Ah, yes. Hell in a Cell. Despite the fact that the WWE has effectively killed the meaning of this match by turning it into an annual pay-per-view, there have been some memorable matches contested in the cage. Here I'll give you my personal top 5. I'm a mark for top 10 lists. The reason this list is only a top 5 is because, of all the Hell in a Cell matches there have been, I only felt like 5 of them were worth mentioning. Off we go.
5. Six Man Hell in a Cell - Triple H vs Rikishi vs Undertaker vs The Rock vs Steve Austin vs Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship - Armageddon 2000
Already, I'm sure I've upset a few of you. This match, I feel like, is really under-appreciated. The build up was kind of weak, sure and it reeked of the "fit everyone you can into the main event" booking mentality but I thought it was a lot of fun. Mick Foley was the "commissioner" at the time, which was likely the most highly annoying gimmick of his career. They used Foley as the foil to Vince who didn't want the match to happen in the storyline because he wanted to protect his investments. That would lead to an important moment during the show. The match itself was solid if not spectacular. The fact that there were 6 guys put a strain on any sort of continuity between two guys but they managed to make everything flow pretty well. There ended up being a lot of random brawling but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Two guys would pair off and go at it with various switching off occurring between who was fighting who. I liked how they found a way to pit each guy against each other and gave everyone time in the spotlight. 4 guys would brawl on the outside and 2 guys would do their thing in the ring. The previously mentioned McMahon angle at the time called for him to bring out a truck to supposedly take the cage down. Of course, that was just so they could bring a flatbed out that was conveniently filled with kennel bedding shavings. They brawled everywhere in this match, from the outside on the car props to the top of the cage. They teased Triple H falling off the cage onto the truck but Rikishi was the one who ended up taking the bump. Say what you will about the bedding, that was an insane bump by Rikishi to fall straight back from that high up. The only problem with the match was the anti-climatic finish. Had they done that better this would have been higher up.
4. Batista vs Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship - Vengeance 2005
I wasn't much for Batista at any point during his WWE run. But if there was ever a time to get behind him it was when he finally made the babyface turn on Evolution and took the title off of Triple H. This was the final match in a series of three against him. Batista has the distinction of being one of a select few to actually come out of a program with Triple H looking better than the Game. Batista was always pretty limited in terms of what he could do in the ring but this match was done beautifully. Triple H sold like crazy and bled all over the place for him. They used quite a few weapons, like the sledgehammer and chairs and steel steps but they didn't need overly big bumps to make the match great. I loved the way they ended it, with Triple H grabbing the sledgehammer right when Batista picked him up for the Batista Bomb but couldn't hit him with it before he got slammed. The Game has been in 8 HIAC matches and only Batista was ever allowed to get a clean pinfall win. This was actually the last great Hell in a Cell match.
Join me for the top 3 in the extended entry.3. Cactus Jack vs Triple H for the WWE Championship and Foley's Career - No Way Out 2000
Here is what makes this match so amazing. Just one month before these two had a 5 star street fight at the Royal Rumble. Somehow they would have to find a way to top that and they did so using the Hell in a Cell gimmick to go along with the Foley having to retire if he lost angle. I'm not as bad as Scott Keith but we all know how bullshit retirements in wrestling are. This one was no different. After losing, Foley was back at Mania a few weeks later. He did take a 4 year break as an active wrestler but he's still wrestling today, so what does that tell you? The retirement angle did lead to a nice moment after the match that felt genuine when J.R. said of Foley as he walked out, "Goodbye, my friend". Foley had a ton of heat here as they really did a great job of playing him up as the underdog. Triple H and Stephanie were monster heels that it was impossible not to hate. The bump Foley took off the cage and into the table was a little too choreographed but executed well to keep Foley safe. They also did the right thing in helping create the big spot where Foley fell through the cage and then through the ring. It was set up but looked good enough to give you enough doubt to buy it. Triple H's acting skills are marginal at best but he actually did a decent job of looking slightly concerned after the fall. As I said before, after Triple H won, Foley walked out looking down it felt like he was actually leaving. A great match.
