrant a match inside the cell. You can have too much of a good thing.
This was an adage that the WWE seemingly forgot when they decided to book a Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, as if trying to compete with TNA’s Lockdown events for the most unnecessary usage of a gimmick match en masse. On a nine match card, three of the contest would be Hell in a Cell matches. Now, being mildly annoyed by someone at the right calendar month of the year would be deigned enough to settle your differences in a match that had felt like a real feud ending spectacle.
It is perhaps unfair to levy those criticisms at the CM Punk versus Undertaker feud. They had a contentious match (that Punk won) at Breaking Point, and this could have been seen as an escalation of their feud and a way for them to finally prove who was the best. Having it on a card with John Cena versus Randy Orton and even more egregiously Triple H and Shawn Michaels versus Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase just watered down any significance the match had. Being in the opening slot – a necessity to spread out the matches across the card – didn’t help much either, with fans tuned to believing that the first match on the card was often one of the least important.
Whilst time isn’t a marker of an epic confrontation, that the Undertaker would defeat CM Punk for the WWE World Title in just over ten minutes felt indicative of the overall watered down feeling this event created. That isn’t to say both men didn’t try; an early spot saw the Undertaker boot CM Punk off of the apron and land backwards into the chainlink fence, with a Punk dropkick to the steel steps colliding with the Deadman’s knee to follow.
Punk’s love affair with the cage continued as he would be sent twice into it in quick succession as the Undertaker tried to shake off the damage done to his leg. The Undertaker was no stranger to contact with the cell as he ended up crushed between Punk’s body on a suicide dive and the steel. When the fight finally returned to the ring for a prolonged period of time, it was the Undertaker who took over with a nearfall off of a legdrop. Punk’s first close call was a whisker away from victory; a steel chair shot adding an additional frisson of violence to the match.
The fan’s definitely didn’t feel short changed when Punk kicked out of the Last Ride, then hit a modified Go 2 Sleep only to fall to a Tombstone piledriver. The match suffered by association. The physical toll the contest had taken should have been acceptable for the relatively early finish, if the tone hadn’t been set in the early years of the gimmick. People expected an epic battle; they got a perfectly acceptable fight.
It was what followed that truly diminished the Hell in a Cell match. Punk and Taker did what they could with the hand they were dealt, but with multiple Cell matches every year on the same card, it no longer maintains any feeling of importance. It is a real shame to see the WWE turn a novel idea that meant something into a meaningless parade of lukewarm feud enders.