Hell in a Cell, the merciless structure often referred to as “the devil’s playground”, has been the stage for some of the most brutal moments in pro wrestling history.
It’s name alone invokes memories of the carnage that has been housed within it’s demonic steel walls. Since it’s introduction in 1997, one man has found himself locked inside the Cell more than any other; the Undertaker. The Phenom competed in the first Cell match, threw Mick Foley from the top at King of the Ring 1998, and even hanged Big Bossman from it at Wrestlemania XV. Taker has stepped into the Cell 14 of the 38 times it’s been lowered around a WWE ring, so it’s not hard to see why most fans connect the two entities.
However, as the years have passed, several Cell matches have taken place without the ominous presence of the Deadman adding to their overall suspense. Hell in a Cell has proved itself to be just as fear inducing without the inclusion of the man who, in the minds of many, made it famous.
With that being said, I’m here today to give you my Top 5 Hell in a Cell matches not involving the Undertaker.
5. Chris Jericho vs Triple H (Judgment Day 2002)
Two future Hall of Famers facing off with nothing other than the opportunity to mutilate each other on the line. What could be better, right? Hunter and Jericho met three months prior to this at Wrestlemania X8, with the latter losing the Undisputed WWF Championship. After eventually losing the title himself, Triple H would find Jericho’s meddling to be the greatest hinderance to his goal of reclaiming Undisputed gold. Hell in a Cell served as the perfect battleground for a grudge match between these two.
Early on, it’s fairly easy to see why this era of pro wrestling wasn’t considered “kid-friendly”. Jericho repeatedly refers to Hunter as “you son-of-a-bitch” throughout the match. Even referee Tim White is heard dropping some vulgarities while demanding the combatants keep the action in the ring. Foul language aside, this match doesn’t lack in gasp inspiring action moments. Y2J monkey flips The Game into the Cell wall, a move that now seems pretty commonplace in this type of match. Tim White takes a nasty bump from ring apron to Cell wall, only to end up the victim of an assault by Jericho after said bump results in a missed pinfall for Y2J.
When officials open the Cell to attend to a bloody Tim White, both Jericho and Triple H make their way outside the structure, leading to Jericho eating a DDT through the Spanish announce table. As the match nears it’s conclusion, Jericho and Triple H wage war atop the Cell’s roof with Mike Chioda trying to officiate the fight without falling through the Cell himself.
This is a perfect match to introduce someone to Hell in a Cell. Not overly violent, but captivating enough to show why the Cell is still being used in present day wrestling.
4. WWE Championship – Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton (Hell In A Cell 2013)
A match that shows the Cell doesn’t always have to include blood, gore, and over the top spots. Bryan and Orton meet in the Cell to determine who will hold the recently vacated WWE Title, with the fans choosing Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. What this match lacks in violence, it makes up for in storytelling.
Daniel Bryan is painted as the epitome of underdog in this feud. The “YES movement” is still in the early stages of it’s hype, finding it’s first road block in the newly formed Authority faction. The fans are fully behind Bryan, but the powers that be are not having any part of it. HBK’s presence only heightens the drama. Both his longtime friendship with Triple H and training of Bryan are brought up, leaving his loyalties very much in question as the match moves along.
Highlights include: Daniel Bryan missing a suicide dive attempt, impacting head first into the chain link wall. Multiple spots involving the use of the ring steps by both competitors. Bryan filling the ring with steel chairs, only to have Orton superplex him onto a pile of them. And, of course, both Triple H and Michaels involving themselves in the ending of the match.
Compared to the other matches on the list, this one may seem lackluster, but it shows that a decent Cell match was still possible in the fledgling days of the PG era. Focusing emphasis on storyline instead of over the top violence creates a different level of suspense within the Cell walls. Although, I will say that I doubt it would have been as watchable without Daniel Bryan assuming the face role.
3. SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship – The New Day vs The Usos (Hell In A Cell 2017)
One of the most polarizing rivalries of WWE’s modern age. The overwhelming talent of both these teams makes any match between them an absolute must see, and this Hell in a Cell match is no exception. This is a barn burner from beginning to end.
