This Sunday, SmackDown hosts this year’s annual Hell in a Cell event, headlined by an eponymous contest between Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens.
Shane is no stranger to hardcore matches, or even to HIAC matches in particular. He’s been in two previous contests, against DX in 2006 and more recently against the Undertaker at last year’s WrestleMania. There’s also an Attitude Era’s worth of hardcore-style matches he did in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, most notably the street fight with Kurt Angle at the 2001 King of the Ring.
In the other corner is Kevin Owens, a man not known for this particular style of match, but who still has a few hardcore bouts on his resume. One of his first big matches was a Cage of Death match in CZW, and even though his WWE career is still young, he did have the ladder match with Finn Balor in Japan, and a HIAC match with Seth Rollins where he was power-bombed through two tables. So he’s not a novice here.
But if you’re expecting a match akin to something from CZW, or even something like the 2001 KOTR street fight I have bad news for you. WWE is PG, which means you can expect lots of action, some big spots, some broken tables, and a few chairs over the back.
Just don’t expect to see any blood.
Look I’m no sadist, and I certainly don’t want to go back to the days when guys were teeing off on their opponents’ exposed heads with chairs, nor do I find the over the top stuff done on some indie promotions in any way tasteful or even clever. I don’t watch wrestling to see a snuff film. I watch it—and I feel silly even typing this out loud—to be entertained. I appreciate a well-told story and you can tell a good story through a variety of mediums, whether it’s on broadway, at the cinema, in a song, a poem, a novel, a TV show or a wrestling match. And like all good stories there has to be believable drama (stakes) or there’s no reason to invest. And without investment, there’s no interest. Without interest, there’s no reason to watch.
Sometimes a drama needs to shed a little blood.
You think the Godfather would have been effective if we didn’t see Michael Corleone shoot McCluskey? The audience needed that bloodshed. A simple cutaway, or a bloodless killing would have ruined the moment. It would have been toothless, when the scene demanded we be shocked. The story needed to show Michael going all-in on the life. When the story calls for it, you have to show it.
WWE has had a thousand stories since 2008, many of them have called for a little blood, but unless it happened by accident or if someone wanted a heavy fine, WWE told all of those thousand stories completely bloodlessly.
And speaking of toothless...
I want to emphasize that I’m not calling for a return to the TV 14/TV-MA days of the Attitude Era, where everything was over the top and tailored to puberty-ridden teenage boys. I’m talking about using all tools of proper storytelling at your disposal and not handicapping yourself 100% of the time.
Hell in the Cell is the perfect example.
The event began as a way to settle the score between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, with the added purpose of getting over the debuting Kane. That was 1997, a good year or so before we would see crimson masks on the regular. WWE was just inching out of the New Generation era and things were still a little too cartoony, but this match needed color and HBK acquiesced. By the time (that’sgottabe) Kane ripped the doors of the cell off its hinges, Michaels’ face was a bloody mess. It wasn’t gratuitous. It wasn’t over the top. It was good storytelling.
On the other hand, the most famous Hell in a Cell match featured Undertaker and Mankind, and for all that Mick Foley endured in the match, the only blood he sheds comes naturally from his mouth. He didn’t need to “blade” because the brutality of…well, everything else, was more than enough.
Yes this is me saying Mick Foley showed restraint in that Hell in a Cell match.
The point is that was an era when the WWF could go all out and had every option at their disposal. Sometimes HIAC matches were ugly, bloodfests, and sometimes they were more about the spectacle of people falling from high places and crashing onto various things. Whatever the story needed, they could tell.
Since the switch to PG, Hell in a Cell is toothless. It lacks the potential for brutality. And considering how this match is supposed to be the end-all, be-all feud-ender, it feels handicapped as a result of WWE’s commitment to the safe rating. I know some fans swear by the Undertaker vs Triple H match at WrestleMania 28, but—Undertaker’s gnarly back bruises aside—for my money that was a snoozefest until the final moments. It was a slow-motion fight between two old men where the most brutal moments featured someone getting hit in the back with the flat part of a chair. I’m sure it hurt…in fact I know it hurt, but it wasn’t particularly engaging as a storytelling construct. The match needed color and “PG” wouldn’t allow it.
That, combined with the now-annual occurrence of the match (where it used to be an ace in the hole match-type, reserved only for special occasions and the biggest feuds), has effectively killed the mystique of Hell in a Cell. One way to get it back, if WWE refuses to take it off the annual calendar, is to promote the event as TV14 and warn that the show may be too intense for younger viewers. And then follow that up with presenting a match where it legitimately looks like two people who hate each other are trying to bloody each other up and kill each other.
This is theater! Sometimes you gotta bleed!
Sound off Cagesiders, do you think WWE should allow for “situational TV 14” and loosen up their restrictions on blood when the situation calls for it? Do you think Hell in a Cell has lost its mystique as an annual event in the PG era? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time, I’m Matthew Martin: I love WWE but everything sucks and I’m never watching it again.
See you next Monday.