The devil’s playground, Satan’s structure, however you know it, Hell in a Cell was once the be all, end all of stipulation matches. An evolution of the steel cage match, with a cage that goes beyond the 20’ x 20’ dimensions of the squared circle, and beyond that, anything goes. Since the maiden voyage in October 1997, there have been over forty Hell in a Cell matches, with the stipulation being the namesake of its own Pay-Per-View since 2009. In recent years, the shine of the cell has been dimmed greatly, especially after two back to back no contest finishes, one because Brock Lesnar, and one because batshit, cartoon levels of violence is suddenly too much for a company that would kayfabe sanction an Eye for an Eye match a year later.
Yes, I’m still salty about that. Can’t say that I ever won’t be salty.
This year’s Hell in a Cell event upped the insanity quotient, featuring three Cell matches for the WWE, Universal, and SmackDown Women’s Championships. While this is a bit excessive, at least this year, the matches taking place in the titular stipulation have plenty of heat and build to them, especially the women’s match, which will be only the third women’s Hell in a Cell in history. As we prepare to set foot in the big red cell again, let’s take a look at some of the finest matches and moments from inside this awe-inspiring and violent match type.
Broken in Half - Mankind vs. Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998
Let’s get this one out of the way early, as it is not just a Hell in a Cell match, but it is the Hell in a Cell match. The fall seen a thousand times over, the moment that gave Jim Ross’ most infamous call. I’ve covered this match before, but that we’re still talking about it with such reverence over two decades after the fact means the world. Between Undertaker’s injured ankle, the litany of injuries Foley faced in the aftermath, and the insanity of just the second-ever Hell in a Cell have allowed it to be the standard that everyone attempts to live up to, but ultimately cannot. If you have the time, as well as a WWE Network subscription, check out the 20 Years of Hell special and hear the Hardcore Legend talk about this game-changer of a match.
Made You Famous - Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker at No Mercy 2002
This may very well be the bloodiest Hell in a Cell match in history, as between steel steps and Undertaker’s arm cast, anything that isn’t nailed down or attached to someone is used to inflict maximum damage. Following a DQ finish to the WWE Title match at the previous month’s Unforgiven, Lesnar broke the arm of The Undertaker, who was granted a return match inside the Cell for the title at the now-legendary No Mercy event. While Lesnar successfully retained, after reversing a Tombstone Piledriver into an F-5, the match was brutal as could be, with even manager Paul Heyman getting color after being slammed into the side of the cell, grabbed by the necktie by The Phenom. As far as Ruthless Aggression era Cell matches go, this one set a standard that few could live up to.
Sweet Hell Alabama - Six-Man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon 2000
Was this the moment that the concept jumped the shark? Maybe, but it was damn fun, if a bit chaotic for whoever was in the truck, having to direct the camera traffic. A full two years before the infamous Elimination Chamber stipulation was born, this six-way Cell match was a season finale for the final full year of the Attitude Era, sealing the year with a kiss, only that kiss is with steel. Best known for that other iconic descent instigated by Undertaker, it’s a fever dream of a main event, and needs a revisiting as we come up on two decades of its original run.
Full Moon in Toronto - D-Generation X vs. The McMahons and Big Show at Unforgiven 2006
Perhaps the highest point in the 2006 DX reunion, this three on two Cell match was comically violent and, somehow, bewilderingly, violently comical. Featuring steel chairs, kendo sticks, sledgehammers, and Big Show’s ass (yup, that was a thing), this was awesome, stupid fun. As contentious and dick joke-filled as their first comeback tour may have been, this was the best thing about it, bar none. Say what you will about Vince and Shane looking like threats, or the fact that they dragged the ECW Champion Big Show (yeah, that was a thing too, 2006 was weird as shit) into it, but it was fun. Not good, clean, fun, mind you, but fun nevertheless.
Straight to Hell - Undertaker vs. Edge at SummerSlam 2008
What else is there to say about this match that I didn’t say in my greatest Undertaker matches list? For the first PG Hell in a Cell match, these two geniuses pulled out all the stops. It was violent, it was chaotic, and it deserves that main event slot.
Making the Game - Triple H vs. Cactus Jack at No Way Out 2000
If the fans weren’t sold on Triple H in the main event after the brutal Street Fight at Royal Rumble, they were after this banger of a Hell in a Cell. After an abysmal showing of the cell at WrestleMania XV, this match saved the stip from certain doom. The closing moments see a flaming 2x4 wrapped in barbed wire, the combatants on top of the cell, and a crater-making fall through the cell and the ring to close this insane showdown for the WWF Championship. Retirement fake-out aside, it was still an excellent showing for both men, and a superstar-making performance by The Game.
