Hell in the Cell. Ever since its inception in 1997, it has been one of the most popular gimmick matches that the WWE has ever created. Originally a rare attraction, the match has been seen more than 30 times and has grown into the yearly centerpiece of the appropriately named Hell in a Cell pay per view. Some of those Cell matches are absolutely legendary, like the oft recounted human demolition derby between Undertaker and Mankind at King of the Ring 1998. Others—like the Taker and Big Boss Man at Wrestlemania XV—aren’t likely to make anyone’s Top 10 list. However, in the middle, there are some really good, really entertaining Cell matches that don’t get quite the attention they deserve. As we approach Hell in a Cell 2015, here is my list of 5 of the best “Forgotten” Hell in a Cell matches. Note that this isn’t a ranking, but a chronological list of Cell battles that deserve a repeat viewing. Without further ado, here is the list…
Triple H vs Cactus Jack, No Way Out, 2000
The Lead Up- The beginning of 2000 was a watershed moment for Triple H. After defeating Vince McMahon at the end of 1999 and winning back the World Title form the Big Show, Trips and Stephanie McMahon were ringing in the start of McMahon-Helmsley Era. One of the first people to resist the new power scheme was Mankind, who had dropped the World Title to Triple H a few months prior. After sustaining a number of beatings, Mankind reverted back to his Cactus Jack persona and battled Triple H in a vicious Street Fight at the Royal Rumble. Cactus would come up short there as well, leading to a “one last chance” opportunity at No Way Out where Cactus put his career on the line for a shot at Triple H’s title inside Hell in a Cell.
Why it’s Awesome- When people talk about Mick Foley and Hell in a Cell, they automatically bring up the match with the Undertaker at King of the Ring. As memorable as that was, this was an infinitely better match, giving us a chance to see what Mick Foley was really capable of in the Cell on the big stage. In a lot of ways, it’s the quintessential Attitude Era Hell in a Cell match. I remember marking out like mad for the appearance of “Barbie”, Cactus Jack’s barbed wire 2×4, a weapon that was eventually set on fire. There was a bump through the announce table, a staple of the Attitude Era PPVs, and the match ended with a great high spot where Foley went through the top of the cell and broke the ring. On a whole, it was an enjoyable match because it meant something. Not only was it blow off match of the feud, but the title and a man’s career were on the line. The match showed not only what the Cell was capable of, but how the Cell match should be used at its violent best.
Six Man Hell in a Cell, Armageddon, 2000
The Lead Up- Closing in on the end of 2000, Kurt Angle had the hot hand at the top of the roster. After winning the championship from The Rock, he would go on to defend it against the Undertaker and again in a 4 way match involving The Rock, Rikishi, and Steve Austin. With all this talent still in the title picture, a match was made by then-commissioner Mick Foley putting Angle, Undertaker, Rock, Rikishi, Austin, and Triple H into the Cell with the title on the line. For some extra storyline drama, the chairman Vince McMahon, concerned about the dangers of the Cell match to the talent involved, spent the entire lead up trying to get the match called off. But of course, the show went on…and what a show it was.
Why it’s Awesome – Kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? You had six of the biggest stars in the company at the time – a few of which are among the greatest of ALL time – battling it out in the Cell for the world title. It’s the type of match you book on the 2K video game, or the type of thing a kid might create with WWE action figures. It was a spectacle, just a crazy match to watch. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see that? WWE had never done anything like it before, and while in some ways this was the spiritual forbearer of the Elimination Chamber, we haven’t seen anything on this scale of insanity since. The match also featured an awesome bump from Rikishi of all people, getting thrown off the top of the Cell into the bed of a truck below, along with a fun finish that saw a chain of finishing moves before Kurt Angle stole a cover. The match didn’t accomplish much in the grand scheme of things, but who cares, it was fun to watch. At the time, it was the 7th Cell match WWE had put on, but the 6 man Cell took us places we hadn’t been before.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker, No Mercy, 2002
The Lead Up- During his meteoric rise to superstardom as “The Next Big Thing” in the WWE, Brock Lesnar ran roughshod over the better part of the roster, crushing rookies and legends alike. After becoming the Smackdown! Brand’s World Champion, Lesnar found himself battling the Undertaker in a feud that became oddly personal when Lesnar and Paul Heyman accused the Undertaker of cheating on his then-pregnant wife. It was also during his build up that Lesnar broke Undertaker’s hand with a propane tank, meaning Taker was coming into the match with cast on his hand that was basically a club, much to the chagrin of Lesnar and Heyman.
