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For generations, the steel cage match has been the supreme feud settler, forcing longtime rivals to fight one another without outside interference or shenanigans until one comes out -- often literally -- the winner. Fifteen years ago this month, the then-World Wrestling Federation was introduced to a remixed version of the traditional steel cage match. The match would simply be known as 'Hell in a Cell'. Following a match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker at the previous month's PPV that lost all semblance of control, combined with Michaels costing Undertaker the WWF Championship at that August's SummerSlam, a steel cage match was concocted to settle the feud.
What was unleashed was a steel cage the likes of which was never seen before in the company's long history. As Jim Cornette, the man credited with the creation of the gimmick, said in "Kayfabe Commentaries'" Timeline of WWE: 1997, it was a combination of a cage that surrounded not just the ring, but the immediate ringside area (a popular design in Memphis territory wrestling events), and a roof enclosing the competitors (similar to those used at NWA/WCW events, particularly "War Games"). The only similarity to a traditional steel cage match is that the competitors would fight until there was a winner via pinfall or submission. Unlike a traditional cage match, escape means nothing.
Here's a brief history of a structure that was once called perverse, vile, diabolical, and satanic. And those are the nice things that are said about Hell in a Cell.
This part will focus on the Hell in a Cell match in the Attitude Era:
1997: Ain't nobody crazy enough to do this gig, except for the Heartbreak Kid. Well, he and The Undertaker (who would be in twelve of the twenty-five HIAC matches ever). Might as well get two of the most reliable performers on the roster to break it in, right?
Though the cell is designed to keep the competitors padlocked in, an injury to a cameraman forced officials to open the door, and that only made Michaels' bad night even worse. Unable to mount a significant offense, Shawn was lawn-darted Rey Mysterio style into the cage, causing him to bleed, and HBK would take the infamous drop through the Spanish announce table. (It's only the third most famous drop from the cell.) They eventually did get back inside (and they padlocked the cage... again), and Undertaker KILLED Michaels dead with a chairshot similar to the one that cost him the title two months prior.
Ready to put the match away, the lights go dead, and Kane (who had been teased for months that he was coming for the Undertaker) came for the Undertaker. So of course Kane broke down the padlocked door by ripping it off its hinges, attacked Earl Hebner, and dropped Undertaker on his head with the Tombstone Piledriver. Michaels mustered just enough energy to get the pinfall and the win. Side note: this was a #1 contender's match, with the winner facing Bret Hart for the WWF Championship at 'Survivor Series' a month later. Then that whole thing in Montreal happened. I saw it in a movie once. The match is every bit as worthy of its five-star rating from Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It would be the last WWF match to get such a rating until last year's WWE title match between John Cena and CM Punk.
1998: Good God almighty! Good God almighty! That killed him! Oh my God! As God as my witness, he is broken in half! Here's a little 'Did You Know?': there were actually three Hell in a Cell matches in 1998, all within a span of ten weeks of one another. All three had Mick Foley in his Mankind persona. Two of the three were on RAW is War, and those two ended in no contests. (RUSSO BOOKING!) The match has not appeared on a RAW show since (though there was one in a post-show dark match in 2011). It's the middle one in Pittsburgh on June 25 that everyone remembers to this day. It's perhaps the defining match of the Attitude Era, and one of the most viewed matches in wrestling history.
Prior to the match, Jim Ross foreshadowed that "the pain these two men are prepared to endure is inhuman". Mind you, Undertaker and Mankind went through a lot together: Buried Alive, boiler room brawls, hardcore matches. What's a Hell in a Cell, right? Looking to settle a two-year beef, Mankind dared Undertaker to step to him at the top of the cell. At the beginning of the match. Of course, Undertaker took him up on it.
It was clear almost right away that there was no way the cell was going to hold up two 300-pound men for a long period. Not that it mattered, as just 90 seconds into the match, Undertaker tossed Foley some sixteen feet to the Spanish announce table below, to the shock and awe of millions.
Mind you, this was PLANNED.
It was certainly over with Foley being stretchered out and everything, but he was of the "win or die trying" mindset, and Foley got off the stretcher and climbed up again. Of course Undertaker followed. And just like six minutes earlier, it ended badly for Foley, as Undertaker chokeslammed Foley through the cell, and the chair he brought up came down with him. HARD. Yeah, if Foley isn't dead before, he is now. Terry Funk, Sgt. Slaughter, and a bunch of officials check on Foley, while Undertaker is looking to kill anyone and everyone in the way of his prey.
In another memorable image, Funk was chokeslammed out of his shoes. Literally. Moments later, in perhaps the defining image of the Mankind character, he smiles and sticks out his tongue through a hole in his lip. Not to mention, dude has a tooth up his nose. How do you get a tooth up your nose? Amazingly, Foley mounts an offense.
FOLEY MOUNTS AN OFFENSE.
