Tonight’s Hell in a Cell Match between Universal Champion Roman Reigns and Rey “The Victim” Mysterio has to have fans wondering if the match has finally jumped the shark. The WWE’s special take on the steel cage match has been circling the drain for the last few years thanks to it being used as a themed pay-per-view, but tonight’s match on free TV (aka SmackDown) shows how it’s just another match and how the WWE has no understanding of basic booking.
Now before anyone feels the need to remind me that Hell in a Cell matches have aired on free TV, that was back in the ancient 90s before the WWE realized how special the match was.
Back in the day, certain matches were reserved to end a feud, with the idea being that wrestlers had exhausted all options for pummeling their opponents merciless and/or getting a fair shake without any outside interference. That’s where the steel cage match worked so well whether it was the locked cage common in the National Wrestling Alliance or the WWF’s cage where you won by escaping (kind of anticlimactic in my opinion but it worked). The Hell in a Cell took things further as wrestlers battled in a steel cage on steroids, the results being some dare I say, hellacious matches.
That’s not to say every Hell in a Cell was a masterpiece (who can forget the dreaded Hell in a Kennel Match between the Big Bossman and Al Snow) but most were exceptional. That is until the WWE decided to make a pay-per-view that revolved around the Hell in a Cell. Granted, it wasn’t an all-cage event like TNA’s LockDown pay-per-views, but it often forced the WWE to book wrestlers into cage matches when there was still plenty of life in the feud. Things really hit the wall when the WWE started booking wrestlers in Hell in a Cell Matches at the start of their feud. This was seen in 2019 when Seth Rollins battled the Fiend for the first time in a Hell in a Cell match, forcing the WWE to book one of the stupidest endings ever with the referee stopping the match (despite the idea being a match could only be won by pinfall or submission). Things weren’t any better last year when Sasha Banks battled Bayley in the cell for their first proper match (their previous encounter was a nonsensical TV match that ended in a disqualification).
While no one seems to be sure why the WWE moved the Hell in a Cell Match to SmackDown (one tit further diminishes the match’s novelty and is another sign how desperate the WWE is to pop their ratings.