The Five Count: Hell in a Cell Matches

In 1997, the intense feud between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker necessitated the WWF to create a new gimmick match in which these two legends could settle the score: Hell in a Cell. While the oversized steel cage extending beyond the ring and enclosed by a roof actually dated back to the NWA’s Thunderdome at Halloween Havoc 1989, Hell in a Cell would quickly become an established brand on its own merits, promising definitive moments and classic contests.

17 years later, Hell in a Cell has become an annual stop on the WWE yearly pay-per-view calendar each October. While the necessity of booking Cell matches whether a feud lends itself to them or not has dulled the mystique of the structure somewhat, it has not diminished it entirely nor erased its rich history.

This month, the Five Count steps in Hell in a Cell to list our favorite showdowns within the confines of the devil’s playground.

**NOTE: This column was compiled prior to the Hell in a Cell 2014 pay-per-view**

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Ben Morse 

5. KURT ANGLE vs. STEVE AUSTIN vs. THE ROCK vs. THE UNDERTAKER vs. TRIPLE H vs. RIKISHI (ARMAGEDDON 2000)

I kick off my list with this as kind of a personal favorite simply due to the spectacle. In terms of pure in-ring product and even being memorable, it probably notches slightly below Edge/Undertaker from 2008 and some other deserving honorable mentions, but just seeing so many competitors in the Cell, and all huge names at that, made it something special. Kudos of course to Rikishi for taking the huge bump we had come to expect from the gimmick, though thankfully it seemed much safer than those that had come before.

4. BATISTA vs. TRIPLE H (VENGEANCE 2005)

While they had magic as far as character charisma, Triple H and Batista failed to click complete in the ring in their first two one-on-one meetings at WrestleMania 21 and Backlash 2005, thus “The Game” could not truly pass the torch to the awaiting “Animal.” This concluding chapter to their trilogy saw the duo finally click in the ring, and thus cement Batista in the main event.

Perhaps most impressive about Batista/HHH in the Cell is that they didn’t rely on the total barbarism of the gimmick as their predecessors had, instead using it sparingly to aid a solid power match and emphasize the deep personal nature of their feud; they did a lot with relatively little, and that impresses.

 3. MANKIND vs. THE UNDERTAKER (KING OF THE RING 1998)

This charts perhaps lower on my list than some others because I’m looking at the whole package, bell to bell, and aside from a few of the craziest spots in the history of wrestling, there’s not much match to speak. However, that said, to not acknowledge said bumps and their place in said history of wrestling would be a disservice.

Whether you agree with his decisions or not, Mick Foley forever cemented his place in legend with his performance on this night, absorbing superhuman amounts of pain and earning unending respect for his toughness in the process. Number two only to Mankind in terms of contributions here would be Jim Ross, who had the call of a lifetime and further immortalized his own legacy.

No Hell in a Cell highlight reel—really no WWF/E highlight reel—will ever be complete without portions of this match, thus it doesn’t top my list, but it makes it, no question.

2. BROCK LESNAR vs. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)

Following his victory over The Rock at SummerSlam 2002, it seemed Brock Lesnar was a made man in WWE, but we’ve seen plenty of one hit wonder come and go through the years. Enter The Undertaker, the kind of legendary figure who has made or broken more than one main event run and aimed to do the first with “The Next Big Thing.”

After a wild war with an inconclusive ending at Unforgiven, Brock and ‘Taker locked horns in the Cell a month later; what followed was an unforgettable blood bath that solidly put Lesnar on the map as a force that would not be going anywhere. This was not violence for the sake of violence, however, as both men made their shots count, and let the crimson symbolize their hatred and desire. They turned a clunky storyline involving Undertaker’s injured arm into a salient plot point and Paul Heyman helped put the whole ordeal over the top, bleeding for his art as well.

 1. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. THE UNDERTAKER (BADD BLOOD 1997)

Why did Hell in a Cell become an enduring gimmick that can headline its own pay-per-view to this day while we haven’t seen a Championship Scramble in over five years? Well, lots of reasons, but having two of the all-time greats lay down the initial blueprint for the former sure didn’t hurt.

I don’t think you could have picked two better competitors to christen Hell in a Cell than Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Are they the two greatest wrestlers of all-time? It’s a debate—HBK would top my list, ‘Taker would be more of a conversation—but what can’t be argued is the combination of in-ring skill, toughness, charisma and that intangible needed to work outside the box matches that each possess. They had the range and chemistry to start slow enough in the ring, progress to a solid brawl, and then really get crazy using the Cell. Michaels’ bump off the cage may seem relatively tame compared to later stunts, but it didn’t need to be more than it was because it contributed to the story rather than trump it. By the time Kane made his memorable debut, Shawn and ‘Taker had already crafted an epic.

