Where Does Hell in a Cell Rank Among WWE's Cage-Style Gimmick Matches?
Once upon a time, Hell in a Cell was one of WWE's top gimmick matches. The Undertaker vs. Mankind from King of the Ring 1998 alone proved it was one of the most awe-inspiring, violent matches imaginable.
Its name alone struck terror in the hearts of its competitors. These days, though, it's not the same.
As Arn Anderson said on his podcast, it lacks the punch it once had and is no longer as big of a selling point.
In fact, Hell in a Cell isn't even at the top of the list when comparing it only to other cage-style matches.
Just how far down is it, though? Let's rank all the gimmick matches that are similar in nature and see where HIAC lands.
9. Inferno Match or Ring of Fire Match
Obviously, Inferno and Ring of Fire matches don't involve cages, but the concept is still to put wrestlers inside an enclosure. This just happens to be fire instead of a cage.
WWE's four Inferno contests have ended with someone set on fire, while the Ring of Fire match from SummerSlam 2013 was a regular pinfall finish.
Given the two, it might be considered more entertaining to see the losing wrestler set ablaze, but it's not a gimmick that can happen often. Not only is it extremely dangerous, but it's also not a theme most competitors would fit with.
Fire is one of Kane's signature motifs, but it would be strange to see a feud like Bayley vs. Sasha Banks culminate in this type of contest.
Inferno matches may sound sensational in theory, but the combatants have to stay so close to the center to avoid harm, which renders bouts boring up until the conclusion.
8. Lumberjack Match
Again, this isn't an actual cage made out of steel, but it's the human equivalent.
Lumberjack matches are one of the most common types of gimmicks because they're so easy to pull off. You can technically have one of these matches with just four people covering each side of the ring.
Typically, though, it's closer to 10 so that it feels like a bigger deal. The more Superstars surrounding the ring, the more chaos can ensue.
However, lumberjack matches can fall victim to repetition. A wrestler is hurled outside the ring, gets beaten up and is thrown back in. Then, a fight ensues between the lumberjacks, which turns into a full-on brawl.
Eventually, there are enough distractions that someone is able to take advantage and get the win while all the lumberjacks are incapacitated.
When done well, these can be a lot of fun, but they're normally too formulaic to be anything spectacular.
7. Punjabi Prison Match
As the Punjabi Prison is the first actual cage on this list, it earns bonus points. Unfortunately, it also happens to be a mess.
By far the ugliest structure WWE has created, this cage is made out of one mile of reinforced steel bamboo and is nearly impossible to see through.
The concept is also overly complicated, wherein the doors to the inner cage are opened only once for 60 seconds before being padlocked. If all four are closed, a wrestler must climb over to reach the next layer as well as climb over the second cage and have their feet touch the floor to win.
Originally, there were straps used to choke opponents, but that was nixed along with the spikes on top of the structure.
That means the Punjabi Prison is basically a regular steel cage match with an extra cage that obscures the audience's vision and a pointless timer on four doors instead of one that can open at will.
There have only been three Punjabi Prison matches and those have been enough.
6. Standard Steel Cage Match
A standard steel cage match is one of the most basic gimmicks out there.
It's slightly below midway on this list than dead center because it's the most overdone and generic. But the testament to a great cage match isn't its brutality, it's all about the booking of the escapes.
These bouts are most disappointing when they end in a pinfall or submission. The key is to play into the ability for a Superstar to win by climbing over the cage or going through the door.
At their best, the timing taps into the anxiety of the escapes. Heels nearly make it out the door for easy victories and babyfaces have to grab them at the last second.
Ideally, they have photo-finishes, too, with both Superstars falling to the outside at the same time. The more tension, the better.
Steel cage matches have given us moments like Jeff Hardy and Cody Rhodes diving off the top, Mark Henry ripping the door off its hinges and Big Show throwing "Stone Cold" Steve Austin out for an accidental win.
With a little effort, even the most basic cage matches can be great; when WWE simply slaps a cage around a regular match, the gimmick falls flat.
5. NXT Fight Pit Match
So far, there has only been one Fight Pit match in WWE. It came on the May 27 edition of NXT this year and featured Timothy Thatcher against Matt Riddle, with Kurt Angle appearing as a special-guest referee.
What makes the Fight Pit interesting is that it uses enough tweaks to keep it from feeling like a regular cage but doesn't get too fancy to become overbearing.
