What do you think of when you hear Hell in a Cell? Does your mind automatically go back to June 1998 and the immortalised image of Mankind being hurled from the structure through the commentary table as Jim Ross makes the greatest call in pro-wrestling history? Or is your primary recollection that of the inaugural HiaC bout featuring Shawn Michaels and Undertaker tearing the house down in October of 1997? Maybe you don’t go that far back and it’s Triple H v Cactus Jack from February 2000 that is etched in your mind. In the end, the exact match details aren’t important, it’s the fact that, no matter which match is your defining Hell in a Cell moment, I can guarantee you that every single one of them will have a common factor – there was a massive rivalry going into the bout and the only way to settle the feud was to put it in the confines of a sixteen-foot (now twenty-foot) high enclosed steel cage.
Running Time: 174mins (excluding extras)
- Hell in a Cell Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: CM Punk v Undertaker
- WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: John Morrison v Dolph Ziggler
- Josh Mathews interviews Batista and Rey Mysterio
- Divas Championship Match: Mickie James v Alicia Fox
- Unified Tag Team Championship Match: Jerishow v Batista & Rey Mysterio
- Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship: John Cena v Randy Orton
- Josh Mathews interviews R-Truth
- R-Truth v Drew McIntyre
- Legacy in the locker room
- Triple Threat Match for the United States Championship:Kofi Kingston v The Miz v Jack Swagger
- Hell in a Cell Match: DX v Legacy
- Post match home video exclusive – DX v Legacy
WWE, over the last thirteen years, have done an amazing job in marketing the HiaC as THE feud-ender, the match where only the most heated, the most intense (is that the same thing?) and the most brutal rivalries can be decided. Ignoring the monstrosity that was the Kennel From Hell (WWE have, so we may as well), each match contested inside the structure had a long-term issue going in, whether the match itself lived up to it or not (and even the KfH had that going for it). The Six-Man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon 2000 even had a six-way rivalry for the WWE Championship, giving it a reason to take place inside the structure.
If you look at all the Hell in a Cell bouts previous to this event (there are two non-matches from RAW in 1998 which were angles rather than matches)…
- Undertaker v Shawn Michaels – Badd Blood 1997
- Undertaker v Mankind – King of the Ring 1998
- Undertaker v Boss Man – WrestleMania XV
- Triple H v Cactus Jack – No Way Out 2000
- Undertaker v Kurt Angle v Triple H v Steve Austin v Rikish v The Rock – Armageddon 2000
- Triple H v Chris Jericho – Judgement Day 2002
- Undertaker v Brock Lesnar – No Mercy 2002
- Triple H v Kevin Nash – Bad Blood 2003
- Triple H v Shawn Michaels – Bad Blood 2004
- Triple H v Batista – Vengeance 2005
- Undertaker v Randy Orton – Armageddon 2005
- DX v The McMahons & Big Show – Unforgiven 2006
- Undertaker v Batista – Survivor Series 2007
- Undertaker v Edge – Summerslam 2008
… You’ll see that each and every one of them ended up inside the Hell in a Cell after having faced off in a number of other bouts, the feud building until it reached the point of no return and they had to settle it inside the ten-tonnes of steel. The worst one on the list, Undertaker v Bossman, while sucking the life out of the crowd, had the Corporation v Ministry feud behind it, giving it, at least on the surface, a purpose in being.
Fast-forward from August 2008, where the last one took place, to October 2009. Instead of a rivalry building to the point of requiring a Hell in a Cell Match to finish it, we now have a PPV event revolving around it instead. No logical evolution, just a time and a date where three matches will have to be inside the structure, regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
Now, with that being said, Orton and Cena do have a long-standing feud that doesn’t seem out of place inside the cage, however, this became “just another match” in their rivalry as, the following month, they engaged in an Iron Man Match (an admittedly very good one) to end the current rivalry. It could also be argued that DX v Legacy also have a long-term issue between them, but not one strong enough to warrant the use of this particular gimmick match. The third and final bout contested inside the cage, Undertaker v CM Punk, had no earthly reason to be fought inside it at this point in time, relying more on ‘Taker’s history than any real feud to carry the contest.