Dozens of men have tried their hand at Hell in a Cell, including the others on this list, but they all had the misfortune of coming after Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, who go there first and made it count.

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Marc Clair

As is often the case here at the Five Count, ranking the top five Hell in a Cell matches comes down to some serious hair-splitting in order to narrow the field down to five. For me, a top Hell in a Cell match must be more than just a great match that happens to take place inside the Hell in a Cell structure. A great cell match should be the logical culmination of a blood feud, and it should effectively utilize the concept of the cell within the match itself. A great blood feud should end in blood, and for that reason essentially all PG-era matches are excluded from contention. I did take both Undertaker vs. HHH at WrestleMania 28 and Undertaker vs. Edge from SummerSlam 2008 under consideration, and while I appreciate both as great matches, they don’t quit cut the mustard when it comes to the Top Five.

Now, onto the list …

5. MANKIND vs. THE UNDERTAKER (KING OF THE RING 1998)

Going into this list, I had considered leaving this match out of the top five. Sure, it has two iconic moments—the infamous Foley leap off the cell and the equally frightening chokeslam through the roof of the cell—but it wasn’t much of a match besides that, right? Well, yes and no. While those moments certainly stand out, there was a bit of a real match here, complete with Mankind getting in some offense even after taking the two insane bumps, and pulling out the signature thumb tacks. It told the story of a man who couldn’t be stopped, and the epic call of the match from JR sealed the entire package as not just an iconic moment, but an all time great Hell in a Cell match.

 4. BROCK LESNAR vs. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)

While defeating the Rock at SummerSlam 2002 launched Brock Lesnar into superstardom, it was this match that was truly his coming out party as “The Beast.” The match was just brutal, as both combatants utilized the cell and the No-DQ rules to perfection. Undertaker was bloodied and battered like no one had ever done before. While some may criticize Brock’s “no sell” of the match by climbing the cage and celebrating with the belt, I’m in the camp of those that take it as an extension of Brock’s adrenaline, and an everlasting image to end the show with. Throw in a cackling, bloody Paul Heyman cheering his man on from the outside, and this is a match worthy of the #4 spot.

 3. BATISTA vs. TRIPLE H (VENGEANCE 2005)

This is the one match that made the Five Count that I had never seen before, and boy was I pleasantly surprised. I like Triple H as a worker more than most, especially in this type of environment, but Batista has never done much for me. I had no idea what I had been missing! This match was absolutely brutal, and utilized weapons we hadn’t seen in the cell before such as a chain and a chair wrapped in barbed wire. Both men used the cell and the weapons to absolutely brutalize each other—you could see the barbed wire tearing holes in their flesh and feel the agony both men were putting each other through. It truly felt like the brutal finale of an epic feud, capped off with a great ending that teased a Triple H sledgehammer while being lifted for the Batista Bomb, in a moment that I’m sure had many believing Hunter would remain undefeated in the cell. But his last gasp wasn’t enough to hit Batista with the trusty Sledge, and Hunter went down to his old protégé. This is a fantastic match that deserves more praise.

 2. TRIPLE H vs. CACTUS JACK (NO WAY OUT 2000)

This match is more evidence that Triple H really shines in this type of environment. Billed as Mick Foley’s “last match”—oops!—should he lose, this again had that feel of a true blood feud reaching its natural culmination in the perfect environment. The action inside the cell was great and everything you would expect from a Triple H-Foley brawl, and had a great running subplot of Triple H having extra padlocks put on the door to prevent Foley from taking the match to the roof. Foley proceeded to bust down a wall and create his own door, leading to a dramatic final battle on the roof of the cell complete with a FLAMING 2×4 WRAPPED IN BARBED WIRE. This culminated in Hunter reversing a Foley into a backdrop THROUGH THE ROOF INTO THE RING, creating a hole in the ring. This was a visually amazing spot that was surely much safer than the falls he took in the Undertaker match. I do prefer their street fight from the Royal Rumble prior overall, but as far as Hell in a Cell matches go, it’s hard to top this one

 1. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. THE UNDERTAKER (BADD BLOOD 1997)

The match that started it all, and after all these years it still holds up as the epic encounter that would define the Hell in a Cell as a match. After these two feuding for months following Michaels’ costing Undertaker the WWF title vs. Bret Hart at the previous SummerSlam, the Hell in a Cell was introduced to end their feud once and for all. Shawn played the chickenshit heel to perfection, but it’s hard to run inside the cell, and Undertaker beat Michaels to a bloody pulp. In a brilliant piece of booking, a cameraman was “injured’ causing the cell door to be opened to get him help. Michaels used the opportunity to escape the cell, only to be chased and slingshotted into the cage in an awesome spot. This would lead to Michaels running away to the roof, leading to the first big fall of the Hell in a Cell into the table. Just as Taker had whacked Michaels with a chair and signaled for the tombstone, the lights went out and we got the debut of KANE, ripping off the cell door and tombstoning Taker, giving Michaels the win. This was one of the few times that interference in a major match was both completely logical and effective. The very first Hell in a Cell match set the standard, and still stands as the #1 Hell in a Cell match of all time.

