Last night, WWE continued their overkill of one of their most hallowed stipulation matches. The RAW exclusive Hell in a Cell event featured three matches inside the infamous structure and served as further evidence for the elimination of the pay-per-view concept altogether.
Before going forward, this writer is not calling for the end of Hell in a Cell matches, but the trashing of the PPV itself and saving the cage for when it matters.
WWE's constant abuse of the Cell concept
When the company introduced the structure in 1997, the idea behind it was simple. Two wrestlers are locked in an oversized cage with no way in or out, ending with a definitive winner.
The first cell match ruined the purpose behind the gimmick. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels fought outside during the pivotal moments of the contest. Of course, the match ended with interference from the debuting Kane. Many other cell matches since have gone outside the ring, or included some sort of outside interference. Hell, one match even ended outside of the structure (Triple H vs. Chris Jericho, Judgement Day 2002).
The idea of the Hell in a Cell match as a climactic feud ender sounds great in theory, but WWE seldom follows through in practice.
Quantity over quality
At least WWE reserved the early Cell matches for feuds that deserved it and select wrestlers. The paradigm shift to Vince McMahon’s current treatment of the match began in 2009. In an attempt to bump up numbers for the non-big four PPV’s (rather than cutting back on the number of events) WWE started promoting gimmick match themed events.
Some were abhorrent at first mention (Breaking Point, Fatal 4 Way, Bragging Rights a month before Survivor Series). Others like TLC, and Hell in a Cell were not much better. Instead of naturally building to big matches, WWE took the Vince Russo approach to stipulation matches. In other words, McMahon threw the matches out there for a few thousand more buys.
The downside was the collective watering down of the match concepts themselves. Hell in a Cell suffered the most.
Two unnecessary trips to Hell
Take this year's event for instance. Three matches were contested inside the structure, which was two too many.
The Roman Reigns/Rusev feud seemed to deserve the billing of a Cell match. However, both men spent much of their storyline brawling around arenas. Falls Count Anywhere seemed like a better fit for the program.
Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens certainly did not deserve to be in the Cell. The story leading into the match was more about the best friendship between the Universal Champion and Chris Jericho. As gut-busting as the Owens/Jericho interactions were, it did not serve as an effective build to a Hell in a Cell match for a feud that started a mere month two months ago.
The match most deserving of the structure, Charlotte/Sasha Banks, got shortchanged due to the two cell matches on the undercard. The fighting outside the cell actually worked in that it put sympathy on Banks and gave her an out for losing. The match was good, but suffered sharing the spotlight with two other “main events”.
This does not even take into account the gradual watering down of the product itself. WWE outlawed blade jobs (with some glaring exceptions), made the product safer little by little (again no complaints). Banks and Charlotte were not going to evoke memories of Undertaker/Mick Foley or Helmsley/Foley, nor should it have (especially since the cell is bigger than it was in 1998). Hell in a Cell matches in the PG era are not as violent as years past, and putting three on a PPV that did not need them dilutes it more.
Get rid of the PPV
For the Hell in a Cell gimmick to work, WWE needs to eliminate the concept as the centerpiece of a pay-per-view. Save it for when a feud calls for it and not a shameless attempt to collect a few more subscriptions to the WWE Network. Use the structure as a tool rather than a crutch. Putting feuds inside the cell before they're ready hurts the match, handicaps the creative team and the wrestlers and makes fans care less about the match itself.