And that, more than anything, is the problem with this concept. Having three matches fought inside the Cell on the same show is overkill. The audience, by the end of the night, had already seen two HiaC bouts, so there wasn’t that sense of wonder all of them should enjoy. There shouldn’t be a set event for the Hell in a Cell, it should seem organic, a logical end to a long-term and heated rivalry that cannot be contained by any other method, not something to simply fill a spot on the card.
WWE, later in the year, had a similar idea with the TLC PPV, but had the sense to tweak the format and giving us four different bouts (tables, ladders and a chair match, topped off with a main-event combining the three) to varying results. The end result was that the three undercard bouts built towards the TLC Match, teasing the fans with a segment of the carnage that could be coming when all three implements are able to be used. I don’t think having a set event for this is a good idea either, but at least it didn’t seem like overkill and, to be fair, the TLC doesn’t have the same aura as the Hell in a Cell, so won’t be as damaged by the concept.
So, now that you know how I feel about the idea in general, how was it in practice?
The opening video, as with pretty much everything the WWE production staff touch, was a work of genius, giving the event an epic feel and giving each of the three headlining bouts the same. Add in a tiny history lesson and you can’t help but feel psyched for what’s to come.
CM Punk v Undertaker – I think this surprised a lot of people watching live when it started the show. The big rumour coming in was that Punk was being punished for a behind-the-scenes transgression and, to be fair, the match did nothing to dispel those rumours. In essence, this was a glorified squash match that never really utilised the Cell (outside of a couple of throws into the side) and proved a total downer for everyone watching because of it. The pre-match video package was great, showing the history between the two since Summerslam (and doing a stunning job of making an match against Undertaker inside the Cell seem like the deadliest match in the world), but the match never came close to matching it. Not a good start, not a good start at all, even with it being the first title change in HiaC history.
John Morrison v Dolph Ziggler – These two have had great chemistry with each other in the past, so hopes were high that they’d be able to continue that. Ziggler, going back months, seems to have been the perennial #1 contender to the Intercontinental Championship, having numerous attempts to dethrone both Morrison and the previous holder, Rey Mysterio, but he’s always came up short in the end. There’s only so many times you can challenge for a title and fail to win it before the fans want to see someone new. Ziggler was in serious danger of this happening, but at least the match quality held throughout. Two young athletic guys going for what used to be the stepping stone in WWE. When I think of the IC belt, it always seemed to be held by the smaller, more athletic wrestlers (of course, there were exceptions like Diesel) and this feels like a throwback to those days. Easily a vast improvement on the ‘Taker/Punk match, this should’ve been the opener of the show. Some nice wrestling, good high-risk offence, a couple of stunning counters and a few interesting ways to work the neck, topped off by a well-received and nicely worked finish, made this a joy to watch.
Mickie James v Alicia Fox – Mickie’s outfit was nice, and there were some good moments in the match, but the crowd didn’t really get into it and the action never really got into second gear. I will say this, though, the DDT to end the match genuinely looks like it broke her neck; it was evil.
JeriShow v Batista & Rey Mysterio – For a team that were thrown together due to unfortunate circumstances, Chris Jericho and Big Show just clicked as a duo and were, for my money, the greatest tag-team of 2009. It doesn’t hurt that they also had the best theme music of 2009 as well. Starting with Rey and Jericho was smart, as it allowed a fast pace to begin with and built anticipation for either of the larger partners waiting on the outside. This was an enjoyable bout, with four wrestlers who just work well together, and the exchanges pretty much all hit the mark. The last five minutes were great and had the crowd in the palm their hands, while the finish was a piece of brilliance.