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Aaron George 

While Aaron himself was unavailable to write his entries this month, after making his selections he recruited some top notch pinch hitters to help him out

5. KURT ANGLE vs. STEVE AUSTIN vs. THE ROCK vs. THE UNDERTAKER vs. TRIPLE H vs. RIKISHI (ARMAGEDDON 2000)

 By Pierre Karl Ouellet

We you ave six bonhommes dans le ring it’s going to make the chaos. Kurt Hangle was le champion and uhhh he had the five challengers. It was exciting because tabarnak we had never hever seen these guys fight at the same time. I want to say my favorite was l’impitoyable Steve Haustin but I like the dead guy too. The match is uhh fun… voyons… I had the… plaisir or watching it with Raymond Rougeau calling the haction. Criss they were giving good punches with lots of…comment on dis ca… when you pin and you get deux… ah je ne sais pas… It was good it was… Caulice there was a truck with the hay and the fat fuck fell. And we laugh. I may have one eye but I can see it was great match.

 4. BROCK LESNAR vs. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)

By Ed Ferrara as Oklahoma

By Gawd this one’s gonna be a slobberknocker. Cast! Cast! Cast! Somebody’s gotta stop the damn match! That Brock Lesnar who wrestled division one out of Minnesota is a tremendous athlete. Heyman! Heyman! Heyman! Heyman is bleeding! Heyman is down! Ma and Paw call the kids cause this is one bull that can’t be tamed. This Brock Lesnar is a… steel steps! Steel steps! Steel Steps! STEEL STEPS! Wipe some barbeque sauce all over this one cause the cast is now off! EMOTIONS! EMOTIONS! EMOTIONS! That was hellacious! She’s a jezebel Kaaaang! I feel like I’ve disgraced the business.

 3. MANKIND vs. THE UNDERTAKER (KING OF THE RING 1998)

By Stu Hart

Eye uh… eye uhh.. I was talking to Reg, I say Reg…. Reg remember discipline? Discipline being da core to all shooting. My son Bret was a greet shooter. These guyshs dey throw demsefs off cages and onta tumtacks and hit eachotha with chairs. They lack da discipline to…ugh… to…ugh… to uhh stay on da mat and just wrestle. God damnit Reg the man had a tooth in his nose. Reg don’t tell me it was revolutionary. Uhh, if ye think about it, sure, it brought da people to their feet but there was no revolution there. Ehh, we were throwing ourselves offa cages in the twenties. That’s how I won my tiger-belle. Reg, if you wanted to try me, all ye had to do was try me. I like the Mankind, tough man. The Undertaker’s dead. Ugh, ugh I would have liked to stretch them… ugh. Discipline! Discipline! Discipline! (SMACK)

 2. TRIPLE H vs. THE UNDERTAKER (WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII)

 By Yoshihiro Tajiri

私は、これら二つの間に再戦を見たいと思ったことはありません。私はいつも少しがっかりであることが彼らのレッスルマニア27の出会いを見つけました。彼らはトリプルHIために脆弱であることがショーン·マイケルズに持ち込まとき少し私は彼が単にステークスを再生し、それが重要だっような演技によってマッチを強化するだろうどのくらい知っていた、それは巧妙な動きだったと思った。これはちょうど、戦争、完全に前年の試合に構築された残忍な戦争だった。いくつかのアンダーテイカーマニアと結果に疑問がめったにありません一致しますが、トリプルHとあなたが合法的に彼はアンダーテイカーの上に自分自身を置くために胆嚢を持っていることを恐れての追加ボーナスを得る。それは私が彼がスーパーキック/血統スポットの後に何をするつもりだったと思った、と彼はしなかったとき少年は、私は幸せだったまさにだ。それはすべての時間の私のお気に入りのマークアウトの瞬間の一つであり、ゲームゼリー込ま取得見に得ることにトリプルHはハンマーとテイカーステップに到達したスポットは、人生の大きな楽しみの一つです。この試合は、セル内の近代的な地獄ができることの例でしたあなたは、ポストマッチのお祝いについて(オープン広口キスは、すべての時間古典としてそれを封印したであろう)何を言おう。