Caged Animal - Batista vs. Triple H at Vengeance 2005
Staying with The Game for a bit, this third and final chapter in the spring of 2005 made The Animal, as Triple H took the veteran role this time around. After winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21, and successfully defending at Backlash, the two former Evolution teammates met again inside Satan’s structure for the Big Gold Belt. Rivaling the Lesnar/Taker match for bloodiest ever, this one makes a strong case for that moniker by virtue of the barbed-wire steel chair. The ending is one of the greatest misdirects in history, too, as Triple H very nearly clocks Batista in the head with a sledgehammer while up for the deadly Batista Bomb, before missing his shot and eating the finisher for his troubles. The Reign of Terror was over, and a new main event talent was properly made.
Youth and Experience - D-Generation X vs. Legacy at Hell in a Cell 2009
While this may not have been the number one moment from the second DX reunion, again, it was great storytelling. Triple H gets locked outside the cell before the match actually starts, leaving Shawn Michaels stuck inside with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. This allows for both of the Legacy youngins to get all of their shit in on Michaels, who is in such a mode to sell in this match, he could sell sunglasses to a blind man. When Triple H goes to the back and returns with bolt cutters to get himself into the fracas, the pop is deafening, and while this could have been a moment to get the young guys over, this match was good enough to do so regardless. As far as Cell matches go, this one goes in the “underrated” category.
End of an Era - Undertaker vs. Triple H at WrestleMania XXVIII
Getting sick of seeing Undertaker and Triple H all over this list? In fairness, when it comes to Hell in a Cell, these two are the MVPs, all due respect to fellow stipulation originator Shawn Michaels. Again, I’ve covered this match ad nauseum, but it’s insanity on a grand stage. Shawn’s overacting himself into a hernia, that kickout that had literally everyone gasping for air, and the final visual of the three men ending an era together, it’s a chore to watch, sure, but damn it, it’s excellent. This is the kind of match that is comparable to The Godfather or Endgame; that is, if long, drawn-out affairs aren’t your speed, yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s nonetheless epic.
Brotherhood - Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose at Hell in a Cell 2014
Following the break-up of The Shield in the summer of 2014, the big question was: who would be the breakout star of the flak-jacket trio? While Roman Reigns skyrocketed into the main event scene, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had, and I don’t say this lightly, the rivalry of the year in the wake of said split. Things came to a head inside Hell in a Cell, in a match that, for as watered down as the stipulation has become since the inception the eponymous Pay-Per-View, actually felt like it belonged here. Seeing where Rollins would be not one year later, and seeing the greatness that the man now known as Jon Moxley would see in the subsequent months and years, this match might be the one that can fairly be called the catalyst for both men’s launching into the sports-entertainment stratosphere.
Hellish Herstory - Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks at Hell in a Cell 2016
Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks made history in the early days of the Women’s Evolution, as they would become the first two women to set foot inside Hell in a Cell, as well as main eventing the titular show with the RAW Women’s Championship at stake. Violent stipulations for women’s matches were rare enough anyways, but The Queen and the Boss proved that they can get creative inside the confines of the cell. A momentous occasion, a first-ever women’s main event on Pay-Per-View, and an incredible spectacle, this match begs for repeat viewings.
It’s a New Cell, Yes, It Is - The Usos vs. The New Day at Hell in a Cell 2017
Two stipulations that sound like Universe Mode fodder are tag team and Hell in a Cell, but leave it to two of the best tag teams in recent years to make it work. The New Day and The Usos seemed destined to do it forever on SmackDown, and in the first and (to date) only doubles Cell match, these guys got wild and, to take a page out of the Uso lyrics book, R-rated. Kendo sticks, cell attacks, and weaponized Francescas (if you know, you know), all of it comes together for an insane opener to the 2017 show, setting something of a precedent for great opening Hell in a Cell matches for years to come. You wanna talk about Big E, recently separated from his New Day brethren, needing to get serious? I present this as exhibit A.
Avenging the Streak - Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar at Hell in a Cell 2015
No one asked for this rematch, but by god, did we get it, and by god, was it great. In what is (at least for now) Undertaker’s last year as a semi-regular competitor - that is, working more than just during WrestleMania season - these two threw caution and anti-blading rules to the wind, giving us a match that was, and I’m gonna catch hell for this, the hardest-hitting of their modern series. Is it as good as their 2002 encounter? If you thought that it was going to be, yeah, you might be disappointed, but damn if this one doesn’t try. It wasn’t what we asked for in 2015, but we got it, and it’s not something that was regretful.
WWE Hell in a Cell is available on-demand on the WWE Network.