John Cena v Randy Orton – Of all the matches on the card, this is the one that you could argue as warranting the Hell in a Cell stipulation. Two men who’ve been feuding for a long time, under many different stipulations, coming to the end of their rivalry. As is customary in these reviews, the WWE production team are on the receiving end of my praises; the hype video for Orton/Cena was astounding, recapping the feud’s main points and making it feel like these two not only want the Cell, these two need the Cell to end it all. The cage and the ring surroundings were used a lot more than in the opener, making it feel more like a HiaC match should feel, but it still lacked the aura of the majority of the bouts listed above and was a mild disappointment because of it. The set up for the finish was unique, and very effective, while Orton’s masterclass in psychology is worth watching all on its own.
R-Truth v Drew McIntyre – What I like about this match is that it’s a bona-fide midcard rivalry and one that the people are into. For so long, it was only the upper-midcard or above that were given reasons to be fighting, while the others just had matches for the sake of having matches. I suppose this stands out simply because it hadn’t really been done for so long, but it’s a shame the live crowd seemed nonplussed about the whole thing. It’s no secret I’m a fan of McIntyre, having known, trained and worked with him for the best part of a decade, so I may be biased, but this was an enjoyable five-minute match with some nice spots.
Kofi Kingston v The Miz v Jack Swagger –It’s Kofi Kingston defending the United States Championship so it must be a multi-man match. Like Truth/McIntyre on Smackdown, this was a midcard rivalry that had a nice three-way angle going on around the US Championship Title. All three want it, all three had physical possession of the strap at one point or another and all three are young guys who, if used correctly, could be the main-event talent for the future. Miz, especially, was brilliant with little nuances in his character that separate him from the rest of the non-main event roster. One exchange I adored was how Swagger got Miz into position for the All American Bomb, catching him in a go-behind as Miz charged him and then switching that into a gut-wrench and then dropping into the powerbomb… all in one flowing motion. It was beautiful.
DX v Legacy – Contrary to what most believed, WWE actually managed to make Legacy competitive against the might of DX, even getting a VERY convincing submission win at the Breaking Point PPV the previous month. On RAW, the second-gen duo had also managed to get the upper hand on Triple H and Shawn Michaels in various beatdowns, casting a little doubt on the result. Having the match start outside the Cell (Legacy ambushed DX during their entrance) immediately allowed this to stand out from the earlier two HiaC matches, while the use of the cage was also extensive in comparison. Having the fans into it from the second Legacy appear help give this a fantastic atmosphere and the structure of the bout itself gives them plenty to get their vocal teeth into. The best match on a rather disappointing card, this was the best way to end the show on a high. The last two minutes are brutal.
Segments – The backstage segment with Orton educating Rhodes and DiBiase on what the Hell in a Cell can, and will, do to you, with Legacy giving it the back chat was brilliant. Randy’s words did more to promote the Cell than the matches themselves did all night. The two interviews conducted by Josh Mathews are by-the-numbers “WWE backstage announcer asks some questions” segments, but they do their job in hyping their respective matches.
Only one extra, which is always annoying because the potential for showing the aftermatch on the following RAW and/or Smackdown is unreal. Even a retrospective look on the Hell in a Cell itself, to sell the match concept, would’ve been something. As it is, the extra that is on the disc is a nice little “after we went off the air” piece focusing on what happened with Legacy and DX after their match and the cameras had stopped rolling. It adds very little overall, but it’s always nice to see the aftermath of a hard-fought match and it helps sell how destructive the Hell in a Cell Match can be.
As has been said a few times in this review, Hell in a Cell was a disappointing PPV with some nice matches mixed in. The main event is a great match, Dolph/Morrison and JeriShow/Batista & Rey are very good and the rest are passable.
My main issue is that the Hell in a Cell itself was underutilised most of the night and the concept, not even that good an idea on paper, just failed to come off. No blood, no death feuds that have no other option but to end in this structure and three times in one night is just overkill.
Not an essential purchase, unless you’re a completist and want to have all WWE PPVs, but if you can get it on discount, then it’s a decent enough diversion for three hours.