At one time, a steel cage match was the ultimate backdrop for settling disputes between two parties. If a feud had found its way between the iron bars or unforgiving fencing, fans knew that tensions had to be bad for things to get that far.
The cage often brought out the worst in wrestlers, inspiring a primal savagery on their part as they tortured their rivals, using only the cage as a weapon to dish out punishment or serve justice, depending on who was doling out the abuse.
But over the years, the cage has lost its shine. Once the star of the match, the cage has become a fenced-in warehouse for chairs, tables, kendo sticks, trash cans, and every other weapon that’s become standard fare in regular matches.
At NXT Deadline, Kiana James and Roxanne Perez had, for the most part, what resembled an old-fashioned cage clash as they took turns slamming each other’s heads and bodies into the cold steel. At one point, James slipped Perez’s hand through the fencing and began kicking at her arm.
It was simple brutality at its finest.
But as they marched toward the finish, James tried escaping the cage but reached under the ring instead and grabbed a chair. After Izzi Dame rolled up and smashed the cage door in Perez’s face, James used the chair to help put her foe down.
For the most part, the match was going well and resembled the cage matches I had grown up watching. But the introduction of a foreign object left me disappointed. Once again, the cage played second fiddle to a prop fans see on the regular.
Part of the problem with the modern cage in WWE is the lack of blood associated with the exhibition. In the old days, a wrestler would bleed almost immediately after their face struck the steel. Today, WWE takes a different approach to blood, stopping a performance for medical personnel to administer aid to a wounded superstar.
At WrestleMania, the demonic match known as Hell in a Cell, which is supposed to trump the barbarity of the traditional cage, was halted for several minutes so Finn Bálor could get sewn up after getting split open by Edge and his use of a ladder. While I support WWE’s attempt at protecting the performers, as a viewer, it’s hard to buy in on a match advertised to be a career-shortening, lifer-altering event when the referee has to put on their gloves and call in the nurses to tend to a cut.
Because the steel can’t be weaponized for bloodshed like it was in the old days, today’s wrestlers rely on the same tired weapons seen in regular matches to get a rise out of the crowd. It’s as unfortunate as it is lazy as few seek new ways to incorporate the cage in such a way that projects violence that is plausible for spectators while remaining a somewhat friendly program to advertisers.
However, I’m slightly more hopeful after watching James and Perez work at Deadline. For 15 minutes or so, they beat the snot out of each other and found a way to make the cage work for them. Though it wasn’t perfect, theirs was a scrappy affair that was a refreshing break from the norm, making the cage the star of their tale, at least for the most part.