You can literally feel the tension as both teams step into the Cell. The Usos and the New Day deliver a tornado tag brawl of epic proportions. The match begins with all four men armed with weapons found under the ring. Speaking of foreign objects, Woods and Big E maintain some of their usual popcorn wrestling humor with the weapons they elect to use. Rainbow striped kendo sticks, multiple trombones, a cow bell, and even a gong are included in their arsenal. The Usos, on the other hand, opt to use the classic divide and conquer strategy mixed with a certain amount of gangland mentality.
The corner running hip attack normally utilized by Jey and Jimmy is now used at ringside, driving Xavier’s head into the Cell wall. A chair is thrown to counter the New Day’s first attempt at the Midnight Hour. After Woods and Big E try to capture one of the twins by using kendo sticks through the Cell to trap him in the corner, the Usos respond by handcuffing Xavier to a ring post and repeatedly cracking kendo sticks across his midsection.
This is a subtle nod to the first Cell matches. The idea being, when a rivalry gets this heated, the only logical place for it to conclude is Hell in a Cell.
2. Raw Womens Championship – Charlotte Flair vs Sasha Banks (Hell In A Cell 2016)
You’re out of your mind if you thought the very first women’s Hell in a Cell match wasn’t making this list. The historical significance alone is enough earn this one a mention, but it’s the talented performance of both women involved that earns it the #2 spot. This confrontation proves, without a doubt, that the ladies of WWE can do anything their male counterparts can do. This is, in my opinion, one of the best Cell matches to happen in WWE’s current era.
Charlotte launches into a full on assault before the Cell is completely lowered. While trying to escape up the exterior of the Cell, Banks receives a power bomb through the Spanish commentary table. Fans are then presented with the threat of the match ending before the opening bell has even rang, as Sasha is hoisted by paramedics onto a stretcher. Of course, Banks makes it back into the ring before her inability to compete is fully announced, and the bell finally rings.
As you watch this battle unfold, it’s incredibly tough to believe that it’s the first time either woman has stepped into Hell in a Cell. Sasha hits a suicide dive, lands a Guerrero-esque frog splash, and even counters a figure 8 leg lock with a well placed chair shot. Charlotte, not to be outdone, nails a stiff looking big boot, and incorporates a chair in a side slam spot. I’ll admit the finish seems somewhat rushed, but it certainly doesn’t take away from the sheer greatness of this match.
1. WWF Championship – Cactus Jack vs Triple H (No Way Out 2000)
How do you follow the legendary street fight Cactus Jack and The Game had at Royal Rumble 2000? Well, you make their second encounter the same type of match that nearly ended Foley’s career two years previously, then you add the stipulation that if Cactus loses he’ll be forced to retire. Nice, right?
After watching all these matches during my research for this article, I knew this undoubtedly had to be numero uno.
Matches like this are the reason so many diehard fans praise the Attitude Era as the golden age of professional wrestling. Foley’s desperation to main event Wrestlemania, coupled with the threat of his untimely retirement, ensure the emotional investment of the viewer. Truthfully, I feel like there’s not much I can say that will do this classic any kind of justice. You really have to sit down and watch this one yourself.
Nevertheless, I owe you fine readers a few highlights. There’s the usual monkey flip into chain link wall spot. Cactus adds a steel chair to his infamous elbow drop to ringside. Triple H is the victim of a stump-puller piledriver administered through the Spanish announce table. Foley pursues Hunter up the Cell exterior with barbed wire wrapped 2×4 in hand, only to be sent falling through a commentary table himself. Eventually both men end up on top of the Cell, and seeing the image above, you can probably make an educated guess about what happens there. Do yourself a favor and watch this match. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
So, there you have it, folks. Five amazing examples of why the Undertaker isn’t a requirement for a great Hell in a Cell match. Here’s to the hope that this Sunday’s matchups are no exception to that very statement.