A missed dive by Undertaker busts him open, and Foley hits taker with a SICK pulling piledriver on a chair. And as if this match wasn't sick and deathmatchy enough, Foley breaks out the bag of thumbtacks. Undertaker's looking to drop Mankind on his head onto the tacks, but Mankind counters to the Mandible Claw. He hooked it on from behind, and that was ultimately his undoing, as he gets backdropped on the tacks. He gets up almost immediately (perhaps a testament to the craziness of the man and character), gets chokeslammed, gets right back up, and then tombstoned (thankfully, not on the tacks) for the win.
Pittsburgh gives both men a well-deserved standing ovation. Foley walks out. Yeah, he not only lived to tell the tale (some of which he cannot remember), but HE WALKED AWAY on his own power. Amazing. Six months after the match, Foley would win the WWF title for the very first time. By the way, 4.5 out of 5 rating by Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
1999: Is Bossman being hung in effigy? Why yes, Michael Cole, he is. In recent years, the WWE has distanced themselves from the lone Hell in a Cell match in 1999, and until six months ago, the only Hell in a Cell match in all of Wrestlemania history. Can't blame them really. In the Hell in a Cell DVD compilation, this match got left out. Yeah, think about that one. The two RAW Hell in a Cell matches get in, but not this one. In fact, at the time of its release, it had EVERY Hell in a Cell match EVER. Every one but this one. (Edit: the Undertaker-Edge match from 2008 was also left out, but only because the DVD was in the late stages of production.)
Good call, because this one was awful. I'll fast forward to the end for you. Post-match, The Brood comes out from above with a noose. They eventually get the noose in the cell from above, and wrap Big Bossman's neck around said noose. Then Paul Bearer pulls the lever and the cell goes up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this Hell in a Cell ended with a (kayfabed) HANGING. Not that it mattered, as Bossman was on RAW THE NEXT NIGHT, and this (kayfabed) hanging was never properly resolved. (More amazing, the two end up in the same stable less than a month later. RUSSO BOOKING!)
Before it was made into a yearly PPV, this match was the black sheep of the Hell in a Cell family. Still is, as it got a DUD rating from Wrestling Observer Newsletter (that's zero stars out of five. Not the worst match of Wrestlemania XV, by the way. That went to Sable vs. Tori, which rated -2 out of 5.) Another reason why WWE has distanced themselves from this: Ray Traylor, the man behind the Bossman character, died in 2004 of a heart attack. He was just 41 years old.
2000: It's over. It's all over. There were two Hell in a Cell matches in 2000, and ironically, they both played a part in ending Mick Foley as an on-screen character. The first, in February, occurred at No Way Out, and it was Triple H's WWF Championship against Mick Foley's career, with a win for Foley (here as Cactus Jack) getting him his Wrestlemania main event. The WWF seemingly learned their lesson from nearly two years earlier and went overboard on the padlocks, confining the two rivals in the cell. It didn't matter.
Foley in an attempt to nail Triple H with steel steps, misses and breaks the cage. Of course the two would end up on top of the cell (after Hunter got spike piledriven onto the announce table. The English one this time. The one that didn't break.) And just as it did in '98, it ended badly for Foley, but this time, not nearly as bad. Cactus Jack refuses to stay down and climbs back to the top of the cell. He nails Triple H with a FLAMING 2x4 WITH BARBED WIRE. Jack's subsequent piledriver gets countered by Triple H, and Foley goes through the cell. Unlike in '98, they gimmicked the mat to cushion the fall. Not that it mattered.
Triple H kicks Foley's arm to make sure he's out. He wasn't, but after the Pedigree, he was. Foley's career and Wrestlemania dream are both over... or so we thought. Two Mondays before Wrestlemania 2000, Foley got his Wrestlemania main event thanks to Linda McMahon. Though the match in parts was a blatant attempt to recreate the classic from '98, the emotional aspect and the high stakes still warrants the 4.5 star rating from Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
The other encounter from that year was a six-man Hell in a Cell match at Armageddon, featuring Kurt Angle defending the WWF Championship against Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rikishi, Triple H, The Undertaker, and The Rock. It's a mixed bag for some, but seeing the top five guys in the WWF... plus Rikishi (taking a sick chokeslam bump from the top of the cell to a truck bed full of wood chips) is a spectacle if nothing else. That was probably the idea.
Chaos and panic and sheer insanity. It's like the end times confined to a few square feet or something. Kurt Angle survives the mess, but how did Mick Foley play into all this? Prior to the match, Foley said he would resign from his commissioner post if anyone suffered a severe injury in the match. Rikishi did, but Foley reneged on his resignation the next night. The following Monday, Foley was fired by Vince McMahon. Surprisingly, this match also got 4.5 out of 5 stars from Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
In the next part, I'll detail matches from the Ruthless Aggression Era.
Editor's Note: This FanPost proofed and promoted to the front by Cageside Seats on Oct. 23, 2012. Be sure to read 'Part II' of this awesome series from The Notorious Eddie Mac which can now be found right here, and check back soon for 'Part III'.
Which of these Hell in a Cell matches was your favorite?
1997: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (11 votes)
1998: Undertaker vs. Mankind (16 votes)
2000: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (2 votes)
2000: Kurt Angle vs. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Undertaker vs. Rikishi (4 votes)
33 total votes