In preparation for this weekend’s PPV, Mishal presents the Top 5 Hell In A Cell matches!
In 8 days, WWE presents what is widely referred to as its most brutal, unforgiving & punishing night of its calendar year. The one night of the year where rivalries are settled, blood is spilled (or teased, since we exist within a PG setting) & careers will be altered for the rest of time as superstars step inside ”The Devils Playground”, ”Satan’s Structure” or a variety of other nicknames to list off as they step inside Hell in a Cell.
For decades the cell has been positioned as the company’s most ominous structure, packed with violence, dread or a sense of brutality that is generally reserved for the most personal of feuds. The early days saw the likes of Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H & Mick Foley define the cell itself, while in later years WWE saw it a fitting opportunity to brand the structure itself into its very own PPV event starting in 2009, to a fairly mixed response. While the cell matches of the modern-day pale in comparison to the quality of its earlier renditions, Hell in a Cell is still an event the company tries to pour some form of personal stakes into for the sake of making this feel like more than just another show based on a popular gimmick (e.g. TLC, Money in the Bank, etc.)
But, much like any other event based on a gimmick, now is the time fans generally reminisce on what the past has offered them. Sometimes what the worst of a certain scenario has been, but in today’s case, the best of what has become one of the company’s most accomplished gimmicks amongst hardcore & mainstream fans alike.
So, in this list I’ll be listing the very best Hell in a Cell matches dating back to its 1997 inception at a time when the tides of the wrestling world were shifting in ways nobody saw coming. As always, this list does hold some form of personal bias since I’m the one deciding what goes in, but any & all comments are always welcome!
The Undertaker vs Mankind – King of the Ring 1998
For the sake of historical purposes, no list discussing the most memorable moments in the history of the Hell in a Cell concept can be discussed without mentioning the now historic collision between The Undertaker & Mankind at 1998’s King of the Ring. It wasn’t just the match that has defined the career of either man involved, but one of the most iconic contests in the history of professional wrestling of its blatant violence, unpredictability, life threatening risks & some of the greatest calls to come out of the mouth of J.R. Jim Ross in the man’s entire career to this very day.
While this may very well be the most iconic match on this list to many, the reason it isn’t featured in my personal top 5, is because it simply wasn’t that much of a traditional ‘match’ in any real sense. In spite of the ludicrous punishment inflicted on Mick Foley’s most famous alter ego & the story this ended up telling to those watching in person or at home, there are certainly other matches I could name that work better as an all-around contest. I’d imagine this may rub some people the wrong way depending on your stance, but I think other contests deserve more recognition since we are talking about the very idea of a ‘match’ here, and not the moments the structure has brought us since its inception.
5. Kurt Angle vs Steve Austin vs The Rock vs The Undertaker vs Triple H vs Rikishi – Armageddon 2000
Arguably the greatest example of the WWE’s creative team basically taking all of its top talent from the late 2000’s, shoving them into the most violent structure they’d conjured up to that point & doing the equivalent of what 8-year old me used to do in my early days of watching wrestling, simply smash my action figures into one another for a good 30 minutes on end.
There was nothing pretty about the Hell in a Cell match that headlined 2000’s Armageddon but there was never meant to be anything pretty either, it was a car crash, a beautiful one nonetheless. Featuring Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Triple H, Rikishi (in the midst of his hilarious heel turn), Undertaker & of course, The Rock, this match was insanity from bell to bell, never slowing down & always giving you something to drool over from an action standpoint. Every star had a moment to shine, every spot worked due to the chaotic energy of the live audience, the violence was as vicious as ever & this all told an incredible story of the never-say-die attitude of Kurt Angle at the time who was defending his WWE Championship. What’s most impressive is the matches ability to balance all the star power on hand, never leaving anyone, even Rikishi, to linger in the background with everything happen within the ring.
Even the storytelling from outside the cage was pitch perfect as Vince McMahon at one point attempted to do the unthinkable by quite literally pulling the cell down with the competitors within it, only to result in The Undertaker throwing Rikishi off of the cell in one of the most incredible spots the structure has ever witnessed. It was a once in a lifetime spectacle, the kind that can never be replicated again due to its timing in terms of the era it existed within, the star power on hand & just how unhinged an Attitude Era audience once regardless of what you fed them.
4. Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker – No Mercy 2002
I’ll admit it, this one is a bit of a personal favourite of mine more than most people I’m aware of.
The Undertaker & Brock Lesnar have had matches I’ve always been a sucker for, from their tendency to simply maul each other onto the verge of death, beat each other’s bodies up into pulps or their incredible ability to tell a story in the ring through simply selling a body part, their matches have always been ones I tend to revisit on multiple occassions. So much of today’s wrestling is jam packed with flips, kicks, dives & endless sequences that it takes away from what wrestling is at its core, it’s a form of art that wouldn’t exist if you can’t tell an effective story to translate into your action between the ropes.
And that’s what Undertaker & Brock Lesnar did at the 2002 No Mercy event, tell an incredible story as the WWE Championship hung in the balance.
