wrestling / Columns

Why WWE Should Get Rid Of Hell In A Cell & Other Gimmick Match PPVs

June 21, 2021 | Posted by Mishal Shuhaiber
Hell in a Cell Seth Rollins Bray Wyatt The Fiend

Gimmick matches are a hot topic in the world of professional wrestling, now more than ever.

In the past a gimmick match wasn’t the theme of an event or pay-per-view, nor was it something that occurred almost every month, it was implemented for a pretty specific purpose that only occurred on rare occasions. Whether they were used to mark the end of bitter rivalries, testing champions wills during the biggest periods of the year or establish future contenders for the title picture, to most fans these were fair enough reasons for gimmick matches to exist.

Whether it be the birth of the Elimination Chamber to crown a new World Heavyweight Champion, Hell in a Cell’s arrival to settle the bitter blood feud between Shawn Michaels & The Undertaker, TLC coming into existence to truly discover the best tag team on the planet, a deadly 6-man ladder match with the chance at becoming champion at any time over the next calendar year or a 60-minute Ironman Match being the only way to possibly decide who was the best wrestler between Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart. All of these gimmicks weren’t just innovative concepts, they came attached with gigantic stakes behind them.

The existence of gimmick matches always seemed to be about both ‘‘making history’’ but also pushing the boundaries of the product at the time. Each new stipulation regardless of their quality generally created a whole new part of wrestling to further innovate, which resulted in some truly star-making performances and dozens of countless matches that continue to stand the test of time.

Since 2010, however, the tide has changed in regards to how the creative team of WWE views gimmick matches and how they’re booked annually. Gimmick matches are now rarely the final stop of a prolonged feud or exclusively used to build up towards a Wrestlemania-like event, instead, they’ve essentially become the company’s hottest marketing ploy.

A tool used to sell shows to audiences with the gimmick generally being the headline match at the top of each card, followed by everything else.

This approach has come with its advantages, such as shining a spotlight on some of the company’s most popular gimmicks (i.e., Money in the Bank, TLC, Hell in a Cell, etc.) but at the same time hasn’t exactly sat well with a good portion of the fanbase.

And I thought there’d be no better time than with 2021’s Hell in a Cell event in the books to have a look at three simple reasons why the current approach to gimmick matches does more to hurt them than it does to help them.

1. The complete reduction of stakes

Stakes are a hard thing to find within WWE’s main roster product nowadays.

I could carry on all day about the numerous booking errors made over the last two to three years or the state of character development amongst so many stars, but none of these mistakes to me are as great as the complete over-saturation of the company’s gimmick contests. At this present time, it feels like they’re slated in every episode just to spice things up due to the underwhelming writing on display.

RAW in particular is victim to this with their heavy reliance on matches built around objects like a guitar, random career-threatening matches, lumberjack matches, handicap matches and so on. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these stipulations on paper, they suffer when they get shoehorned into a show without any real rhyme or reason.

Maybe it’s more of an old-school mentality, but a gimmick match should come with a build behind it to maximize those stakes, whether it be championship gold on the line or mark the end of a prolonged feud. And without those stakes your gimmick match is just that, a gimmick.

2. A lack of variation

This has been a key critique on my end since gimmick match events became a thing in modern WWE. Despite a plethora of gimmicks at their disposal, only a select few are actually capable of transferring from being a match stipulation to being a fully-fledged event that acts as a banner on its own.

Thus far the Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell, TLC, WarGames and Elimination Chamber have all successfully found their footing in the market not just as fan-favorite stipulations but also as events that take place annually with their respective gimmicks being the key selling point. In these circumstances, it’s a testament to the strength of the gimmick itself that WWE has been able to make it an annual event, yet the same can’t be said for some other instances.

