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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: Gimmick Pay-Per-Views Need To Take A Long Walk Off A Short Cliff
By Maverick
Oct 21, 2016 - 12:34:23 PM

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Gimmick Pay-Per-Views Need To Take A Long Walk Off A Short Cliff

Gimmick matches have always been a part of professional wrestling. The concept likely originated with the need to finish feuds conclusively, hence the various types of no holds barred matches (which are essentially the same match by different names), the I Quit match and the steel cage match. Meanwhile, the battle royal was a popular attraction due to the sheer spectacle of twenty large men trying to throw each other over the top rope. During the WWF supremacy of the 1980s, we began to see much more specific match types. The early history of Wrestlemania features a Body Slam Challenge, a boxing match, a midget mixed tag and a post match angle which led to a series of haircut matches over the next few years. In 1987, the Survivor Series elimination match was born, and a few months later, the reverse battle royal, otherwise known as the Royal Rumble, exploded into our existence.

While gimmick matches are nothing new, it is certainly true that they increased in quantity and regularity as we moved into the 1990s. Arguably, the Attitude Era often used the many hardcore variants as a crutch as the WWF fought a gruelling viewing war with WCW. Having said that, events such as the Three Stages Of Hell match at No Way Out 2001 between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H showed that Vince and Co still understood that such bouts needed to fit the feud that was being fought. I'd argue that this changed decisively during the first Brand Extension, when the numbing regularity of gimmick matches in heatless feuds became de rigeur. Even something genuinely original like TLC or Money In The Bank was soon watered down by endless repetition and a descent into stunting for stunting sake, while the Royal Rumble suffered a rough stretch between 2010 and 2015 which severely tested the patience of the fanbase. The fact is that these bouts were no longer special and were no longer booked, with the odd honourable exception, to match the feud. Nowhere was this more evident than in the interminable Randy Orton vs John Cena feud of 2009, where a string of PPV matches with different gimmicks were inflicted on the world. Matters ended with an excellent Ironman Match, but by then, it was difficult for anybody to care.

Sadly, WWE took this anodyne approach a step further with the introduction of gimmick pay-per-views later that same year. Suddenly, we had Breaking Point (a show vased around submission type matches...unsurprisingly it only lasted for one iteration), Hell In A Cell (taking one of the more awe inspiring gimmick matches and making it an annual occurrence), Bragging Rights (a series of matches between the two brands for supremacy; an odd timing choice there considering how weak the brand split had become by 2009), TLC (booking a whole card of matches involving tables and ladders and chairs, with a main event featuring all three), Elimination Chamber (a renamed No Way Out, which had already featured a pair of Chamber matches for a couple of years prior), Extreme Rules (a jumble sale of gimmick matches of all sorts, which grew out of the popular ECW: One Night Stand revival events), Money In The Bank (taking the popular multi-man ladder match for a WWE Title/World Heavyweight Championship shot out of ‘Mania and putting on a separate match per brand), and Night Of Champions (all titles defended...even though...most pay-per-views had all titles defended). Now, one could convincingly argue that The Royal Rumble and Survivor Series are gimmick pay-per-views and also that Cyber Sunday/Taboo Tuesday had already tested the waters for the expansion of the concept. However, separating match types from stories and feuds proved a near disastrous move in the long term. The TLC concept grew organically out of the rivalry of three stellar tag teams. Divorced from them, it became meaningless noise. Money In The Bank originated as a way to get prominent upper midcarders on the Wrestlemania banner; its spontaneous explosion as a yearly storyline prop thanks to the genius of Edge’s rise to the main event swiftly created a formula WWE felt compelled to keep following long after it was stale. All of the “hardcore” gimmicks are heatless without a story to justify them. And it may be best not to mention such nonsensical things as Stairs Matches and Asylum Matches.

In my opinion, Hell In A Cell matches have suffered the most from this absurd yearly calendar. Like clockwork, once per year, WWE shoehorn two matches (this year there will be three, but I'll come to that later) into the eponymous cell, and a category of bout which was once reserved for the most heated of feuds now means next to nothing. In the six editions of the show to date, only three matches deserved, or to put it another way, merited, the Cell. Legacy vs DX was the culmination of an angle which should have put Cody and Ted over for life. It remains a fantastic modern cell match. Meanwhile, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins absolutely nailed their tribute to the original Taker vs Shawn match in 2014, ending the first chapter of their rivalry in fitting fashion. Other than that, it is largely a sea of mediocrity and the odd good match which would have been a good match without the Cell anyway (Cena vs Del Rio vs Punk comes to mind there).

Now, until recently it seemed that 2016 was incredibly backing away from the gimmick pay-per-view strategy. Recent additions like Battleground, Fast Lane and No Mercy are just good old fashioned special events such as we were used to seeing in the years before 2009, while the NXT Takeover events have built themselves on a solid foundation of old school pro wrestling booking. Particularly when I heard about the neo brand split, I naively thought that this was another nail in the coffin of the gimmick pay-per-view, and so was dismayed to realise that Hell In A Cell would not only be continuing its lame existence but would become a single brand Raw show, with three (THREE!) Cell matches. Not only do we have Charlotte and Sasha in a Cell basically just because it hasn't been done with the women before, and bah gawd they're going to self consciously posture about roster equality whether the story suggests those performers should be in the Cell or not. The Raw emotion in the women's division is in Bayley and Sasha; I'm not going to be convinced that Charlotte and Sasha is some kind of heated rivalry. They've hot potatoed the title and that's about all there is to it. In addition, Owens vs Rollins has stalled amidst a lack of clear direction to the story, and Reigns vs Rusev has similarly slowed down after some excellent interaction with the world title challengers in the run up to Clash of Champions. I do not really have high hopes about any of the three cell matches this weekend.

The bottom line is that all gimmick matches need to be soundly based around the twin virtues of story and character, or they mean very little. Hell In A Cell especially suffers from overexposure and the awe factor being conclusively absent without the proper storyline synergy. You cannot simply put a match in the Cell and believe it will be a hard hitting classic. And the same goes for any gimmick. Maybe one day WWE will realise their folly. In the mean time, forgive me if I’m not exactly hyped for Sunday.

This is Maverick, requesting flyby.