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By Kevin @buzzkill112233
As we head towards this Sunday’s Hell in a Cell PPV, I want to pose a question. When was the last time you witnessed a truly great Hell in a Cell match?
If you are like me and have been watching wrestling since the inception of Hell in a Cell, have you now become as bored of it as I have? I used to be so excited when there was a Cell match coming up but I can’t remember the last time I was like that. Is it just that bloodlust screaming in frustration when watching Cell matches these days that elicits boredom? Do I need the carnage of the old days to enjoy the structure? What has actually happened?
Altogether, there have thirty-six trips to Hell with the first taking place between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker at Badd Blood in 1997. Since Hell in a Cell became its own PPV in 2009, there have been nineteen Cell matches, with all but three taking place at the HIAC PPV. If you add in the two that are scheduled to take place on Sunday, that’s twenty-one matches in the last eight years compared to the first sixteen which took place over the span of twelve years. Has the sheer number of matches desensitised us to the concept or is it solely down to the fact that WWE went PG in 2008 that many feel that Cell matches aren’t the spectacle they once were?
In my opinion, both of those factors definitely play a part, but there is an even more pertinent issue at play; it is now the calendar, and not the severity of the feud, that dictates when we get a Cell match.
For the most part, when we used to get a Cell match there was a damn good reason for it, it was because the feud actually merited it. Originally used as a way to blow off the most intense and personal of rivalries, the early Cell matches were one thing above all else, brutal. It literally was Hell. We saw things we’ve never seen before. Shawn Michaels falling off the cell through the announce table was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen until that was completely eclipsed by Mankind flying through the air the following year. Then he got back on top of the Cell, only to be chokeslammed through it and somehow ending up with his tooth sticking through his nose. That was the kind of violence we began to associate with the Cell. Puddles of blood, broken bones, broken teeth, broken furniture, broken everything. Matt Hardy had nothing on these guys.
The violence continued over the next couple of years. The Undertaker hung the Big Boss Man from the structure after their match. Mick Foley again tried to commit suicide by proxy going through the Cell against Triple H. This match even had a flaming barbed wire two-by-four. Imagine the thought process that went into went that. “Ok, I’ll hit you in the skull with a plank of wood. That’s not enough. We’ll wrap it in barbed wire. Still not enough. Let’s set it on fire. That’ll do it.” And who can forget the visual of the Undertaker chokeslamming Rikishi off the Cell onto a truck. It was literally insane.
The Cell had become synonymous with that one big crazy spot. It was getting harder and harder to top with each passing encounter. You can’t turn it up to eleven if it’s already at twelve. This all changed when Triple H fought Chris Jericho at Judgement Day 2002. There was no crazy spot but what we got instead was still brutal, unflinching and chaotic. They proved you don’t need to fall 30 feet through a table to have a good Cell match. And the reason we bought it into so much is because we bought into their feud. With every swing of a chair/ladder/sledgehammer/(unlit)barbed wire two-by-four, we knew their rivalry was personal and each wanted to end the other. The Cell was the perfect arena for the culmination of their hatred.
The Cell matches that followed continued this trend. They might not have that crazy bump anymore but you could still expect carnage. Undertaker and Lesnar went toe to toe with both men reduced to bloody pulps by the end. Even Heyman ended up bleeding in this one. There was a brilliant spot
during that match where Lesnar took a chair and repeatedly smashed ‘Takers broken hand against the cage. Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Batista and Triple H, Undertaker and Randy Orton, Batista and Undertaker. Theses matches followed the formula laid out. Brutal, vicious and violent affairs that took place because the feud called for it.
Then in 2008, something happened that would have dire ramifications for future Cell matches. During Shawn Michaels’ match with Chris Jericho, he bladed and went a little too deep. Due to the amount of blood, Vince made a ruling that blading was now banned completely in WWE. Nearly every Cell match so far had seen colour and some of the most iconic images associated to the Cell was a wrestler wearing the crimson mask. What would this mean for the future of the Cell.
The Undertaker and Edge had the first HIAC match of the PG Era and it was great. Edge speared ‘Taker through the Cell then through an announce table. ‘Taker threw him through two tables then hit a spear of his own and a conchairto. Then chokeslammed him off a ladder through the ring. Sure, you could say that the match lost a little of its impact due to the lack of colour, but it was still one hell of a show and just like Jericho and Triple H did back in ’02, they had set the blueprint for future Cell matches.
