If you think I’m afraid of the steel cage…YOU’RE RIGHT! Please God, don’t make me go into the cage! – Stevie Richards
Will they be alright? Is what I thought as Steve Austin and Dustin Rhodes’ crimson masks lodged into my memory. As a kid, should I be watching such brutality? This is War Games, one of the most violent matches in all of wrestling. An everlasting impression left, as Larry Zbyszko accidentally strikes his partner Bobby Eaton with the turnbuckle’s metal connector. Bobby loses the match for the Dangerous Alliance as he writhes in agony on the mat.
Sting’s Squadron enjoy their triumphant win, but at what cost? Was it worth the suffering to plant seeds for fans to grow? Did they need to be so barbaric? Is the savagery befitting of medieval times? Can we afford to set wrestling back thirty years, when it was nothing but steel meeting flesh, blood and guts? I wonder if there is any saving the steel structure, but the child in me fears not. There may be no way back from here.
Promotions have lost the original purpose of the steel cage, because they either don’t understand or have forgotten how it works. There was a time when structures were used not just for the spectacle, but for settling scores. Heated rivalries culminated in a deadly match, one where violence and blood were high on the menu. The wrestlers entered the cage expressing fear for the unexpected. Would they make it out without a trip to the hospital? Who would be the last man standing? Will it finally put their feud to bed? The intrigue was enough for fans to tune in because it was multi-faceted. There were several layers to the cake. The most important thing, however, is it made sense and served a purpose.
Let’s take the latest Blood & Guts match on AEW Dynamite for example. It made sense for the heat between MJF and Chris Jericho, but it was too soon for The Pinnacle & The Inner Circle. This should be what they end with, not what they start with. You can’t be anymore brutal than a match called Blood & Guts. NXT had something similar with the title match between Johnny Gargano & Bronson Reed, but they hadn’t earned it on a personal level. Leading in with heat is the only right way to go about it. Not only that, but the danger factor needs to be drilled in to the audience. Why is a steel cage more menacing than a regular contest? What sets it apart from the rest? When the reasons aren’t sold to us, we can no longer buy it as the terror it ought to be.
You Can’t See Me
An issue we often see in WWE pertains to the under usage of the framework. When pinfall & submission stipulations combine with rarely using the cage as a weapon, is it not just a regular match in disguise? It looks cool, but there’s hardly a difference. And then there’s visibility. A regular cage isn’t terrible, but the red painted Hell In A Cell has not been well received. Even more so when WWE shines the red spotlight for a Bray Wyatt match.
I can imagine Elimination Chamber being tough on those audience members who are sitting behind cells. How did no one notice that the Punjabi Prison was almost impossible to see through because of its two layers? The best cage for visibility that WWE ever had was the old blue structure, and I imagine it was the easiest to climb too. It looks kind of cheap, but WWE could easily bring it up to modern standards.
A symptom of TLC & ladder matches is exacerbated in a cage. How does it make sense that the wrestler who knocked their opponent down takes forever to climb, while the recovering wrestler springs off the mat and leaps up in a matter of seconds to stop them? Should it not be the other way around? And why can’t they do that to win the match? Snail speed scaling gets worse when multiple wrestlers are involved, as you’d expect them to have a higher IQ and climb when it makes sense. Much of the time they only climb when it’s obvious someone is free to stop them. And then there’s my biggest pet peeve.
Jeff Hardy climbs the cage and could easily cruise to the win, but decides in the moment to turn around and risk his life. Seriously, there is no explaining this behavior, even the commentators have a tough time making sense of it. They say it’s because he wants to destroy his opponent, but wouldn’t defeating him be sweeter revenge? The audience wants to see the babyface win the match, but half the time Jeff Hardy goes for the Swanton Bomb and foolishly misses. Why can’t he just win the match, climb back up, and then hit the Swanton? Or wait for the cage to be lifted so he can finish the guy off? We know why he does it. He wants to amaze the crowd, but when you think about it logically, it makes no sense.
The Door Of Doom
Speaking of making no sense, why do cages need a door? And why is walking through a door the hardest thing a wrestler can do? It takes all of our might to suspend our disbelief enough to believe that walking through a door is so difficult. You could just power bomb the guy and walk out (or baseball slide) in a matter of seconds, but WWE has managed many dramas over the door. From outside interference to Mark Henry ripping off the lock, WWE has done just about everything you can think of.