There are no ropes and instead of climbing over the top, there's a catwalk the Superstars can battle on. Matches can only be won by submission or knockout.
This gives it more of an MMA feel, which allows Superstars like Riddle and Thatcher to play to their strengths.
While it isn't the most flamboyant gimmick, it's a solid idea that shows a couple adjustments can go a long way in making a regular cage match feel special.
4. Hell in a Cell
While it would have been at the top of the list in the late '90s, Hell in a Cell now finds itself ranked only fourth in our list.
There are two primary reasons it has fallen so far down the list: safety and oversaturation.
Thankfully, WWE Superstars are more careful with their bodies these days and less likely to do the extremely dangerous stunts common in the Attitude Era, but that does hinder the spectacle.
No amount of kendo sticks can compensate for the brutality of the past. Likewise, Hell in a Cell no longer has any big moments because there's nothing new left to safely pull off that would pop the crowd. We've seen enough people jump off the top or crash through the cage.
This gimmick was used to definitively end a feud that had reached a boiling point where nothing else could contain the destruction two Superstars would inflict on each other.
Now, though, no matter how hot or cold a rivalry is, people are tossed inside this cage simply because it's the time of year WWE has this pay-per-view scheduled on the calendar.
The only way HIAC will be special again is if WWE stops having it as an annual event, saves it for only the feuds that need it and finds a way to up the violence without putting Superstars at too great a risk—a trio of tasks that may be too difficult to pull off.
3. Asylum Match
Asylum matches are the recipe you get when your ingredients are a normal cage, the lack of an escape and the weapons of a street fight.
There is no climbing out of this structure, as it is surrounded by barbed wire. Instead, only a pinfall or submission can end the contest. That would normally be a disappointment, but the focus on weapons has more than made up for it in the two events we've seen so far.
It's quite a sight to see a cage with tools of destruction attached, ready to be grabbed at any time.
What gives it an edge over Hell in a Cell is that the violence isn't dependent upon the cage itself, meaning fans get a barbaric fight that isn't too dangerous. It also doesn't have the weight of a feud-ending scenario, so it doesn't have prior expectations and hype to live up to.
2. WarGames Match
WarGames has been around since its debut at NWA's Great American Bash tour in 1987, but it disappeared between 1998 and 2017.
When WWE brought it back, it was placed under the NXT banner for the TakeOver events prior to Survivor Series.
All four NXT WarGames matches have been amazing—some of the brand's best overall contests—giving it a fantastic success rate.
This cage match also doesn't have to try as hard with its features. Two rings are joined together with a metal strip and one large cage surrounds them. Teams of four compete against each other with a staggered entrance for each competitor on opposite sides.
Whether it was from the caliber of talent inside or the simplicity forcing innovation, these bouts managed to be phenomenal without going over the top. They still featured moments of Superstars jumping off the top and crashing through tables, but they were great even before those finales.
1. Elimination Chamber Match
WWE's best enclosure-style match usurped Hell in a Cell once the Elimination Chamber was constructed.
Apparently, all the marketing hype about it being dangerous doesn't even do it justice, according to those who have stepped inside it. Superstars have spoken over the years about how awful the original cage was.
Kane said: "I don't think the people at home appreciate how hard the grid was outside the ring or how unforgiving the chains that surrounded the ring were." (h/t ESPN's Tim Fiorvanti)
But the Elimination Chamber is so much more than just a painful match for the competitors. It's the best cage gimmick because it has the best features.
There are elements of the Royal Rumble (WWE's best overall gimmick) with the randomized entrants at different intervals, which are done in a more spectacular way than in WarGames. And having six competitors is more grandiose than two Superstars stepping inside most of the other cage matches.
Also, unlike Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber isn't dependent upon any rivalries needing to be strong enough to justify its use. It has its own purpose as the roadblock to WrestleMania as a gauntlet either a champion must survive or a No. 1 contender must win to fight for a title at The Show of Shows.
That is the hook and it works every time. No matter who is involved, come February or March, championship matches must be established for WrestleMania, so it never gets old.
The cage is visually different, features eliminations and timed entrants of six top stars, has some of the highest stakes imaginable and happens during the biggest boom period of the year.
There have been poor Elimination Chamber matches, but the concept outclasses all the other cages in every way.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.