This was the last Cell match before the advent of the Hell in a Cell PPV in 2009. Up until this point, the Cell had only been brought out when the occasion demanded it. Sure, there were some dubious ones. The two on Raw in ’98 were only to pop ratings during the height of the Monday Night War and the less said about Triple H v Kevin Nash, the better. But for the most part, the Cell had been used as a way to blow off to a worthy feud.
And it had had another, unforeseen consequence. It had become a Star maker.
Triple H may have already been a World Champion by the time he first stepped foot in the Cell, but it was his feud with Mick Foley that showed us how tough he could really be. He went into the Cell as Hunter-Hearst-Helmsley but emerged as The Game. It was the Cell that birthed the Cerebral Assassin. Brock Lesnar may have won the title two months previously against The Rock but it wasn’t until that match with ‘Taker that he truly showed us what he had and how far he would go to entertain us. He wasn’t the Next Big Thing anymore. He had arrived. Batista told us he was finally ready to be a top guy against Triple H in the Cell then put an exclamation point on that two years later in the same match. You could even look good in defeat. Both Randy Orton and Edge were beaten by ‘Taker in the structure but both proved that they could hang with the best and saw their stock rise even without going over.
Then came the dawn of a new era, the Hell in a Cell PPV. This, for me, is the biggest reason that HIAC matches have now become, for want of a better word, mundane. No longer would the Cell only be brought out when circumstances called for it. This is when it lost that special place in my heart. Every October since, we have seen at least two Cell matches (except for 2012 where there was only one) and how many of these matches really called for the Cell. Do we really need to see Legacy v DX in the Cell? Or Orton and Sheamus? Orton and Mark Hendry? Surely this just dilutes the mystique of the structure? The Cell is no longer treated as a storytelling device but used as a prop to boost PPV sales. Or Network subscriptions these days. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some really good matches over the last decade. Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins tore the house down last year and the Del Rio, Cena and Punk match had a really interesting dynamic being a three way but it just doesn’t feel special anymore. Even ‘Taker v Brock II came nowhere close to the first bout. The last time I think it felt like a special attraction and justified to me was Triple H and Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
As we head into Sunday, things are not exactly looking good for Smackdown Live. It has gone from being the hottest brand, and far superior to Raw, last year to its traditional place once more, the B show. I could talk about how replacing Ryan Ward with Road Dogg as its lead writer is like going from Barack Obama to Donald Trump but that’s a topic for another day. The only saving grace recently has been the program with the Uso’s and New Day. Every one of their encounters so far has been gold and though I’m not a fan of hotshotting titles, this feud has warranted it. If they can continue in the same vein this Sunday, it promises to be something you don’t want to miss.
As I leave I want to make two points about how far WWE has gotten from the Cell’s roots. The first is that even though it was always used to blow off worthy feuds, we’re getting a first time match this Sunday between Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon. The first HIAC was used after Michaels screwed Undertaker out of the title and kept taking a chair to his head for the next few weeks. It was about him getting his comeuppance. Plus, it was number one contenders match as well. It had huge ramifications for the WWF title picture moving forward. This, not so much. Now, I like Shane. I respect Shane. He has balls of steel and the falls count anywhere stipulation guarantees that we’re going to get a huge spot of some kind. But is this really worthy of the Cell? And for that matter, is Shane really worthy of the Cell. You really can make the argument that this is a giant ego trip for the younger McMahon when you consider that, although arguably the two biggest superstars ever in The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin never had a singles match inside the Cell, Shane-O-Mac has now had two. Really?
For the second I want to, again, take you back to the first HIAC. One of the reasons the Cell was used in the first place was to ensure that the rest of DX could not get involved and force Michaels to go it alone. On Sunday we get Nakamura challenging Mahal for the WWE title and with Jinder going on tour to India with the Raw crew soon, you just know he’s going to retain with the help of the Singh Brothers. Now, as they have already interfered in the match at Summerslam, the obvious call to make for the rematch, considering where it’s taking place, would be for it to go in the Cell, Right?