With this year’s event just around the corner, Matthew Roberts hops into the TWM Time Machine to take a look back at the first ever Hell In A Cell pay-per-view.
Although the Hell In A Cell match made its debut 12 years earlier in 1997 (and for my money, that inaugural clash between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker has never been bettered) it was 2009 before the WWE made it into a named/themed PPV event. To my mind this causes problems; with little long-term booking in the modern WWE you get to the stage where instead of the Cell being used as a killer end to a feud that has escalated to the point that only the demonic structure can contain it you simply get a case of “oh, it’s September/October – lets stick a couple of matches in a Cell”. But still, at least for the most part the WWE have kept HiaC matches unique to this PPV since 2009 other than a couple of occasions when it’s been wheeled out for WrestleMania.
This inaugural show contained THREE Hell in a Cell matches, which certainly seemed like overkill at the time. It’s interesting nine years later to take stock of where the participants are now. The Undertaker has slipped into a “one off legend appearance” schedule who turns up when the WWE have a huge show to pimp out. CM Punk left the WWE presumably never to return. Randy Orton is the only person who still wrestles anything approaching a full schedule, whilst John Cena is another who appears on special occasions only these days. Triple H marries the occasional in-ring appearance with his duties backstage as the heir apparent to the throne, whilst Shawn Michaels has long since retired and despite rumours seems destined never to have that “one more match”. Cody Rhodes is one of the hottest names on the “independent” circuit, whilst Ted DiBiase got fed up with the routine of WWE and wrestling in general and now has left the business entirely.
Only one of the Cell matches is likely to reach the top 10 of anybody’s personal list (and even then, than might be a stretch).
The Undertaker and CM Punk open up the card with their World Heavyweight Title clash in one of those matches that is virtually a regular match that just happens to take place in the Cell. The WWE tried to make the match meaningful in the Cell sense by teasing that there was some big conspiracy against Taker but that was quickly forgotten about on the night. Whilst not a squash, Punk doesn’t really get in that much offence. Maybe those rumours about his refusal to dress in a suit were true… It’s not a bad match, but one that never really feels like a proper use of the Cell. And it’s over in around ten minutes. It’s a decent effort but lacks almost everything that should make a Hell in a Cell match memorable.
It’s a similar case in the WWE Heavyweight Title match between John Cena and Randy Orton. Given these two had a feud that lasted approximately three hundred years there should be enough antagonism and heat between the two to make a Cell match important, but once again for the most part this is their usual match that just happens to be in a Cell. The main problem with this one is that whilst there are some impressive set pieces during the match there’s a lot of the slow, methodical plodding that featured in many of their normal matches. It’s a reasonable effort but they do very little with the extra ten minutes they got over the Punk/Taker match. Cutting this by five minutes and adding those to the opener would have at the very least livened up both matches.
Luckily the third Cell match, in the main event slot, delivers. What immediately helps is that D-Generation X and The Legacy actually make use of the structure/dynamic of the match. Rhodes and DiBiase attack their vaunted opponents on the rampway and were able to isolate Shawn Michaels inside the cell, with a battered HHH on the outside trying to get in. It’s a simple storyline, but very effective. Naturally, HHH makes his way in eventually (via bolt-cutters) and Legacy are no match for him, with a nice twist that a Pedigree to DiBiase outside the structure means that DX can now lock Rhodes in the cell with them alone and get the win. There’s an argument about what a win for Legacy here could have done for them (and the company at large) but that’s often a futile way of looking at things in the WWE. It’s sufficient to say that this was a very good match indeed.
The undercard was a mixed bag.
The Intercontinental Title match between John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler was entertaining enough from an in-ring perspective but was largely devoid of any heat or crowd reaction which hurt is massively. Still, it was better than the Diva’s Title match between Mickie James and Alica Fox, who coincidentally could both have roles on the upcoming Evolution PPV, nine years on. They won’t be showing re-runs of this one in the build-up to that show; it was a typical “Divas” match of the time. Short, not entirely sweet, and not something you ever need to see for a second time. Still, I’ve seen a lot worse in the name of “Divas”.
The match for the Undisputed Tag Team Titles is perhaps the pick of the non-Cell matches. I was never that enamoured with the “Jeri-Show” team of Chris Jericho and The Big Show (it seemed to me to be another one of those missed opportunities when Y2J needed a new partner to go with a tired, old name) but their match here against a similarly Little and Large combo of Rey Mysterio and Batista is a cracker. Great back and forth action, great storytelling and a great crowd make for a…well…great match.
It’s difficult to think that in 2009 Drew McIntyre was a man who on-screen had the honour of being pushed as Vince McMahon’s chosen one. The most memorable thing about his PPV debut opposite R-Truth here is the commentators banging on about Drew being personally signed to the company by Vince himself. The match is boring and whilst McIntyre would in years to come leave the WWE merry-go-round, find himself as Drew Galloway and return to NXT with a huge fanfare it was clear in 2009 that he was not worth the hype. The remaining Triple Threat match over the United States Title between Kofi Kingston, The Miz and Jack Swagger is your typical mid-card multi-man match between people who, at the time, were regular receivers of the stop-start push regime. It’s fine and has some good moments but it’s hardly memorable.
With three Hell in a Cell matches on the show, they were always going to be important in how the show was received. One (DX/Legacy) was very good, the other two were ok but certainly NOT up there with the best of the gimmick. With only the Tag Team title match on the undercard really excelling you’re left with an entertaining enough event but one that falls just short of an unqualified thumbs up.