 1. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. THE UNDERTAKER (BADD BLOOD 1997)

By Kane (circa 1998)

The firrrrrrrrrst one. Sometimes. Is the beeeeessssst one. There was draaaama. There was a fantaaastic…. A fantaaaaasssstic…. Fantaaaaaasssstic… There was a blaaaaaade job. In the air. Piledriver. On the steeeps. Match told a greeeeaaaat story. The story. Shawn Michaaaaals. Scaaaaaaared. My brotheeeeeer. Staaaaaking him. So much exciiiiitement. So innnnnnnnno….innnnovaaaaatiiive. That’s got to be mmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeee. I love the immmmmage. The immmmmage of Shawnnnnn Michaels. Poooooool of bloooooood. Yet victoriousssssss. Match of the yeeeeeaaaarrrrr. I cannnn…. cannn… this thinnnn…. thinnn… isn…. worrrrrrr…

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Steve Rogers

The Hell in a Cell match has come a long way since its debut at In Your House: Badd Blood. Some might argue the gimmick has overstayed its welcome in the years of the PG Era, due to the lack of blade jobs that peppered the gimmick over the course if it’s first decade (quite frankly, after the first decade or so, it really is jarring to hear the same hyperbolic demonic descriptions of the Cell over the last 5-6 years without seeing blade jobs during the matches). As well as the idea that with it being the matches that the October PPV, set in-between SummerSlam and Survivor Series, two big tent pole events on the WWF/WWE calendar, is now structured around, it has lost the “feud ender” mystique that it, and the cage gimmick as a whole, had over the years.

But it still is one of the all-time great gimmicks that the WWF had come up with, and a nice way to move the cage match gimmick along to another level. Oh sure, War Games had a roof, and so on, but those were for multiple man matches, this was for rivalries so intense that a mere walking out a cage door or hopping off of the cage wall wasn’t going to settle things once and for all!

 5. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. THE UNDERTAKER (BADD BLOOD 1997)

A rivalry that had been percolating since after Michaels’ heel turn after SummerSlam and with Undertaker more over the top with vengeful rage than he had been up to that point in his career. Something was needed for the blowoff after the finish of their match at Ground Zero (not to mention the often forgotten “number one contendership” for Bret Hart’s WWF title stipulation that was on the line here; yup, this was the storyline cause for the Survivor Series match being made), and a literal cell, keeping Triple H and Chyna out, was just what the doctor ordered.

All the tropes that would come to be expected of Cell matches are in here for the first time; full usage of under the ring objects, one wrestler desperately trying to get away from the other, wrestlers finding a way to take the action outside of the cell, a falling bump from the top or side of the Cell, interference from someone who wasn’t supposed to be inside the Cell. And while Kane’s debut at the finish, leading to Michaels getting the cheap win despite being an absolute bloody mess, can be seen as a detriment, the match as a whole does hold up as a solid “setting the template right, right out of the gate” performance of an ongoing gimmick match.

4. KURT ANGLE vs. STEVE AUSTIN vs. THE ROCK vs. THE UNDERTAKER vs. TRIPLE H vs. RIKISHI (ARMAGEDDON 2000)

What could easily have been a train wreck that killed off the gimmick turned out to be a fun match to cap off the year 2000. You had Angle playing up the weasel heel champion, trying both to stay out of everyone’s way and breaking up pinfalls, and four former champions gunning for his title, along with the blood feuds of Triple H-Austin and Rock-Rikishi as added elements. While yes, Rikishi is the “one of these things is not like the other” odd man out among five main eventers and future Hall of Famers, he did hold his own, and took the “off the cell bump.” Now, the bump can be considered one of the more contrived of all Cell bumps, with Vince McMahon riding a pickup truck trying to forcibly remove the Cell, and Rikishi falling on some hay in the truck’s bed, but the visual of Taker simply choke-pushing him off is still an iconic Cell spot.

Angle vulturing a pin to save his title may knock it down a peg, as well as give the match an anti-climactic and seemingly too obvious and easy of an ending. But the match itself still holds up well, and could quite very well have paved the way for the Elimination Chamber concept that would come a little less than two years later.

 3. BROCK LESNAR vs. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)

Lesnar already had one of the very best first years in the biz all sewn up by this point, but getting into the Cell with The Undertaker, well over a decade before conquering a certain streak, was another good sign of what “The Beast” could do in a setting that demanded a more brawling and less brute force technical style. Lesnar passed with flying colors, and it didn’t help that he was going toe-to-toe with an Undertaker that was increasing an MMA working style into his move set.