2. Undertaker vs Mankind - King of the Ring 1998
This match will forever live in infamy. For all the insane bumps that guys were taking in the early 2000's like the Hardy's and Dudley's, none of them compared to what Mick Foley did to himself in this match. He's been quoted as saying that he talked to Terry Funk in the back about what to do in the match and Funk told him to start it on top of the cage. Foley said that he knew he was going to get thrown off onto the announce table and when he watch Taker toss him, you can see that he guides himself down using the cage to swing him over so he lands on his back. Nevertheless, it was one of the craziest bumps ever done and it partially is responsible for raising the bar and causing so many guys to try to recreate big spots like that in the future. After going through the table and legitimately getting hurt, they brought out a stretcher and started to wheel him to the back. Of course, he climbed off halfway there and climbed the cage again to continue the match. The next huge bump, from all reports, was not planned, although it almost looks that way. Taker grabbed Foley to do the chokeslam and when Foley hit the cage it gave way and he went crashing into the mat below. I've embedded a clip of it below:
The fall temporarily knocked Foley unconscious and the chair that hit his head knocked one of his teeth out. Terry Funk actually took a chokeslam from Taker to give Foley more time to recover. Incredibly enough Foley continued to wrestle and took a big back drop onto a bunch of thumbtacks. He also took a chokeslam on the thumbtacks. He probably took a couple of years off of his life in this one match alone. Unbelievable. He would later say that he can't remember anything from the match due to the concussion he suffered from the chokeslam through the cage. It's certainly a match that no one else will ever forget.
1. Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels - Badd Blood 1997
The very best Hell in a Cell match was also the very first Hell in a Cell match. HBK was in his peak as a performer, both in the ring as a wrestler and in the back as a ruthless political player. He had pretty much stolen all of Bret Hart's heat the month before as the special referee in a match between Taker and Hart at Summerslam for the WWE Championship. After Hart spit in his face, he tried to hit him with a chair and instead clocked Taker costing him the title. So they set up the first Hell in a Cell match and gave it main event billing while Hart was relegated to a Flag match with The British Bulldog. The match was notable for a few reasons. It marked the final time that Vince McMahon would do commentary at ringside. It saw the debut of current World Heavyweight Champion Kane and it was rated a 5 star match by none other than Dave Meltzer himself. Michaels is better than anyone in the history of wrestling at selling his opponents offense and making every move look good. Mick Foley may have raised the bar by legitimately getting hurt by taking the huge bumps he took against Taker but HBK was the originator. He was the first to get knocked off the cage and into the announce table. He was first to climb the cage and get bodyslammed on top of it. It's easy to lose sight of how amazing it was at the time because of everything that came after it, mostly the Foley-Taker match, but this was an incredible bout. Loved the pacing and style of the match and the ending was perfect. Taker was about to go for the Tombstone after kicking Michael's ass all over the place and that's when the lights went out and Kane made his way to the ring. After hitting Taker with the Tombstone and taking off, HBK dragged himself over, blood dripping all over his face, and draped his arm over Undertaker for the pin. DX came out and carried Michaels out. They told a perfect story if there ever was one. Also in this match was possibly the greatest blade job in WWE history.
Once Taker and Michaels make their way outside the cage, HBK hits Taker with a dropkick. When he attempts another, Taker catches his legs and catapults him into the cage. As he is being lifted up into the cage, Michaels blades. I tried to find a video of just the blade job but could only find this. Skip to the 3:13 mark to see the moment I'm talking about.
Barely saw it, right? Yes, the ref is in the way a bit and they change cameras right when he is about to hit the cage but you can just barely see if you look close enough. Brilliance. To illustrate how great HBK was, here is a video of Randy Orton trying to do the same thing and failing miserably.
That's about as obvious as it gets. I might be marking out a bit here for something small like a bladejob but I feel like it really drives home how great that first Hell in a Cell match really was. To me it was the greatest of all time.