Significant firsts for women's wrestling in WWE at 'Hell in a Cell'

By Mike Tunison  |  Last updated 10/26/16

After years of no more than a cursory focus on women’s wrestling, WWE reacted to online outrage in early 2015 about women’s matches being given the short shrift and insulting storylines with a promise of a revolution for what was then called the diva’s division.

There have been some false starts along the way, though Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view marks a big milestone in that campaign, as Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair will fight for the WWE RAW women’s championship in what is both the first women’s Hell in a Cell match and the first women’s match to main event a WWE pay-per-view event.

For those unfamiliar, the Hell in a Cell structure is essentially a larger chainlink version of a traditional cage that also has a roof, preventing combatants from climbing out, which is typically the goal of a traditional wrestling cage match. The Hell in a Cell is, then, less a gimmick match than it is a conventional wrestling match with one big potential weapon. Wrestlers can be thrown into the walls. Even though matches begin within the cage, oftentimes they progress outside of it, with wrestlers being thrown off the sides or the top, which measures 20 feet off the ground. Basically, it’s an excuse for someone to take a big bump.

There have been 33 cell matches in WWE since the structure was introduced in 1997, and this will be the first to feature women wrestlers, which is something the company is not being shy about promoting. On the go-home show of Monday Night RAW this week, Banks and Charlotte had a contract signing for the match, moderated by RAW general manager Mick Foley, who is certainly no stranger to cell matches, since he took part in the most gruesome and best remembered of them, at 1998’s King of the Ring event. Foley, who wrestled then as Mankind, was thrown off the top of the cell through a table, then later slammed through the top of the cell onto the ring. 




Eventually, he was chokeslammed onto thumbtacks before being pinned by The Undertaker. All told, Foley suffered a concussion, a dislocated jaw, a dislocated shoulder, and had a tooth knocked out, among other injuries.

On Monday, Foley presided over a strange segment in which he kayfabe warned Banks and Charlotte about the dangers of stepping into the cell, while also praising the WWE for ushering in a new era by letting women take part in a match that was once considered too barbaric for them. We could do without WWE patting itself on the back, especially in a way that comes off as patronizing, though even getting this far would have been hard to imagine even a year ago.

Banks and Charlotte have been central to WWE’s renewed focus on women’s wrestling over the past two years. Along with Becky Lynch and Bayley, they were part of a class of celebrated women wrestlers called “The Four Horsewomen” (it’s a reference to another famous wrestling staple) to come out of NXT, WWE’s developmental promotion. There, they faced off several times for the NXT Women’s Championship before both were promoted to the main roster in the summer of 2015, debuting in a RAW segment in which WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon promised a revolution in women’s wrestling. 



At Wrestlemania 32 this past April, Banks and Charlotte took part in a triple threat match with Becky Lynch, which was initially scheduled to be for the Divas championship. Just before the start of the match, WWE debuted a new women’s championship belt, replacing a pink sparkly thing that looked like it had been sold at a Claire’s, and thankfully retired the name divas as a shorthand for women wrestlers.

Charlotte won the triple threat to take the new belt, though she was effectively retaining the title she already held since September 2015. In the last six months, only Charlotte or Banks have held the belt, which is now the RAW women’s championship as a result of a brand split WWE conducted in July. If that all sounds a little convoluted, that’s because it is, but the main takeaway is that Charlotte and Sasha have been the most important women wrestlers on the roster for some time. 

At the beginning of October, the two main-evented Monday Night RAW, the first time a women’s match had closed out an episode of WWE’s flagship weekly show in 12 years. Banks defeated Charlotte to capture the belt for the second time. It was a match in which both wrestlers showed they were willing to take risks that should presage what we might see Sunday, including a corkscrew moonsault off the top rope to the outside of the ring by Charlotte.



Hell in a Cell matches are typically used as the blow-off for a long-standing feud. Sasha and Charlotte have put on solid matches against one another over the past six months, and have a few classics in NXT, though it’s integral for the long-term success of the women’s division that they move on to other feuds while other wrestlers, such as Bayley, get a shot at the title. Still, Sunday’s match has all the makings of a memorable one, and surely WWE will have something crazy happen given the placement and buildup for this match.

Sunday’s Hell in a Cell event will be held in Boston, which is Banks’ kayfabe home, as that was where she got her start as a wrestler. Banks is already the face, so she would already be expected to be cheered, though hopefully this is just another factor that helps keep the crowd in the match.

There are numerous indie promotions that are well ahead of where WWE in terms of gender representation. That said, for the mainstream, WWE is still the most recognizable promotion out there by a significant margin, so the fact that it’s finally having a women’s match headline a major show is a big deal. There is more progress to make, though the fact that there are reports that WWE is planning an all-women’s tournament in early 2017 indicates that WWE is serious about the changes it once promised.

Mike Tunison is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. and the former editor of Kissing Suzy Kolber. You can follow him at @xmasape on Twitter.


QUIZ: Name every wrestler who has been in a Hell in a Cell match

As of WrestleMania 32, there have been a total of 39 WWE Superstars who have been sealed into Hell in a Cell. Can you name all of them since the structure's inception in 1997?

NOTE: Clue is the number of appearances.

Score:
0/39
Time:
7:00
14
The Undertaker
9
Triple H
6
Randy Orton
5
CM Punk
4
Shawn Michaels
4
John Cena
4
Mick Foley
3
Kane
2
Batista
2
Brock Lesnar
2
Alberto Del Rio
2
Stone Cold Steve Austin
2
Ryback
2
Shane McMahon
2
Seth Rollins
2
Roman Reigns
1
Kurt Angle
1
Mark Henry
1
The Big Boss Man
1
Rikishi
1
The Rock
1
Chris Jericho
1
Kevin Nash
1
Vince McMahon
1
Big Show
1
Edge
1
Cody Rhodes
1
Ted DiBiase
1
Sheamus
1
Dolph Ziggler
1
Jack Swagger
1
Paul Heyman
1
Daniel Bryan
1
Dean Ambrose
1
Bray Wyatt
1
Rusev
1
Kevin Owens
1
Charlotte
1
Sasha Banks
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