Sometimes it’s said that too much isn’t enough. However, regarding WWE’s Hell In A Cell match, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What started largely as the blow-off to end all blow-offs in the late 90s and early-aughts WWF, is now a routine. HIAC used to be such a special and exciting gimmick match. Now just a yearly night where two or three of them occur on a single card, and what’s more, sometimes a Cell match will occur at WrestleMania. From 1997 to 2008, not often did fans know when the next one was coming. When a wrestler would aggressively exclaim “HELL . . . IN A CELL”, when informing his rival the environment in which they would fight, the live crowd would roar in approval.
I used to love Hell In A Cell. As a youngster I nearly wore out my Vengeance ‘05 disc, it was one of the only Cell matches I owned. Now, well over a decade later, Hell In A Cell brings me very little if any excitement unless I’m watching a match that occurred before I was in the first grade. I have similar feelings towards the Elimination Chamber, TLC and other gimmick matches.
The Cell match is something to be booked around a feud, not something for a feud to be booked around. Sure, you can book a feud with a Hell In A Cell finale in mind, but it’s only exciting when you don’t know that the Cell is coming every October. When we know that the Cell PPV is happening in October (or June this year), we already have a broad idea of what Cell matches will occur a decent time in advance.
In the first eleven years of the Cell’s life, 16 of them took place. Even then you could make the case that that’s eight or nine too many. Since the inception of the yearly Hell In A Cell pay-per-view event in October of 2009, there have been 29 Cell matches. How could a spectacle of such supposed magnitude possibly be so important when it’s happened 45 times in just under 24 years?
With or without overexposure, the Hell In A Cell is a WWE tradition, a mainstay. The term is synonymous with WWE, it’s a phrase I’ve heard used by non-fans when playfully inciting a faux fight amongst friends, with none of the vitriol that the on-screen feuds contain.
The Cell as a concept is an interesting one when you really think about it. It’s basically a larger steel cage that surrounds the ring and gives you room to work on the outside. You’d think that the giant cage is there to keep the combatants in and everyone else out, but far too often, in what feels like every match, we’ve seen the enclosure breached whether by the competitors themselves or outside parties. Another case of something being overdone.
When you think back to the first Cell match, the 1997 gem with Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, the most memorable part was the debuting Kane ripping the door off its hinges to stick his brother and allow Shawn Michaels to win and become #1 Contender to the WWF Championship. This was a memorable cage violation. All I need to say is King of the Ring 1999 and you immediately think of Mankind tumbling from atop the Cell, granted, he & Undertaker duked out up high before doing so in the ring. If you sat down and binge-watched every Cell match ever, you’d be desensitised from Cell breaching well before the first HIAC pay-per-view.
The original Cell was 16-feet tall, the newer version introduced in 2006 is 20-feet tall. The idea for the WWE to do Hell In A Cell came from Jim Cornette, while the name came from former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Vince Russo. Over the 45 bouts it holds a SPOT rating of 0.75 which is quite low considering how big a deal this match type is perceived to be. 23 of the 45 Cell matches went on last on that evening’s card.
The Lone Star state has held the most Cell matches at nine (five in Dallas, three in San Antonio and one in Houston). Florida follows with seven (four in Miami, three in Orlando). Los Angeles and Sacramento split California’s four. Boston, MA, and Newark, NJ, have three each. Cities or states that have had one or less Hell In A Cell matches take place in them aren’t worth my time.
Just 53.5% of Cell matches have been contested for a championship. The WWE Championship has been vied for ten times, followed by the retired World Heavyweight Championship at six, the Universal Championship at four, the Raw Women’s Championship at two, and with one each are the United States, SmackDown Women’s and SmackDown Tag Team Championship.
82.2% of Cell matches have been mono e mono. Additionally, inside the Cell there’s been a triple threat, tornado tags, 2-on-1 handicap, 3-on-2 handicap, five-way and a six-way. And just when you thought a Hell In A Cell one-on-one match wasn’t enough, we’ve had Falls Count Anywhere and “I Quit” Cell matches. Sometimes less is more.
October is the month of Hell, not just because it is that of my birth, but because 26 of the 45 Cell matches have taken place in October. This can be plainly chalked up to the Hell In A Cell PPV being in October every year except 2018 since its 2009 inception, boasting multiple cell matches per event. June has seen as many as five, followed by September’s four, April & August & December have had two and February & March & May & November have one.
On top of their multiple matches in the confines of the Devil’s Playground, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels have officiated two Cell matches each.
Who is Ms. Hell In A Cell?