The point of keeping wrestlers in is lost, because it’s easy as pie to get involved. Why can’t cage matches be decided by escape over the top, like it was back in the day? Having a door, pin falls and submissions defeats the point. The only time a door should be ripped off anything is when a monster like Kane debuts to confront his brother, The Undertaker. If someone finds a way in to a cage, it needs to be breathtaking, and when it’s too easy to escape through a door, it needs to be reinforced so the wrestlers have to find fresh ways to get around it.
Both AEW and NXT have used high flying spots in their cage matches and versions of WarGames. AEW’s first cage match will be remembered more so for the Moonsault spot than the rest of the action. NXT WarGames has a tradition of high spots because the structure doesn’t have a roof and even has a platform for this purpose. Blood & Guts was violent and exciting, but will be remembered more so for Chris Jericho’s soft landing. Long ago, wrestling promotions didn’t make it so obvious as they were smart at disguising their landings. It didn’t look like wrestlers fell on to a fluffy bed of pillows, but it isn’t the only issue going against today’s wrestlers.
Collectively, Mick Foley & Shane McMahon ruined future matches back in the 2000s. Nothing will ever be more wild than Foley’s falls from Hell In A Cell, and Shane O’ Mac was falling from titantrons long before anyone thought of it. We don’t want wrestlers putting themselves at risk of severe injury, it’s a different era and there’s no need to go overboard. Foley’s falls should never be emulated because he was in real danger. It was reckless and any promotion would ruin their reputation to put their talent in harm’s way. Never again will we see anything as jaw dropping, which makes today’s spots anything but shocking.
While we are on what came before, I remember how treacherous the original Elimination Chamber was. The areas outside the ring had no padding and the cell walls weren’t made of plexiglass. They surrounded the original cells with sugar glass which shattered spectacularly when crashed through. These two things made the Elimination Chamber more vicious and unforgiving, and it lost much of its edge when they were replaced.
When superstars crash through the plexiglass it doesn’t shatter, making for an uncomfortable-looking spot. We can understand and appreciate WWE protecting its talent, but it feels like the Elimination Chamber isn’t the threat they originally brainstormed it to be. And when there’s no blood and an over reliance on high spots, it makes me wonder why they didn’t book a TLC instead. Finally, I think the PPV suffers because they slot it in-between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, rather than having it at another time of year.
The last thing I want to bring up is gimmick PPVs, such as Hell In A Cell & Impact Wrestling’s Lockdown. I’m not a fan of PPVs revolving around a match type. Like I said earlier, WWE should reserve Hell In A Cell for when it makes sense to end a feud once and for all. We haven’t seen Impact’s Lockdown PPV for years and it was usually booked so every match was in a cage. It’s fun for the first few matches, but by the end there’s nothing new to see.
What hurts these shows is building feuds in a short time to fit the gimmick, instead of the gimmick complimenting what is already an entertaining program. They should be used sparingly to enhance and not for the sake of plugging an annual event. Doing this has poor results, as evidenced by our disappointing recollection of them. I can hardly remember the PPVs because nothing stands out, but I can remember the six-man Hell In A Cell from Armageddon 2000. It sucks that I remember cage matches from decades back, more so than those from two or three years ago.
Are steel cage structure matches worthy of wrestling anymore? Yes and no. It’s always fun to see, even more so for new viewers who have never seen them before. However, I believe they need to be tweaked, not to be more dangerous, but to be more intriguing. Use them when it makes sense, to end a storyline, and certainly not for a random title match or as a stepping stone to something else. Treat them with respect. Sell the danger factor to the moon. Learn how to make them memorable without having someone throw their body on to another from a great height.
There’s so much untapped potential there, but I don’t believe anyone will find it soon. If the matches aren’t violently heated, then I’d rather see something fun like a TLC. I would very much like to see cages worthy of wrestling, but the business has forgotten how to make it so. With that said, I would like to read your thoughts on cage structures in wrestling. Do they need saving? Would we be better off without? And do you think we need a new type of cage match? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments and thank you for reading!