Once upon a time, a column called The Five Count brought together writers from across the Place to Be Nation to discuss the issues of the day…but working with others can be hard, so now one man will do it himself! Enjoy the subjective opinions of Ben Morse as he compiles top 10 lists, attempting to compensate for less opinions with more words!
33 men have stepped into the Hell in a Cell since the demonic structure debuted at Badd Blood in 1997. Some have made their mark or had marks made on them, and immortalized themselves in the process; others barely scratched a dent on the twisted steel. Let’s run down the 10 competitors who—in my opinion—have left the most lasting impression on Hell in a Cell.
10. CM PUNK (lost the World title to The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell 2009, lost to Alberto Del Rio in a three way match also involving WWE champion John Cena at Hell in a Cell 2011, defeated Ryback to retain the WWE title at Hell in a Cell 2012, defeated Ryback & Paul Heyman at Hell in a Cell 2013)
The work ethic of the “Best in the World” actually hurts him here, as his decent showing in 2011 against Alberto Del Rio pales when held against a too-short-to-matter pairing with an injured Undertaker plus a duo of stinkers involving Ryback; still, with four matches and his unparalleled skill, Punk makes the list.
9. JOHN CENA (lost the WWE title to Randy Orton at Hell in a Cell 2009, lost the WWE title to Alberto Del Rio in a three way match also involving CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2011, defeated Randy Orton at Hell in a Cell 2015)
John Cena has put together a respectable resume inside Hell in a Cell—two solid outings against Randy Orton, the first ever three way match held in the confines—but nothing spectacular. Unlike CM Punk, “The Champ” does have going for him that due to the relatively low amount of matches, he didn’t put up any air balls.
8. EDGE (lost to The Undertaker at SummerSlam 2008)
Despite only venturing into Hell in a Cell once, Edge seems like the type of guy tailor made for the situation. Between his mastery of using foreign objects to enhance a match and the manic emotion with which he can sell his own sense of peril, the “Rated-R Superstar” did not disappoint in his SummerSlam showdown against The Undertaker, a payoff to their lengthy 2008 feud in which he seemed to outfox his foe at every turn until getting locked inside his worst nightmare.
7. RANDY ORTON (lost to The Undertaker at Armageddon 2005, defeated WWE champion John Cena to win the title at Hell in a Cell 2009, defeated Sheamus to retain the WWE title at Hell in a Cell 2010, lost to World champion Mark Henry at Hell in a Cell 2011, defeated Daniel Bryan to win the vacant WWE title at Hell in a Cell 2013, lost to John Cena at Hell in a Cell 2014)
Until I did the research for this list, I didn’t realize that Randy Orton had competed in a healthy half dozen Hell in a Cell matches, more than just about anybody outside the true stalwarts of the stip. Despite being hampered by lowered expectations for cage matches in the PG Era, “The Viper” still squeaked in a brutal contest with The Undertaker before blood became taboo, and brought his typical chemistry with John Cena to their pair of encounters.
6. BROCK LESNAR (defeated The Undertaker to retain the WWE title at No Mercy 2002)
As has been the pattern for most of his career, Brock Lesnar needed very little opportunity to distinguish himself when it comes to Hell in a Cell. Prior to this Sunday’s rematch, Brock has only ventured into the “Devil’s Playground” one time, 13 years ago versus The Undertaker, but the “Beast Incarnate” took to the environment like a fish to water and rained down destruction on his opposition. After slightly more sanitized Cell matches from 1999 through earlier in the year, Brock and Taker brought the pain back, with the intensity and excitement of the rookie’s high impact offense elevating the contest to classic territory.
5. BATISTA (defeated Triple H to retain the World title at Vengeance 2005, defeated The Undertaker to retain the World title at Survivor Series 2007)
“The Animal” only participated in a pair of Hell in a Cell matches, but both times, he came to play and brought out the best in two guys who knew their way around the structure quite well. Batista helped Triple H to a brutal showdown after the latter had struggled to master the stipulation for five years, then upped his classic feud against Undertaker to the next level with a superb power match jacked up by the twisted steel. While big Dave may not make a lot of people’s all-time lists as worker, you can’t deny the business this beats gets done when the cage door locks shut.
