Hell in a Cell; a ?perverse, vile, diabolical structure?, ?The Devil’s playground?, has been an amphitheater of anguish for over a decade.. f rom the Christening in St. Louis, Missouri at In Your House: Badd Blood on October 5th, 1997 to the Summerslam showdown between The Undertaker and Edge in August of 2008, the Hell in a Cell match has been the epitome of pain and fear. When spoken, the name itself sends shivers down opponent’s spines, stirring up sadistic images of torture and suffering. However, when WWE introduced a considerably taller cell at Unforgiven in September of 2006, it seemed as if the awe, the dark aura and the apprehensive nature of the cell had been dulled. ?The Devil’s playground?, it seemed, had become the Devil’s small community. Can four extra feet of chain and steel really cause this effect?
To clarify, the original cell in the Hell in a Cell matches was 16 feet high, while this ?improved? version stands at 20 feet high. The width remained the same and the height was only increased by 4 feet, yet, it still feels like the elements of danger and unpredictability have been sucked right out of the match.
In the inaugural Hell in a Cell match, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker stole the show and raised the bar of brutality in the WWF/E. The cell, as thousands of eyes poured upon it in shock and amazement for the first time, was an ominous structure. Once locked inside, a sense of immediacy and claustrophobia set in. The cell roof was just high enough to give the combatants a false sense of freedom within those steels walls, but as Shawn Michaels found out, taking a simple backd rop would prove to be 100 times more dangerous, as his legs smashed the roof of the cell while he was in mid flight. The 16 foot high roof also gave the false impression of an easy climb, while slyly hiding the grim possibility of an impactful fall. Michaels found this out all too well when he tried to find sanctuary at the top of the cell, only to be beaten, body slammed, gorilla press slammed and eventually sent sailing off the side of the cell through an announce table.
Perhaps no Hell in a Cell match illustrates the point of immediacy and claustrophobia more so than the classic confrontation between The Undertaker and Mankind f rom King of the Ring 1998 in Pittsburgh (hometown plug). As any serious wrestling scholar can tell you, Mankind was so disinterested in being stuck inside that chain linked Hell that he risked life and limb by starting the match on the roof of the cell. It’s also interesting to note that, although Mankind paid for his ill-conceived decision to start the match on the roof, as soon as he regained his consciousness and bearings he climbed right back to the top of the cell again, dislocated shoulder and all! It’s like he?d rather risk being tossed off of the cell 100 times than stand and fight The Undertaker in the ring, surrounded by 4 walls and a roof of cold, hard reality, fighting cabin fever, imprisonment, and a 6? 10?? undead phenom. Mankind at least had the possibility of escape while on the roof, but what did The Undertaker do as soon as he had Mankind back in his clutches? He slammed Mankind through the roof of the cell into the ring, thus bringing the match into the cell, into the psychological environment that The Undertaker is at ease with, limiting Mankind’s options as far as escape goes, and ultimately ending the match in Taker’s favor, in the middle of the ring with a Tombstone.
Immediacy, claustrophobia, cabin fever, imprisonment…these are the psychological factors that the old 16ft high cell carried with it, causing almost every Hell in a Cell match to spill outside the parameters of the cell. The old cell lived up to its namesake: it was wrestling’s Shawshank, Hell in a veritable prison, and the competitors couldn?t wait to break free.
Here’s an interesting observation to consider: the wrestler who escapes the cell first or initiates the action outside the parameters of the cell usually ends up worse for it. Perhaps the apprehensiveness and psychological factors of the old cell that led wrestlers to want to escape the cell ASAP also caused said wrestlers to lose their focus and make erratic decisions?? Perhaps, perhaps?
All the aforementioned psychological factors, the claustrophobia, the sense of immediacy, the imprisonment and the false sense of security and sanctuary is all lost when you introduce 4 more feet of height to the cell. No longer, as a wrestler, are you dying to escape the cell because it’s no longer a cell. ?The Devil’s playground? as JR calls it, feels more like an ecosystem, a self contained world. It’s a wrestling match housed within a fenced in space more so than an exhibition of violence trapped inside a steel Hell and for this reason, claustrophobia is gone. The sense of imprisonment has been sufficiently diluted, as you?re pretty free to roam in the ?improved? cell without the cell’s roof sharply reminding you that it’s hovering slightly above anytime your opponent decides to send you into the air.
Furthermore, with the taller cell design, the crowd loses a lot of the ?what if? factor that goes along with a Hell in a Cell match. Ever since Mankind was tossed f rom the roof of the cell, every Hell in a Cell match that followed carried that ?what if? factor, the possibility of someone flying off the roof of the cell again. It only has to be done once for the possibility to pester peoples? minds forever. Janet Jackson’s teat sullied only 1 Superbowl halftime show and now every Superbowl halftime show is marred with an air of unpredictability. However, with the taller cell, the mere possibility of going to and falling off the roof of the cell has been all but removed, as it’s just too high to believe that the WWE would let somebody even climb to the top, let alone take a fall f rom there.
While the three Hell in a Cell matches that have been contested under the taller cell haven?t necessarily been bad matches, they are missing a psychological edge brought about by the original 16ft cell that are dearly missed. In the old cell, the danger lied not only in the power and sadistic imagination of your opponent, but in the deceptively small stature of the cell itself. It was small enough to make you uneasy and big enough to cause some serious trouble in the event you tumbled off of it. The new cell is large enough to make you realize that you have adequate space to be free and execute your offense, while also assuring you, with its height, that climbing to the top is simply out of the picture. Therefore, escape to the outside in the new cell either simply isn?t necessary, or happens by pure chance (I.E Edge spearing Undertaker through the cell wall).
In closing, it’s pretty simple to see that if you want to see a ?perverse, vile, diabolical structure?, ?The Devil’s playground?, the embodiment of wrestling hell inside of a prison, stick to Hell in a Cell matches before Unforgiven 2006, as anything after should be renamed Hell?in an Ecosystem.
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