Only four women have ever wrestled in the Cell. All known collectively as the four horsewomen of what WWE calls the “Women’s Evolution”, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley. Determining the answer to this question is much easier than I’d like it to be. But what makes it easy is the fact that there have only been three women’s Cell matches, and Sasha Banks has been in all of them.
Sasha Banks has a 1–2 record in the Cell and has spent a cumulative 1 hour 10 minutes 50 seconds in the structure. Her win came when she took the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Bayley in 2020, her losses came from when she lost the Raw Women’s Championship to Charlotte Flair at the 2016 PPV and an unsuccessful challenge for the same title against then-champion Becky Lynch at the 2019 PPV.
Banks has an average WON Star Rating of 3.67 and an 8.22 average Cagematch rating for her three bouts. This is higher critical acclaim from almost half of the top 20 overall Hell In A Cell competitors regardless of gender.
As well as being Mrs. Hell In A Cell, Sasha Banks has main evented WrestleMania. She has won the Raw Women’s Championship, SmackDown Women’s Championship, the NXT Women’s Championship and the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship. Banks and Bayley were the first women to main event NXT Takeover. Sasha Banks is building a resume fit for an all-time great before she has even turned 30.
Who is Mr. Hell In A Cell?
As of May 2021, 44 men have stepped inside Hell In A Cell. 25 of which have only grappled inside the Cell once, and as a result of that lack of experience, they’re automatically eliminated from contention. This leaves us with 19.
- Alberto Del Rio
- Bray Wyatt
- Brock Lesnar
- CM Punk
- Jey Uso
- John Cena
- Kevin Owens
- Mick Foley
- Randy Orton
- Roman Reigns
- Seth Rollins
- Shane McMahon
- Steve Austin
- Triple H
To continue to filter through, another qualifier will be to have won at least one Hell In A Cell match. This eliminates Bray Wyatt, Mick Foley and Shane McMahon. And to eliminate some more, Mr. Backlash will have to have spent at least one cumulative hour inside the structure, eliminating Batista, Brock Lesnar, Jey Uso, Kane, Ryback, Seth Rollins, and Steve Austin.
We’re now left with
- CM Punk
- John Cena
- Kevin Owens
- Randy Orton
- Roman Reigns
- Shane McMahon
- Shawn Michaels
- Triple H
Onward, I’ll eliminate those that don’t have a winning record. Say goodbye to CM Punk, John Cena and Shane McMahon. Now I’ll look at the case for each of the top six.
Kevin Owens’ first Cell bout was a well-worked but largely forgettable Universal Championship against Seth Rollins at the 2016 HIAC PPV. It must be noted that one of the main reasons that Owens vs Rollins is forgettable is because it was one of THREE Cell matches that night. Owens’ sophomore Cell bout against Shane McMahon at the 2017 HIAC PPV was memorable only for the closing spot. McMahon dove from atop the Cell to a prone Owens who was laid across the announce table, only for Sami Zayn to make the save. It’s a fine resume but not nearly enough to be considered Mr. Hell In A Cell. Kevin doesn’t get the rose.
Randy Orton’s first Cell match was December ‘05, his last was October ‘20. Over this decade & a half, Orton has gone 5-3 in Cell matches. His rages in the cage have a 3.53 WON Star Rating average. With that said, when I think Hell In A Cell, I don’t think Randy Orton. There’s been no iconic moment in the Cell involving Orton. The only sort of neat thing to note about Orton in the Cell is that he won the WWE Championship for the 8th and 10th time inside it. I grasped at straws to make more of a case here. Randy doesn’t get the rose.
Roman Reigns is a star of the 2010s, and unfortunately well before that decade was half over, the Cell had been nerfed, it had become a routine, every October by this point. With that said, Reigns is 3-0-1 in the Cell. Reigns beat Bray Wyatt in an unmemorable one in 2015, Brock Lesnar and Undertaker overachieved in the Cell which closed that card. He was involved in the only ever Cell match for the United States Championship when he successfully defended it against Rusev, another match that I have basically no memory of. He had the second ever No-Contest inside the Cell, a finish defying any sort of logic. Braun Strowman had cashed-in his Money In The Bank contract in advance for the Cell match against Roman Reigns and his Universal Championship. The No Contest was called when Brock Lesnar kicked the Cell door in and murked both competitors.
His latest Cell match was his best, an “I Quit” Cell match against his cousin Jey Uso which was also a Universal title defense. Despite his immense talent, Roman Reigns’ prime came long after the Cell’s. This isn’t no, it’s just not now. Roman doesn’t get the rose.
Shawn Michaels was in the first ever and best ever Hell In A Cell match ever. His second was nearly 50 minutes against his BFF Triple H at the 2004 Bad Blood pay-per-view. While on paper a 47-minute Triple H match isn’t appealing and frankly reads as self-indulgent, I think it’s fair to say that this one over-achieved. The rest of the resume isn’t as strong. There was a 2-on-3 handicap where he teamed with Triple H to face Vince & Shane McMahon and the Big Show. This was the debut of the bigger cell we see today, before it was dipped in a pool of red paint. I remember two things from this match; Triple H breaking a sledgehammer on the back of Vince’s head, and then DX putting that same head up the Big Show’s rear-end. Who says WWE hasn’t always aged well?
His fourth and final go-round in the Cell was a tornado tag, teaming again with Triple H against WWE alumni Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes. This match was another one that took place on a card with two other Cell matches. With one classic under his belt, I just can’t justify giving the so-called Mr. WrestleMania the title of Mr. Hell In A Cell. Shawn doesn’t get the rose.
Now for a serious candidate. Triple H has wrestled in the Cell nine times, maintaining an average of 4 WON Stars across the bouts. His first was in 2000 and his last was in 2012. He is 6-3, with two of those wins coming from matches where he teamed with Shawn Michaels (mentioned in the prior paragraph). While it certainly isn’t his best, I want to make special mention of Vengeance 2005. Triple H challenged Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship in Las Vegas, one of H’s only three losses in the Cell. I hold a major soft spot for this as it’s the first Cell match I ever saw. I couldn’t believe the blood, the brutality. At such a young age I’d never seen a steel chair wrapped in barbed wire, or a chain used to try and choke an opponent. It was unreal. I’ve seen this match a ton of times. It’s not the best Triple H outing in the Cell, but it’s an underrated one. Hunter had never been pinned in the Cell before this match. You knew going in that Batista was a beast, but it was after this one that took his badass-ness up a level. Rewatch this one when you can.
Triple H has had a murderer’s row of opponents in Hell In A Cell and is one of the people you think of when you think about that type of match. I really do want to give him the rose, but when you read the next paragraph you’ll understand why Paul doesn’t get the rose.
The Undertaker. When you saw what this column was, you probably thought it was Undertaker all along, and you’re right. No one has wrestled more Cell matches than ‘Taker. His first in ’97 was the sublime Shawn Michaels bout at In Your House: Bad Blood. His last was against Brock Lesnar at the 2015 PPV event. The ‘Taker tally stands at 14, with a record of 8–6. I think it’s obvious that the Undertaker is Mr. Hell In A Cell. There’s aforementioned debut of the Cell, he threw Mankind off the top of the Cell at King of the Ring in ’98, he hung the Big Boss Man in the Cell in ‘99, he threw Rikishi onto the back of a truck off the top of the Cell in ‘00, he chokeslammed Edge through the mat in ‘08 and he had one of the best near-falls in wrestling history in the WrestleMania XXVIII in his Cell match against Triple H with Shawn Michaels in the stripes. Superkick from Michaels, Pedigree from Triple H, 19–1 at ‘Mania looked like a certainty but it wasn’t, and the Sun Life Stadium exploded with disbelief. The collection of moments and memories are a strong enough case, let alone posting two of the most critically acclaimed Cell matches ever. Undertaker gets the rose. Was there ever any doubt?
To end this with a piping hot take, I think that the Cell match at the 2012 WrestleMania should’ve been the last one ever. It makes a ton of sense and I believe it could’ve drawn even more buys to an already stacked event with the first (and not last) ever singles match between John Cena and the Rock. Billed as the “End of an Era”, it could’ve gone down as one last stand for the Cell between the two best that ever stepped foot in it. Think about everything involving the Hell In A Cell since then, all twenty of the matches. If I Thanos-snapped my fingers and took the Cell away from every one of those matches, all we would really lose is a couple of Shane McMahon dives, and that Undertaker-Lesnar match from 2015 which could still be as brutal without the cage. When I think post-WrestleMania XXVIII Hell In A Cell it doesn’t give me the same buzz as it did in the time prior. I think of the ugly red cell. I think of that Seth Rollins-Fiend disaster. I feel that as workrate has become so prominent in wrestling, gimmick matches feel more and more dated. The brand of Hell In A Cell is clearly too strong to retire so we will probably still get 2-3 Cell bouts a year, they will just very rarely elicit the hype that the Cell of years gone by had.