Why it’s Awesome- Let’s be honest, this is the match we all want from Taker and Brock at Hell in the Cell 2015. Odds are, we don’t get it. The product has changed a lot since this match, and we can’t expect the Undertaker to be the same performer at 50 that he was at 37. But back in 2002, this thing was a war. Even if you don’t like the soap opera theatrics employed during the lead up, that angle took the match beyond the title and made it personal. You knew it would be a violent affair. Lesnar was already being billed as a destroyer, and of course Undertaker’s Hell in a Cell resume speaks for itself in terms of pure viciousness. This was no exception. Undertaker repeatedly bludgeoned Lesnar with his cast, leaving him a bloody mess. Undertaker got busted open with the steel steps. Even Paul Heyman, who was outside the Cell, was caught in the crossfire as the Taker got a hold of his tie through the cage and then battered him off the structure until he was bloody, too. The match wasn’t over gimmicked with a bunch of weapons, it didn’t have a high spot (although there were many high impact moves.) It was just a battle between two guys for the world title and personal pride, and they made it feel like it was a match that NEEDED to be confined in the Cell.
Batista vs Triple H, Vengeance, 2005
The Lead Up- The old Evolution stablemates had been feuding over the world title since Wrestlemania, so there was a lot of tension built up by the time this match rolled around in June of 2005. Long story short, Batista had won the belt off of Triple H at Wrestlemania, and then he beat him again at Backlash. Just when it seemed that Triple H was out of the title picture, he re-interjected himself (with a sledgehammer) by taking out Batista and demanding a shot at the title inside of Hell in a Cell.
Why it’s Awesome- In a word, brutality. Of course the Cell is brutal, but when you introduce a sledgehammer, a barbed wire wrapped steel chair, the ring steps, a chain, and a sledgehammer, you ratchet that violence up a few notches. These two guys beat the Hell out of each other, ultimately culminating in a Batista giving Trips a bone-jarring spinebuster on the steel steps before winning the match with a Batista Bomb. It a lot of ways this was the blueprint of how most HIAC match should be– there was no high spot, no out of the cell shenanigans, just two guys beating each other from pillar to post with everything that wasn’t bolted down. A hard hitting, bloody, sadistic affair all around. No need to overthink it.
The Undertaker vs Triple H, Wrestlemania XXVIII, 2012
The Lead Up- It was all about the Streak. Undertaker, working his semi-retired, Wrestlemania only schedule, was looking to take his Streak to 20-0. Triple H stood in his way. Undertaker had already beaten Trips the year prior at Wrestlemania XXVII. To add one more level to the thing, at Wrestlemania 26, Undertaker beat Triple H’s best friend Shawn Michaels and forced him to retire, a situation that Triple H wanted to avenge. This rematch between the Phenom and the King of Kings was meant to settle those scores once and for all. Oh, and did I mention that Shawn Michaels was the guest referee?
Why it’s Awesome- You might have noticed a trend here— every match on this list includes either the Undertaker or Triple H. That’s not a coincidence. The two men have seen more Cell matches than anyone else on the roster, and they have the skills to prove it. It was an exciting brawl, but it never felt like the match was about the Cell. The drama of Undertaker preserving the Streak was what propelled it, along with the question of whether Triple H could do what Shawn couldn’t. And speaking of Shawn, he was the unsung hero of this one; his reactions to the near falls and kick outs helped to craft the narrative and to sell the significances of the match. It was a great example of using the Cell as part of the story you’re telling instead of letting the Cell be the story you’re telling, and it seems somehow appropriate that the Undertaker should rise to 20-0 with a win in the Cell.
So there you have it, 5 Hell in a Cell matches worth checking out before Sunday’s pay per view. Or maybe you’ll want to save them for after the pay per view, just in case this year’s stock of matches fails to impress. Either way, these ones are worth seeking it if you want to see a reminder of what happens when WWE unleashes Hell.
Want to talk about your favorite underappreciated Cell matches? You can reach me on twitter @MarkLPhilippEsq Thanks for reading, see you at HIAC!