What happened in this contest wasn’t necessarily centred around the use of ”foreign objects” as so many other cell matches are, it was a good, old fashioned brawl within the confines of a steel structure between two titans. The match perfectly captured the nature of the old vs new guard, as Undertaker, a war-torn veteran was consistently one-upped by the far younger, more agile & more aggressive Brock Lesnar who targeted Undertaker’s ‘broken’ arm like a shark smelling blood in the water. Despite Hell in a Cell so frequently being referred to as a stipulation favouring violence before anything else, this was anything but that, with The Undertaker’s selling & emotion in particular being the standout element of an unforgiving contest that feels so much more brutal than most other cell matches.
It could be the selling, the story, the performance put on by Undertaker to ensure Brock Lesnar looked like the phenomenon he truly was, the simple violence relying solely on bodily punishment or the matches brutal pace, but there’s a quality this match holds that makes its brutality so much harder to watch than many of the other matches I rewatched before writing this. If you haven’t watched this overlooked gem of a contest, it’s an incredibly high recommendation from me.
3. Batista vs Triple H – Vengeance 2005
If your favourite Hell in a Cell matches are the ones focused on sheer brutality & sheer brutality alone, I’m not sure there are any out there more violent, sadistic & torturous as the war engaged between Triple H & Batista at Vengeance in 2005. This match served as the capping off of an intense feud which served to cement Batista as one of the biggest stars of his generation, culminating in his title victory at Wrestlemania 21, subsequent victory over ”The Game” a month later at Backlash and this final, decisive chapter in their months long feud within the WWE’s most brutal structure.
In terms of what Hell in a Cell represents within the context that WWE presents it, this is arguably the best example of it to the casual fan. Whether you look for blood, barbwire steel chairs, steel chains, sledgehammers, steel steps or an ungodly amount of punishment taken by Triple H to get his former protege over, this was Hell in a Cell down to a tee. Both men went into this looking strong & came out even strong, in particular Batista who lived up to his moniker of being deemed ”The Animal” perfectly, beating the life out of one of the company’s top guys at the time with everything he had.
Considering the in-ring ability of both men being more reliant on heavy blows or sudden bursts of offense, it’s no surprise that this match was the best in their series of matches by a longshot. Neither former Evolution stablemates are wrestlers who’ve put on ”mat classics”, but both went into this seeking a fight, and what we got was one of the best you can come across.
2. Triple H vs Mick Foley – No Way Out 2000
Just for the sake of context, to understand the shoes this match had to fill going into it is something that needs to be discussed. Besides carrying the infamous title of being a ”Career Threatening Match”, Triple H & Mick Foley had the insurmountable task of following up their 2000 Royal Rumble classic over the WWE Championship in Madison Square Garden just weeks prior to this bout, a match widely hailed as amongst the finest of either man’s professional careers. Their initial match was one packed with insane levels of brutality that many thought could never be topped, but nonetheless both Triple H & Mick Foley’s alter ego ‘Cactus Jack’ stepped into Hell in a Cell with a purpose in mind, steal the show.
And the two legends did just that, creating a match which was sadly undermined by the events that followed at Wrestlemania 2000 in regards to the character of Mick Foley, is still one of the finest Hell in a Cell matches to date just off the top of my head.
Not only did this serve as a jaw dropping final contest to a feud filled with insane degrees of violence, in a lot of ways this felt like the ultimate ‘swan song’ in the career of Mick Foley, at least within the confines of this very match. There were countless call-backs to Foley’s infamous dive off the cell back in 1998, use of classic weapons that helped define his career but also an attempt to up the ante by adding fire into the mix, as well as Foley making an already painful dive look all the more painful by basically plunging himself through the ring. Additionally, you had Jim Ross who continued his streak of adding to Mick Foley’s iconic moments with his ever-incredible calls on commentary & a rabid crowd that despite likely predicting the result, showed their love for the Hardcore Legend in spades.
Even though the intention & long-term impact of the matches stipulation wasn’t followed up effectively afterwards, greatly damaging its integrity in the long run, this was the kind of spectacle that makes the cell such an eventful environment for rivals to interact within, especially when it comes to capping off one of the annual blood feuds the company tends to put on. While my issues with it stem more from its follow-up as for the contest itself, it stands on its own as a fantastic match in every right.
1. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – Badd Blood 1997
Is it too generic to place this at the top of my list due to how done to death placing this match at this position is?
Good, because I couldn’t care less when a match is as beautifully booked as The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels inside Hell in a Cell takes place & doesn’t get all the recognition it so rightfully deserves.
This match is what a match placed at the top of any ”Best of” list should be, a standard-bearer, a trend setter, a game changer, a match packed with a plethora of iconic moments, cements the legacy of the stars involved & most importantly, leaves fans with more questions or curiosities going out than they had coming in. Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels accomplished everything I just listed, along with providing the iconic introduction of one of the generations most interesting characters in Kane alongside Paul Bearer at the matches’ end.
Even the action was unlike anything seen at the time, at least by the usual standards. Upping the violence generally seen by audiences up to that point from WWE, feeling like somewhat of an ushering in of the Attitude Era for some but also doubling down on the new, ‘edgier’ direction the product was seemingly going down at the start of the year with stars such as Steve Austin bringing in a new persona to the product. Simply revisiting this match today feels so much larger than you’d expect because of the historical significance this resembles, not just now but even back when it originally aired in 1997.
For being the boundary breaker that it is, for cementing itself as one of the most important matches in wrestling history & playing a significant role in ushering in the largest boom period the industry has ever seen, I can’t think of a single match more worthy of being at the top of this list than The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels.