No gimmick match has done better for the WWE than the Hell in a Cell match. First introduced in 1997 for the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels to bout it out, the Cell is now one of the company’s most brutal solutions to wrestling problems. WWE continues to struggle to find the wrestling spark they had just a few years ago, and maybe this new generation of wrestlers can find it inside Hell in a Cell.
Hell in a Cell made the WWE stand out. With WCW as a constant rival, and ECW innovating, the WWE needed something that would convince fans their product was worth watching. Hell in a Cell combined the typical steel cage match with a more savage structure. Participants couldn’t just escape to win, you had to finish the match no matter the consequences. This gave us tremendous, and sickening, moments like Mick Foley’s crash through the Cell’s ceiling and Shane McMahon’s suicide dives. It sets wrestlers up to take a match or a rivalry to another level. It’s a tool in the toolbox that can be used to prove to the audience that their feud is meaningful, and worth watching.
In recent years, the Cell has fallen from those early years. Instead of a violent cage where the worst happened, it’s just another match to resolve just another feud. Where only the most demonic and evil of wrestlers would dare punish their victims in such a match, championships and passersby can jump into the Cell and fight. Since the WWE moved the match onto it’s own show the meaning has lost a bit of it’s power. Instead of a rare match invited on only by the truly demented of characters, it’s an annual requirement.
No longer are grandiose matches determined by story or character motivations, they’re determined by a calendar. Kevin Owens just so happen to get into a feud with Shane McMahon as the Hell in a Cell PPV sits less than a month away. It makes these characters and stories feel so much less organic. For years now we’ve been celebrating those fleeting moments in wrestling where reality blurs and we believe again. Meanwhile the WWE has never learned that its audience knows how some of those magic tricks work.
Hell in a Cell should still be one of the most shocking and exciting events for the WWE. Instead it’s just another date and just another show blurred along with all the others. It’s a wonderful chance for the new crop of wrestling talent to push themselves to the edge of what’s possible. It’s just a shame the WWE won’t be reaping the real rewards of all that effort.