Once upon a time, the Hell in a Cell match concept was utilized to put the final exclamation point on some of WWE’s most bitter rivalries. The promise of blood, sweat and tears heightened the excitement level of the fans heading into the match, and the battle on display would typically make each competitor involved look tough and noble in the eyes of the audience going forward.
It’s no surprise that some of the best rivalries in WWE history have culminated inside the “Devil’s Playground,” because the structure adds something to the feud that an ordinary ring just can’t.
Naturally, the continued overexposure of the gimmick with the annual Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, paired with the fact that the PG WWE rating has streamlined the level of violence we’ve come to expect from the match type, has lowered fan expectation with regards to the cell concept.
At this point, unless we see an exception like we did at both WrestleMania 28 and 32, the use of the structure each October feels forced, as opposed to being a natural way to bookend a heated rivalry.
The traditional basis for introducing Hell in a Cell as a storytelling mechanic has particularly been turned on its head this year, as new United States Champion Roman Reigns gears up to hopefully lay his lengthy feud with Rusev to rest inside the structure when Monday Night Raw hits its second brand-exclusive PPV in Boston later this month, at the eponymous event.
This rivalry has definitely seen its fair share ups and downs since the build towards SummerSlam kicked off, and at first, fans welcomed the refreshment of having “The Big Dog” take a dip in the line-up in favour of a U.S. Championship feud. But after Rusev’s brief period of time away following the event, the buzz surrounding the two men went straight out the window and the prospect of seeing Reigns defeat “The Bulgarian Brute” and capture the gold became predictable and outright boring.
The matches they had both at Clash of Champions and on Raw the next night for the championship were ill-received by the fans, for being too long with not enough build-up. It put a bitter taste in a lot of fans’ mouths and led many to hope that the rematch was scheduled so soon after the initial title win so that Reigns and Rusev could both move onto other things.
But lo and behold, one week later the news was broken that these two behemoths will go at it inside the historic Hell in a Cell structure with the title on the line in just over two weeks.
In contrast to the old mentality of this match concept being used to take a strong rivalry to the next level and cap it off in as big a way as possible, Roman Reigns and Rusev actually need the Hell in a Cell match to mask the fact that this feud’s shelf life has long been expired.
Sure, you can argue that the animosity between Rusev and Roman Reigns is too much to handle for a simple one-on-one encounter, and thus needs to take place within the confines of Hell in a Cell — which I’m sure WWE will run with heading into the event, but in actual fact, the stipulation is the only thing keeping this rivalry alive, and that doesn’t just go for the match itself.
The build-up has become extremely stagnant over the last month, and the interaction between Lana and Roman Reigns has gotten quite creepy to the point where it’s difficult to look at Reigns as a babyface when he constantly belittles the relationship that Rusev and Lana have built together.
At least with the implication of a brutal display at Hell in a Cell, the next few weeks can be built around the fact that either of these two men could be taken beyond their breaking point between those four walls, and completely changed by the events that take place when the door is locked.
The only problem is that, as fans, we’re not being directed towards a phenomenal display of heart and soul when these two square off once again, simply because their previous encounters have been lacking in any hint of it. Hell in a Cell is supposed to magnify the fervor between the two competitors involved, not pull it out of a hat, so the match is almost destined to fall flat at the end of the list when it comes to impactful and memorable cell matches.
Make no mistake, Roman Reigns and Rusev are solid workers in their own respect, but it’s undeniable that the spark between them has long been blown out. As such, despite the athletic display Hell in a Cell is sure to be, but given that the stipulation has grown synonymous with highly emotional moments — even with the over-saturation in recent years — it’s highly unlikely that this match will be much to write home about when it’s all said and done.
That comes as quite a blow to Rusev, who really needs to head back into the mid-card with as much steam as possible if he’s not going to be holding the title anymore, and for Reigns, who is in dire need to make a good impression as a worthwhile United States Champion.