A Dead Concept: Analyzing The Implications Of The WWE Hell In A Cell 2019 Finish

WWE may have rendered Hell in a Cell obsolete.

When the Hell in a Cell concept was first introduced in 1997, there was a sense of the unknown. Fans and wrestlers alike didn't know what to expect from this new structure; in essence, it was a modern, grittier and somewhat more stylish take on the established steel cage match. The HIAC concept worked extremely well for several years. Feuds such as Triple H vs. Mick Foley, and The Undertaker's against Edge, Brock Lesnar and Mankind all managed to incorporate the HIAC as a match that truly ended a legendary feud and put the personal issues of the superstars in question to rest.

Match Ratings For 2/26/2021 WWE Smackdown From Sean Ross Sapp

Fast-forward to 2009. WWE is trying to out new PPV concepts, included in this new concept strategy is the idea to brand PPVs after fan favorite gimmick matches such as TLC and the aforementioned HIAC. From this point on was when the problems started to begin. The HIAC PPV taking place every September/October means that feuds automatically have to align to fit into the narrative that is needed for a HIAC match. This is problematic for numerous reasons. Firstly, there may not be a feud that's currently taking place that requires the structure as in there is no true 'personal' feuds within the current product's storytelling. A key example for this is the Sheamus vs, Randy Orton match from 2010 (if you can't recall this match, the most brutal part about it was Sheamus performing a backbreaker on the steel steps). Another reason it's problematic is that it makes the HIAC concept virtually unavailable for the rest of the year. Notwithstanding some exceptions from the likes of Triple H vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 28 and another 'Taker battle with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32, the HIAC hasn't been moved outside the confines of the PPV itself. This is a waste, there have been numerous feuds over the past ten years where the HIAC was a perfect opportunity to close off a story. The most recent example of this being the acclaimed Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa feud in NXT.

Fast-forward to the 2019 edition of the PPV event. The show kicks off perfectly with the perfect modern-day HIAC match with Becky Lynch facing Sasha Banks. Everything that works about a modern incarnation of the HIAC match is present and in focus here. Yet, despite a genuine injury to Sasha Banks that has kept her off TV since, it's barely been touched on after the fact. There's no long-lasting trauma from the HIAC. Becky hasn't changed, she's in the same position she was prior to entering HIAC. Contrast this to Brock Lesnar following his HIAC win over The Undertaker in 2002, despite winning, he's damaged, he's traumatized. It impacts all of his stories for the next year. Commentary is constantly reminding us of what Brock went through. To further highlight the Becky v Sasha match not really meaning anything, in the long run, Becky Lynch taking on Sasha was announced for this week's RAW (prior to Sasha being pulled due to injury). Why would you book a singles match between two people who have just tried to kill each other inside HIAC? Notwithstanding the draft pick reasoning which itself makes little sense, It kills the purpose of the concept.

Everyone is talking about the issues that the Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins match presented, and I actually think they're bigger than WWE thinks. WWE's marketing moving forward for the PPV is going to be dramatically affected thanks to the non-finish. Social media comments during the build to the 2020 event are going to full of jokes concerning DQ finishes, memes regarding violence inside HIAC. It's going to be a nightmare for WWE to market effectively. This is not forgetting that WWE listed a DQ finish as an option for the finish of the aforementioned match, despite it being established for 22 years that nothing can stop a HIAC match from ending in a non-finish. Two years in a row, the HIAC PPV has had a non-finish. If you recall the 2018 event went off the air with Brock Lesnar interfering to build to a Saudi Arabia Universal Title bout.

The equity of the concept -- and the Hell in a Cell PPV in general -- has seriously diminished. Is it time to take a break for the PPV and re-introduce the concept when and only when it's needed? Maybe. However, as I have stated, WWE have seriously hurt the legitimacy of the concept they so famously created.

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