Violence, brutality and aggression. These were all words that used to describe your average WWE Hell In A Cell match. However, due to a variety of reasons, this once-storied match has lost what luster it had.
When you saw that there was a Hell In A Cell match on the card, you knew that you were going to see something special and completely different than just your average, run-of-them-mill WWE fight. This was going to be a brawl between two stars with a serious grudge that needed to be settled.
As time has passed, and the philosophy of the company has changed, Hell In A Cell doesn't feel any different than what you would see on any other pay-per-view.
Here is a look at what has happened to Hell In A Cell over the years, and why it is no longer the difference-maker it once was.
Hell In A Cell was first introduced back in 1997 in a feud between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. These two had developed a great rivalry following SummerSlam, when Michaels cost Undertaker the title by inadvertently hitting him with a chair and allowing Bret Hart to win the WWE title.
They had their first match at the September pay-per-view, called "Ground Zero." It ended in a no-contest after Michaels and Undertaker took their frustrations at being unable to pin the other man out on the referees.
That first Hell In A Cell match would help set the tone for all future matches. It was just an all-out brawl between Michaels and Undertaker, and the best man would come out on top to settle the score.
After that first match came what is arguably the most memorable Hell In A Cell match in history, though it was the third overall. There was another one on Raw a few weeks before the 1998 King of the Ring.
But the one that everyone talks about involved Mankind and Undertaker. What helped make this match even more memorable—you know, aside from the fact that Mankind was thrown off the top of the cage through a table and chokeslammed through the top of the cage onto the mat—was the history between these two superstars.
Mankind debuted in WWE two years prior to that event, proving to be the ultimate foil to the always-indestructible Undertaker. They would have off-and-on feuds in between, but there was an easy story to tell and an obvious need for the cell to be used in this spot.
The Ultimate Gimmick Match
From 1997-2008, WWE was able to turn the Hell In A Cell into its most popular gimmick match for two reasons.
One, you knew that you were going to see insanely ridiculous spots you would never get in any other match. Whether it is Triple H backdropping Cactus Jack through the top of a cage and breaking the ring mat or Undertaker literally chokeslamming Edge to Hell using a ladder, you paid for the uniqueness of the match.
Two, the match was a necessity to settle a long-standing feud between at least two top superstars who had gone through the wringer in singles matches, hardcore matches, etc., and there was no other way to determine who was the best.
There were some exceptions along the way. No one remembers Big Boss Man vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 15, other than to talk about how awful that match was.
But whenever WWE put a Hell In A Cell match on the card, it was going to deliver something more than your typical WWE match, and the match itself would almost always be great.
The Rapid Decline
Today's WWE is obsessed with taking a gimmick that works and shoving it down the throat of the audience until it no longer resonates.
A perfect example is John Cena. He is the easiest superstar on the roster to hate, despite being the ultimate good guy, because there is never any real adversity he faces. Whenever he is in a match, you know he is going to win or get screwed out of a sure victory and get the win back on Raw or at the next pay-per-view.
Because the audience is conditioned to see Cena as a superhero, he is going to get booed. There is no drama if you know the results even before the match, or feud, starts.
One of the reasons that the Steve Austin character worked so well, aside from Austin's performance, is because he had the perfect villain in Mr. McMahon. You never knew what direction that story line was going to take, which only heightened the drama and entertainment.
Cena doesn't get that because there is no one else on the roster even close to his level. That is the direction WWE has chosen to take with him, and it is also why he gets booed as much as he gets cheered.
All of that is to say, WWE had a great thing going with Hell In A Cell. It was a match you would trot out one or two times a year when the right feud called for it.
Then, presumably thinking it would help sinking pay-per-view buy rates, WWE decided to go with a Hell In A Cell-themed pay-per-view. Instead of settling an intense, bitter feud in a cell, WWE would put two or three matches in a cell.
If one cell is going to sell a lot of buys, imagine what three will do?
It turns out that if you desensitize the audience and condition them to think that the cell matches aren't important, the gimmick doesn't sell as well as it used to.
Just last year, Cena, Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk headlined the Hell In A Cell pay-per-view. There was not enough of a rivalry between these three men to justify having it in a cell, but because the calender called for the gimmick, it had to be fought in a cell.
This year's Hell In A Cell event only lists a single cell match, which is a good thing, but it is between CM Punk and Ryback for the WWE title.
How many times have Punk and Ryback wrestled? Zero. In fact, this match was just put together a few weeks ago because of an injury to Cena.
The gimmick means nothing in this match because there is no reason to care about a feud between Punk and Ryback.
Sure, there is some drama because the outcome is in doubt. If Punk loses, his long reign ends, and he might not get his title match with The Rock at the Royal Rumble.
(For the record, if WWE tries to have Ryback wrestle Rock for the title, the Great One should tell WWE he has other things to do.)
If Ryback loses, his undefeated streak, which is the only thing he has going for him because he can't talk and isn't a good wrestler, is over.
The Non-Violent Era
When most fans talk about what's wrong with WWE today, one of the first things they point to is the PG rating that the company stands by. I don't think that hurts the company in most cases; it is usually just terrible storytelling and building of matches.
However, Hell In A Cell is a match that absolutely suffers because WWE can't, or doesn't like to, use blood on television.
If you are going to label a match as Hell In A Cell, fans are expecting to see wrestlers get their head busted open. I am not talking about just whacking someone in the head with a chair 14 times, because with all the information about head injuries, that would be stupid and dangerous.
But to completely forbid any kind of blood ruins the point of the cell. WWE has turned these contests into straight wrestling matches that happen to be surrounded by a cell.
Case in point: WrestleMania 28.
When Undertaker vs. Triple H announced their WrestleMania match would take place inside Hell In A Cell, the anticipation was off the charts because these were two superstars with enough pull backstage to get away with using more violence and possibly blood in the match.
Think back on the match right now and tell me what purpose the cell served. You can't do it because there wasn't one. It was a great match, but the cell was completely circumstantial. It added nothing at all.
Neither Triple H or Undertaker used it against each other, nor did they try to escape to the outside. It was a straight wrestling match surrounded by a cage.
Violence is not always necessary to get a match over in WWE, but Hell In A Cell is one instance where you need it.
If WWE insists on running a Hell In A Cell pay-per-view, it needs to have the creative team do a better job of planning a feud that is worthy of the cell match.
That is the problem with this whole thing, even more than just running a gimmick pay-per-view for the sake of having a gimmick pay-per-view.
WWE knows that the date for Hell In A Cell is approaching, so why not start to build a feud at SummerSlam that can last until the gimmick pay-per-view to actually make the cell match resonate with the audience.
Hell In A Cell is an easy concept to get over, but WWE has to work on repairing what it means when you see the match on the card to get people excited to see it again.
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