WWE Dilution Of Hell In A Cell Has Turned A Once-Feared Stipulation Into A Meaningless Placeholder
Hell In A Cell pay-per-views need to end
Hell In A Cell just isn't the same anymore.
When I first started watching WWE in 2001, Hell In A Cell was still a relatively new concept, having only been introduced four years earlier at Badd Blood 1997. The stipulation wasn't regularly scheduled programming and it was very much used as the payoff to a blood feud. One in which two competitors could only settle their differences by being locked inside a cell and fighting it out with any weapons they could get their hands on. The stipulation felt like it had to be earned and it being added to a rivalry only helped elevate that feud.
They felt important too. Hell In A Cell Matches like Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker from No Mercy 2002 or Triple H's battles against Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels and Batista between 2003 and 2005 all come to mind as big occasions where only the cell would do to settle their differences. The build-up to the occasions only enhanced the stipulation with Eric Bischoff bellowing, "Hell In A Cell!" remaining ingrained in my brain to this day.
Many of the matches during the first 12 years of Hell In A Cell felt spectacular, grandiose and special, with feuds that were worthy of the stipulation.
This largely hasn't been the case since 2009, though, when WWE made Hell In A Cell an annual pay-per-view, and the stipulation has become increasingly diluted over the years.
That's not to say there haven't been matches since 2009 that didn't deserve to take place inside the cell. Personal rivalries like Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose in 2014, The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar in 2015 and Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton in 2018 are just a few examples of personal storylines that ended, or in Rollins and Ambrose case ended temporarily, inside the cell and it felt apt to bring them to a close inside the structure.
Far too many matches have taken inside the steel structure simply because the annual pay-per-view calls for it, though. Fans have been presented with CM Punk vs. Ryback in 2012 and Roman Reigns vs. Rusev and Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins, both in 2016, simply because it was October. There are so many more examples of when WWE has done this as well.
The dilution problem has only been worsened in recent years by what has taken place inside the squared circle. First, WWE took the liberty of booking the 2018 cell match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman to end in a no contest, simply to put over the return of Brock Lesnar. A man who had only been missing for a couple of months in a segment that was better suited to Raw than Hell In A Cell. Then there was the debacle of 2019's Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend cell match that ended with a referee stoppage. A stipulation saved for the bloodiest of rivalries that usually featured hardcore in-ring action ended in a referee stoppage, not a pinfall or a submission. Unsurprisingly, it went down as one of the worst pay-per-view endings in WWE history.
2020 was a decent year for cell matches with Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso and Drew McIntyre vs. Randy Orton, so I won't criticise beyond that the cell wasn't used as a feud-closer.
The dilution issue reared its ugly head again in 2021, though. Fans have just been presented with four Hell In A Cell matches in four days and not a single one felt worthy of the stipulation.
First, we had Roman Reigns vs. Rey Mysterio on Friday Night SmackDown. An enjoyable match, but the feud had only been rumbling on for three weeks, leaving everything feeling extremely rushed by the time June 18 quickly came around. Could the feud have taken place in Hell In A Cell and felt like a bigger occasion down the line? Most definitely. But it's June so Hell In A Cell it was.
Then we had Bayley vs. Bianca Belair in the first match at the Hell In A Cell pay-per-view, a feud that paled in comparison to The Role Model's match against Sasha Banks only eight months ago. Both women are undoubtedly talented, but their storyline failed to provide that special something that should be saved for the cell. WWE seemingly didn't even think the match was cell-worthy, only adding the stipulation two days before the show after Reigns vs. Mysterio was brought forward.
Similar problems were on display for Drew McIntyre vs. Bobby Lashley. The match appeared to be the most Hell In A Cell-worthy contest on the card, with it being billed as the last chance for Drew in a feud that had been bubbling away since March. But the storyline was still one that failed to reach deeply personal, blood feud levels. Instead, the rivalry had been somewhat personal, but it was primarily two men fighting because they believed they were worthy of being WWE Champion.
Then their match ended in a roll-up.
Neither man used the cage to wear their opponent down to the point where they couldn't last any longer. Instead, a distraction and a quick pin while both men were conscious was deemed to be sufficient, which begs the question of what was the point in the match being inside the cell if the stipulation didn't affect the outcome? Especially when the same result could have been achieved in any No DQ match.
All the result actually ended up doing was make the top babyface on Raw look like a moron because Drew had failed to request MVP not be at ringside despite his repeated interference during the feud, including at WrestleMania.
A particular spot in the match must also be addressed. During the enjoyable encounter, Lashley Chokeslammed McIntyre through a table. The action was shot at a similar angle to the Roman Reigns-Dominik Mysterio throw on a recent SmackDown, which was done to hide the crash pad. That looked to be the case here as a mysterious hand was suddenly broadcast to the world before it disappeared again under the ring.
Now, the spot would have been brutal for Drew even with the crash pad, but this is a match that WWE has built up in the past to be the feud ender for personal rivalries, and all the hand did was further destroy the illusion that Hell In A Cell is something fans should get excited about and look forward to. Instead, it simply highlighted what Hell In A Cell used to be and what it has become.
Then Monday Night Raw came around and another Hell In A Cell match with it, this time Bobby Lashley vs. Xavier Woods, reportedly just so WWE could keep USA Network happy after Fox got Roman Reigns vs. Rey Mysterio.
Yes, Xavier Woods vs. Bobby Lashley was an enjoyable encounter, but it was still not worthy of the stipulation and only really used the cell in the post-match angle when Kofi Kingston couldn't find a way to help his friend while Lashley had the G4 host trapped in the Hurt Lock. Hell In A Cell should also never be a feud starter, especially for a different opponent, nor should it be something that is thrown together at a couple of hours notice.
With all that said, WWE can fix the mess they have created if they try. The first thing they need to do, though, is scrap Hell In A Cell as an annual pay-per-view. The company has so many historic events like No Mercy, No Way Out and Unforgiven where the name doesn't call for the card to be dominated by one particular stipulation. The company could even try establishing a new pay-per-view if they so desire.
One thing is for certain, though. Hell In A Cell will continue to be diluted year after year as long as it remains an annual pay-per-view and that is something that must change if WWE wants to rehabilitate the stipulation.
I don't have much hope that it will happen, but the sooner Hell In A Cell is just used for the most personal of feuds, the better.
Right now, WWE's once mostly highly feared endgame stipulation is nothing more than an annual placeholder.