Unfortunately the match was forgotten in the build up to WrestleMania XXX, and the aforementioned streak conquering. And while unfortunately the feud for the match (despite being for the title), that started a month earlier at Unforgiven had to include elements that were unnecessary (Paul Heyman accusing Undertaker of cheating on his pregnant wife), it doesn’t take away from a forgotten gem of a feud from this era, and two good matches.

 2. EDGE vs. THE UNDERTAKER (SUMMERSLAM 2008)

Sometimes it is very satisfying to see a dick heel get all the comeuppance that he has coming to him. And “The Rated R Superstar” had this coming from Taker for quite a while. Also satisfying that after over a decade, Undertaker finally finishes a job in this sort of a match! The build of Edge and Undertaker was simple and started way back in the early part of 2008 with Edge and Vickie Guerrero constantly being thorns in The Undertaker’s side, culminating in Undertaker being forced to leave the WWE after losing a TLC match at One Night Stand, and then getting reinstated after Vicki found out about Edge’s pre-marital dalliances. To say Undertaker had a lot of pent up frustration ready to be released would be an understatement!

The post-match antics, okay that was a bit much, with the implication of Edge literally getting sent to the fiery pits of Hell (to his credit, when Edge returned at Survivor Series, he did have a little sod and ash on him), but that doesn’t take away from the match being a good Cell match. Also this was kind of an “end of an era” match for the concept. Outside of WrestleMania XXIX and an “after the show goes off the air” Raw SuperShow dark match in September of 2011, this would be the last Cell match outside of the PPV that bears its name. And only twice on those PPVs has the gimmick been used for something other than a number one contender or outright title match. Oddly enough, the event, held in Indianapolis, would be the final non-Los Angeles SummerSlam until this coming year.

 1. TRIPLE H vs. CACTUS JACK (NO WAY OUT 2000)

For a number of reasons the run Mick Foley had with Triple H in early 2000 seems better in some ways than his run with The Rock the year before. Maybe it’s the fact that the 1999 Rumble match and all those chair shots are featured on “Beyond the Mat,” but something never sat well with the Rock-Mankind matches in terms of Rock’s attitude towards his opponent. On the other hand, Triple H seemed to treat Cactus Jack as a true threat to his title, and acted accordingly. Of course that could also be because by 1999 the Mankind character was seen as more of an idiot savant type of goofy character, and even morphed into Cactus Jack to get ready for the Royal Rumble match against Trips, with Triple H looking like some low level bad guy had just seen Clark Kent toss his glasses aside, rip off his shirt and charge up his heat vision when Mick took off the Mankind mask and revealed the Cactus Jack t-shirt underneath Mankind’s button down and tie.

Also the matches themselves seemed to be even handed with the punishment both men took, with the Cell match being a good example. While the outcome was bittersweet, even if it was undone by Mick Foley being added to the WrestleMania 2000 main event (though to be technical CACTUS JACK only made one appearance in the ring since: 2004 Backlash vs. Randy Orton), and subsequent comings and goings through the years, it still went a long way in solidifying Triple H’s “The Game” character as a great main event brawler, and someone willing to use all tools at his disposal to get the job done.

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And now, our overall Five Count…

 5. BATISTA vs. TRIPLE H (VENGEANCE 2005)

After so-so matches at WrestleMania 21 and Backlash 2005, “The Game” and “The Animal” find their groove, allowing Batista to grab the torch.

 4. MANKIND vs. THE UNDERTAKER (KING OF THE RING 1998)

Not much match to speak of, but several all-time spectacular bumps off and through the Cell make Mick Foley’s legend and supply highlight reel fodder to this day.

 3. TRIPLE H vs. CACTUS JACK (NO WAY OUT 2000)

Picking up where they left off from their classic Royal Rumble 2000 street fight, Triple H and Cactus Jack tear down the house once more to cap off their seminal feud. Mick Foley takes a slightly safer but no less spectacular bump through the roof to “end” his career.

 2. BROCK LESNAR vs. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)

With under a year in the business under his belt, Brock Lesnar put on classic, bloody war with the veteran Undertaker to cement him as something special. Lacking the stuntman bumps of some other Cell matches, this one more than made up the gap with hard hitting and brutal in-ring action.

 1. SHAWN MICHAELS vs. THE UNDERTAKER (BADD BLOOD 1997)

The first ever Hell in a Cell set the standard and continues to hold up over 15 years later. Two legendary rivals wrestled, brawled, tore each other open, and took insane risks to establish a brand new gimmick match. While people either loved or hated the role Kane’s debut played in the finish, nobody can deny it was memorable.

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.