4. MICK FOLEY (lost to The Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998, lost to WWF champion Triple H at No Way Out 2000)
As much as the Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 1998 may have made Mick Foley’s career, Mick Foley’s sacrifices during said event also made Hell in a Cell. While one could easily deride Mankind’s performance as being a pair of stunts with a few other brutal spots in the middle and not much wrestling to speak of, it’s a pretty tough sell to detract from how memorable those moments instantly became or to not pay Foley his respect for the risks he took. Mick’s tumble from the top of the cage and subsequent chokeslam through a faulty roof and onto a bed of tacks forever made Hell in a Cell a legitimately dangerous spectacle to be feared by fans and participants alike.
3. TRIPLE H (defeated Cactus Jack to retain the WWF title at No Way Out 2000, lost to Kurt Angle in a six way match for the WWF title at Armageddon 2000, defeated Chris Jericho at Judgment Day 2002, defeated Kevin Nash to retain the World title at Bad Blood 2003, defeated Shawn Michaels at Bad Blood 2004, lost to World champion Batista at Vengeance 2005, with Shawn Michaels defeated The Big Show & The McMahons at Unforgiven 2006, with Shawn Michaels defeated Legacy at Hell in a Cell 2009, lost to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVIII)
You have to give HHH at least an A- for effort on this one. Since 2000, Hunter has attempted to make Hell in a Cell his signature match, and while I contend he never reached the recognition with the stipulation of my number one on this list—in large part due to mid-decade stumbles against Chris Jericho, Kevin Nash, and even Shawn Michaels—he came close through sheer force of will. Triple H’s Cell story started out strong as he “retired” Mick Foley, but it would be five years before he produced another truly classic match within the cage against Batista, and after that nearly a half decade again before he teamed with Michaels for a lost classic opposite Legacy. Ultimately HHH places high on the list due to sheer number of times inside the Cell and being part of some standouts, but he hurt his own case by failing to live up to the gimmick’s hype more often than not.
2. SHAWN MICHAELS (defeated The Undertaker at Badd Blood 1997, lost to Triple H at Bad Blood 2004, with Triple H defeated The Big Show & The McMahons at Unforgiven 2006, with Triple H defeated Legacy at Hell in a Cell 2009)
For my money the greatest in-ring performer of his or any generation—send your complaints to Brad—Shawn Michaels has only been in three Hell in a Cell matches, but he made his first appearance count in spades. In 1997, even with similar matches like WCW’s Thunder Cage having laid down a loose template for this kind of thing, nobody really knew how to make it memorable, so as usual, HBK went out and wrote the book on the fly. Shawn’s willingness to take a brutal beating from The Undertaker at Badd Blood that included flying across the ring, getting ground up like hamburger on the fence, and plummeting from the side of the cage set up the Cell as a stipulation with staying power, but moreover, the emotion he brought to the table—the terror, the adrenaline, the determination—sealed the deal; without Shawn Michaels, Hell in a Cell potentially goes the way of the Championship Scramble and I don’t bother creating this list.
1. THE UNDERTAKER (lost to Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood 1997, defeated Mankind at King of the Ring 1998, defeated The Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV, lost to Kurt Angle in a six way match for the WWF title at Armageddon 2000, lost to WWE champion Brock Lesnar at No Mercy 2002, defeated Randy Orton at Armageddon 2005, lost to World champion Batista at Survivor Series 2007, defeated Edge at SummerSlam 2008, defeated World champion CM Punk to win the title at Hell in a Cell 2009, lost to World champion Kane at Hell in a Cell 2010, defeated Triple H at WrestleMania XXVIII)
The “Dead Man” for whom the WWF initially constructed the structure in question so he could get his unfettered revenge against Shawn Michaels in 1997, The Undertaker holds as the common thread between the best Hell in a Cell matches. From that initial outing versus HBK, to the stunt show with Mankind the following year, to the blood bath opposite Brock Lesnar in 2002, to more modern classics with Batista and Triple H, ‘Taker endured them all and then some. An argument could be made that in terms of carrying the in-ring load, the likes of Michaels, Foley, et al. bore the brunt of the burden, but without the Undertaker character crafted by one man over the course of 25 years, none of that leaves as indelible a mark. UT has brought a sense of menace and danger to his Cell showdowns through the years, be it through a simple sneer or by bleeding buckets. While others may have pushed themselves to momentary peaks of athletic prowess or raised their pain threshold to sustain a beating, Undertaker has been the constant, participating in more Cell matches than any other competitor and proving that his presence and work ethic can raise the game of just about any dance partner across the squared circle.