Take the WWE’s attempt to make their Fatal-4-Way stipulation of all things an event in 2010 or the company’s bizarre delve into shootfighting with their ‘Brawl for All’ event over the summer of 1998. Both of these events are proof that not every gimmick has the credibility to carry itself as some annual occurrence and should either be left to settle one or more storylines, or in the latter’s case, just cease to exist entirely. The former resulted in an admittedly underrated event that sadly failed to draw in substantial numbers due to the lack of interest from most viewers, while the latter resulted in countless injuries to company talent and widespread criticism due to the fact that it isn’t what any wrestling fan pays to see.

Some gimmick matches garner enough fanfare to warrant a brand being built around it, others should just be left to be a result of an over-arching story rather than something that forces stories to build around their existence on a calendar. It’s clear that even the current gimmick shows being run are low on steam, so rather than burning out an audience on a match type entirely, it’d be a better idea to shift your approach over to the core of the product.

3. A prime example of lazy booking

More than any other reason on this list, gimmick match shows are lazy. Plain and simple.

This is peak lazy booking on the part of WWE, reducing their efforts at gradually building up long-term stories and characters that lead to an exciting conclusion that progressively lunges the product forward and instead set up events where feuds just happen to intersect with the events as they happen based on the timing.

There’s a fundamental difference in booking a feud over a period of months that leads to a timeless gimmick match to settle a score vs building up feuds over events that are built around gimmick matches. Whichever stipulation these maybe most of us likely agree they’re better off being used as progression or the final stop for feuds rather than an inevitable pitstop as it moves along.

Building up events such as these can be useful from a marketing standpoint, where toy sets and merchandise will obviously have an increase in sales, particularly to younger demographics, but it does little for the long-term storytelling of any brand. At a time when high-profile feuds amongst the newer crops of talent are a must due to how lacking the product can feel, hindering down a structure synonymous with brutality like Hell in a Cell to an annual event forces the creative team into a position where the stakes of that structure are almost instantly reduced.

While exceptions exist, such as The Undertaker & Brock Lesnar’s 2015 classic inside Hell in a Cell to put a rivalry that had spanned over a decade to rest or each year’s Royal Rumble event, it seems like most other examples are simply just really good matches with little to no memorability due to largely underwhelming builds.

Professional wrestling isn’t carried by gimmicks, it’s carried by characters and stories like any form of media, which tend to be lacking when it comes to building up these events. And with the current short-sighted scope of the company’s writing team, it’s no surprise that gimmick events are a go-to. They’re a quick fix when the writing of each brand tends to lack depth, which gives them an easy way out of writing more complex, long-form stories with more satisfying conclusions than what we often receive.

Conclusion

Gimmick events are doomed to fail, I’ll say it now.

While the current structure of WWE places these events at the forefront of each calendar year, the cracks are already beginning to show.

Previous booking blunders such as the Seth Rollins vs ‘The Fiend’ debacle from 2019, the overall booking disaster of the 2020 Mr. Money in the Bank in both Otis as well as The Miz, the lack of brutality in the modern Elimination Chamber or even the underwhelming nature of timeless gimmicks such as the King of the Ring (a title currently owned by King Corbin) have shown how a structural change must be made to make these things work long-term.

More than anything the above examples have shown how a gimmick on its own isn’t enough when the writing you provide for your talent dampens their ability to make these gimmick matches work in relation to their feuds. None of the talent or feuds just mentioned needed a gimmick match to make their characters work, if anything the lack of follow-up or common sense to any of these things damaged the gimmick as much as the characters due to the lack of vision in the long-term.

None of these gimmick matches work because they’re treated as such, not a special event for a special set of talents or an important long-term storyline. Each event is simply plot progression, which was never their purpose prior to 2010 when they were viewed as must-see spectacles that would take the talents involved to their limits.

I personally advocate for the end to these gimmick shows, and somehow restoring credibility to some of my favorite gimmick matches. But based on the current product, the bleak reality is it’s likely that these match stipulations continue to lose their reputation until the booking of the product itself finds better footing.