When I hear the words “steel cage,” I think of two things:
1) A towering, fence-like structure, designed to prevent all outside interference and keep the action inside the ring
2) A devastating, no-holds-barred contest meant to be the final chapter in a bitter rivalry
The steel cage match between John Cena and Dolph Ziggler on the 20th anniversary edition of Raw was not a steel cage match. Not as far as I'm concerned. For starters, outside interference factored in heavily—with Big E Langston spending almost as much time inside the ring as either competitor. Even worse, though, was the fact that this contest will ultimately be seen as just another standoff in the ongoing Cena/Ziggler feud.
Don't get me wrong: The match was entertaining. Cena and Ziggler have gotten to know each other quite well in recent months, and this reality made it difficult for either to actually eke out a win. The creative ways in which each man tried to best the other made for one engaging spectacle. Still, the anticipation for Cena vs. Ziggler in a steel cage was almost nonexistent. There was little advance promotion for the match, and nothing about its execution indicated that this feud had reached its zenith. The lack of a slow build served to render the cage more of an expensive prop, and less a meaningful setting for a major showdown.
The brutality of the cage was also understated. And sure, the structure isn't as unforgiving as the Elimination Chamber, nor as foreboding as Hell in a Cell. Despite this, cage matches have played an important part in the evolution of pro wrestling. That's why it's such a shame that the classic steel cage match seems to carry such little weight in the modern WWE landscape. Too often, cage matches are invitations for multiple villains to attack a lone fan favorite in an enclosed setting. (Some wrestlers seem to be able to break into cages more easily than wolves get into straw houses.) Other times, inferior competitors are launched through cage walls and doorways onto arena floors. In other words, these aren't the cage matches of Starrcade or Saturday Night's Main Event.
None of this is meant to suggest that there aren't still fitting environments for the biggest WWE feuds to be resolved. If anything, structures like Hell in a Cell and the Elimination Chamber have carried the spirit of the “classic” cage into the new millennium. If we are going to see another cage match on Raw, though, I'd like to know about it a few weeks in advance. It should seem like a big deal. The doors should be bolted shut, with ringside officials swallowing all the keys to prevent outside interference. Reinforce the cage walls, so that an airborne grappler can't fall through them, “accidentally” winning the match. If these contests are going to continue to exist, it's important to honor the legacy of the cage—a structure that allows wrestlers to settle their differences with an air of finality, free from runaway competitors and meddling managers. This goes for Raw, TNA's annual Lockdown show, or any old event with a fence around the ring for a match or two. Make the cage count, or don't bother.