The nature of the impending WWE pay-per-view for October, “Hell In The Cell”, begs a very obvious question: Will a gimmick oriented PPV be a resounding success?
The Cell structure itself is of tremendous value to WWE. This truth is informed not only by the immense size and physical versatility afforded by the gimmick itself, but by history. The very sight of the Cell is synonymous with the memory of Shawn Michaels as he dove face first into the mesh via the throwing arm of The Undertaker. It invokes the legend of “Good God Almighty!” As Mankind flew off the top of the cage and through the table, thus prompting Jim Ross’ very real exclamation.
It is this history that WWE seeks to capitalize upon with the October event’s multi-cell format. The theory stands that the very real past will attract people to the hopeful possibility of events anew to rival events past. This is the same idea that has informed every single instance of the Cell’s reintroduction. The difference here is the WWE want to use the Cell not once but three times on the same event. It is an epic idea but one that risks the likelihood of overkill and the potential problems are legion. Three hard-hitting, gruelling encounters with the same narrative will inevitably blur into one over the course of two hours. At least one of the matches will be short by HITC standards and whoever goes on last will have an obvious advantage. The middle match will be the least desirable. The greatest fear must be that one or more performers will feel pressured into doing something spectacular (and risky) in order to provide an indelibly memorable denouement. Whatever transpires, it will be arduous for fan and performer alike.
Obviously, the use of variety within major contests is nothing new. Gimmicks are to wrestling as Lipstick is to a lady; necessary and expected. When utilized effectively a gimmick or stipulation can enhance the gravity of a feud (typically the culmination) and enhance fan interest. The problem comes when the temptation becomes too much and greedy promoters insist on trying for the gimmick-dollar too regularly. Dusty Rhodes was the original purveyor of such excess and ultimately paid for it with ridicule and diminished interest. Such candour notwithstanding, Dusty is the man who created wrestling’s first super-show (Starrcade) and the War Games cage match. War Games was in its first few years a stunning, claret-soaked contest that made for compelling viewing. Wrestle War 1992, pitting Paul E. Dangerously’s Dangerous Alliance against Sting’s Squadron, was quite possibly the finest example of the format. It is a gimmick so good it deserves to be reborn. Long-term WWE observers will already know why this is unlikely to happen anytime soon…
Attaching a gimmick to a match or card is just another way of enhancing the anticipation for a particular event. Generally speaking, the record of the WWE when it comes to the proper application of gimmicks is pretty solid. Cage matches were infrequent and given sufficient build-up throughout the 1980’s. The fascination with Undertaker’s Casket Matches faded after Survivor Series 1994 but ‘Taker remained a steady source for gimmick fare. His feud with Mick ?Mankind? Foley yielded the Boiler Room Brawl, of which only two such examples have been used on PPV (both won by Foley). The Buried Alive match was an intriguing concept but, thirteen years on from its introduction, is yet to yield a great match. The Undertaker of course wrestled in the original Hell In The Cell match at In Your House: Badd Blood in October 1997. That memorable, gripping contest served as a truly dramatic conclusion to the original ‘Taker/Shawn Michaels feud. It also provided the back-drop for the introduction of the Kane character. Looking back upon the original Cell contest it is clear why the concept was a success and why this continued to be so. There are lessons here the WWE would do well to heed.
Hell In The Cell worked because it was a visually impressive gimmick that captured the imagination and was adroitly sold to the populous. The men in the match were both seasoned and capable athletes. In fact, at that time Shawn Michaels was hands down the best American wrestler in the world. His performance in that match was incredible. When the Cell match was shorn of such superlative performers the impact of the it diminished. The Big Boss Man versus Undertaker is not fondly remembered in the pantheon of Cell matches for the simple reason it was incredibly boring dross. The Cell itself possesses no powers of alchemy. The other problem was the legendary ‘Taker/Mankind stunt festival set an impossibly high benchmark for subsequent Cell matches. It took WWE four years to wean the public off its rather sadistic expectation that somebody would inevitably have a brush with death during a Cell match. The final (and most important) reason that Hell In The Cell continues to this day is the restriction of usage policy. The Cell would only be brought out once or twice a year and then only for the bloodiest, most personal feuds. Its the rule that has served the gimmick so well.
Booking three Cell matches on one card is excessive and potentially counter-productive. The shock value of dropping the name ?Hell In The Cell? like Hell’s anvil on a bewildered heel will be irrevocably lost if this September gig becomes a regular occurrence. Chances are it won’t. Bookers, wrestlers and a lot of fans dislike the idea of the cell conveyor belt. Unsurprisingly, its Chairman Vince who likes the idea so it will be an uncomfortable reality that will hopefully follow Cyber Sunday into the gimmicks graveyard. It is quite simply too much. One of the things that has hurt TNA so much in recent years is Vince Russo’s obscene reliance on numerous, invariably ludicrous gimmicks. He did the same in WCW and did a considerable amount of damage in the process. A good gimmick is a double-edged sword. Used sparingly and appropriately it can enhance performers and fan interest alike. Used with reckless abandon said gimmick can become a hindrance and/or a pale shadow of its self ala War Games. It is my sincere hope that the first Hell In The Cell PPV is also the last. Otherwise we’ll all learn once again why professional wrestling embodies the adage ?you always can have too much of a good thing?…
Daniel R. Browne.